The old Religious Left has long championed virtual open borders and slammed national sovereignty as idolatrous. Now the new Evangelical Left is chiming in with its own sentimentalization of illegal immigration, identifying Jesus Christ Himself as an illegal immigrant.
“We are exiles who follow an alien, undocumented, migrant Messiah,” insisted Debra Dean Murphy, a religion professor at United Methodist affiliated West Virginia Wesleyan College. Her recent column was carried by Jim Wallis’ Sojourners and illustrates the merging thought of old Religious Left and new Evangelical Left. Murphy cited Edgardo Colón-Emeric, director of Hispanic Studies at Duke University’s Divinity School in North Carolina: “Jesus did not have a valid birth certificate. Mother’s name: Mary; Father’s name: unknown. In fact, Jesus had no papers in his name, no title deed, no rental contract. Nothing. ‘Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.’” She further quoted Colón-Emeric: “Christians who do not recognize Jesus in the illegal do not know Jesus.”
Probably neither Jesus nor any other ancient Jew, or anybody else in the ancient world, had birth certificates. Jesus did have a legal father, Joseph. The Nativity Story famously reports that Jesus’ family lawfully returned to Bethlehem, the place of Joseph’s birth, to comply with a census. Jesus came from a lawful, Torah following Jewish family that seems to have lived in the same Nazareth except for their sojourn in Egypt to escape King Herod. There is no reason to think Joseph and Mary, with the infant Jesus, were in Egypt illegally. Nor did they remain there as refugees beyond necessity, after which they returned home. So it’s not clear how Jesus could be an “alien, undocumented, migrant Messiah,” except as the contrived icon for Religious and Evangelical Left immigration activists.
All Christians would readily agree that illegal aliens, with all humanity, bear God’s image and merit lawful and decent treatment. But humanitarianism does not necessarily equal anarchically and endlessly open borders nor an automatic amnesty for all who cross the border illegally, much less the glorification of illegal immigration. The Religious and Evangelical Left sometimes practice a form of political antinomianism, asserting that rules are unimportant and only politically correct sentiments and intentions bring salvation.
Christian ethics, rooted in Jewish teaching, have for millennia taught lawful orderliness and warned against social anarchy. With Jews, Christians have traditionally understood their faith in God entailed reasonable obedience to civil authorities, except in the most egregious and idolatrous interference with faithfulness to God. But the Religious and Evangelical Left have decided that civil law should not really matter in cases of immigration. “The dominant narrative–the one about illegality, rule of law, blah, blah, blah–is persuasive because it provokes and exploits the one emotion that has driven American politics since 9/11: fear,” Professor Murphy opined. “We’re told by critics and commentators that Americans have never been so angry, that our public discourse has never been this strident and dangerously uncivil–all the red-faced name-calling, the ugly race-baiting, the shrill, snarky meanness.” Do expectations of border security and immigration law enforcement necessarily equal “shrill, snarky meanness?” For the Religious and Evangelical Left, evidently so.
In contrast, recently I attended a ceremony at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. honoring “righteous gentiles” from the Netherlands who courageously hid Jews and other potential victims of Nazis in their church during the German occupation. The church sexton, Hendrik Pleijsier-van Burden, along with his wife Neeltje Alida, with the pastors and others in the church, were guided by their Christian faith to protect Jews, Dutch resistance fighters and German Army deserters, all of whom faced likely execution if captured. In such an extremity, Christian ethics certainly affirms resistance against a genocidal occupying power. As a child, my own native northern Virginia was filled with thousands of new Vietnamese immigrants who fled communist occupation after Saigon’s 1975 collapse. President Ford had resettled 130,000 Vietnamese who had served the U.S. during the war and who had escaped newly reunified and communist Vietnam, where they faced death or internment. A church in my neighborhood adopted a Vietnamese family. Church and state rightly welcomed refugees who had sided with America and who needed protection from a murderous enemy.
Strangely, the Religious and Evangelical Left give little specific attention to today’s political and religious refugees who flee communist and Islamist regimes. The implied disapproval of such anti-Western governments does not comport with the Religious and Evangelical Left narrative that the U.S. is the world’s most oppressive power and responsible for most political and economic suffering. For the Religious and Evangelical Left, the U.S. is the original cause for global poverty and therefore is obligated to offer automatic sanctuary to any and all who want to move here, legally or illegally.
Traditionally across the centuries, immigrants to America have seen their opportunity as a privilege. Undoubtedly many still do. But the religious U. S. champions of virtual open borders insist that immigration is not a privilege but an entitlement that the U.S. universally owes the world. According to Professor Murphy, any resistance to unlimited immigration just illustrates “Americans’ deep-seated xenophobia,” which was “carefully cultivated since the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” and “crucial in rallying the country to support two insupportable wars.” Darkly, Murphy fears that a “phrase formerly associated with interrogators of the Third Reich–‘let me see your papers’–will now enter the lexicon of law enforcement in Arizona,” thanks to its new immigration law. “Jesus–in the guise of the brown-skinned ‘other’–will be asked for documentation he doesn’t have.”
Adding to this theme of deifying illegal immigration, Professor Colón-Emeric at Duke has preached that “The Church is a van full of illegals crossing the border to travel to the true north, up, the kingdom of God, because as [Saint} Paul says, “our citizenship is in heaven.” Jews and Christians, in the tradition of Abraham, do understand their faith as a pilgrim journey through a strange land. But probably neither the Patriarch nor St. Paul would equate the quest for salvation with celebrating the willful violation of immigration law.