On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 7 (Tying It All Together)

walls-of-jerusalem

Tentative conclusions

  • So is it right for the federal government to make certain that immigrants — even refugees — have no criminal history or otherwise pose no threat to the safety of the US?

Absolutely. It would be a failure of the government to protect its own people to be so naive or foolish as to assume that merely because someone is seeking asylum or immigration status that they are not criminals or otherwise dangerous. The government today sits in gates of the city, as it were, to judge such things. It’s what governments are supposed to do.

  • So should we have open borders that allow millions to enter the country without any sort of clearing process?

Should Jerusalem have had no walls at all? Walls are good. Some way to police the borders is essential. (It doesn’t have to be a literal wall.) But this truth does not mean we should oppose immigration in general or be unwilling to be hospitable to those who come into our country.

But could the nation, consistent with scripture, come up with a rational system for allowing some immigrants in and keeping some out? Of course.

PS — There is presently no practical legal way for most Latin Americans to legally enter the US and work. Obtaining a visa and green card is no easy matter, and the reason so many enter illegally is we’ve given them no meaningful legal option. What the law ought to be is not an easy question to answer, but it’s frivolous to argue, “They should come in legally.” They can’t. You can argue, “They should not come in at all,” but then you have to face the moral weight of the brute fact that we have jobs that Americans won’t take (not everywhere, but many places) and no legal way for foreigners to enter to take these jobs, even though they live in desperate poverty and very much want to enter to work (not necessarily to gain citizenship). Yes, our immigration laws are that messed up.

  • Should we be open to immigration?

Yes. Just as the Jews were once sojourners, we are all descended from immigrants. But just as the Torah imposed some requirements on the sojourners as a condition to living among the Israelites, we are right to require immigrants to live by our laws and to adopt certain key values.

But when they arrive as sojourners, we are obligated to show them hospitality — and to treat them as neighbors.

Sojourners in Israel had to honor the Sabbath (or else they’d have an unfair advantage in trade and would not enjoy the blessings of a nation that required periodic rest as a humane matter). It would seem reasonable to require that employers of immigrant labor honor US labor laws. No one should be taken advantage of because he’s not a citizen. (In fact, the labor laws apply to immigrants, legal or not, but illegal immigrants generally can’t complain to the government of inhumane treatment for fear of deportation. Many businesses take advantage of them for this reason. Nothing could be less Christian.)

Sojourners were required to honor the standards regarding sexuality and the eating of blood that applied to Israelites. Again, if you wish to live in a country, you should honor its values.

Sojourners were allowed to participate in gleaning the fields, an ancient form of welfare. Farmers were required to leave some of the harvest in the field so that the poor and sojourners could harvest the crop for themselves — because they had no land of their own. But they had to do their own harvesting, threshing, grinding, and cooking. They weren’t given handouts. They had to work for their food.

Sojourners were not required to worship YHWH, but they could not blaspheme. They had to be respectful of the beliefs of their hosts. It seems only reasonable that the Jews’ toleration of differing religions be reciprocated by the sojourners. In modern terms, Muslim immigrants must be tolerant of Christianity — even if Muslims become a majority in a given community.

The same law applied to sojourners as to Israelites, in general. Again, there’s no reason to except immigrants from the law of the land. Just so, Muslims should not enter the US and then demand that they be governed by sharia law. If you want to immigrate to our country, you live by our laws. The Torah did not give sojourners the option to opt out of Torah obedience — and anything else would lead to chaos.

In short, sometimes Moses seems to be a Republican. He makes the sojourners work for their food. He requires them to treat the Israelite religion with respect. They have to live under Israelite law and values, but they aren’t required to adopt the Israelite religion.

Other times, he seems more like a Democrat. He requires that the sojourners receive welfare, if they are poor and cannot support themselves. Joshua didn’t kick out even those who entered by fraud — but they had to live under Torah. And God, through Moses, strongly encouraged the presence of sojourners in the Promised Land.

On the other hand, sojourners could not become “citizens.” The Torah made no provision for sojourners to become Jews. The ability to become proselytes — meaning a change not only of religion but of nationality — came about much later, but it came about in response to the attitude toward sojourners found in the Torah. However, it remained controversial among the rabbis for centuries, even during apostolic times. It was not automatic or easy.

Some would argue that Rahab and Ruth were proselytes, as they were allowed to marry Jews. But marriage was not forbidden as to all foreigners at all times, especially marriage to foreign women. (It’s a complex bit of history.)

Although the duties and rights of proselytes were in some respects more limited than those of born Jews, in essentials proselytes were probably regarded by the rabbis as of equal status with born Jews and many rabbinic texts evince a positive attitude towards proselytes. However, some rabbis viewed proselytes unfavourably. In deprecating the admission of proselytes to Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud likens them to a sore on the skin of Israel (b. Yebamoth 109b) and one rabbi argued that proselytes delayed the coming of the Messiah, and so were presumably, therefore, not to be actively sought (b. Niddah 13b).

P. Trebilco and R. A. Stewart, New Bible Dictionary, 1996, 976.

The traditional path to US citizenship requires learning about American history and our values — our framing stories — the metanarratives that define us as a people. That made sense when it became the law, and it still makes sense — and it’s very consistent with Torah.

In short, we Christians don’t get to play politics with the immigration question. Our duties are to God, not our political parties. The Torah calls us to common sense — to a recognition that not all foreigners wish to do us good and that we have values and laws worth preserving. Immigration can be accomplished in ways that preserve our essential values, and it’s only right that we endeavor to do so.

Those values include compassion for those less fortunate — just as we’re glad our forebears had opportunities here. But nothing requires us to open our borders to all comers. Indeed, there’s a place in God’s order for walls. And a place in his heart for sojourners. And we can honor both principles — thoughtfully and lovingly in light of scriptural principles.

