Life Through the Lens of Faith
Immigration Essay (Part 1)
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                 & THOUGHTS OF GOD

                                        An Essay By

                                        Carl Rollins


Immigration policy here and in Europe must be viewed through the prism of America’s war against fundamental Islam.  This effort has contributed more than anything else to our declining image in much of the world.  Immigration policy, the “war on terror” and faith in God are interrelated in ways that at first may not be readily apparent.  Among other things, these issues affect how we are viewed in Muslim countries, and this is of enormous consequence.

In a two part series, I will first explore Americans’ views on immigration and tolerance; and secondly, more broadly discuss immigration and tolerance in other parts of the world and how America’s actions may impact these issues.


                                       Part One


                                    I. Introduction

Over two years ago I came across a piece in the Washington Post that summarized a research paper that asserted that over 80% of Iraqis reject the notion of having foreigners as neighbors.  The paper, Xenophobia and In –Group Solidarity in Iraq: A Natural Experiment on the Impact of Insecurity[1], argued that Iraq’s rate of intolerance of other nationalities was one of the highest in any society worldwide. 

The authors made the argument that tolerance is related to feelings of personal security (or lack thereof), and with terrorist’s bombs going off daily, well you get the idea.  Almost ninety percent of Iraqis who were questioned rejected the idea of having Americans as neighbors.  This, of course has tragic consequences for the war in Iraq and the goal of establishing a representative democracy under the rule of law there.

The data for the research came from a series of surveys conducted by World Values Surveys, which grew out of an older effort called European Values Survey.  These studies attempt to chart changing modern values.  Apparently, Muslim countries are more intolerant generally than Western nations, at least according to several surveys which have been conducted over many years. 

What does the research have to say about intolerance in America?  Well, the Washington Post article chortled that only about “10 to 15 percent” of Americans report that they are intolerant of “immigrants/foreign workers.”[2]

However, the recent conflict over immigration policy in this country seems contrary to these results.  In the last two years, Americans’ resentment of foreign workers has grown to the point where many states and municipalities are now legislating in this area despite the fact that traditionally immigration law has been seen as being exclusively federal.

In Europe it’s even worse.  In England and France government officials have banned or are attempting to ban Muslim women from wearing their veils in public under certain circumstances.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Last fall, events in Denmark and Italy hinted at the extent of xenophobia sweeping across “progressive” Europe.

In Danish elections, the immigration issue and the worldwide wave of riots in 2006 over the printing of a caricature of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper figured prominently.  Although the ruling party ultimately partnered with a moderate party led by a Muslim in order to form their coalition government, an odious television commercial designed to whip up anti-immigrant/Muslim passion was part of their campaign.

An Italian politician rabidly called for the expulsion of 20,000 mainly Romanian immigrants after a spike in crime that could not even be statistically proven to be related to immigration.  To be certain, other domestic political issues are at play in these nations, but diversity is out and discrimination seems to be rearing its head with a vengeance throughout the West, as well as elsewhere.  This is confirmed by a recent Pew Global Attitudes Project survey.[3]

Just a few days ago a film attacking the Quran was released in Denmark by a politician seeking to milk the controversy for all its worth.  Recently, Danish papers gratuitously reprinted some of the cartoons that started the riots, as well.


                                 II. What’s going on?


Maybe intolerance, racism and xenophobia never left and were always bubbling just beneath the surface—it’s just in us.  Perhaps this intolerance was bred from the ashes of 9/11.  People lie about their tolerance in polls anyway, as a Zogby poll[4] last year showed; it’s always the other guy that’s intolerant not me.  Or, this could be an aspect of the divine; spiritual warfare at play.

Never one to discount the omnipotence of God, I was walking down N Street in Northwest Washington, DC a few years ago when I saw some inscriptions on the building of N Street Village, a shelter for homeless women.  They were passages from the bible,[5] and I was sure that God was reinforcing a message to me.

