For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Cor 14:33 RSV)
Last week’s blog included the sentence: “Let the cacophony begin.” It has.
I have not intended to focus this blog on politics, but, like Moses’ experience with the burning bush, the current din of confusion in the political realm beckons me to turn aside to listen. When I do, I hear that a significant component of the confusion involves the mistaken identification of national interests in self-protection with Christian motivations. Setting aside whether recent steps undertaken by the new administration promise to achieve their intentions from a purely practical perspective (which I doubt), I cannot let stand without objecting again (see other posts in this blog dealing with “rights”) that actions motivated primarily, if not exclusively, by concerns for the self and, especially, by concerns for the artificial national “self,” have no relationship to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The specific news item in mind involves the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ recently decreed by executive order. Pragmatically, of course, its origination was ill-conceived (cabinet members of the pertinent departments apparently learned about it only after the fact), its language is overly broad (green card holders are legal residents of the country), and its implementation was disruptive and crude. Above all, however, it is difficult to see how one can avoid characterizing it as anything but “anti-other.” The President continues to justify it, despite its pragmatic flaws, on the grounds that the overarching need for “protection” redeems virtually any shortcoming.
I do not deny that it is, well, foolish to take foolish risks with personal and public safety. To risk one’s life needlessly is to devalue the gift God has given. Nonetheless, biblical faith emphasizes the importance of recognizing the value of that gift as given in the lives of others, too. Indeed, the Gospel calls upon believers, not to exercise concern for others secondarily, but primarily, that is to put others – including our enemies – above ourselves.
To honor the title of this blog (“Mostly on the Bible”) and with apologies for extensive block quotes, I will simply cite with brief commentary a few key biblical statements. First, a statement from Jesus points out that claiming to be Christian without doing God’s will has no significance:
Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matt 7:21-23 RSV, ital added)
What is the “will of God” Jesus mentioned? In part, it requires rising above the cycle of tit-for-tat, the lex talionis, that perpetuates conflict and violence:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. (Matt 5:38-42, ital added)
Indeed, God calls God’s people to answer wrong with right, hate with love.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt 5:38-47 RSV, ital added)
With respect to the specific question of “immigrants/foreigners/resident aliens/refugees,” the Bible makes the will of God equally clear beginning with an important Old Testament tradition related to Israel’s own experience as foreigners in a strange land and continuing in Jesus’ identification with marginalized people to the extent that mistreating them is to mistreat Christ:
The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:34 RSV, ital added)
Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they … will answer, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?” Then he will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt 25:41-46 RSV, ital added)
Nations cannot be Christian (or Muslim, or Jewish either, for that matter) because persons have faith. Artificial constructs cannot believe. The times require that the Church (by which I mean the body of believers, not some institution, another artificial construct) fulfill its proper role in the world, namely, that of salt and light. Jesus came to redeem humanity from its selfishness, including selfishness magnified in its tribal, ethnic, and national forms. We cannot protect ourselves from others while fulfilling the call to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.