I forget where, but I’ve heard Rick Atchley quoted as saying that we failed to send missionaries to Latin America as we should have, and so God is now bringing them to us to be taught about Jesus. You see, the world looks very different when you think in terms of God’s mission, rather than which position provides power to your political party.

I don’t see the argument for unrestrained immigration without limit based on the Bible. It’s just not there. But neither is the attitude that we’ll be unwelcoming and protect what’s ours at any cost to the poor who surround us. Rather, hospitality includes generosity, especially to those who are least able to reciprocate. But the commands are to the church, not the federal government. The goal isn’t merely to pass kind and compassionate laws; it’s for Christians to treat sojourners as God wishes, because God loves the sojourner. So must we.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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25 Responses to On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 7 (Tying It All Together)

  1. Johnathon says:

    “You can argue, “They should not come in at all,” but then you have to face the moral weight of the brute fact that we have jobs that Americans won’t take (not everywhere, but many places)”

    This is not true. What is true is the wages of certain jobs are so low the vast majority of Americans will not accept them. If you increase the price you are willing to pay for most commodities (including labor) the supply of those commodities will increase as well.
    I have never found this to be a moral argument. I don’t think the aim of immigration policy should be to bring people in to exploit them like beast of burden for their labor.
    And by the way cheap labor is only cheap for employers. In our society the difference between the cost of living and what someone is paid is often made up with government services. These are paid for by all tax payer not just businesses and their customers.

  2. I’ll go ahead and add one thought that almost always upsets some: we have to accept some responsibility for the situation in Latin American countries. The United States has often been a destabilizing force in these countries. Even if the government won’t do much more than declassify the documents that show these ugly truths, we as Christians can and should do much more.

    If we are reaping the benefits from an unjust system, we have no right to deny those benefits to others. So much of the talk about immigration has to do with its effect on the U.S., rather than looking at how our actions have affected others.

  3. Christopher says:

    Jay wrote:

    In short, we Christians don’t get to play politics with the immigration question. Our duties are to God, not our parties. 

    Neither do we get to pick and choose which biblical teachings have political application for us as voting citizens in a democracy. So I am puzzled, Jay, that you seem to be saying we ought to let the Bible inform our thinking on immigration law but not on gay marriage. Here is what you said recently in regard to that issue:

    American Christians are under the delusion that our savior is the government. Why would I say such a thing? Because [when] things go badly, we want to fix [them] via the government. We want to elect the right representatives and president. We want the right court decisions issued. And if we could just get a filibuster-proof Senate and our preferred presidential candidate, our problems would be solved. And this is pagan, godless thinking.

    So if we want to advocate against gay rights, we are “godless” and delusional. But any immigration laws we have must be by the good book. You can’t have it both ways. Either you allow the Bible to inform all of our political thinking or none of it.

    Look, if you’re unwilling to allow people who break into your house to continue to reside there, why do you expect your neighbors to allow people who’ve broken into our country to remain here? The question is NOT whether or not immigration should occur, but lawlessness should be condoned.

    “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11, NIV)

  4. Christopher says:

    Well said, Johnathon.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher,

    You ask a fair question. The question isn’t whether we may invoke the Bible in politics. Wrong question. The right question is: What does the Bible require of followers of Jesus? Clearly, the Bible imposes duties on Jesus followers. And just as clearly (to me), it does not impose duties on unbelievers — at least, not duties that we Christians are called to enforce.

    (1 Cor. 5:9-6:1 ESV) 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler– not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

    We are plainly taught not to judge outsiders. Therefore, we have no business passing laws that criminalize homosexual conduct by non-Christians based on the Bible. Period.

    However, there are sometimes very good public policy reasons, not based on the Bible per se, to enact a law criminalizing certain behavior. It’s quite okay to criminalize murder. Even the pagans see murder as wrong. Society cannot function if murder is allowed. But it’s not okay to ban premarital sex — although I believe it to be sinful with all my heart — because it’s not the role of government to regulate such things. When we let government determine right and wrong, we’ve made it into an idol. God decides right and wrong. Government regulates life so that peace-loving people may worship God in peace and engage in business, etc. on a fair playing field. The role of government is not moral but pragmatic — to stop thieves, rapists, frauds, and murderers — but not to make us good people. Only God can make a person good. Government builds walls and mans the gates. But it really bad at making bad people good. That’s Jesus’ job.

    The government is not God. God is bigger than government, and he regulates every single aspect of a Christian’s life — without regard to the law of the land. The law of God is quite enough to regulate a believer. And we’re banned from judging unbelievers. They are, after all, damned whether or not they engage in premarital or homosexual sex. We don’t bring them nearer to Jesus by having the state criminalize what they want to do.

    Now, as to immigrants, the government has a legitimate function in regulating immigration. But as a Christian, the question becomes what should MY attitude be? What should I be willing to do? And in a democracy, to a very limited degree, I actually have some say — and so my views matter. And, as a believer, I am subject to being judged by my church, as Paul says.

    May I, as a follower of Jesus, oppose all immigration? Is that consistent with Bible principles? With the gospel?

    May I, as a follower of Jesus, despise immigrants just because they’re immigrants?

    Some argue that, as a Christian, I must object to walls that would block illegal immigration. The Pope seems to say that. Is he right?

    Many churches in the US harbor illegal immigrants and try to protect them deportation — arguing that they are sojourners and so beloved by God — and hence to be protected by us. Is that true?

    Does the Bible require Christians to argue for open borders? Does the Bible allow Christians to argue for closed borders? May we use our government to reject all sojourners? Or should we favor some and disfavor others? And if so, how should we draw the line?

