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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Immigration and the Bible (5)

Do you remember the parable of the sheep and the goats?  It's long, so I won't quote it in full, but you might recall that the King says to the people on his right,
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. . . . [J]ust as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me [Matt. 25:34-36, 40].
And you probably remember what he says to the folks on his left.

Now, I think that the interpretation of this parable is often a case of "right doctrine, wrong text" (see also Phil. 1:6, but that's a different story).  This text is often employed to prove that we need to help the poor because all the poor are the brothers and sisters of Christ.  We do need to help the poor.  But the "brothers and sisters" Jesus is talking about here constitute a narrower group.  In Matthew 10:42, Jesus uses the term "little ones" (similar to "least of these" in this parable) to refer specifically to his humble disciples, and in a striking parallel to the parable of the sheep and the goats he says to his disciples, "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me" (v. 40).  (For another oft-misinterpreted use of "little ones" in Matthew, see 18:1-14.)  So the "brothers and sisters of mine" Jesus is talking about here are believing disciples of his who are in need and have been ministered to by folks on the King's right just because they are disciples of Jesus, which he rewards as service to himself.

So did you notice "I was a stranger and you invited me in"?

From the beginning of the Christian movement, all the way back to when Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs for their ministry practicum, hospitality to believers who came in Jesus' name was a big, big deal.  Jesus' comments in Matthew 10 that I quoted above are part of his instructions to his disciples before they went out on their tours.  Those instructions included,
Whenever you enter a town or village, find out who is worthy there and stay with them until you leave.  As you enter the house, give it greetings.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your message, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or that town.  I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town [vv. 11-15]!
The pattern of hospitality continued into the first-century church.  Paul, Peter, and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews all commanded the church to practice hospitality, with the latter making the astonishing claim that some have "entertained angels without knowing it" in the process.  Paul made hospitality a required qualification for elders/overseers and inclusion on the widows' list.  And an entire New Testament book, 3 John, was written and preserved to encourage showing hospitality to believers visiting from other churches.  (Incidentally, 2 John was written to discourage showing hospitality to false teachers.)  When Christians from foreign lands came to town, the church was expected to welcome them with open arms.  And in fact, as a not exactly legal movement, hospitality to Christian strangers was the only way the church globally could maintain cohesiveness.  (In other words, they didn't have quite as many conferences available to attend as we do today.)

Now it seems to me that there are two kinds of immigrants to the United States.  Yes, legal and illegal.  But the two kinds I'm thinking about are believers and unbelievers, people who are disciples of Christ and people who aren't.  (By the way, I'll talk about the problem of immigrants who are both illegal and believers in Christ next time.)  If the King were to return right now and judge American Christians on how well we "invited in . . . the least of these brothers and sisters of mine," which side do you think he'd put us on?

See, the huge, undifferentiated mass of humanity we call "immigrants" happens to include a lot of followers of Jesus Christ, our fellow workers, fellow servants, brothers and sisters in him.  And Jesus accounts for how we treat him by how we treat them.  Some of them are refugees from war-torn or oppressive lands like the Sudan or Burma, and part of the reason for their flight is persecution for the name of Christ.  I'm not going to pretend that caring for such refugees, as many sincere believers do, is easy.  It requires a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice by those who lend a helping hand and even invite the strangers into their homes.  But in terms of gut-level prejudice, it is easier to treat the Sudanese or Burmese believer as we would treat Christ than to treat the Mexican believer as we would treat Christ.  Am I wrong?

Regardless of the country and culture of origin, believers who are new to our land for whatever reason are an opportunity for us to be blessed.  They are an opportunity for us both to receive encouragement from them and give encouragement to them.  It is a tiny taste of the Great Reunion we will have in the new creation when the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation stand before the throne of the Lamb.

But not only that—we also have an opportunity with the other group of immigrants, the ones who don't believe in Jesus Christ.  Do you realize how much sacrifice, suffering, and sweat American missionaries have given for the last 200 years to go across the seas to tell people about Jesus Christ who have never heard?  Do you realize that for many Americans all we need to do to do the same is walk down the block?  Isn't that amazing to contemplate?  But it's true—God has brought vast numbers of unbelievers right into our communities so that millions of Christians can engage them as cross-cultural missionaries.  Are we blessed or what?  We should be ecstatically grateful for this opportunity!

And yet, American Christians who spend millions of dollars every year to go or send their brethren on short-term missions trips around the world (which, for the record, I think are frequently awesome and I strongly endorse) begrudge the existence of the mission field that God has brought to us.  A church I know well has staunchly supported international missions for generations, even giving sacrificially to that cause while their own finances dwindled away and the church faced its own demise.  And all that time, the reason the church faced its demise has been its fear and resentment of the vast numbers of immigrants that surround the church building on every side—a throng that included believers that they loved enough to rent to and even on occasion worship with, but not to accomodate to the point of becoming a new, blended church and losing their cultural dominance.

