>A "Jesus-Shaped Way" of Looking At Immigration

>Cover of "Mere Churchianity: Finding Your...Cover via Amazon

Michael Spencer, the aforementioned Internet Monk, wrote a book called, Mere Churchianity:  Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality before he passed away this Spring.  His conversations are still continuing over at the Internet Monk website and I’ve been reading them, lurking on the site, for the last month or so.  It’s good stuff.  I particularly liked the following post from Damaris Zehner, who takes a quote from Spencer’s book and ask readers what to do with it in the real world.  The results in the comments were amazing.

Here’s a simple example.  Think about yourself if you had just spent three years with Jesus.  How would you treat illegal immigrants?  For vast numbers of typical American Christians, their immediate instincts are to either argue a political position or look for a way to end the conversation.  . . . Some of [their] answers could be better, and some could be a lot worse, but it’s the process of how we consider the issues that matters to me.  (Mere Churchianity, p. 51.)

What if Jesus were standing right next to us when we had to say something about a controversial topic?  Because he is, of course, and as Christians we should try to speak with his voice.

Here’s your challenge.  Write about the issue of illegal immigration and illegal immigrants from the point of view of Jesus.  You’ve spent years with him; what would he say or do about the issue? 

Don’t offer political or social commentary, don’t quote any pundits or talk-show hosts, and most importantly don’t start anything with, “Well, I think . . .”  The exercise here is getting away from our own immediate opinions and trying to think as the Son of God would think.  Don’t worry about whether your answer is or isn’t politically viable or likely to happen.  Jesus didn’t, even though he knew where his words and actions would lead him.

You will probably need to do a little Bible study, but I don’t want a flurry of proof texts.  Consider the issue with these guidelines in mind:

  • What does Jesus think about laws?  About just or unjust laws?
  • What does Jesus think our attitude and behavior toward laws ought to be, just and unjust?
  • How does Jesus treat people such as illegal immigrants?
  • How does Jesus treat people with the authority to enforce laws?

It would be good if people from other countries answered, too.  Illegal immigration is an issue everywhere, but again, I don’t want a particular country’s attitude toward the topic, I want thoughtful exploration of Jesus’ will.

One more rule — Treat others’ comments kindly, even if they differ from yours.  Although we are trying to be like Jesus, we aren’t Jesus.  Humility is the order of the day.

So iMonks, sharpen your quills, defrost your ink, weigh down the corners of your parchment, and begin!

Now, this seems to bear some resemblance to the old (and new), “What Would Jesus Do?” ethics of Charles Sheldon‘s book, In His Steps.  But I want to say it adds an interesting twist.  It’s not so much a matter of what Jesus would do as what one would do if you had spent time following along with Jesus as his disciple.   So, it’s less, “What Would Jesus Do?” and more “What Would a Disciple Do?” or “What would someone who had been shaped by Jesus do?”  I think this does two things.  First, it doesn’t make our historical Jesus anachronistic…placing him out of time in our world which I think can be unhelpful at times.  Secondly, it asks us to look more holistically at the problem at hand.  For instance, it’s not just “How would Jesus treat illegal immigrants?”  It asks about how Jesus viewed laws and behavior and asks what are the biblical references where Jesus acts in particular ways with persons who are similar in situation to illegal immigrants.  In other words how can our discussion of illegal immigration be shaped by how Jesus treated those who were:

  • foreigners
  • poor and oppressed
  • accused of being criminals
  • etc.

While I don’t think this in an exercise that would work for everything, I think this could be helpful as we discussed some of the larger and more divisive issues in our society…such as illegal immigration.  Too often, even as Christians, our discussions get quite far away from Jesus as we argue about the politics, the economics, the social implications in today’s world.

The exercise led to some interesting discussion and reflection.  I thought the following was very cool and stopped me in my tracks.  It’s a response by someone called “EK” in the comments section.

First, he takes John 8:1-11 and basically changes some of the biblical text and inserts words and phrases related to immigration.  Enjoy.

Later some immigration agents bring an immigrants who had been caught working illegally. The agents say to Jesus, “The law of our land says we must kick this guy out of our country. What do you say?” They said this to trap him.

Jesus began texting. So they asked him again. Jesus put his phone down and said, “If any of you have never broken the law, please escort this man away.”

Slowly the agents walked away.

“Where are they? Did no one condemn you?” Jesus asked.

“No, sir”

“Then neither do I condemn you. Now go, leave your illegal life.”

Secondly, he uses several biblical sources to come up with this.

Jesus would attend a political anti-immigration rally, and then turn to the crowd and say:

‘You hypocrites! Don’t you know that your ancestors came on this land, taking it forcefully from the Natives? You are like a man who looks in a mirror and then goes away and forgets what he looks like.

You hypocrites! You pay low wages and employ these people to keep your high and lofty lifestyle, and then blame the workers for being here. You use them, and then deny them their rights! Remember that what you do to the least of these, you do to me.

Let that be a warning, before it’s too late”

What I think would be interesting would be to ask whether we can take Jesus’ words and sentiments to shape a harsher immigration policy that some, Christian and non-Christian, are calling for.  I don’t think that would be as easy to do.  Sure we can come up with political, economic, and social reasons for more stringent immigration policies.  I’m not sure what the “Jesus reasons” would be.

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