    Does the Bible allow Christians to oppose asylum for Syrian refugees, some of whom are Christians? Does our concern for safety allow us to close the gates altogether?

    You see, we just so very much want to impose rules on others while exempting ourselves from scrutiny, when the biblical model is exactly the opposite.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathon wrote,

    “You can argue, “They should not come in at all,” but then you have to face the moral weight of the brute fact that we have jobs that Americans won’t take (not everywhere, but many places)”

    This is not true. What is true is the wages of certain jobs are so low the vast majority of Americans will not accept them. If you increase the price you are willing to pay for most commodities (including labor) the supply of those commodities will increase as well.

    I get my information from my client base. I represent some contractors who cannot hire enough workers to fulfill their contracts at any price. They get plenty of applications — but nearly all flunk the drug test — and hiring someone who uses illegal drugs puts that person’s health and life in danger. And experience shows that hiring illegal drug users creates a far greater risk of worker’s compensation claims — putting people who must bid for their work into bankruptcy.

    So, yes, there are jobs aplenty in West Alabama, paying good wages, and no, the local workforce is unwilling to stay drug free long enough to qualify for the jobs. Hiring immigrant labor here often isn’t about getting low wage workers. It’s about getting workers who can work safely in a dangerous line of work.

    The local junior college “hires” people and gives them free job training with a guaranteed manufacturing job when they finish their training. Most never make it through the course. They won’t show up on time. They won’t call in when sick. Those who manage to get to work on time and call in when they are sick wind up making more than school teachers for 90 days of training. Many of the slots are vacant.

    We have created a subsidy system that disincentivizes work by Americans. I’m all in favor of laws that condition unemployment benefits on passing drug tests — not because drugs are illegal but because a choice to take illegal drugs is a choice to become unemployable. But as long as our federal government (both parties) insists on funding benefits to people who refuse to stay clean, we’re going to have jobs that can’t be filled by Americans.

    And, yes, our laws really are that stupid.

    PS — My clients are also struggling to find Americans with skills — wood workers, machinists, tile installers, etc. The public schools believe that skilled labor is beneath all Americans and so they push kids to take on enormous college debt to work at low-paying jobs. I mean, I know a young woman who borrowed four-years of tuition to attend Vandy to become a preschool worker at $10/hour. As the skilled workers retire, we have to replace them with foreigners because the public school system sees no dignity in manual labor. Again, the courses are offered but few take them. Students thus graduate without employable skills and a sense of failure if they stoop to learning a manual skill. And because it’s so hard to bring in skilled immigrant labor, the businesses outsource to foreign labor to the extent they can.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathon wrote,

    And by the way cheap labor is only cheap for employers. In our society the difference between the cost of living and what someone is paid is often made up with government services. These are paid for by all tax payer not just businesses and their customers.

    Very good point.

    A compromise immigration bill nearly passed to allow guest workers in where the need couldn’t be met by American labor. The condition was that the employer had to provide health insurance for the guest workers. The US Chamber of Commerce killed it. The Republicans are so owned by Big Business that they couldn’t even require the guest workers not be a burden on our healthcare system.

    This was, for me, a defining moment. I pay my employees’ (about 40) health care premiums. Most of it. I believe in health insurance. My church provides health insurance for its employees at my insistence (others, too). Uninsured ministers become a burden on their congregations. It’s a false economy. And miserly.

    And yet the Republican Party preferred to have no legal means to bring in needed guest workers rather than require those hiring foreign labor to insure their health. And now they campaign on the need for reform. I usually vote Republican, but I found this disgusting.

  8. Christopher says:

    Jay wrote:

    We are plainly taught not to judge outsiders. Therefore, we have no business passing laws that criminalize homosexual conduct by non-Christians based on the Bible. Period.

    Apples and oranges. Paul was not writing to people who lived in a democracy such as ours. So to extrapolate as you have from this passage to PROHIBIT believers from voting to criminalize behavior that is destructive to society at large is logically invalid. I agree that the real answer is to convert non-believers, but no one in Paul’s time had the opportunity to effect the laws of their land. But we do and so are forced to make a choice about our laws. And I don’t think passivity is one of them.

  9. Gary says:

    Jay, wasn’t Jethro (and presumably his clan) an early proselyte to Judaism? Also I can’t remember the scripture reference but wasn’t there a “mixed multitude” who left Egypt with the Israelites? It seems like there were other early groups like the Gibeonites and individuals like Ruth who were assimilated into Israel. Uriah the Hittite comes to mind. For a group of Ethiopian Jews to survive into the modern era it would seem that there had to be a fair amount of mixing of peoples with the Jews in ancient times.

  10. Johnathon says:

    Jay the point of the passage you cited is not that Christians shouldn’t advocate laws that outlaw certain behavior it is that Christians should associate with sinners and leave the judging to God. In your reply to Christopher you seem to say it is alright to outlaw fraud. If by “judging outsiders” Paul meant outlawing certain behaviors wouldn’t outlawing fraud be judging swindlers?

  11. Larry Cheek says:

    Christopher,
    You said, “but no one in Paul’s time had the opportunity to effect the laws of their land. But we do and so are forced to make a choice about our laws.” Are you sure that we can effect the laws of our land? I don’t see that we have any power in that area, other than praying for God to guide the law makers. How many laws have you seen produced lately that contain principles which parallel Christ’s teachings?

  12. Christopher says:

    Larry wrote:

    Are you sure that we can effect the laws of our land? I don’t see that we have any power in that area, other than praying for God to guide the law makers. How many laws have you seen produced lately that contain principles which parallel Christ’s teachings?