Will Jesus reject the wider church in America as he has rejected that particular church because it rejected him?  Are we destined for a fate worse than Sodom and Gomorrah?  The stakes before us could not be higher.  "Depart from me you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels!  For . . . I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest" (Matt. 25:41-43).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Immigration and the Bible (4)

In the last post we looked in detail at the primary rationale for ancient Israel to love immigrants among them as themselves and treat them with equality: "Because you were immigrants in Egypt.  I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 19:34).  You may have missed it—many have—but in the New Testament we have the very same basis for action.
So as you come to [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but chosen and priceless in God's sight, you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  You once were not a people, but now you are God's people.  You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy.  Dear friends I urge you as immigrants and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears [1 Pet. 2:4-5, 9-12].
Some technical notes before proceeding on.  First, Peter quotes the Old Testament extensively (and the Lord Jesus once) in this passage (including the verses I omitted).  Click any of the links above to see where he is quoting from.  Second, the word I rendered "immigrants" (NET, "foreigners") is the plural of the Greek word pároikos, a word that generically meant "neighbor" but was also used as a technical term for a long-term resident foreigner.  Pároikos was the preferred word employed to translate gēr in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament.  I rendered it "immigrants" here for the sake of consistency with the Old Testament Scriptures I've been quoting in recent posts.

In case you missed that, Peter calls his readers immigrants—people who dwell long-term outside their native land in a foreign culture with strange customs and laws.  Of course they weren't immigrants in the ordinary sense.  But Peter calls them "those temporarily residing abroad (in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia)" because they were "chosen according to the foreknowledge of our God and Father by being set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with Christ's blood" (1 Pet. 1:1-2).  When the Triune God saved them through the choice of the Father, the cleansing of the Son, and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, God gave them a new identity as citizens of a different place—heaven under the kingdom of God.  As Paul says likewise, "But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20)—"savior" and "lord" being titles frequently applied to the Roman emperor but applied to our real emperor instead.

Peter uses the metaphor of the immigrant experience to explain to his readers why they are suffering so much persecution at the hands of the dominant culture.  He says, God has called us individuals who had nothing to do with each other and made us into one people, his people, for his purpose.  Jesus is the King of our home country, and we are his subjects.  Jesus was maligned, mistreated, and rejected by the people of this country we live in even though God had chosen him.  Naturally the people around us will do the same to us.  Nevertheless, we are required while we live here in a foreign land, this sinful world, to make our true country our highest joy.  We must give our first allegiance to the King of our true country even as we seek the peace of this country in which we live.  We must live according to the laws and culture and values of our own people even as we live among these people who live entirely differently.  We must never fall into the temptation to assimilate into their society, because we must keep ourselves ready to return to our homeland when, in Jesus' second coming, our homeland returns to us.

At Sinai God told Israel, "You must not oppress an immigrant, since you know the life of an immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt" (Ex. 23:9).  We know the life of an immigrant too, because we also live in a land that is not our own as foreigners who don't belong here, people from an entirely different culture, values, and set of allegiances (and even language).  We can naturally sympathize with the immigrant to America, because we are immigrants here too.

Or can we?

The Christians to whom Peter wrote would not recognize the life we Christians are privileged to live in America in 2010.  They lived in a society in which acts of honor to false gods were so routine, ordinary, and pervasive that the only way to avoid them was to retreat from common social life altogether.  Many Christians did just that, and those who did not still kept as much distance from these offensive practices as they could.  The surrounding culture saw the Christians as strange and anti-social—they must hate people!  And their refusal to placate the gods with ritual worship made them atheists who didn't care if the gods sent famine or disaster or plague on civilization.  And worshiping a man who was crucified just a few years ago as if he was a god? . . . The list goes on and on.  The Christians really were a separate group.  (Perhaps we could compare them to Amish communities and Hasidic Jewish enclaves in America today, both groups being people among us but seemingly not really of us, living according to their own "strange" values and culture.)

By contrast, American Christians live in the country that was probably more shaped by biblical Christianity in its social and cultural substructure than any other nation in history.  We share many values, priorities, and assumptions with totally secular fellow citizens without even noticing because those values stem from our Christian-influenced heritage.  We really are at home here.  So the fact that we don't feel like strangers in a strange land, the fact that we feel like regular Americans, is partly a good thing, the result of the goodness and mercy of God upon our land.

And yet, does it concern you as much as it concerns me how at home we are?  When Christians look at immigrants as intruders, doesn't that suggest that we are far too comfortable in the land of our exile, that we actually think this land is our land?  Maybe we don't sympathize with the foreigner because we have little to no consciousness of being foreigners ourselves.  And frighteningly, maybe we aren't.  Maybe Christians' lack of sympathy toward immigrants in the flesh isn't just an indictment of our lovelessness but of our worldliness.

Now, even writing the word "worldliness," I recoil inside.  Because there is a rich tradition in the Church for 2,000 years of interpreting the concept of worldliness to apply to specific actions in a specific cultural setting (for example, dancing), and then that interpretation becomes a Thing Unto Itself, a law that is used as a measure of whether or not someone is appropriately holy.  The law then becomes a human tradition which is confused with and eventually trumps the word of God.  I hate that approach to worldliness, and Jesus hates it more (and is not tempted to do it, unlike me).

