Like no other time in American history, “the church” is out of line with the culture at large. What do I mean by “the church?” Like it or not, the face of American Christianity is the white evangelical Protestant (WEP). It matters little whether or not that face is truly representative of American Christianity because it is perceived to be that way. This perception is rooted in reality because the WEP is famous for its political commitment to Christian Nationalism.
The farther that one goes back in American history, the more aligned that American Christianity is with the surrounding culture. Some of that is grand, whereas as some of it is gross. But the relative merit is not the point here. The point is that America was once (to some degree) a Christian nation. That is no longer true. Like much of the world today, America is post-Christian. The over-politicized faith of American Christians has become the proverbial “turd in the punch bowl” of our culture — a culture of contempt.
Let’s be clear about one thing. The problem with American Evangelicals says nothing for or against the truth of Christianity. Ideals are not flawed because they are betrayed by the faithful. You should never judge a worldview by its abusers, unless of course you prefer fallacious reasoning over sound logic. Moreover, the American culture of contempt has many faces and many sides, so do not mistake this blog as blaming just WEP’s for the culture of contempt that is going to wreck us all.
I’m taking one big slice of the mess and trying to solve it in only one blog (yeah, I know it’s a crazy idea), so there’s bound to be a thing or two left out. I’m aiming for the big picture here rather than a solution to every possible detail or “what about _____” issue. We can tackle all that later.
What Then Should Christians Do?
The important question to answer is whether or not Christians should be as political as they are. Perhaps the Bible can give us some clear instruction on the mission of Christianity? Yes, it can. And No, the Christian has no business politicizing their faith, yet so many do. Let me explain.
“When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34 NET
Here the Old Testament (OT) law requires that resident aliens be treated like native born citizens. “You must love him as yourself.” The language here is unambiguous from a “plain reading” viewpoint. It’s also repeated elsewhere.
You must not oppress a foreigner, since you know the life of a foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. Exodus 23:9 NET
You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.’ Zechariah 7:10 NET
Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands. Jeremiah 7:6 NET
“The Lord says, “Do what is just and right. Deliver those who have been robbed from those who oppress them. Do not exploit or mistreat foreigners who live in your land, children who have no fathers, or widows. Do not kill innocent people in this land.” Jeremiah 22:3 NET
So, the Bible believer has some very clear instructions about what to do or not do concerning aliens residing in the land. Do not oppress them, treat them like a native citizen, and love them as yourself. There was a certain Jew named Jesus, who had something to say about this. When asked what the greatest commandment was, he gave two for the price of one.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments. Matthew 22:36-40 NET
ALL the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments! These are Jesus own words. According to the Scriptures, Jesus is the Living Word of God. The Son of God. The central Authority of Christianity because He is its King. If Jesus says to do it, then that’s what the Christian is to do.
There is no way for the politically motivated Christian to justify immigration reform that fails to welcome the foreigner as though they were already a citizen. Moreover, the Christian is to love them as they love themself. Love their neighbor as they love themself, which means the alien in the land is your neighbor. The Jeremiah passage connects well with current issues. In recent years, one of the major political flaps has been the separation of children from parents at border crossings. What are we supposed to do with these children? Well, for starters, do not oppress them!
If the plain reading of the text somehow means that foreigners in biblical times are not really the same thing as illegal aliens in modern times, then what does it mean? Even so, there is NO way to wriggle free from the requirement to love the foreigner as yourself, especially when Jesus commands it in a manner upon which all of the Bible depends. Immigration reform for the Christian might require a reformation of the heart first. A renewed commitment to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Start loving your neighbor. Welcome the so-called illegal alien rather than locking them out.
Which law is higher for the Christian? The law of the land or the law of the heart committed to Christ? Whose laws are we going to work for? God’s laws or the laws of men. One political party wants to welcome the alien, whereas another party wants to shut them out. Which political party has the goal that is consistent with Scripture?
I will come to you in judgment. I will be quick to testify against those who practice divination, those who commit adultery, those who break promises, and those who exploit workers, widows, and orphans, who refuse to help the immigrant and in this way show they do not fear me,” says the Lord who rules over all. Malachi 3:5 NET
Think of the associations in that list. The company of those who refuse to help the immigrant includes adulterers, sorcerers, and exploiters of widows and orphans. God is going to judge them! Help the immigrant is a clear message. Get to it!
I suppose one could say that the OT no longer applies, and that this is America rather than Israel, so none of this applies to the here and now. The laws of the land prohibit illegal immigration (border crossings), and thus one could claim to be obeying the governing authorities as directed in the New Testament. Whether that has any technical merit is an open question for now, but the heart of the matter is clear, and Jesus said so Himself.
Other Problems to Solve?
Feeding the hungry?
You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed. Then your light will dispel the darkness, and your darkness will be transformed into noonday. Isaiah 58:10 NET
Clothes for the naked?
