Tag Archives: Christian groups

What Open Borders Can Learn from the Abolition of Slavery

I occasionally hear people linking gay marriage and open borders. Thus, Jose Antonio Vargas (whom I wrote about here and heresays:

We are fighting for more than immigration reform. We are fighting for the dignity of people and liberation. More than anything Define American is trying to change media and culture. Again, LGBT rights would not have happened without culture shifting.

And Charles Kenny, in “Why Immigration is the New Gay Marriage,” writes:

The evolution of public attitudes toward gay marriage—which a majority of Americans now support—demonstrates that cultural shifts can be dramatic and rapid when circumstances are right. Perhaps U.S. citizens will start realizing that more people aspiring to become Americans is no threat to the institutions of America, just as they have come to accept that more people wanting to get married—some to people of the same sex—is no threat to the institution of marriage.

I’ll explain in a follow-up post why I don’t think open borders can expect to get much benefit from riding the coattails of, or emulating, the gay marriage movement. First, I want to describe the historical movement that open borders does resemble, and which it should emulate, namely: the movement to abolish slavery.

An excellent short history of the abolition of slavery, in Chapter 5 of his book For the Glory of God by sociologist Rodney Stark, which correctly treats it as part of the history of Christian social justice, begins with a sad history of this deplorable institution, which “has… been a nearly universal feature of ‘civilization’ [and] was also common in a number of ‘aboriginal’ societies that were sufficiently affluent to afford it– for example, slavery was very prevalent among the Northwest Indians,” and which, in fact, before the advent of Christian social justice, essentially occurred wherever “the average person can produce sufficient surplus that it becomes profitable for someone to own him or her” (Stark, p. 292-293). Stark describes slavery among the Northwest Coast Indians; in classical Greece and Rome; in the Muslim world; in black Africa long before the Atlantic slave trade; and in the New World in modern times. Stark pays less attention to China– space is limited, after all– but slavery also existed there.

The Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, though the Mosaic law does greatly ameliorate it:

Although Jews were prohibited from enslaving their fellow Jews, and their slaves therefore came from among the “heathen,” there were still severe limits on their treatment. Death was decreed for any Jewish master who killed a slave. The Torah admonished that freedom was to be awarded any slave as compensation for suffering acts of violence: “And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake” (Exodus 21:26-27). Hebrew law held that children of slaves must not be parted from their parents, nor a wife from her husband. Moreover, in Deuteronomy 23:15-16 Jews were admonished not to return escaped slaves: “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escape from his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, even among you… thou shalt not oppress him.” (Stark, p. 328)

Is it embarrassing that God condones slavery in the Mosaic Law? In such cases, one must be careful not to kick away the ladder by which we ascended. Christians believe that God is trying to redeem fallen mankind. That sometimes means meeting fallen man where he is at a given time, improving him by small steps, and condoning much that is defective with respect to loftier ethical standards that he may attain later. Compared to the brutal exploitation of slaves by so many other civilizations, slavery as prescribed in the Mosaic law is humane. Jesus later told the Pharisees that Moses had permitted men to divorce their wives “because of the hardness of your hearts” (Matthew 19:8), and I think (and more importantly, Christians have long held) that the same principle applies to much of the Mosaic law. It was a kind of compromise between ethical perfection and human weakness. The subsequent history of the Jews shows how little they were able even to live up to this limited standard. But in the teachings of Jesus the fullness of ethical perfection was revealed, and this rendered obsolete some of the rituals and minor rules, and especially the imperfections and compromises, of the Mosaic law.

Yet even in the New Testament, slaves are told to obey their masters by both St. Peter– see 1 Peter 2:18— and St. Paul– see Ephesians 6:5 and Colossians 3:22. I don’t find these passages troubling, because I see them as instances of Jesus’s teaching to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) and, in general, to submit to coercion and even give more than what is demanded: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41). After all, if we ought to serve our fellow men, then why should it be an unmitigated evil to be legally bound to serve one of our fellow men? More troubling, possibly, is that in advising the Ephesians, St. Paul does not command Christian masters to manumit their slaves, saying only “And masters, do the same things [i.e., render sincere service] to them [i.e., to your slaves], and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (Ephesians 6:9). Certainly for masters to serve their slaves and to stop threatening them is a step in the right direction, but how can any kind of slavery, even an ameliorated form, be compatible with the Gospel of love?

I would offer three defenses of St. Paul here. First, the apostles weren’t trying to make a secular political revolution, for which they didn’t have the strength, but to save souls, to work a moral transformation from within. Had they attempted to launch a revolution against slavery, the Roman Empire would have crushed them. Even semi-public exhortations to manumission in letters to churches might have been dangerous. Second, this is another case of God meeting us where we are, and not giving us moral standards we’re not yet ready to live by. What would masters in the early Ephesian church have done, had St. Paul commanded them to manumit all their slaves? Let’s assume it would have been good for their souls as well as their slaves if they had obeyed. But, perhaps they would not have obeyed, but left the church instead. Would that justify Paul in limiting his exhortations to good treatment rather than manumission? I think so. Third, what happens to a manumitted slave? Don’t think of the ancient Roman Empire as a modern capitalist economy where any random person can find a job and support himself. A typical slave would probably have trouble making it on his or her own. To urge masters to manumit their slaves into isolation and destitution might have been no mercy. The slaveless society was a social model yet to be developed.

