Thursday, February 07, 2008

Do Not Oppress the Alien

There has been a very long and in-depth conversation going on at Locusts & Honey about immigration policy. Click here to read through the comments.

John prompted the conversation by asking "to whom the OT refers to as 'foreigners'" in the several passages that instruct God's people in how to treat them. John wonders, are the foreigners/aliens people in Israel "legally" or are they "undocumented" or perhaps the Bible is referring to all foreigners, regardless of legal status.

Good question, and obviously (judging from the comment thread) an evocative one.

What if, though, the reference to "foreigners" is not so nuanced as we might try to make it? What if the Bible is just talking about non-Jews in general? The Jewish people were chosen by God to be a nation or a people. That "chosen people" status permeates the entire Hebrew Bible. To try to make the term refer to our contemporary idea of immigrants may be a stretch, historically speaking. The national identity of the Jews is tied to the land, to be sure, but physical national boundaries were shifty things back then, and even more so the Jewish national identity is about their relationship with God.

So what if those Hebrew Bible references to the foreigner or the alien are describing how people who have a relationship with God should treat people who do not have a relationship with God? Or perhaps how people of one particular religious tradition treat those of another, especially how those of the predominant tradition treat those in the minority?

Or what if it is all of the above? What if it is a broader, more sweeping instruction than we can imagine? What if a Scriptural listing of alien, foreigner, widow, and orphan calls us to notice any and all who are marginalized by the predominant system, whatever it may be, and then to act justly on their behalf? Then the question becomes not "What country are you from?" but rather "How are you being hurt by the predominant system?"

And then, applying that to the contemporary discussion of immigration reform, it calls people to notice how others are being hurt by the U.S. system of immigration. How families may be separated. How bureaucracy drags the process into inordinantly long times. How unbelievably expensive it is. How predators abuse people by inflating the cost of their services which promise help navigating the unwieldy system. How depending upon which official is considering your case on any given day, you might be approved or denied, seemingly at random. How following one office's instructions to the letter doesn't necessarily meet another office's expectations, which can mean either flat-out denial of your request or shuffling it into someone's inbox somewhere until they are able to dig it out and consider it, at which point they may just refer you to another office somewhere to start over again. And so forth.

For me, the immigration issue is not about language or culture or national laws being broken. For me, immigration reform is all about changing the way a predominant system oppresses, marginalizes, and dehumanizes people.

I am hopeful to hear your thoughts, as we continue an important conversation.

23 comments:

Poppy said...

I have no doubt that the Tanach holds that nationhood is of the Jewish People, not borders. The cross of Christ wipes all those distinctions clean, however. Jesus taught us a New Commandment; that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. He then proceeded to describe a neighbor as precisely that alien.

John said...

For me, the immigration issue is not about language or culture or national laws being broken. For me, immigration reform is all about changing the way a predominant system oppresses, marginalizes, and dehumanizes people.

The immigration system would only be oppressive and dehumanizing if immigrants had a right to immigrate to the U.S. (or any other country). Your argument hinges on an obligation of the U.S. (or any other country) to admit across its borders anyone who desires to traverse it.

Andy B. said...

I don't know about national "obligation," most of the people I know who have immigrated here are just trying to live better lives for themselves and their families. But my argument hinges mostly on two things - firstly, my understanding of what it means for a Christian disciple to love people on the margins and secondly, my experience with and compassion for people who are trying to immigrate here.

RevSarah said...

In this case of immigration policy, our response as Christians trumps any response we have as Americans. It matters not how they got here, but once they get here we have a holy obligation to treat them as we should any other person made in God's image.

The other thing we might consider as a nation is how to help those countries where these folks come from. Start by asking questions such as why they can't have a good life where they come from and what might help improve that quality of life. It would take a radical shift in foreign policy, though, as we would have to reevaluate trade policy, military policy, and whole host of other issues. The crux of this proposal is to recognize that those who haven't yet emigrated are still our neighbors, too.

Andy B. said...

revsarah, the only nuance I would add is that the Christian response only needs to trump the national response when the two are in conflict, instead of "any response we have as Americans."

John said...

I don't know about national "obligation," most of the people I know who have immigrated here are just trying to live better lives for themselves and their families.

Now you do. Oppression implies that a person or collective denying people what is rightfully theirs. So there is only oppression of immigrants have the right to freely cross national borders. Do they?

