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November 24, 2005
The Alien's Thanksgiving

Since today is the day we sons and daughters of unwanted immigrants offer thanks that the Almighty did not see fit to give those who got here before us gunpowder and military organization, it seems a fitting time to reply to the numerous responses to my post a couple of weeks ago, about the opposition of this nation's largest self-styled Christian radio network to illegal and -- I'll argue below -- legal immigration.

Several of you had very thoughtful replies, and I'll do my best to treat them thoughtfully. Reading your comments several times, I've noticed a few themes, the predominant of which is this:

There's a difference between illegal and legal immigration. It's the former we're concerned about, because it's not fair to legal immigrants, it taxes our health care system and schools and law enforcement, it threatens our wages and standard of living, and it's dangerous and difficult for the illegals themselves to get here and then survive. What's more, the Bible tells us to obey the law.

Here's a quick test for everyone who hangs his hat on that last sentence: what do you say we eliminate all immigration limits except for people suspected of criminal intent? The wily debater will want to obfuscate on that last bit, so let's stipulate that we have a special machine that allows us to determine with 100% validity whether someone intends to sell drugs to schoolchildren or detonate a bomb.

So, who's in favor of letting them all in, once our good Christian consciences are assuaged that this is no longer a matter of the law being broken?


Very well. So what this really turns on for most of us is the economic cost and the concomitant danger to our culture and very lives of allowing boatloads of very different, very poor people to lodge on our shores. These are reasonable concerns, but let me suggest to you that the Almighty God and Creator is not concerned with your standard of living. To think otherwise is the height of narcissism, when you consider the poverty and oppression under which his people have lived throughout history. Do you think any of them mattered less to him, or that the crux of history was the day your white forefathers declared themselves outside the control of the governing authorities in England and set us down a path to 401-K's and flat-screen televisions?

To be sure, every good blessing is from above, but don't be deceived into thinking that your full larder and wallet are God's ends.

I have children, and I love being fat and happy, and I want them to be safe. Every parent wants this. But understand that when you argue against immigration because of the costs and dangers it entails, you are no longer arguing from Christian precepts, you are arguing from self-interest. I'm as self-interested as they come, heck, I was actually rooting for Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, but I don't tell myself this has anything to do with my understanding of God.

My issue with AFR on this matter is precisely that -- they bill themselves as a radio network bringing news and analysis from a Christian perspective, focusing on the issues Christians care about as Christians, the implication being that these are issues that emerge as important when we apply Christian precepts to our thinking. Now, if they'll change their slogan to "the radio network for middle-class American Christians who want to see the nation's GDP keep growing," at least we'll have some truth in advertising. But this leads to a second objection voiced by several of you:

Economics and politics do matter to God. The Bible itself addresses politics and economics. Do you honestly think he doesn't care whether people violate his laws, or whether we do anything about it? Would you have us believe that he doesn't care whether we protest abortion, for example?

In one sense, economics and politics describe our wranglings with man and nature over the distribution of resources and power. It is the struggling, the tempests in teapots, to which I addressed myself. Do you think it is on your walks around the abortion clinic that God pins his hopes for salvation of innocents? Is it on the capital gains tax that he depends for the weary and heavy-laden to be lifted?

Christ did not even view slavery as relevant to his purpose. Why do you believe he wrings his hands now over whether California will let two men get married? He already knows what will happen, being the Omega as well as the Alpha, and he knows how long he will tolerate every abomination, including the abominations that lie at the core of every man's heart, mine as well as your own. In that sense -- the only sense that will concern us once we've turned first to dust and then to glory or horror -- we see that economics and politics do not matter.

This is important to confront, because it gets at the roots of what often is our real concern. It is not affronts to God that offend us nearly so much as affronts to our sensibilities and net worth. Why do Christians get animated over homosexuality? Is it solely because God has called it an abomination? Then where are our efforts to stamp out gossip (rampant in our very churches!), disrespect to parents, and the lying that is almost sport among our political and business classes? We single out some sins because they offend us first. Rather than seeking to be on the side of God, we bring him to our side, as if he were the created thing.

Likewise, how many Christians block the entrances to abortion clinics, where innocent blood is shed? How many Christians instead give money to the Republican party, a collection of self-interested climbers morally and functionally almost indistinguishable from their opponents, the Republican party which, by the way, avoids doing anything meaningful about abortion?

Whose interests, really, are we protecting when most of us engage in politics?

