Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sin and Immigration

I once knew a man who told me that he had recently made a left turn from a parking lot and inadvertently crossed over a double yellow line. He then tearfully explained to his young son, who was in the car with him, that it was that type of thing that would send a person to Hell.

For this man, all infractions—including murder, theft, lying, and minor traffic violations—were sin, and sin is what sends a person to Hell.

In a way, he had a bit of a point. According to the Bible, sin is a general category that covers every act that is aimed away from the intentions of God. However, there are still differences. Murder and crossing a double yellow line, for example, have different consequences. They also differ in their fundamental nature.

Murder is a forbidden act in most societies. People groups might have different definitions for what differentiates murder from other forms of killing, but most would agree that the taking of a human life is essentially wrong.

There are other violations that are social in nature and subject to change. The man mentioned above might have made the same left turn the day before the lines were painted on the street and would not have seen himself barreling down the road to Perdition. There are certain social boundaries that we observe in human communities that are not universal in nature, but are functional (and sometimes arbitrary) and subject to change.

International borders are like that.

In the early 1800s, the western border of the US ended at the Rocky Mountains. Florida was Spanish territory. Much of the west and southwest belonged to Mexico. The border between Texas and Mexico was open until the 1930s. So a person could cross legally one day, and be in violation of the law the next.

I have spoken with people who insist that an undocumented worker (illegal immigrant, or whatever) stands outside of God’s favor and is in danger of eternal punishment on the basis of an unauthorized border crossing. After all, breaking the law is wrong and, therefore, sin. I’m sure that the people who hold this view never exceed the speed limits when they drive.

I’m happy to see a number of Christian leaders speaking responsibly in the current US work on immigration reform (see the “I Was a Stranger” challenge). I hope to see more Christians speaking with wisdom and theological sense into this issue. We US Christians need a lot of help in distinguishing between our partisan preferences and our call to be God’s people for the sake of the world. We also need help in our tendency to operate out of fear.

The challenge for we who follow Jesus is to act responsibly when it comes to social and political realities, but at the same time to remember that we stand in solidarity with all people, as co-humans made in the image of God. Our national boundaries are insufficient in defining people and separating them into categories that allow us to dismiss their humanity.

No comments: