Moral responsibilities regarding the immigrant caravan have become yet another issue dividing our nation. In the clamor to find either a persuasive, or guilt inducing voice to settle the dispute, Jesus, the humble Galilean prophet, advocating justice and mercy, has entered the fray. But it is a Christ often misused by both parties for their own ends.
Trump’s asylum refusals seem hypocritical to his Christian profession, liberals cry. Didn’t Jesus welcome the stranger and command the same of his followers? Christian conservatives on the other hand, especially some for whom Trump unfortunately serves as a quasi-messiah for all things American, rightly point out the obvious difficulties with welcoming millions of immigrants into the care of a government behemoth already straining under its own weight. Valid concerns and hypocrisy on both sides have furthered the impasse. Can invoking Christ bridge the divide? Frankly, no.
The reason is simply that many portray Christ as their final answer without regard for his broader teachings. Liberals, for example, cite Matthew 25:36. “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Others see socialist or communist undertones in Acts 4:32, 34. “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, they shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them.”
The hypocrisy of the left is seen in that liberals overlook the passage contexts. Matthew’s Jesus is describing his role as the judge of all men, excluding from his eternal kingdom those who haven’t rendered faithful service in caring for the refugee. Acts 4:12 describes Jesus as the solitary means of attaining an eternal relationship with God the Father. Everyone not in Christ is excluded from heavenly bliss.
Since exclusion is currently the foulest of terms, would any liberal support these sweeping claims? Unlikely. Delighted to cite Christ as the supreme authority when it suits their cause yet renouncing his other claims. Such is the left’s pretense in sifting the Galilean’s teachings. If Jesus is only a good teacher however, his words have no obligatory force. We must either call him Lord and submit to his commands about caring for the poor refugee or leave him out of the discussion altogether.
Yet the religious right fares no better. It is true that if we keep taking from the haves, to give to the have nots, we may find ourselves in the latter category. Yet that dangerous possibility doesn’t free the Christian especially from his/her responsibility to address the needs of the poor. Many Christians live and talk as if Christ cares more about protecting the generic name “God” on our money, or in the pledge of allegiance, than whether people are starving at our feet or living in tent cities under the overpasses of our great capitals.
True, millions of new undocumented immigrants might mean more people living in such squalor. Certainly wisdom dictates a thoughtful, measured response rather than a throwing open of the gates. The same Lord who commands welcoming of the refugee, also mandates a counting of the costs involved in such obedience. But the religious right must not respond in a way that suggests Christ values America’s civil religion over daily submission. As though preserving these symbols is more important than human dignity. As it relates to immigrants, self-respect is denied when one is seen only as a trespasser rather than a human being in need.
Neither side will lessen the animosity by demonizing each other, nor by invoking the name, or isolated teachings of Jesus as proof that he stands on their side of the debate. He has always described himself as the defender of the fatherless, the widow, and of the poor. On this issue only those who sincerely share his burden should claim his aid. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you,” James writes.
The religious right correctly see corruption in the many “sins” liberals endorse and celebrate. Their hypocrisy however is in thinking of these deeds as worse than ignoring, or perhaps resisting the call to aid the underprivileged. The issue is complicated and calls for the most compassionate and objective thinkers on both sides of the aisle. And though, from a Christian perspective Jesus most definitely plays a part in the solution, his role is more complex and demanding than perhaps either side wishes to acknowledge.