Yes we can! Here is why.
What would Jesus do?
Naturally, Christians should start with the Gospels when trying to answer questions such as these. There are plenty of verses one might cite about helping the poor, loving thy neighbor, whatsoever you do to the least of these, ye do unto me, etc. Regarding that last one, it’s even inspired comics of Jesus being deported by ICE. However, nothing in the gospel addresses anything close to situation at the US/Mexican border. Jesus never dealt with massive immigration, thousands upon thousands, from a different country into Judea. Jesus sent His apostles to spread the word, and they went to nations as far as they could reach. St. Thomas even made it to India! But they went in small numbers; they did not immigrate by the thousands. Hence, the Gospels don’t give us a clear answer to this question.
The Early Church
As the Church was established by Christ and his apostles, we can look back to the earlier church for guidance, as they were closer to Christ, and had not yet fallen into schism and heresy. “Civilization” as a concept was Greco-Roman, and pagan before it was Christian. As Rome was Christianized, so was civilization. What was outside of Christian Rome was barbarian. Some of the “barbarians” actually could be considered civilized, such as the Persians. Some were not particularly dangerous, such as the Slavs. Others were terrifying, such as my Germanic ancestors.
So to paint a picture – several centuries AD, you have a now fragile Christian Roman Empire, divided in half East and West. The West is centered around Rome, and the East around Constantinople (modern day “Istanbul” in Turkey). This Roman empire is made up of olive-skinned Mediterraneans, brown skinned Semitics in Arabia, darker skinned, some black Africans. Some speak Latin, some Aramaic, some Copt (hence, the Coptic Church centered in Egypt). These ethnically diverse, well educated Christians, heirs of an empire built by pagan conquerors, now faced a terrifying threat from pale skinned Germanic pagans who worshipped gods with names like “Thor” and believed they would get to Valhalla if they were brave and merciless to anyone who stood in their way.
We white people used to be barbarians! We were brutes!
So did the civilized Christians turn the other cheek? Did they interpret Jesus’s teaching to mean that they should build bridges, not walls? Of course not! And as a modern day Anglo-Christian*, I’m glad they did not. My barbaric ancestors would have slaughtered every last one of them!
They built walls! They built towers! They built anything that could protect them from the hoard! From the time Christianity was legalized in Rome, the Christians relied on walls that were already there, and built many more to protect themselves from barbarians. Constantine legalized Christianity (though paganism was still allowed through his reign) and built the “new Rome”, Constantinople. Rather than “building bridges” to the barbarians who would slaughter the innocents, they built walls.
Pope Leo IV built the Leonine wall around the Vatican, that stands to this day, to protect the church from Islamic invaders.
The Irish Christians built round towers to serve
both as belfry, and as security for when the Vikings came. (See image to the right)
This did not mean that they were cutting themselves off from the barbarians. They were only protecting themselves. There’s nothing just, or compassionate, about letting your people get invaded. But Christians did CHOOSE to risk their lives to bring the faith to the barbarians. But in no cases, did the Christian leaders subject their own people to the slaughter. To do so would be to fail in their most basic duty.
So what about those migrants? Are they barbarians?
The caravans of Hondurans and Guatemalans are not as clearly vicious as my Germanic ancestors, clearly. They are a mixed group. Some of them peacefully approach our ports of entry, in large numbers, to request asylum. Some of them sneak across the border any way they can, and then request asylum when they find a border agent. And some of them, like the Germanics, storm the border fences, attacking border agents trying to force their way in like Visigoths trying to sack Rome. Some have also approached the border demanding a payoff, like barbarians demanding tribute so that they won’t sack the city.
Not all barbarians are brutes, but the term “barbarian” pretty accurately describes these caravans. The ancient Greeks saw barbarians as primitive people lacking culture and lacking organized polity; the Romans would also apply the lack of “rule of law” to the definition of “barbarian”. Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador – these are countries with weak, unstable governments, no real sense of civic duty, where gangs rule and might makes right. However, as they are not like the organized Germanic barbarians that plagued ancient and early Medieval Christianity, many of them are basically good people who simply lack civilization. The term “barbarian” is not meant to dehumanize them, demonize them, or even make them seem like the enemy. It is simply an acknowledgement that they are uncivilized, and would need to become civilized to be suitable for America.
So how to Christians respond?
Let’s start by learning from the mistakes of the recent past. Orthodox Christianity, over the last two decades, has resurged in political power thanks to successful independence efforts against centuries old Islamic rulers. Greece won its independence, along with the Slavic peoples. Consequently, some of the Islamic peoples, who seem to be slipping into barbarism**, have used more deceptive means of retaking some of their former possessions. When Yugoslavia was under a communist Croat leader, Marshall Tito, the majority Islamic Albanians immigrated in hoards to the historic Serbian province of Kosovo. Once there were enough of them, they claimed it was theirs, launched vicious terrorist attacks against the Serbian people, causing Serbia to respond in kind. Serbia retaliation was merciless, no doubt, and the Serbs often failed to distinguish the innocent from the guilty. The Albanians then pleaded with the “international community”, convinced western powers to back their side, and ultimately took Kosovo, and declared it an independent Republic. Kosovo is now a ripe recruiting ground of Islamist terrorism in Europe.
When the Turks ruled Greece, they also ruled Cypress. A portion of Turks settled in Cypress during the Turkish occupation, but the ethnic Greeks remained as the majority. When Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike agreed that it was time to declare their independent from the British Empire in 1960, the plan was for them to have an independent Republic. While there was talk of Greece taking over, it never happened. The Turks, however, annexed part of the island, and established the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cypress”, which no country in the world recognizes except for? You guessed it! Turkey!
