I was recently contacted by a Reuters reporter who assumed that, because I am an evangelical pastoring in the midwest, I would agree with a new evangelical political initiative attempting to broker a deal between the liberals and conservatives – a “moral” way to handle the powder keg of America’s Trojan Horse called illegal immigration. It was described by the reporter as the “I was a stranger and you took me in” initiative. The “I was a stranger …” initiative takes its mantra from the famous text of Matthew 25:35, quoting the authoritative words of Jesus Christ. My response to Reuters News was probably not what they expected.
There is a great deal of accelerated emotions involved in this particular debate, which are not necessarily helpful when addressing an issue of legality, crime, and moral prosecution. The knee-jerk reaction of well-intended souls, who operate almost exclusively in an environment of church government (where the art of human reconciliation is the ultimate driving objective and communication skills are paramount), does not translate very well in a sphere of civil government (where the art of retribution is the ultimate driving objective in order to administer proper justice through punishments). Reconciliatory thinkers are wonderful, valuable, precious people. They are capable of literally “saving the whole world” with what is often promoted to be “good news”. They want to give everyone a sincere and loving hug, but please understand they are quite possibly the most dangerous people on earth when errantly put in charge of a maximum-security prison system (or anything that has to do with crime and punishment – law-making – or becoming the next American President).
In contrast with reconciliatory thinkers, retributive thinkers are wonderful, valuable, precious people, too. They are literally capable of “protecting the world” with what is often misconstrued as “bad news”. Alas, their “Go to jail!” command is very necessary and valuable to society. They can also be the very most disastrous people on earth if they are mistakenly asked to develop a curriculum for training airline stewardesses, concierge etiquette, or running the help-desk at the Department of Transportation licensing bureau…but I digress.
It is my charge that the “I was a stranger and you took me in” initiative is an aberrant attempt of reconciliatory thinkers to solve a criminal problem they seem uniquely unqualified to solve. Are they sincere? Yes. Are they compassionate and well-meaning? I have no doubt. Are they noble and reputable church-leaders in their own right? Sure. Is their premise built upon sound biblical doctrine anchored by divine authority? ABSOLUTELY NOT. They are misguided – in layers.
Here’s the link to what is clearly a misleading commercial provided to me by the interviewing reporter. Once you have viewed this commercial and have seen the reading of a Bible passage by various ministers from many backgrounds known and unknown, you will be better equipped to consider what follows in this writing. My thoughts are based upon what I was able to sleuth out about the group, beginning with the most obvious problem – their inappropriate and misleading use of the passage being read when applied to the subject of crime (more on that in a moment).
I cannot affirm this movement, because it appears to be out of step with the authentic Christian doctrine of justice. When I say it is out of step with authentic Christian doctrine, keep in mind that the popularity or common sentiment among Christians may or may not necessarily determine whether such a belief is actually in agreement with sound Bible instruction. We do, after all, live in an age where, sadly, false doctrine is widely accepted as “truth” and our pagan culture has done a far better job of “discipling” the last four generations of church-goers than the other way around. I think all of us that deal with reality know that very well, particularly ministers who are dealing with a full deck of cards.
As a pastor of what has been called a “neo-Pentecostal” independent church, feeling the constant gusts of every “wind of doctrine” only describe another average day at the office. I am always skeptical, in a healthy sort of way, I hope, of the latest political, social, musical, doctrinal, or dietary…even culinary fads. It’s my nature. With that said, I am quite opposed to any intellectually dishonest warping of scripture which pretends the phrase, “I was a stranger and you took me in”, should be misconstrued as either harboring, aiding and abetting offenders of divine (higher) law, or the lower man-created laws that remain in harmony with them. Ponder the previous sentence well before allowing yourself to be emotionally drawn into a vortex of illogic and drama. I don’t take any misapplication of the authoritative words of Jesus Christ lightly, especially when they are used in public marketing as a ploy for support. Nor should you.
So let’s briefly get into the weeds on this so we can move on to the other problems with the messaging of the “I was a stranger and you took me in” initiative. The use of Jesus’ words are misleading and inappropriate, because it is well known that the word stranger is originally translated from the Greek word xenos, and the implication of the word’s usage in the text of Matthew 25:35 would be best described as guest foreigner. I should not need to explain the difference between a law-breaking (illegal) foreigner and a guest foreigner, should I? No, I should not – especially not to Christian religious leaders of the caliber brandished by this commercial – ministers we expect to be approved by their diligent and studied obedience to the command of Paul, who wrote, “Study to show thyself approved.” But I do have to say it, don’t I?
Conclusion thus far? The mantra of the initiative is your first glaring red flag. Proceed with caution.
I am a pastor, and I understand where these pastors are coming from, even though I realize they are misguided. I have personally endured more than one bad scenario where a wonderful would-be citizen attending my church was ground to powder by our horrible, bureaucratic circus of kookiness we call the “legal immigration process.” Those painful, inefficient scenarios were hard to bear, were harsh on the innocent children caught in them, and spiritually and emotionally difficult to navigate. The fact that I felt anger in defense of these warm and kind people who immigrated in an unsavory way many years before they came to Christ did not necessarily help my ability to determine that lady justice should be allowed to do her proper, God-ordained work in the earth. In fact, the average pastoral experience with immigration in the United States is usually similar to what I’ve just described above. Add that fact to our pastoral penchant for reconciliation, and we are easily biased to a fault on the subject of illegal immigration. In this arena, pastoral objectivity is usually lost amidst the sea of suffering parents and children, and the God-ordained demands of justice, if left to us in our tearful state, are absolutely impossible.