Theologian David Bentley Hart describes (in his book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, pp. 176ff.) the attitudes of the early Church fathers towards slavery…

The attitudes of many of the fathers of the church toward slavery ranged from (at best) resigned acceptance to (at worst) a kind of prudential approval. All of them regarded slavery as a mark of sin, of course, and all could take some comfort in the knowledge that, at the restoration of creation in the Kingdom of God, it would vanish altogether. They even understood that this expectation necessarily involved certain moral implications for the present. But, for most of them, the best that could be hoped for within a fallen world (apart from certain legal reforms) was a spirit of charity, gentleness, and familial regard on the part of masters and a spirit of longsuffering on the part of servants. Basil of Caesarea found it necessary to defend the subjection of some men to others, on the grounds that not all are capable of governing themselves wisely and virtuously. John Chrysostom dreamed of a perfect (probably eschatological) society in which none would rule over another, celebrated the extension of legal rights and protections to slaves, and fulminated against Christian masters who would dare to humiliate or beat their slaves. Augustine, with his darker, colder, more brutal vision of the fallen world, disliked slavery but did not think it wise always to spare the rod, at least not when the welfare of the soul should take precedence over the welfare of the flesh. Each of them knew that slavery was essentially a damnable thing– which in itself was a considerable advance in moral intelligence over the ethos of pagan antiquity– but damnation, after all, is reserved for the end of time; none of them found it possible to convert that eschatological certainty into a program for the present… Given the inherently restive quality of the human moral imagination, it is only natural that certain of the moral values of the pagan past should have lingered on so long into the Christian era, just as any number of Christian moral values continue today to enjoy a tacit and largely unexamined authority in minds and cultures that no longer believe the Christian story.

It is in this context that a certain stunning insight occurred to a certain 4th-century theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, to whom, as far as I can tell, the abolition of slavery may be traced.

And yet– confusingly enough for any conventional calculation of history probability– there is Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s younger and more brilliant brother, who sounded a very different note, one that almost seems to have issued from some altogether different frame of reality. At least, one searches in vain through the literary remains of antiquity– pagan, Jewish, or Christian– for any other document remotely comparable in tone or content to Gregory’s fourth sermon on the book of Ecclesiastes, which he preached during Lent in 379, and which comprises a long passage unequivocally and indignantly condemning slavery as an institution. That is to say, in this sermon Gregory does not simply treat slavery as an extravagance in which Christians ought not to indulge beyond the dictates of necessity, nor does he confine himself to denouncing the injustices and cruelties of which slaveholders are frequently guilty. These things one would naturally expect, since moral admonitions and exhortations to repentance are part of the standard Lenten repertoire of any competent homilist. Moreover, ever since 321, when Constantine had granted the churches the power of legally certifying manumissions (the power of manumissio in ecclesia), propertied Christians had often taken Easter as an occasion for emancipating slaves, and Gregory was no doubt hoping to encourage his parishioners to follow the custom. But if all he had wanted to do was recommend manumission as a spiritual hygiene or as a gesture of benevolence, he could have done so quite (and perhaps more) effectively by using a considerably more temperate tone than one actually finds in his sermon. For there he directs his anger not at the abuse of slavery but at its use; he reproaches his parishioners not for mistreating their slaves but for daring to imagine that they have the right to own other human beings in the first place.

One cannot overemphasize this distinction. On occasion, scholars who have attempted to make this sermon conform to their expectations of fourth century rhetoric have tried to read it as belonging to some standard type of penitential oration, perhaps rather more hyperbolic in some of its language but ultimately intended to do no more than impress the consciences of its hearers with the need for humility… [But] Gregory’s language in the sermon is simply too unambiguous to be read as anything other than what it is. He leaves no room for Christian slaveholders to console themselves with the thought that they, at any rate, are merciful masters, generous enough to liberate the occasional worthy servant but wise enough to know when they must continue to exercise stewardship over less responsible souls. He certainly could have done just this; he begins his diatribe (which is not too strong a word) with a brief exegetical excursus on a single, rather unexpectional verse, Eccesiastes 2:7 (“I got me male and female slaves, and had my home-born slaves as well”); a text that would seem to invite only a few bracing imprecations against luxuriance and sloth, and nothing more. As he warms to his theme, however, Gregory goes well beyond this…

Continue reading “What Open Borders Can Learn from the Abolition of Slavery” »

Will Immigration Advocacy Contribute to the Competitiveness of Churches?

So my recent post The Coming Catholic Movement for Freedom of Migration seems to be convincing some people. Not convincing people to support open borders, but convincing people that the Catholic Church supports open borders. Actually, I shouldn’t take credit. It’s not my arguments, but a statement of the Catholic bishops, that convinced a blogger to write acerbically about The One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Open-Borders Church. I merely drew attention to their statement.

Mangan’s writes:

It would be an understatement to call the writers at Open Borders immigration enthusiasts; they make the Democratic and Republican parties look like pikers. And even they have found an organization that appears at least as enthusiastic about immigration as they are: the U.S. Catholic Church [links to my post].

The post and the comments that follow partly criticize the Catholic bishops on what might be called Catholic grounds. Most interestingly, one commenter digs up a quote from Thomas Aquinas which I may quote in another thread. But some of the comments attack Christianity itself. For example:

“Most Christian leaders today are girly men.”

“Who cares what the church says or thinks?… Christianity has nothing to do with the truth.”

“The Catholic Church, and Christianity in general in the 21st century, calls on all white nations and only white nations to be lambs to the slaughter…”

“The Catholic Church has only secondarily — if at all — a spiritual mission. Today’s Church is a worldwide corporation, its main difference from Coca-Cola being that its wealth and investments are untaxed…”

“Pope John Paul II is rumored to have been Jewish by birth and once married with children… Communists as seminarians [have] infiltrated the church in the thousands.”

All this raises an interesting question: can churches afford to promote freedom of migration? If churches teach the Biblical view of immigration, and members disagree with it, why should they listen? Why shouldn’t they conclude that the church is a sinister conspiracy of international Jewish girly men determined to extirpate the white race through lies and slander, for the sake of profit? Why shouldn’t they stand up and storm out?

Religion can be thought of as a competitive marketplace. There is competition at several levels: among major religions; among Christian denominations; between Christianity, secular humanism, and other worldviews for people’s credence; between churches and the world for people’s time and money; within congregations about which activities– youth ministry, music, international missions, poor relief, etc.– will get funding and personnel; between liberals and conservatives to determine policy with congregations and jurisdictions; between priests for parishes; between parishes of the same denomination within a city, etc.

