The Table Video

Thomas M. Crisp

Tired, Poor, and Huddled Masses: We Don't Want You Here

CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
June 15, 2017
Immigrants and refugees have had a rough go in recent political discourse. What should we followers of Jesus and his teachings on neighbor love think about this? I’ll argue in this talk that we should be deeply troubled by it and that Jesus’s teachings pull in the direction of much more welcoming immigration practices than exist in the U.S. and most other modern states.

Well thank you I’m delighted to be with you. Um, as Even says I’ve been thinking about the love commands. Wondering about the implications for various matters moral. And have just really started thinking about their implications for matters having to do with immigration. And so wanna run by you and we’ll see what you think.

So, living in Europe, um, during the time of the Holocaust, were millions of Jews. And approximately 6 million were killed in the Holocaust. The number of non-Jews living in Nazi-controlled areas, during that time was about 300 million. And the number of those who tried to help Jewish neighbors and friends survive the Holocaust was minuscule. By conservative estimates about a hundred thousand, maybe a hundred thousand if that number.

But far less than one-tenth of one percent. It took concrete steps to help their Jewish friends and neighbors survive the Holocaust. And now the question is why? Why such small numbers? Why not more? And no doubt the reasons are complicated, but an important part of this story would be I think, that we human-beings are subject at the drop of a hat to group think. To thinking something is so because everyone thinks it’s so. And Europeans at that time had embraced in shockingly large numbers of violent and hate-filled Antisemitism, that made it easy to regard their Jewish neighbors as something less than human. And so Europeans, at the time fell into a kind of systemic moral blindness.

A blindness to egregiously wrong treatment of the members of, in this case; the population of people with Jewish descent. Owing at least partly to the fact that the treatment in question was so utterly normal. Everyone did it. Everyone accepted it, and it made it easy to fall into thinking in that way. And so other cases of systemic moral blindness come to mind besides the violent Antisemitism in Europe and the Americas. Of course there was the Chattel slavery in the Americas of the 16th through the 19th centuries. The Post-Civil-War Jim Crow era. And other examples come to mind.

And what I wonder about is this; are we in the grip of systemic moral blindness? And about what? Of course its hard to see what we’re blind to, if indeed we are in the grip of systemic moral blindness. But I’ve come to suspect that we are in the grip of such blindness when it comes to our immigration enforcement practices. And so let me try to motivate this concern with a parable. Now this I adapt from some writing on immigration ethics by the University of Colorado philosopher Michael Huemer, whose writing I appreciate, and so here’s the parable. Marvin’s crops have failed and his family is facing starvation. So he loads his handmade furniture into his truck and drives 200 miles to the nearest town to sell his wares at the towns marketplace. Sam, a regular at the market place, notices the stranger setting up his booth and inquires about it. On learning that Marvin will be selling furniture, Same is upset; Sam’s sons sell furniture in the marketplace and Sam is worried that Marvin’s booth will take away business from his sons. So he decides to act; shotguns in hand, he and his sons confiscate Marvin’s furniture and detain him in their basement for several months before dropping him off thousands of miles away from his home. Marvin eventually makes it home to discover that his family has starved. Now most of us I take it would think that Sam’s behavior is morally egregious, and different ethical systems would give different answers to the question: why? From the standpoint from a love ethic rooted in Jesus’s love teachings; I think there’s a fairly simple answer to the question: what went wrong in Sam’s treatment of Marvin? And it was that Sam’s treatment constitutes an egregious violation of the love neighbor command.

It’s a textbook case of failing to love ones neighbor as one loves oneself. And so I wanna think a little bit with you now about the love neighbor command, and look a little more closely at what it is; what it involves. So love your neighbor as yourself. Now it’s it’s not just a straight forward matter to interpret biblical teachings on the love neighbor command. And so I don’t have time to argue much for my interpretation. I’ll just put forward to you how I am inclined to read the command. There are three parts to it love your neighbor as yourself. And so the thing to start with is the question; what kind of love is at issue here? Agape is the Greek word but knowing the Greek, that the Greek word doesn’t really tell us much.

