A group calling themselves Conservative Christians of Alabama was recently encouraged by their leader to “intimidate” the city council of Huntsville. That word, “intimidate,” is the word they used.
It may seem odd to connect the word “Christian” and the word “intimidate.” After all, Jesus did tell us to love everybody. But before we go too far down the gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild road, let’s recall the cleansing of the Temple.
Mark’s Gospel seems to indicate that the cleansing was carefully planned. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem in the late afternoon. He looks around, and then leads the disciples back to Bethany for the night. The next morning he returns to the Temple, drives out the money changers and then apparently holds the outer court at siege all day long. Mark writes that Jesus “would not let anyone carry anything through,” which would seem to confirm that Jesus sort of shut the place down for a whole day.
So did Jesus’ actions intimidate his opposition? His actions were certainly not a violent attack on the Temple, as some pro-violence folks would seek to make it. In fact, given the symbolic character of the event, cleansing the Temple was the epitome of a non-violent protest. But even with all that, we can’t rule out the intimidation factor–especially if there was concern among some that the protest was being led by God’s only Son.
So, I’m not too upset that a Christian group would be passionate and aggressive in pursuing something they think is important. The Civil Rights movement was a fairly confrontational faith endeavor. No, the problem with the group in Huntsville is not their tactics, it’s their message.
The Conservative Christians of Alabama were not protesting some political arrangement that keep people away from the resources of life–as was Jesus’ concern in the Temple. The group in Huntsville was seeking to use their influence to intimidate the city council into enforcing tougher immigration laws.
This is where the Christian group in Huntsville parts company with the Jesus of the New Testament, and the Old Testament for that matter. The Bible is a book written by illegal immigrants–it is their claim to fame. The people of Israel as portrayed in the pages of the Hebrew Bible are the quintessential outsiders. Moses continually reminds them, “remember when you were aliens in Egypt.” And in other places, “therefore, be compassionate to the sojourner in your midst.”
Jesus elevates the immigrant to a universal level of significance in the eyes of God. His expectation that his followers will care for the “least of these,” and his explicit “I was a stranger, and you took me in,” leaves little doubt about where he stood on the matter.
There are many good reasons why we might want immigration reform. We might believe there are finite resources in this country and we must protect what is ours. We might believe that loose immigration poses a threat to national security and seek to restrict immigration for our own protection. We might resent those who prosper while breaking the law. These are all legitimate arguments.
But these are not arguments Jesus would make. Jesus made it clear that he was on the side of the stranger in our midst. In fact, he indicated that he was something of a sojourner himself–in the world, but not of it. Besides all that, Jesus seemed to want something he called the kingdom of God, and in that kingdom the outcast and the immigrant always get preferential treatment.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.