But I can't deny that the Bible talks extensively about worldliness.  "Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God?  So whoever decides to be the world's friend makes himself God's enemy" (Jas. 4:4).  But don't we fit in so easily, so often, so well?  Here's a little example that gets me.  On occasion I'll be reading my Bible or some sort of Christian literature in the evening, and then I'll walk into a room where the TV is on, and I'll be a bit sickened and turned off by the nature of what is presented as funny, because it treats sinfulness with such flippancy.  But that's not the part that bothers me.  What bothers me is that most of the time that I walk by the TV, I haven't just been reading Christian material, and the content doesn't turn me off at all.  I'm so acclimated to it, I don't even notice it.

But what if I was suddenly entirely de-acclimated to it—like jumping from a sauna into an icy fjord?  How would I respond?  It would probably be like extreme vertigo or a brutal psychological assault like brainwashing.  I would probably be sickened beyond imagining, and I would want to get away from it as far as possible.  I might sit on a rock in the desert or found a monastery.  But then if God touched my heart, I might feel compassion for those still in the nauseating mess and reestablish contact to save them even if what I have to smell in their presence is repulsive.

But if I did all those things, what would other people think of me?  Probably a holier-than-thou, goody-two-shoes, stick-up-his-you-know-what before the words got a lot nastier.  I'd be a freak to them, a wacko, a deviant, an alien, a total misfit, someone who doesn't belong in this culture, who isn't one of us.  People would mock me and wouldn't want to get too close to me, even good, patronizing people who are trying to be understanding.  And then, maybe then, I might have an idea what it's like to be an unassimilated immigrant in a foreign land.  And then I might have compassion on that kind of immigrant too and love him as myself.  And then I might be honoring to the God who chose me to come out of Babylon and be separate.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Proverb on Government from Ecclesiastes

(A brief time-out from my series on immigration.)  In my reading in Ecclesiastes on Monday I found a couple of verses that didn't make sense in my translation, so I retranslated them.  I wasn't sure why I felt compelled to take a few hours to do that very technical work.

Then yesterday I listened to these guys (click for video) . . .

and these guys (likewise) . . .

and this guy (etc.) . . .

and I think I understood.  Ecclesiastes 5:8-9:
If you see the poor oppressed and justice and fairness ripped away in the province, don't be shocked because of what you would like to see, because higher-up supervises higher-up and there are higher-ups over them.  But this is always the land's benefit: the king being worked for the field.
Nothing against any of the individuals displayed above—it's just that bureaucracy is inevitable and inevitably self-absorbed, and the drift is always toward the land serving the government instead of the other way around.  This insight is from a guy (Solomon) whose reign probably saw the largest bureaucratic growth by far in Israel's history.

Take from this whatever the Holy Spirit gives you.  For me it's the reassurance that God isn't surprised; he's seen it all before.  "There is nothing new under the sun."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Immigration and the Bible (3)

In our investigation so far we've seen that the ancient Israelis were supposed to regard the immigrant as one of their own, loving him as they loved themselves and expecting of him what was expected of them.  Throughout the law of Moses, the same reason for God's mandate to Israel appears again and again: "So you must love [the immigrant] as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.  I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 19:34).  Centuries before Jesus, it's a variation on the Golden Rule: Do to others what you wish the Egyptians had done to you.

It's worth refreshing our memories with Israel's experience as immigrants in Egypt:
The Israelites . . . were fruitful, increased greatly, multiplied, and became extremely strong, so that the land was filled with them.  Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power over Egypt.  He said to his people, "Look at the Israelite people, more numerous and stronger than we are!  Come, let's deal wisely with them.  Otherwise, they will continue to multiply, and if a war breaks out, they will ally themselves with our enemies and fight against us and leave the country."  So they put foremen over the Israelites to oppress them with hard labor.  As a result they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.  But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread.  As a result the Egyptians loathed the Israelites, and they made the Israelites serve rigorously.  They made their lives bitter by hard service with mortar and bricks and by all kinds of service in the fields.  Every kind of service the Israelites were required to give was rigorous.

The king of  Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, "When you assist the Hebrew women in childbirth, observe at the delivery: If it is a son, kill him, but if it is a daughter, she may live."  But the midwives feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. . . . Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "All sons that are born you must throw into the river, but all daughters you may let live" (Ex. 1:7-17, 22).
Joseph, Jacob's (Israel's) son who became prime minister of Egypt and brought his family into the land, had served under one of the Hyksos Pharaohs.  The Hyksos were a people from Asia who had swept into Egypt and took it over.  Their capital in Egypt, Avaris (biblical Zoan), was situated in the province in the eastern Delta known in the Bible as Goshen—exactly where Joseph directed his family to settle and where he was serving.  After Joseph and his brothers died and before Moses was born the Egyptians revolted against the Hyksos, drove them out of the land, invaded the lands bordering the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, and established a new dynasty.  It is a Pharaoh (or perhaps two) of this new dynasty who outlines the policies toward the Israelites in Exodus 1.

The Egyptians had for about 150 years been dominated by foreigners from southwest Asia, which just happens to be where Jacob's family had come from.  Anti-immigrant sentiment could hardly have run higher, and in the eyes of the Egyptians, the sons of Israel were immigrants.  Unlike in contemporary America, in nations of the ancient world (and in some countries today, not to mention slaves in antebellum America) citizenship was not based on the country of one's birth or a piece of paper, which would have made all the Israelis Egyptian citizens by this time.  Rather, citizenship was based on ethnicity, culture, and language.  So the Israelis could live in Egypt for many generations, all of them native-born, but as long as they still looked, talked, and acted like Israelis instead of Egyptians, as long as they had any cultural distinctives, they were immigrants.