But my argument hinges mostly on two things - firstly, my understanding of what it means for a Christian disciple to love people on the margins and secondly, my experience with and compassion for people who are trying to immigrate here.

A laudable notion. Biblically sound. But do we really practice it to this extent? I give out food and such to the poor of my town. The church helps people pay bills that they can't manage. But I don't liquidate all of my assets and hand them out to the homeless. Nor does my church liquidate all of its holdings and distribute them. It could be (very) argued that we should, even though I would wonder where I would sleep that night and the church would wonder where it would meet next Sunday.

So do we do this? Should we?

That's what we're facing with immigration. We're at the point where our national unity is in grave doubt over the long run because we have opened the doors to millions upon millions of people who show little to no sign of assimilating and do not really self-identify as Americans. To use the metaphor, we're approaching the point of, well, selling all we have and giving to the poor. And Biblically, it's sound. But let's be honest about the act of national suicide that we are taking.

John said...

In this case of immigration policy, our response as Christians trumps any response we have as Americans.

Theologically, this makes sense. But I wonder whether, if we've reached this conclusion, it's ethical to participate in public policy formulation process. If we've foresworn fidelity to a polity, should we make use of the political power that the polity has entrusted to us?

Larry B said...

I agree with the substance of John's last couple comments.

Anyone who owns a house with a lock on it, yet considers himself a follower of Jesus Christ, can understand how a sovereign nation would want to have secured borders.

If we are really concerned about a predominant system and it's oppression then one ought to consider what the real predominant system may be. I would think that it's our own greed and insatiable appetite for material goods that is the real oppressor. If we take mexican immigrants for example, our proposition to them is something along the lines of:

Send us 12 million (or so) of your hardest working citizens, have them come here and work at the lowest working wage (which puts them at poverty in our country) so that we can continue to pay really cheap prices for the food they pick and the rooms they clean so we can spend our money on more entertainment and cheap electronic gadgets. Oh and by the way, we'll pump hundreds of millions of dollars into your drug cartels buying meth, pot, and cocaine, so that your country can continue to suffer from corruption, crime and poverty.

I think that we need to be cognizant of what revsarah points out, that there ought to be consideration for both sides here, and our need for cheap labor to feed our greedy consumerism doesn't necessarily justify incorporating a large percentage of a neighboring countries population while leaving that country to struggle for itself.

Andy B. said...

Wow, Larry B. That paragraph that starts "Send us 12 million..." is really good. That's about as succinct a restatement of the complexities invovled as I have heard.

Hey, John - I guess I'm thinking more about human rights than national. And so I do not agree that "there is only oppression of immigrants have the right to freely cross national borders." I believe (as our UM Social Principles state) that all people have a right to sufficient food, shelter, clothing, education, and health care, and further that governments are responsible for protecting those basic human rights for all people.

And further, this stance does not necessitate total liquidation of assets and distribution to the poor. I advocate for the one who has much not having too much, and the one who has little not having too little. (2 Cor. 8:15) Rough places plain and uneven ground level and all that.

Anonymous said...

Andy:

A couple of quick hits on the fly...
Are you not moving the proverbial goalposts? Early on you argue from the perspective of what a Christian discple should do. In the latter part, you base your argument/premise on the UM Social Principles. Apples and oranges from my humble perspective. The UM SP is a noble statement, but is not rooted in the realities of many nations around the globe; which may in part lead many to seek immigration legally and illegally into the US. You also seem to hint here and in previous offerings, about a fairness to the process. I never quite understood this, as allowing illegal immigrants safe haven and amnesty is greatly unfair to those who attempt to immigrate legally through the proper channels no matter how arduous and time consuming the process may be.
Secondly and as an aside, peoples infatuation with wealth redistribution has never ceased to amaze me when one takes the time to look at history that wealth redistribution has not worked in any country during any period of time around the world.
Thanks for the bandwidth. Mea Culpa for grammar and typos!

Respectfully,
Joseph

Andy B. said...

Hi Joseph! Long time, no comment :)

I did not actually base my argument on the UM SP, just pointed out how they parallel my own beliefs in this matter. In other matters, they don't. But your point is well taken, than the SP represent our denomination's best effort, which is by definition a limited, sinful, fallible effort.

