Clergy Often 'Wise as Doves, Innocent as Serpents' on Immigration

Immigration has become a hot issue — even for Christians — with mass protests, demands for immigration cuts and no amnesty, and competing bills to deal with this emotional, thorny issue. And religious leaders are increasingly weighing in on immigration policy.

For instance, Catholic bishops have spoken against a bill that a strong, bipartisan majority of the U.S. House passed in December. Evangelical officials of World Relief and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference have endorsed a Senate bill that would amnesty nearly all illegal aliens while more than doubling legal immigration levels and establishing an open-ended “guest-worker” program.

While Christian ministers have a duty to speak biblical truth to matters of public concern, they also have a duty not to venture onto thin ice. While issues such as abortion and gay marriage are black and white, other policy issues often are hued in gray. Many issues may lend themselves to Christian consensus that a problem exists, but Scripture may not speak clearly or even at all as to an appropriate solution.

The basic biblical guidelines are straightforward, both for private and corporate conduct: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. But those commands may appropriately differ when applied by individuals and by government.

While some wrap themselves in the fuzzy blanket of “compassion,” government has a God-given duty to wield the sword of justice, more so than to mete out mercy. The balancing of justice and mercy looks vastly different when done by civil government and by a private citizen.

In “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis gave valuable insight into Christianity’s proper influence on questions of public policy. In short, the right policy isn’t always cut and dried, nor is the clergy the right subset of Christians to structure political solutions.

Lewis wrote, “…Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying ‘Do as you would be done by’ to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another. And, anyway, that is not how Christianity works.”

Are a bunch of bishops or is a coalition of clergy qualified to dictate specific public policies on issues in the gray areas? Hardly. Can Christians arrive at varying and various conclusions about what a particular policy should look like, yet remain equally right before the Lord? Absolutely. So, how should matters of public policy be resolved? Perhaps by the people God has gifted with the talents of statesmanship and whom He has called to the arena of public policy.

C.S. Lewis again is instructive: “People say, ‘The Church ought to give us a lead.’ … And when they say that the Church should give us a lead, they ought to mean that some Christians — those who happen to have the right talents — should be economists and statesmen, and that all economists and statesmen should be Christians, and that their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to putting ‘Do as you would be done by’ into action. If that happened, and if we others were really ready to take it, then we should find the Christian solution for our social problems pretty quickly. But, of course, when they ask for a lead from the Church most people mean they want the clergy to put out a political programme. That is silly. The clergy are those particular people within the whole Church who have been specially trained and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to live forever: and we are asking them to do a quite different job for which they have not been trained. The job is really on us, on the laymen. The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism or education, must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters: just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists — not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time.”

It would seem, then, that ministers who endorse blanket amnesty or the doubling of legal immigration levels or the mass importation of hundreds of thousands of foreign “guestworkers” are skating on thin ice. They’re like the lawyer who thinks there’s nothing to public relations and he can handle it and proceeds to get his client in trouble because he in fact doesn’t understand the news media or the principles and practices of media relations. Such clergy are attempting to perform a more sophisticated job that requires great skill, expertise, experience and judgment — in a calling much different from their own. In some cases, however, more may be at work than well-intentioned failure to be “wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.”

While some wolves in evangelical sheep’s clothing have lately taken up the amnesty cause, they join the clerical bedfellows of Leftists. The U.S. Catholic Conference and so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations’ lobbying arms have long sojourned alongside extreme Leftists, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Council of La Raza and MALDEF, in open-borders politics. These are the type of clerics whose faith, British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge noted, “was to sweep through the churches, transforming exhortation into demagogy, creeds into political programmes, and transcendentalism into utopianism.” Muggeridge identified, in “Jesus Rediscovered,” this brand of clergy: “ready to support any deviation from [the status quo], and champion anyone who can produce credentials, however dubious, of being down-trodden and oppressed.”

On the policy issue of immigration, the clergy may have no more moral authority and their opinion no more weight than the man on the street’s (unless he’s a legislator, legislative aide, or lobbyist who’s knowledgeable about that particular policy area).

So, to paint amnesty today as the “Christian” solution to an issue that requires prudential judgment and clear-eyed assessment of historical experience and an appropriate balancing of competing interests (not the least of which are those of the most vulnerable American citizens who will be harmed by direct economic competition with millions of legalized foreigners) based on current circumstances exposes such clergy as posers. They speak beyond their calling’s boundaries. They’re spiritual border crossers.

In fact, we’ve tried amnesty before, and it only resulted in more illegal immigration and greater pressure for subsequent amnesty. Is amnesty, the pardoning of an unlawful offense, ever a justifiable policy? In some circumstances, perhaps, but not in every circumstance. The biblical standard for civil government is the rule of law, and to perpetually grant amnesty to a class of lawbreakers undermines the rule of law.

America tried mass amnesty in 1986 (and six times since) and it not only didn’t solve the problem, it made things worse. As the House of Representatives and many experts have pointed out, leading with mass amnesty proposals, the Senate’s approach, is imprudent. Rather, it’s time to lead with enforcement — at the border, in the interior, at the workplace. A strategy of attrition — increasing the likelihood of illegal aliens getting caught and held accountable and their inability to find work — will cause the illegal population to decrease itself over time, at less cost in taxpayer resources than mass amnesty, mass deportations, or the current nonenforcement and dangling of the amnesty carrot.

The House enforcement-first approach displays prudence. It avoids repeating the failed amnesty-first policy, it exercises civil government’s proper, God-given role of punishing wrongdoers, and it doesn’t confuse “compassion” as civil government’s civic duty.

Turning once more to C.S. Lewis: “Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment — even to death. If one had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged.”

Is this to say that the House-passed H.R. 4437 sets forth the only conceivable, acceptable policy, and that its course is the truly Christian one? No, but H.R. 4437 displays the kind of package that is politically saleable, is politically possible and shows more Christian prudence than does the Senate’s legislation — the House’s having digested the hard lessons of experience in immigration policy. Bottom line, as Lewis pointed out, it is Christian duty to punish lawbreakers. And anyone halfway paying attention should know that the Senate’s “compassionate” approach has left us with thousands of lawbreakers lawbreaking every single day on our southern border.

Should we care what the opinion of a given religious bureaucracy is on all matters of public policy? I doubt it. On some specific issues, Scripture speaks clearly. And biblical principles can inform just civil government’s general structure. But on many policy issues, religious bureaucrats are out of their league and out of line to try to dictate particular policy solutions — especially when it’s clear that the Lord has called an abundant number of Christian statesmen to wrestle with these issues.