Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"Each one of these people died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that -- heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them" (Hebrews 11.13-16, MSG).

Transients. Pilgrims. Aliens. Strangers.

We sing "This World Is Not My Home" but do we mean it? Do we live it?

I wonder if the whole discussion involving the immigration issue and what to do about the leaky borders of the United States hasn't betrayed the fact that, for some Christians, our corner in this world has become a bit too cozy.

Last Thursday at the weekly Rotary luncheon, our club was privileged to hear from U.S. Representative Mike Conaway (R-Texas). In his presentation, Mr. Conaway addressed at length the issues involved in the immigration/illegal aliens discussion. His speech was thoroughly informative.

But what gripped me in the course of the speech is the picture he painted with words leading those of us in the audience to understand the motivation of illegal immigrants south of the border. Suppose a father lives in a poor village in Mexico. His only income source is farming and drought conditions have cut into his ability to provide for his family. Because of the economy and lack of jobs, he's at a dead-end, but he realizes if he can just make it to the United States, he can find work and income that can be sent back home to feed his family.

Mr. Conaway exuded great compassion in getting at the root motivation of many illegal immigrants. A father, attempting to provide for his family and feed his children, will go to any extent -- be it swimming across a river or illegally crossing a border -- in order to provide for his family.

Suppose the shoe was on the other foot. Suppose America was the land of an impoverished economy and poor job growth. If you were struggling to provide for your family but realized the vast opportunity that existed in Mexico, would you be tempted to cross the border?

With that picture in mind, I cannot understand some of the vitriol with which Christians have approached this issue. These "illegals", some who altogether refuse the follow the legal course, are nonetheless people created in the image of God. Do their actions provide Christians the ammunition to verbally unload? Or, despite their carelessness for the law, should we view them, in spite of their actions, as people created in the image of God and valued by God?

What great men of faith like Abraham, Joseph and Moses clearly realized -- that they themselves were aliens, strangers, pilgrims, transients in this world -- we need to realize today. This world is not our home, we are just passing through. And on our journey, God calls us to be a people devoted to upholding the dignity and worth of every human being, no matter how frail, feeble or, in our own minds, flawed.

God's Word, coupled with the examples of many of our great heroes of faith in Scripture, strikes a blow at our quest to control our corner of the globe. Rather than exerting political power in our own best interest, our calling from Scripture seems to be to exert service in the best interests of those whom society has labeled and marginalized. Rather than participate in the rhetoric, we are called to reform within that allows us to see every person through the eyes of God.

Does all that mean that federal laws are inconsequential? Absolutely not! Don't hear me making any sort of case for antinomianism. But upholding law doesn't mean that as Christians, we have a right to forego compassion for those society deems to be the least.