One engraving said, “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…”[6]

Another added, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.”[7]

These passages from scripture reminded me that, like the Good Samaritan and Lot, we are to comfort strangers, we are supposed to learn from our own experiences of suffering to have compassion on others, and there is something divine in all of us.  Accepting strangers and God’s providence over them are constant themes throughout the bible.[8]

It is noteworthy that Muslims, particularly members of the Pashtun tribe in Afghanistan and Pakistan have a strong tradition of helping and protecting strangers in need.[9]

To me, our current immigration debate is perplexing.  How can one claim to embrace the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and reject immigrants?  The ancient world didn’t have borders with customs agents, many people travelled freely to major cities.  Cities like Jerusalem and Ephesus were cosmopolitan and diverse.  This was true throughout the Greek, Roman and Byzantine empires. 

A forgiving immigration policy is something that President Bush has 100% right.  What’s wrong with so much of America and Western Europe, and the world for that matter?

My guide for living a life like Jesus is contained in the brief, beautiful verses of chapter 12 in the book of Romans.  Among other commands, it states:

…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world…Let love be without hypocrisy…in honor giving preference to one another…given to hospitality…rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep…associate with the humble…Repay no one evil for evil…If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men…do not avenge yourselves but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord…”  If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, overcome evil with good.[10]

In worrying about our own standard of living and safety in rejecting foreigners we selfishly put our own material interests ahead of the needs of others in complete contravention of biblical command.[11]

How did we get to this sad state of affairs?

Could it be that our “war on terrorism” is fanning the flames of intolerance, and even spawning violence and crime?  Indeed, we encourage others like Israel, Pakistan and Ethiopia to follow our own folly.  Like with abortion and the death penalty our policies set an example of death, not abundant life.  Violent crime is increasing in many places in America.  But this is only the latest stage in a long march of western civilizations’ rejection of and disobedience to God.

But there is some great news.  Polling data suggests that America and the Muslim world, in particular, have very high rates of belief in God.[12]  Democracy and a free market economy are good, but they do not guarantee happiness.  Much of the world is rejecting our entreaties in this regard.  A Pew Global Attitudes Project report issued last summer found that:

Critiques of the U.S. are not confined to its policies, however. In much of the world there is broad and deepening dislike of American values and a global backlash against the spread of American ideas and customs. Majorities or pluralities in most countries surveyed say they dislike American ideas about democracy – and this sentiment has increased in most regions since 2002.[13] 

Some argue that only by promoting democracy and freedom of speech in the developing world can Christians preach the gospel.  This is not supported by scripture.  People want the easy way out.  Too many want to leave their proselytizing to the federal government instead of risking their lives as Paul, Peter, Jesus Christ Himself, and many others have.


III. If American Christians believe in heaven and eternal life then       why are we so afraid to die?


The history of the civil rights movement and its aftermath show that changing laws will not change hearts—only the Holy Spirit of God can do that.  What we need to be “selling” overseas is God’s righteousness and justice, not Jefferson’s; but instead we demonstrate hypocrisy.  Yes, we give to others in need, but only when it’s convenient or if it helps us.  God wants us to give unconditionally; no strings attached.

We are supposed to sacrifice and give until it hurts, like the widow with two mites.  We should be demonstrating to all that it is worth the risk of losing life to spread the peace of God’s love; even if it means exposing ourselves to terrorist attacks.

Instead, modern man has decided to put his faith in weapons, high walls and material wealth when the only true security, peace and rest lie with God.[14]  We are being told by too many of our religious and political leaders that if we only keep out the foreigners and the terrorists we will be alright.  But, the experiences of America, Israel, England and Spain, among others, shows that it is way too late to put the cork back in this bottle.

Like much of the rest of the world, America and Europe (ostensibly Christian) have been shown to be afraid, despite their wealth and might.  We too often look to man and science to shape our destiny, rejecting the fact that God is in control.  

The only way to change the current situation is to lead by example, as Christ has charged us.  If we prove that our faith is authentic through action and sacrifice, others will follow.

The New Testament says that “perfect love casts out fear.”[15]  The fear disappears because we believe in eternal life in the hereafter so sacrifice on earth is worth it.  As Christians in the West, who have been blessed with an abundant harvest by God, we should be fearless.  When are we going to show it?

