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November 05, 2005

While driving to work yesterday morning I hit a rarely-used button on my radio, one set to a mainstream Christian station where one in ten songs is not, for my tastes, awful. Every once in a while I try them out, and every once in a while they aren't playing a dreadful song.

The news was on; they are part of the American Family Radio network, which itself is part of the American Family Association. They offer "today's news from a Christian perspective," which can be translated as: "news a white middle-to-upper-income American Christian probably wants to hear, delivered by a Republican."

The news item was about a crack-down on illegal immigration. The reporter stressed words like illegal and sneak (as in, "people who sneak into the country"). A clip from a national anti-immigration figure was provided. The point was clear: finally, someone is doing something about those darned immigrants.

Good Christians, apparently, are glad that someone is stopping these grubby people from coming to our shores; it's a news item Christians care about. It's more likely the case that many wealthy white financial supporters of AFR are pleased with such a news item, and well, we've got to pay the bills to keep bringing you the modern music version of Air Supply meets Muzak.

Now, there are economic and policy arguments worth considering on both sides of the immigration issue. But here's the dangerous pressing matter, the thing that if you plan to sit your behind in a church pew today or tomorrow you really just cannot avoid: economics and politics don't matter to God.

Christians have a fundamental calling, and that is to find our lost brothers and sisters. We will not conquer this world for Jesus, and frankly, he doesn't need our help. We will not stop gay marriage and institute a God-approved (the Republican version, of course) tax rate. We will not keep people from philandering, gambling, masturbating, and wearing clothes that fit too tight, and if you think Christ wants you to fix these problems, then you are dreadfully, soul-shakingly mistaken.

"Tend my lambs." Not "stop people from being naughty." No "get the government off the back of the small businessman." Not a hint of "protect gun rights and the death penalty."

And certainly not "keep out the immigrants."

To the contrary, we received the Great Commission, and don't tell me that was just for the Disciples, because to believe that is to be hopelessly misguided about your place on this earth. We are to be a light to the hopeless and lost, be it in our own families, neighborhoods, churches (yes, there are plenty of hopeless and lost people there), and businesses, or overseas, amidst the unwashed, non-Republican masses.

Most of us don't do overseas missions work. Nor do we support such work, except for the few dimes from our paltry (on average) financial support for churches that makes its way to actual evangelism. But here we have this wonderful blessing of living in a country so prosperous that millions of people, many of them with no understanding of Christ, desperately want to come to us, and what is the response of the largest Christian radio network in America?

Keep 'em out.

Posted by Woodlief on November 05, 2005 at 07:28 AM


Bravo, Tony. Well spoken.

Posted by: greg at November 5, 2005 8:15 AM

You are right. No matter what my politics, it is all about love. Even "The Great Commission" is a man-given title. Jesus gave us "The Greatest Commandment" which is at the heart of the commission. My rather innocent 16 year-old son is in Chicago this weekend working at an inner-city church. I pray that the essence of your post touches his heart and life.

Posted by: earth girl at November 5, 2005 8:52 AM

You would think that growing up in South Florida would have made me some kind of anti-immigrant person. But I just can't get upset about it. Let 'em come -- at least they seem to want to work.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at November 5, 2005 9:14 AM

Great thoughts here. "Sneaking in" could apply to many who wear masks heading to church on Sunday, pretending to be so perfect. That is a bit sarcastic I admit but I think of all those who seek a better life and will do anything to survive and ponder just how much I am willing to "cross boarders" of fear to seek God wherever I can find him.
Someone who works in downtown eastside Vancouver said that if you go into the darkness, take the LIght and it is much easier to see. Maybe it is hard to even see the Light anymore in our evangelical world. Being an apprentice seems to look more like just being vulnerable and honest and sharing Jesus through our brokeness. I love your comment that the Great Commission wasn't just for the disciples - it was for humanity wasn't it?

Posted by: stephanie at November 5, 2005 9:21 AM


Posted by: PDS at November 5, 2005 9:56 AM

Wow - you jumped from "illegal immigration" to "immigration" in a nanosecond. Those terms are not interchangeable. I've read your writing - I KNOW you understand the difference.

