God of Immigrants: Three points for Christians to remember

God of Immigrants: Three points for Christians to remember

In some ways, the Bible is a chronicle of immigrants.

This is true from Adam to Abram, Moses to Mary, Jacob to Jesus.

The Scriptures record the sojourns of vulnerable families who set out from their native land in search of safety and provision.

This reality is even enshrined in a “creed” that the Israelites were to recite upon taking possession of the Promised Land.

When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance… Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders… (Deut. 26.1, 5—8).


One reason for the recitation was to remind the people of their “rootless roots.”

They were not always planted in positions of security and dominance.

Their forefather (Jacob) had been a wandering immigrant in search of food and safety. And his own son (Joseph) had been trafficked to a foreign land.

Thus there was a call to treat later foreigners with hospitality.

“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exod. 22.21).

“There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.” (Exod. 12.49; Lev. 24.22).

“You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and the alien” (Lev. 19.9–10; 23.22).

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19.33–34; 24.22).

But what implications might this have for us today?

Spoiler alert: I don’t think it means that borders are meaningless and that all illegal immigration is okay.


As we know, immigration (both legal and illegal) remains a controversial subject.

Indeed, words like Trump, Syria, and “Brexit” now bear witness to this. (Incidentally, I have it on good authority that for every pun invented to describe an EU exit—a kitten dies. “Brussels pouts” killed untold thousands.)

But back to the topic.

Immigration issues are complex: national security, economic stability, fairness, race, religion, social services, the rule of law, and many more. And as always, both sides have sometimes oversimplified the conversation. With that in mind, there is no way that a brief blog post can do justice to the topic.

Given that, my goal is merely to set out three broad ideas that the American church must keep in mind amid the controversy.

  1. Commands to show hospitality to immigrants still apply to Christians.

While America is not ancient Israel, the Bible is clear that God wants his people to reach out in love and service to the immigrant and the foreigner. This much is non-negotiable. Jesus even says that to welcome the “stranger” is to welcome him. Thus a lack of love for the other may be a lack of love for Christ (Mt. 25).

  1. Care for immigrants does not mean endorsing all illegal immigration.

In addition to welcoming the foreigner, the Bible also calls Christians to respect the rule of law (e.g., Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2). Thankfully, there are many legal ways to show love for immigrants, even if some are undocumented. Many churches lead citizenship classes, offer low-cost legal services, and host foreign language gatherings (see here).

As The Wesleyan Church states:

Immigration is an issue, but immigrants are people, and Christ’s love compels [us] to act as agents of Spirit-filled outreach and hospitality to all.

  1. Christians should embrace wise reform over (racist) rhetoric.

One thing that everyone admits is that U.S. immigration policy is broken. Change is needed. Yet wise reform is often impeded (on both sides) by rhetoric that is meant to score political points rather than address a complex issue.

In fairness, not all who call for a wall are being overtly racist. And it isn’t fair to say that those wanting to secure the border do so out of bigotry. Love and law need not be antithetical.

Still, there is often a not-so-subtle current of prejudice behind calls to “take back our country.” (Ironically, a phrase not usually uttered by Native Americans.) I know for a fact that my friends of other nationalities hear it this way.

For believers, the right attitude is that “our [true] citizenship is in heaven” (Php. 2) and that we ourselves are resident aliens (1 Pet. 1).

As Paul illustrates, “Christian racism” is a contradiction, an oxy-moron, and a failure to believe the gospel (e.g., Gal. 2.14). And when directed at immigrants, of whatever kind, it is a failure to remember one of the first “creeds” recited by God’s people:

“My father was a wandering Aramean…” (Deut. 26.5).


While these three points are too broad to offer specific solutions to many immigration issues, they may help Christians orient their hearts. And as Proverbs teaches, from the heart “flow springs of life” (Prov. 4.23).

First, say their names: A response to “the response” to Orlando

First, say their names: A response to “the response” to Orlando

“I think it’s important that you hear their names.”

Somehow, that was the line that finally broke me in the wake of the Orlando massacre. While others were discussing ISIS, weapons used, and the political implications, a reporter was slowly reading through a list of nearly fifty names, voice faltering, while adding information about each one.

  • Jean Carlos Mendez Perez (aged 35). He is remembered by his sister as a doting uncle, who loved to buy her children ice cream.
  • Brenda Lee Marquez McCool (aged 49). She loved to go dancing with her son. He survived.
  • Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala (aged 33). He worked at a blood donation center. “He’s alive in the lives that he saved,” said a co-worker.

For some of us,  hearing the names reminded us that this is about real people, not just politics.


So while there have been many responses to the shooting, this is not one of them.

It is not a response to what happened because I have no good response to that. It is a response to the response—and especially that on social media.

As Russell Moore notes (here), we used to be able to grieve together as a nation: Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, and 9/11 were examples. We wept with those who wept (Rom. 12.15). And while there was some of that after Orlando, Moore is also right to say that

“the aftermath quickly turned into an excuse for social media wars.”

