Sunday, February 5, 2017
Of Refugees, Presidents and Scriptures
Immigration Issues, Muslim Refugees And The Golden Rule
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
After watching or hearing about all the back-and-forth from the Oval Office about president Trump's 90-day immigration ban and subsequent court order temporarily suspending it this past week, I would first like to say that I have had a belly full of those who are ranting and raving about the flood of Muslim refugees who are entering Europe and America. I don't talk, dress or worship as Muslims do either, but that does not give me license to hate them universally! In the first place, since I'm a Web minister and Christ follower it is impossible for me to hate, but I do not hesitate to voice strong disapproval of those who do. Those persons whose battle cry is, “GTHO” have forgotten – or chosen to ignore – that the United States is an entire nation of immigrants. Our country is a great melting pot for people of all nations, races, nationalities and faiths. It's not like we're being invaded by an army, although there are unquestionably some undesirable elements that must be rooted out. But we have law enforcement and intelligence agencies that take care of all that (plus a whole lot of vigilance on our part). So it's time to get over our fear. What we actually have is a humanitarian crisis of colossal proportions. If a family dressed in Muslim attire came to your door asking for food, would you give it to them? Let's not forget what it says on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free....”. Let's also not forget what has been taught by Jesus Christ, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. The entire concept of unconditional love and acceptance while living in peace and harmony escapes those who are hateful, bigoted, prejudiced and intolerant, but children understand it completely – just ask one. Better yet, go and ask one of the so-called “illegal” children and teens crossing America's borders. They come in search of peace and harmony because they have all escaped from the war zones down in southern Mexico and Central America.
The Bible has something to say about this, if only we will take a minute to look it up. “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt”. (Exodus 22: 21) This verse of scripture dates back to when Moses was at Mt. Sinai, well over 3,000 years ago, and its meaning remains unchanged over the centuries. And the apostle Paul wrote, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call upon his name, for 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'.” (Romans 10: 12-13) It looks to me like if there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, then by extension the same goes for Arabs and Americans or Arabs and Europeans. Granted, there have been terror attacks that have taken lives, a lot of lives, and these attacks demand a response that is even harder and meaner than the attacker(s). I'm all in favor of that, and if I were a younger man I might consider arming myself against the Islamic terrorists here on the home front and joining the fight. But we as Christians – and this goes for the nonreligious too, so all you secular readers please stay with me – can use the influx of Muslim refugees as an opportunity to sow the seeds of generational peace.
The majority of the Muslim refugees have a negative view of our country. The US military has bombed half of the Middle East back to the stone age, and they have enraged a multitude of people because of that. Well then, instead of killing them with our bullets and bombs, why not try killing them with kindness? We need to let these people know that there are many Americans who vehemently disagree with the New World Order and the Pentagon's global militarism. Let's be sure and remember what Jesus said about this: “You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you....” (Matt. 5: 44). This commandment from Christ, in and of itself, is one that is completely contrary to what is considered “normal” human though processes. Only he, the Son of God, could consistently do this repeatedly throughout his life. No one can duplicate this on a consistent basis – absolutely nobody! That is, in large part, the entire point of Jesus' ministry, and it's why he sacrificed himself for each of us.
But the most famous and timely quote from Christ regarding this entire issue can be summed up in one short paragraph. “The King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothed you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'.” (Matt. 25, verses 34-40) The righteous who did all these things during their physical lives will reap an eternal reward, but those who thought only of themselves will receive eternal condemnation.