Suppose a man is righteous. He practices what is just and right, does not oppress anyone, … but gives his bread to the hungry and clothes the naked. Ezekiel 18:5, 7 NET
Shelter for the homeless?
I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood! Isaiah 58:7 NET
Caring for orphans and widows?
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of Lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt Deuteronomy 10:17-19 NET
Whenever you reap your harvest in your field and leave some unraked grain there, you must not return to get it; it should go to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow so that the Lord your God may bless all the work you do. Deuteronomy 24:19 NET
Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27 NET
Visiting the prisoner?
“Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment.” Hebrews 13:3 NET
Yes, the Bible clearly directs the Christian to be busy with such things. When Jesus describes the final judgement, He brings all of this up again. Apparently all this caring for the hungry and naked etc. has something to do with righteous faith.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me. Matthew 25:31-40 NET
The passage that follows this one involves all the folks who did the opposite, and suffice to say, it does not go well for them. Cast into outer darkness. Hell. Etc.
But what about fighting for “God-given constitutional rights?” Nope. Nothing in Scripture on that. Quite the opposite in fact. Obey the governing authorities and just take it on the chin when persecuted.
“But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44 NET
“Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.” Romans 12:14 NET
First, those rights are not God-given. Religious men wrote them, but the Bible doesn’t give you the right to free speech or to own weapons. Second, it also doesn’t deny you those rights. I’m a huge fan of our constitutional rights, and I don’t want to lose them. The Bible is silent on your constitutional rights because there was no such thing in Israel when the Bible was written. Third, the Constitution was written to address the problem of how best to build a truly free society. It wasn’t trying to build the Kingdom of God. This is the crucial point: Christians are commissioned to help build a kingdom NOT of this world rather than build a nation within it. Politics is so unbelievably off-mission that it defies description.
Christians are commissioned to help build a kingdom NOT of this world rather than build a nation within it.Tweet
“Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:14, 17-19 NET
The clear message here is that Christians are not called to fight for justice, but rather to work for peace. When persecuted, respond with blessings rather than curses. Last time I checked, blessings do not involve a struggle, except for maybe when Jacob wrestled with God, but that’s another story. The prophet Malachi gave a clear description of the kind of mindset that a God-follower needs to have. Here are three translations for the sake of robust clarity.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 NIV
He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God. Micah 6:8 NET
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously. Micah 6:8 MSG
The classic version of the verse is “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” How do you do this? The other translations help make these mindsets actionable. Promote justice by being fair to your neighbor. Love mercy by being faithfully compassionate and loyal in your love — and don’t forget to love your neighbor (Jesus said so). Walking humbly with God involves a number of things, namely avoiding pride and obeying God. However, Philippians 2 discusses the paragon of humility Himself.
Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! Philippians 2:3-8 NET
Some years ago, this very passage inspired me to write a more concise definition of biblical humility, and to be quite honest, I’m kinda proud of it. 😉
Humility IS NOT how small you perceive yourself to be in relation to another.
Rather, humility is how much larger, by an act of your own will, you choose to make the needs of another relative to your own.Clark Vangilder, 2015
Lots of problems get solved when that is your ethos. It is the heart of Christ for people. Generally speaking, NO political party has the heart of Christ for people, and Christians are fooling themselves by pretending that either major party is doing God’s work. Political parties exist to secure and manipulate voting blocks, which is why Billy Graham warned evangelicals in the late 20th century to avoid the Religious Right.
Prescription vs. Description?
This is where the waters get muddy. All the above are prescriptions for the God-follower. The god of the OT prescribed immigration reform that welcomes the alien as a friend rather than a foe. It compels us to care for the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoner, etc. It is dripping wet with compassion. The commands are true biblical humility in action, as they seek to uplift the downtrodden.
If the first part didn’t get some folks to squirm a bit and “loosen their collars” in order to let off some steam, the next part will. Abortion is undoubtedly one of the most controversial topics that politically minded Christians divide over. It is at the center of the culture war that should not exist in the first place. A focal point for us versus them. What does the Bible tell us to do about the unborn? Does it give us marching orders that convey to political action?
Defending the Unborn?
OK … where does the Bible tell the God-follower to defend the unborn? Nowhere. At least not directly. There is no “Thou shalt not abort” command anywhere in Scripture. However, the Bible is crystal clear that children are precious, wonderfully made, and so valuable that it’s better that a person never be born than to harm a child. No christian can doubt Christ’s love for the little ones, nor could a Bible believer pretend that Jesus isn’t going to exact vengeance someday on those who harm children. But nowhere in Scripture does the Bible direct the Christian to fight for the rights of the unborn. Nowhere. None of us are ever deputized to enforce moral values and duties on anyone but ourselves, our children, and in some cases, members of the local congregation.
