Posted by: gmscan | April 24, 2012

The PCUSA and Immigration

With the U.S. Supreme Court taking up the Arizona immigration law this week, I thought it would be timely to review the PCUSA’s posturing on this issue.

The Presbyterian Church USA has been in the forefront of all of the recent disputes over immigration policy, especially regarding the issue of illegal immigration. While not as burning an issue as its stance on abortion or Israel, it does provide some insights on how the PCUSA has left scripture behind to advance a political agenda.

It joined in the boycott against Arizona, calling that state’s efforts to clean up the problem of illegal immigration and the violence associated with it “reactionary and hateful.” It said it was “a clear representation of the politics of division and exclusion.”

It then threatened to boycott Indiana when that state was considering similar legislation.  This was called off after the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly issued a statement saying that, while the bill was “inhospitable and unjust towards immigrants… the legislation in its final form falls short of the extreme measure of racial profiling.”

Then it threatened to move its headquarters out of Kentucky if that state adopted similar legislation.

More recently, the PCUSA joined with several other groups in condemning Paul Ryan’s proposed budget resolution in the U.S. House. It called instead for “substantial” increases in funding for social programs and cuts in defense, border patrol, and prisons.

What’s going on here?

Well, first, PCUSA leadership constantly uses the rhetoric of the Left. It doesn’t care to have an honest discussion of important issues, preferring to call opponents “reactionary,” “extremist,” “hate-filled,” and so on. (This habit of calling half the people in the country vile names seems like a peculiar way to “do missions.”)  Then it raises boogeymen charges like “racial profiling” where none exists. In fact, the Arizona law prohibits it. A completely dispassionate analysis from the web site of says —

… law enforcement cannot stop a person purely because they suspect the individual is an illegal immigrant. There must be some state or local ordinance or law and there must be reasonable suspicion of the individual breaking the law. More importantly, the Arizona immigration law SB1070 text implies that law enforcement must not consider race, national origin, or color when enforcing these provisions, except in ways that are permitted by the United States Constitution or the Arizona Constitution.

Then the PCUSA conflates issues, so that concern about illegal immigration becomes an attack on all immigration.

But, far more important is the complete absence of biblical legitimacy in its positions. And the Bible has a lot to say about all this.

The special place of “sojourners” is dealt with throughout the Old Testament. After all, Abraham was himself a sojourner who asked the Hittites for a place to bury Sarah. (Gen 23:1-9) God tells Moses to warn the Jews, ““You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21) Sojourners are to be treated with respect and honor.

The PCUSA loves to cite those passages, but it ignores the passages that say sojourners must also obey the laws and customs of their host country:

  • And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean. (Lev 17:15)
  • And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native. (Num 9:14)
  • … but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. (Deut 5:14)

So immigrants are to be treated honorably, but they must also obey the laws of the land. This is entirely consistent with what the authors of the Arizona law had in mind. Indeed, one of the greatest problems with illegal immigration (as opposed to legal), is their status makes it possible for others (like unscrupulous employers) to oppress them. Who can they complain to? If a worker has a green card, he has all the rights of citizen workers. This alone is reason enough to discourage illegal immigration and undocumented workers.

But there is another problem with the PCUSA’s stance – it apparently wants open borders. At least it wants to cut funding for border enforcement, which means de facto open borders.

From my reading of scripture, God did not want open borders. God himself created nations. He scattered the people who were building the tower of Babel — “… the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth…” (Gen 11:8) and gave them different languages so they would not understand one another’s speech. The chapter before that (Genesis 10) describes the nations descended from Noah. Not tribes, not families, but nations.

A nation is a people defined by a border. There is no other meaning. A nation is not defined by a language, a culture, or a religion, it is defined by a border. A nation with an open border is not a nation, and is certainly not what God had in mind from the earliest pages of the Bible to the last – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….” (Matthew 28:19)

No nation on earth has a border policy like that suggested by the PCUSA. Mexico itself is very vigorous in enforcing its own borders. On this, as on so many issues, the PCUSA seems to despise both the country and the faith it pretends to support.



  1. Greg, I recall sitting with you at a Heartland debate in Chicago listening to two libertarians argue opposite sides of the immigration debate. They may have done well to pick up some of these biblical insights. PCUSA’s agenda seems to be more about public policy than faith. Sure enough their positions oppose the sanctity of God given human life, would steal away God given liberties, and they do it all by hijacking scripture out of context. This kind of focus from a Christian denomination suggests faith in the state rather than Jesus. A handful at the top are masquerading agents that lead many astray. Keep fighting the good fight.

