This past Christmas, popular conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey revisted an old debate on her Twitter page, retorting:
“Does the person claiming Jesus was a poor refugee also believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth & the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him? Do they hold the Word of God as inerrant? Could they tell you the gospel if asked? … Do they believe in sin and repentance? Do they know what Jesus’s death & resurrection accomplished? Do they even believe God made the universe, and therefore has authority over all of it?”
My answer as “The Confessing Millennial?”
On Stereotypes and False Dichotomies
The debate as to whether Jesus was a refugee is a tired one. Though both Judea and Egypt were part of the Roman Empire, the Empire was not simply the first-century equivalent of a modern nation-state as we conceieve of it today. Though ultimate sovereignty was reserved for Rome alone, it was comprised of city-states that were able to maintain a large degree of local sovereignty, autonomy, and jurisdiction. Each city-state was largely self-governed, provided that they gave their ultimate allegiance and fealty to Caesar. The holy family fleeing to Egypt, then, was not simply the equivalent of moving from one state to another (unless you are making the analogy of a black slave fleeing from the Antebellum South). Though not unanimous, many conservative biblical scholars judge that by these standards, the title of “refugee” is by no means an inappropriate one.
But whether or not Jesus was a refugee is not the main point of this blog post.
The subtle implication of Stuckey’s rhetoric is that you can’t be a Bible-believing Christian and simultaneously believe that we need things such as immigration reform: that if you support such causes, then you are automatically a far-left, bleeding heart liberal. But that’s simply not true. It’s a false dichotomy–a false binary–and it is unfair to many Christians that confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Take my brother in Christ, Rondell Trevino, for example. Rondell is a pastor and founder of The immigration Coalition (TiM), whose mission and vision is to be “Providing biblically balanced resources on immigration that show compassion to immigrants and respect for the rule of law.” Rondell is self-described as “pro-life from the womb to the tomb”, “theologically conservative and socially compassionate”, and “politically homeless” (referring the the Republican and Democratic parties). Elsewhere, he has written,
“Our amazing country—The United States, can both secure the Southern border and be deeply compassionate to immigrants, migrants, and asylum seekers at the same time. These are not mutually exclusive. Policy should reflect both. This is what it means to be Biblically balanced.”
Rondell transcends the tidy bipartisan political categories that Stuckey would have us neatly placed in. But you hardly ever hear about this due to the state of our current political discourse.
Instead, Rondell receives threatening emails where he is told, “Enjoy your devil’s page while it’s still up…I pray for your soul yet at the same time I cheer the day you burn in Hell where the devil belongs.”
(If that rhetoric comes as a shock to you, it does not to me. While I had very few troubles in childhood regarding my ethnicity as an Asian American due to being stereotyped as the token “model minority” [save for the occassional microagression every now and again], many of my black and brown friends have had different experiences growing up in rural America. I grew up alongside classmates that didn’t flinch at using the word “nigger” and other racial slurs. I have even worshiped alongside people that would tell me outside of church that they “hate Mexicans.” Even to this day, it’s hard for me to shake off internal racist reactions when it was subtly communicated by those around me that blacks are stupid and Latino’s are lazy. This is the result of our sinful, human tendency–exacerbated by cultural environments such as ours– to “other” people that are different from us and our tribe, whether due to race or political affiliation. People must consider what messages they are subliminally, even unintentionally, communicating to their friends, neighbors, and family.)
As for Rondell, his response to the email was not so much “classy” as it was “Christlike.” He encouraged others to pray for the man, stating that the person might be going through some personal issues, and that the man is still “made in the image of God.” He emailed back with the words, “Praying for you. Jesus loves you!”
Rondell would pass Stuckey’s Twitter-litmus test with flying colors. And yet he believes that our “amazing country” is still in need of immigration reform. Even in his response, Rondell does not fit neatly into Stuckey’s political categories or binaries (and neither do I, for that matter). His response does not match the stereotype of the angry, outraged liberal. Instead, he is driven by Christ’s command to “love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Similarly, lest others distinguish between immigration and refugee concerns, many Christian organizations like World Relief are devoted to helping refugees that come to our borders (though they have often been handicapped from doing so effectively in recent years due to policies that have inevitably cut funding and, by extension, their budget and staff). Like Rondell, they consist of evangelical Christians that believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God.
A “Confessing Millennial” Perspective
Stuckey has made a name for herself in popular media by going under the moniker “The Conservative Millennial.” But one has to ask, what type of conservativism? What are we trying to conserve? There is a conservatism for conservatism’s sake that may line up with the GOP’s agenda, but may or may not necessarily line up with biblical concerns all the time. The same goes for the Democratic Party. After all, surely there are things in our society that are worth conserving, just as there are surely things in our society that are in need of progress.
When I started this blog, I consciously chose the word “confessing” over words like “conservative” for the reasons stated above, and because of the political overtones and baggage that can come with it. “Confessing” refers specfically to my theological convictions: that I “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Romans 10:9) and how the church has understood that phrase for the past two millennia (as in creedal confessions like the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed; the “faith once delivered unto the saints”–Jude 3).
This means that, like Rondell, I check “Yes” for every one of Stuckey’s rhetorical questions (above). Yet also like Rondell, I care about things like social justice, racial reconciliation, immigration reform, and the global refugee crisis. Stuckey’s rhetoric would have you believe that you have to be one or the other, that you can’t be both. But that is not the case. I started this blog to show that millennials (and others) don’t have to trade in biblical orthodoxy for concern for social justice, or vice versa. They go hand in hand. Biblical social justice may look a bit different from the world’s brand of social justice, but it is social justice nonetheless.
When all is said and done, Stuckey’s categories in her tweet are more informed by political/partisan rhetoric than an explicit biblical mandate. I would caution against letting political/partisan categories be the sole determinant of our discourse as Christians. Our categories transcend current political ones. After all, our kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36) and our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ as Lord, and ultimately we are accountable to him in how we care for others. Other Christians may disagree with us, at least on the finer points, and that is fine. But it is another thing to speak ex cathedra for all Christians and anathematize us, despite the fact that we believe what Christians have always believed.
For people like me, Rondell, and thousands of others, we simply see these things as a way to fulfill the Old Testament ethic of caring for the foreigner or alien, and Christ’s mandate to love the neighbor and the stranger. Arguments for Jesus’ refugee status notwithstanding, we take his words to heart:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ …‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’Matthew 25:35-36, 40
In other words, it’s because of our high view of Scripture that we take these things seriously. And though we might not be card-carrying members of a political party, we do believe that we can be a prophetic voice in the halls of power for those that can’t advocate for themselves, whether it’s the unborn on the one hand or or those that are seeking shelter in our country on the other. And we believe that our witness for Christ is strengthened and bolstered when we partake in both word AND deed ministry.
In other words, it’s a both/and, not an either/or.
* Unfortunately, Stuckey’s sentiments are not uncommon or isolated. Growing concern for causes such as racial reconciliation, abuse victims, and immigrants and refugees in denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention have been met with opposition by many that have accused other orthodox Christians of “being liberal”, despite the fact that they affirm all the cardinal doctrines.