Biblical descriptions of what is right do not command prescriptive organizational missions, but they can and should direct personal behavior. In other words, the Bible is not describing a prescriptive missional behavior against abortion like the ones listed under immigration reform, above. These are principles to guide our heart and infect our discipleship, but they are not a call to political action. Besides, religious values and duties are generally foreign to political processes within a secular culture. The post-Christian era means that we are even farther away from Paul’s Mars Hill experience, where he could at least count on folks believing in the existence of god(s). We barely have moral values and duties that are widely shared across cultures, and we are no longer in an age of reason where logic commands respect. Our only weapon is love, and that’s a good one. I’ve heard somewhere that it never fails.
The Bible is a Problem for Pro-Lifers
Christians are also prone to ignore the following passages where God’s people are clearly unconcerned with the sanctity of life. A watching world cannot reconcile a Bible that seems to condone this with a politically active pro-life movement whose behavior is caustic. Like it or not, that is the general perception in the public square. Anyway, here are some problem verses.
Hazael asked, “Why are you crying, my master?” He replied, “Because I know the trouble you will cause the Israelites. You will set fire to their fortresses, kill their young men with the sword, smash their children to bits, and rip open their pregnant women.” 2 Kings 8:12 NET
At that time Menahem came from Tirzah and attacked Tiphsah. He struck down all who lived in the city and the surrounding territory, because they would not surrender. He even ripped open the pregnant women. 2 Kings 15:16 NET
Give them, O Lord – what will you give them? Give them wombs that miscarry, and breasts that cannot nurse! Ephraim will be struck down – their root will be dried up; they will not yield any fruit. Even if they do bear children, I will kill their precious offspring. Hosea 9:14, 16 NET
Samaria will be held guilty, because she rebelled against her God. They will fall by the sword, their infants will be dashed to the ground – their pregnant women will be ripped open. Hosea 13:16 NET
There is also a jealousy law in Numbers whereby a miscarriage occurs as a curse for an unfaithful woman. In other words, an adulterous wife’s pregnancy will be aborted under Mosaic Law.
“When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and behaved unfaithfully toward her husband, the water that brings a curse will enter her to produce bitterness – her abdomen will swell, her thigh will fall away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself, and is clean, then she will be free of ill effects and will be able to bear children.” Numbers 5:27-28 NET
This Bible verse literally prescribes an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy. Not only does the Bible NOT tell the God-follower to defend the unborn, it actually prescribes the death of the unborn under certain circumstances. Christians can squirm all they want and try to wriggle free from the plain reading of Scripture, but it will only make them and Jesus look stupid.
The best thing to do is build relationships with pregnant women such that you have meaningful access to their lives. Should a pregnant woman want to abort, a true friend would be there to offer a better plan. A proper relationship would lend some legitimate latitude to speak into that life with compassion and providence. Laws won’t stop abortions. Besides, the Supreme Court has ruled that abortions must be safe and legal. It’s the law of the land. If you think that your favorite POTUS will appoint a new SCOTUS to overturn Roe vs. Wade, then you haven’t been paying attention to how this works.
Practically speaking, it’s a waste of Christian time and money to fight to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Such as pursuit will only serve to further alienate Christians from the culture. It’s time to build a kingdom rather than a nation. Show mercy and compassion. Care for people. Put your money where your mouth is. Earn the right to speak the truth in love because you have the relational authority to do so.
Perhaps just getting on the main mission that Christ gave His followers is the best approach?
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NET
Should be easy, right? Wrong. About half of American churchgoers do not even recognize the Great Commission when presented with other famous passages from the Bible. According to Barna Research Group, only 1 in 5 (17%) even understand its meaning. And we wonder why things are so messed up. See the data charts below.
What to do?
First, let’s be clear about one thing, in my opinion, abortion for any reason apart from saving the life of the mother is morally wrong. I’m fairly certain that the Bible says so too. However, I DO NOT want to force people to cooperate with my moral stance. I want them to freely choose the good over the evil. Whether they do or do not is up to them, and if I’m an effective follower of Christ, then I’ll have some influence in this regard because I will have earned the right to speak into peoples lives rather just kick in the door. It takes relationships to pull this off. Real ones. Friendships. There is no room for hate.
Second, I don’t know how to solve the immigration problem in America apart from something in between the current extremes of open borders and closed borders. However, I do know what the Bible wants me to do personally, and I want to be that kind of person. The Christian is in a tough spot because they are supposed to treat the illegal alien as a natural born citizen, but the law of the land doesn’t support that. Laws can change though, and political action is a way to get that to happen. What kind of laws and immigration processes should the Christian be fighting for? Go back to those verses and you’ll find the right answer. Hint: it doesn’t involve walls and detention camps.
Third, I am not saying that we have no right to take political action. I am saying that it is the last thing that we should do, and the Bible tells me so. The Bible doesn’t guarantee my civil liberties, nor does it tell me to fight and die for them. In fact, it tells me to endure persecution and to not be surprised if I lose my life in the process.
Priorities. That’s what I’m talking about. A change of heart that leads to a change in behavior that’s on Mission for the Kingdom of God rather than the nations of men.