We have reached a crisis point regarding the children who are coming, often unaccompanied, to the U.S. from Central America. Vox has done a helpful two minute summary on the issue. We recently watched The Stranger, a short film about the broken U.S. immigration system and another good source to consider alternative perspectives. On the other hand, I’ve been reading a number of memes posted by Facebook friends lately regarding the situation, with many expressing anger over the costs of dealing with the children and the delays in sending those from Central American nations back to their home countries. Murrieta, California has been the center of protests, with angry U.S. protestors holding up signs and shouting “USA”, demanding those crossing the border go home. This is my response especially written to fellow followers of Jesus.
First, the Bible makes it quite clear we serve a biased God. Indeed, Jesus not only sides with the least among us, he identifies as one himself. Those who Jesus sends away at judgement are those who did not help the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, those needing clothes, the oppressed, the stranger. For in so ignoring them, we ignored Jesus. Check out Matthew 25:31-46. Taken literally, our anger and dismissal is of Jesus. We are sending Jesus away from our borders. The question shouldn’t be “What would Jesus do?” but “How will we treat Jesus today as he crosses our border?”
Second, we heard a wonderful sermon at Twin City Bible Church today based on Ephesians 1:15-28. As I listened and reflected on the immigration issue, Pastor Allen’s consideration of verse 18 particularly caught my attention: “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” An increasing number of theologians are beginning to understand this clause as meaning God’s inheritance is us. We humans are worth that much. What does it mean when we reject so strongly a part of God’s inheritance? In expressing such anger, sometimes directly to their face, are we making the immigrants feel more or less human? More or less the children and inheritance of God that they are?
And when immigrants come seeking asylum, the U.S. has laws allowing for that. So it is not necessarily that they are coming illegally. But even if they were, let me ask those who have ever driven faster than the speed limit, or in some other way broken the law — why would it be that they are less deserving of grace than you? We are all human, we are all especially cherished in God’s eye, and we’ve all been shown grace in spite of the ways we fall short.
Third, while God is slow to anger, He also punishes the sins of the father to the third and fourth generation (see Numbers 14:17-18). I am more familiar with the history of East St. Louis than I am of Central America, but I know enough to know many of the issues are the same. Whether in the mid-1800’s or the late 1900’s, citizens of the U.S. wanted to be able to purchase things at the lowest price possible so that we could have more. Industries responded by finding ways to produce products more cheaply. In some cases, this resulted in the inhumane treatment of workers merely as a means to the end of low-cost production. Further, there was a lack of concern for the long-term human, economic, and environmental costs within the region where manufacturing occurred. In the mid-1800’s Industrial Suburbs such as East St. Louis, Illinois, or Gary, Indiana, were created by manufacturers acting out of concern that new worker and environmental regulations being passed by cities such as St. Louis, Missouri, or Chicago, Illinois, respectively, would negatively affect their profits. But make no mistake, the blame was not just the industrial leaders or their shareholders, but people acting at all points in the consumption economy that drives such behavior. One hundred and fifty years later, the people who struggle to overcome the disadvantage of the sin of the many visited upon the industrial suburbs affect us all as we miss out on their full participation in our society and as our meager but important safety net of essential services struggles to keep up.
When the human and natural resources of the Industrial Suburbs were used up, industry looked for other virgin territory to pillage so that so many of us in the U.S. can continue our gluttonous lifestyles. We are not solely responsible for the severe conditions being experienced in some Central American nations, but we bear our fair share. And those coming to our border fleeing those conditions bring to our borders the sins of our fathers – and our own sins. God regularly requires of us to confess our sins and the sins of our ancestors before He will remember us (for instance, Leviticus 26:40-41). We are all too quick to cast the first stone when we are far from blameless (John 8:2-11).
How will we treat Jesus today as he crosses our border? Will the stranger at the border feel more or less like the wonderful inheritance of God that they are? Will we show them the same grace that is daily shown to us? Will we confess our sins and the sins of our ancestors that have significantly contributed to the inhumane conditions being experienced by these strangers back in their home countries and which drove them to take such drastic actions as to pull up stakes, leave everything behind, and seek asylum from us?
Our choice will determine whether God will remember His covenant with us, or whether He will show hostility and dismiss us as a people.