All this competition gives us reason to suspect that Christian churches aren’t really in charge of their own message. Rather, they’re constrained to satisfy customer demand. Pastors who tell people what they don’t want to hear will either get replaced, or else see their congregations dwindle until their parishes become unsustainable. We should see successful pastors teaching what their congregations want to hear. That’s not to say they are insincere. They might be. Some pastors may preach what their congregations like to keep their jobs. More honorably, pastors may downplay unpopular tenets of the faith in order to keep parishioners coming who would otherwise leave, and lose the beneficent influence that (the pastor thinks) even a watered-down Christianity has. But selection rather than adaptation may explain agreement between pastors and their congregations. Pastors who happen to say what the age likes get jobs and see their congregations grow. Pastors who say what it hates, don’t. And what one generation of pastors is silent about, the next generation hardly knows, having not grown up hearing it. And so, by this account, the religious marketplace will ensure that the content of Christian teachings will adapt itself to the times.

Now, I think there’s some truth to the cynical view in the above paragraph, and that’s part of the answer to John Lee’s question, “Why Don’t Christians Care More About Open Borders?” However favorable the Bible may be to open borders, the way the Church is enmeshed in society tends to distort and selectively censor the Christian message at any given moment in history, and often the parts of Christian teaching which are especially unwelcome get partially hidden. So “welcome the stranger” is either not taught, or is taught in an indefensibly moderate way, relative to what “love thy neighbor” would really demand in a world where vast inequalities in economic opportunity and political and religious freedom are largely driven by the accident of place of birth.

What is really striking for me, however, is how little the cynical, demand-side view holds true, when it seems at first glance so plausible. Superficially, Christianity does change with the times, it gets watered down and complacent. But real Christianity is always lying in wait to shine through all the compromises. And the result is that while the lukewarm Christians of former ages seem very alien to the modern Christian, the zealous Christians seem intimately familiar. It would be very difficult, at this distance, to understand the court of the empress Aelia Eudoxia, persecutor of St. John Chrysostom. But the writings of St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) are no more, and no less, psychologically remote from a devout Orthodox Christian than those of St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) or Tikhon Shevkunov (contemporary author of the bestselling Everyday Saints). The distance between myself and any of these three writers is not one of time, but one of sanctity. They are far above me, but they are not at all out of date. They have the same quality about them, and its name is Christianity. Only at a lower level of sanctity is there a 4th-century Byzantine Christianity and an 18th-century Methodist Christianity and a 20th-century English Christianity and a 21st-century Russian Christianity. At a higher level, all these converge. C.S. Lewis and Athanasius are almost interchangeable. The Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton described near the end of his book, The Everlasting Man, the strange and wonderful feeling that he and I and many others have experienced of coming into the full, living presence of a Christianity we had only glimpsed in the faraway past:

There are people who say they wish Christianity to remain as a spirit. They mean, very literally, that they wish it to remain as a ghost. But it is not going to remain as a ghost. What follows this process of apparent death is not the lingering of the shade; it is the resurrection of the body. These people are quite prepared to shed pious and reverential tears over the Sepulchre of the Son of Man; what they are not prepared for is the Son of God walking once more upon the hills of morning. These people, and indeed most people, were indeed by this time quite accustomed to the idea that the old Christian candle-light would fade into the light of common day. To many of them it did quite honestly appear like that pale yellow flame of a candle when it is left burning in daylight. It was all the more unexpected, and therefore all the more unmistakable, that the sevenbranched candle-stick suddenly towered to heaven like a miraculous tree and flamed until the sun turned pale. But other ages have seen the day conquer the candle-light and then the candle-light conquer the day. Again and again, before our time, men have grown content with a diluted doctrine. And again and again there has followed on that dilution, coming as out of the darkness in a crimson cataract, the strength of the red original wine. And we only say once more to-day as has been said many times by our fathers: `Long years and centuries ago our fathers or the founders of our people drank, as they dreamed, of the blood of God. Long years and centuries have passed since the strength of that giant vintage has been anything but a legend of the age of giants. Centuries ago already is the dark time of the second fermentation, when the wine of Catholicism turned into the vinegar of Calvinism. Long since that bitter drink has been itself diluted; rinsed out and washed away by the waters of oblivion and the wave of the world. Never did we think to taste again even that bitter tang of sincerity and the spirit, still less the richer and the sweeter strength of the purple vineyards in our dreams of the age of gold. Day by day and year by year we have lowered our hopes and lessened our convictions; we have grown more and more used to seeing those vats and vineyards overwhelmed in the water-floods and the last savour and suggestion of that special element fading like a stain of purple upon a sea of grey. We have grown used to dilution, to dissolution, to a watering down and went on forever. But Thou hast kept the good wine until now.’

Against the cynical half-truth that the churches have to say what the age wants to be competitive, I see a deeper reality, that the Christian message is always latent, and I see in history the pattern, that that message repeatedly shines through and shatters the transient compromises.

Christian churches have always, albeit in varying degrees, distinguished God and Caesar, and regarded some matters are primarily Caesar’s realm, concerning which the church should remain on the sidelines. However, law and society and morals and faith are too interwoven for there ever to be a clear and clean separation of church and state. Churches may feel it appropriate to take stands on morally charged political issues. In some cases, they have to do so, because their own practical business is directly affected. It is possible to ask, then, whether a particular issue stance contributes to the competitiveness of churches. To illustrate the point, I’ll compare two issues: (a) gay marriage, and (b) immigration.

Gay marriage.

I’m sorry to say that I think Christianity will lose ground in America in the next generation because of its stance on gay marriage (as this study, for example, suggests). I also think that churches that remain staunch in their opposition to gay marriage will gain market share within the diminished ranks of Christians.

With 70% of young people favoring gay marriage, it seems unlikely that 77% of Americans will continue to self-identify as Christian. After all, both the Old and New Testaments clearly define homosexuality as a sin, and gay marriage contradicts two thousand years of universal Christian practice. If young people disagree with the Bible about this, they’ll feel growing cognitive dissonance in church. Many will leave.

