Hermeneutical Considerations & Emerging Principles
Dr. J. Allen Thompson, Coordinator of Multicultural Church Planting (Mission to North America) of the Presbyterian Church in America explains his stance on illegal immigration in a paper entitled “The Stranger in Your Midst: Attitudes and Actions Toward Undocumented Aliens in the United States.” As we have pointed out previously, Dr. Thompson consistently prefers the term “undocumented” to describe what is, in point of fact, “illegal.” But it’s his paper, so he may choose. I am convinced that such euphemistic language obfuscates the issue and that Dr. Thompson’s readers would be better served by more precise language.
I want to conclude my analysis of Dr. Thompson’s article in this segment and then round the entire discussion off in the next contribution to my blog site by looking both at some of the fallacies that adhere to the discussion about illegal immigration as well as some of the factual data on illegal immigrants. That being said, we shall spend a few moments responding to what the author of the article calls “hermeneutical considerations” and “emerging principles” of the biblical data.
Dr. Thompson comments that “Apart from human-universal commands (e.g., the commandments to love God and neighbor, Mark 12:29-31) that apply to the Christian’s general treatment of neighbors, the texts which specifically deal with relationships to aliens are found primarily in the Old Testament civil law.”
Since I have written on the Old Testament concept of the sojourner, I will simply refer you to my blog site for my views on this subject. We would have been better served, however, if Dr. Thompson would have added this truth to his statement about the Old Testament: But the texts dealing with the Christian’s relationship to the civil government are found primarily in the New Testament
In Romans 13:1-8, for example, obedience to the civil government and love are beautifully combined so that there is no contradiction between the two. Moreover, texts such as Matthew 22:17-21 describe how our Lord taught us about obedience to “Caesar.” Israel was an occupied nation and yet Jesus taught about obeying the Roman authorities. Finally, 1 Peter 2:13-17 directs our attention—quite clearly actually—to our attitude towards “human institutions” as Christians. True, our citizenship is in heaven, but in the interim we sojourn here upon this earth in the respective countries and callings that God has ordained for us. Moreover, Christians encouraging others that the laws of our country do not matter give a poor witness, especially in the case of illegal immigration where our nation’s laws do not require Christians to violate any specific commands of God. I’m aware that Dr. Thompson and others want to posit a dilemma between the law of love in Scripture and our nation’s laws, but to this point they have not offered the first shred of evidence to bolster their positions.
Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that Dr. Thompson would ask, “Is the civil law of the Old Testament normative in its application to the situation of aliens today?”
It’s conceivable that this is meant to be a rhetorical question, but it would seem that as a member of the PCA and who has “signed onto” the Westminster Standards, that the answer should be clear to him. We are reminded in 19.3 that all the “ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament.” That’s clear. In the following section (19:4) we also read: “To them also, as a body politic, he (God) gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity
thereof may require” (Emphasis mine).
Allow me one simple explanation of what the divines at Westminster were aiming at. In Deuteronomy 22:8 we read that when the people of Israel built a new house they were required to place a parapet around the roof. Rarely do we in North America entertain on the roof, but occasionally a teenager thinks that’s a good place to party, so it would seem that the application of this text might be placing fences around our swimming pools. In this sense, the civil law in the Old Testament isn’t normative, but certainly highly instructive. Thus, we can look for general equity but Thompson’s (and Moran’s) are lost on us as they don’t put flesh on what exactly they’re trying to say. At the same time, we would be far better off if we were to implement more of the Old Testament civil laws, but that’s something for another time.
In terms of the “principles emerging from the biblical data” we still are not given a great deal of concrete information. Dr. Thompson concludes that “The Israelite was to defend, help, and even love the stranger (Deut. 10:18; 14:29; 24:14, 19).”