Most folks have no problem with legal immigration. Although the process may not be perfect, its intent has been designed to help the immigrant succeed. And by succeed, I mean living in society where one can be assimilated into the culture, learn the language, receive educational and employment opportunities, and in short, responsibly pursue the American Dream.

Living the American Dream is made much more difficult if one is living in paranoid fear of being 'discovered' and deported. Where does an illegal immigrant go to complain about poor living conditions? Or unfair wages? Or dubious medical treatments? What happens when they can't communicate with the clerk at the DMV? Or the public library?

It's admirable, charitable and righteous to want to help our fellow man. But lets not let our compassion cloud reason. Every legal immigrant I know (from Nigeria, Mexico, Canada, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatamala, England, Zimbabwe) who has gone through the process of obtaining US citizenship has done so proudly and is successfully reaping the fruits of their labors. They understand the benefits of legal immigration. A compassionate citizenry should expect no less.

Posted by: Rob at November 5, 2005 10:29 AM

Nice post, but if you'd like to preserve your own culture, you might consider the importance of issues not directly mentioned in the Bible. Put me down as one who is alarmed at our nation's immigrant policy or lack thereof. Unless you like what's going on in France right now, you might be just a tad concerned about this country's insane levels of legal immigration. For the record, I live in the People's Republik of Kalifornia.

Posted by: Leonard Martinez at November 5, 2005 11:27 AM

Rob and Leonard Martinez,
Re-read Tony's words. You missed the point entirely. It has nothing to do with immigration. Just because the word is present, doesn't make it the focus.

Posted by: Shawn at November 5, 2005 11:49 AM

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I have read far too many christian blogs and their opinions regarding this issue. Yours is the first I respect. again Tony thank you. Many people will come unto Christ by way of immigration, be it legal or otherwise.

Posted by: cooper at November 5, 2005 1:33 PM

Tony, you continually challenge me and that is what I love about your writtings.

Posted by: Danielle at November 6, 2005 11:49 AM

Hmmm, you sound like someone in my 10th grade English class, Mrs. Miller I think her name was. Give me a call sometime and we can talk about this provocative topic.

Posted by: withheld at November 6, 2005 10:01 PM

Not your main point, of course--but why is contemporary Christian music so awful? The words are insipid and the tunes are often nonexistent. Honestly, I'm not an old fogey--I like punk and R&B--but I can't stand most modern Christian music. It's not an age thing: my 23-year-old son attends church faithfully, but gags when his congregation sings "yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes."

Posted by: the elder kinswoman at November 7, 2005 8:14 PM

Maybe the point to the broadcast was to inform Christians and others that may end up on the station that though America is open to LEGAL immigration, it is not legal for people to sneak in. I happen to know more than one missionary personally and the tiny Baptist church I am a member of supports missions, though none of us have been called to work overseas. Our mission is in our sorry own tiny town. But every week we hear a story about a missionary from around the worls, and every month we send what we can to missionaries whether within our association or ones that we have pledged to support. Then perhaps the broadcast was simply to get your attention that you should be reaching out to these people, Tony. Christians do want people to come into the country, but there are laws in place for a reason. ILLEGLE immigration can be a problem (if only for all the drug trafficing). Personally, I don't believe that it should be broadcast on the news as such an intense story, but maybe the laws will be changed to allow more peopl INTO the country rather than keeping them out. Many Christians are "blue collar" or "the small business owner" in my area, and still republicans... and democrats. Everyone has their own tastes. if you don't like it, Listen to MPR, but don't miss your church service this weekend, please.

Posted by: Rachel C at November 7, 2005 9:20 PM

Shawn is right, Leonard and Rob. Tony even italicized the point of this post as it relates to immigration: economics and politics don't matter to God.

Beautiful and thought-provoking words, as always.

Posted by: me at November 8, 2005 4:03 PM

Good post. I think the Biblical perspective on immigration is pretty easy to discern:

"The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt..." (Lev. 19:34).