Had you met Christ on the dusty roads of Palestine, or when you meet him now -- not as we confine him in liturgies and Wal-Mart bestsellers, but in the dark nights of our souls -- we are overjoyed and humbled and terrified to learn that our standing, our power, our very sustenance, is secondary to knowing and obeying. Ask John the Baptist. Ask the Samaritan woman at the well. She with the dry throat, simply seeking a bucket of cool water, and here is this uncomely stranger, from a tribe that disdains her own, and he tells her this water is nearly nothing, that it is the spring of living water she should seek. She came seeking a brief respite to thirst, and he told her there is a far deeper thirst, unquenchable except through the word, the door, the truth. Look this Christ in the eye and tell him about the importance of economics and politics. Survey his bleeding brow and explain how politicians -- men you and I have voted for -- have employed his name, and what, by their actions, they have deemed the most important things.

Now all this is not to say that Christians aren't called to politics, which would make no more sense than to declare that Christians can't be called to music, or teaching, or farming, or being juggling hot-dog stand vendors in downtown Des Moines. Just understand that there is no general call to politics, nor to the accumulation of personal wealth, nor to safety. We are enjoined to obey the governing authorities, not applaud them, not support them, not join them and work on their campaigns. Likewise, we are called to support our families, not give them all the delights available to men.

None of what I've said means you can't do these things, but I am suggesting that you examine your heart first. Are you investing your emotions and energy in politics to preserve your standard of living, or because you feel the sweet grace and pleasure of God poured out on you when you do it? The latter is calling, the former is dressing God up in a tweed suit and giving him campaign flyers.

And that is an abomination.

Now that I've preached far more than I intended, we come to a final objection, my favorite. In its simplest form it is this:

Do you live this way? Do you give to everyone in need, until you have no more to give? Do you let strangers into your home?

Dear friends and strangers, if I am your standard, you are doomed. I am weak and cowardly and sinful to the core. If you can only hear truth from one who is perfect, then look to the Gospels, to the letters in red, trusting that what you hold in your hands is God-breathed, and see for yourself the answers to your questions.

Find the passages where he has enjoined you to turn away aliens when admitting them would damage your finances. Commit to memory his sermons about the necessity of tempering mercy with economic practicality. While you're there, tell he who fed the multitudes that there isn't enough bread to go around. Explain to him that loving one's fellow man must stop where suffering increases. Seek him out atop Calvary and lay out the facts of this world, ask him to be reasonable, to show restraint.

On this day we give thanks, and I have found my prayer: Thank you, brother Christ, that you showed no restraint when we were the aliens, that you were not reasonable when we were far off, that suffering did not deter you when we had no hope and were without God in the world. Thank you that we live in such a place of prosperity and peace that we can actually believe that preserving this blink in the eye of history takes precedence over your calling. And please forgive us when we confuse gifts with entitlements, means with ends, and come to view our comfortable lives as your purpose.

Posted by Woodlief on November 24, 2005 at 02:23 PM



Posted by: Shawn at November 24, 2005 3:40 PM

Posts like this is why I am addicted to this site. Excellent job of cutting through the cultural pollution that has so infected "Christian Politics" in this country.

Posted by: David Parker at November 24, 2005 11:30 PM

I'm going to read your post to my Sunday School class--it will go over their heads, but I'll feel better. I'll probably get the same reaction I get when I tell the rabid pro-lifer's (and I am one) to put their money where their mouth is and contribute (significantly) to the local Crisis Pregnancy Center.

Posted by: Col. Ed Gregory, USMC (Ret) at November 25, 2005 7:18 AM

I totally agree with the bulk of your message. It greatly disturbs me that people think that Christianity and the Republican Party are synonymous. The Republican Party is filled with corruption as we can all see and view for ourselves on a regular basis. Thatís why our faith is to be in Christ Ė not people or politics.

This is a great quote from Tony: [quote]Why do Christians get animated over homosexuality? Is it solely because God has called it an abomination? Then where are our efforts to stamp out gossip (rampant in our very churches!), disrespect to parents, and the lying that is almost sport among our political and business classes? We single out some sins because they offend us first. Rather than seeking to be on the side of God, we bring him to our side, as if he were the created thing.[/quote]

You are correct. We must not attempt to bring God to our side, but be on His no matter where that takes us. Thus, it is possible to be against illegal immigration because it is illegal (Matthew 22:21) Ė and also hate gossip in the church (Romans 1). To hate the sin of homosexuality AND hate parental disrespect. These need not be mutually exclusive.

