I was never a big fan of the WWJD phenomenon. You know, the one that had people sporting bracelets and bumper stickers and socks and hats with WWJD emblazoned on them. What Would Jesus Do? WWJD? Now I love Jesus, trust him completely, and seek to follow his way and wisdom. It was the bracelets and bumper stickers and boxers and sheer fad of the whole thing that turned me off. Still, the fad suggested something I firmly believe. Jesus—God—cares deeply about the things going on in our world today and the choices that we make.
That is why I must ask: Who Would Jesus Deport? WWJD? This question we are discussing—or dismissing—these days about immigrants and legal entry and deportation deeply matters to God. So, what does He want us to do? It is unlikely that there is a simple answer that fits every single situation, but still we must ask the question. When it comes to immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally or overstayed a visa, or committed a crime, what does Jesus want us to do? What are the values he wants his followers to consider?
There is a popular answer I hear or read with growing frequency. It goes like this: “they broke the law, are here illegally, and should be sent home. They knew the consequences; now they must live with them. God cares about people keeping the law, and these people have ignored our laws. They need to be sent back to their own land.
Law and order. It does matter to God. It was actually His idea. So the Bible implores: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Romans 13:1, NIV) God values obedience and respect for the laws of the land. But is this the only value that matters to God regarding immigrants?
God is passionate about the treatment of immigrants. So, the prophet Zechariah warns: “Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.” (Zechariah 7:10, NIV) The prophet Malachi “quotes” God in saying: “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me, says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 3:5, NIV)
God frames immigrants as vulnerable or desperate, just like the orphans or the poor. Immigration, both in the Bible and in current history, is often motivated by desperation. People move from a beloved homeland due to crisis. Life or livelihood is at stake. Jacob and his family move from their homeland to Egypt to be saved from a brutal famine. Centuries later, Jesus’ parents flee with him to Egypt because Jesus may die in his own land. Life in the land they love might cost them their lives.
The immigration question has an easy answer when this reality is minimalized or left out of the discussion entirely. Our own U.S. President said: “What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” (Fox News interview, July 5, 2015) Still others frame the immigration motive as primarily a matter of convenience or a desire to exploit free services. Summary: “Undocumented immigrants are mostly criminals and freeloaders, so just deport them. There is nothing more to think about.” But what if that narrative is not true? And what do we do with the desperate?
God values justice. This is a pervasive Bible theme, and God specifically warns against depriving the immigrant of justice. God values law, but not all laws are just. Not all laws fit the heart of God. Do our laws make it easy for doctors and engineers and specialists to enter our country while making it difficult, if not impossible, for the most desperate people to migrate here? Many Christians insist that our country’s abortion laws miss the heart of God. Is it possible some of our immigration laws do as well?
God values mercy. Passionately. He repeatedly calls His children to mercy. One of the constant challenges to mercy, however, is law. So, Jesus rebukes the religious leaders of his day: “You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23, NIV) Summary: You are meticulous about keeping tithing or Sabbath laws, but miss the laws demand for justice and mercy.
These same leaders challenged Jesus about healing on the Sabbath, which violated the law. On one occasion, he asked them this sobering question about law, desperation, and mercy: “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” (Luke 14:5, NIV) Modern translation: “If your child begins convulsing in the back seat of your car, turning blue, will you not violate speed limits and traffic light laws to get to the ER three miles away?” Immigration translation: “If your family’s life is at stake, will you not attempt to move to a country of safety, even if it is against their law?”
So, what do we do with the lawbreakers? Deport them all? Deport none? Deport some? WWJD? And what will we do with those for whom deportation could mean death? Recently, a judge in Detroit temporarily halted the deportation of scores of Iraqi Christians back to Iraq. Hmm. I wonder how they will be welcomed in their homeland? Should that matter?
How will we value law, justice and mercy with all these immigrants God dearly loves? HWWVLJAMWATIGDL?
[Feature photo from Pixel2013 on Pixabay.com]