Of course, there are a few churches, such as the United Church of Canada and some Swedenborgians, that recognize same-sex marriage. More churches probably will do so. The trouble is that in adopting the fashionable view on this issue, they fatally weaken the logic of Christianity as a whole. “Is the Bible the Word of God or not?” members will inevitably ask. “If so, why do we approve what it condemns? If not, why should we pay attention to it at all?”

Such churches lose members in both directions. Some will think Christianity true and go to other churches where it is still taught. Some, following their leaders’ concessions to their logical conclusions, will think Christianity false and look for other communities, other principles, and other things to do on Sunday morning.

Immigration

There are a number of tactical reasons why “welcome the stranger” might be a shrewd message for contemporary Christian churches to emphasize. One is triangulation. A church that feels constrained to be on the “right” of the emerging consensus on gay marriage earns political capital with members who are more on the “right,” but risks losing people on the “left.” A strongly “left” stance on immigration might alienate members on the “right,” but if churches are the last bastion of support for traditional family values, conservatives may have nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, members on the “left” who are alienated by the church’s stance on gay marriage might be pleased by the church’s stance on immigration just enough to stay in.

Again, some Christians today find themselves obligated to violate anti-discrimination laws by refusing to participate in gay “wedding” ceremonies and thus endorsing a false belief about what marriage is. If Christian churches recognize that it’s right to violate the law on an issue of conscience like this, shouldn’t they also recognize that it might be right for someone in a poor or a totalitarian country to violate US law in order to earn enough to feed their families, or to practice their religion freely? And if undocumented immigrants are sometimes right to break US law, doesn’t it follow that the law is unjust and ought to be changed, just as anti-discrimination laws that violate freedom of religion ought to be changed?

Most fundamentally, though, the tactical merits of immigration advocacy for enhancing the competitiveness of Christian churches are linked to the Biblical case for open borders and its consistency with New Testament ethics. If people in the pews dislike what they hear from the pulpit, it matters whether the priest or preacher has the Bible on his side or not. If he (or she) is preaching gay marriage, he clearly doesn’t, and the parishioners’ belief in Christianity becomes the wedge that separates them from the church. But when the US Catholic bishops make a statement that all-but-endorses open borders, honest people among the Roman Catholic faithful, even if they don’t like the stance, must admit that the bishops have a strong case to make. They can’t plausibly regard the bishops as apostates for saying it. They can contest it, by quoting Thomas Aquinas or trying to offer different interpretations in the Bible, and the fact that they can do this is a reason for them to stay in. After all, if your preacher endorses gay marriage, and you disagree, what can you say? You can’t argue from the Bible, because he obviously doesn’t regard it as authoritative on the question. But if you think the bishops are making an honest mistake, you can argue with them, from traditional Christian sources.

At the end of the day, seeing the way public opinion has turned against them in the last couple of decades, Christian churches should be eager to elect a new people.

Why don’t Christians care more about open borders?

We’ve blogged a fair bit in the past about how Christianity demands open borders. It doesn’t get more simple than “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Co-blogger Nathan Smith has time and again (and again) taken to task restrictionists who co-opt the Bible in a hamhanded attempt to claim border restrictions and all the inhumanity they entail are ordained by God himself. Co-blogger Paul Crider has pointed out that if Christians take the Bible seriously, they need to speak out strongly against the evil of arbitrary border restrictions. Given all this, it seems to me that more than anything, the church today should be one of the strongest advocates for open borders. Yet, some of the Pope’s recent calls for greater humanitarian aid for migrants aside, migration seems to be hardly on the Christian agenda, if it is on there at all. Churches may pay migration lip service, but it seems like Christian institutions in general are far more concerned about homosexuality and contraception than they are about open borders. This is puzzling, when surely Christian doctrine must militate just as strongly for open borders as it does for almost any other social issue the church is focused on today.

I’ve read Nathan’s and Paul’s arguments before, and found them convincing, but I had forgotten about them until recently, when Evan blogged about Orson Scott Card’s views on immigration. Evan linked to a piece by Card reflecting on how Republicans in 2012 tarred and feathered Rick Perry for his defence of guaranteeing equal university subsidies to Texan residents regardless of immigration status. Evan didn’t focus on this, but one interesting part of Card’s piece was how vehemently he insisted that liberal immigration policies are clearly mandated by the Bible:

I think it’s worth pointing out, when we’re discussing how to treat the children of non-citizens in America, what the Lord said to the people of Israel as they were dividing the land near the temple site among the tribes:

“So shall ye divide this land unto you according to the tribes of Israel.

“And it shall come to pass, that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you, which shall beget children among you: and they shall be unto you as born in the country among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel.

“And it shall come to pass, that in what tribe the stranger sojourneth, there shall ye give him his inheritance, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel 47:21-23).

Now, this seems a clear principle to me, that God tells his people to share their inheritance with the children of strangers who dwell among them.

I’m quite aware that those of you who, as Perry said, have no heart, probably are already composing elaborate explanations of why God really means the opposite of the plain language of the scripture.

This prompted me to reread Nathan’s and Paul’s posts, especially the ones that explicitly rebut ostensibly Biblical restrictionist arguments. It amazed me just how spot on Card was when he pointed out that the Bible does not mince its words — and that you have to really twist the Bible to come up with any meaningful defence of the status quo, where we treat people who cross borders in search of a better life as if they are violent enemies of the state.

The other thing that came to my mind was how this might stack up against what the Bible has to say about other forms of inequality that our societies promote, either via social norms or by direct government action. The Bible says there is no Greek nor Jew, no slave nor free, no male nor female — yet for centuries, it was thought that the Bible is completely okay with enslaving people or treating women as inferior. Given how apathetic or antipathic most Christians seem to be about open borders, it seems fair to say even today, people think the Bible is completely fine with treating someone as an enemy before knowing anything about him other than his nationality — despite what Galatians says.

