I saw a prominent Christian writer being interviewed on television. Her contention was that the ‘Christian Right’ has made Christianity unavailable, and unpalatable, to most of America. As an example, she used the topic of immigration.
She basically said that when Christians support closing the US-Mexico border with a fence, that those Christians are being, well, un-Christian.
Some of her other points made some sense. We sometimes favor morality over grace, politics over mercy. Those of us on the ‘Christian Right’ are like all Christians, everywhere, throughout time; that is, we’re imperfect and still learning, still being made into what God wants. However, I’ve thought about the immigration issue a good bit. And I think she’s wrong. And right. Ok, it’s confusing, so let me explain myself.
From the standpoint of being a Christian, I understand the idea of being an alien. See, south of the Rio Grande, millions of impoverished people look north and see prosperity and hope. They see justice and freedom. And they want some of their own. They’ve spent years, decades, generations and longer with as close to nothing as you can get on this earth. So they figure, right or wrong, across that river, across that desert, there lies a place where I can make things better. I think I’ll go over and see.
That’s what Christians do, if they really understand. They look at their situations, at their lives, and assess them honestly. ‘I’m not good. I feel badly about myself. I think I’m unloved and without any value in the world. I can’t escape my past. And I sure can’t look forward to a future that’s any better, in this life or the next.’ And then, if they hear the Good News aright, they see something. They see that in faith there lies forgiveness, acceptance (by God if not by all believers), hope and a new beginning. And their lies the promise of heaven beyond the confusion of this world. The believer is an alien with no claim on his or her promised land, except the claim that Christ offers. The believer is, really, an illegal alien hoping for a place in a better kingdom.
And so, at some point, the believer sets out and crosses over into a new place. It’s sometimes a hard journey, but a transformative one. It’s a new life, a new place, a new way to live.
So it’s hard for a Christian who has made the journey, dirty, frightened and hopeful, to look at an illegal alien and be unkind. There’s something of all of us in their pilgrimage. There’s something in all of us that would take our children out of misery and into almost anything to make their lives better. Maybe we need to be careful how harshly we judge them.
And yet, our journey as Christians was not without rules. And here’s where I disagree with the bright woman in the interview. There were things we had to do to cross over. The offer is free; the Christian has an open door if he believes, confesses and repents. But he has to do those things. The Christian can’t say ‘well, I’d like to go to heaven, so I’m going to. But I’m not changing anything.’ Just as the alien has to leave the dust of home behind, the Christian has to leave the past behind as well.
Likewise, just as the Christian has rules to follow within the bounds of grace, the alien has rules to follow as well, in order to be legal, not illegal. They shouldn’t be onerous, petty or cruel. But rules there must be in order that their new land remain safe and whole. This, I suspect, is all most Americans want from the immigration debate. A way to keep their country safe from dangerous individuals who don’t really care what they bring with them, or what they do when they arrive in the place so holy to its native inhabitants. {A way to make it remain the place that an alien would want to come.} To keep it a place where the alien is as welcome as anyone who crossed on wooden ships or passed through Ellis Island in ages past.
We’re all aliens in one way or another. We ought to be kind to the ones we meet. But a nation has laws that must be observed. And it doesn’t make us less Christian to ‘render unto Caesar.’ In fact, it’s what we were told to do.

I’m putting this on my blog because I’m curious about the reaction to it. See, I’ve thought about how a Christian should handle the idea of illegal immigration. I’ve thought about it a lot, and this is what came to me. Now, when I wrote it, I thought I was being pretty even-handed. Let’s be kind and understanding to those who come here, but it’s OK to insist that certain rules be followed. I see lots of immigrants in my practice, and I never know if they’re legal or illegal. I don’t ask for money up front to see them. And I suspect many never pay me. That’s OK. It’s part of the job.

Readers of this piece were mixed. Some were very gracious towards me, and said it helped them to frame the discussion, and face the conflicts in their own hearts. Others fairly frothed at the mouth because I was variously a cruel, legalistic, small-minded, wrong-headed (is that a word?), ignorant, right-wing, evangelical, Christian fanatic who should just shut up.

What I love, though, is that most of those who pilloried me did so on an online forum of the Greenville News, where they never put their actual names.

I may be wrong, I may be right. But you’ll always see my name after my column. I hear it said that we should all just get used to it. That this is the future of dialogue. Angry, vindictive, profane diatribes, written anonymously. Ha, ha! Let’s all agree to scream at each other! It’s all the new communication! But I fear it is the stuff of tyranny and cowardice. And when it comes down to a culture falling or standing, it will require that we be willing to speak our minds, with our names, with our reputations, and perhaps with our lives. And imaginary names just won’t cut it when that time comes.


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