Christians & Illegal Aliens (IV)
Dr. J. Allen Thompson, Coordinator of Multicultural Church Planting, Mission to North America in the Presbyterian Church of America starts his first major chapter in his paper, “The Stranger in Your Midst: Attitudes and Actions Toward Undocumented Aliens in the United States” with a quote from that bastion of orthodoxy Christianity Today. In the July 1985 issue of that magazine the Christian public was alerted to “unparalleled shifts in migration patterns to the United States and the redefinition of missions strategy that that shift would require.”
Two actions are cited for this change: The civil legislation of the mid-sixties and Congress removing immigration quotas that once discriminated against Third World countries. From 1951 through 1976 immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa increased more than 75%. What Dr. Thompson fails to mention is that the overwhelming majority of those coming in—according to the allotted quotas—were legal. During approximately the same period of time immigration from Europe to the U.S. decreased by approximately 60%—according to the article.
Reasons for Migration
What were some of the reasons for the increase in immigration? Dr. Thompson cites three: war, famine, and political repression—none of which, by the way, apply to illegal Hispanics flooding across our porous borders. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not denying that these are valid reasons to seek haven into another, safer country. My point is simply that these reasons are not terribly pertinent as to why we should allow illegal immigrants to come to America from Mexico—or from anywhere else for that matter.
The author of the CT article correctly cites the desire for economic prosperity as a strong magnet for both legal and illegal immigration. The major different is that one is legal and the other isn’t. The author of the CT article also argues that even menial jobs in America pay as much as 10 times the rate of many underdeveloped countries. Again, this is true, but even an economy as robust as America’s simply cannot accommodate everyone. That is one of the primary reasons that we have quotas. Even now, our economy is feeling the strain of a huge influx of between 10-12 million illegal aliens—1 million of whom are considered dangerous felons—and will definitely be taxed to the breaking point if the proper measures are not taken rather quickly.
Former President Reagan signed into law the Simpson-Rodino Act (1986) that granted amnesty to illegal aliens then living in the United States. Upon reflection, President Reagan admitted that that was one of the biggest mistakes of his administration. That act gave illegal aliens a one-time opportunity to become permanent residents of the United States. Irrespective of what President Bush wants to call his proposed program, it ultimately amounts to another amnesty.
This is a dilemma that cries out for a summary statement. Dr. Thompson gives us just that: “The entry point of ‘doing theology’ is a contextual problem that cries for a solution or a mystery that calls for understanding in a real situation.” No, the entry point of doing theology is a solid biblical methodology that bows before Scripture and takes everything from there for both doctrine and life. The entry point of theology is the power and empowering of the Holy Spirit as he illumines and enlightens the hearts and minds of biblical theologians as they obediently perform their exegesis and preaching of Christ.
Oddly, Dr. Thompson refers to the “fate” of the many illegal aliens in our country as the type of contextual problem he has in mind. Some are, he tells us, political refugees. No doubt. Others are economically-driven people seeking sustenance for their families. Probably. But that is no excuse for coming here illegally when legal means are open to them. They simply disobey our laws, go to the front of the line, and—although few want to admit this to you—they do not become Americans. For some, this becomes their country; for others it’s just a place to make more money. If Dr. Thompson believes that “Most of these undocumented aliens are without a knowledge of Christ” then I would suggest a concerted effort on MNA’s part, in conjunction with MTW, to send PCA missionaries to work in Mexico.
The Law of Love or the Law of Subjection
Dr. Thompson’s second chapter is heavily dependent upon Dr. Moran’s works, although, once again, there is no footnoting. Here’s my objection to Dr. Thompson’s methodology: I have spent a great deal of time reading theologians who have gone to extensive lengths in explaining precisely where they are coming from regarding the manner in which they “do theology.” In short, I have read English, Dutch, German, and Afrikaans theologians who have written about theological method, but I have not encountered anything quite like Dr. Thompson’s opening statement.
