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A Biblical Case for Political Engagement

faith-and-politics

*never you mind that these are the two things we are NOT supposed to talk about.

You may have heard it said “Let’s leave the politics to the politicians and the believers to the gospel”, or something like that.  

To the extent that we as Christians should not be enslaved or beholden to politics, I agree.  To the extent that one thinks the gospel (the good news of Jesus) doesn’t intersect with political realities or that it is somehow more Christian to disengage from the political sphere, I will have to disagree.  

On a practical level, it seems naive to insist there is no overlap.  Even to disengage from politics (activities associated with the governance of a country or other area) is a political choice.   On a spiritual level, God sees love for Him and love for others as interconnected. It is a human thing, not a God thing, to separate the two (doesn’t Jesus surprise us when he is asked of the greatest commandment, that he responds with two?).  

So why should we as Christians engage with politics?  And if so, to what extent?  

Loving ones neighbor does not happen in a vacuum divorced from politics and the governance of peoples.  The American mindset automatically goes to loving my neighbor as meaning solely loving individuals, when that is not the mindset of most of the world (which are of more collectivist cultures), and certainly not of the biblical witness.  The bible recognizes group, not just individual, responsibility.  It even recognizes systems, not only individual players.  Therefore, we are not just to do good to individuals, but as we are able, to do good for the larger community

The Apostle Paul, in Gal 6:10, exhorts us “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The passage states “as we have opportunity” to “do good to everyone”.  Yes, the priority of care ought to be for the family of believers but this DOES NOT mean the exclusion of all others.  

First, let us look at do good to everyone”:  

Too much evil has been done in the name of “good” / “God” that He is NOT about, and, unfortunately, we even see this playing out in these times by people claiming to be Christian.     

We cannot be clear enough on what it means to do good FROM THE BIBLE.

Yes, we are not saved BY good works.  But we are saved TO DO good works.   So what is the good work we ought to do?  The Apostle John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, believed that God’s love lives in a person through action on behalf of the ones in need (1 John 3:17-18). James, most likely the half brother of Jesus, taught that true religion is caring for those in need (James 1:27).  He even goes so far as to make the outrageous claim that a faith that is not accompanied by works, and the notable example he uses is caring for those in need, is dead and no better than demonic (James 2:14-19)!  Jesus himself dropped on his disciples that to care for the least of these was to care for Jesus himself and was the litmus test of eternal salvation (Matthew 25:31-46).  The common thread of what it means to do good is to care for those in need…to do justice.  Even, and maybe we need to be reminded especially, those we do not consider as “us”.  

Lastly, let us look atas we have opportunity”:

We must remember that during the time of the writing of the epistles most folks were not people in power but were people without the right of Roman citizenship (Jesus himself did not have citizenship status) or at least not in positions to affect direct political change.  Their opportunities to do good for larger society, at the policy level, was limited.  Even from that context of the new testament the case has been made for political engagement. 

But if you want more scriptural models it is helpful to go to the Old Testament when Israel was once a Theocratic nation state.  There we get some frames for what God’s government could / should look like.  I won’t get into all of that here (check out the books of the law for that) but suffice it to say that the laws of the government were about personal purity as well as just relations, with special considerations for the more powerless of society (and gasp! even provisions in the government for taking care of the poor!).  God took seriously not only individual actions but political actions.  When Israel strayed from His way the prophets took them to task.  Isaiah makes a scathing rebuke to the lawmakers of his day declaring “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,  and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil,  and that they may make the fatherless their prey (Isaiah 10:1-2)!”  Amos warned “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate (5:15a).”  The gate was the central place of political exchange.   It was Israel’s job to engage in politics…for good.  They did not take that seriously, and so God took the kingdom away from them.  

But we’re not a theocracy anymore so why engage in godless politics?  

Remember also that Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah were not priests or part of the theocracy of Israel either, but they affected policy of the pagan government for the good of those in need.  

If you are a citizen, and a citizen in a democratic country no less, you have more opportunity than most to do good that affects a great number of people.  And as Uncle Ben famously said, Jesus had said before him “to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” 

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5 Reasons We Should Defend Undocumented Immigrants as Christians

First off, what I am NOT saying is that a complete open border policy is necessarily the best way to go nor that we should blindly defend those that intend harm (as it regards immigrants, actually, the opposite is true in comparison to native born folks).  Let us consider that if a stranger came to our home most of us would first want to make sure they are not there to harm anyone.  

But what I AM saying is that once we know their intent is not harm, if we are to be good neighbors, we ought to welcome them as we would want to be welcomed (as we work toward immigration and policy reform that reflects this spirit).  i would like to submit to you 5 reasons why we should seek to defend undocumented immigrants, especially if we call ourselves followers of Jesus. :

1) Jesus challenges us to welcome the stranger as we would welcome Him (Matthew 25:35)

There is a wealth of scriptures (from the law, from the narratives, from the writings, from the prophets, from the gospels, and even from the epistles) regarding the foreigner/immigrant that would make us think we ought to err on mercy over judgement.  Jesus’ very identity is intimately tied up with the foreigner that to reject the foreigner is to reject him.  the biggest, irony is that we ourselves were foreigners (unless you’re a Jew, which i’m assuming you’re not), enemies even, to God’s chosen people but were given the grace of being included in the family of God.  To be unmerciful to the foreigner is a deep hypocrisy we must keep in check as believers in Jesus (let alone as citizens of the U.S. with it’s troubling origins. R.C.W., W.H.*).  

