Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Bible, Core Beliefs, and Immigration - By Britt Fuller

I believe the Scriptures are:

• God’s Revelation to humankind (complete, inspired, inerrant, and infallible)
• the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right,

therefore, possessing authority for the total well-being of humankind

The above, or a similar statement, is often the first article in an evangelical church or organization’s statement of beliefs. It is the foundation on which all other articles and declarations of faith are built. There is much packed into this statement of belief, but for me personally, it simply communicates that the Bible has authority in and over my life. I find this statement easy to affirm in its entirety.

However, what is affirmed in the mind should also be lived out in the body through action. If the above statement is truly a core belief, as many Christians across our country proclaim, it should consistently motivate our behaviors. As the Apostle Paul expressed in the example of salvation, what we believe should directly lead to action. “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:10). James drives this point home when he challenges us to action with the command, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). True belief and action are inseparable. Our core beliefs, different from a statement of beliefs, are demonstrated not by what we say they are, but how we live them out. Often there is a gap between proclamation and application. Those not associated with the Christian church in the U.S. look on and plainly call this gap hypocrisy.

Could this be the case concerning the overall Christian response to the immigrant and the immigration system in the United States? Unfortunately, I believe the answer is emphatically, YES!

The Old Testament, through its declaration of God’s heart for immigrants, laws concerning the treatment and inclusion of immigrants, and the description of Israel’s history and identity as immigrants themselves, is clearly “pro-immigrant” in its instruction and example. Immigrants, along with the poor, widow, and orphan were identified as vulnerable in Hebrew society and were often collectively grouped as being of special concern to God.

BUT you might be thinking…that was the “Old Testament”, and although we believe it to be a part of God’s complete revelation which demonstrates the same characteristics as listed in the statement of belief above…we are now under a new covenant, a covenant of Grace entered through the blood of Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:28). Should this change our belief, and therefore change our response concerning immigrants and the immigration system in the United States?

In the New Testament, neither Jesus, his disciples, or the apostle Paul ever made a direct comment regarding immigrants (although Peter did say we are to live as immigrants ourselves here in this world – I Peter 2:11). Does this lack of a direct address then allow us to put aside our Biblical lens and make up our own mind based on the authority of our majority culture, American insight, and our high level of relative prosperity? Absolutely not!

The Old Testament instruction and example can not be dismissed and rendered non-applicable because we are under a New Covenant. As Christ stated himself, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” – Matthew 5:17. Further consider Jesus’ response in Matthew 22:34-40. Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Clearly, Jesus’ interpretation, application, summary, and fulfillment of the Old Testament law was to love - love God and love your neighbor. Paul and James also confirm this idea in their New Testament letters (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8).

I find it very troubling when considering our current immigration system and the Christian insistence that enforcing and citing the law must take priority in our response. This was clearly the perspective of the Pharisees in the Gospel accounts and, particularly, in the above verse. The Pharisees were the religious elite who condemned and crucified Jesus Christ, while simultaneously declaring to be the major proponents, protectors, and experts in the law and its enforcement in their society. In no way am I condoning disregard or disrespect of our United States laws or the authorities who enforce them. Yet, when laws are unjust and unreasonable resulting in a broken system that marginalizes and exploits human beings, we must readily advocate through our Biblical lens for the implementation of just, reasonable, and humane laws.

As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to ascertain carefully the true intent and meaning of Scripture (Old and New Testament combined), recognizing that the proper application is binding yesterday, today, and tomorrow. In regards to the immigrant and our broken immigration system, we must act. And if our core belief truly is that Scripture possesses the authority for the total well-being of all humankind, we must act Biblically, in and through love for our neighbor, the immigrant – just as we would act for ourselves.

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