What we really need to help us all (I donít exclude myself) is the solid teaching of doctrine in the church. The doctrine you hold to will shape your view of life. It forms your core and your outlook. Sadly, American churches love their political style rants. And their skits. And their cotton-candy sermons Ė but many of them no longer love doctrine. Doctrine can teach us principles (justice) and mercy/love (accepting the poor and needy). The two need not be in conflict.

Many Americans would recoil at what you have written, because we are so awash in the idea that flag-waving nationalism is the same as a Christian walk. But, many of them may have headed down this incorrect path because they rightly know and understand the Christian founding principles and belief system that formed and shaped this country into the wealthy nation it is today. Many cling to that past, but we are a country miles from itís heritage.

We need to lovingly put forth the idea that the Christian walk can involve feeding the poor and respecting the nationís laws provided they donít violate Godís laws. It seems to me that there is a balance to be found.

If our country WERE to pass a law saying the borders would be completely open between the US and Mexico Ė hopefully all Christians would issue a hearty welcome to all who joined us here.

Posted by: Dave at November 25, 2005 10:40 AM

AMMMen, brother.

Posted by: MMM at November 25, 2005 10:44 AM

Excellent. God with God Tony. Go with God. I will join you and also be found wanting in the end. It is gentle reminders that allow each of us to stop, evaluate and turn more directly to the center of the path. Good thanksgiving blessings to you and yours also this day!

Posted by: cooper at November 25, 2005 8:41 PM

There is power in speech.

Tony Woodlief, meet Bono, Switchfoot, and Rob Bell as fellow leaders in a new Faith that returns to me hope in a religion I have long doubted. God is here among those who would obey and follow the true heart of the Gospel message: love your neighbor as yourself.

Posted by: Jeff Gilbert at November 26, 2005 2:58 AM

I would be a liar if I didn't admit that part of me cringes a bit at the idea of letting them all come, but I'm trying to learn to ignore that part; it seems to be the source of all that's petty in me.

Besides, I'm the beneficiary of an immigration policy that let my paternal grandparents and maternal great-grandparents come here to be sodbusters. Who am I to deny others an opportunity like that?

So, I'm not listening to that doubtful voice whispering "No, too many. We need some limits, after all." I want something bigger, more hospitable, like this voice:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Besides, Jesus didn't call us to do safe things, did he?

Posted by: Roy Jacobsen at November 27, 2005 10:09 PM

You've hung your hat on a mystical machine that detects good and evil intent. Wouldn't crossing the border illegally by default indicate that the individual in question is willing to break the law for selfish purposes?

While I appreciate your concern for poor people in other countries, I'm volunteering for a church mission trip to aid them. And I support a strong border to help provide for my children. There are plenty of Old Testament examples of fathers concerned for their own children's safety and prosperity.

Just because 100% of everything we have belongs to God - which I firmly believe in - doesn't mean we are careless with those gifts He has given us.

You've noted that the bible addresses politics and economics, then you say it doesn't matter. The bible tells us that God himself determines the borders of nations and whether they rise and fall. While that doesn't conclusively argue for a crackdown on illegal immigration, it does counter your statement that economics and politics do not matter.

Your charge against Republicans is only valid to a point. It is no longer elected officials that determine abortion laws. It is activist courts. Republicans are far more likely to appoint a judge that does not find abortion rights clearly listed in the Constitution.

I appreciate your zeal and passion, but I too feel the calling of the Holy Spirit and have truly given my life to Jesus. I understand that too few people are willing to put their trust in the Lord and follow His commands, and then I reprimand myself for having the gall to judge them. Rebuke them with the Word but judge them not for their actions. I've reached a different conclusion than you have about US borders; ignoring the illegal aliens that overburden the US healthcare system brings the illegal alien to Christ how? Far better to protect the border, give to the church, and bring our message to them.

Posted by: Michael at November 28, 2005 8:24 AM

Sorry, no sale. Winston Churchill said it best:

"The Sermon on the Mount is the last word in Christian ethics. Everyone respects the Quakers. Still, it is not on these terms that
Ministers assume their responsibilities of guiding States."

Respect for the law is one of the things that made America great. That is, it's one of the things that made America worth sneaking into.

Here's a thought experiment. Would you be willing to direct your post back at the Mexicans? To tell them that God wants them to accept our unchecked flooding into their country, our uncompensated drain on their hospitals and social services, our undercutting the value of their labor pool? Would you be willing to insist that their laws are man-made and immaterial to God's plan, and that their concern for the future of their country is idolatrous? Why or why not?