Galatians is not the last word, even if it sums up universal moral rights succinctly. Other Bible verses clearly come to bear on questions of equity and equality. A few months ago, I was browsing around the blog of Rachel Held Evans, a notable Christian blogger, and found her take on the Biblicalness (or lack of it) of slavery abolition:

…the fact of the matter is, the pro-slavery side had more going for it in the way of proof texts. Slavery apologists could cite passages like Genesis 17:2, Deuteronomy 20:10-11, 1 Corinthians 7:21, Ephesians 6:1-5, Colossians 3:18-25; 4:1, and I Timothy 6:1-2 to support their case. They pointed out that slavery was practiced by the people of Israel and regulated by God, and that Jesus never said a word against slaveholding. Even the apostle Paul instructs an escaped slave, Onesimus, to return to his master, they observed. Notably, many of the texts in question are the exact same texts—the Household Codes of Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter—that are used today to support gender hierarchy in the home.

Many Bible-believing Christians, including those who were uncomfortable with slavery, just weren’t buying the abolitionist argument that placed the “spirit of the law” over the “letter of the law.” As Connecticut Congregationalist Leonard Bacon put it: “The evidence that there were both slaves and masters of slaves in churches founded and directed by the apostles, cannot be got rid of without resorting to methods of interpretation that will get rid of everything.”

I see Bacon’s dilemma, don’t you? Frankly, I’m glad I wasn’t trying to make a biblical case for abolition in the 19th century. I’m not sure I could have…or would have. Which is kind of sobering, right?

I have to agree: it’s incredibly sobering just how blatantly a by-the-letter-of-the-law reading of the Bible can lead one to blindly support the slavery or subordination of our fellow human beings. But what strikes me is how, in all the discussion I’ve seen of what the Bible has to say about immigration, we open borders advocates simply do not face the same conundrums that Christian abolitionists or Christian feminists once faced: the plain text of the Bible demands a large measure of equality irrespective of nationality.

Let’s go back to Card. His blustering condemnations of homosexuality make it surprising that he with such similar fervour demands open borders and liberal treatment of foreigners. But both of these make sense when you consider that all he is doing is applying the plain literal text of what he believes to be God’s word.

Now, as Christians, Card and I may disagree quite strongly about what God has to say about how we should treat our homosexual brothers and sisters. Here, I would have to follow the well-worn track of the Christian abolitionists and feminists who’ve come before us, and focus on the spirit of Christianity as revealed in the Bible, and summarised so well in Galatians: all human beings are created equal in dignity by God, and whatever you as a fellow human think of our sins or shortcomings, it is not your place to judge us, and it is not your place to punish or subordinate others for their sins or shortcomings. A system of justice is necessary, no doubt — but the Christian tradition is to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render to God what is God’s. The judicial system should not enforce our personal judgments of others. However we might feel about blacks, women, gays, or foreigners, or what we might think the Bible says of them, it is not our place to force Caesar to enforce God’s judgment on others.

But I don’t need to take this tack with immigration restrictionists. All I need to do is to follow Card’s approach towards homosexuality, and quote the plain words of the Bible at those who want to oppress immigrants in the name of God. When God made the laws of Israel in Leviticus 19, he said: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Lv 19:15) He said: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Lv 19:34-35) Now, to be fair, in this same chapter, God also makes the law: “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” (Lv 19:27) I’m guessing on this basis, you could well argue that the entirety of Leviticus should just be discarded. But the fact remains: if we are to blindly follow the letter of God’s instructions to us, we must abolish discrimination against foreigners in our governments’ policies.

You can certainly find verses in the Bible that might suggest some discrimination against foreigners is Biblical. But you cannot find any verses which contradict the basic principle, which is made clear in Leviticus, Ezekiel, and Galatians: do not mistreat immigrants, but love them as you love yourself. Treat their children the same way you would treat your children. All of us are human beings equal in fundamental rights and dignity. As Nathan’s said before,

In the debate among Christians about slavery in the 19th century, abolitionists tended to apply the loftier ethics taught in the New Testament, love thy neighbor and the Golden Rule and “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me,” (Matthew 25:40), while apologists for slavery were more literalist, observing that Peter and Paul told slaves to obey their masters, and the patriarchs had slaves, and the Bible never seems to call for or envision a world without slavery. In the case of migration restrictions, too, the higher ethics of the New Testament clearly point towards open borders, but the difference is that the words of the Old Testament, too, quite literally and directly support welcoming the stranger in a fashion that there seems to be no sound warrant for interpreting otherwise than as a template for open borders.

Why then do Christians not heed the word of God and speak out against the grave injustices our governments and societies wreak upon innocent immigrants every day? Why do we not demand justice for the foreigner who wants to work in our country and contribute to our society? The restrictionist is quick to say that God has ordained international borders and we cannot contradict him — fair enough, but we don’t need to abolish borders, we just need to open them. The best defence I can see for the Christian restrictionist, ironically, is that Christians should not be trying to impose our values on the secular political system: render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.

This template for political disengagement might make sense, but I simply don’t see how most intellectually honest Christians can buy it. I think it’s fair to say most, or at least a lot of Christians want to do what is morally right by God. If we see harm being done, harm that goes against the moral principles laid down by our religion, it’s our obligation to do something about that harm. One thing we can do is, while avoiding confronting the actors behind these evils, help the victims of these harms. Churches can offer sanctuary and aid to immigrants who are being hunted by the state. And you can certainly make the argument that the church ought to do more. As Nathan’s observed before, Christians in democracies are sovereign citizens who have a say in making policy. There is nothing stopping Christians from vocally supporting and voting for leaders who would support an end to the global war on immigrants.

This is a different kettle of fish from using Christian morality as a basis to harm or oppress others. You can be a Christian who wants to use the power of the state to punish non-Christians, or to use the power of the state to punish people who sin by Christian standards. But you can also be a Christian who rejects Christian morality as a basis for harming or punishing others, while still embracing Christian morality as a basis for using the state to prevent people from coming to harm. I think there is a clear difference between these two types of Christians, and their respective kinds of political activism.

