While attending graduate school at the University of Virginia, I had the opportunity to participate in a study that examined religion from a sociological and cultural perspective.
While most of the work focused on contemporary issues growing out of the sociology of religion, we also occasionally made forays into issues from the past.
In a particularly memorable session we talked about “memory” in the life of a religious movement. Our discussion focused on how religious groups change as their socio-economic status changes.
For example, we studied several examples of literature composed by the people of Israel during times when they were living as an exploited minority under the thumbs of one oppressive empire or another.
Here are a few examples of the texts we studied. All of these quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
From Leviticus 19:33-34 we read: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
And this verse from Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Here are some words from Malachi 3:5: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in their wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me.”
Or how about these thoughts from Deuteronomy 27:19: “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan and the widow of justice.”
Also, let’s not overlook Zechariah’s stern warning: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”
Ezekiel 47:22 also offers thoughts on this matter: “You shall allot (some of the land) as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.”
So much for the “anchor baby” complaint.
And we can’t forget this one: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing that America should adopt the Law of Moses and teaching of Jesus as the law of the land – though there are plenty of folk who would like to do just that.
The point I am making is simply this: Any group of people who claim to be a Christian majority, as is the case in Alabama, should not be celebrating the adoption of the harshest and most comprehensive anti-immigration law in the country – not in the light of these biblical memories of oppression.
We should do one of two things – give up our claim to being a Christian majority, or adjust our ethics to conform to biblical teaching on the matter. We cannot have it both ways.
It is a sad example of what happens when a minority religion forgets its roots and becomes the oppressive majority.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.