    Yes, I am sure. But it’s not likely to happen without great numbers. For instance, the companies who have acted to penalize NC for its transgendet law would very quickly, I bet, change their tune if Christisns boycotted them en masse.

  13. Dwight says:

    Gary, it was the Israelites who left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness and once they reached Canaan were supposed to wipe out all other nations, but didn’t, so it was noted that these other nations would be a thorn in their side and they were. It has always struck me funny that during the time of David, etc. there were people noted like “Uriah the Hittite”, but I think this was only to indicate their nation of origin, but they were most likely Jewish converts or even Jews who were part of the land of the Hittites. This is kind of like the Ethiopian eunuch, who was obviously a Jewish convert and then a Christian convert. Even among the Jews, many of them would be recognized by their region of Israel they hailed from or the tribe.
    The Jewish law was a national law that criminalized homosexuality, adultery, stealing, murder, etc. as sin and with punishment.
    Many of the outside nations were judged by God based on the laws of God given to the Jews.

    I think we should reduce this large thinking on border protection down to a simpler model…our home. In other words, does a Christian have a right to argue for a national border on the same level as a personal border. Can and should one protect their property by using fences and or locking doors, etc. These are translatable concepts. If we should not do one, then we should not do the other.

  14. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathon,

    The government has a proper role in society given by God. That role is not defined in scripture in great detail, but it’s clear enough that it includes protecting people from truly criminal behavior.

    (Rom. 13:3-6 ESV) 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

    But the government is not put in place to make bad people good. That’s the role of the Spirit — and the Spirit only works on believers. The role of government is to protect good people from bad people. Hence, quite clearly, the government appropriately bans murder, theft, fraud, rape, etc. This is consistent with its role as protector.

    But the role of the government isn’t to create a Christian culture. Nor is it to impose Christian values on non-Christians (except in its protective role). That is, family values come from Christian families and the church, not the government.

    Hence, we should not ask or expect our government to force people to attend church (although this was the law in Philadelphia at the time of Benjamin Franklin) or to refrain from premarital sex (which was criminalized in Alabama until about 1975). These are good and holy things, and I truly wish everyone went to church and no one engaged in premarital sex. But I don’t think it’s the role of government to impose these requirements. After all, God is not honored by “obedience” that comes from fear of jail or fines. That’s merely acting out of self-interest, not love of God.

    We think God wants us to be moral people, and he does, but only if we are moral people as a consequence of our faith in Jesus. Morality for morality’s sake or because our culture insists on morality or because the law requires morality may make for a nice place to live but it does not save the damned. It doesn’t honor God. It doesn’t follow Jesus.

    If I lobby as a Christian for a law making premarital sex criminal, how do I argue to the legislature that this should be a crime? If I argue that God says it’s wrong (and he does), then I’m judging the outsider. After all, Christians need no such law to be passed, because they have, by definition, already voluntarily submitted to God’s rule. Hence, the law only matters to non-Christians. And they’ve not submitted. Hence, I judge that they must obey a Lord they do not recognize, and the power of the government must make them obey even though they don’t honor God.

    OR I have to argue based on secular public policy — which is a much harder case to make. If someone cares nothing for God, why should they refrain from sex between mutually consenting adults? Whom are we protecting with such legislation?

    Now, I happen to think that premarital sex is highly destructive to society, but (a) I think the criminal justice system isn’t the solution and (b) I doubt that I could persuade many non-Christians of this. So do I just use raw political power to impose such a law on unwilling, unconvinced secular people? How does this make Christianity and the church look to them? Would this be truly missional? Would it draw the lost toward Jesus — to impose God’s laws on them — even though they see no value or merit in these laws and do not honor God?

    To me, it entirely misperceives the nature of Christianity and the appeal of the gospel to imagine that the power of the state somehow spreads the Kingdom and makes secular people want to become Christians. We’re looking for shortcuts. Evangelism is still the solution to a world with too few Christians.

    On the other hand, we Christians dislike living in a debased, corrupt culture. We want to live in a nicer, Christ-affirming world. Good. Go start some Bible studies. The solution isn’t going to be found in the legislature because the legislature is not our Messiah, and only Jesus saves.

    In the meantime, God’s going to push the secular, lost world in a Rom 1 direction — making it less and less faux Christian and more and more obviously idolatrous — and the distinction between church and world will become more and more plain. And we’re not going to enjoy living in an increasingly worldly world. The solution is the gospel, not the ballot box.

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    The Gibeonites made a treaty, weren’t destroyed, but had limited rights. They pretty clearly weren’t proselytes. They weren’t assimilated. But Ruth and Jethro seem to have been assimilated by some means or other, although the Torah is silent on conversion of non-Jews to Judaism. “Proselyte” is a post-Exile word. The use of baptism for proselyte conversion is not much older than Jesus, if that old.

    There is no evidence of any ritual or conversion process pre-Exile. Ruth just moved to Judah and married Boaz. Rahab married into Israel. Jethro seems to have been part of the Moses family package. Like Moses’ wife, the Cushite. But we have no details. We don’t even know whether they were considered Jews or treated as sojourners. Commentators speculate, but there’s just not a lot to go on.

    The “mixed multitude” is interesting. Hadn’t noticed before. NET Bible notes say —

    The “mixed multitude” (‌עֵרֶב רַב‎‏‎, ‘erev rav) refers to a great “swarm” (see a possible cognate in Exo 8:21[17]) of folk who joined the Israelites, people who were impressed by the defeat of Egypt, who came to faith, or who just wanted to escape Egypt (maybe slaves or descendants of the Hyksos). The expression prepares for later references to riffraff who came along.

    and

    Varied groups of forced laborers seem to have taken advantage of the confused situation and fled the country with the Israelites. Ibn Ezra identified them with the people referred to as “riffraff” in Numbers 11:4.

    Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, The JPS Torah Commentary, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 62.

    So these were fellow travelers/wanderers, but I don’t see where they are assimilated as proselytes. Num 11:4 would suggest not. They may have been permanent sojourners — or they may have left the Israelite camp at some point. I don’t find much on them.

  16. Johnathon says:

    Jay you seem to be laboring under the delusion that most Christians who advocate for theses types of laws believe if people obey the government they will be saved. Christians advocate for particular laws because laws go along way in determining a societies morality. Also laws prohibiting certain behaviors even if they are not enforced often create social stigmas respecting those behavior.
    Part of being a Christian is wanting the good of your fellow creatures and doing something to bring it about. I believe the more moral a society is the better that society will be. Living in a good society is, well, good so far as it goes. Of course it is not the greatest good, salvation holds that title. But we have biblical examples of God wanting a good for people that falls short of salvation. God sent Jonah to Nineveh so that they would repent in order they would be spared a temporal punishment if not an eternal one.

  17. Christopher says:

    Jay wrote:

    If I lobby as a Christian for a law making premarital sex criminal, how do I argue to the legislature that this should be a crime?

    You sound almost like a libertarian here, Jay, in that you seem to think if there is no immediate and obvious tangible harm, then none has been done. Do you seriously think that, for instance, adultery does no harm to children, the other spouse and society at large? Or do you think that could not be demonstrated? The breaking of God’s moral laws does harm, Bible or no Bible.

  18. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    I do not see that we are empowered or commanded by Christianity to attempt to Christianize the world by using the government and legislators to force Christianity on unbelievers. But, the pioneers of our government system definitely applied a Christian influence into the creation of our government system. I do believe that if God was willed that this government remain as close to Christian values as it was when created. No man or quantity of men could have changed it. But, I do believe that as sinfulness is expanded Christianity will also shine brighter. Just as the Jews shown with brightness among the nations when they were in obedience, Christianity will shine in the darkness.

  19. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathan write,

    I believe the more moral a society is the better that society will be. Living in a good society is, well, good so far as it goes.

    Yours is a common view held by many good and smart people. I disagree.

    1. That position flatly contradicts Rom 1. God seems to clearly turn over the world to sin so that real morality — the morality that comes from having faith in Jesus — is contrasted with the decadence of a fallen world. I see nowhere that God wants non-Christians to act like Christians by the power of the state.

    2. I believe faux Christianity is more dangerous to the gospel than utter worldliness. People who act like Christians but have no relationship with Jesus, mere cultural Christians, enjoy some (not all) of the advantages of Christianity — making them harder to convert to real Christianity. In fact, it’s so hard to convert cultural Christians to real Christianity that many of our churches are filled with the unconverted. They believe in family values but don’t believe in sacrificially following Jesus. They are unwilling to pay any price for the gospel. Many won’t even agree to allow the pews to be re-arranged to make the church more visitor friendly. So, no, I have no interest in filling the world with people who act Christian-ish but are ultimately self-centered and self-indulgent. Even if they come to church and pay tithes.

    3. James Davison Hunter demonstrates convincingly in To Change the World that Christians cannot change culture through the laws — and recent history seems to prove that. It’s a good read. Very persuasive case.

    4. I see nothing in the Bible urging us to fix the culture. That’s a relic of the Constantinian church that once had control of the culture. It’s no longer true and it’s not coming back by enacting family values legislation.

    5. There is no record of the early church lobbying for family values or any such thing — and they lived in a thoroughly decadent culture. Augustus Caesar was so concerned that he’d actually enacted family value type legislation (Bruce Winter has written on this). But it doesn’t seem to have worked, and the church did not jump in and lobby for more.

    I would take a very different stance regarding crimes involving taking advantage of the weak. I think the church should certainly advocate for the protection of the weak of society — and step in and help as they can. Hence, I would favor the churches opposing lottery legislation on the grounds that the money is taken from the poor and given to the rich. I would object to a campaign based on “gambling is wrong” since I don’t find that in the Bible and it’s utterly unpersuasive to the world. Motivations matter. Since most American Christians are financially well off, arguing against our own financial interest would be very Christlike.

    There is, therefore, room for the church to work with secular people to improve the world — and to do so in the name of Jesus. But those opportunities arise when we are helping other people. When we are merely pushing an agenda to make the world a nicer place for us to live, we are acting out of self-interest — which is no crime but neither is it gospel. Even the pagans do that. And therefore no one will be drawn to Jesus by such self-interested lobbying — no matter how loudly we say we’re doing it for Jesus.

    Now, I admit that in a democracy this puts us in a dreadful bind. We are used to living off the largesse of the state. We enjoy free public schools, etc., and we complain when education becomes secular and even anti-Christian. But did we really expect a secular society to produce a God-fearing school system?

    The problem is that the church once had the political and cultural power to control the institutions of government, which led to dish-water weak Christianity, which led to the government becoming secularized, which led to a messed up society — because we wanted to use the power of the state to teach our children to pray. And it backfired on us big time — because that was never, ever the role of the state. It’s what parents and their churches should have done.

    But we’ve gotten confused, relied on the cultural and government to raise our own children, and we’re losing them — because we’ve not manned up and had the courage to raise our own children in Jesus despite the evils of the world that surround us. And when we started thinking that the government should do this for us, Satan had us on the ropes.