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at November 28, 2005 11:15 PM

You've spoken eloquently about what concerns me most about Christianity in America today. Namely that Christ himself would not recoginze the form it has taken here. I feel we are going to have to answer for our collective sins in a myriad of ways; we already are to some degree. Our hubris will be our end to be sure.

Posted by: Alison Abney at November 30, 2005 8:03 AM

This post is why I respect you, even when I disagree with you. It's been a while since I stopped by. My blog is in basically in a coma. I guess I lost some of my fire, and I have too much else to do. Merry Christmas Tony.

Posted by: Palmer Haas at December 3, 2005 10:22 AM

Here's a quick test for everyone who hangs his hat on that last sentence: what do you say we eliminate all immigration limits except for people suspected of criminal intent? The wily debater will want to obfuscate on that last bit, so let's stipulate that we have a special machine that allows us to determine with 100% validity whether someone intends to sell drugs to schoolchildren or detonate a bomb.

So, who's in favor of letting them all in, once our good Christian consciences are assuaged that this is no longer a matter of the law being broken?

If there were such a machine, me. But there is not such a machine, so we're stuck with more complicated choices.

I am in favor of far more open borders. I don't like most immigration limits, and I don't like the way we pick and choose which persecuted people we will accept and which we won't.

But I'm also in favor of not leaving the doors unlocked to criminals and terrorists, which means we don't have a completely open border policy.

I'm also opposed to immigrants who come only to take and not to give. I'd welcome any immigrant who wishes to legally work, to pay taxes, to contribute to society. I'm not so thrilled with those who come only for the free education and other welfare programs.

I'm not sure why government charity should function differently that my personal charity- having limited resources, I choose the people I think most likely to benefit from our help. We have had homeless families live with us twice, and when it became clear that the husband of one family intended to withdraw from the workforce and permit my husband to support him and his family as though they were our dependents, we had to ask them to leave.
Prior to that, we had to tell them they could not bring their loaded weapons into our house for the safety of our children.

These decisions were made based on economics and safety, and there is nothing unChristian about using wisdom to make such decisions.

Posted by: DeputyHeadmistress at December 3, 2005 10:59 AM

A thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I think you stole a few bases, though. There is a specific and unbridgeable gap between the capacity Christ has to show grace, and we humans.

For my part I am willing to admit as many immigrants as we can and still be a predominantly Christian nation. The mechanism for that is the power of the State.

While our secular state may be unwilling to see it in those terms, immigrants who come to America and do not assimilate into the fundamentally Christian behaviors of work, thrift and community represent a grave hazard to our society. In France, a mere 10% unassimilated minority has overwhelemed civil society.

We built a nation that has been powered in varying degrees by the Spirit of the Living God, and has done an overwhelming amount of good. Admitting immigrants in numbers that are greater than our ability to train up in the way of America is simply national suicide.

Finally, and the most repellent note I'll make, there is something deeply wrong about alowing other nations to be drained of their best and most motivated. There are many naitons that have the moral hazard of being economically unsophisticated and unjust removed, prolonging whatever morass that has overcome their country.

Motivated folk ought to stay in their nation and make it better, not flee and deprive their countrymen of the progress they might otherwise bring.

Posted by: Tim McNabb at December 6, 2005 5:04 PM

I'm not entirely in agreement with you on this, though I have trouble countering your reasoning! I'll just say that we're one of the least well-to-do families in our church (though it's a very prosperous church), so I don't FEEL like I'm voting out of prosperity. We do without a lot of things people count as necessities, and we tithe (though after taxes) and support several ministries. I just think the Republican economic platform makes better sense for everybody.

As for immigration, I had the same thought as Mr. McNabb, but while reading his comment, it occurred to me that we DON'T have a Christian culture, and we wouldn't, even if we kicked out everybody except those who claim to be Christian. On the other hand, American culture retains some semblances of Christianity, such as the theoretical equality of men, which are NOT features of most potential immigrants' backgrounds. Then again, when we take that to mean that we should grab what we can, since we're as good as anybody else (look at the way people drive!), I'm not sure it's a good thing.

Yeah, unlimited immigration is a scary thought. Of course, the country at large isn't going to go for it, so I guess I don't need to lose sleep over it!

Thanks for making me think, and a blessed Christmas to you and yours!

Posted by: Lenise at December 13, 2005 8:52 PM