And as so often with such missive missiles, the minds of all combatants seemed made up so far in advance that the MEMEs had already been written. Indeed, in some cases, the bodies of the slain formed only minor speed bumps to be driven over on the way to making one’s point.

Whatever the debate, each side seemed clear on what this “proved”:

  • Guns: For some gun-lovers, the real problem was that victims themselves were unarmed. More guns in nightclubs; that’s how you fix mass-shootings. While for others, this showed that America’s firearm fixation is literally killing us.
  • Islam: For the new nationalists, this revealed that Trump was right in trying to ban all Muslim immigrants (never mind that the shooter was born here). While for the new atheists, this proved that religion itself is what “poisons everything.”
  • Homosexuality: For a handful of “Christians” (word used loosely), the problem seemed not so much the lives lost, but the ensuing support for the LGBT community. While for ardent secularists, this showed that all fervent “believers” (whatever the stripe) hate gays.

To be clear, I do not think that every point being made was invalid.

I even agree with several proposals on how to begin preventing the kind of shootings that happen in no other civilized country with this kind of stupid frequency.

But that is not what I want to talk about here.


My observation is this: We seem to have lost the national ability to mourn PEOPLE, before making POLITICAL POINTS. And while some points matter, it is the people who are priceless.

In this case, bodies were still being pulled out Pulse nightclub when the pixeled pronouncements started flying. Donald Trump, for one, “mourned” as he does all things—by Tweeting—“I called it!” he crowed: “Appreciate the congrats for being right.”

You know, just like F.D.R. after Pearl Harbor.

Others were more thoughtful (which isn’t hard). Still, in many cases, as I went online last week, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something wrong with the insta-battles that broke out even before family members had been notified.

It was not always like this. Social media has changed things. And in this regard, for the worse.


What then is my suggestion?

Hear this: I am not saying that those passionate about solutions should just stay silent. Not at all.

But I do think that before we venture into polemics, we should first do what a few thoughtful mourners did, and say their names. Weep with those who weep. Reach out to gay friends and family. Grieve with the grieving. Many people did this, and God bless them. (I especially appreciated this from the new Wesleyan General Superintendent Wayne Schmidt [here]; in fact, it was not a statement at all, but a prayer.)

To recount the names and faces of the fallen reminds us that they were real people, with real dreams, parents, siblings, friends, and children. They are not mere dead weight to be leveraged in the catapults that launch our online arguments.

Biblically speaking, the call to love and serve and grieve is not dependent (even one iota!) on whether the victims were gay or straight, liberal or conservative, Christian or atheist.

The imago Dei is the lone prerequisite.

So while we must seek solutions to such reckless acts of hatred, let’s not forget to weep with those who weep.

First, hear their names.  And perhaps that empathy may, in the end, lead us to work together to prevent such acts in the future.

Requiescat in pace.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., Stanley Almodovar III, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Luis S. Vielma, Kimberly Morris, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Darryl Roman Burt II, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Amanda Alvear, Martin Benitez Torres, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Cory James Connell, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis Daniel Conde, Shane Evan Tomlinson, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Jerald Arthur Wright, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Brenda Lee Marquez McCoo, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Frank Hernandez, Paul Terrell Henry, Antonio Davon Brown, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, and Akyra Monet Murray.

Why the “wrong side of history” may be right (sometimes)

Why the “wrong side of history” may be right (sometimes)

Thanks to the folks over at Seedbed for publishing a piece that I was asked to write on the threat of being on “the wrong side of history.”

You can access that here.

Two brief snippets:

The gist of the “wrong side” argument is that in past centuries, great evils were defended in the name of God and tradition […] There is some truth in this of course. Great wrongs were, and continue to be, defended under the guise of “God’s will” and the oppressive cloak of tradition. Yet the meme is hardly absolute. And in many cases, it is simply wrong.


Here’s [another] problem: If history’s moral judgments are the unjust product of the victors’ power plays, then why trust them? If history is written by “those who have hanged heroes,” then perhaps the “wrong” side is actually closer to being right! Perhaps, as some suggest, justice lies more on history’s underside.

If this is so, then Christians have yet one more reason to discard the moral shaming of the “wrong side” argument.

For in a bit of beautiful irony, we believe that history’s crucified victim is also its great victor. The Lamb who was slain is seated on the throne, and his word is weightier than the shifting sands of public opinion. His verdict (not that of “history”) matters most.

The house of mourning: a post for those who grieve, in memory of Daniel Berg

The house of mourning: a post for those who grieve, in memory of Daniel Berg

One year ago, I stood next to the bed of my brother-in-law, and watched him die.

Daniel was only thirty: funny, young, and handsome. He was a loving husband to my youngest sister, who is perhaps the kindest and strongest person I know. They were still newlyweds.

