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Heart and Sole

4 years ago written by
bishops

I was standing on a street corner in Asia when I realized that nearly everyone else was wearing flip-flops. I stood there in my brown Rockports, clearly an oddball, albeit a well-shod oddball.

Cold weather may have something to do with my shoe choices, but there are also cultural and economic forces in play. I stood there reflecting that there is a flip-flop world that is overpopulated and hungry, while there’s a close-toe-shoe world that is depopulating and overfed. The flip-flop world battles for daily survival. The smaller world of shoes frets about retirement plans.

The edges of the collision between those two worlds are called immigration. Most Western nations are in an immigration crisis. Because of low birthrates (Europe) and an elite workforce averse to manual labor (United States, Canada, Europe), economic forces are set in place that attract immigrants from opportunity-poor nations. The flip-flop world pours across the borders of the closed-toe-shoe world.

For Christians, there are two interwoven matters here: one labeled “immigration,” the other “immigrants.” The former is about economic policy; the latter is about people. The former is about a country’s right to establish laws; the latter is about the treatment of people, especially undocumented immigrants.

Christians agree on the second matter — that we always treat people with compassion and respect regardless of immigration status, living out the principle to “love your neighbor as yourself.” There is not (nor do I think there needs to be) agreement of thought on the former.

But those two tensions are not made of the same moral stuff. The Christian’s care for people operates on a higher moral plane than the Christian’s concern for economic policy. This higher plane is established in the gospel where we discover the dignity of every person and the presence of the Lord, who made Himself one with the immigrants when He said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35 ESV).

Consequently, followers of this “stranger” named Jesus are distinguished by their disproportionate care for other strangers in their communities. Local Free Methodist churches are to actively look for vulnerable immigrants and respond to their needs.

Nearly everyone recognizes that the U.S. immigration system is badly broken: Witness the large class of immigrants in the United States who are undocumented (approximately 11.5 million), largely due to our government’s system of limiting unskilled-temporary-worker visas (the H-2A and the H-2B visas). In 2012, the United States issued 65,000 and 50,000 of these visas
respectively. That’s a long way from 11.5 million! These visas are very difficult to get unless you’re a sheepherder. Seriously, sheepherders may apply for a 3-year visa and are welcome. It’s this kind of broken system that inhibits compliance with the law.

Undocumented immigrants are caught in the inconsistencies between U.S. law, which criminalizes them, and the U.S. economy, which would crash without them. They are shunted into a shadow world largely afraid to access health care, police protection, retirement programs and the welfare safety net.

Legislation has often been proposed during the past decade (2006, 2007 and 2012) to provide a guest-worker program with a legal path for temporary workers (like the Bracero program from 1942 to 1964), but the proposals have failed.

Because of this brokenness, we encourage within the Free Methodist Church enthusiastic advocacy for immigration reform. I personally believe a simple guest-worker program would relieve many of the factors that drive
undocumented workers into this country. Immigration reform should start there.

Yet the church’s primary methodology is not political reform. It is restored relationships, both vertically with God and horizontally with other people. Our commitment to political reform will always be subservient to our primary methodology of restored relationships. We lead people to a saving relationship with Jesus, we disciple the family of faith (especially our children and youth), we worship with our whole hearts — all of these are part of restoring relationships. Any position, attitude or action about immigration must find its place within the context of the gospel for the immigrant, the good news of relationships made whole.

Imagine a barefoot world: no flip-flops, no Rockports. All feet are pretty much the same. If you strip away the cultural trappings, histories and shoe choices, we were all created in the one image of God, all wrecked by evil, all desperate for a Savior and a community.

Christians have fresh memories of being outcasts; we too are recent immigrants into a new kingdom where none of us can claim birthright citizenship. We entered God’s kingdom with a foreign passport; now we are citizens!

So there is no pretension of entitlement among Christians. We remember too clearly what it felt like to be on the wrong side of the fence. “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth“ (Hebrews 11:13).

We too have been a flip-flop people, foreigners and strangers longing to enter a new land.

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