Friday, February 20, 2015

Immigration: A Christian Dilemma

    Should we build a wall at the border, or should we let everyone through?  As I scroll through my social media feeds, I see posts by friends that seem to support both extremes.  Some say that, as a matter of security, out nation must seal the border.  Others say that as a matter of Christian compassion, we must care for the foreigners among us and allow them in. 

So what should a faithful Christian believe?

Is there a “right” answer?

Honestly, I don’t know. 

    What I do know, is that both extremes miss the mark.  I recognize that both “sides” are represented by people of faith who believe in the message of the gospel.  But at the same time, each group ignores vital and valid points that are made by the other.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I am the product of an immigrant family.  My grandparents came here from Germany, as did my Mother-in-law.  Our family is certainly sympathetic to the cause of immigrants.  But even so, I understand that the discussion pulls us in different directions.

Here are some points of discussion worth considering:

1)      As followers of God, we are called to be the voice for the voiceless (Proverbs 31:8) as well as to care for the foreigners among us (Exodus 22, Jeremiah 22, Ezekiel 22, Zechariah 7)

2)      There are limited resources with which to care for them and a limited number of volunteers who can provide care.

3)     Border crossings that avoid official checkpoints, cross deserts and other  inhospitable territory.  As a result, men, women and children die crossing the border.

4)      Unscrupulous people, who are hired to guide others across the border, often abandon their charges or sell them into various forms of human trafficking.

5)      Whenever the chance of success is higher, or the rewards for success become greater, more people attempt to cross the border.

6)      Is it fair, or just, to those who are following the law and applying for proper documentation, to allow undocumented immigrants to flow across the border?

7)      Is it fair, or just, for native born citizens to compete for employment against undocumented migrants?

8)      There are valid local and national security concerns related to some of the people who are crossing the border.  Is it justice to put others at risk by allowing known criminals into the country without a background check?

   Clearly, we are called to be compassionate and to care for the foreigners among us, but the most compassionate, caring, and just thing to do may not be found at either extreme.  Building walls and returning undocumented migrants results in injustice, but opening the floodgates and allowing everyone in creates a different kind of injustice.  Making it easier to cross the border will increase the number of people who die crossing it.  And the failure to regulate who is crossing, will drive migrants into the hands of human traffickers. 

    When the waiting list for legal documentation can drag on for years, how are those applicants harmed by migrants who are given such documentation after crossing the border in the dark of night?

    We have seen similar waves of immigration.  There were waves of Irish, Germans, Czechs, Chinese, Vietnamese, and others.  Perhaps with this wave of immigrants from Central America, we might reconsider an old idea.  What if we built a new “Ellis Island” on our border with Mexico?  It would be a place where migrants would be welcomed, cared for, and kept safe, but also a place where they could be documented, we could conduct background checks, and verify that they met other requirements. 

    At Ellis Island, migrants were tested for disease, and were required to provide documentation that they had employment and a place to live in their new country.  While most migrants passed through Ellis Island in a day or two, my grandfather was detained for a week because the man who was supposed to verify his employment was delayed.  He was finally approved for entry after that man sent a telegram which verified his status.

Once again, I don’t know what the answer is.  Most likely, there is no single answer.

But each extreme carries us toward injustice. 

Justice and compassion demand that we try to find a way between these conflicting demands. 


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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Snipers and Burning Pilots - God Weeps

    Lately there has been a great deal of publicity and social media chatter about the movie, American Sniper.  Of course everyone is also talking about the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, who was burned to death by ISIS fighters. 

I struggle with these things.

    I spent ten years in the Army Reserve.  For years I collected and read books on military history and one of the books that I liked was about the Marine sniper, Carlos Hathcock, who was the “most lethal” sniper during the Vietnam war and whose record held until Chris Kyle broke it.  I have always admired the courage and fortitude of men like Carlos Hathcock.  At the same time, seeing a helpless, caged man burned to death (I haven’t actually seen it.  I just can’t bring myself to watch a man die) stirs an incredible anger in me. 

A part of me wants revenge.

    But as much as we have made heroes out of men like Carlos Hathcock and Chris Kyle, and martyrs out of men like Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, we ought to stop and think about what God wants.

We know how these things make us feel.

But how does God feel?

    While it is true that our God is a god of Justice, and while it is true that God has sent armies to destroy evil and to avenge wrongdoing, God is also a god of compassion, mercy and love.  In cases like these, clearly, we find that there is tension between the world that exists and what God wants.

    But even if, in the darkest sense, we assume that God desires for evil to be destroyed and that, at least by our definition, ISIS is that evil, what do we know about God? 

I do not pretend to know the mind of God.

God did not speak to me from Mount Sinai.

    It is not my place to declare that God wants to kill or destroy ISIS regardless of their violence and evil.  If we have learned anything from history, we should know that it is not the place of human beings to go to war under the assumption that we have been “sent by God” or that we are doing the “will of God.” 

Unless God speaks to me in a clear and audible voice, I am not likely to change my opinion on that.

But I think that the message of scripture tells us quite clearly how God feels.

God weeps.

    God loves the people of his creation.  God loves the Jews, and the Christians, Buddhists, Atheists, Muslims, and everyone else. 

God claims all of us as his children.

    And God desires for every one of his children to come to him.  That, after all, is the message of scripture and especially the message of Jesus and the New Testament. 

    God loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice the most valuable thing he had, his own son, in order to rescue us.  God loves humanity so much that he was willing to set aside his God-ness, come to earth in human flesh, and suffer and die as one of us, all so that we might have the chance to live forever in his home.

    And so I honestly don’t know how God feels about Chris Kyle or Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh except that he must feel like any other parent who watches their children fight.  God loved Chris Kyle, and Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, and the men they killed, and the men that killed them. 

    Every one of them, whether they were Americans, Jordanians, ISIS fighters, Christians or Muslims, were his beloved children.

And with us, God watched them die.

    And so, although I cannot say whether God sent Chris Kyle to impose some kind of “divine judgment,” I do know something else that is certain.

Just as any parent who watches a child die, when God watches the horror that is war…

God weeps.


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