Aliens Among Us (Jul-Oct 2008)

By Matt Dabbs

by Edward Fudge
July – October, 2008

How do we form a Christian perspective concerning aliens, illegal or otherwise, who are coming to our country in increasing numbers? How ought we to feel toward them? How can we significantly minister to them? What political issues cloud the real issues for a Christian?
Immigration is a worldwide reality. According to the International Organization for Migration in Geneva, Switzerland (IOM), 192 million people now live outside their country of birth. This means that about one person in every 35, roughly three per cent of the world’s population, is a migrant. Those are the people who have personally moved from one country to another. If we include descendants of immigrants from several generations ago, the “alien” category would encompass almost the entire human race.

My son Jeremy is an immigration attorney, and he informs me that the word “alien” is politically incorrect; the term of choice now being “foreign national.” “Immigrant” is a legal term, he says, for anyone seeking permanent residence, while a “non-immigrant” is someone seeking temporary residence. (When I was growing up, an “alien” was a creature from outer space; an “alien sinner” was anyone not yet baptized and “alien baptism” was baptism performed in a Christian denomination other than one’s own. How times have changed!)

Origins of Immigrants Changing

During the 20th Century, floods of immigrants poured into the USA from Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Shinto countries–people with no Christian background, whose languages bore no resemblance to English. This created a society unimaginable as recently as 1950–certainly one not envisioned by the founding fathers, whose best and still-unfulfilled instincts led them to draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Today that Constitution provides freedoms of religion, speech and association for these diverse and disparate Americans as well. Ever since “New Amsterdam” became “New York,” most immigrants who wished to succeed in this country have learned to speak English. So long as the Statue of Liberty holds the torch of freedom and invites the “huddled masses” to our shores it is inconsistent to tell those who come in good faith intending to keep the law to go back where they came from. In all honesty, it is probably un-American and un-Christian as well.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the foreign-born population of the United States nearly doubled in the 1990’s to 31 million, which represents 11% of the US population. This is actually comparable to the peak arrivals of foreign-born persons during the early 19th century. The greater difference lies in countries of origin. Of the 11% of U.S. residents in 2000 who were born elsewhere, 51% came from Latin America, 25.5% from Asia, 15.3% from Europe and 8.1% from other places.

By contrast, almost all foreign-born persons who came to the USA in the 19th century were Anglo-Saxon Western Europeans — white people of at least nominally Christian (and primarily Protestant) faith and culture. The notable exception were the Irish Catholics who, being different, gained acceptance only after enormous struggle.

In other words, before the late 20th century, those coming into the U.S. overwhelmingly resembled the people who were already here. The “U.S.” was filled by people like most of “us” and the newcomers also looked like “us.” The significance of the fact that most foreign nationals of recent arrival are simply different from most of “us” is almost too enormous to be fully appreciated. That reality also challenges us to ask whether our emotional responses and intellectual reactions spring from the spirit of Christ or originate in our fallen human nature.

Blue-Blood Ancestors Were Immigrants Also

It might be humbling for those who claim Blue-Blood ancestry to remember that their forefathers once were immigrants to the United States as well. Nor do the historical facts support the rosy myth of an original America populated entirely by committed Christians who always did and said and thought the right thing.

It is true that those who (re)settled America beginning in 1492, often removing the people who already lived there, were white Western Europeans from countries with historic Christian cultures. That does not necessarily mean that the newcomers or their ancestral people or governments actually followed the teachings of Christ. These same colonial powers “civilized” much of the world by displacing or dominating the native peoples while taking such natural resources as copper, diamonds, gold and rubber for themselves.

Early American colonists included debtors, adventurers, criminals and–most famously–some in quest of religious freedom. Unfortunately, not all those who sought religious freedom for themselves extended that freedom to others. Virginians cherished freedom from Catholic oppression but early Marylanders were Catholics fleeing persecution by Protestants both here and across the Atlantic. Quakers founded Pennsylvania and Baptists settled in Rhode Island because Anglican and Catholic settlers didn’t want them in their colonies. Founding fathers Washington and Adams apparently were devout Christians, but Jefferson and Franklin were deists who rejected the Bible’s supernatural elements. The percentage of Americans regularly attending church in 1776 was smaller than it is today.