Secondly, I don't really think I have been writing about illegal immigration other than as a tangent to my primary argument that the (legal) immigration system is oppressive. And you are correct when you say that people trying to navigate the immigration system legally are often very frustrated that others are here illegally. In fact, several with whom I am working have at one point or another expressed a variation of, "Why even bother with it? Why don't I just try my luck outside of the system?"

And finally, I am not compelled by the argument that, because the Scriptural admonition to share wealth justly and equitably among people "has not worked," that we ought to now ignore it. I know that is not exactly what you wrote, but that's where my mind went first. If you'd like to nuance your last thought, I'd welcome reading more.

Earl said...

There is no scriptural warrant for anyone to violate the law. Say what you will, illegal aliens and those who help them are breaking the law. If you don't like the law, work through the appropriate channels to change the law. If that is difficult continue to work through the appropriate channels. If one finds the difficulty of changing the law problematic, fine. Continue to work through the appropriate channels. If to accomplish you goal the Constitution must be amended, fine. Convince fellow citizens of your position. We live in a federated republic not a confederacy. No individual state has the right to set its own policy on illegal aliens. This is not Europe and we are not living in the Middle Ages. No church has the right to suppose that they can, in the name of a non-existent "sanctuary policy," shield illegal aliens from the law.
To permit illegal aliens to enter and then remain in our nation does damage to those immigrants who have entered our nation legally. Such is fundamentally unjust and dishonest.

Rich Holton said...

earl said:
There is no scriptural warrant for anyone to violate the law.

I wonder if Jesus "broke the law" when he turned over the tables of the money changers.

When he healed on the sabbath.

When he touched lepers or a woman who was bleeding.

I wonder is Paul ever violated the law. He sure found himself in prison often enough.

I wonder if Peter violated the law when he entered a Gentile's house and had dinner there.

Earl said...

The subject at hand is not the legality involved in disregarding obsolete laws on ritual purity. The subject at hand is how we are to deal with illegal aliens.
As my statement was apparently overly broad. To clarify, I will be more specific. Demonstrate a Scriptural warrant to break the law as relates to illegal aliens.

Andy B. said...

Earl, thanks for you comments. I agree with your statement that disregarding an obsolete law may be justified. I would also include "unjust laws" in that category, as have Christians over the generations. When you think about it, it was disregarding unjust laws that led to the American Revolution and the founding of this country.

Again, however, I need to reiterate that the issue at hand for me is not illegal immigration, but rather how the legal immigration system is oppressive. I'm concerned for people just like you mention, who are trying to "work through appropriate channels," and are still experiencing injustice and oppresssion.

Rich Holton said...

Earl,

What laws regarding "illegal aliens" existed in Biblical times? While I'm not an expert in history, I'm not aware of any.

It seems to me to be disingenuous of you to expect scriptural warrant to violate laws that did not exist in Biblical times.

There are, however, scriptural passages about the treatment of aliens...the Title of the original post refers to one.

There are many situations in our time that did not exist in Biblical times. What we must do is look at the principles behind Biblical mandates, and look at timeless truths and commandments, like "Love your neighbor as yourself." and apply those to our situations.

I think it's clear that Christ and the disciples were quite willing to do just that, and to do it even when it violated then-current laws. As followers of Christ, we are called to do the same thing.

John said...

Andy wrote:

I'm concerned for people just like you mention, who are trying to "work through appropriate channels," and are still experiencing injustice and oppresssion.

Precisely what "injustice and oppression" is going on?

Andy B. said...

John, the paragraph in the oringinal post that begins, "And then, applying that to the contemporary discussion of immigration reform,..." answers that, I think. All of those scenarios are anecdotal, based upon my experiences with people trying to immigrate here legally.

Earl said...

The immigration system of our nation is not oppressive. It does not marginalize or dehumanize anyone. It screens applicants for citizenship. This is because not all who want to enter our nation would be assets to our nation. Many who would enter instead would be destructive to our nation.

Regarding obedience to the law, why should there be any exceptions? Jesus did not object to the right of the Roman civil government to try, convict and execute him. Again Paul did not object.

If this is disingenuous then such is the case with advocates for the GLBTG movement who cite the silence of Scripture as justification for their position.

We have no option in the way we are to treat aliens. But no where in Scripture is it commanded that they be accorded the rights of citizenship.