Livi and Daniel

This death, and the terrible decline that preceded it, are the worst things I have ever witnessed. ALS is insidious. And despite endless ice buckets dumped on countless heads, no cure exists.

Daniel in couch

Watching Daniel die changed me. While I have no claim to the kind of grief borne by my sister and by his more immediate family, Daniel’s passing stole some measure of my innocence.

In movies, death is valorized and sanitized, but there is one thing the films get wrong: death’s color. On screen, the deceased look like they are merely sleeping. But Daniel did not look like that. While he died painlessly, I could not join others in kissing his face, holding his hands, or stroking his hair.

I just wanted to get out of there—to flee the room, avert my gaze, cover up his body—anything to escape the pallor that had replaced his former complexion. The image scarred me. I still see it.

As the theologian John Zizioulas writes:

“There is no greater contradiction than a dying being” (Being as Communion).

Death is an affront, or as Paul writes, an “enemy” (1 Cor. 15.26). It is an intruder in God’s good creation.


That is why I wriggled uncomfortably in my chair last month as I heard a graduation speaker (and pastor) affirm the words of the late Steve Jobs:

“Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

This may sound nice at first, but when applied to actual people–a son or daughter, a spouse or friend–it is insulting and absurd.

Skubalon,” as Paul would say (Php. 3.8). Excrement.

It is wrong because it treats human beings like excess inventory at a used car lot: Act now! – older models must go! 


Death is not Life’s best creation, and while Jobs said it, he did not actually believe it. If he had, he would not have fought so furiously (and valiantly) to fend off this great “invention.”

For those who mourn—and there are many—such platitudes don’t wash against the image of a departed loved one.

The bony hand of death cannot be manicured, bejeweled, and made pretty. It is always ugly, always cold, always an offense. True, we are often glad to know that a loved one is no longer suffering, and that they are “with Jesus.” But it is not death we celebrate; it is the cessation of pain, and their presence with God.

Death remains an enemy combatant.


And then there are those left behind. For the bereaved, a double cruelty of death is that the wider world simply continues on as if nothing much has changed. A continent has been wiped off the map, and the cartographers have scarcely noticed.

“It’s as if they are erasing him,” my sister said once to me, amid the flood of paperwork to change her marital status, her mortgage listing, her tax information. But the people sending medical bills remembered.

This “double cruelty” is poignantly depicted in Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer prize winning novel, All the Light we Cannot See. In a scene set in World War II, a young French girl stands in the empty room of a departed loved one:

[It] smells of peppermint, candle wax, six decades of loyalty. […] German sailors sing a drunken song in the street, and a house spider over the stove spins a new web every night, and to [her] this is a double cruelty: that everything else keeps living, that the spinning earth does not pause for even an instant in its trip around the sun.

Here, to quote a further line, God can seem like

“only a white cold eye, a quarter-moon, poised above the smoke, blinking, blinking, blinking, as [one] is gradually pounded into dust.”

Despair lurks.


The question then is this: Is there an alternative to these two dead ends? First, the delusional attempt to say that death is “life’s best invention.” And second, the lonely despair that finds no comfort.

Perhaps one alternative is a certain kind of grief.

As Paul said, “we do not grieve like those who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4.13). But we do grieve. And that is for the best.

As Nicholas Wolterstorff states in a tribute to a son who died:

“Grief is existential testimony to the worth of the one loved. That worth abides” (Lament for a Son).

Or as Tennyson writes:

            “Let love clasp Grief lest both be drowned” (In Memoriam A.H.H.).

Such words ring truer than false attempts to whitewash death as “Life’s best invention.”


Yet more is required to fend off despair.

We need not merely to grieve honestly, we need hope that death is not the end—that the “brief candle,” as Shakespeare called it, shall reignite and “run like sparks through the stubble” (Wis. 3.7).

Death is cocky after years of sway. Understandably.

Yet in the empty tomb of Jesus, there is a hint that “the blood-dimmed tide” (Yeats) has already turned, almost imperceptibly.

“Death, be not proud,” as Dunne wrote, “though some have called thee.”

“One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”


In the months after Daniel’s death, I had a chance to visit Israel with my sister (his widow) and my father. Daniel had always wanted to go. We stood together in the empty garden tomb at Gordon’s Calvary, and cried, and smiled.


Inside, a simple wooden sign reads: “He is not here – he is risen.”

And behind those words, I heard those of Francis Spufford:

“More can be mended than you know.”

For those who mourn as Christians, that hope provides a balance to the bitterness of death. Some sweet wine mixed with the gall. It does not take away the sting of death, but it allows us to walk on, limping. And that limp, like Jacob’s (Gen. 32), is evidence that we have been touched by someone real, someone good, someone eternal.

So if you grieve today, hear these final words of Kate Braestrup:

“Walk fearlessly into the house of mourning; for grief is just Love squaring up to its oldest enemy. And after all these mortal human years, Love is up to the challenge.”

Not here

~In loving memory of Daniel Berg.