Jesus, Immigration, and My Critics
Last week, I did an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network describing my visit to a Health and Human Services grantee, Youth for Tomorrow, that does amazing work with unaccompanied immigrant minors. I did the interview to raise awareness amongst CBN's Christian audience for the heartbreaking crisis of child trafficking at our southern border. As just one example, an unthinkable 85% of children at Youth for Tomorrow are victims of human trafficking.
Sadly, instead of inspiring compassion, the interview became yet another unnecessary partisan distraction.
During the interview I made an off-handed comment that although Jesus was a refugee as a baby, he didn't break the immigration laws of his time, or else he wouldn't be sinless or our messiah. Within a few days I was surprised to see my name all over the media as they excoriated a comment made by "Trump's spiritual advisor." On CNN's Anderson 360, a Catholic priest said my comments were "appalling" and "reprehensible" and that he didn't know what Gospel I was reading.
I don't mean to impugn anyone's character, but it certainly seemed like those reporting on the story were less offended by what I said as they were excited to criticize someone associated with the Trump administration. They weren't just inferring I lacked compassion, they were calling me dumb, and by extension, all evangelicals who support the president.
As a blonde female, and as a pastor, this isn't the first time someone has called me stupid. Sadly, it comes with the territory. And while the Bible may say turn the other cheek, it does not say allow bullies to treat you like a punching bag. The truth matters too much and, in this instance, the lives of thousands of immigrant children and their families are impacted by what our nation decides to do regarding our immigration policy.
Let's first deal with whether or not Jesus broke the law.
Do a quick Google search of "did Jesus break the law" and you'll quickly find opinions like this one, or this, and even noted publications like Lifeway's Facts and Trends directly responding to my interview. The consensus is clearly no, Jesus did not break the law.
But surely, many say, Jesus broke the law in Matthew 15:1-3 (not washing/cleansing hands before a meal), or in Luke 6:1-4 (picking heads of grain and eating of them on the sabbath), right? No, he did not. As a noted apologist puts it, "Jesus is not breaking the [Old Testament] law; he is violating a 'tradition of the elders' – part of the Pharisaic oral law, or code of interpretation, not the actual law." This is also the case in Matthew 15:11, Luke 11:37-38, John 5:8-11, Mark 2:18-20, and John 8:4-11. In every instance Jesus perfectly upheld every "dot and tittle" of the Law. As Jesus says himself, he did not come to destroy the Jewish Law but to fulfill it.
What about Roman civic law? Jesus was innocent of that too. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea who oversaw the execution of Jesus, says clearly that Jesus was innocent: "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him."
Now, let's deal with Jesus as a refugee.
It may surprise people to know the Bible uses two different words for immigrant. As a prominent scholar has observed, when it says in the book of Exodus, "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt," the Hebrew word used here is ger. Sojourners were those immigrants who followed established immigration conventions of the time and were granted recognized standing, receiving many of the same benefits as citizens. But those immigrants in the Bible who did not follow immigration standards or customs – and therefore did not receive recognized standing – are described simply as foreigner, or nekhar and zar in the Hebrew. The Bible account says Jesus and his family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod, who saw Jesus' birth as a threat to his power and wanted to kill him. Since Jesus and his parents are referenced here as sojourners or ger, and since they returned to Israel once Herod died and the danger had abated, it's reasonable to conclude his parents followed the conventions of their time and were "legal immigrants" for all intents and purposes.
Why does any of this matter?
If we turn Jesus into a law breaker, we also transform him into a sinner, and his perfect sacrifice for our own lawbreaking becomes null and void. And if Jesus can overlook the law when He felt like it, this deceives people into thinking they too can decide which laws to follow and which ones to break. Don't like our immigration laws? No problem, there's no need to obey them (or pass new ones), let's just ignore them. This type of thinking has far-reaching and destructive consequences. For instance, some feel it's cruel to enforce our laws when those attempting to cross the border are merely searching for a better life. This may seem compassionate, and for many genuinely is, but it ultimately leads to tens of thousands of children being trafficked and victimized at our border.
The fallout from my CBN interview showed an eagerness to jump at a perceived misuse of the Bible. It also proved that what many really want is any opportunity to create a wedge issue among evangelicals, to make us fight amongst ourselves and forget that it's our faith, not our politics, that unites us. Not every evangelical is going to agree and that's completely okay. We are one in Christ, not a political figure, party or ideology.
They also want to shame the 81% of us who did vote for President Trump into believing we're dumb, cruel and unsophisticated—and they would love nothing more than to use the Bible to do it. I'm here to say that we have nothing to be ashamed of because there are legitimate, thoughtfully considered reasons for this support.
Both sides of the political aisle must put aside "gotchya-politics" and name calling. We must try to remember we are all capable of genuine compassion, even when we disagree on policy. Regardless of who you voted for or what you believe about the theology of immigration, we should all agree Jesus would advocate for at least that much.