What is agape? I follow the Christian philosopher; one of my philosopher mentors Nicholas Wolterstorff. In thinking that New testament agape has two parts to it. What Wolterstorff calls an attraction love component and an benevolence love component. Attraction love is the love you have something for something when you’re attracted to it, you’re drawn to it, you’re in it’s grip. Something beautiful about it has drawn you in. And I think agape as an element of attraction. It enjoins us to appreciate or stand in awe of the neighbors enormous worth or dignity, as one beloved by God, as one created in Gods image. And so agape is about standing in awe of or having enormous appreciation for the worth or beauty of a neighbor who is beloved by our abba. And then there is benevolence love which is about seeking the good, the flourishing, the well-being of the beloved. And their one must ask the question: what is the kind of good at issue? If I’m to seek your good; what is your good? And here I can just only assert that as I read biblical teaching on love; you have to trace it back to its original context in Leviticus. And there what’s going on I think is that, the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is a commandment to seek your neighbors inclusion in Shalom community. Shalom community, that beautiful community described throughout Hebrew scripture, where the picture is all have their sustenance needs met, all are safe against harms, all are treated with dignity. And so the benevolence love component of the love command is I think an injunction to seek the neighbors Shalom; his sustenance, his security, his dignity.

Now who’s your neighbor, and here I just suggest that as I read the parable of the good samaritan the point is your neighbor is anyone in need and in reach of your care. Your neighbor is anyone in need. Doesn’t matter whether this person is in a ethnic group. Whether this person is in a different religious group. Whether this person is in a different racial group. None of that matters. Your neighbor is anyone in need in reach of your care. And then as yourself; what is it to love your neighbor as yourself? And here I’ll just suggest it’s about seeking neighbor Shalom as one would normally seek Shalom for oneself. With that kind of intensity. With that kind of resolve. It’s about putting pursuit of neighbor Shalom on a par with pursuit of your own Shalom. Tying it all together then, we a get a picture like this; of the love and the love neighbor command in Jesus’s teaching. It’s something like: move by appreciation of your neighbor’s [anyone in need and in reach of your care] enormous worth as an image bearer of God, seek her Shalom–her sustenance, security, dignity– putting pursuit of these things for her on a par with pursuit of them for yourself. And now with this in mind we can go back and ask; okay so where did Sam go wrong in his treatment of Marvin? And I want to suggest that where Sam went wrong, was he was not putting Marvin’s Shalom on a par with his own. That infliction of violent harm on someone who seeks merely to meet his sustenance needs by honest work– in order to protect one’s own economic interest, is a textbook case of not putting neighbor Shalom on a par with one’s own.

That’s where Sam went wrong. That he violently coerced Marvin who posed no threat of violence against him. Who merely was attempting to meet his sustenance needs by honest work. In service of Sam’s own economic interest and those of his children. And I want to paradigmatic case of not putting neighbor Shalom on a par with one’s own. Now, does this parable carry over in the obvious way to the case of immigration? So lets see. Here’s the parable retold with the bits, the obvious bits of it changed to apply to our immigration enforcement practices. So Marvin’s crops have failed and his family is facing starvation. He drives 200 miles to the nearest U.S. town to sell to his labor in the town’s marketplace. Uncle Sam notices the stranger attempting to sell his labor and inquires about it. On learning that Marvin is an undocumented immigrant, Uncle Sam is upset; U.S. citizens sell their labor in the marketplace and Uncle Sam is worried that Marvin’s labor will lower the wages of his citizens and raise the cost of their social welfare programs. So he decides to act; shotguns in hand, Uncle Sam’s agents confiscate Marvin’s furniture and detain him in an ICE detention center for several months before dropping him off thousands of miles away from his home.

Marvin eventually makes it home to discover that his family has staved. Now this kind of thing happens with shocking frequency in our immigration enforcement practices. Each year over 400,000 people immigrants, asylum-seekers, and in many cases, victims of human trafficking are detained for months, sometimes years in often less-than-humane conditions in Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] detention centers. In 2013 alone ICE records indicate over 72,000 deportees reported being separated from a U.S. born child. And enduring the pain of family separation, which we can only imagine is incredibly intense. And then deportation. Tens of thousands of deportees each year who find themselves deported to countries which they left long ago, in which they have no meaningful support system, either don’t speak the local language at all or speak it poorly, and have no means supporting themselves. And suffer devastating consequences as a result. Post-traumatic stress disorder, hunger, homelessness, etcetera.

So there is a lot of violence visited by our immigration enforcement practices against immigration peoples. And now the question is: how should we think about all this from the perspective of the love command? Is there a parallel diagnosis of what we’re doing as a people against immigration or whether against immigrant peoples. To the case of Sam and Marvin is there a obvious parallel hold there? Is there a moral difference between what we’re doing and what Sam was doing in our first parable. And I want to suggest it doesn’t look like it to me. Infliction of violent harm on people who seek merely to meet their sustenance needs by honest work and pose no threat of violent harm to us. In order to protect our own economic interests, is a textbook care of our not putting these neighbors’ Shalom on a par with our own. To treat them thus is to fail to love them as we love ourselves. It’s to wrong them. That’s how it looks to me. It looks to me like the parallel between the two cases is fairly tight.