Granted there are today situations not referenced in Scripture. But the truths of Scripture are timeless. The rub is that in our doing unto others as we would have others do unto us, we end up doing to some others what we would not have done to us. Those who are currently having to bear the brunt of the current influx of illegal aliens are not wrong to seek to stem/stop that influx by seeking vigorous law enforcement and judicial action. This entire situation is the result of failure to address the complaints of those who have been negatively impacted by this issue.

Rich Holton said...

Earl said:
Regarding obedience to the law, why should there be any exceptions? Jesus did not object to the right of the Roman civil government to try, convict and execute him. Again Paul did not object.

Please read your Bible, especially the four accounts of Jesus' arrest.

Matthew 26:55-56a
55At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.”

Mark 14:48-49
48Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.”

Luke 22:52-53
52Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? 53When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

John 18:10-12
10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” 12So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.

In no case was Jesus submitting to the soldiers because he did not want to break the civil law. He went along to fulfill scripture, or in obedience to the Father.

Remember that during Jesus' trial, Jesus did not defend himself--did not participate in the trial. He did nothing to legitimize the trial.

Earl also said:
If this is disingenuous then such is the case with advocates for the GLBTG movement who cite the silence of Scripture as justification for their position.

I'm not sure how GLBTG issues are relevant here. I am not the one attempting to argue from the silence of scripture. I would say that you are the one doing that. But even so, it drag GLBTG issues into this conversation seems like an attempt to cloud the conversation.

But again, I am not arguing from the silence of scripture. Please go to http://bible.oremus.org/ and search all of scripture for the word "alien". I suggest the NRSV translation, because I know they use "alien" instead of some other word, like "foreigner". But you'll find many results. Read them in context, and you'll begin to see that God has much to say about how his people are to relate to aliens. What you won't see is anything about illegal aliens. There's just nothing to suggest that the concept existed in Biblical times.

And I don't see how some civil government passing a law somehow changes our responsibility to follow God's law.

Earl said...

"Illegal aliens" is the precise term to use for those who enter this nation without complying with the immigration laws of this nation. In connection with this discussion the term is used precisely to demonstrate that such persons are only in this country because of their failure to act in accordance with law. They are at fault. And those who help them are accessories to crime.

Regarding violation of law, use of "Disingenuous" is simply repetition of that term as previously used. As touching upon the GLBTG issue, the silence of Jesus on that subject is often cited as justification for tolerance of such behavior and acceptance of such individuals. In the same way that such abuse of Scripture is disingenuous so is that same use of Scripture in the matter of illegal aliens. The simply fact is that in both the Old and New Testament era, with only a very few exceptions, nation states were monarchical. Residents were subjects not citizens. The development of the modern nation state with clearly defined borders is not anticipated in Scripture. As citizens have rights and obligations, it is fundamentally a violation to the rights of citizens for other persons, in this case illegal aliens, to be permitted to use and abuse the resources of a nation.

When it comes to the study of Scripture use of a more accurate less PC driven translation than the NRSV would be best. Otherwise one can be misled. Apart from using the available Hebrew and Greek text, for the OT, the RSV is at least adequate. For the NT, one can not do better than the NASV.

It is true that in Biblical times national borders were porous with migratory movement by nomadic people groups being common throughout the region. It is not correct to state that the concept of illegal aliens did not in Biblical times exist. As far back as the Patriarchal period, Abraham recognized that his status as a nomad was not privileged. When he entered and moved through the territory of what amounted to local chiefdoms, he did so with due deference to the local authority. When during famine Jacob’s family turned to Egypt for relief, they did not act high handedly but with absolute compliance to the law of Egypt. When the extended family later entered and became permanent residents of Egypt they did not do so in contravention of any standing law. Further they did not do so as a result of Joseph acting contrary to or above the law. They entered at the specific invitation of Pharaoh. During the period of the Exodus Moses sought to move peacefully through the territory of established nation groups as he led Israel to the Promised Land. He did not demand the right of entry or free movement. He did not demand support of the nation state. There was no expectation that local residents would be required to provide any support.