And of course the second of the great commandments: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" and its explication in the parable of the good Samaritan.

That is not to say that illegal immigration is not a problem, although I personally believe that to the extent that it is, this is mostly because of our institutional and personal transgressions against the Biblical teachings on the matter mentioned above. The key is to address the problem from the right perspective. As the poet Auden said, "We must love one another or die."

Posted by: Dave Trowbridge at November 9, 2005 4:38 PM

"Tend my lambs." Not "stop people from being naughty." ...

Are you suggesting that Christians ought to abandon all efforts to stem the tide of unrighteousness? For example, I know the Bible doesn't say (explicitly), "shut down the abortion clinics", but doesn't it teach the broader principle of protecting the innocent?

Granted, too many Christian organizations have swung the pendulum too far over to the "political" side, exchanging our Great Commission for one of their own making, but the solution isn't to just throw up our hands and abandon the fight.

As for immigration, we must be careful (in our efforts to help the needy, etc.) to not cause a bigger problem while attempting to be loving to our neighbors to the south. In principle, I agree with your sentiment, Tony (and with your evaluation of most Christian music these days), but there are other issues the government must consider, namely the protection of its own people (it's not just honest, hard-workers that would take advantage of an open border), the ability of an already strained health care system to provide for unpaying and uninsured patients, etc.

Finally, I'd like you to expand a bit on "economics and politics don't matter to God." I'm always a bit wary of strong positions that are filtered down into a slogan, because the temptation is for people to remember the slogan and run with it, without thinking carefully about what it is saying (example: "God isn't a Republican or a Democrat" -- implying that God doesn't take sides, or that neither side might be more in alignment with God's principles, which is just silly). I see many verses in the Bible that talk about governmental rulers and many other verses that talk about money, so clearly God has *some* perspective on the issues. Maybe you could clarify your point for us. :)

Posted by: Paul at November 10, 2005 2:00 PM

There is a basic issue of fairness here.

My wife is a legal immigrant. Her background is very similar to those coming to this country illegally. She spent years dotting all of the i's and crossing all of the t's so that she could come here legally. She sacrificed and did without things that anyone of us would consider basic necessities to gather the required financial resources. After coming here and before meeting me, there were times when she could have easily qualified for state or federal financial assistance. She refused it all and instead worked jobs that most of us would never consider including being a production worker in a poultry processing plant.

How fair is illegal immigration to people like her that are willing to play by the rules and do things the “right” way? And she unfortunately still suffers from the shadow created by those who do short-circuit the process.

There is a process for changing the existing immigration laws if we don’t like them. But until those laws are changed we should make some pretense of enforcing the existing laws.

Posted by: Dave at November 11, 2005 6:25 AM

Just an addendum to my post above: By pursuing our current policies of non-enforcement of our immigration laws we are not denying access to our country of poor, underprivileged people. Millions of them arrive yearly.

We are denying access to people who are no less poor; no less needy; no less deserving; but who have demonstrated a willingness to play by the rules; obey our laws; and sacrifice toward a long-term goal. All admirable and desirable qualities in my opinion.

Posted by: Dave at November 11, 2005 8:53 AM

Christian music: It's awful. I am always more impressed and entertained by rockers who try to be Christian, than by Christians who try to rock.

Illegal immigration:
My wife, who is a legal immigrant, and I have decided that it is going to be necessary for us to sell our house and move to a more expensive neighborhood, in order to enroll our young children in a better public school. So far, they've been going to a good and ethnically diverse pre-K and kindergarten at a local church. But the oldest one will start first grade next fall, and the schools around our current home are abysmal. Why? In part because they are full of the young children of illegal Mexican immigrants. The kindergarten and early grades curriculum has been wrenched off track by the necessity to teach the Mexicans English before they can learn anything. So my oldest would lose a formative year to repetition and boredom. Where's the Christian commandment requiring me to let that happen?

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at November 15, 2005 1:35 PM

One thing to consider is that what we expect of the nation, we should be willing to expect of ourselves.