So, there are two lessons here for us. First, don’t let large numbers of people of the same ethnic group overwhelm us. And second, spare the innocent among them as much as possible. Be merciful, but be prudent. There is nothing un-Christian about a government defending its own citizens, but purposefully subjecting innocent people to suffering or death is certainly un-Christian.
Christian Obligation to the Peaceful Migrants
So let’s start with the peaceful, law abiding migrants. As a nation, immigrating here is a privilege, not a right. As Christians, we should encourage our government to take reasonable steps to help those in need. But while the Gospel does compel a Christian to go the extra mile, to give also our cloak, etc. this does not translate to giving away our country. Nothing in scripture commands our governments to take from their own people by force and give to others. Until these last few decades, it was never questioned by anyone, anywhere, that a government exists primarily to govern its own people. Crazy huh?!
So, our government needs to balance taking in refugees as they can with protecting American interests. They need to ensure that they don’t take in so many that the migrants can’t adapt and assimilate, and learn the basics of civilization. So our government should take in some peaceful migrants, but is not morally obligated to take in every last one. Remember, they are fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, etc. They are not fleeing Mexico. As they are currently in Mexico, they are away from immediate danger.
To the Border Jumpers
Open border advocates have used a series of absurd arguments to justify letting people just barge on into our country, and get released into the public without ever being vetted. They say things like “it’s not illegal to enter a country requesting asylum”. They might have a point if they were fleeing Mexico, but as explained above, that is not the case. They’ve already escaped immediate danger, so that legal principle no longer applies.
Those who cross our border illegally are invading our country, even if they mean no harm. Even if they are unarmed, have no intention of stealing from anyone, etc. If a homeless man climbs through my window and takes a nap on my couch, he has invaded my home. That he harms neither me, my family, nor my property doesn’t change the fact that he invaded my home.
As Christians, we look to our civil authorities to protect us, as Romans 13 explains. It is at this point that open borders advocates make the even more absurd argument that the Nazis used that argument too! Do you remember how the Jews kept sneaking INTO Germany, requesting asylum? Neither do I. The Nazi comparison is ridiculous and they know it! We are not committing genocide! There are no crematoriums! People of a certain ethnicity are not being rounded up and put into concentration camps. People who sneak into our country illegally are being put into detention centers because they have requested asylum using suspiciously similar stories, knowing that it can get tied up in courts for years, and they can just disappear into the population long before their court date and never show up.
This is the reality, and we do not have a Christian obligation to help people LIE to our government who want to sneak into our country illegally.
The Violent Ones
There are actually some people defending those migrants who have attacked our border agents! I don’t think I need to explain why our Christian faith does not compel us to lay down our defenses and be overrun by modern day Visigoths. But I will point out that some of them are indeed violent, and that is why our government has a responsibility to vet them. Don’t tell me that Christian compassion requires us to put American people in danger. There’s nothing compassionate about that! If you choose to risk your life, for example, to go to Somalia and feed the hungry, God bless you! But you are not Christian if you take by force your fellow man and drop him in Somalia!
As a Christian, you are doing the Lord’s work if you risk your life to help others. You are not doing the Lord’s work if you risk other peoples’ lives, even to help others.
Those Little Ones
When Obama was President, he often made the case for the Dream Act by saying that children shouldn’t be punished for the decisions of their parents. Now we watch today’s Dems contradict Obama by saying the adults are innocent too, as they decry separating children from their criminal parents. But yes, crossing the border illegally is a crime, and therefore the parents are criminals. When you commit a crime with you child present, typically, you lose your child. That’s not inhumane; it’s civilized.
Sadly, those who sneak across our borders use these children as human shields. They come with children thinking they’re less likely to be deported. Often, the adults aren’t even the parents. They tell border agents “suspiciously similar stories” as CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has explained, and tie it up in courts as they disappear into the populace. Detention is an unfortunate but necessary means to temporarily protect these children until better arrangements can be made.
But whatever your views on border security may be, I would hope that ALL civilized people, especially Christians, can agree that these children should have the provisions they need, including clean clothes, food, water, and caregivers. Rod Dreher made this case very effectively in his TAC column a few weeks ago.
Christians who try to force open borders
I can’t see into the soul of every Christian who is claiming we have a Christian obligation to let them all in without question and just give them a court date and hope they show up. I hope that they at least mean well and just are poorly informed. But human beings are capable of all manner or wickedness, and Christians are no exception. We are all (yes, me too) guilty of manipulating the teachings of our faith to push some kind of personal agenda. Aware of this, I’ve become more and more reluctant to say with any certainty that something is “God’s will”, for too often, it can be my own will.
I won’t tell you what you, as a Christian, must believe on border issues unless it is absolutely without a doubt crystal clear. And the one thing I can say with that much confidence is that if we have no compassion for the children in those detention camps, if we use them to push our own political agenda, whether to force open the borders, or to deter border jumpers, we do so unto Christ. I’m guilty of this too. I won’t deny that many times, those evil thoughts have gone through my head – Well maybe their parents will think twice before barging into our country! But those who deny help to these children because they want to exploit their plight to force the closure of these facilities are no better.
Christ never gave us a border policy in the Gospels, and the early Christians saw no contradiction between their faith and protecting their own borders. So unless the early Church was wrong AND Jesus never mentioned it, then our faith does not command us to “build bridges” instead of “building walls”. Those few liberal Christians who have worked up the courage to form “love caravans” and actually meet the migrants with food, water, etc. are commendable. But those who simply use the border crisis to make their fellow Christians with the MAGA hats feel unwelcome are not doing the Lord’s work.
Yes, Christians can build walls, and yes, governments have not only a right but a responsibility to first and foremost protect their own citizens.
*Formerly Anglican, now Eastern Orthodox as I discussed in my last post
**To keep this in perspective, there have been times in history when Islam has been remarkably civilized, and put the Christian world to shame