Though the exact political situation and cultural relationships in Egypt were peculiar to that place and time and aren't the same as in the United States in 2010, it seems that worry about immigrants bears similar marks no matter where and when it appears.  The Egyptians viewed Israel as a nation within their nation, its own enclave of foreigners who hadn't assimilated to the dominant culture properly.  The Egyptians were deeply concerned about both the number of Israelis and the rate of their growth relative to the rest of the population.  They could easily envision that if the present growth rate continued unabated then there would eventually be more of them than of Egyptians.  Then the Egyptians would be the strangers in their own country; in fact, they would have no country left to them.  The real Egypt would cease to be, replaced by a new country, Israel, located along the Nile.  This process would of course be sped up if the Hyksos or some horde like them returned—wouldn't the Israelis naturally join forces with them because of their common ethnic and linguistic bonds?  National security was at stake.  (Note that the NET above and most versions mistranslate "and leave the country," which makes no sense in context.  The Hebrew idiom there should be read [as in Hos. 1:11] "take possession of the country" or "overflow the country."  See Stuart, 65.)

So, a fast-growing, insufficiently assimilating minority with a different language, look, and culture taking over the country so that it isn't ours anymore . . . sound familiar?  It would have sounded familiar to Americans 100 years ago and 70 years before that too.  And it could have become familiar to Israel newly settled in Canaan.  After all, it was a land flowing with milk and honey, as the saying goes.  God promised Israel that if they remained faithful to him he would bless them beyond their imagining.  A land like that would be enormously attractive among their neighbors.  It was not unreasonable to believe that as a result of that blessing there would be more Gentiles desiring to settle in Israel than Israelis living there!

And that was exactly the plan of God.  This is what he chose Israel's ancestor Abraham for in the first place, that all nations would be blessed through him and his descendants (see also Gal. 3:8).  While the pattern of evangelism in the New Testament is the people of God going out with the gospel into the world, the pattern in the Old Testament is for the world to come to the people of God, attracted by the immense and unique blessing poured out on them.  Immigration to Israel was the way God was going to tell the Gentiles about himself.  Were it not for this pesky problem called sin (whose intractability in the human heart God was in the process of pointing out to the human race through Israel's example), immigration was the way that God would save the world.

But one of the things necessary for the Gentiles to learn about Yahweh through Israel was that Israel would have to be an extraordinarily welcoming place to foreign immigrants.  So they were supposed to treat Gentile immigrants like brothers, like fellow Israelis, like they themselves would want to be treated, like they wanted to be treated when they had loyally and peacefully resided in Egypt.  Of course, the beauty of this is that by treating the Gentiles as beloved brothers from the get-go, they would soon become exactly that.  Israelis were to treat Gentile immigrants as their own kin so that the Gentiles would worship the true God and obey his law just like the Israelis.  The immigrants would be converted as they were being embraced.

But if Israel failed to obey what God had commanded, they would be prone to drift into the pattern the Egyptians had set.  They would exploit immigrants for their cheap labor even as they resented their existence and eventually they might try to assimilate them by forced intermarriage (hence killing boys but leaving girls alive) and outright genocide.  We don't have evidence that Israel went to that extreme.  But we do see an interesting pattern in the reigns of David and Solomon.  During their reigns Israel was never more blessed and thus never more attractive to its neighbors.  But with blessing came building projects, and David and Solomon pressed Gentiles into service—a combination of the descendants of Canaanites conquered under Joshua, people who had moved to Israel voluntarily, and nations David had conquered.  In other words, they did to the Gentiles living in their country the very thing the Egyptians did to the Israelis among them.  The Davidic kings' agenda seemed to be more about the buildings than about the people, unlike the Pharaohs' intention.  But as the Egyptians discovered, the policy of using immigrants for their easy labor made their assimilation even less likely.  In Israel, this proved to be devastating.  Rather than embrace the immigrant as a brother to lead him to Yahweh, by exploiting him as an outsider they reinforced his worship of his own idols.  And then the attraction went in reverse—Israelis gave up their God for the Gentiles' gods instead of the other way around, and as God had promised, this led to Israel's utter ruin.

It is no small irony that David and Solomon oppressed immigrants in order to build the temple of Yahweh, where Solomon prayed that if a foreigner came from a distant land because of the glory of Yahweh's name, God would hear his prayer, and that in part because of that very oppression, foreigners came to that very temple to burn it to the ground (Jer. 7:1-15, note v. 6; Zech. 7:8-14, note v. 10).

As I concluded a previous post, I will save practical implementation for a later day.  But for the moment let us soberly acknowledge the example of the Israelis.  They were to treat immigrants, who were attracted to God's blessing on Israel, as Israel's immigrant ancestors wanted to be treated so that the newcomers might be led to worship the true God.  But because they followed the example of their former, fearful Egyptian oppressors, treating immigrants as outsiders and using them for cheap labor, Israel drew away from God and was destroyed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Immigration and the Bible (2)

In my last post I listed Old Testament Scriptures in two categories.  The first category had to do with how the Israelis were supposed to treat immigrants who lived among them.  The second had to do with how the law applied to those immigrants.  Those two lists can be summarized by these two Scriptures, respectively:
When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him.  The immigrant who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.  I am the LORD your God (Lev. 19:33-34).