Immigration restrictions are a clear form of harm and oppression. They harm and oppress anywhere from “just” hundreds of millions to literally billions of people. And they do this in a very clear and unBiblical manner: by mistreating foreigners as if they are scum, rather than loving foreigners like we love ourselves. We do not need to demand that our governments provide equal measures of “social justice” or socioeconomic guarantees to all; Nathan himself has argued before that a modest amount of citizenism is still totally compatible with open borders and the fundamental principle of guaranteeing equal protection of the law to all, as Leviticus 19:15 instructs us. All we need to do is to demand the same basic rights for immigrants that we expect to be accorded ourselves: the right to live with, and take care of our own families. The right to work for an employer who offers us wages we are willing to accept.

The Bible does not waver on the point that we must love all humans as we love ourselves, irrespective of nationality. You might argue it’s infeasible to treat all humans as we treat our fellow citizens. But it’s impossible to treat all humans equally; that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive towards it. It’s easy to dismiss an idea as impractical without deep consideration. Unfortunately, I worry that this exact sort of dismissal is why Christians don’t give open borders the attention or consideration it so clearly demands. Rachel Held Evans concluded her discussion of abolitionism by noting a passage from the abolitionist tract Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

Noll points to a great scene from Uncle Tom’s Cabin in which Mary Bird tries to make the case for taking in runaway slaves based on Christ’s teachings in Matthew 25. John Bird’s response to his wife’s perspective made me laugh out loud: “But, Mary, just listen to me. Your feelings are all quite right, dear, and interesting, and I love you for them; but, then, dear, we mustn’t suffer our feelings to run away without our judgment.”

I underlined that bit and wrote in the margins of my book, “sounds familiar!”

I worry that this is why the church does not take open borders more seriously. The governments of the world spend billions of dollars a year to point guns at unarmed civilians seeking a better life — civilians who the Bible has commanded us to love as if they are ourselves. If we take the Bible seriously at all, we have to heed both its letter and its spirit. If Christians are going to say they can’t follow through on what the Bible commands because it’s just far too impractical for us imperfect human beings to manage, they need to be sure they truly have a watertight case for that claim. As far as I can tell from the empirics, there is no such watertight case. Regardless of where one stands on social issues like homosexuality or contraception, it seems to me impossible to deny that the global war on migrants is a war on the family, a war on human life and human dignity. It is a mystery to me why the church as an institution and Christians as individuals appear so nonchalant and blasé about the evils of closed borders.

The painting featured in the header of this post depicts a scene from the Bible’s Book of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite who married an Israeli immigrant to Moab, and later herself immigrated to Israel after being widowed.

The pope rails against “an economy of exclusion” (and I tentatively like it)

Many free market economists have taken umbrage at the pope’s seeming attack on free market economics. My perspective is quite different. Perhaps I have an advantage here, being both a free-market economist (at least, so I’d describe myself) and an Orthodox Christian, which is kind of close to being a Catholic. (Belief-wise, I’m probably a lot closer to being an orthodox Catholic than the typical nominal Catholic is.) Scott Sumner says that “it’s actually difficult to make sense of the Pope’s statement.” I’d put it differently: it’s difficult to map the Pope’s statement into concrete policy positions, since it is in a language of theology and moral exhortation and appropriately avoids being mappable into partisan politics. I’ll focus on the section entitled “No to an economy of exclusion,” page 45.

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

We should say “‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of… inequality?” That’s crazy! Inequality arises inevitably from people’s free use of their persons and property rights, as well as the accidents of nature, and could only be eliminated with some kind of Bolshevik leveling, inevitably bloody, and destructive of incentives to be productive.

Ah, but the pope didn’t say that. He said we should say “‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.” Logically, an economy of inequality but not exclusion might be acceptable. So maybe that’s all right then… but what exactly is an “economy of exclusion?”

One answer suggests itself: closed borders!

Did the pope really mean by “saying ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion,” that we must open the world’s borders?

A little background here. I agree with Rodney Stark that the influence of the Catholic Church was basically the only reason that slavery disappeared in medieval Europe. But it took them centuries to do it, even after Christianity had become the dominant religion. When slavery emerged again in modern times, the popes fiercely denounced it at first. Alas, their power had been greatly diminished by the modern absolutist monarchies of France and Spain, and they were essentially powerless to prevent the emergence of modern chattel slavery. Instead, the Catholic Church limited itself to amelioriating the condition of slaves, which tended to have it better under Catholic jurisdictions than, for example, under English rule in the Caribbean. Yet the Catholic countries were laggards in actually abolishing slavery. On slavery, the Catholic Church has always been sort of on the right side, often when no one else was, and ultimately rather effectually, yet they also accommodated the powers that be for centuries, in a fashion that seems downright cowardly. But I think cowardice is the wrong diagnosis. The Catholic Church believes it has care of immortal souls, so to provoke schism over mere temporal political and economic issues would be a tactical error of inestimable consequences. Better to move very slowly, but change society to its foundations and ultimately with general consent, than to compromise and form coalitions of convenience to win transient political victories.

So while Pope Francis isn’t demanding open borders tomorrow, I think there’s reason to hope it’s not accidental that he’s sowing a catchphrase so splendidly suited to serve as a platform for attacks on the migration-restrictionist state.

By the way, a word on “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?” The “clean your plate” fallacy is one of economists’ pet peeves. Suppose you were cooking dinner and you made a little too much salad. You can stick in the fridge, but you’ve got plans for the next few nights, you won’t use it, and there’s no space. You’re about to throw it away, when your conscience jabs you about people starving in Ethiopia. What should you do? Throw it away. Ethiopia is neither here nor there. If you could teleport the leftovers to starving people in Ethiopia, that would be great, but you can’t. Should you have cooked less? Not necessarily: it’s hard to predict your appetite. In general, it’s hard to plan food use so precisely that you never waste anything, and most of us have better things to do with scarce brain power. If you live in the US, there’s probably no one nearby you can give your excess food to.

When I lived in Malawi, though, it was different. In Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, hunger was never very far away, and it was easy to give away extra food. Now, under open borders, a lot of hungry people would be happy to come to the US even to live as outright beggars. There would be people to give away your extra food to, who would be happy to get it. To the extent that it seems wrong for food to be thrown away while people are starving, open borders is by far the most plausible way to address that problem.