He writes, “Critical reflection, as a step in doing theology, is primarily concerned with clarifying the issue so that the nub of the matter can be addressed theologically. In doing theology cross-culturally it is of major importance that this and other steps be approached from within the culture.” I must confess that I’m somewhat uncertain what the word “nub” means as Dr. Thompson uses it. Moreover, while it is certainly true that there are variables from culture to culture, there is also, often, a great deal of overlap. Dr. Thompson seems to accentuate the diversity at the expense of the unity.
In traditional terms, Dr. Thompson is describing both Ethics and Dogmatics in what he’s saying. Dutch theologian Jochem Douma makes this valid point: “Dogmatics without ethics is empty; ethics without dogmatics is blind.” In addition, Douma points to a definition of ethics offered by Klaas Schilder who wrote, “Ethics is the science of the constant grounds, the changing dispensations, and the relevant concrete specificity of man’s obligation toward God’s revealed will.” If this comes close to what Dr. Thompson is saying, then most would agree. The rub (not like the nub) comes when it is suggested that in doing cross-cultural theology it is of “major importance” that nub steps be taken from within the culture. To that idea, Dr. Thompson adds, “Since issues are viewed differently from each cultural perspective, wisdom dictates that this task be approached in a cross-cultural community of faith and worship.”
Does Dr. Thompson mean that since some illegal aliens are Christians and don’t think that they are actually here illegally that they are somehow exonerated? Wisdom dictates that matters theological and ethical be approached from Scripture first and foremost. The community of faith and worship must be directed, guided, molded, shaped, formed, and informed by the Word of God. The cross-cultural community of faith and worship takes a back seat to the Bible. If the Bible says that we are to obey our rulers and the laws of country, then there is no more discussion on the matter—cross-culturally or otherwise. Moreover, since Dr. Thompson is PCA he has also given his word that he believes the Westminster Standards to be a reliable summary of the Scriptures.
He has also promised the following in his ordination questions: “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of your ordination vow?” (The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America, 21-5.2)
If, therefore, Dr. Thompson took no exception to the Westminster Standards and in particular chapter 23.4 (The Civil Magistrate) where it is written: “It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake” (Italics mine), then he has an ethical problem. Unless Dr. Thompson or others can clearly demonstrate that our immigration laws are unjust, he and we in the PCA are duty bound to uphold them.
For these and other reasons, it escapes me why Dr. Thompson feels obligated to write, “This paper was written in isolation from brothers and sisters experiencing the problem of undocumentation and therefore violates this principle (i.e., cross-cultural community of faith and worship). Nevertheless, points of view from both Latin American and North American will be represented.” If, for whatever reason, I write something—anything—in isolation from an ethnic group that does not necessarily disqualify my writing as either irrelevant or untrue. Simply because Dr. Thompson penned/typed his words in isolation from illegal aliens says nothing really. With all due respect, I am not all that interested in the Latin American perspective on illegal immigration. Personally, I’ve heard and read enough from Vicente Fox to have a good grasp on the issue. Mr. Fox categorically denies that there is such a thing as illegal immigration. Besides, he is not the final political court of appeals. America is a sovereign country with its own sovereign laws. I’m about as interested in the Latin American perspective as I am in either the Dutch or French perspective on the death penalty.
Clarifying the Issue
Dr. Thompson begins this section of his paper in this fashion: “The results of Biblical exegesis related to the problem at hand may not be to everyone’s liking.” This is theoretically possible, but to this point we’ve seen precious little exegesis; in fact, it has been non-existent. I’m not certain how we can disagree with what has not yet occurred. Until that time, we move on in the article.
Continuing along the vague trail, Dr. Thompson posits, “The exact definition of the problem may not be supported by all.” Okay. That’s highly likely. Few definitions are generally supported by all. I suppose the real question tends to be: what definition are we talking about? Is it whether or not Mexico is a war-torn country? Is it illegal immigration? Is it—according to the title of the chapter—whether we should maintain the law of love or the law of subjection?
Well, whatever it is we’re discussing is up for grabs, but in the meantime here is our guidance: “Therefore, to become a hearing, loving community an attitude of submission to each other and the Lord must be sought. This can be done through developing a spirit of mutuality and prayer.” I’m getting lost here, but if there are clear and clear-cut immigration laws—which there are—then a spirit of mutuality and prayer might not be the answer.