2) Yes, we ought to submit to the government for they have been put in place by God. However, there is ONE case that trumps that verse, which is when the law of the land goes against the law of God who is the ultimate law giver.

In the case of our 45th president and his administration, they are going against God’s commands to defend the most vulnerable of our neighbors (Deuteronomy 24:14, Zechariah 7:10, Matthew 25:31-46) and instead are insulting them and enacting laws against them.

Please understand that by dissent, I do not mean violent resistance but rather civil protest.  The early church was not a stranger to civil disobedience, when it went against God’s conscience, as many were willingly arrested and even killed for their stances.  Let us not forget, the person who wrote that verse about submitting to the government, Paul the Apostle, was in PRISON when he wrote that very verse because he would not submit to the governing authorities to be silent about his faith.  Jesus himself confronted even the establishment of the temple (read church) authorities, over their corruption with money at the expense of making a way for the marginalized to worship, and he made quite a scene about it too (one of the few times in scripture where we see Jesus ANGRY is quite telling).  

3) Yes, people ought not cut in “line” to get in to the country but this is based on the assumption there is a “line” for those who are poor.

It seems from our current immigration policy (even before no. 45) this is not the case.  As of right now, the only ways you can enter the country to become a legal permanent resident (i.e. get a green card) are:

A) employment (i.e. You are invited in by an employer, most often does not apply to “unskilled” work of those who are poor.)

B) family (You have an immediate blood relative that is a citizen or permanent resident.  However, the sponsoring family member must demonstrate that they have the financial resources above the poverty line to support these family members coming in for which there is already a limit.  And even if this is approved the process can literally take decades, especially if you are from a poor country in which case waiting is particularly a luxury you cannot afford when your survival is on the line.  For more detail on what B might look like see this article by an immigration lawyer. S.W.P.*)

C) diversity lottery (Only applies if you are from a country that does not have very many immigrants in the U.S.  This leaves out many of our poor neighbors.)

D) refugee of persecution (Under the current administration these are being pushed to be more rarely granted and even before this administration there has been a HEAVY 20 step vetting procedure ALREADY in place.  Often refugee status is dependent on the type of relationship and interest the U.S. has with a given country and does not include fleeing from home country due to famine, natural disasters, or dire economic circumstances.)

For further and more comprehensive discussion on immigration policy I have found the book Welcoming the Stranger to be immensely helpful (written by two authors: Jenny Hwang, a director of advocacy and policy of the Refugee and Immigration Program of World Relief, AND Matthew Sorens, a Board of Immigration Appeals – accredited Immigration and Citizenship Legal Counselor at World Relief).   

4) The hands of the U.S are not clean regarding their role in these very countries, crisis, and conditions that gave rise to the need to emigrate.

Specifically regarding many of our neighboring Latin American brothers and sisters, the U.S. has been involved in the violence of supporting military juntas in civil wars to drug trafficking in these countries fueled by the U.S. demand for illegal drugs to the U.S. war on drugs that went into these countries (without supporting reconstruction efforts)  to exporting gang members into these countries ill equipped to handle them (K.C.*).  

Certainly, individual responsibility is important and even in terms of governmental responsibility the U.S. is not the only ones to bear that burden. But it is morally irresponsible of the U.S. to shift blame solely on the immigrant, especially onto the children and families fleeing the violence, when the U.S. has been complicit in contributing to these issues.  It is sobering to consider that one of the few clear instances in scripture of the case for a greater weight of sin is how it is heavier upon those in leadership.  It’s not going to be easy but if we have made such a bed we must work together to sleep in it.  

 

5) The unjustified and inhumane way the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are going after folks with NO criminal records.

According to a recent Washington post article covering raids that happened this past week, “The raids, which officials said targeted known criminals, also netted some immigrants who did not have criminal records, an apparent departure from similar enforcement waves during the Obama administration that aimed to just corral and deport those who had committed crimes.”  However, with some fact checking (thanks to Dr. Ji Son) it turns out that the actions of ICE were worse than we thought.  An analysis by the New York Times in 2014 revealed that since Obama became president, “two-thirds of the nearly two million deportation cases involve people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.”  Although the intent of the previous administration may have been better, the devil was in the details of the local execution of these policies, with devastating (S.C.*) results.  

There is little to no due process (precisely because their status makes them vulnerable to exploitation, S.C.*) or concern for tearing them away from family to a different country (something we don’t even do to our worst criminal offenders).  Let alone, that what counts as “criminal” can change depending on jurisdiction area (S.C.*) and as such can include violations and misdemeanors (including traffic violations), and broad definitions of “aggravated felony” (which includes even “filing a false tax return”).

Let us examine any prejudice within our hearts toward the immigrant and rid ourselves of the unfounded fears and lies concerning the immigrant who contribute to our communities. We as Christians have a responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable coming from the most vulnerable situations.  In addition to deep 2 Chronicles 7:14 prayers, here is one more way to defend the undocumented immigrant.  Jesus advocated for us when we were defenseless.  Let us be merciful as Christ has been merciful to us.  

*thank you to my friends over at the Progressive Asian American Christian group.  Although I may not agree with everything that is said in the group (as is hard to say with anyone in a group that large), you’ve provided significant insight and perspective into this issue that has been helpful.