  2. Brilliant analysis. Why in the world are you still associated with the PC(USA)?

  3. Hey Greg,

    I have no idea what some folks in the PCUSA are trying to do, or whether its right wing or left wing, but I think you are conflating a couple of things together yourself here. Your definition of a nation as a people defined by a border is extremely new and only really came together in the nationalism movements of the 18th and 19th centuries. Before then, the idea of fixed borders to define nations was almost non-existent.

    So it’s not likely there is anything in Scripture that remotely speaks to the issue of border control in the modern State.

    When we find the English word “nation” in the Bible, it is probably best to think of it as “people”. People who identify themselves as a group centered on some culture, or some region, or language, a family or a king, or anything that they choose to identify themselves with. Precisely what you are saying is not a nation. I am sorry to say, but I think you’ve got the biblical meaning of the word almost exactly backwards.

    “Disciples of all nations” refers to the ubiquity of the calling to all peoples to become students of Jesus. Likewise, the Kingdom of Heaven is the Kingdom of all God’s people. It has no territorial borders.

    Politically speaking, there are problems with the modern definition of a nation. Much of the problems of the Middle East, for example, come from the application of modern nationalism principles to the breaking up of the Ottoman Empire. The demarcation lines cut right down the middle of certain groups of self identified peoples, and lumped others together who had little to do with each other, some being awarded national status, while others not (take the Kurds for example).

    Speaking anthropologically, the human species has always been a migratory species. We migrate at a slower pace than, say, the yearly migration of birds and wildebeests, but all animals migrate and humans, over hundreds and thousands of years and global climate changes, are no exception. People go where the resources are. Artificial borders can be like putting a wall down the middle of the Serengeti. What are you going to do when the next migration takes place?

    So yes, lets try to manage the national borders of our modern State. But let’s also treat foreigners with respect, remembering that all of us were once foreigners right here in our own land, and that we too brought our own laws with us. And let’s try not to force the Bible into talking about lines on a map. The Bible is about people. God’s people.

    • I always appreciate your comments, Jodie. They give me much to think about.

      Yes the current concept is a modern one, but I would argue it is a difference of degree, not of kind. Certainly in ancient times there might not have been passports and checkpoints at border crossings, but that was not due to any principle of open borders. Populations were concentrated around cities with frontiers around them. The frontiers themselves were pretty good at keeping populations apart. The cities had not only borders but fortified walls. When invaders threatened, people living outside the city proper would retreat behind the walls for protection.

      Kingdoms were defined (like nations) as a geographic area over which the King could exercise control. If he couldn’t control it, it wasn’t part of his kingdom.

      You are absolutely right that colonialism made a hash of traditional boundaries. But that supports my contention. Iraq is a nation, but there is no Kurdish nation. There is a Kurdish “people” but not a nation because they have no defensible border. There is an Iraqi “nation” but not really an Iraqi people other than those people living within the Iraqi border.

      You are also right that the Kingdom of God has no borders. That is one of the many things that makes it so different from the kingdom of man. Again, it was God himself who divided us into nations, perhaps so we would not get confused about who the ultimate King is.

      • Thanks, Greg, obviously you make me think as well.

        Wrt this sentence: “Iraq is a nation, but there is no Kurdish nation. There is a Kurdish “people” but not a nation because they have no defensible border”, in the biblical sense the Kurds would indeed be called a “nation”. Just as the Jews in the Diaspora called themselves a “nation”. That’s why I say today a better translation might be “people”, to avoid the confusion you are making.

        I would ask you though, if the “defensible” part is, in your mind, essential to the border of a nation. I ask because the US government spends way more money making sure the borders of other nations are not defensible than it spends trying to defend American borders.Modern military doctrine is that borders are not defensible.

        So the borders that define nations are defined by treaty, and the UN. All that prevents the Kurds from becoming a “nation” is the mere stroke of a pen. Not clear why supports your contention?

      • PS I should clarify that what I say is merely >>in my opinion<<.

    • By the way, as it happens I am reading Isaiah at the moment. Last night included this —

      But you have increased the nation, O Lord,
      you have increased the nation; you are glorified;
      you have enlarged all the borders of the land. (Is 26:15)

      Just sayin’.

      • Funny…

        I believe this passage is immersed in a number of what we would call protest songs, songs of defiance, written by the Jews in captivity in Babylon. I often find it useful to check other translations when trying to unravel Bible passages, specially if something sounds too modern.

