Thursday, May 20, 2010

What about “Illegal Aliens”?

Asia Sunday is a yearly event sponsored by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA). The CCA was founded in 1959, but it was called the East Asia Christian Conference until 1973. One of its main purposes has been, and still is, “the promotion and strengthening of the unity of the church in Asia.” (You can learn more about the CCA here.) I still have good memories of attending the 8th General Assembly of the CCA held in Seoul in 1985.

Last month the 13th General Assembly of the CCA was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The theme of that gathering was “Called to Prophesy, Reconcile, and Heal,” and the key Bible passage was Luke 4:14-30.

For many years now, the CCA has designated the Sunday before Pentecost “Asia Sunday,” so my sermon at the Hirao Baptist Church on May 16 was linked to that event and my message was based on Luke 4, since the same scripture and theme were used for Asia Sunday as for the CCA Assembly.

On May 2 when Dr. Tom Sine preached at Second Baptist Church, he used the first part of the Luke 4 passage about Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. But the climax of that passage is when Jesus began to talk favorably about Gentiles. It was Jesus’ affirmation of God’s preferential treatment of the “foreigners” that ticked off Jesus’ hearers and got him run out of town.

The problem of undocumented immigrants has been much in U.S. news recently, especially because of the new law in Arizona. It some ways, it is hard for me to join the widespread opposition to that law, for it is basically what we lived with in Japan for thirty-eight years. During all those years we had to carry an Alien Registration Certificate or be subject to detention until such was produced.

For many years now “illegal aliens” have been a problem in Japan, with more than half of those being from Korea, China, and the Philippines, although the total number and also the percent of fuho taizaisha is far, far less than in the U.S.

Is there any difference if we look at the “illegals” from the standpoint of Christian faith (with love and compassion) as opposed to seeing them from the viewpoint of an American (or Japanese) citizen? Does God favor keeping desperately poor people out of the United States (or Japan, or other of the wealthier countries) and punishing those who are not able to enter legally?

Or as the liberation theologians like to say, does God have a preferential option for the poor? And if so, what should we think and do in response?


  1. Good blog posting! Yes, Sometimes I question whether God has a preference for the poor simply because of a lack of economic wherewithal, since I believe that God looks at the hearts of all...especially the down and out, and the up and out...

    It seems to me that those who are "poor in spirit" do not realize that they are miserable wretches, and it is the mission of those who are aware they are in Christ's embrace to tell them that God is on their side. But turning to
    the illegal alien issue, I applaud what you have written, Dr. Seat. My deepest conviction in this area is that we are all connected. The lies of tribalism and nationalism, which are fed by the roots of greed and fear coming from high places, encourage us to "otherize" those who seem different. But they are not. If recent findings in DNA tracing tell us anything, they confirm what the Bible has told us all along -- we are all connected. All of us are related. It is when we swallow the myth that "they" are not one of "us" that evil laws are passed, and worse still, wars are waged upon ourselves.

    I am fed up with the secular and materialist form of fundamentalism, which tells those in living in gated communities (be they physical or ideological) that those who serve them in silence are potentially their enemies. This tragedy has been played out in Western Empires stretching back as far as Rome/

  2. The opposition to the Arizona law is not directed toward requiring "aliens" to carry documentation (my Canadian husband has to carry his green card all the time). The opposition to the law is widespread because it requires police to demand paperwork from those who they have a "reasonable suspicion" are illegal. In Arizona, where "legal" Hispanics comprise 30% of the population, it is clear that this law will lead to racial profiling. One can imagine all kinds of situations where Hispanics who are U.S. citizens will be harassed--or worse--because of this law.

  3. Well stated. The most serious issues about "illegal" immigrants are those who come here to cause trouble, or to live a life of leisure (5 years, plus available) on the state. However, most come here to be productive and to live the American Dream, and to help support family from whence they came. And many legal immigrants and citizens abuse the laws and charity of our land.

    Border security is a serious issue because the "bad guys" can get in so easily, even with the support of the Mexican military, which is well documented. Per testimony in Congress, the "bad guys" from the middle east slip in through the Mexican border regularly as well - NPR had a good program on this.

    The Christian mandate to assist and welcome immigrants is completely scriptural, but so is living by the law of the land - which desperately needs to be reformed on many fronts related to immigration. But we have no unified national vision for immigration. It is not even a partisan issue.

  4. Illegal aliens are the canaries in the global coal mine. We must think outside the box. Way outside the box. Our entire world culture is in great jeopardy. To find one symptom of the crisis, and isolate it as a "problem" is to miss the real problem. We need to rethink how we do everything from corporate governance to drug laws to sex education to environmental protection. We need to see how all these issues are interconnected.

    As one example, look at the chaos in Mexico. The President of Mexico was just here, begging the United States to do something about the market in assault rifles. A starkly divided Congress listened to his appeal. Tens of thousands of Mexicans are dying due to our American War on Drugs. Do we think this has nothing to do with desperate people becoming illegal aliens in America? The population of Mexico has soared even faster than that of America. Is that a factor? Does that mean that sex education and birth control, or the lack thereof, are factors in illegal immigration? NAFTA turned out to be even more brutal on Mexico than on the United States. Our subsidized farmers have driven many of Mexico's farmers out of business. More illegal aliens. When will we finally sit down and honestly talk to Mexico about our mutual issues, and what needs to happen to make Mexico a modern country? When will we face the real issues that threaten to undo America? The devastation created by Wall Street might well be found to be a much worse threat to American prosperity than illegal aliens. Our huge appetite for illegal drugs has made America a net agricultural importer for decades. The drugs we buy are worth more than all the wheat and corn we sell. And our War on Drugs has created monsters worse than Al Capone, the face of that other prohibition.

    Jesus said that the love of money is the root of all evil. That is a terribly hard saying, bringing down judgment on almost all of us. Somehow we must parse that saying to find what we must learn, to find a way to save both the aliens and ourselves. Check your family tree. Chances are, not too far back, you will find an alien. Check your children's future. You might even find another one there. People have always been on the move.

  5. Craig has suggested that the focal problem is economic; let me encourage readers to go to the Center for Immigration Studies' website for a lineup of serious studies that lay out the depth of the question's complexities as well as its intractability. In the end, if one evaluates solutions on the basis of cost to the federal budget, enforcing current immigration laws--however admittedly Draconian they may be--seems the most economical. That is a very difficult box to think one's way out of, indeed, and yet probably provides the key to understanding the expedient ways policy-makers formulate opinions.