There will be one regulation for you, whether an immigrant or a native citizen, for I am the LORD your God (Lev. 24:22).
First—just an aside—who says Leviticus isn't relevant, right?  But back to the topic at hand, note what these two representative Scriptures have in common.  Both assert that the immigrant is to be regarded exactly the same as the native-born.  Despite their different ethnicities, languages, heritages, economic standings (Israeli clans had permanent claims to land in Canaan, and non-Israelis in Israel never would, no matter how many generations they lived there) and lengths of residency, they were to be valued and treated exactly the same.

This radical equality between Israeli and immigrant in God's sight has two corollaries represented by the two Scriptures above.  First, each Israeli was to love the immigrant as his own kin, even as he loved himself.  Their lack of language skills, friends in power, and economic standing made them vulnerable, and the Israelis were never to take advantage of that.  To the contrary, as the Scriptures I listed yesterday showed, they were to go out of their way to be charitable to them as to Israeli widows and orphans, allowing them to glean their fields and even giving their tithe to them every third year.

The second corollary of the equality between Israeli and immigrant is that they were both bound by the same law.  Though most of the laws listed in the second category in my last post had to do with ritual worship, many had to do with moral statutes and personal relations as well.  In short, immigrants to Israel who wanted the benefits of living among the people of God were required to live as the people of God.  Idolatry was every bit as punishable by death for the immigrant as for the native-born.

I believe that the general principle of justice toward immigrants that God laid out for Israel is still applicable today: treat the native-born and the immigrant the same.  And I think the two radical corollaries are still applicable too.  We are to love every person who wants to live here as we love ourselves, in fact as if they are truly one of us already, as our neighbors, not our enemies.  We are also to expect them to adopt the same respect and submission to our law, values, and cultural standards that we have.  I realize that each of these statements are fighting words to different people.  They are also a long way from practical implementation, but I'll flesh them out a bit in future posts.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Immigration and the Bible (1)

As biblical Christians, we want to know what God has to say about all aspects of life.  As self-governing citizens in a representative democracy, we have a responsibility to rule ourselves according to freedom and justice as God defines them.  Since immigration is a hot topic in our political life, we can only benefit by seeing and obeying what God has to say on the subject.

The Bible says a lot more about immigration than you might think.  This is going to take a few posts to get through, but we'll try to eat the elephant one bite at a time.  Today we'll begin merely by identifying the relevant Scriptures in the Old Testament.  We'll save interpreting and synthesizing them for later.

For starters, it is worth noting that there are three Hebrew words (actually four, but two of them are cognates) that are used to denote individuals of a foreign nationality who have come among the Israeli people.  (This does not include words that refer exclusively to collectives like nations or to foreigners outside Israel's borders.)

1. zār, "other, outsider."  This term does not necessarily involve ethnicity or nationality, so it is sometimes applied to Israelites (for example, a person outside the priesthood) or to inanimate objects of no national origin at all.  But when zār does apply to someone of a different ethnicity or nationality, it always has negative connotations, which relates to the verbal form zūr, which means "to be/become estranged."  For example, it is frequently used of foreign invaders who take Israelis captive and loot their wealth.

2. gēr, "resident alien, immigrant."  Unlike the zār, the gēr has settled in the community for an indefinite period of time; he is not a visitor or part of a hostile military force.  He is part of the community, but he is still not "one of us."  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were gērim in the land of Canaan.  Their descendants were gērim in Egypt.  Moses was a gēr in Midian.  Gēr does not only apply to a recent immigrant but also to the descendant of an immigrant who may have been born in Israel but was genealogically separate from the Israeli family tree.  The gēr is never portrayed negatively, and the terms zār and gēr are never applied to the same people.  We'll see more about the gēr in a bit.

3. nēkār or nokri, "foreigner."  These terms have two definitions.  (1) Synonyms for zār.  (2) Any non-Israeli (Gentile), whether zār or gēr.

The reason it's important to know this is that contemporary English Bibles often translate these words indiscriminately, frequently using "foreigner" or "alien" or "stranger" for any of them, and it's not always easy to know which term is being translated.  Older translations are a bit more precise, often employing "sojourner" as the unique translation for gēr.  Like those older translations, below is a series of verses in the Old Testament that talk about how the Israelites were supposed to treat the gēr, which I have retranslated as "immigrant" to be specific, consistent, and suitable to our contemporary language.
Ex. 20:10 (Deut. 5:14) The seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the immigrant who is in your gates.

Ex. 22:21 You must not wrong an immigrant or oppress him, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.

Ex. 23:9 You must not oppress an immigrant, since you know the life of an immigrant, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.

Ex. 23:12 For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, in order that your ox and your donkey may rest and that your female servant's son and the immigrant may refresh themselves.

Lev. 19:9-10 (23:22) When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest.  You must not pick your vineyard bare, and you must not gather up the fallen grapes of your vineyard.  You must leave them for the poor and the immigrant.  I am the LORD your God.

Lev. 19:33-34 When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him.  The immigrant who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.  I am the LORD your God.

