In the Sermon on the Mound at the 1988 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Margaret Thatcher attempted to justify her ideological position of individualism against that of societal control.
She said such supposedly controversial things as: “The tenth commandment – thou shalt not covet – recognises that making money and owning things could become selfish activities. But it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but love of money for its own sake. The spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one does with the wealth.’ She also quoted Paul: ‘If a man will not work he shall not eat’.
The outcry was unrestrained. ‘Appalling misuse of Scripture’, was typical, if more nuanced than ‘How many ways can a person speak and condemn themselves to hell? Margaret Thatcher did so here’. Any socially or politically conservative who quotes Scripture or expounds a theological justification for conservative positions is in for a hiding.
This was illustrated recently in the USA. Representative Jodey Arrington (R., Texas), was arguing for means tests for welfare programmes. He said: ‘The Scripture tells us in II Thessalonians 3:10: ‘For even when we were with you we gave you this rule: If a man will not work, he shall not eat’. And then he goes on to say, ‘We hear that some among you are idle’. I think that every American — Republican or Democrat — wants to help the neediest among us. And I think it’s a reasonable expectation that we have work requirements’.
All hell broke loose. The Washington Post ran a headline, ‘GOP lawmaker: The Bible says the unemployed “shall not eat.”’ Which is precisely what neither Mr Arrington or the apostle Paul said. ThePost suggested biblical conservatives were cruel and overbearing — but true Christians would argue for government support for the unemployed.
The New York Times, that respected source of biblical scholarship, joined the heresy hunt. They ran a spoof column purporting to be a biblical interpretation of the ideology of Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the Senate. The column placed Ryan into various scenarios with Jesus in which he corrects Jesus on His actions concerning mercy and kindness.
Jesus’ healing of the woman who touched the hem of His garment was mistaken as it taught her welfare dependency. The parable of the good Samaritan got it wrong because it teaches people to persist in self-destructive behaviour, like taking dangerous roads, relying on others to come to the rescue.
Theological liberals and secular fellow-travellers tend to full bore fundamentalism when it comes to biblical interpretation. Verses are used as proof texts, often out of context. Those with a differing interpretation are viewed as vile heretics distorting the plain teaching of Scripture.
With today’s most pressing political issue, immigration, it couldn’t be clearer. Franklin Graham suggested the Trump travel ban from mainly Muslim countries might be no bad thing. The reaction would have been more restrained if Graham had paraded through a cathedral wearing red tights, horns and carrying a pitchfork whilst expelling fire from his nostrils. It has been suggested he has ‘lost his mind’, that he is ‘intolerant’, suffering from ‘political paranoia’, even his own Baptist denomination has denounced him.
This deliberately ignores the fact that Graham heads Samaritan’s Purse, a humanitarian organisation providing vital medical care in countries such as Somalia, Sudan, and Kosovo. Samaritan’s Purse has also built large-scale feeding programmes in locations like Darfur. All places with largely Muslim populations. They currently staff centres on five Greek islands, two in mainland Greece, and one in Croatia, providing food, shelter and medical aid to refugees. But because Graham does not agree with facile progressive biblical interpretations he is condemned.
It is too easy to virtue signal concerning immigration whilst ignoring balance. It is difficult to biblically justify a country allowing just anyone who wishes to enter. Christian faith does not demand we ignore the genuine dangers of unfettered Muslim immigration. The treatment of Christians in the Middle East must cause pause for thought.
Scripture clearly teaches that ‘the least of these’, whom Jesus equates with Himself, includes refugees and immigrants. However, care for outsiders has to be balanced with the biblical justification for safeguarding those already under our care. ‘The least of these’ also includes the vulnerable already within the country. Immigration policy must wisely balance conflicting responsibilities. When confronting issues fundamentally affecting the entire nation, the Christian should call for prudence from government.
Basic Christian charity demands we accept those in need of safety. But the government also has the duty to preserve the nation’s peace and the safety of the citizens. As the much abused Franklin Graham said ‘our job is to show God’s love and compassion.’ But he added that the best way to do so ‘is to reach out and help these people in their own countries,’ and see if it is possible to keep them from becoming refugees in the first place. ‘We need to pray for political solutions that would bring peace and allow them to return to their homes as they desire.’
Boundaries and borders exist in the Bible. The Old Testament is replete with injunctions to strengthen the walls of cities in the face of foreign invasion, Psalm 147:13f; I Chronicles 11:8, 18:6; II Chronicles 33:14; Nahum 2:1 are only a few instances where walls are mentioned in Scripture. When Nehemiah returned to rebuild Jerusalem the first item on the agenda was to rebuild the wall, which they did with weapons in hand.
Open borders could all too easily import into the West the tension and violence that has seen the Christian population of the Middle East drastically shrink under Muslim apartheid. Taking precautions against potential terrorists falls within the scope of Jesus’s teaching concerning reading the signs of the times Matthew 16:3, and being shrewd Matthew 10:16.
(Image: Freedom House)