Monday, June 27, 2011

A Rebuttal to the SBC on Immigration and the Gospel, Part III

Having previously discussed the economic and political implications of mass immigration, particularly of the illegal variety, I’d like to consider in a bit more detail some of the thorny biblical and theological matters surrounding the issue. Here I will interact with Dr. Russell Moore’s biblical and ethical arguments. Because this will likely get a bit lengthy, I intend to write two posts. First, I’ll deal directly with Dr. Moore’s sundry assertions defending the SBC resolution “On Immigration and the Gospel”. In a second post, hopefully later this week, I’ll try to provide a brief outline and sketch of what the Bible says about nationality.

First, let me praise Dr. Moore for explicitly tying the immigration issue and other matters of public policy to Scripture. God’s Word is inerrant and sufficient for all of life and gives us a worldview grid to thoughtfully examine the issues of the day. Unfortunately, misinterpretations and poor applications of Scripture combined with faulty logical assumptions flaw his overall analysis.

The Jesus Was an Illegal Immigrant Fallacy, or There is No Such Thing as Illegal Immigration

Dr. Moore repeatedly claims that Jesus was an illegal or undocumented immigrant. He begins with this Jim Wallisesque doozy: “First of all, our Lord Jesus himself was a so-called ‘illegal immigrant’”. I’ll address shortly the truth of the statement, but take note of Moore’s choice of language. By his use of scare quotes Moore repudiates the use of the word “illegal” and implies that there should be no moral distinction made between legal and illegal immigrants. He prefers the term “undocumented” workers or immigrants, by which he appears to mean aliens who may not have followed proper bureaucratic procedures but have otherwise done nothing immoral or sinful. It stands to reason by Moore’s rationale that if the sinless, perfect Son of God was an “illegal immigrant” then there must be nothing inherently sinful about violating immigration laws.

Toward the end of his essay Dr. Moore continues the same line of reasoning by crafting a picture of the New Heavens and New Earth where believers worship together before “the throne of a former undocumented immigrant”. Via tortured and fallacious ethical reasoning Moore again normalizes law breaking because after all, Jesus did it. Dr. Moore is undoubtedly correct when he says, “this [the immigration issue] is also a question of mission.” But alongside the call for generous hospitality there must be a respect for law. Christians cannot and must not decouple the message of grace from the necessity of repentance. A central focus of the church must be the calling of sinners, those who have violated God’s law and civil law, to repentance. The church must help illegal immigrants come to Christ, confess their sins of illegal entry, repent and return to love and care for their people and families. The portrait of Jesus painted by Dr. Moore is unhelpful and his rhetoric is little different from those in the sanctuary movement while his hermeneutic smacks of the liberalism rejected by the SBC for three decades.

There are other reasons to scoff at Moore’s analogy. First, Jesus and His family simply moved from one Roman imperial province to another. Sure there were legal, cultural and linguistic differences, but the modern equivalent might be moving from Rhode Island to Eastern Kentucky (actually the distance to Egypt would have been considerably less than sojourning across parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California if you’re keeping track at home). Second, the nation-state is a relatively new conception historically and the 1st Century is a tad different from the contemporary world. The immigration restrictions enforced by modern states were not as necessary in an agrarian culture and such laws didn’t exist to be broken. Third, Joseph moved his family because of the impending threat to their lives posed by Herod--he wasn't looking for a work permit. Therefore, it would be more apt to term Christ a refugee rather than an illegal immigrant.

In an episode of “The Simpson’s” Bart took an interest in journalism and set out to get advice from Kent Brockman, Springfield’s premier news anchor. Brockman told Bart that the key to journalistic success was human interest stories that “cloud the issues and fog the mind.” The “Baby Jesus was an illegal immigrant” argument serves the same purpose. It is a flawed piece of emotion laden nonsense bandied about in order to fog the mind, preclude rational discourse and draw an erroneous equivalence between two completely unrelated circumstances separated by fact as well as 2000 years of history and legal development. As an argument it is ethically troubling, exegetically unsupportable, historically inaccurate, and logically fallacious.