Lev. 25:35-38 If your brother becomes impoverished and is indebted to you, you must support him; he must live with you like an immigrant.  Do not take interest or profit from him, but you must fear your God and your brother must live with you.  You must not lend him your money at interest and you must not sell him food for profit.  I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan—to be your God.

Deut. 1:16 I furthermore admonished your judges at that time that they should pay attention to issues among your fellow citizens and judge fairly, whether between one citizen and another or a citizen and an immigrant.

Deut. 10:17-19 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing.  So you must love the immigrant because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.

Deut. 14:28-29 At the end of every three years you must bring all the tithe of your produce, in that very year, and you must store it up in your villages.  Then the Levites (because they have no allotment or inheritance with you), the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows of your villages may come and eat their fill so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work you do.

Deut. 23:7 You must not hate an Egyptian, for you lived as an immigrant in his land.

Deut. 24:14-15 You must not oppress a lowly and poor servant, whether one from among your fellow Israelites or from the immigrants who are living in your land and villages.  You must pay his wage that very day before the sun sets, for he is poor and his life depends on it.  Otherwise he will cry out to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.

Deut. 24:17-22 You must not pervert justice due an immigrant or an orphan, or take a widow's garment as security for a loan.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do all this.  Whenever you reap your harvest in your field and leave some unraked grain there, you must not return to get it; it should go to the immigrant, orphan, and widow so that the LORD your God may bless all the work you do.  When you beat your olive tree you must not repeat the procedure; the remaining olives belong to the immigrant, orphan, and widow.  When you gather the grapes of your vineyard you must not do so a second time; they should go to the immigrant, orphan, and widow.  Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt; therefore, I am commanding you to do all this.

Deut. 26:11-12 You will celebrate all the good things the LORD your God has given you and your family, along with the Levites and the immigrants among you.  When you finish tithing all your income in the third year (the year of tithing), you must give it to the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so that they may eat to their satisfaction in your villages.

Deut. 27:19 "Cursed is the one who perverts justice for the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow."  Then all the people will say, "Amen!"

Jer. 7:5-7 You must change the way you have been living and do what is right.  You must treat one another fairly.  Stop oppressing immigrants who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands.  Stop killing innocent people in this land.  Stop paying allegiance to other gods.  That will only bring about your ruin.  If you stop doing these things, I will allow you to continue to live in this land which I gave to your ancestors as a lasting possession.

Jer. 22:3 The LORD says, "Do what is just and right.  Deliver those who have been robbed from those who oppress them.  Do not exploit or mistreat immigrants who live in your land, children who have no fathers, or widows.  Do not kill innocent people in this land."

Ezek. 22:6-7 See how each of the princes of Israel living within you has used his authority to shed blood.  They have treated father and mother with contempt within you; they have oppressed the immigrant among you; they have wronged the orphan and the widow within you.

Ezek. 22:29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery.  They have wronged the poor and needy; they have oppressed the immigrant who lives among them and denied them justice.

Zech. 7:9-10 The LORD who rules over all said, "Exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other.  You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being."

Mal. 3:5 "I will come to you in judgment.  I will be quick to testify against those who practice divination, those who commit adultery, those who break promises, and those who exploit workers, widows, and orphans, who refuse to help the immigrant and in this way show they do not fear me," says the LORD who rules over all.

Ps. 94:3, 6 "O LORD, how long will the wicked, how long will the wicked celebrate? . . . They kill the widow and the immigrant, and they murder the fatherless."

Ps. 146:9 The LORD protects the immigrants; he lifts up the fatherless and the widow, but he opposes the wicked.

Job 31:32 But no immigrant had to spend the night outside, for I opened my doors to the traveler.
Now here are some verses from the Old Testament that talk about how the native-born Israelite and the gēr were to be held accountable to the same law.
Ex. 12:17, 19 So you will keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because on this very day I brought your regiments out from the land of Egypt, and so you must keep this day perpetually as a lasting ordinance. . . . For seven days yeast must not be found in your houses, for whoever eats what is made with yeast—that person will be cut off from the community of Israel, whether an immigrant or one born in the land.

Lev. 16:29-30 This is to be a perpetual statute for you.  In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you must humble yourselves and do no work of any kind, both the native citizen and the immigrant who resides in your midst, for on this day atonement is to be made for you to cleanse you from all your sins; you must be clean before the LORD.

Lev. 17:8-14 You are to say to them: "Any man from the house of Israel or from the immigrants who reside in their midst, who offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice but does not bring it to the entrance of the Meeting Tent to offer it to the LORD—that person will be cut off from his people.  Any man from the house of Israel or from the immigrants who reside in their midst who eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats the blood, and I will cut him off from the midst of his people, for the life of every living thing is in the blood.  So I myself have assigned it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives, for the blood makes atonement by means of the life.  Therefore, I have said to the Israelites: No person among you is to eat blood, and no immigrant who lives among you is to eat blood.  Any man from the Israelites or from the immigrants who reside in their midst who hunts a wild animal or a bird that may be eaten must pour out its blood and cover it with soil, for the life of all flesh is its blood.  So I have said to the Israelites: You must not eat the blood of any living thing because the life of every living thing is its blood—all who eat it will be cut off."