Why? Because, you see, there is another side to illegal immigration than what is most often experienced by experts in reconciliation (pastors). There is a very dark, dangerous, and damnable side of this tragedy, which few ministers encounter, and even if they do, they are unlikely to be publicly willing to address it with appropriate candor for fear of seeming unloving to a mostly biblically illiterate American public. As pointed out earlier, with the exception of the unique ministry of a biblical prophet, pastors are not typically wired (or willing to be wired) for anything beyond reconciliation.
Allow me to quote Dan Zak of the Washington Post, reflecting on America’s fascination with two particular criminals of our national past. “How do two reckless losers — amateur stickup artists who killed at least 10 people on a haphazard spree across six states — remain celebrated icons capable of inspiring this current glut of [Hollywood movie] projects?”[i]
The answer to his question may be complex, but the reason Bonnie and Clyde were able to murder so many is quite simple. Ten innocent citizens were murdered because a naive farm couple, by the names of Ivan and Avie Methvin, helped hide the criminals on their rented farm, no doubt justifying themselves each time through a warped application of the biblical command to ‘love thy neighbor’. Ivan and Avie may have been well-meaning old folks; no one but God really knows. What we do know is they were naive, ignorant, and disobedient to the Bible, whether they meant well or not. As an aside, as an Iowan, every four years I look presidential candidates in the eyes and ask them important questions about this subject. It doesn’t take long before I see they have the same intellectual problem as Ivan and Avie, and that will explain why I have only publicly endorsed one presidential candidate in the last 18 years of ministry. I digress, again.
Common sense should tell us that aiding and abetting a criminal is not only against American law, it’s against biblical law. When you aid and abet a wrong-doer, you partner with them against the righteousness of God. That is what Jesus and John taught very clearly. (See Matthew 18 and 2 John 1:11.) Let me describe it another way: from a relational standpoint, it is evil and disobedient to give mercy to the unrepentant. From a theological standpoint, it is not the role or purpose of civil government to distribute mercy in the first place. I digress. Meanwhile, with regard to the relational standpoint I just mentioned, there is not one verse in all of Scripture that says mercy should EVER be given without repentance. This will be a shock to many who fly their kites in every wind of doctrine, but it’s still a fact. Don’t believe me? Do a word-study on mercy in a good Geneva or King James Bible and see what you find concerning that other word always found near it – the word repent.
And what could be the result of the unbiblical naiveté of those who might be tempted to warp the phrase “I was a stranger and you took me in”? Our institutionalized resurrection of the proverbial “Methvin Farm” will ensure the illegal immigration problem to continue and grow worse in the following ways: 1) overcrowded and inefficient hospital emergency rooms; 2) unsupportable numbers of students financially crushing the public education system; 3) cavalier disrespect of Americans through identity theft; 4) disproportionate contributions of violent crime committed in large cities; and 5) a rate of untenable population saturation devoid of any responsible, measured assimilation to principles of Americanism, and much more. Offended that I have just compared illegal immigrants to Bonnie and Clyde? Not so fast, bleeding heart. Iowa 4th District Congressman Steve King once released data showing that an average of 4,380 Americans were currently being murdered by illegal aliens every year. If the congressman was correct, that means illegal immigrants reproduce the equivalent of Bonnie and Clyde’s entire lifetime of criminal escapades every twenty-four hours.
Illegal immigration will inevitably result in a loss of freedom, as statist thinking (the reason Mexico is a civic disaster many wish to escape) penetrates our society. If illegal immigration is not stopped, an un-American (corrupted) worldview will continue to be applied by disrespectful immigrants upon our legal and political culture. When a nation of any people apply their errant worldview of the relationship between the individual soul and the state, the results are always unsavory. The people ( in this case Mexican citizens) who do not appreciate their own reflection (in this case Mexican government) will do one of two things: 1) they will address the ugliness and change it; or 2) they will hate the mirror, deny reality, and shop for a new mirror.
The danger this poses my law-abiding neighbors is anything but kind, gentle, or remotely godly. The act of illegally crossing the sovereign border of any nation is sinful, and it is disrespectful to the God who pre-determined the fixed-boundaries of national habitations, according to Acts 17:26. Illegal immigration is irreverent, harmful, selfish, and uncaring for the common good of the nation whose laws are dishonored and broken. It is unkind and abusive to my fellow American neighbors. The Great Lawgiver – Moses – a prophet of God revered by both Christians and Jews around the world…quoted, endorsed, and defended by the doctrines of Jesus Christ…that deliverer of the Hebrew children from Egypt and messenger of the two tables of stone…Moses, whose genius was hallowed in the musings of the celebrated minds of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates…described illegal immigration as a threatening curse of disobedience, the spawn of a spirit of lawlessness, holding destructive powers with national consequences, in Deuteronomy 28:43 & 52.
As it turns out, some time long ago, our fathers decided freedom could not co-exist in an environment of lawlessness, so we became a Republic – a nation of laws. Laws in America are the reason we enjoy liberty, and they must be enforced if we love our neighbors and seek the common good. Ironically, the enforcement of laws has produced the atmosphere men of other nations so desire that they are willing to become criminals to achieve it. Should we reform our immigration system? Does it need reform? Yes and yes, but not before we enforce current laws with integrity. Who can guarantee, after all, that proposed reforms would be enforced afterward if we allow the unjust habit of non-enforcement happening now to continue?
Laws that are not enforced are not laws at all; they are suggestions in legal dress. No nation can survive the twaddle of suggestions.
I have shared these thoughts and more with my local and state representatives and the presidential candidates that frequent my state every four years, and I will continue to do so.