Lady Liberty still calls
My wife and I recently came back from a short trip to North Carolina, our former home, and, as has been our custom for some time, looked to see if we could spot the Statue of Liberty as we crossed the Verrazano Bridge on the way back to Long Island. Within a day of our spotting Lady Liberty we, and the rest of our nation, was embroiled in a fierce debate on President Trump’s executive order banning refugees and anyone from seven largely Muslim countries from entering the U.S. As I watched and pondered the furor over this step, that symbol was always on my mind.
Whether you agree with that order or not, you have to admit that because our President, and close to half our nation, feels the urgent need to suspend the “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” call of Lady Liberty it is a sad day; a day where we cancel that invitation to millions. Whether we think the move was wise or not, it clearly reverses a generations-old openness our country has been proud of.
Contrary to what many protestors are saying, there is some validity to the move by our President. Although no person admitted as a refugee has ever been responsible for a terror attack here there is a real claim by ISIS that they intend to slip fighters in as refugees. Although no person from any of the seven banned countries has ever been responsible for a terror attack here (and several from countries we have not banned were) six of the seven are essentially lawless with no civil government in control to give us assurance that a reliable in-country vetting could be done. This is not a move made out of hate or ignorance as many are saying.
Whether the move makes us safer, as many are claiming; or puts us more at risk by playing into the hands of ISIS and Al Qaeda, as others are claiming, is debatable. Sadly, neither side seems to want to actually debate the issue. Both sides seem too attached to insults, protests and shouting to actually talk to each other.
As a Christian, my first line of consideration should be how does our faith dictate our response? There are many online articles, blogs and explanations that are willing to tell me that answer. Sadly, from the research I have done, it seems as if we Christians are pretty split on this. There are many, and I do mean many, articles quoting Bible verse after Bible verse that indicates God’s charge to care for the poor, the strangers, the downtrodden must prevail. It is amusing that so many progressives are using “clobber verses” to make their case as they have long been infuriated by verses quoted by conservatives as proof-texts.
Articles by evangelicals supporting the order are actually more numerous but there seems to be a dearth of available Bible verses we can call on to proof-text this move. Mostly they say why the quotes by the opposition are wrong and explain how they don’t apply here. Many of the articles are thoughtful and raise good points but they don’t easily make their cases from Scripture.
But one pro-Trump response sticks in my mind; that by Franklin Graham. Graham has pulled no punches for years on his highly negative opinion of the Muslim religion so I am not surprised that he wants to keep so many out; I expected him to support this move. But his cornerstone line has really bothered me. He claims that this “Is not a Bible issue.” By saying that the Bible has nothing to say on this he gives himself, and others, freedom from worrying about whether God agrees with his stance.
I have always thought that it is a bedrock principle of evangelicalism to say that the Bible should inform all areas of our lives. Granted, there are many things in 21st century life that simply are not addressed directly in Scripture. We are often left using principles and guidelines. Sometimes these issues are mundane, like how do we apply (if we should at all) teaching about meat sacrificed to idols to modern issues. Others, like being unequally yoked, are a bit more complex. Still others like the treatment of refugees or reactions to slavery are profound. I am shocked to think that an evangelical leader like Graham has, for all intents and purposes, declared the Bible to be irrelevant here.
Frankly I think Graham has said this because it is hard to support his opinion directly from Scripture. Worse yet, he has tacitly agreed with critics of our faith that the Bible can be declared irrelevant when it suits us. This is a door I don’t like to see opened.
So how do we resolve where we should stand on this issue? Frankly, I am not sure. But I would like to end with a story. Many years ago I knew a man who was a strong Christian and who also had a taste for a good bottle of Scotch Whiskey. He was often urged by his Christian friends to stop drinking. (He was decidedly not an alcoholic.) He made the decision that, for every dollar he spent on Scotch, he would donate a dollar to missions. While that whole stance to me seemed silly at the time (and still does) that is a principle I’d like to suggest we follow:
Whatever side you are on this issue, for every article you read, TV show you watch, conversation you have that supports your point of view, spend an equal amount to time reading, watching and listening to someone who disagrees. Do this not to accumulate debate points but to try and understand. You may find that those other guys are not as evil as you think. I think Lady Liberty would approve.