But we’re not there yet. There is more material to help us clarify the issue. Personally, if there is much more of this clarification I’m going to be totally confused! Dr. Thompson writes, “The ‘listening’ attitude can be deepened by becoming sensitive to the unity of the Spirit of God in the group’s deliberations. A key question might be: What theme related to the issue is the Spirit of God developing among us? A third approach in worship could be to utilize the variety of gifts given to the Body by the Spirit of God. A key question in this regard could be: What should be my contribution to the theme being developed? The mood set by this worshiping community of persons seeking to do theology on a prickly issue is of inestimable value.”
First, if we must resort to words such as “might be” or “could be” then we have not yet reached the point of clarification, which is okay. We’re still thinking, brainstorming, and reflecting. Clarification will come at some point down the road, but we are not there yet.
Second, it is true that listening is a very good communication skill. It is not the case, however, that mere listening will neither necessarily allow us to discern the theme that the Holy Spirit is developing among us nor to understand how we are to use the spiritual gifts present in the community.
Third, it is neither the mood nor the community that must take precedence. The community must be prepared to bow before the truth of Scripture that is trans-cultural. If we are still talking about illegal immigration—and it’s tough to decide that with all the exegesis flying around—then the community should do its theological homework in Scripture and come up with the clear teachings about the role of Christians to the civil government. In this manner, the listening becomes first listening to the Word of God and then listening to each other. Once the truth of Scripture on the subject has been established then the community can reflect on how this “mystery longs to be understood,” which is the phraseology that Dr. Thompson employs in his Triadic Model.
Dr. Thompson gives us some interesting questions to ponder dealing with what the actual problem is from the two viewpoints mentioned earlier. It’s not the question but the answers proposed that are disturbing. For example, in answer to the question: What is the problem? The Latin American viewpoint reads as follows: “Undocumented aliens are seeking food and shelter from a land of plenty and should be treated with patience and understanding while they attempt to be legalized.” That’s an interesting response in both what it says and doesn’t say.
That someone seeks food is understandable. Christians should be prepared to supply food and clothing, especially for the children. The parents drag them through the ordeal and if there is ever any proper use of the word “innocent” here is the place to use it. Nevertheless, America simply cannot receive everyone into this country simply because we are a “land of plenty.” At the same time, it can be reasonably argued that Mexico also qualifies as a “land of plenty” vis-à-vis its natural resources, beach resort areas, and population. The main problem is not a lack of resources but a thoroughly corrupt government. From infancy, Mexicans grow up with the notion of corruption all around them. The solution to almost everything is bribery. Pay the federales enough pesos and you can get or do almost anything you want.
It is a tacit assumption that illegal aliens are attempting to be legalized. Dr. Moran himself provides an example of some friends/acquaintances of his who have slipped back and forth across the border undetected a number of times. That hardly sounds like a burning desire to become a legal citizen. Rather than treating illegal aliens with patience and understanding, we should supply them with whatever food and clothing they need, pray with and for them, present the gospel to them, and then send them back to Mexico. I’m not suggesting that we drive them there, but that we get in contact with the proper authorities so that they may come here legally.
What I’m hearing is the fallacious argument that some put forward for those who have conversion experiences prior to receiving the death penalty. Simply because someone is a Christian or becomes a Christian does not exonerate them from keeping the law or receiving their just punishment.
On the question Why is it (illegal immigration—RG) a problem? Dr. Thompson presents the American viewpoint this way: “Undocumented aliens are violating the law of the United States and cannot work without documentation. If discovered, undocumented aliens will be deported. Christians, who are undocumented aliens, have a conscience problem of living a lie, hiding from authorities, and rejecting means of grace for growth in their Christian lives.” I want to give two responses to this.
First, since Dr. Thompson is PCA he must understand something about the “fencing” of the Lord’s Supper table. The aforementioned Book of Church Order (58-4) of the PCA states that “…the minister, at the discretion of the Session, before the observance begins, may either invite all those who profess the true religion, and are communicants in good standing in any evangelical church, to participate in the ordinance…” How can a person be a “member in good standing” if they are in the country illegally?