    The solution is to re-take control of our families from the schools and the government and take on responsibility as parents — and stop complaining that our government won’t parent our children for us. (The “Orange” philosophy of children’s and youth ministry is aimed directly at this problem. Support it. If your church isn’t doing Orange, talk to them. They should. The idea is for the ministry leaders to coach the parents on how to raise their children in Christ. Rather than the church being the primary Christian teacher, the church helps the parents take on their natural, God-given role. Amen.)

    Sorry for the soapbox speech. But that’s how I see the world. In a way, I wish to be wrong — but if I’m right and we don’t take control of our own families’ relationship with Jesus, the church is in deep, deep trouble.

  20. Johnathon says:

    “I believe the more moral a society is the better that society will be. Living in a good society is, well, good so far as it goes.

    Yours is a common view held by many good and smart people. I disagree.

    1. That position flatly contradicts Rom 1. God seems to clearly turn over the world to sin so that real morality — the morality that comes from having faith in Jesus — is contrasted with the decadence of a fallen world. I see nowhere that God wants non-Christians to act like Christians by the power of the state.”

    How is it contradictory? The society described in Rom 1 is not a moral society and does not sound like a good society to live in.
    Nowhere in Rom 1 does it say that God “turn over the world to sin so that real morality … is contrasted with the decadence of a fallen world.” The reason given in Rom 1 is that the society was worshipping not God but creatures. And, nowhere did I say that we should get the government to get non-Christians to act like Christians. Not doing an immoral act for fear of governmental punishment or society’s condemnation is not what makes a Christian a Christian. I think the Church not the government should be about the business of converting people to Christianity.
    I have not been clear on one point and for that I am sorry. I do not think passing laws is a very effective way to make a society more moral. I think the best laws can do is maintain a social stigma on immoral behavior. But they are not very good at creating that stigma.

    “2. I believe faux Christianity is more dangerous to the gospel than utter worldliness. People who act like Christians but have no relationship with Jesus, mere cultural Christians, enjoy some (not all) of the advantages of Christianity — making them harder to convert to real Christianity. In fact, it’s so hard to convert cultural Christians to real Christianity that many of our churches are filled with the unconverted. They believe in family values but don’t believe in sacrificially following Jesus. They are unwilling to pay any price for the gospel. Many won’t even agree to allow the pews to be re-arranged to make the church more visitor friendly. So, no, I have no interest in filling the world with people who act Christian-ish but are ultimately self-centered and self-indulgent. Even if they come to church and pay tithes.”

    If they are “unconverted” and “unwilling to pay any price for the gospel,” one wonders they “come to church and pay tithes.” In any event it seems extremely judgmental to accuse people of not being Christians because they disagree with you on pew placement.

    “I would take a very different stance regarding crimes involving taking advantage of the weak. I think the church should certainly advocate for the protection of the weak of society — and step in and help as they can. Hence, I would favor the churches opposing lottery legislation on the grounds that the money is taken from the poor and given to the rich. I would object to a campaign based on “gambling is wrong” since I don’t find that in the Bible and it’s utterly unpersuasive to the world. Motivations matter. Since most American Christians are financially well off, arguing against our own financial interest would be very Christlike.

    There is, therefore, room for the church to work with secular people to improve the world”

    But in the same post you claimed “I see nothing in the Bible urging us to fix the culture.” Also, you give no Biblical reason Christians should advocate for laws “regarding crimes involving taking advantage of the weak.” On one hand you don’t want Christians advocating for certain laws because you “see nothing in the Bible urging us to fix the culture.” And on the other you want Christians advocating for other laws because, well the only justification I can find in what you wrote is “I think the church should…”
    By the way I would still like an answer to my question I raised in an earlier post: If by “judging outsiders” Paul meant outlawing certain behaviors wouldn’t outlawing fraud be judging swindlers?

    “But that’s how I see the world. In a way, I wish to be wrong”
    Don’t worry you are wrong. But not all the way around, you’re only just shy of the mark. And in various ways we all are.

  21. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathan wrote (Part 1),

    How is it contradictory? The society described in Rom 1 is not a moral society and does not sound like a good society to live in.
    Nowhere in Rom 1 does it say that God “turn over the world to sin so that real morality … is contrasted with the decadence of a fallen world.”

    I entirely agree that the society Paul describes in Rom 1 is not good society to live in. But I believe a good society can only be built by Jesus and only through the Kingdom. All else is futility. Worse yet, all else distracts us from our true mission.

    Three times Paul says that God “gave them up” to become even worse sinners. Why does God do this? What is the point of choosing to let the God-less live debased lives? Regardless of the reason, the fact is that God did it and is still doing. Nothing could be plainer than the fact that the Western world is being given over by God to the same sins that Paul describes in Rom 1 — and that Paul sees God choosing this path for the damned.

    (Rom. 1:18-25 ESV) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

    Go back to v. 18. How does God reveal his wrath against ungodliness? V. 19 says “because God has shown it to them.” One way he shows his nature, per v. 20, is by revealing his divine nature in the things that have been made. That reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature — but not his wrath. God reveals his wrath, according to Paul, through the process of turning over humans to decadence. Hence, “the wrath of God is revealed” because “God gave them up.”

    The theme of this section is not that the Greco-Roman world was sinful (it was, but that’s not the point). The point is that God’s wrath — his disapproval of idolatry and any other rejection of his reign — is demonstrated by the turning over of the lost to debased living. The sin itself (as well as its consequences) reveals God’s wrath against sin — as demonstrated by the behavior of a world without Jesus.

    If this isn’t right, then how is God’s wrath revealed? Through the beauty and wonders of the Creation (v. 19)? No, God’s goodness is shown in the goodness of what he has made (Psa 19:1 ff; Job 12:7), but his wrath is shown by the debaseness of humanity — which he also made — becoming less and less in God’s image.