        King James:

        “15Thou hast increased the nation, O LORD, thou hast increased the nation: thou art glorified: thou hadst removed it far unto all the ends of the earth.”

        Young’s Literal Translation:

        “15Thou hast added to the nation, O Jehovah, Thou hast added to the nation, Thou hast been honoured, Thou hast put far off all the ends of earth.”

        Wycliffe Bible (WYC) (archaic middle English, with the modern English in parenthesis, I believe. I never read this one)

        15 and Lord, thou hast forgiven to a folk, thou hast forgiven to a folk. Whether thou art glorified? thou hast made far from thee all the ends of [the] earth. (Lord, thou hast increased the nation, thou hast increased the nation, and thou art glorified; thou hast spread it far and wide unto all the ends of the earth.)

        My Portuguese translation puts it like this: “you, Lord, have added to the nation, you have added to the nation and glorified yourself, extending yourself to the farthest ends of the earth” (I love Portuguese. It translates from Greek and Hebrew much more easily than English does.)

        I think the language refers to the Diaspora, to the Jews who have been scattered to the far ends of the earth, and puts a positive spin on this predicament. That by multiplying the Jews to the farthest ends of the earth, God has sent himself to the farthest ends of the earth, and brought glory to Himself in so doing.

        And therein lies a precedent to Matthew 28! 🙂

  4. This topic remains a real challenge; I am coming in late to this exchange,

    As others note, Mexico has very strong laws about immigration. The recent months long imprisonment of an American citizen for entering Mexico without permission is an example.

    43 Mexican college students disappeared in a town south of Mexico City. Authorities believe these students were killed, thrown into a quarry and burned. The local mayor and his wife are being held…corruption of leaders.

    Forbes listed Mexico in the top 5 of the most dangerous countries in Latin America to do business.

    Blatant disregard for laws is not a virtue. Maintaining order and civility requires a respect for the law. As Christians we are not doing God any favors when we encourage lawbreakers.

    Coming across the border illegally is just for starters…then come the fake social security numbers, fake licenses, fake documents of all kinds. Law is made to have no meaning.

    A while back an angry group of Hispanics entered a local office for Habitat for Humanity; they had not qualified as a prospective owner of a Habitat home; however a law breaking man with another wife and family in Mexico did and moved into his Habitat home, lock stock and barrel with his quasi wife and their real children.

    A few years ago my husband was headed out to buy the turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner when a 16 wheeler semi-truck careened across the highway directly in front of him. My husband knew there would be a collision and aimed at the truck’s tires so he would not be decapitated by going under the truck. The driver drove off leaving him for dead. Witnesses went into action, the driver was arrested, he had no valid license to drive the truck. My husband was barely recognizable but he survived and healed.

    Yes, we should treat the sojourner with respect and the traveler should, indeed, follow the laws of the land he is visiting.
    Mexicans and others are leaving their country for a better life. This country is in better shape to help immigrants thrive if we lead them in with respect for the law, the very basis of assurance for that probability.
    Now, we have people who are battering away at churches telling them they should help and support people who willfully and unashamedly break the law. Moses came down from the mountain with the Big Ten setting the example for laws that form a foundation for a civil society that loves God. Why would the PCUSA come down against keeping the law of the land? How does that help God? Why has this old respected denomination drifted so far afield?

    When I was a child, my own parents sponsored a Ukrainian family who were in a displaced person’s camp as a result of communists seizing their property.
    These were very lovable people whom my family treasured. Americans who would like to reach out to people who want to come to America can still do so, while keeping the law. Too often fellow Americans who want “open borders” do not want to do much of anything but talk and gripe about what someone else is not doing. If the PCUSA feels strongly about helping immigrants, maybe the whole denomination could get together and support thousands of families; if just one family can support a family coming from the Ukraine, surely a whole major denomination ought to be able to sponsor thousands of families coming from Mexico or maybe just those who are already in America illegally to help them retrace their steps back to their country of origin and then return LEGALLY with a sponsor. The church can hire the necessary extra teachers to assist the little waifs, many of whom are even illiterate in their own language. This magnificent authentic act of love would be an incredible example to our country. It would also serve to hush up the complainers about rising property taxes and near bankrupt states, such as Illinois that spends several billion dollars a year supporting illegal immigrants and their anchor babies. If the church cannot get enough volunteers to take in immigrants, assignments could be made, this would hush the people in whose areas illegal immigrants have just been “assigned”. Now this denomination wide action is one some sojourners could truly treasure.

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