As regards how we are to treat people, alien or not, Scripture is clear. Issues such as gleaning, freedom from abuse, etc are clearly stated. But no where in Scripture are believers instructed to accord to aliens the full rights and status of citizens. When one considers the rights of all people, both illegal aliens and legitimate citizens of a nation, the idea that illegal aliens should have any legal prerogatives is completely at odds with any concept of personal or collective equity. And no where in Scripture are illegal aliens given carta blanc to do as they please in a unwilling host nation. In this regard, even existing international law and UN actions demonstrate that refugees of any sort have no absolute unlimited right to enter or remain in a nation. And no where in Scripture is there any rational presented for illegal aliens to enter and seek to destroy the very character and qualities of a unwilling host nation.

The conflict of civil law with the responsibility of disciples echo’s through the Old and New Testament. Resolution of that conflict never has and never will be simple. In the matter of illegal aliens significant and in some locals extreme damage is suffered broadly. In that matter for advocates of illegal aliens to cloak their actions in the robe of God is morally repugnant. It is a misuse of Scripture to achieve an agenda that is contrary to the rights of individuals, all in the name of some supposed greater good.

Rich Holton said...

Earl,

I appreciate portions of your most recent comment, especially when you acknowledge the difficulty of resolving the conflict between civil law and the responsibiliy of disciples.

I also believe that the resolution of the question of illegal aliens in the US is difficult to resolve. I acknowledge that some people who obey US laws are hurt when others in the country do not obey them. However, simply deporting millions of illegal aliens, would also harm people who are in the US legally, including US citizens. (I don't presume that you suggest deportation--I don't know what you suggest).

However, it does not help us to resolve conflicts when we draw erroneous conclusions from scripture. I entered into this conversation with you when you made the claim (later withdrawn) that, "There is no scriptural warrant for anyone to violate the law."

You then asked (me?) to "Demonstrate a Scriptural warrant to break the law as relates to illegal aliens."

To me, this sounded "disingenous" (a word I should perhaps have avoided)--it sounded to me much like someone saying something like, "show me scriptural prohibition against cloning."

Basically, it appeared that you were doing exactly what you later spoke against: citing the silence of Scripture as justification for your position.

I appreciate your thoughtful discussion of how scriptural characters behaved when they were in foreign lands. That is useful!

In the end, we need to figure out for ourselves, as Christians and as US citizens, how we are to respond to the current situation, both in our personal lives and in the political realm.

In doing so, I think it's important to give civil law the respect that it deserves, but no more; and to give God's commands and Jesus' example the respect they deserve, and no less.

Earl said...

With few exceptions a policy of deportation combined with stiff penalties for those who contrary to the law exacerbate the problem by employing such persons would do much to address the problem of illegal aliens. Once removed to their country of origin these people could seek legal entry to our nation. This would both give an advantage to those who abide by the law and at the same time send a message to those who would seek to contravene the law. If there are legitimate problems with INS processes, these should certainly be addressed. We no longer live in the era of nomadic tribes. No one has the inherent right to freely move from one nation to another without regard for borders. We live in the modern world where organizational structures have evolved to nation states. Within that context immigration is not a right to be demanded but a privilege extended by a sovereign nation to applicants who follow the established legal processes of that nation.

I was not aware that any claim had been withdrawn regarding scripture and the violation of law. Our society is structured by law. If we obey the law in only those aspects that we personally affirm, there remains no basis for any possibility except a chaotic of lawlessness. The existing political process affords a legitimate avenue to seek legitimate change. The ongoing debate in the upcoming presidential election reflects the viability of this process. At least in this matter, appealing to the New Testament as justification for violating the law is at a minimum suspect. It would be an entirely different matter were this the era of Nazi Germany and if those under discussion were Jews fleeing the Holocaust. But such is not the case.

Regarding the issue of illegal aliens and GLBTS and the use of the word “disingenuous,” the application is accurate. For example, in seeking to bring about changes to The Discipline, advocates on behalf of GLBTG persons frequently cite a supposed silence of Scripture in support of their proposals. Conservatives as frequently question the legitimacy of such argument from silence. To use the same rational in the issue of illegal aliens is at least as legitimate.

We are citizens of the United States but at the same time we are subjects of Christ our King. Therein lies a tension that is not easily resolved. At the intersection of civil law and commitment to Christ there is a tension that is not easily resolved. Like those who gave the coin to Jesus we should not be surprised if we find in our hands the evidence of our own compromise.