                  IV. Sacrifice is Individual and Collective

Selflessness and humility will defeat our “enemies” when they see that our love for them shames them.  Our faith will be seen as real here on earth, and God will bless our sacrifice from heaven.  We show this love by showering countries that hate us with compassion; and yes, money. 

What if the amount of money spent on the military and the amount of money given in foreign aid was reversed?  What would the world look like then?  Would we be hated like we are now? 

What does all this have to do with immigration?  For those in the developing world, it’s a lot easier to accept living with foreigners when they give you food and medicine and not bombs, bullets and blood.

The Sermon on the Mount and the story of the Good Samaritan tell us that the least among us, even our enemies, are our neighbors.  You are the world and the world is you.  As long as one person is suffering in the darkness somewhere the gospel cannot be fulfilled.  As Christians we are not supposed to wait for the Second Advent to heal the world; we must at least try to start the healing now.

Indeed, if the story of Adam and Eve is true; we’re not just “related” as members of the human race, we’re related by blood to everyone else in the world.  Furthermore, all of us are realted to Noah, as well.  All people are our brothers and sisters, literally.  Accepting immigrants, and being forgiving and tolerant of others is a part of being obedient to God and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

This is part of the great commission.  The book of James 2:15-16 teaches that we must heal before we preach the gospel; otherwise our audience is not in a position to hear us.  They are too worried about their survival and security. Just like in Iraq.  Thus, helping the poor is preaching the gospel.

Before the gospel can be preached successfully on a broad scale to the “unchurched” part of the world we must destroy the current paradigm.  If they won’t live next to us they won’t listen to us.  This is where the foreign aid comes in.  It greases the skids.

Worried about corruption?  Fine set up some committee to ensure the aid gets directly to the people not the foreign government or their militaries.  Afraid foreign nations won’t accept those terms?  Give them an offer they can’t refuse; up the ante.  Worried that tribals in Pakistan and Afghanistan won’t take money from Christians?  Wash the money through Muslim charities.

There is no excuse!

The fact of the matter is that faith includes not just tithing ten percent; but giving money to homeless people and others in need.  It includes sacrificing our tax dollars, and maybe some of our security, to increase foreign aid.  We too often look forward to redecorating houses, buying second cars, computers and TV’s when significant numbers of people overseas and here do not have enough to eat.  This is selfish and ungodly. 

How can we tell others to accept foreigners and their countrymen of different ethnicities and faiths, and to treat them as one of their own, when some of us are busy trying to kick immigrants out of our own country?

Our peace and tranquility don’t depend on the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution but on obedience to the word of God.  We have fallen incredibly short.  From the Old Testament to the New Testament, domestically and internationally; our salvation, and the world’s, means sacrificing—putting God and others before us.  This is the meaning of the cross.







[1] R. Inglehart, M. Moaddel & M. Tessler, Perspectives on Politics , Vol. 4, No. 3 (September 2006)

[2] R. Morin, “Unwelcome Neighbors,” Washington Post, July 3, 2005, p. B-5 (note that the paper in footnote 1 was presented as part of a symposium before it was published)

[3] World Publics Welcome Global Trade—But Not Immigration, released October 4, 2007

[4] Report Card on Prejudice in America, released July 23, 2007

[5] The actual inscriptions may be slightly different because they are from different versions of the bible

[6] Leviticus 19:34 (NKJV)

[7] Hebrews 13:2 (NKJV)

[8] See also Psalms 146:9; Malachi 3:5

[9] Along this note, please read Washington Post article about a Navy Seal miraculously saved by Afghans (Link)

[10] Romans 12:1-2, 9-21 (quoting Deuteronomy 32:35 and Proverbs 25:21-2, in part)

[11] See also Philippians 2:3

[12] Pew Global Attitudes Project report, Among Wealthy Nations…U.S. stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion

[13] Global Unease With Major World Powers: Rising Environmental Concern in 47 Nation Survey, released June 27, 2007

[14] See Zechariah 4:6

[15] 1 John 4:18