Monday, June 05, 2006

Principles or People?

The debate that is raging over illegal immigration is complicated for us Christians. We love our country and want to defend our borders and our culture, and yet, we know that we have a Biblical responsibility to demonstrate compassion for those less fortunate than we.

The flood of illegals over the last several years demonstrates the great success of the American way of life. Despite our many shortcomings as a nation, we remain, as Bill Bennett had said in the title of his new book, "the last best hope."

One aspect of this current trial that will need to be considered and addressed by the Church is the cause (notwithstanding America's amazing success as noted above) of this sudden influx. Could it be, as my commenting friend John Jenkins suggested, that we are at last reaping the whirlwind of seeds sown generations ago?

A third element playing into the mixture of causes and issues is the failure of our neighbors to the South to create a healthy economic and cultural environment for their citizens. Perhaps they do not have the foundational tools needed to create governmental systems that produce liberty and economic freedom.

Each of these factors play a role in understanding the causes of, and responses to, this pressing dilemma. The causes are manifold, and the responses are complex.

Recently, a good friend of mine encouraged me to be careful in my writing so as not to denigrate the Hispanic people. As flawed humans, we all tend to lump people together into groups. We see images on our television screens of brown-skinned people flooding the streets of our cities waving foreign flags, carrying banners and signs with messages in a foreign language, and demanding their rights. It is easy to lump all of that culture into one group, pass judgment, and feel angry.

Most of the illegal immigrants coming to America make their way here simply because they want to improve their lives. I would suggest that the vast majority are decent folks. A few, of course are not.

Unfortunately, these otherwise "decent" folks have broken the laws of our land. They have stolen across our borders, falsified their identities, and are living in the shadows for fear of being discovered and sent back.

This is no way to live.

Because of the economic benefit to our country, we have been brushing aside this problem for a while now, not wanting to face the hard choices involved. Many suggest a "path to citizenship" for those here illegally. In some ways it seems the humane thing to do. But in another way, it undermines the very foundation of our country.

What happens to a nation which fails to enforce its laws? What happens to a nation which makes special exceptions for some, and yet enforces the law with others?

One of the fundamental principles laid in for our nation at its founding was equal justice under the law. In the ideal world, every citizen is held to the same standard, and prosecuted under the same rules. Sadly, our past history has found us grossly wanting in this area. We once rousted black men out of their homes in the middle of the night and strung them up from trees without a trial, purely on accusation. These poor American citizens did not enjoy the benefit of presumption of "innocent until proven guilty." In some parts of our country, we once made it very difficult for some people to vote, because of the color of their skin. Earlier, we broke treaties with natives, and even murdered some in cold blood. And of course we allowed that horrible institution of slavery, forcing people to do work that we ourselves would not do.

Fortunately, America has come face to face with its failures in these areas, and great strides have been made to right the wrongs of the past. Our response has not been perfect by any means, but the effort is in play, and has been for a number of years, now.

Looking at all of these factors and components, how then should we respond? Do we put people first, or principle first?

The tendency here for most of us is to put people first of course. We have been inconsistent in the past in applying principle, and after all, God loves people, and we should too.

Perhaps a look at how God responded to our waywardness and sinful choices will help us to place things into balance. The Scriptures tell us that "God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son ..." (John 3:16)

I see two components here, not just one. First, God loved the world. And His love compelled Him to take action to rectify the mess created by our sin.

He may have just been able to simply declare that "all is forgiven." In other words, He could have granted us amnesty. In our minds that seems like the easiest and simplest thing to do.

But He didn't handle our mess that way. And the reason is because there was a principle to uphold as well as people to love. The law was broken and the penalty had to be paid.

Which leads us to the second part of this story. He sent His Son. Judgment under the law is the reason behind Christ's suffering and death. The demands of justice had to be met. The requirement of death for the breaking of God's law had to be enforced in order for the law (principle) to be satisfied.

So, when looking at our illegal immigration mess, the temptation is to say, "OK, all is forgiven. We will ignore our rules this one time ... uh second time (1986) ... and start fresh again."

Yes, we have a tainted history with certain people groups. We enslaved Africans, and then once free, we still discriminated against them for another one-hundred years. We broke treaties with the Indians, and then corralled them into reservations. We are still paying dearly for those horrible decisions.

However, the cost of ignoring the law, may in the long run, bring a far greater negative consequence upon us than the cost of enforcing it now. It would be one more example of our nation violating its own core principles.

I suggest that it is never too late to begin to do things the way they are supposed to be done. Just like the individual who sins, and then gets up and tries once more to live according to God's laws, we as a nation need to embrace our principles, and enforce them, despite the hardship that it will bring upon us and our illegal friends from the South.

It is not just the illegals who are to blame, of course. We have done this to ourselves for want of cheap labor, and for the fear of repeating the past.

But we still need to fix the problem.

God worked out a way to both satisfy the law, and to love us fallen and lost humans at the same time. Perhaps there is yet a way, undiscovered, that America can also do both. In our feeble minds it does not seem possible. I certainly don't have the answer. And I have yet to hear anyone else with ideas that satisfy both our laws, and the need for humane kindness.

Let us ask God for divine wisdom. Maybe He knows of a way this can be done.


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