The word immigration has been uttered, I suppose, more in the last few weeks than in the past 20 years publically and privately. I was reminded of a truth this past week I have long known; this is a nation of immigrants, not refugees. The Declaration of Independence states that all men, not just all Americans have a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That said, the task of the US government is to secure the rights of its own citizens, not mankind. The liberties and opportunities that the US affords its citizens are the main reason why so many people long to immigrate here. The Heritage Foundation’s Dr. Matthew Spalding writes in the “Understanding America” series “Why Does America Welcome Immigrants”: Individuals have a natural right to emigrate from their homeland, but that does not entail a right to immigrate to this country without the consent of the American people as expressed through the laws of the United States… When the American people welcome an immigrant, naturalization in America works differently than it does in other countries. A foreigner can immigrate to France or Japan but never become truly French or Japanese. But a foreigner of any ethnic heritage or racial background can immigrate to the U.S. and become, in every sense of the term, an American. Such a citizenship is a privilege and America’s openness to immigrants from all religions, backgrounds, and cultures makes it an exceptional one.
Conservative Journalist Michelle Malkin shared recently that we already grant 1 million legal permanent residencies to people from around the world every year. That’s expected to increase to 10.5 million green cards by 2025. Add in-between 11 million and 30 million aliens here illegally, along with an estimated annual influx of 70,000 seeking asylum; 500,000 foreign students; nearly 700,000 total foreign guest workers (skilled and unskilled, plus their spouses, many of whom are allowed to work here as well); plus more than 350,000 foreign high school and university students, researchers, physicians, and summer work travelers on J-1 exchange visitor visas; 66,000 visas for nonagricultural temporary foreign workers; and 117,000 slots for seasonal agricultural workers. Again, there is a difference between a refugee and an immigrant. An immigrant is a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. A Refugee however is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. As a Pastor and a Follower of Jesus how am I to view the current landscape of our nation’s discussion regarding immigration?
In the Old Testament we learn that once God made his covenant with Israel, Gentiles did have to join the nation in order to gain the greatest earthly covenant blessings. And God commanded them to be circumcised since that was the sign of his covenant. He also commanded them to keep the rest of the covenant stipulations, namely the Law. There was in fact a separation from their previous citizenship to a country and new beginning with an entirely new set of rules to live by. Interesting, but what about in Jesus’ day? In the New Testament the picture we draw is not so much about an earthly nation as much as it is focusing on a heavenly Kingdom. To be a part of God’s Kingdom on earth there was a complete departure from old ties and allegiances and the transformation of becoming a new creature in Christ. There is inclusiveness to this Kingdom. Not just anyone can be a part, only those who choose to accept the free invitation and completely desire residency can realize the joys of citizenship. Though free to all and lovingly presented to the world, those of other faiths are separate from the Kingdom because just the want- to-all-be-one does not trump the Gospel message. If that were the case, early church would have merged with the Hindu’s, the Buddhist’s and with the followers of Mohammed in the 7th century! But alas, it is not so!
In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt said, “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.” The truth is that America is open and available to one and all! It is however open to those who truly want to be Americans, honoring its traditions, respecting its rich history and following and honoring its Constitution. Come to think of it, the Kingdom of God just like that, open and available to one and all!
Tim Throckmorton is the former Executive Pastor of the Plymouth Heights Church of the Nazarene in Franklin Furnace Ohio and the Portsmouth First Church of the Nazarene in Franklin Furnace, Ohio. He is currently the Senior Pastor at Crossroads Church in Circleville, Ohio.ReachReach