Immigration Legislation #2: How Do We Gauge the Heart of a Nation’s Laws?
Mar 30, 2010 by M. Daniel Carroll R. | 0 Comments
Now that Health Care Reform has passed, there has been talk about turning the nation’s and Congress’s attention to immigration reform. We will see if this actually is the case. But, be that as it may, those who do support immigration reform—i.e., a new set of laws—need to begin to think through what that might look like, or what one would wish might characterize that legislation.
In an earlier entry (January 26: “Immigration Legislation: A new year in which to think biblically!”) I argue on the basis of Deuteronomy 4:5-8 that the Old Testament is relevant for this discussion. With this entry, I want to begin to probe the Old Testament for today. Future entries will continue to pursue this study in order to inform and orient a biblical perspective on these matters.
The old Testament narrative presents the people of Israel leaving the land and making a trek through the desert to Mt. Sinai. There, God revealed his Law to them. Now, a sizeable part of the Law is concerned with religious rituals and personnel (which we will come back to at a later date), but it also deals with marriages, having children, the treatment of farm animals, their unique diet, the proper bounds of human sexuality, the offices and qualifications for leadership, property, inheritance, measures for various crimes, etc. Notice how the law deals with every dimension of human life in community. What we have in the Law, then, is not simply divine provision for forgiveness and fellowship for God’s people, but actually the framework of a new culture.
God has taken them out of Egypt, which had its own laws and social norms, and led them into the middle of nowhere to give them the blueprint for an alternative society, different from the one that they had just left—with a different way of organizing their lives under their God. One of the clearest differences between the Law of God and Egypt’s concerns how the vulnerable were to be treated, including the outsider. In Egypt, those who had come from somewhere else could be taken advantage of for labor and mistreated for the sake of the empire. In God’s Law, the vulnerable—the poor, the widows and orphans, and the outsiders/sojourners—were to be extended mercy in multiple concrete ways. In Israel things were to be very different than they had been in Egypt!
There is an important lesson here: Laws reflect the values of a nation. The laws of Israel were to demonstrate compassion to those in need (We will survey these in later entries). This ultimately was because God himself loves these people (Deut. 10:17-19). In other words, the Old Testament Law was to reflect the very heart of God and his values. Here then is a test for any nation: How do the laws treat the vulnerable in its midst? Is the engagement with those from the outside for exploitation and pushing them to the margins as inferior persons? Or, do the laws extend a hand in charity and justice to those who struggle?
As the United States looks to crafting new legislation or reworking what already is in place, what set of values will these laws project? Will legislation be about securing borders and accepting only those who can serve the national interest, or will it be committed to fundamental human rights and to the common good for all? These are not mutually exclusive considerations, but they truly speak to very distinct priorities that will inform the kinds of laws that will be put in place. What values do Christians desire enshrined in the legislation? What values does the nation want? The choices that are made at this fundamental level will be a testament to the things that really matter in this country.