    If, then, “reveal” indicates the actual inflicting of God’s wrath, when, and how, does it take place? Although God will inflict his wrath on sin finally and irrevocably at the end of time (2:5), there is an anticipatory working of God’s wrath in the events of history. Particularly, as vv. 24–28 suggest, the wrath of God is now visible in his “handing over” of human beings to their chosen way of sin and all its consequences. As Schiller’s famous aphorism puts it, “The history of the world is the judgment of the world.” It is this judgment of the world that the present infliction of God’s wrath is intended to reveal. For the present experience of God’s wrath is merely a foretaste of what will come on the day of judgment. Furthermore, what both the warning of “wrath to come” and the present experience of wrath demonstrate is the sentence of condemnation under which all people outside Christ stand. It is this reality that Paul wants to get across to this readers here.

    Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 101.

    Now, one of the most difficult parts of this passage is Paul’s saying that God gave them over to this result. Whether this is God’s withdrawal of his protection or an actual push in the direction of sin, theologians differ. But either way, Paul is clearly saying that this is God’s intended outcome — although he sent Jesus to reverse it. God wants the separation of humanity from God cured — by faith in Jesus — but until then, he wants the lost world to reveal his wrath.

    God wants rejection of God to declare his wrath to the world. Just as Adam’s sin led to eviction from the Garden — and a warning to all — and Israel’s worship of the golden calf left 3,000 dead, sin has dreadful, horrible consequences in this life. And the earthly consequences of rejecting God put the world on notice that they need a Savior.

    When we imagine that our mission as Christians is to fix society without Jesus — through legislation and changing the culture — we seem to be working at cross-purposes with God. If God wants the God-less in the world to live debased, self-destructive lives, our mission is evangelistic, not legislative. Indeed, if we try to create a utopian society without Jesus, we may well become God’s enemies. And we’ll fail. Ask Hitler, Lenin, Mao, etc. They all attempted to build a better world without God. It doesn’t work. In fact, it’s the nature of things that when well-intended people use the government to make us into better people, that (a) the government takes on more power over the people and (b) things get worse. Wrong tool for the wrong job.

    Our role is to be faithful, and part of our faithfulness is to teach the damned about Jesus and so rescue them from the degradation of God-less living.

    Does that mean we are forbidden as Christians to work to pass good laws? Quite the contrary …

  22. Johnathon says:

    I agree that God giving them up to become worse sinners is one way in which God’s wrath is revealed. When people do not worship God and they sin they will become worse people. Sin corrodes our conscience and erodes our soul. The same thing happens to us. When we sin and do not repent and do not surrender ourselves, all of ourselves even the parts we like and think are alright, to Christ we become unable to distinguish between right and wrong and unable to see our own sin.
    What are Christians to do? We are called to be a peculiar people, to live in the world but not be part of the world, to be the salt and the light of the world. We should love our neighbors as ourselves. We should will the good of other people irrespective of our own good. We should be and do these things every day of the week, not just on Sunday. And we should, today this part requires courage, be willing to call immoral behavior sin. I am reminded of something Peter Kreeft wrote, and this is not directed at you Jay, “The Spanish Inquisition wrongly destroyed heretics so as to rightly destroy heresies. Today, some wrongly love heresies so as to rightly love heretics.”

    “When we imagine that our mission as Christians is to fix society without Jesus — through legislation and changing the culture — we seem to be working at cross-purposes with God.”
    Are we not doing this when we advocate for legislation to help the poor?

  23. Johnathon says:

    “Now, one of the most difficult parts of this passage is Paul’s saying that God gave them over to this result. Whether this is God’s withdrawal of his protection or an actual push in the direction of sin, theologians differ. But either way, Paul is clearly saying that this is God’s intended outcome — although he sent Jesus to reverse it. God wants the separation of humanity from God cured — by faith in Jesus — but until then, he wants the lost world to reveal his wrath.”

    I don’t think it is all that difficult. When you consider what goodness there is in the world and in us comes from God it makes since that when we reject God, when we choose ourselves over God, we are, whether we realize it or not, rejecting goodness and by doing so become evil. It is like something C.S. Lewis wrote, “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

    Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 50). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

  24. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathan wrote (Part 2),

    Also, you give no Biblical reason Christians should advocate for laws “regarding crimes involving taking advantage of the weak.” On one hand you don’t want Christians advocating for certain laws because you “see nothing in the Bible urging us to fix the culture.” And on the other you want Christians advocating for other laws because, well the only justification I can find in what you wrote is “I think the church should…”
    By the way I would still like an answer to my question I raised in an earlier post: If by “judging outsiders” Paul meant outlawing certain behaviors wouldn’t outlawing fraud be judging swindlers?

    As I said yesterday, there is a proper role for government in God’s world. The government’s proper role is protect good/innocent people from bad people. Rom 13 is quite clear. And in enacting such legislation, we aren’t so much declaring murder, etc. bad as we’re declaring that the victims deserve protection. After all, we wouldn’t want to criminalize every single bad thing any person might do — although our society is heading in that direction. We Americans continually look to the government for our salvation from our own sins. And it doesn’t work.

    Nonetheless, while government can’t make people good, government is given the power to execute God’s vengeance (some of it) against those who harm others.

    (Rom. 13:1-4 ESV) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

    Paul is referring back to Rom 12:19 (“never avenge yourselves” — implying a victim) but also Rom 1. He’s returned to the subject of God’s wrath. So although God has turned the lost world over to debased living (including murder! Rom 1:29), God mitigates the decadence through government, so that government properly protects the innocent person from the bad person. And in a democracy, a citizen is part of the government. Therefore, Christians may and should lobby and vote to protect the weak and helpless.

