The image of protestors angrily greeting three busloads of mostly women and children in San Diego is both vivid and powerful. Primal emotions were stirred. The victims were often terrified younger children. The great issue – immigration reform – is a need we must address. Virtually all agree on the need for significant reform. The passionate debate revolves around what kind of reform. Good Christians disagree often strongly! It is important to emphasize the last statement. Good Christians can disagree with each other with passionate conviction about how to best reform the immigration system and respond to the border crisis. So what is a Christian response? Allow me to modestly suggest that there isn’t “a” (as in singular) Christian response. There are multiple Christian responses. Our faith offers us deeper moral guidance. It presents a biblical and ethical framework out of which we may respond. As I watch a report of the shouting and screaming at buses filled with children, I could not help but recall the words of Jesus. “Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children” (Matthew 19:14). Whatever the best strategic answer to the crisis is, further victimization of young children is not the answer. Adults are the ones who need to be held accountable across the spectrum and across national and ethnic lines. The second passage that comes to me is the famous one called the “Judgment of the Nations.” It is well known.
“Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left. 34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” (Matthew 25:31-40)Regardless of our political orientation (Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Green and/or – if there are any of you left – WHIG, We Hope In God), Christians see and help those in need. I served in the Rio Grande Valley as the Pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Harlingen, Texas. Among our good friends was another young couple in the church, Myron and Sandy Merchant. (They kept our son Nathan while I took Jolynn to the hospital for the birth of our daughter Sarah. We’ve stayed in touch over the years.) Committed Christians, they tried to faithfully respond in the swirling environment of immigration and border issues. Myron was Captain in the Border Patrol. I remember well him calling me one day. The church had been collecting clothing for those in need. Over the phone Myron asked, “Do you have some shoes? We’ve arrested an illegal immigrant we are going to send back but he doesn’t have any shoes. Could we help him?” Myron did his duty faithfully and within the context of Christian care. Wherever we come out on the best immigration policy for our nation, we are to engage that policy with Christ-like care and compassion. A third piece of moral guidance we might apply in seeking the outline of a Christian response comes from the Book of James. Often forgotten near the back of the New Testament, it contains marvelous practical advice. James, the brother of Jesus, warns the first Christians (and us) of the power of the tongue. He writes of the spiritual and moral importance about what and how we say things. He warns us against improper hurtful angry speech.
“We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. 3 When we bridle horses and put bits in their mouths to lead them wherever we want, we can control their whole bodies. 4 Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. 5 In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly. Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. 6 The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell. 7 People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. 8 No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!” (James 3:2-10) Each image – a bridle for a horse, a ship at sea, and flame in the forest – is used to illustrate the power of words and importance of not letting our speech descend into poison. Christian maturity for James (what John Wesley would call moving on to “perfection”) involves controlling our tongue (verse 2).At a minimum wherever you come out on the political land personal spectrum of immigration and border patrol, we must guard our tongues. Christians are to be a people who speak gracefully. Civil discourse should be one of the ways we are known as Christian. I often list these three modest elements as a partial framework for our response to the border crisis regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum. Christians are to give witness, offer evidence with their lives, of 1) compassion for children, 2) care for those in need, and 3) communication that is civil (literally grace-filled). *For information on what the Central Texas Conference is doing in response to the border crisis, please read Rev. Lariane Waughtal's (CTC Coordinator - Disaster Response/UMVIM) article.