Second, in our Reformed tradition there is a long-standing form for the use during the Holy Supper. I have a form that it used in our celebration that states, in part, that all those who are living in a known sin from which they refuse to repent should not partake in the Supper. Is it not patently clear that illegal aliens who remain in the country illegally are unrepentant of that known sin? And if that is true, why would the Pastor/Session admit them to the table and refuse, say, a known adulterer?
Finally, Dr. Thompson presents the following Latin American viewpoint to the question Why is it (again, illegal immigration—RG) a problem? “Coming from cultures where relationships are more important than laws, Latins view breaking the regulations of entrance into the United States as secondary. More important is their care of their relatives.” Apart from being highly suggestive and not totally accurate, my urge is still to reply, “So what?” This smacks of the worst sort of multiculturalism and politically correct “values clarification.”
It is truly irrelevant how a Mexican thinks about United States laws. What is important is how the sovereign nation of the United States thinks about its laws and their enforcement. It doesn’t matter if Latins view illegal immigration as secondary. In point of fact, it isn’t. Simply because Latins think that “no crime has been committed” doesn’t mean that they are correct. Or, merely because “Latins see the infraction as a venial sin” that is easily forgiven does not excuse them. What if I don’t see that a stop sign actually means that I must stop? It would be easy to multiply example upon example of any alien coming to this country and wanting to live according to the way they think or feel. What if a Brit comes to the U.S. and decides we all drive on the wrong side of the road?
As someone who lived outside of the United States for almost twenty years of my life I think I understand something of living in a culture that is different from your own. I also understand that as a Christian you have a higher obligation to obey the just laws of the land than the non-believer. So, if Dr. Thompson, Dr. Moran, or anyone else knows Mexicans that are in need of food and know a responsible agency that will actually get the food to them and not sell it on the black market, I can conceive of a number of PCA churches that would be willing to donate food and clothing for families. And as I suggested last time, perhaps it would be wise for MNA/MTW to launch a strategic plan so that the PCA can send missionaries to work among the Mexicans—more than we are doing now. In the meantime, however, illegal still means illegal. If we want to work to change the laws, then, by all means, let the ones who are convinced that the laws are unjust work to change them through appropriate channels.
The Beauty of Simple Illustrations
In closing, I’d like to give a summary illustration that tends to strip away all of the jargon and get down to essential matters regarding the nature of illegal aliens. A good friend and dear brother in the Lord forwarded me an email that contained this illustration.
Recently, large demonstrations have taken place across the country protesting the fact that Congress is finally addressing the issue of illegal immigration. Certain people are angry that the U.S. might actually do something as drastic as protect its own borders, which would make it harder to sneak into this country and, once here, to stay indefinitely. Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests.
Let’s say I break into your house. Let’s say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave. But I say, “I’ve made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors; I’ve done all the things you don’t like to do. I’m hard-working and honest (except for when I broke into your house). According to the protesters, not only must you let me stay, you must add me to your family’s insurance plan, educate my kids, and provide other benefits to me and to my family (my husband will do your yard work because he too is hard-working and honest, except for that breaking in part). If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my right to be there.
It’s only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I’m just trying to better myself. I’m hard-working and honest, um, except for well, you know. And what a deal it is for me!! I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of selfishness, prejudice and being anti-housebreaker. Oh yeah, and I want you to learn my language so you can communicate with me. This is not about racism; it’s about nationality, sovereign laws in our country, and our nation’s decision who comes in and who doesn’t.This in no way impedes our ability to go to Mexico, El Salvador, or other Latin American countries and present the gospel to them, to love them in the Lord, and to provide those in need with basic necessities of life, but we and they do it all legally.
 Thompson, Stranger, 6.
 Ibid., 7.
 See Ronald Reagan, An American Life, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 473.
 Thompson, Stranger, 8.
 Jochem Douma, Responsible Conduct, (Nelson Kloosterman, trans.), (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2003), p. 41.
 Ibid., 71.
 Thompson, Stranger, 9.
 Ibid., 9-10.
 Ibid., 4. Figure 1.
 Ibid., 10.
 Ibid. Borrowed from Dr. Moran or vice-versa.