Lev. 18:26 You yourselves must obey my statutes and my regulations and must not do any of these abominations, both the native citizen and the immigrant in your midst.

Lev. 20:2 You are to say to the Israelites, "Any man from the Israelites or from the immigrants who reside in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death; the people of the land must pelt him with stones."

Lev. 22:18-19 Speak to Aaron, his sons, and all the Israelites and tell them, "When any man from the house of Israel or from the immigrants in Israel presents his offering for any of the votive or freewill offerings which they present to the LORD as a burnt offering, if it is to be acceptable for your benefit it must be a flawless male from the cattle, sheep, or goats."

Lev. 24:15-16 Moreover, you are to tell the Israelites, "If any man curses his God he will bear responsibility for his sin, and one who misuses the name of the LORD must surely be put to death.  The whole congregation must surely stone him, whether he is an immigrant or a native citizen; when he misuses the Name he must be put to death."

Lev. 24:22 There will be one regulation for you, whether an immigrant or a native citizen, for I am the LORD your God.

Num. 9:14 If an immigrant lives among you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, he must do so according to the statute of the Passover, and according to its custom.  You must have the same statute for the immigrant and for the one who was born in the land.

Num. 15:14-16 If an immigrant is living with you—or whoever is among you in future generations—and prepares an offering made by fire as a pleasing aroma to the LORD, he must do it the same way you are to do it.  One statute must apply to you who belong to the congregation and to the immigrant who is living among you, as a permanent statute for your future generations.  You and the immigrant will be alike before the LORD.  One law and one custom must apply to you and to the immigrant who lives alongside you.

Num. 15:24, 26 Then if anything is done unintentionally without the knowledge of the community, the whole community must prepare one young bull for a burnt offering. . . . And the whole community of the Israelites and the immigrant who lives among them will be forgiven, since all the people were involved in the unintentional offense.

Num. 15:29-30 You must have one law for the person who sins unintentionally, both for the native-born among the Israelites and for the immigrant who lives among them.  But the person who acts defiantly, whether native-born or an immigrant, insults the LORD.  That person must be cut off from among his people.

Num. 19:10 The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer must wash his clothes and be ceremonially unclean until evening.  This will be a permanent ordinance both for the Israelites and the immigrant who lives among them.

Num. 35:14-15 (Josh. 20:9) You must give three towns on this side of the Jordan, and you must give three towns in the land of Canaan; they must be towns of refuge.  These six towns will be places of refuge for the Israelites, and for the immigrant, and for the settler among them, so that anyone who kills any person accidentally may flee there.

Deut. 16:10-11, 13-14 Then you are to celebrate the Festival of Weeks before the LORD your God with the voluntary offering that you will bring, in proportion to how he has blessed you.  You shall rejoice before him—you, your son, your daughter, your male and female slaves, the Levites in your villages, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows among you—in the place where the LORD chooses to locate his name. . . . You must celebrate the Festival of Temporary Shelters for seven days, at the time of the grain and grape harvest.  You are to rejoice in your festival, you, your son, your daughter, your male and female slaves, the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows who are in your villages.

Deut. 29:9-12 Therefore, keep the terms of this covenant and obey them so that you may be successful in everything you do.  You are standing today, all of you, before the LORD your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, every Israelite man, your infants, your wives, and the immigrants living in your encampment, those who chop wood and those who carry water—so that you may enter by oath into the covenant the LORD your God is making with you today.

Deut. 31:12 Gather the people—men, women, and children, as well as the immigrants in your villages—so they may hear and thus learn about and fear the LORD your God and carefully obey all the words of this law.

Josh. 8:35 Joshua read aloud every commandment Moses had given before the whole assembly of Israel, including the women, children, and immigrants who lived among them.
And one exception:
Deut. 14:21 You may not eat any corpse, though you may give it to the immigrant who is living in your villages and he may eat it, or you may sell it to an immigrant.  You are a people holy to the LORD your God.
There is also Scripture about immigrants in the New Testament, which we'll get to later.  But for the moment, let's consider this the material we have to work with.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Parties, the Kingdom, and Meeting Loved Ones after We Die

When loved ones die, people naturally hope that they are in a better place.  A regular feature of this hope for many people—Christian or non-Christian, religious or non-religious—is that the person who has died is now reunited with other loved ones who have gone before.  Now, I happen to believe that when saved people die they go to heaven to wait with the Lord for his second coming and the new creation (which may be a post for another time), and I am inclined to believe that if there are many people who loved each other on earth that are all with the same Lord then they will also be reunited with one another.  But curiously, in the basic passages of the New Testament about the "intermediate state" or even the "final state," I find very little to this effect.  For example, Paul says that it is preferable "to be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8), not that "it is preferable to be away from the body and at home with my dear parents and with Stephen so I can apologize personally for approving of his death."  (But can you imagine that conversation?!)  And John the Revelator saw in his vision of the new heavens and the new earth no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, but he doesn't describe reunion with loved ones from the present age.

So what's the deal?  When we jump so quickly to "Now she gets to see Mom and Dad again"-type condolences, are we off the mark biblically?  Even if we're correct in what we're saying, are we emphasizing what God doesn't intend us to emphasize?

