On Interior Design and the Border Crisis
I recently decided two things. First, oil-based paint truly scales the great heights of human devilry. Second, if I’m right about that, then the mindset of fear surrounding the surge of foreign unaccompanied minors across the U.S.-Mexican border dances on the very pinnacle. I know that sounds like a non sequitur, but stick with me.
My wife and I just bought a house, and it fell to me to repaint the hideous interior. After a couple dozen hours of slathering paint and breathing fumes, I came to this conclusion: oil-based paint is an abominable and twisted invention. In terms of its absolute villainy, I rank the stuff somewhere between waterboarding and the band One Direction. It is a recklessly stubborn substance, refusing to leave even when asked with harsh chemical inducements. It plasters absolutely everything you know and love, and just when you think you’ve scoured every last recalcitrant splotch from your raw skin, the local Mennonite baker informs you there remains a huge white glob in your ear canal (That was my experience, anyway; I can’t guarantee you’ll meet the local Mennonite baker when you repaint your home.)
I loathe that paint. It’s infuriating through and through, and as I labored speckled and spotted with the roller in my hand I believed that nothing—nothing—could vex me more. Cue a story from NPR’s All Things Considered about June’s GOP primary race in Oklahoma1. The ongoing immigration crisis, in which thousands of young Central Americans push through our southern border in a bid for asylum, was the main talking point. The hopefuls were a pair of reliable conservatives duking it out in a conservative state. Their (shared) stance was unsurprising and, for constituents, uncontroversial: deport the offenders and secure the borders. The story was forgettable and well on its way of passing in one paint-stained ear and out the other until I heard this gem, courtesy of the chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, David Weston:
“The fact that we can’t even keep 6-year-olds out of our country, that’s very concerning, very alarming — not only from a national security view point but from a health viewpoint.”
True, I thought. It’s very dangerous for those kids.
I assumed he was about to say something compassionate. Instead, he posed this question:
“What diseases could these children be carrying?”
I was wrong about paint. I find questions such as these far more exasperating.
What diseases could these children be carrying? He uses the word children, but the chairman makes them sound like stowaway rats on a ship inbound from medieval Europe. I understand public health concerns. I do; that is why I am adamantly pro-vaccine, for example. But when the first question that comes to mind when someone in need arrives on our doorstep is not “How can I serve you?” but “Are you contagious?”, that is a distinct departure from the model of Christ. He sought the sick and touched them with his hands. He healed on the Sabbath against the law of men. As for receiving children, he said this:
“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 19:14)2
Of course, I don’t at all believe the Lord’s command here means we’re somehow obligated to fling wide the gates and encourage unchecked and unmitigated immigration for everyone, even minors. But I do believe it means we, as individuals, are obligated by the point of the nails in the cross to regard these refugees and asylum-seekers with the utmost dignity, love, and patience. Arguments like this (not limited to Weston3) instead tempt us to believe that we are the victims and they are the threat. This gives us license to allow fear to guide our response rather than the Lord.
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
Emphasis on the danger of embracing these children is neither just nor kind.
“Ah, but they are law-breakers,” you say. “It is illegal immigration, and they are breaking the law. To prosecute them would be just.”
You might have me with that argument . . . if America’s cultural fabric weren’t entirely woven from rebellion. Not only is breaking the rules essential to our founding narrative, but we celebrate it unabashedly today. Books, movies, television, video games- whatever your medium, it is bursting with vigilantes, anti-heroes, and all around law-breakers. We love our rebels because we see them embrace a higher cause, a principle we hold dear. We see that what is legal is not always the same as what is good. Jesus, who I believe is the most subversive of all our heroes, expressed the same against the legalists:
But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. (Luke 11:42)
And he said, ‘Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. (Luke 11:46)
Of course, I don’t advocate breaking the law, and I don’t dismiss the fact that our laws, which in reality are designed to reflect our values and keep society stable, have been broken. My point is this: The Christian life is tough, not in the least because it requires us to think critically and reconcile sometimes antithetical commands. Obey the authorities, obey the Spirit. These can and will clash, but we need to err on the side of mercy, where God is. In Letters to an American Lady4, C.S. Lewis writes that in matters of charity, he would far rather by swindled by a number of cheats than discover he had turned away a single person who needed his aid. This is a model attitude. We need to cultivate a character that reflects the mercy, kindness, and concern for our neighbor that Jesus has, a character that does not regard needy children with self-centered fear but with self-sacrificing courage. This might occasionally take us where the law does not go; recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the black civil rights movement. Also remember that we are blessed to live in a democracy, and it is within our power to change the law when it does not follow us to the point of our convictions.
I do understand, of course, that the issue entails more than merely tackling it with the right heart. But I also believe that it’s a strong place to start, and more likely than not the better part of the battle. For now, let’s allow the seed of grace planted by God to flower in our thoughts and prayers on this matter. Next time, we’ll examine what a Christ-centered approach to the current border crisis looks like.
In the mean time, please don’t try to tell me about the dangers of disease-ridden children. I’d rather go paint.
View Sources 1. Brian Naylor. “In Oklahoma Senate Race, A Choice Between Two Deep Shades Of Red.” NPR, June 23, 2014. Accessed July 30, 2014. 2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 3. Michele Richinick. “GOP congressman: Ebola could spread across the border.” MSNBC, July 15, 2014. Accessed July 30, 2014. 4. C.S. Lewis. Letters to An American Lady (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971). 108.
1. Brian Naylor. “In Oklahoma Senate Race, A Choice Between Two Deep Shades Of Red.” NPR, June 23, 2014. Accessed July 30, 2014.
2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
3. Michele Richinick. “GOP congressman: Ebola could spread across the border.” MSNBC, July 15, 2014. Accessed July 30, 2014.
4. C.S. Lewis. Letters to An American Lady (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971). 108.