    It’s not enough to declare something sinful to justify criminalizing that conduct. And scriptures do not lay out a clear political science for democracy. But some things seem clear enough.

    1. God’s people are called to care for the weak and vulnerable in society. It’s not about judging victimizers as bad but protecting the victims because we love them. The thinking starts with the Golden Rule or “love your neighbor.” To protect someone from a murderer is an act of love — and plainly so. But telling a non-Christian that he must not engage in premarital sex on penalty of prison seems to be outside the proper scope of government — even though I consider premarital sex sinful.

    (Isa. 10:1-2 ESV) Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, 2 to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!

    Like Isaiah, we should cry out against those who use the government to oppress the weak in society. This is Christ-like because it’s selfless.

    Isaiah points out that sometimes it’s government itself that is oppressing the weak, exactly contrary to its purposes. When that happens, the church should exercise its prophetic voice and cry out against such wickedness in the name of Jesus. We should speak for those who have no voice.

    And this will bring glory to Jesus because we’ll be acting in the name of Jesus to defend people who have no other defender — and we’ll not be acting out of self-interest. The goal is not to judge and change culture and to impose God’s morality on the unwilling. It’s to protect the innocent against the wicked.

    Does this require a form of judgment? Well, eating breakfast requires a form of judgment. Every choice we make is a judgment. The question is whether decrying government injustice involves the sort of judging Paul prohibits in 1 Cor 5. We have to read 1 Cor 5 in light of Rom 13 — where the government is allowed to make certain, limited judgments. And in a democratic system, to a limited extent, Christians are part of the government by virtue of being able to vote — and because some Christians will be employed by the government in roles that require judging of a certain sort. And that’s not wrong. It’s part of God’s design for this age.

    But there’s a big difference between Christians voting for candidates who are opposed to murder and Christians voting for candidate who wish to criminalize premarital sex. And that distinction is not in “legislating morality” but in the difference between protecting victims vs. legislating goodness. The government can protect people from being victimized. It can’t make people good.

    3. So this leads to yet another key distinction: For whose benefit are we acting? If we’re acting out of self-interest, we’re being good American citizens, but we aren’t doing kingdom work. By definition, kingdom work is work done for others. In fact, it’s especially kingdom work when it costs us something. If I oppose the lottery for the sake of the poor, and so give up any chance of a lottery-funded free education for my children, then I’m truly being selfless. If I’m offended by the morality of gambling and don’t want to live in a state with LOTTO signs everywhere, then I’m acting for my own interest — which is not kingdom work.

    So, yes, of course every decision we make involves judging — but not every decision involves judging contrary to Rom 1 and 1 Cor 5.

    And so, defrauding people is a crime with victims. Society as a whole recognizes fraud as wrong. Thus, the justice of banning fraud will be admitted even by the secular world. And if the church sits by silently while good people are defrauded, we’ll appear useless and uncaring (because we would be).

    But gay sex between consenting adults is victimless and the prohibition of gay sex only makes sense within the Judeo-Christian worldview. Outside of God’s design for humanity, it makes no sense. Therefore, banning gay sex would be the sort of judging that Paul forbids in 1 Cor 5. In fact, pushing such a law on the non-Christians around us would lead to resentment and accusations that we’re imposing Christianity morality on non-Christians by use of the power of the state — even though our religion claims to find power in weakness. And they’d be right. And a criminal law against gay sex would not stop gay sex from happening (tried that). Rather, we’d be using the criminal justice system to declare God’s will to the damned — which is a very odd way to do evangelism, if you think about it.

    Another argument is that it would change culture — but that’s just wrong as a matter of fact. Culture cannot be legislated. Rather, what we read in the papers is the fact that when culture changes, the laws will also change. But it’s cultural change leading to political and legal changes, not the other way around.

  25. Johnathon says:

    Jay Rom 13 1-4 does not help your case either. This a passage instructing Christians to submit to governing authorities. There is nothing in this passage that prohibits those authorities from outlawing what you call “victimless” crimes. And that is a another thing, you are deluding yourself if you think consensual gay sex is “victimless.” When you consider the risk of sexually transmitted diseases associated with gay sex the most direct victims are those practicing it. Their friends and family members who see their loved ones suffering and feel obliged to help are victims as well. Today as society shifts more and more responsibility for medical payments from the individual to the collected, all who make up society are their victims.
    Neither is premarital sex “victimless.” Its victims are the children it produces and once again society at large. If you control for socioeconomic status, race, and place of residence, the strongest indicator of someone ending up in prison is that he was raised by a single parent. In 1996, seventy percent of those in state juvenile detention centers that were serving long-term sentences were raised by single mothers. Seventy-two percent of juvenile murderers and sixty percent of rapists were raised by single mothers. Seventy percent of teenage births, dropouts, suicides, runaways, juvenile delinquents, and child murderers involve children raised by single mothers. Girls raised by single mothers are more likely to be sexually promiscuous and end up divorced. The Progressive Policy Institute issued a study in 1990 that showed after controlling for single motherhood the difference between black and white crime rates disappeared.
    So if Christians should advocate for laws that protect the weak and vulnerable in society, as you seem to indicate. Passing laws that would discourage premarital sex would seem to fill that purpose. And, I seem to recall posts from you that indicate you don’t think Christians should try to pan abortion. Well the victims of abortion are the absolute most weak and vulnerable in any society.
    You say it is alright to advocate for laws outlawing fraud, in effect judging swindlers, because we are protecting their victims. There is a problem with this. Paul does not distinguish swindlers from the sexually immoral, idolater, reviler, or drunkard. Paul does not give an exception to judging outsiders, you are inventing one. And you not even consistently apply that exception.

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