The Law of the Stranger

Dr. Moore next harkens to the Old Testament law and history of Israel to ground his plea for the practical erasure of borders. He writes, “In so doing [migrating to Egypt as a boy], our Lord Jesus was re-living the life of Israel, our ancestors in the faith, who were also immigrants and sojourners in Egypt (Exod. 1:1-14; 1 Chron. 16:19; Acts 7:6). It is this reality, the Bible tells us, that is to ground our response to those who sojourn among us (Exod. 22:21; Ps. 94:6; Jer.7:6; Ezek. 22:29; Zech. 7:10). God, the Bible says, 'executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt'" (Deut. 10:18-19).

An appeal to biblical law is refreshing given Moore’s penchant as a proponent of Two Kingdom theology to frequently ground his defense of Christian social ethics in natural law rather than pointing to scriptural precept. Unfortunately his interpretation of these passages is flawed. Moore conflates and misapplies different Hebrew words for alien (ger) and foreigner (nekhar or zar) which have different meanings in the Old Testament Scriptures and historic Judaic cultural practices.

In his book “The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible”, Dr. James Hoffmeier provides a clear definition of an alien in Israelite culture and law. The Hebrew word ger is translated variously as "stranger" (KJV, NASB), "sojourner" (RSV, ESV), and "alien" (NIV) in contemporary English translations. A ger was a foreigner living in a land outside his homeland who had received permission from the proper authority. For example, when Jacob's family wanted to flee famine they traveled to Egypt and asked Pharaoh for permission to enter, "We have come to sojourn in the land … please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen" (Gen. 47:4). With the appropriate permission secured, Jacob’s family, which grew into the people of Israel, became legal aliens in Egypt. In short, they were allowed into the country by the host. This scenario finds its modern equivalent in the immigrant who has legally entered a foreign land with permission and secured proper documentation to that effect.

With this background we better understand the various biblical laws protecting “aliens” from oppression. It is wrong to allow people into your land and subsequently subjugate them. God gave many laws to protect aliens in Israel. Aliens were not to be oppressed (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-34). They were integrated into Israelite society, entitled to equal justice (Num. 15:15-16) and equal pay (Deut. 24:14-15), and could celebrate Passover (Ex. 12:48). They had legal standing and near equality of status in the community.

Two other Hebrew words, nekhar and zar, refer to those foreigners passing through or sojourning in Israel. They were not given the same benefits and protections as the ger (Ex. 12:43; Deut. 15:3; 17:15). The "foreigner" and the "alien" did not have the same social and legal status. Some English versions of the Bible, including the TNIV and TLV, translate ger as "foreigner," allowing the reader to think that these categories of people were the same. They were not.

Biblical supporters of “comprehensive immigration reform” and a “path to legalization” often refer to Leviticus 19:33-34, which says: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 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.”

Citing C. D. Ginsburg, R.J. Rushdoony says that this "'stranger' is one who has become circumcised, fasted on the Day of Atonement, obeyed the laws of sacrifice, and has practiced the laws of chastity, as well as obeyed other moral laws." In short, once a foreigner had become part of the community, his nationality was not to be used against him. Such passages address treatment of aliens once they are part of the community.

The Scriptures do call for the extension of hospitality and justice, not an open-borders re-ordering of social life. Rushdoony says, "To call for the modern, humanistic society with an open relationship to all men would have appeared to the Israelites as the ultimate tyranny. The law did not require any such a re-ordering of any man's private life: It simply required justice in dealing with all men."

The Spiritual Equals Physical Fallacy

A perennial temptation in Christian thought is the elevation of the “spiritual” over and against the material. The acceptance of Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian categories has plagued the church from the beginning. The Christian believes that God created everything good, that sin mars every aspect of creation, and that Christ redeems it all, though we await the future perfect fulfillment of that promise.

