Christian First, Republican/Democrat Second… or can we?
I recently spent a few minutes during a weekend talk speaking to the issue of immigration reform. It was part of a larger series on what is, or is not, “okay” for a Christian to do.
That particular weekend, we tackled what is “okay” in terms of the voting booth.
In addition to addressing the larger issues associated with Christians and politics and this current campaign, I also chose to highlight the issue of immigration reform.
My larger point in bringing up immigration was to highlight the importance of thinking Christianly about all cultural issues. I was alarmed to learn the results of a LifeWay Research study that found only one out of every ten evangelical Christians cared to look to the Bible to shape their views on those who cross our borders.
This, despite the biblical materials that give some very specific mandates and the fact that it is one of the “hotter” issues of the election cycle. If only one in ten evangelicals looked to the Bible on immigration reform, I could only imagine how low it went on less talked-about issues that were of equal importance.
Here is an abridged excerpt of what I said in my message:
I don’t care whether you consider yourself a Democrat or a Republican – if you are a follower of Christ, you are a Christian first and aligned with a party second.
And no party is the official Christian party.
As Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, we are not the master of the state, or the servant of the state, but the conscience of the state.
The point is to think and vote Christianly.
And there are issues at hand in this election that are deeply important:
...whether it’s the definition of marriage or when a life can be taken;
...the care for the poor and the homeless, or the treatment of the foreigner in our land.
And if I can be so bold, the most important issue of all is how you think a candidate will make appointments to the Supreme Court. Almost everything that matters to a Christian worldview for our culture is ultimately determined by those nine justices.
So all of this, and more, are deeply spiritual matters.
And you must begin to think Christianly about them, and vote Christianly about them.
But that’s exactly what so many of us do NOT do.
What we tend to do is compartmentalize our thinking.
A compartmentalized mind is one that separates life into distinct categories, such as our faith, our job, family, Facebook, the stock market – all without integration.
Our thinking about one area never informs our thinking about another. So one can be a Christian, but not reflect about, say, the immigration debate in light of our faith. Or even worse, never even have the thought of reflecting about immigration in light of our faith come to mind.
A LifeWay Research study found that when it comes to immigration reform, Christians know that the issues are clear:
*whether there’s a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and what that path should be
*and how to handle the unity of immigrant families
But only one in ten of those Christians said the Bible shaped their views. The vast majority said that, instead, they were influenced by either friends or the media.
And it wasn’t because the Bible was silent.
Wherever you stand on the various dynamics of immigration policy and reform, the Bible calls us to some very specific ideas.
First, there’s the rich deposit of verses that speak to the people of Israel in the Old Testament when they were immigrants, and how they should, in turn, treat others in the same situation.
Here’s a sampling:
21 “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21, NLT)
And then one chapter later:
9 “You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9, NLT)
And that idea is all through the Bible. Mercy, compassion, empathy, concern. Foreigners, aliens, or as they were often called, “Strangers,” in the Bible were always to be treated deferentially because of their vulnerability.
In the New Testament, Jesus picked up on the same idea and said these very penetrating words:
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:31-40, NLT)
No matter how much people who follow Christ can differ on hammering out the specifics of immigration reform, or protecting our borders, caring for the stranger, the alien, the foreigner, is a deeply biblical idea.
It’s not about condoning everything they’ve done, but in truth, the Bible doesn’t seem interested in how they arrived.
It’s about mercy.
It’s about honoring families and children.
It’s about treating them with the love of God.
So while we can have policy differences on how to carry out those values as Christians, the biblical values we are trying to protect as Christians should be clear.
But only one in ten have bothered to find out what they are.
I’m certainly not alone in pointing out such things. A number of evangelical groups have promoted immigration reform, such as the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.
Why? Because the Bible is clear that it should matter to us.
But the response I got was fascinating.
“You sounded like a Democrat.”
“I didn’t know you were pulling for Hillary.”
“It sounded like a rebuke of Trump.”
That wasn’t my intent. I didn’t want it to sound like anything but the Bible, and then to have everyone – regardless of party – begin to think Christianly about it.
So after the Saturday night slate of services, I made a few tweaks to ensure that it wouldn’t be seen in any other way.
Feedback the next day?
Understand, none of the reaction was negative or critical. More of a, “Oh, I didn’t know that’s where you were politically.” There were also a few well-meaning politicos wanting to steer me toward the value of Trump’s ideas, but all in good sport.
…I am not a registered Democrat;
…my offered views on immigration never went into policy matters, just core biblical values;
…I went out of my way to make a point that, as Christians, we are to be above partisan politics, but often don’t let each other be;
Yet, my very attempt at saying so, and giving an example,
…proved the point.
James Emery White
Bob Smietna, “Bible Influences Only 1 in 10 Evangelicals on Immigration Reform,” Christianity Today, March 11, 2015, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.