Current Events

Immigration Reform & the Tower of Babel

I wrote this piece 10 years ago! In light of the latest DACA decision and ongoing conversation, I want to repost this today. As a pastor I do not believe its my place to tell folks how to vote on complex political issues, but I am called to help folks think biblically about such matters. These are not political opinions, but a biblical perspective. This is written for followers of Jesus, not politicians. I’m in the business of making disciple of Jesus, not advocating for Red or Blue. The question remains for Christ followers today: Which controlling story shapes your views and animates your passions on the macro issues of the day?  Is it a cherished political narrative, or the story of the Scriptures climaxing in the story of Jesus and his Kingdom movement?  Here’s my perspective.

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

When the human race, so long ago, decided that it no longer needed to depend on God’s daily provisions and blessings, and began building its own ‘structures’ (symbolised by the Tower of Babel) to sustain them apart from God, God scattered them and divided them by languages and cultures. This scattering and dividing was meant to bring healing and restore proper relationship with God.

Having been divided by clan and language, the people would no longer be able to launch their grand universal human project of ‘playing God’ (i.e., global idolatry). The human race would again be prompted to cooperate with God for life and prosperity. As Stanley Hauerwas argues, “For by being so divided, by having to face the otherness created by separateness of language and place, people were given the resources necessary to recognize their status as creatures.” Unfortunately, instead of accepting this gift, people “used their separateness as a club, hoping to force all peoples to speak their tribe’s language. Thus, at Babel war was born.”

And nationalism. The world still finds itself living in the Babel story.

However, as Christians, we are called into a different story — a story begun at Pentecost where the effects of Babel are gradually being reversed. At Pentecost, with the gift of the Spirit poured out, the scattered tongues were all united around the glorious message of the gospel (Acts 2). The good news was that God’s worldwide family was being renewed around Christ, the Second Adam and forebearer of the new humanity! You see, God’s plan all along was to have for himself ONE, worldwide family, living harmoniously together under His blessed reign. The goal of human history according to the Christian story is thus:

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

While Babel was necessary episode in the divine drama, the call of Abraham was the beginning of the next great Act, the grand project of creating again a worldwide family living for his glory. Through Abraham and the nation of Israel, God would one day reunite humanity. However, Israel fell quickly under the spell of Babel, becoming itself a bastian of nationalistic pride. Instead of shining their light onto the nations and bringing God’s blessings to them (cf. Gen 12:2-3), Israel put their light under a bowl, kept their blessing to themselves and waited anxiously for God to smite the pagan hordes — the very nations they were called to bless.

But “in the fullness of time” Jesus the Messiah accomplished for the world what Israel was called to do but could not. Jesus would be the light to the nations, the Suffering Servant, the Second Adam, the faithful Israelite and seed of Abraham, and he himself would bring blessings to the whole world. God’s worldwide family is being born out of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are called to be the New Humanity, the “called out ones” (ekklesia) living out the Pentecost story. We are called to unite a broken world through the reconciling power of the Savior’s broken body, and stop the bleeding of the Babel-torn nations by partaking of the atoning blood of Christ which has been poured out for the healing and forgiveness of many.

But I fear many Christians still find themselves deeply tangled up in the programs and rhetoric of the Babel Story. We too often pledge allegiance to the flag of nationalism. The tongues of fire that waved so gloriously in the windy Upper Room at Pentecost — those flags of the Universal Spirit poured to heal a world divided by race, language, tribe and nation — have slowly burned out of our minds. We are again building our Towers to the Heavens, even accepting the labor of other tribes in doing so, and then insist on tightening up our artificial, Babel-laden borders and sending them away.

Without being too contentious, addressing a politically charged issue, I ask only one question today.  This question that has completely torn my Babel-shaped opinions to shreds over the past years on the issue of immigration reform (which had previously been shaped manly by a conservative political agenda). The question is a bit cliche but nevertheless remains: What would Jesus do? Where would Jesus land on the issue of immigration reform?  How would Jesus have us navigate this hot-button, politically charged issue in light of the Kingdom of God he came to inaugurate?  

To give you a hint: Much of Jesus’ ministry was spent breaking down the spirit of nationalistic pride rampant in the nation of Israel of his day. Jesus saw that the time had come for Israel to at last fulfill its original mission of becoming the light that would go out into the world, calling people out of their Babel-ridden efforts to guard their borders. It was time for borders to be torn asunder, for God’s spirit of universal healing to be poured out, for every tongue to join one chorus and proclaim the Day of God’s favor.

The New Humanity was born Easter morning, and now the only dividing line is between (1) those who join in the efforts of furthering this project of bringing the good news of the Reconciling Reign of the Messiah to a broken and divided world, and (2) those who instead choose to carry on the war-torn legacy of Babel, waving the flag of nationalism, and tightening the borders that divide.

But, again, Paul says it much better than I:

“But now, in union with Christ Jesus you, who used to be far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies. He abolished the Jewish Law with its commandments and rules, in order to create out of the two races one NEW HUMANITY in union with himself, in this way making peace. By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both (and all!) races into one body and brought them back to God. So Christ came and preached the Good News of peace to all—to you Gentiles, who were far away from God, and to the Jews, who were near to him. It is through Christ that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are able to come in the one Spirit into the presence of the Father. So then, you Gentiles are not foreigners or strangers any longer; you are now citizens together with God’s people and members of the family of God” (Eph 2:13-19).

Or, again, the goal and end of human history according to the New Testament: “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

Once again, the “You have heard it said…but I say to you” critique of Jesus has shaken long held beliefs of mine. Let us never assume that the American project always lines up with the Abrahamic Project fulfilled in Christ and passed on to his follower’s to spread and announce to the ends of the earth (cf. Matt 28).

While God’s dream for a world without borders may not be a realistic foreign policy to be taken seriously by diplomatic leaders in our sin-stained world, I still believe God’s church should be the place where such a dream is embraced and pursued in our own relations with people of different races, tribes and national background.  We must begin living the Pentecost Story here and now and show the world an alternative to the same old Babel Story.

So, church, shall we keep dreaming together?

“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” -Jesus


Update (9.6.17):

I have not weighed in on the actual political issue at hand (I wrote it 10 years ago!), if anyone somehow concluded I am for or against DACA, or they think they’ve pinned me on the right or the left. I’m merely rendering to Caesar the complex challenges of running a human government, and rending to God’s people the high calling to stay true to Jesus’ Kingdom values and priorities above any earthly political agenda. Regardless of how the U.S. government decides to handle immigrants, the church of Jesus Christ must follow its King in seeking God’s heart for the foreigner in our midst. My current political opinion on the DACA decision, if one absolutely must know, is that there seems to be a lot of hysteria over the decision and we should give Congress a fair chance to draft their own plan before talking of mass deportations, etc. But I’m pro-Dreamers of all kinds, and my heart goes out to all who are now living under the shadow of fear and loss of home!

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