I’ve spent a bit of the early part of the day reading some of the reactions to President Obama’s executive action on immigration. I have read opinion pieces by Paul Krugman, Peggy Noonan, and several others. I, too, have opinions, for whatever they are worth – which is not much. I am uneasy about what some call presidential overreach. I am saddened by the inability of our system of government as framed by the Constitution to respond to the need for a new immigration policy. Our president and the congress have failed us. The president’s decision to act unilaterally does not bode well for the life of the body politic. Obstruction by the opposition only obstructs in a time that demands leadership.
That said, a reform of our immigration policy is desperately needed and the steps the president proposes to bring some illegal immigrants “out of the shadows” are promising.
In last night’s speech, the president made a reference to Scripture, saying, “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.” It’s a fair paraphrase of Exodus 22:21. (“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”) It might even be a fair application of the passage if we were much serious about applying the truth of Scripture to our national life.
Of course, there is no serious interest in applying the truth of Scripture to our national life, so the reference to it is so much window dressing.
Okay, I will leave further political commentary to the pundits and to water cooler and barroom conversations. Scripture, however, has more to say about immigration and citizenship; not so much for possible application to policy debates as to helping us understand the truth of the Gospel.
Indeed, the covenant community was to be a place of welcome and hospitality to the stranger. God’s partiality to the sojourner was to be reflected in the life of the community. “(The Lord) executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19) The church as the covenant community is called to be a place where the sojourner, the foreigner, is loved.
The image of sojourner soars to greater heights when the good news of the Gospel is likened to the granting of full citizenship in the commonwealth of heaven. Paul tells the Ephesians that they were alienated and far off, but that by the cross peace has been made. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” he writes (Ephesians 2:19).
Every single one of us was once an illegal alien – a law breaker. All of us had forfeited any right to the love and mercy of God. We had sojourned in the far country, squandering our inheritance, and we did not deserve even the status of servant. But the Father welcomes the prodigal home and the stranger and alien is granted full citizenship in the Kingdom. Election is not a political event, but an act of divine grace. By executive order the Sovereign God changes our status from enemy to friend. The exchange comes at a high price, however; the death of God’s own Son who bears the wrath the law breakers rightly deserve.
As we go into Thanksgiving week, I am thankful for a country that takes seriously the welcoming of the stranger and pray that our democratic system of governance still has the ability to do the right thing the right way. Above all else, though, I am thankful for the grace of God who says of me, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” I am thankful for God’s gracious call in Christ that transforms me from alien to citizen, sojourner to family member.