My point here is that Christians in the United States may do all of the above without allowing aliens to come into the country illegally. Would I, say, defend an illegal female against an attack from a male or a vicious dog? Absolutely. Would I help them if they needed food or clothing? Of course. Would I witness to them? Theoretically, but my Spanish isn’t very good, since I live in America where a number of us still speak English. Can I have a disposition of love towards the stranger? Yes. All of this does not, however, point to aiding him or her in his illegality. One quick point about the word “stranger” as Dr. Thompson employs it here. If someone comes to the United States legally, they’re probably going to feel somewhat like a stranger at the outset. My point here: “Stranger” can connote both illegal as well as legal aliens.
Before Dr. Thompson gives us his “Principles” he makes this comment: “The Christian is not a gër
but a citizen of the kingdom of God. With reference to this present world, however, the Christian who is a citizen of the kingdom of heaven is a gër
I would add: that in his gër-ness
the Christian is called upon to obey the laws of the land in which he or she lives unless those laws clearly and demonstrably violate the Law of God. Successively, but not successfully, Dr. Thompson gives us a litany of Old Testament texts that ostensibly make his point: Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:33-34; and Deuteronomy 10:17-19. Each of these speaks to us about loving the alien, but the point to be made has little or nothing to do with the subject at hand: illegal immigration. In fact, Dr. Thompson expects to make a quantum leap to follow him. We are all in agreement that we are to love the alien, but now to apply this to mean that illegal immigration is a blessing is more than a huge stretch!
Those texts are followed by a set of suppositions that are as vague and ill-chosen as his texts. For example, he writes, “Each one of us must be humbly aware of our own origins.”
Growing up in the South we never had shoes or electricity until I was twelve. I know what he means. Next we are reminded that “The weak and the helpless need special protection and care.”
Thompson adds, “Persons who by their position, status, and language are disadvantaged are potential victims of ethnocentric pride.”
The image that is emerging is that Dr. Thompson seems to be thinking of the illegal immigration in a monolithic fashion. Not every MS-13 illegal immigrant forms a potential victim of ethnocentric pride. Rather, he’s more likely to join and gang and attempt to murder an American law enforcement officer. It appears that illegal aliens are lumped together and come out looking the same. That simply is not the case and it is more than naïve on Dr. Thompson’s part.
There is a statement that I want to pick up on that Dr. Thompson uses because rather than making his point, it countermands it. Favorably citing Leviticus 18:26 he writes the following: “In criminal law the same rules enacted to protect natives were applied to aliens.”
Thank you. That is my point precisely. What the Old Testament is saying is that aliens in Israel had to “play by the rules.” This is the exact opposite of what Dr. Thompson and Dr. Moran would have us believe and act upon. If we are drawing principles here then it is clear that the Leviticus 18:26 text points inexorably to the fact that an alien must live according to the laws of the nation in which they’re living, which is precisely what illegal aliens are not doing. Moreover, they complicate the situation by getting hired illegally, which is a felony.
Thompson’s third “principle” is that “Aliens, as well as other disadvantaged persons, merit acts of kindness and physical provision as a reflection of the character of God who shows no partiality.”
Do you see where this is heading? The gratuitous assumption is that aliens and “other disadvantaged persons” form a unit. I happen to know a number of legal aliens who rightly would be incensed if you referred to them as a disadvantaged person merely because they were aliens! There are quite a few legal aliens who are doing very, very well in this country, thank you very much. We’ve already commented on the Christian’s attitude and action regarding acts of kindness and physical provision.
Action: The Word of God Applied Compassionately
Dr. Thompson’s opening statement for this section of his paper/article also—to my mind—points in the opposite direction than he wants to go. He states, “It has been established that the status of the undocumented alien in the United States is precarious and that as Christians we should extend hospitality, justice, and care as was done in the Old Testament and commanded in the New Testament.”
I’m not certain that anything much has been truly “established,” but that’s another story. If anything has been established, however, it is that the status of the undocumented alien in the United States is illegal rather than precarious. Moreover, if justice is to be applied according to Leviticus 18:26 then this is a slam dunk. Citing Dr. David Moran, Dr. Thompson continues, “It should be remembered that even the documented alien struggles in this country against discrimination and loneliness and is also victimized by the legal system.”
