When I taught AP Human Geography, I discovered a series of videos that went very well with our assigned curriculum, Power of Place. The second volume of the video series is entitled Boundaries and Borderlands.
“The first case study, Twin Cities, Divided Lives, follows the story of Concha Martinez as she crosses between the U.S. and Mexico in order to make a life for herself and her children. It investigates how the relative locations of border cities influence economic development and migration.”
It was watching this video and discussing its implications with my students which first made me rethink the United State’s immigration policies. Concha Martinez, a single mother living in a shack with her four children, risks arrest, snake bite, death from exposure, and other dangers just to cross that border every night and attempt to make the money she needs to feed her children. In the video, border patrol agents use night vision to catch crossers like Concha and hold them in jail and/or send them back. Even though she has been caught before, she continues to make the crossing.
This is not a legislative problem, it is a human problem, and the situation requires a human solution.
Donald Trump, current forerunner for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination, has vowed to build a wall between the United States and Mexico which once and for all will keep out unwanted illegal immigrants. He states that building the wall will be easy, and it will keep out the murderers and rapists which regularly cross into our country from Mexico. He even proposes to name it the Great Wall of Trump. His words drip with hatred and form an aggressive physical attack people like Concha Matinez. Yet, based on his success in the polls, many Christians must be supporting him and his proposed policies.
In the book, In His Steps, Charles Monroe Sheldon traces the development of a community, Raymond, whose pastor offers a challenge to all Christians in his congregation to live their life based on one simple principle: every decision they make should be acted on only after asking “What Would Jesus Do?”
The fascinating part of the story is that while this appears to be a straightforward approach to decision making, it is actually much more complicated. This is because the Bible is limited in its scope and context and is interpreted in diverse ways. The characters in Sheldon’s story all struggle with exactly how to apply Biblical principles and the teachings of Jesus in such a way as to live their lives in as Christ-like a manner as possible. It is the interpretation of the Christ-like life which a prescriptive ethical approach requires as we engage with immigration and national border lines.
In Sheldon’s book, first published in 1897 and the inspiration for the “What Would Jesus Do” movement, there were two separate parts of the city: the business/residential section, and the lower socio-economic area known as the Rectangle. This division represents the divisions in society today: economic, social, cultural, etc… Although the book did not necessarily address political and/or racist divisions, the idea of a line separating cultures suits the study of the U.S./Mexico border situation.
In the book, a local pastor challenges his parishioners to spend a full year deciding their actions by the question “What Would Jesus do?” In their attempt to follow this call, the residents find themselves increasingly drawn to the area of the Rectangle, investing time, money, labor, and heart into assisting these people in gaining better lives.
When asking “What Would Jesus do?” as regards the current border situation between Mexico and the U.S., it is important to recognize that most of us are not directly involved in border patrol, creating legislation, or pursuing potential illegal immigrants in the desert. We also are not blameless in the fact that this horrible situation persists.
Most of us participate in this border crisis through our sins of omission. This is best exemplified by the character in the book who is the president of the local college. As he discerns how to follow the challenge of being more Christ-like, he arrives at the conclusion that his sins have been more in what he has neglected to do.
“I have purposely avoided the responsibility that I owe to this city personally…[I] have been satisfied to let other men run the municipality and have lived in a little world of my own, out of touch and sympathy with the real world of the people…But the call has come so plainly to me that I cannot escape…we professional men, ministers, professors, artists, literary men, scholars, have almost invariably been political cowards. We have avoided the sacred duties of citizenship ignorantly or selfishly. Certainly Jesus in our age would not do that. We can do no less than take up this cross and follow Him.” (pages 106)
It is this sin of omission which the prescriptive ethical approach should address in the current volatile situation on the U.S. Mexico border. As members of the body of Christ, church members have a moral obligation to not only care for, but to stand up for, those who are oppressed or in need. It is plainly pointed out by Jesus that we are to treat all human beings, no matter their position in life, as we would treat Jesus himself.
Matthew 25:34-40 34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear?39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
This chapter goes on to say that if you do not treat others in this manner, then you will not be received into the kingdom of God. This is repeated in the teachings of Jesus time and time again. Love God and love your neighbor. Nothing else is more important than these. Looking at the thousands who are dying in the deserts, the families who are separated, the starvation, disease, abuse, and deprivation of the Latino people who are living out this nightmare of being physically blocked off, rounded up, and killed, there is no question that the edict of Christ is not being lived out toward those attempting to enter this country by Christians who are already living here.
One major issue with this situation is attempting to engage a church congregation in taking an active role. Moral analysis through a prescriptive ethical motif is somewhat simple: the current legislation, the building of a fence, and treatment of people who are attempting to enter this country stands in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Therefore, discussion and debate are mute through this approach, and what is required is a plan of action, because this is what Jesus would do.
Luke 4:18-19 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, 19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
1 John 3:17-18 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Luke 3:11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
The admonition to care for the poor, the oppressed and specifically immigrants is also evident in the Old Testament:
Leviticus 19:33-34 33 When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. 34 Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
The teachings of Christ and his Apostles are clear that knowing the word is not enough, but acting upon it is a requirement to be a follower of Christ.
James 1:23-25 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.
A church using a prescriptive ethical motif based on the sacred text of the Bible and attempting to follow the creed of “What would Jesus do?” is morally and ethically required to fight for the rights of, lend aid to, and open hearts and doors to their fellow human beings who happen to live on the opposite side of an imaginary line drawn through a desert in the North American southwest. Church members should meet immigrants in the desert with water and help them find sanctuary. They should lobby lawmakers, organize protests, hand out brochures, organize public meetings, take supplies to holding areas, monitor borders to witness the actions of patrol officers, and stand in unison between Latino immigrants and those who threaten them with danger. This defines a revolutionary movement, but these are the required actions to live out the demands of the love of the Christ. Some in the congregation may object to this radical view on the grounds that these actions run contrary to existing laws. It is clear from scripture, that Christ was not bound by unjust laws.
Mark 3:1-6 Jesus returned to the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there.2 Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 3 He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they said nothing. 5 Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did, and his hand was made healthy.
John 5:16-17 16 As a result, the Jewish leaders were harassing Jesus, since he had done these things on the Sabbath. 17 Jesus replied, “My Father is still working, and I am working too.”
Through the actions of Christ, we see that unjust laws are not to be observed. The ultimate laws of Christ were to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Any civil law that goes against these two laws is therefore an unjust law. Laws that result in the situation that immigrants currently experience would be considered by Jesus to be unjust.
Consequently, a prescriptive ethical analysis based on the sacred text of the Bible would necessarily lead a congregation to become actively involved in providing aid, sanctuary, and support for immigrants and lead the members of the congregation to work for the abolishment of unjust laws. The prescriptive ethical motif demands the love and inclusion by Christians of immigrants who are desperately attempting to build a better life for themselves and their families. It is nothing more than what Jesus would do.
All Bible passages are quoted from the NSRV. A digital, searchable version of the entire text is available here.