Now, this is a complex topic. I want to emphasize, there various objections one could raise. So let me briefly consider two. Although maybe I’ll stop and state clearly my claim. So here’s my claim. There are deep tensions between Jesus’s love teachings and widespread immigration enforcement practices. This puts pressure on those of us who’ve given ourselves to following Jesus and his love teachings to stop supporting these practices and to work against them. That’s the claim, and that’s how it seems to me. But as I say this is complicated there are objections, so let me consider these two. First, worries about terrorism. So we live in an age in which there is widespread dissemination of radical Islamic and other kinds of terrorism. And this is a very real concern. And so you might worry, that if we were to dramatically relax our immigration enforcement practices, that we would run the risk of importing terrorism into our midst. There’s also a very real worry about swamping. That if we were to dramatically relax our immigration enforcement practices, then open up our borders, allowing lots more immigrant peoples in, allowing lots more refugee settlements in our midst. That it would put a kind of unsustainable pressure on governmental systems. Welfare systems, educational systems, medical systems, and so forth. And now there are empirical things to say in response. Historically the number of refugees for instance that have come in to the United States, and run into trouble with the law on issues related to terrorism has been minuscule. I mean just very very few cases of this happening.

And so you might wonder is the level of violence we’re visiting on immigration or rather on immigrant people and refugees, is that proportionate to the danger we face from importing of terrorism. You might wonder that; I don’t propose to suggest one way or the other. There’s also the question of swamping. There are empirical questions about whether there are real dangers of swamping. And this is the subject of some disagreement among economists who study these things. But for instance in the United States where there is open immigration. There hasn’t been a case where poor parts of the country empty out and swamp the medical, local governmental, and educational systems of richer areas the country. That just hasn’t happened. There’s also the fact that during the economic down turn of 08′ and 09′, immigration virtually slowed to a halt because there were no jobs. And some reason to think that immigration naturally balances itself out based on economic conditions.

But not everybody thinks that’s so. Some have raised real concerns about the possibility of swamping, so I don’t want to minimize the worry here. So there are empirical things one might say in response to the terrorism. There are empirical points one might raise in response to the worries about terrorism and swamping. But I want to raise a philosophical ethical response in the form of another parable. So see what you think. So here’s the parable of Sam and the liver transplant. Ten people await liver transplants, nice of which will likely die before a liver becomes available. One is Sam’s daughter. To increase her chances of survival, Sam forcibly detains the other nine his basement until after his daughter has had the transplant. Several die in captivity. Now most of us I take it would grant that Sam’s behavior here is egregious, morally abhorrent.

Why? Well again, different ethical frameworks will provide different answers. From the framework of a love ethic rooted in Jesus’s love teachings and in the neighbor love command in particular, the diagnosis here is that Sam’s treatment of these nine people fails to love as he’s loving himself. Infliction of violent harm on those who pose no threat of violence to anyone in order to secure some interest of ones own. Even a vital interest (for example a life saving liver transplant for a loved one), is a textbook case of not putting these neighbors’ Shalom on a par with ones own; it’s textbook case of failing to love these neighbors as one loves oneself. And now I want to suggest that it looks to me like something holds in the immigration case as well. That in the immigration case infliction of violent harm infliction of violent harm on immigrant peoples who seek merely to meet their sustenance needs by honest work and pose no threat of violence to anyone. Right I’m talking about those immigrant people who come over who aren’t terrorists. We’re talking about the vast vast majority. They’re not terrorist. They’re not engaged in any kind violent criminal activity. They’re merely coming to work and provide for themselves. Infliction of violent harm such peoples in order to secure some interest of ours, even a vital interest. For example safety against terrorism in the like. Is a textbook case of not putting these neighbors Shalom on a par with our own. It’s to seek our Shalom with far more intensity than we’re seeking theirs. Again it looks to me like just as Sam would wrong these nine other people to secure his daughter’s opportunity for the liver transplant. I worry we are wronging these many many immigrants peoples to secure interests of our own. I’ll be at vital interests.

So in closing then, I suggest there are deep tensions between Jesus’s love teachings and widespread immigration enforcement practices. But I have to say that these aren’t going to change any time soon. We now live in a global geopolitical reality in which these kinds of immigration enforcement practices are the norm across the nations with very few exceptions. And so this is the political reality we live in. and what we Jesus followers need to think about it seems to me is what do we do in light of this political reality. Do we ignore it? Do we speak out against it? Do we stand in love for immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters who are being subjected to enormous harm and suffering in the name of our lord? Thank you very much.

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