If the good doctors mean that aliens get homesick and miss a number of the customs of their home of origin, then, yes, that’s more than understandable. For the almost ten years that our family lived in Holland we sometimes struggled with loneliness—but not often. We jumped into the Dutch culture—legally—with our hip boots on and rarely had time for loneliness. We intentionally avoided excessive contacts with people who would make us long for what we were missing in Holland. People who hang in homogenous, likeminded groups tend to be lonely from what they’re missing rather being thankful for what they have.
As far as the discrimination and victimization thing those were totally different issues. We had a number of political debates where some of the Dutchies thought that we were crazy, but that was about it. If the documented alien struggles against discrimination surely that comprises rather isolated issues. Without doubt, the overwhelming majority of hardworking legal immigrants are not discriminated against, but I raised an eyebrow at Thompson’s and Moran’s assertion that legal immigrants are victimized by the U.S. legal system. Some statistics and concrete examples would have bolstered their point. As it stands, however, it’s barely believable.
Dr. Thompson asserts that the care and assistance we can give illegal aliens includes “hiring the undocumented person to do odd jobs.”
If Dr. Thompson is going to encourage PCA church members and other Christians to hire illegals to perform “odd jobs” it is necessary to spell out precisely which “odd jobs” do not constitute breaking the law and committing a felony, since, you would think, Christians wouldn’t want to cross that line. Why do you think that in some states they are cracking down on the trafficking in illegal labor? There are so many Christian economic principles at play here that it isn’t even remotely funny.
Dr. Thompson explains what he means in another quote taken from Dr. Moran. Citing the Simpson-Rodino Acts of 1986 we understand that “INS officials have said they would not harass families hiring household workers, i.e., a person would not be penalized for knowingly hiring an unauthorized alien as a baby-sitter or carpenter for one job.”
Excuse me! Who in their right mind would hire someone who came into this country illegally as a one-time baby-sitter? What parent would allow an illegal alien to watch his or her child? “Honey, it’s almost time for us to go out to our party. Good thing I found that illegal alien at the last minute to baby-sit, otherwise we’d be stuck at home tonight. What? Oh, no. It’s safe; it’s just a one-time thing.” Moreover, as we shall see in our last installment, a lot has changed in this country since Simpson-Rodino circa
The word “justice” appeared in Dr. Thompson’s introductory sentence to this section as a description of how the Word of God is to be applied compassionately. He writes that “Many aliens, who come from countries where justice is seldom carried out, are intimidated by the justice system.”
In light of what follows, it is safe to say what Dr. Thompson meant but didn’t say was “illegal”—or to use his term, “undocumented”—aliens. Why do I say that? In the following sentence he writes that “They often find themselves in situations under unfair employers who underpay or do not pay them as agreed upon.”
If the aliens are here legally, they can have recourse to the “unfair employers” who cheat them. We have a court system in this country that protects legal aliens. Of course, unscrupulous employers in the United States—and that is what they are—are willing to hire illegal aliens and underpay or not pay at all because as illegal aliens they have no recourse to our legal system. Corruption breeds corruption. But if it were corrupt in Mexico, why not breed some corruption in America. After all, Americans are also susceptible to corruption. Dr. Thompson hits the nail on the head when he writes, “As victims they are afraid of going to the law because they may be apprehended by the INS.”
But let’s be accurate here. Illegal aliens may get and at times do get conned by unscrupulous employers, but they are no more victims than the unscrupulous people who hire them. In fact, both are unscrupulous. So why does Dr. Thompson insist on making them politically correct victi-crats?
The solution, it seems, is “Christian advice to aliens regarding their rights
I must admit that in light of the laws of this country and the illegal status of the illegal alien, I would be hard pressed to come up with a bevy of rights
for them. Dr. Thompson suggests that Christians can accompany illegal aliens to court and “act as witnesses in the interests of justice.”