Maybe.  But I actually see in Scripture support for the idea of reunion, that it is in fact important to God, and I found it in places I didn't quite expect—Jesus' parables about the kingdom of God.

If you look at the parables of the wedding banquet, the ten virgins (i.e., bridesmaids), the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son(s), you find that there are a few things that they have in common despite the different plots.  They all involve a person who invites a whole lot of other people—in fact, everyone around, great or small—to party with him or her.  That is what the kingdom of God is like.  I assume (because I haven't read it) that these parables inspired the title of one of Tony Campolo's books, The Kingdom of God Is a Party (1990).

To me, this is the strongest biblical evidence that it is important to God that we be reunited with those who have gone before us in death.  Life after the resurrection is going to be a party.  And what do people do at parties?  Among other things, they talk with people that they like and reconnect with people that they haven't seen for a while.  The party might not be in their honor, but they do enjoy being with each other while they honor the person for whom the party is thrown.  It is impossible for me to imagine the kingdom of God being like a party if the partygoers, who may not have seen each other for a while, don't talk to each other.

But since this describes the resurrection life, how are we to think of heaven, our residence in between?  Heaven is kind of like the foyer or (if the weather's nice) parking lot or patio of the reception hall where the party is held.  We're not really partying yet, but we're anticipating it.  We're getting warmed up.  We're finding old friends and making small-talk before we go through the doors.

Now you may have noticed another interesting commonality of these parables.  Three of them—and in fact you could say all of them if you count the lost sheep and the lost coin as the set-up for the lost son—involve people who choose not to party.  Everybody is invited, but some don't go, because they don't appropriately value the invitation.  There are the important people too absorbed with their selfish, mundane interests to take the prince's wedding feast seriously.  There is the man who isn't dressed for it; he hasn't been made clean enough to come.  There are the bridesmaids who were happy to celebrate the groom's arrival if he comes soon but who weren't prepared for a long wait.  And there is the elder son, slaving away alone in the field, who just wants to throw his own rinky-dink party, but who refuses to enjoy the father's bounty with the father himself and with the brother who doesn't deserve it.  And their fates?  Some are killed and their city burned.  Others remain outside in the silent darkness, alone, wailing and gritting their teeth while the celebration churns within.

Macho, bitter enemies, just before breaking ties forever, have been known to growl at each other, "I'll see you in hell."  I doubt that.  Hell (or more precisely the "second death") seems like a very lonely place.  I'm not sure that anyone sees anyone.  It is the opposite of reconnection.  It is disconnection.

But reunion awaits for those who value the invitation to the kingdom of God—those who put the invitation ahead of everything else on their agenda, who are clothed for the party with the righteousness of Christ, who are prepared to wait for it for as long as it takes, and who accept the other people that God has invited as much as he does.

This post is in memory of Peggy L. Yingling (1926-2010).

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Manhattan Declaration

Last year I became aware of and eventually signed The Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto drafted by Roman Catholic Robert George and Evangelical Baptists Timothy George and Chuck Colson and initially signed by a number of luminaries across the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions.  The Declaration states that the signatories, American Christians of a variety of traditions, unite to stand personally and in their institutional responsibilities for the sanctity of life from conception, the sanctity of one-man/one-woman marriage, and freedom of religious expression in the public square.

Each of these three elements requires an argument for what makes it biblical and essential to social ethics from a Christian perspective.  I don't expect every Christian simply to agree with these things without thinking them through.  At this time I'm not going to make the case for them, especially since the case is stated so well in the declaration itself.  But I ask you to read the declaration and give it some thought.  Please consider signing it and telling the people you know about it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Jewish-Christian Perspective on the Dual Nature of Christ

Here is an article by Asher Intrater, a messianic Jewish (i.e., Jewish Christian) pastor in Israel, on the dual nature of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully human.  The messianic Jewish movement is relatively young, and therefore it is interesting, though to be expected, that its leaders are grappling with the nature of the Son of God, because that is the doctrinal question that dominated the ancient church more than any other.

Intrater's exposition of the dual nature of Christ, not to mention the application he draws from the doctrine, is peculiarly Jewish.  That is a big deal, because for centuries skeptics of the dual nature of Christ have argued that the orthodox dogma was an attempt to force foreign, Greek philosophical categories onto the tradition of the Jewish Messiah.  Therefore, the reasoning goes, the ancient church's creedal formulas (such as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and Athanasian) aren't authentic to the real Jesus, so they are wrong or simply irrelevant.

But the modern-day laboratory of the messianic Jewish movement may prove that the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ is not a Greek imposition onto early Christian thought but is intrinsic to New Testament teaching itself.  Intrater's argument contains little classical Christological jargon, and his reasoning based on a three-part analysis of the New Testament (recalling the three-part division of the Old Testament into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings) is truly novel.  So there is little evidence that he is influenced by classical dogmatics.  But lo and behold, he arrives at the exact same conclusion: Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God!  It suggests that even if the theological center of gravity of the early church had gone East after Pentecost instead of West, or if it had remained in Jerusalem where it started, or if by a completely different plan of God nearly all Jews who heard the gospel would have believed it, the church would still have come to the same conclusion about the dual nature of Christ.

Here you can check out Intrater's logic for yourself.