When the pope says that “masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape,” I cannot but think of the millions of refugees, and the billions of destitute people around the world, who are prevented from bettering their lives by immigration restrictions. Of course, the pope doesn’t say it’s a consequence of migration restrictions; he says it’s a consequence of “everything com[ing] under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.” If that’s a reference to the pure operation of free markets, it’s wildly unfair; in a free market, by definition, the powerful can’t “feed upon” the powerless without their consent, i.e., without mutual benefit. But competition is not limited to markets; it also takes place in politics; and as a description of the political-economic constitution of contemporary global capitalism, the pope’s statement is more astute. Rich countries shut poor people out by force, often imprisoning them in dictatorships or totalitarian regimes, then [via their corporations] hire them at extremely low wages in sweatshops. Meanwhile, political competition in democracies often leads to violence and exclusion against undocumented immigrants, as politicians pander for nativist votes.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

That’s good description of populations marginalized by closed borders, isn’t it?

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.

Now this is a bit of a straw-man attack, but it doesn’t annoy me nearly as much from the pope as when Obama talks similarly, since when Obama talks this way, he’s being unfair to his Republican opponents, but the pope has no Republican opponents to be unfair to. If no one holds the views the pope attacks, so much the better; but some people, and some lines of thought, probably do tend that way, hence the warning. As Ryan Avent has noted, the “inevitably” makes the statement true. It is possible for strong economic growth to co-exist with exclusion and poverty, as in the days of Jim Crow laws… or, to cite a much larger and more example, today’s global apartheid regime of closed borders. Economic growth certainly can trickle down to the broad masses; it even tends to; but politics can prevent it from doing so; and that is very much the case today. That is why the pope is right to say that the opinion “that economic growth, encouraged by the free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world… has never been confirmed by the facts.” As far as I can recall, every period of dramatic economic growth in history has been marred by forcible exclusion of some people from the fruits of prosperity, not merely in the sense that the property rights of the prosperous are protected (which is fine), but in the sense that violence is used to bar people from avenues of advancement through deploying their labor where it is most productive, and enjoying its fruits. Thus, the great age of Victorian progress unfolded alongside first slavery, then continuing racism, and the oppressive policies of some (not all) imperialists. Thus, the 20th century saw an unprecedented rise in living standards in the prosperous West, even as migration restrictions trapped the majority of mankind in Third World poverty.

Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

This is a very good description of the moral numbness, the complacency and cowardice, of rich-world citizens who support immigration restrictions, even as they vaguely understand (as I think many do) that this exacerbates (and may even be the main cause of) world poverty. The pope continues:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules… The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

Scott Sumner remarks here that “the first sentence seems a bit odd, given that global inequality has been declining in recent years.  So let’s assume that the Pope is thinking about the fact that inequality within countries has been rising (and put aside the question of why the Pope would take a nationalist perspective and not a global perspective.)” But it does not seem unduly charitable to suppose that the pope is taking a longer view, and while there has been a bit of welcome convergence in the past decade or so, the past couple of centuries have seen “divergence, big-time” between rich and poor countries. To call this “the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” misses the mark a bit, from my perspective. It is, rather, the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the nation-state, especially its power to exclude. But that’s related, since capitalist nations today usually define “the market,” or “the economy,” in national terms. The “new tyranny” of border restrictions is indeed “invisible and often virtual… unilaterally impos[ing] its own laws and rules.” Now and then it becomes hideously visible, in the form of ICE agents separating families; but mostly it operates by vague threats and paperwork requirements. So maybe I want to redirect the pope’s ire a bit, but its spirit, its vehemence, and much of its substance, are entirely appropriate.

The claim that “they [who? the happy few? a minority?] reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control” will stick in libertarians’ craw. Libertarians do not like linking “the state” to “the common good.” Yet except a few anarcho-capitalists, no one really denies that there should be a state serving the common good. Indeed, the phrase “vigilance for the common good” is, to my mind, decidedly wholesome. The pope stands in an instructive contrast to Paul Krugman, who, in his advocacy of statism, doesn’t really pretend that he wants the state to serve the common good. He is very eager for the state to hurt people he hates, such as Republicans and the rich, in order to seize resources with which to help other people, such as Democratic constituencies, whom he doesn’t particularly seem to like but from whom he gets a self-righteous pleasure from condescendingly bestowing benefits on them. To call, as the pope does, for the state to be “vigilant for the common good,” taken at face value, seems to preclude redistribution, which serves only the private good of select classes of people, and redirect the state’s actions towards the maintenance of law and order and the provision of public goods, which benefit everyone. That is very wholesome and proper.

But– here is the crucial question– what is the common good? The common good of a nation? Or the common good of the human race? Coming from the pope, doesn’t it have to mean the latter? And this brings us back to the condemnation of an economy of exclusion. For when a state excludes poor immigrants, it may benefit its own citizens (or some of them), but it almost certainly doesn’t benefit mankind. Granted, the pope seems to be defending the right of states to “exercise [some] form of control,” but that’s aimed at the financial sector. What I find welcome is that his reasons for endorsing state control would seem to greatly disfavor control of migration.

The pope’s call for a renewed emphasis on ethics is also very appropriate:

Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”

It’s true, I think, that the discipline of economics, and the practice of finance, tend to keep ethics at arm’s length. In different ways, Marxists, Rawlsians, and neoclassical economists tend to replace fundamental notions of right and wrong with a mere calculus of interests. One of the things I like about Bryan Caplan is the way he forces ethical issues to the fore. We need more of that. A greater stress on ethics can’t fail to be favorable to the cause of open borders, since being able to win the moral high ground in any debate is one of open borders advocates’ greatest assets. The Chrysostom quote will not please those who (like Bryan) regard giving to the poor as “supererogatory;” clearly the Catholic view here is ultimately a bit different from the way free-market economists habitually regard property rights. But, let’s suppose that we do have an obligation to help the poor. Whose poor? Those of rich countries? Or the global poor? Surely the latter, since they are much poorer. How should we help them, then? Many ways, but surely the first and foremost is to stop excluding them by force from our homelands, which does them more harm than any aid we could give would do them good.