So let me see if I understand this: I can accompany illegal aliens to court—granted that I know any—and act as witnesses in the interest of justice? What precisely would I be witnessing to in such a situation? Would I witness that I was well aware of the fact that the illegal alien was in this country illegally and then ask for justice? Would I witness that the illegal alien was hired by an American and not paid the promised wages. Let’s see: an unscrupulous employer committed a felony and then lied to the illegal alien. What kind of justice would we be seeking in such a case?
Another possible solution might be to teach illegal aliens who are in the “second phase” of the Simpson-Rodino Amnesty classes! How is this helping? Finally—and it is a blessing to be almost through this!—Thompson puts this position forward: “Legal procedures are available for entry into the United States with documentation. Often the process takes a long time and is expensive.”
Really? I didn’t know that. What do you know? There are actually legal avenues for entering the United States legally. Wow. But there’s nothing worse to cramp your style that a lengthy legal process that’s expensive into the bargain.
Dr. Thompson contends that “Many unscrupulous attorneys are in the business of ‘purchasing’ entry into the United States through false documentation.”
Surprise! Surprise! “National Christians seeking legal entry into the United States often are lured into these traps.”
Then why don’t these National Christians (I’m not sure I know what National Christians are) report the unscrupulous attorneys to the proper officials and get them disbarred for unscrupulous, illegal practices? The Thompson solution: “Warnings should be given.”
Good idea. Dr. Thompson concludes this section of his paper/article with this gem: “In addition, those working with undocumented aliens, should become conversant with the procedures, obtain the advice of conscientious immigration attorneys and become helpful agents in this process.”
Being helpful can be a good thing as long as matters are proceeding along legal lines. In the meantime, Dr. Thompson has not begun to answer what we are to do while the illegal alien is still in the country illegally and in the case of Christians perhaps even attending the Lord’s Supper while living in a known sin for which is not prepared to repent. By way of reminder, biblical repentance includes not merely asking forgiveness from the offended parties, but also amendment of lifestyle.
Dr. Thompson’s Conclusions
From out of nowhere, the leading conclusion is reached: “In the coming decade the immigration crunch will accelerate, continue to put pressures on our society and increase racial tensions.”
Of course, the short answer is that illegal immigration will not accelerate if those in our government will take the proper steps to secure our borders. Pat Buchanan provides us with a different scenario: “In 1954, when Eisenhower discovered a million Mexicans here who did not belong, without apology he ordered them sent home in ‘Operation Wetback.’ They went.”
It is Dr. Thompson’s assessment that “Millions will enter legally and millions more will continue to seek economic haven in the United States through illegal entry.”
This is a disturbing sentence for a number of reasons. First, I am not certain that according to our immigration policy that even millions are allowed to enter our country legally. Millions more can be stopped at the border—and should be. I would add: if necessary by force
. But what Dr. Thompson posits might have been just a slip of the pen, but by his own admission, rather than coming to this country to embrace its ideals, ideas, and freedoms, the illegal immigrant is coming to seek economic haven. His primary goal is to earn more money. Earning more money is not inherently evil, but it is if you resort to breaking the law to do so. Again, the case of the unscrupulous employer is a form of economic haven. He doesn’t have to pay according to the law. He commits a felony because he hires—at an economic advantage—an illegal alien.
Then we’re told, “Poverty will escalate in many countries putting greater impetus to the flight for jobs.”
Unfortunately, we’re not given any reliable economic barometers that point us, inexorably, to the fact that poverty will escalate in “many countries,” but one thing is certain: the glut of illegal aliens into our country is tantamount to importing poverty. I’ll deal with this more in detail in the next issue, but we need to be aware that illegal aliens generally fall into this description: “Except for refuges from Communist countries, such as Hungary in 1956 and Cuba in 1960, immigrants gravitate to the party of government. Mostly uneducated and poor, they get more back in government benefits—free education for their children, housing subsidies, free health care, food stamps, welfare checks, Supplemental Security Income, earned income tax credits—far more than they ever pay out.”
Dr. Thompson misses the clear treat of importing poverty into his own country.
According to Dr. Thompson, four key answers must be given to the question: How will the Church of Jesus Christ respond in this coming decade?
