This is the time of year when many pro-amnesty advocates in the pulpit and the press misuse the Bible to try to try to advance their cause. This year, churchgoers are fortunate to have access to a much different explanation of scripture, thanks to the emergence of a group called Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration and to a fascinating panel recently sponsored by the Heritage Foundation to inform congressional staffers and the media.
Kelly Monroe Kullberg, who has organized Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration, is a highly respected evangelical leader. She founded the Veritas Forum at Harvard University in the 1990s, which has since grown into a world-wide movement. Her critique of the sloppy handling of Scripture used by some clergy is irenic yet wide-ranging. At the Heritage panel, she said:
God loves us all. God invites us all to be citizens in his kingdom. He places us in families, tribes and nations, and gives us biblical wisdom about shaping a thriving culture. Like gardening, growing a culture requires discernment and vision. But nowhere in Scripture do we see blanket asylum, blanket amnesty, blanket immigration. We see wise welcome to a well-meaning Ruth or Rahab (the sojourner or 'ger' in Hebrew is something like a convert and comes lawfully, as blessing), and we also at times find a Nehemiah leading his nation in the building of walls to cultivate the good and to be set apart from the ways of the 'foreigner' (the 'nekhar' or 'zar') who does not respect the laws, customs and values of the country visited -- who does not intend to advance cultural flourishing.
Mark Tooley, the president of Washington's Institute on Religion and Democracy (on whose board I serve), has been warning his fellow evangelical leaders against a one-sided approach on immigration. His remarks at the Heritage panel included this:
Christians also should be cautioned against sweeping 'comprehensive' legislative solutions to deep, pervasive political problems. Solutions to most political challenges are more typically incremental. And in our fallen world, reputed solutions, even when implemented relatively effectively, usually create new problems demanding attention. And in this particular debate we should avoid rhetoric that romanticizes immigrants no less than avoiding demonization.
Immigrants, legal and illegal, are frail humans like us all, a combination of virtues and vices. Their presence among us brings both gifts and troubles. Our prisons are full of tens of thousands of immigrants, legal and illegal, who have committed heinous crimes. There are also, of course, millions who work hard, are faithful to their families, and love their new country. Likewise, many immigrants, even while working hard, ultimately draw government benefits and services that outstrip their financial contributions, making their presence in America an additional fiscal stress upon our already fraying and probably unsustainable entitlement state. The mass legalization of 11 million illegal immigrants, as presently construed, would likely add to that stress.
Dr. James K. Hoffmeier, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is an expert in ancient Hebrew and ancient near-east society. He takes a dim view of current Evangelical leaders who misuse Scripture for political ends. At the Heritage panel, Hoffmeier made the following points (as reported by The Christian Post):
Three different Hebrew words are translated as "foreigner" or "sojourner," Hoffmeier explained, but the most common one, by far, is ger, which appears 160 times. Under biblical law, a ger was legally recognized and entitled to certain rights, responsibilities and social benefits. They could participate in community worship. They were expected to observe kosher dietary laws. And, they could not be charged interest.
"People who are using scripture for the undocumented immigrant are trying to credit the non-legal resident with the same rights the biblical law calls for a legal foreign resident," he said.
Hoffmeier strongly rebuked open borders evangelicals for misusing the "sanctuary cities" passages found in Scripture. He stated that in ancient Israel, sanctuary cities were places where accused criminals could flee to get a fair trial. In effect, they were a change of venue. "Sanctuary" never meant escaping the law, Hoffmeier said. He said that using the sanctuary cities concept to help illegal aliens cancel out immigration penalties is completely against the "spirit and letter" of the texts.
Another evangelical speaking up against misuse of Bible passages on immigration is Dr. Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt Law School. At the Heritage Foundation event, Swain claimed that Evangelicals had been "manipulated" by pro-amnesty proponents who seek to overturn the law for political and economic advantage. Swain, who is black, spoke forcefully about the effect mass immigration has on minorities and white workers:
The losers tend to be low-skill, low-wage Americans. Our greatest obligation is to the people already here [legally].
Kullberg makes a strong case for a more reasoned, balanced approach on immigration than many Evangelical leaders have ever voiced:
We're for wise immigration. We're for kindness to citizens as well as kindness to guests. Immigration is a beautiful idea. As a younger missionary in several Central American nations, I never understood the need for rules and fences. The problem is that we're considering an influx of perhaps 30- or 40,000,000 new citizens in just ten years, into a near-bankrupt welfare state living on borrowed money -- America. There aren't enough jobs.
At the Heritage panel, Tooley of IRD made this remark that struck me as summing up the situation:
There are sincere people of faith on many sides of this debate. Quoting scripture and citing religious principles in support of a political argument can be fine if done with some humility and recognition that on most political issues none of us can claim to know God's will with absolute certainty.
JIM ROBB is Vice President, Operations for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, May 15th 2017 @ 4:35pm EDT