Salvation Story Peopled by Immigrants

How can our Savior, our Scriptures and our faith shape our perceptions and responses regarding foreign-born persons among us? In the first place, they call us to remember how much we all have in common. The Apostle Paul said that God made every human being in every nation and determined the boundaries of their original habitations (Acts 17:26). However the biblical story makes it clear that peoples have been moving about from earliest times, by divine intervention and by personal choice (Gen. 10:1-11:9). Given the centuries of human history that have passed, one would be hard pressed to argue on any biblical basis that people today should stay forever in the lands where they were born. In fact, the story the Bible relates is itself a narrative of constant movement.

Salvation-history practically begins with Abram’s displacement from his homeland (Gen. 12:1-3) and it culminates in Jesus whose family fled as refugees from their own country shortly after his birth (Matt. 2:13-15). The sense of impermanence is so vital to biblical thinking that a band of pilgrims becomes a favorite scriptural figure for the community of faith (Heb. 11:13-16; 1 Pet. 1:1-5). In fact, Jesus commissioned his apostles to go into all the world with his gospel, fully anticipating that they would sometimes be unwelcome but ready nevertheless to suffer whatever consequences might follow (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15ff).

But What About Our Security?

Does it matter that our world is different from the one in which Jesus lived? Must we not be alert, especially since September 11, 2001, to radical and ruthless terrorists coming here from abroad? It is right and wise to be aware of enemies who wish to do us harm and to thwart their evil intent, as Jesus and Paul both illustrate (Lk. 4:28-30; Acts 23:12-24).

God approves of governments protecting the innocent and punishing evil-doers (Rom. 13:1-5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). Diligent border security helps to fulfil those goals and enforcement of BOTH our borders ought to be a high priority. That said, we might remember that the airplane hijackers who ushered us into this new era of alarm had entered the U.S. legally although the legal status of several had expired before 9/11.

But what about the flood of emigrants who enter our country illegally, then drain our educational and social systems dry? The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates the number of illegal aliens at eight million in January 2000, increasing by a half-million each year since. The actual financial effects of these illegal entrants is a social and political consideration of grave importance about which expert opinions widely differ. Unquestionably, the U.S. lacks the financial resources to provide birth-to-death benefits without charge to an unlimited number of foreign nationals who might prefer to live here — whether those people enter legally or in violation of the law.

Local, state and federal governments have the responsibility of grappling with such problems and for finding solutions. However that works out, as men and women in service to God’s kingdom we have other abiding concerns. Jesus himself taught that the second greatest command, surpassed only by the requirement to love God supremely, is to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (Matt. 22:34-40). When we look at the Old Testament passage which Jesus quotes, we discover that the “neighbor” spoken of includes the resident foreigner as well the native-born citizens (Lev. 19:18, 34).

Jesus further amplified this command in his Parable of the Good Samaritan, concluding that our basic duty is to BE a “neighbor” — which means mercifully helping anyone we encounter in need (Lk. 10:25-37). Such acts of mercy, this story reveals, matter even more to God than fulfilling ritual religious obligations. This also is confirmed by the example of Jesus himself, who went about doing good — not obligated by any merit on the part of the needy but rather motivated by his own compassion and zeal for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

God’s people living in any country on earth we are called to behave in a neighborly manner to those who are our neighbors. We do this by serving the needy, in keeping with our opportunities and resources as led by the living Spirit of God — whoever these neighbors might be, regardless of where they were born and without regard to their legal status. In this way we follow Jesus the ultimate Alien who graciously gave himself wholly for us, as we also bear witness to the only kingdom that will endure forever and that can encompass all humankind.New Wineskins

You can start or join a thread about this article in the discussion forums for this issue, At the Intersection of Church and State.

Edward FudgeEdward Fudge and his wife Sara Faye have lived in their present house in a far-west Houston suburb since 1985. Beginning about 15 years ago, their neighborhood has become more and more populated by persons speaking Spanish and by people of color. Edward is a Bible teacher, preacher, author and attorney. He presently practices law with the Houston firm of The Lanier Law Firm, P.C. His mother was born Sybil Short; her parents were missionaries in southern Africa from the 1920s, and she was born and reared in what are now Zambia and Zimbabwe. Her parents were Will and Delia Short, and their story and hers are told in brief in Edward’s book, The Sound of His Voice. His father was Bennie Lee Fudge, a Christian publisher and preacher who influenced a generation of believers in Churches of Christ and Christian Churches through his “Use Your Bible” workbooks for Sunday Schools. Edward is an author of Christian works and a frequent guest speaker at many churches and gatherings, and operates the gracEmail ministry as well as maintaining its Web site, [www.EdwardFudge.com].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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