First, immigration laws favoring allowing in more people from Third World countries should be supported. Our country has laws regarding quotas for Third World countries. If we desire those laws to be changed—I rather doubt that more than a mere handful know what those laws or quotas are—then we must do so through “the system.”
Second, “Biblical teaching indicates that we should have a heart and hand open toward the disadvantaged which include the widows, orphans, and aliens.”
Third, “Evangelism and church planting among ‘people groups’ (What? People groups? I suppose that it must be the new fad to make up cool sounding names as you go along) and new ethnics
(Italics mine for this cool, upbeat, cutting edge “people group”) is a door of opportunity that should be pursued with vigor by the Church in North America.”
This “door of opportunity” must be pursued—vigorously and otherwise—by biblically qualified men prepared to lead, teach, and preach in a biblical manner. Pursuing with vigor should not mean that we are willing to place less than soundly biblical men into the positions of leadership that will be required by such an undertaking. This begs the question: Where might we find such a cadre on a moment’s notice? Once found, why wouldn’t we be more inclined to send them as missionaries to Mexico? If the men are biblically trained and equipped there might be a problem of conscience in ministering to folks who are living in a known sin for which they refuse to repent.
According to Dr. Thompson, this new task he’s describing will involve “cross-cultural communication of the Gospel” to the people groups and new ethnics.
(The old ethnics actually went about immigration legally. Such were the people groups back in the day.) Since almost one-half of my twenty-five-plus years in pastoral ministry have been spent in a “cross-cultural” setting (modern, hip, cutting-edge, engage-the-culture term: contexualization
) I would greatly appreciate it if someone who delineate—in detail—precisely what this is. It would be very helpful to me since all I was able to come up with in terms of cross-cultural ministry was commonsense, age-appropriate presentation of the one gospel (cf. Rom. 1:16-17; Gal. 1:8-9). Somebody help me here.
This cross-cultural communication of the gospel, according to Dr. Thompson, entails pastors and church planters in North America receiving missionary training analogous to the “same degree as overseas workers.”
Really? Why should I learn Spanish? Why shouldn’t the Mexican learn English? Why should I learn the Mexican culture instead of the Mexican learning American culture? Why shouldn’t I spend time teaching the legal alien about this country and so augment the naturalization process?
On January 13, 1919 Theodore Roosevelt send a letter to the American Defense Society which contained these words: The immigrant to America had to become an American and nothing but an American. He reminded his audience that there can be no divided allegiance here among immigrants. He wrote further, “We have room but one flag, the American flag. We have room for but one language here; and that is the English language. And we have room for but one sole loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people.” That’s the language prior to PC.
Dr. Thompson caps his article of misinformation with this gem: “America is not a melting point but a mosaic of multi-cultures!”
No! No! No! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! I would suggest Samuel Huntington’s book Who Are We?
to Dr. Thompson and any and all who think like him. Trying to describe this country as a “mosaic of multi-cultures” is precisely what is wrong with those who want to be PC and have never really lived in multi-cultures. I would point all who believe that America should celebrate a mosaic of multi-cultures to read Reginald Bibby’s Mosiac Madness
and Bill Gairdner’s The Trouble with Canada
. Closer to home, Tom Tancredo’s In Mortal Danger
and Pat Buchanan’s new release State of Emergency
will be very beneficial. Buchanan’s book has skyrocketed on the New York Times bestseller list. Why do you think that is? It is at least in part due to the fact that Americans are very concerned about this problem and do not see it as a blessing as Dr. Thompson and Dr. Moran—and others like them—do.
If this is the direction that Mission to North America in the Presbyterian Church in America is heading, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble spiritually and legally. To this point I am more than a little surprised that those in leadership at MNA have not said something one way or the other. The silence is deafening. Both of the papers I’ve interacted with have ties to MNA. What should we expect next, a position paper on civil disobedience?
Ibid. Italics mine.
Ibid. Italics mine.
Pat Buchanan, State of Emergency
, (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2006), p. 17.