We all know, or at least have heard of, the story of the Good Samaritan as told to us by Jesus Christ. I won't quote the entire parable verbatim because my posting today is about how it applies to the subject of so-called “illegal immigration”. If I put the story into modern terms I can cite two different examples, one of how this could work out and the other as it actually did. A certain traveler from a foreign country was making their way through the US seeking to find suitable work and re-establish themselves in their newly adopted country. While on their journey, this hapless foreign national gets jacked up, beat up, and left semi-conscious and bleeding on the side of the road. A short while later a religious leader and church pastor who are passing by see the beaten and now-penniless victim, pause for a moment and say a quick prayer, and continue on their way. A few minutes after that, a well-paid IRS agent passes by the man and doesn't even bother to stop and help even though he/she could have easily afforded to do so. An hour or two later, after this crime victim has been lying bleeding, severely injured and baking in the hot sun, a homeless man happens upon this person. This street person from the impoverished inner city (fill in the blank with the city of your choice) cleans up the victim's wounds as best as he can, dials 911 on his/her prepaid flip phone, summons medical assistance to that location, and waits for the ambulance to arrive while protecting this luckless individual from further injury and harm. Once the ambulance has picked the injured person up and taken them to the nearest ER, the homeless person who helped the injured traveler goes on their way, enjoying a quiet satisfaction within themselves at the good deed they have done. But they say nothing to anyone about it, not wanting accolades or applause from anyone, but only to do good and to be merciful towards all God's children. “Blessed are the merciful”, Jesus said, “for they will be shown mercy”. When the Last Trumpet sounds, guess who will be allowed in first?
We are, after all, a Christian nation, are we not? I know former president Obama said we weren't, but I have never agreed with that. If we're going to be a Christian or even a humanitarian nation, then I think it's high time we started acting as if it were true! Didn't Jesus heal the sick? Then we should be doing likewise, and the same goes for helping the less fortunate whenever and wherever we can. Anyone who disagrees with me on this point has forgotten their Christian heritage, lost touch with their humanity, or both. When I was a kid, I was taught that kindness wasn't a choice, it was a command. It wasn't something you considered doing; it was an automatic reaction that came straight from the heart. We just did it because that's what Jesus would have us do. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This includes all immigrants, whether they are here legally or not!
Let me be absolutely clear about what I regard as the crux of the immigration issue. Immigrants, whether they are here legally or not, are not invaders from another country. They are economic and war refugees! I will use Mexico as an illustration. As you may know, the southern part of Mexico is a war zone between the drug cartels. But it's worse than that. The average blue-collar worker in Mexico has a take-home pay in Pesos that is equal to about $50.00 a month in US dollars. When any given migrant worker comes to the US and takes a job at the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, that works out to a net pay after taxes of about $740.00 per month for a single person, more than a fifteen-fold increase over what they used to make. Now, let us ask ourselves this basic question: if we were offered a job in our profession in Canada, for example, at fifteen times our current pay rate, any one of us would naturally be eager for the chance, is that not correct? Of course you would! Now you know why so many economic refugees from the third world are coming here, and it's not just from Mexico. They seek economic opportunity just like anyone else would, and it is a level of opportunity available in few places elsewhere. So if the American people want our government to do something about the influx of economic refugees from Mexico and Central America, we as a united people need to tell our leaders to change the economic conditions that is causing our borders (yes, it's both – the Canadian border is just as porous as it is down south) to be overrun in the first place! How do we do that? One way would be a global minimum wage. Another would be direct economic aid to those affected countries by the federal government.
So why does this issue upset so many people? America is and always has been a nation of immigrants. There has never been a time in American history when this was not so. Every time we welcome one more immigrant into America, we take on the role of the Good Samaritan all over again. And that is a role we should all continue to emulate everywhere we go. Because at the end of the day, if we fail to do these things, we are discriminating. Discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion is banned in the Constitution as well as the laws of our land (see the 14th amendment section 1, our nation's civil rights legislation of the 1960's and 70's, et. al.). The apostle James also had something to say about this when he wrote: “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against their brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?”. (James 4, verses 11-12) Why does this still apply today? Because the world has shrunk to a tiny fraction of its seemingly enormous size back then. Our neighbors are not just down the street or in our town any more. The Internet has connected everyone who wants to be connected, and more new people continue to log on each day. Meaning, everybody is now our neighbor, even if they're on the other side of the world. Isn't it time we started acting like it?