Shakespeare once wrote that “the devil can cite scripture for his purpose,” but it appears that some hardcore anti-immigration members of Congress can do the same.
At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention testified in favor of comprehensive immigration reform by saying that members of his denomination “recognize a biblical mandate to care for ‘the least of these among us’ (Matthew 25:34-40), to care for the ‘strangers’ who reside in our land (Leviticus 19:34; Hebrews 13:2) and to act justly and mercifully (Micah 6:8).”
Conservative white evangelicals have traditionally favored harsh immigration policies, but Land has been arguing over a number of years that there is “a divine mandate to act redemptively and compassionately toward those who are in need.” Senate Democrats have recently been seeking Land’s help and that of other religious leaders in an attempt to gain bipartisan support for immigration reform — but in the House committee that effort appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), for example, responded to the testimony by Land and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Tucson, AZ archdiocese by complaining that “open borders” seems to be the only “biblically acceptable option.”
“I didn’t realize that the Bible barred the enforcement of immigration laws,” he remarked sarcastically, “and neither did I realize that it erased borders, demanded pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants, or … forbid the leaders of a nation from caring most about the well-being of its own citizens.”
King — a prominent anti-immigrationist who recently became a center of controversy when he suggested that President Obama “has a default mechanism in him that breaks down [on] the side of race” — also noted with approval the Israeli policy of building “border fences to protect their citizens from terrorists or illegal job seekers alike.”
But it was Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) who made the most concerted effort to counter Land’s biblical arguments on their own terms, insisting that “a truly Christian moral approach would be not to acquiesce to illegal immigration, but to work to end it.”
Smith pointed out that ‘the Bible contains numerous passages that support the rule of law” — such as, “Let every person be subject to governing authorities,” from Romans 13:1-7.
He also insisted that the line from Leviticus cited by Land — “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong” — should not be taken as meaning that “foreigners should disregard civil laws to enter or that we should overlook it when they do.” And he argued that Matthew’s injunction — to care for “the least of these my brothers” — “advocates individual acts of kindness (but) does not mandate a public policy.”
In Smith’s version of Christianity, it seems, Biblical injunctions of mercy may apply to law-abiding Christians — but have no place in either the treatment of lawbreakers or the formulation of government policy.
This video is from C-SPAN, broadcast July 14, 2010.