The pope predicts, a little vaguely yet at the same time vividly, that global inequality will lead to violence. At times he almost seems to endorse it, but no, he actually doesn’t: “Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. It serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts.” It is an interesting question whether global inequality will lead to violence. I must say that if some international movement based in the developing world eventually waged war against the rich countries to force them to open their borders to migration, it would be one of the more respectable casus belli in history. There’s little to no evidence of such developments now, but 19th-century economic inequality in Europe looked pretty stable at one point, but led in bloody revolution.

I have to think more about the pope’s remarks, but in general they seem a wisely aimed and much-needed provocation. Global capitalism today is indeed very unjust, mainly because borders are closed to migration, but there are other problems, too. It’s great to see the pope hurling down the gauntlet against the “economy of exclusion.” I don’t fully understand where he’s coming from, but much of his language is very promising. The world certainly needs “freedom from all forms of enslavement” and “a more humane social order.”

Migration and Christianity

When I wrote Principles of a Free Society, I hinted at a Christian case for open borders:

American Christianity has not been only a conservative force, fending off bad foreign ideas and keeping America true to its heritage of freedom. It has often championed reform, progressively realizing the latent imperatives of America’s founding ideals.

Nobel laureate Robert Fogel has argued that American history has followed a pattern by which the evolution of religion leads the evolution of political reform, with four “Great Awakenings” in religion– in 1730-60, 1800-40, 1890-1930, and 1960 to around 1990– leading to four great eras of political reform: the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement and the Civil War, the creation of the welfare state, and the civil rights movement; and finally the tax revolt of the Reagan era and the 1996 welfare reform.

Fogel’s periodization could be disputed; but the links he draws between religion and political reform are compelling. Churches enjoy no institutional representation in the American political system, nor do they typically instruct their members how to vote. Yet religion heavily influences voting behavior and other forms of political participation. Today, for example, one of the strongest predictors of voting Republican is church attendance.

In spite of the Republican bias of American Christians, however, and the anti-immigration bias of the Republican Party, I think there are signs that immigration (that is, support for immigration) is emerging as a distinctively Christian political issue. An immigration amnesty in 1986 was championed and signed by a born-again Christian president, Ronald Reagan. Another Christian president, George W. Bush, strove for and nearly succeeded in passing immigration reform in 2006 and 2007, with widespread support from churches.

The Catholic Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles compared a repressive anti-immigration law in Arizona to Nazism. Richard Land, president of the general conservative Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has advocated comprehensive immigration reform. Polls by Pew show that religious leaders and frequent churchgoers are significantly more pro-immigration than less frequent attenders.

Ultimately, I think the Bible, the New Testament, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and in particular one detail in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, will force Christians to turn against the world apartheid system of border controls. When the priest and the Levite see the wounded man on the road to Jericho, they do not just fail to help, they pass by on the other side of the road— that is, they deliberately create physical distance between themselves and the suffering man in order to avoid incurring the moral responsibility to help him.

But of course, this is exactly what migration restrictions do: they keep the world’s poor at a distance, so that we will not feel conscience-stricken and have to help them. But of course it is perfectly clear in the parable that the priest and the Levite only make themselves more culpable by trying to avoid moral responsibility; and so it is with rich countries that close their borders to poor immigrants. Christians cannot go on failing to see this indefinitely. Time for a Fifth Great Awakening?…

How would church-state relations change if the conviction became widespread among Christians that to “love thy neighbor” meant not collaborating with the enemies who want to deport him? (Principles of a Free Society, pp. 189-191)

At that time, however, I had not read what the Old Testament specifically has to say about immigrants. When I did so, last May, for the post “The Old Testament on Immigration,” I was astonished at how thoroughly they confirmed my views. Again and again, the Bible stresses that foreigners are to be given justice, treated fairly, loved, and included in Jewish festivals and Sabbath observances. They were often grouped with widows and orphans as a protected class. In correspondence with readers after that post, I learned that there seems to be a distinction between a ger, which I’ve seen translated as “resident foreigner” but which means something close to “convert to Judaism,” that is, someone who has accepted the religious rules of ancient Israel, and a “foreigner at the gate,” zak or nekhar. Many of the Biblical passages which most strongly urge “foreigners” to be treated well use the word ger, and some argue that these exhortations do not apply to the zak or nekhar. I believe it is the latter, moreover, to whom the Mosaic law permits Jews to lend at interest and sell meat found already dead, which Jews are not allowed to eat. Some contemporary writers equate ger with legal immigrants and zak with undocumented immigrants. But this is certainly untenable, for several reasons. First, ancient Israel had no passport regime, and zak were not breaking the law by dwelling there: they were not illegal. Second, while the Bible does suggest that ger must obey the Mosaic law and thus shared the obligations as well as the privileges of Jews, there is no hint of some process of permission by Jewish authorities that had to take place for a person to become a ger. And in the story of Ruth the Moabite, no permission is asked. Ruth admittedly has a Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, but her admission to Israel is not conditional on that. She simply comes, and gathers grain behind the reapers, taking advantage of a sort of ancient Jewish poor law. In short, there were open borders under the Mosaic law. And if that was the case even under the Old Testament law, which in many respects is rather harsh– a girl found guilty of premarital sex was to be stoned, for example (Deuteronomy 22:21)– then what about the New Testament, which often seems to endorse complete nonviolence…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” (Matthew 5:38-40)

… which pointedly softens the Mosaic law, e.g., when Jesus pardons the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11), and which is far more universalist in spirit, for example in eliminating the circumcision requirement so as to integrate Gentile converts? Surely it would be odd for someone to agree that the Old Testament called for open borders and then say that the New Testament offered a warrant for a harsher and more exclusionary migration policy than what the Old Testament allowed.

Given the comparative rarity of open borders advocacy among Christians, however– devout Christians are more likely to favor open borders than others, but it’s still a small minority view– I’m always interested in hearing the other side. What do Christian restrictionists have to say for themselves? Continue reading “Migration and Christianity” »