Do we give money to everyone who asks? And all the money they want? Probaby not. Do we allow people to come and live in your house, at their own behest, and indefinately? Uhm, no we don't. You don't.

I gather most of those here so open to illegal immigration are not quite that open on a micro level, when it comes to having that irritating friend or relative over. Do you bring into your home everyone who comes? Even the thief who breaks in? How about that mother in law you hate?

Nor are people considering the fact that wages get suppressed via illegal immigration, and especially for black workers in areas of Florida and Arizona. There are whole jobs taken off the rolls because companies now demand that you be bilingual. So in essence, you end up helping with the left hand, and hurting others with the right, with no net positive good.

Also, we must consider too the principal of doing good. In this world there is an endless demand for good that needs to be done. You can exhaust all your time and resources trying to tend to each problem, and do a good. However, you can end your life having done good, but still not having done the good that God wants you to do, the good you are best suited to do. Too many Christians, with good hearts, look at the world and assume that the task is just to good, as in, "Let's let all the people come here". But, that may not be the exact good that God wants done, or even, wants the Christians in the U.S. to do. Again, the amount of good needed to be done is infinate, and it is not necessarily your task, or mine, to do it. The right good, led by God, is your task.

The Bible talks about respecting the laws of the land, and it is not un-Christian to expect laws to be followed. Now maybe as a Christian you work toward a refined immigration process, or perhaps expanded foreign aid and investment, but it is rather simplistic to argue that the Christian view is to allow all and anyone to come to the United States.

Oh, and while God is god, and can pretty much use rocks on the ground to do his will, he still expects us to use our tools for the good he wants us to do. While we are his tool and he cares about the state and openness of our hearts, money and politics are our tools that we can use to do the good he asks us to do.

Posted by: Finn Kristiansen at November 16, 2005 4:05 AM


I haven't been reading your blog long, but for the most part I've found that I agree with your view. Being a new Christian I often find myself struggling with how to apply the teachings of Jesus to the ruling of a country or government. However, it's obvious to me that illegal immigrants undercut the hard work done by legal immigrants to get into this country. How then do you justify not discerning the difference between legal and non-legal immigrants?

Please help me to understand your position on this.


Posted by: Redbeard at November 17, 2005 8:56 AM

Bravo to Finn.
Tony, I don't disagree that we need to be concerned about treating all those we meet in our path with love (however, my personal exception is the person breaking into my house at night, who I will only consider treating with love after I shoot him). However, I haven't seen in the Bible where it said that we should not care about lawlessness. Actually, I believe it exhorts us to the opposite. Also, depending on what it is we might be doing to care for the illegal alien, we could then be breaking the law. So how do you reconcile that with what God's word tells us.
You know me well enough to know that I open my home to many. And you know that one of the people we took in was, unbeknownst to us at the time, an illegal alien. This could have had many reprocussions for us, though,thankfully, it has not thus far. My point is if the government is unwilling or unable to do it's job of maintaining the borders and/or managing those aliens it has welcomed, do we need to shut our doors? Surely, you see the problem.
You also know that I am very happy that our country does allow aliens to enter our country - legally - but I do not see how my Christianity prevents me from believing that the illegals should be treated justly - like law breakers. The logical end to your argument is that we should let everyone do anything they want, because we are only called to love and bring the gospel to our fellow man. I know you well enough that you don't live based on that line of reasoning - because I know that you would also shoot the man entering your home uninvited, before you ever considered his need of your things or how to care for him or how you should present the gospel to him...
Perhaps, you need to consider this blasting of AFR a bit more...

Bonus material:
Fun fact #1: Did you know that the laws for giving welfare are different for the alien than it is for a citizen? They only count 1/2 of the declared income for the alien, but count all of the income for the citizen while figuring out how much to money to give them (based on how hard it is for the alien).
Fun fact #2: Due to the "privacy of information" laws, when a social worker is presented with proof that the person applying for assistance is an illegal alien, she can NOT tell anyone.
Those were off your point, but I thought worthy of sharing.

Posted by: Lynne at November 23, 2005 11:43 AM