Jesus Christ: Illegal Immigrant?
By: Mark D. Tooley
Friday, September 15, 2006

FaithfulDemocrats.com says so.
Many of the prophets of the Religious Left justify their belief in Open Borders by loftily quoting Scriptures that speak of caring for the “sojourner” and deriding those who believe in following the law as “inhospitable.” Indeed, according to one theologian, Jesus and the Holy Family were among the most preeminent of illegal immigrants!

Writing for the recently unveiled Democrat Party website for liberal Christians, FaithfulDemocrats.com, Shaun Casey of United Methodist Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C., insists:  “Jesus was an illegal alien and that ought to shape how we enter the current debate.” Casey is on the advisory council for this new Democratic website.

Casey recounts his encounter with an obstinate student in his Sunday school class who, in defiance of Casey’s teaching about “the multitude of passages calling for God's people to love aliens,” was adamant that undocumented workers should return home, in accordance with U.S. law. “No biblical argument to the contrary would move this person off this thesis,” Casey lamented.   

“It struck me as very ironic that this class member would affirm the orthodox Christian belief of Jesus as the Son of God, yet the logic of the political credo would have demanded that Joseph, as a law breaker, should have surrendered Jesus to Herod for execution as an infant,” Casey observed with regret. “No cross, no teaching, no ministry, just infanticide should have been Jesus' fate on earth.”

Casey claims that when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt to protect the Baby Jesus from a wrathful King Herod, they were illegal immigrants and somehow role models for today’s debates about immigration. “They, too, fled to Egypt, suffered persecution, were redeemed by God, and then were empowered to live lives in solidarity with sojourners and aliens wherever they encountered them,” Casey concludes, as though the political point is obvious. “Likewise disciples of Jesus throughout history pick up the same ministry of solidarity with displaced people.”

“But too often political ideology clouds good theology,” Casey laments. “In the current debate over immigration policy it distresses me to no end that so many of my fellow church goers ignore this fundamental tenet that should be central to our identity.”  The Christian ethicist bemoans that today’s “theological amnesiacs” are insisting on “secular law and order ideology over a biblical mandate.”

In other words, according to Casey, today’s advocates of immigration law enforcement are morally infanticidal, metaphorically consenting to the dismemberment of Baby Jesus. The Open Borders Lobby is following a supposedly clear “biblical mandate.”

If Casey’s facile examination of immigration is what passes for high theological analysis on Faithfuldemocrats.com, then the Democratic Party’s website may only be successful among Christians who do not own or at least do not read their Bibles. Joseph, Mary and their infant Son were refugees fleeing for their lives, not illegal immigrants searching for higher wages. The Scriptures do not speak of any Egyptian laws they violated by their flight to Egypt. Of course, unlike most of today’s illegal immigrants to whom Casey is straining to compare the Holy Family, Joseph and Mary took their Child back to Nazareth after King Herod died. Their “sojourn” in Egypt was always intended to be a brief one. So far as we know, Joseph and Mary did not demand any special privileges from Egypt or claim to be persecuted by Egyptians.          

In fact, from what we know, Joseph and Mary were fairly law abiding, their compliance with the Roman census in the Nativity story being one example. Jesus, as an adult, taught  “render unto Caeser what is Caeser’s” and was never the political revolutionary that many of His contemporaries wanted Him to be, and into which many liberation theologians still try to reinvent Him. 

As Casey and other opponents of immigration law like to point out, the Scriptures are full of reminders that the Jews had once been aliens in Egypt. But these modern polemicists rarely mention that the ancient Jews were invited into Egypt by the Pharoah and Joseph. They were not there illegally, nor did they claim any special privileges. When the Egyptian hospitality ran out and the Jews were turned into slaves, Moses led the Hebrews back to their homeland.

Much of the Scriptures are about the Jews trying to get back home from their various exiles, not about their trying to immigrate elsewhere, legally or otherwise. This point is lost upon many modern religious advocates of unrestricted immigration, many of whom shun all national borders and nation states, the U.S. in particular. For some of these theologians and religious activists, the U.S. is not a nation worthy of protection but merely a smorgasbord of special benefits that good manners require must be offered to all.

In this vein, Christian Century magazine editor Jason Byassee writes about Elvira Arellano, the illegal Mexican immigrant activist who is holed up in a Chicago Methodist church, convening press conferences, and refusing to return home, in compliance with U.S. law.  In a column for Religious Left leader Jim Wallis’ Sojourners website, Byassee admits that “occasionally it's the liberals who are the literalists” about the Bible.

Arellano, who has entered the U.S. twice illegally, initially found favor among Chicago politicians, who sympathized with her young son, who was born in the U.S., and who had health problems. The son’s health has improved, and Arellano’s cause has become less politically popular. But her United Methodist pastor is a prominent community activist, and the pastor’s wife heads an immigrant advocacy group. 

“With Coleman and Arellano's political histories and leanings, it is tempting to see this standoff between the little storefront church and the Department of Homeland Security as so much politico-religious theater cooked up for the cameras,” Byassee observes realistically. “Why is Arellano so special that she gets national news coverage, while millions of people in similar plights are ignored?” He admits she faces no danger in Mexico, and the comparisons of her to Rosa Parks are “self-flattering at best.”

But Byassee insists there is “one problem” to deporting Arellano:  the Bible. The Book of Exodus warns against oppressing a “resident alien.” And St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews insists on “hospitality to strangers.” According to Byassee, Arellano’s church is “doing that which other American Christians now find so difficult: minding the letter of the scripture to care for the stranger, as others around her froth for her banishment.”

Supposedly in Arellano’s case, leftists are “attending strenuously to the letter” of the Bible, while conservatives “are blithely and arrogantly ignoring” the Good Book. “Now, the government and the political right have turned their voracious eyes on one little woman in a storefront church,” Byassee opines with sadness.

Byassee and Casey, like many religious leftists, practice a politically and expediently expansionist interpretation of the Scriptures. Biblical admonitions to treat strangers kindly become political demands for abolishing immigration law. Biblical commands to feed the hungry become political demands for an unrestricted welfare state. Biblical aspirations for peace become political demands for unilateral disarmament. In fact, the Scriptures almost never offer the specific public policy guidance that the Religious Left, even more than the Religious Right, effusively likes to claim.

Serious Christian moral reasoning calls for more than the Religious Left’s kind of bumper sticker sloganeering. Can the U.S. or any country accept unrestricted numbers of immigrants while remaining a viable nation state? Is giving automatic citizenship rights to illegal Mexican immigrants fair to millions of other potential immigrants from more distant but far more impoverished lands, not to mention those who are actively persecuted for the political beliefs or religious faith? Will an unrestricted flow of Mexican immigrants into the U.S. facilitate or delay economic improvement for Mexico?  What is illegal immigration’s impact on crime in the U.S.? And how does illegal immigration affect the living standards of legal immigrants?

These questions are not likely to get serious answers from Religious Left activists, who, while twisting the Bible grossly out of context, prefer to portray the immigration debate as a battle between pious Good Samaritans and frothing xenophobes.

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Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.