The invisible church is composed of the elect in all places in all ages. It is a spiritual fact from age to age and consists of people from every tribe, tongue, nation, social class, ethnic group and historical epoch. This invisible, universal church is made manifest and incarnate in local bodies and assemblies. There is an on-going debate as to whether churches must, or even should be multi-racial and multi-ethnic. In his essay, Dr. Moore says, “Our commitment to a multinational kingdom of God’s reconciliation in Christ must be evident in the verbal witness of our gospel and in the visible makeup of our congregations.” I don’t feel the need to enter this debate suffice to say that I agree with the noted theologian John Frame, who says that the natural tendency to want to be with people like ourselves is clearly not sinful, whether in marriage and friendship or worship.

Elsewhere, in a defense of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Moore writes, “If God personally regenerates repentant sinners, both white and black, how can we see people in terms of ‘race’ rather than in terms of the person?” I understand what Dr. Moore is saying here and there is truth to the comment; however, it sets the spiritual directly at odds with the physical and has the flavor of Gnosticism and Manicheanism. In this view God’s salvation abstracts the individual from any and all natural attachments—not merely national and ethnic groups but presumably the family as well (Yes, I’m aware of Matthew 10:34-47). Could Moore’s logic not be applied to gender as well? “If God personally regenerates repentant sinners, both male and female, how can we see people in terms of ‘sex’ rather than in terms of the person.” If not, why? Isn’t it right there in Galatians 3:28?

The point is simple: Moore is utilizing doctrines that apply to the church, a primarily spiritual body, and imposing them on a nation, which is a physical and material entity. They are not analogous. If Moore were simply addressing the church, I would not strenuously object to his reasoning on this particular point. However, given the political nature and goals of the resolution, his comparison of apples and oranges needs to be noted. Simply because the Body of Christ is multiracial does not necessarily imply that particular peoples are not allowed to claim a land for themselves. Would Dr. Moore argue against the public policies of the state of Israel, to take one example, that are designed to maintain an ethnically Jewish state? No, in fact he has written that "Powers rage against" Israel, who as a nation merits the prayers and support of Christians, because "these are the kinsmen according to the flesh of our Messiah." In short, some ethnic groups are allowed to insulate themselves from a demographic transformation but others are not quite so lucky.

Next time I’ll labor to provide a biblical view on nationality and ethnicity (note that I said “a”, not “the”.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. My primary objection, gut level and otherwise is well summed up in this statement:
"his hermeneutic smacks of the liberalism rejected by the SBC for three decades."

Love Dr. Moore, great Christian and scholar, but was disappointed by this article and agree with the rebuttal.

- Joseph

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Christina said...

Please PLEASE send this to Dr moore!! And I would add that we can be kind, generous and befriending to illegal aliens and still believe they are wrong to be here and tell them so, much like we would do for a gay or lesbian or live-in unmarried couple. Also, we do have laws that are too strict to be enforced in this country, but the answer isn't to ignore them, it's to change them!! Let's campaign as Christians to make the immigration laws fairer, allowing for migrant visas and other temporary visas to be more accessible! We also need to go back to the actual on-the-books law concerning citizenship; it's for children of citizens and legal residents only, NOT children of illegal aliens. That practice comes from a judge's footnote in a court care, not an actual law!

1:55 AM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Christina, I posted comments on Dr. Moore's website but they have not yet been posted.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Robert Sagers said...


I just approved your comment on Dr. Moore's site, which was waiting in moderation. I'm sorry for the oversight--I just hadn't yet seen it in there.

In Christ,

1:36 PM  
Blogger jknox said...


Thanks for the interesting series on immigration and the SBC. Could you give me the reference for the Rushdoony quotes?

In Christ,

Steve Matthews

11:59 PM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Mr. Matthews,

The Rushdoony quotes are from Volume 1 of The Institutes of Biblical Law and can be found from pages 530-533. If you don't have the book, go here,

Mr. Sagers, thanks. I'd assumed they weren't posted because they may have covered ground already trod by other commenters. I'm not an SBTS student though I live in the area and rub shoulders with a lot of students there/ I'm merely a laymen trying to get by. I respect Dr. Moore, but I think he has some knee jerks on certain issues.

8:28 AM  
Blogger jknox said...

Thanks, Darrell.


10:01 AM  
Anonymous Overland Park dui attorney said...

Thanks Darrell for an excellent analysis.Following your immigration series. This is amazing.

12:39 PM  

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