Last week I asked the question “what would it look like if America was a Christian nation?” This is a part of a larger series I have titled America The Christian Nation, you can read last week’s post here. In various conversations about that post I have realized I did not go far enough in addressing what America should look like as a Christian nation. Last week I touched on the issues of social welfare and healthcare as necessary issues for anyone who thinks this is a Christian nation. This week I want to further that conversation in saying that anyone who thinks this is a Christian nation should also consider our immigration, citizenship, and voting laws as Christian ethics. Because people keep missing this point let me be abundantly clear from the beginning– I am not representing or represented by either major political party, I do not think either party espouses ideals that are Christian, I think Christians can disagree about the specifics of policies. But I also want to be clear what is happening is that Christians are failing miserably to talk about the issues from a Christian perspective and so devolve into partisan politics. And we should recognize our shared Christian ethical commitments and use those to frame our policy discussions.
So why would I talk about the issues of immigration, citizenship, and voting rights as one large group? The answer is simple, and as difficult as it can be for American Christians to hear this all three are connected by racism. I am continually floored by how few Americans recognize how both our immigration system and voting laws were built on racist ideas. Immigration quotas and citizenship tests were originally used to keep undesirables like racial and ethnic minorities out of our country. And from our founding voting laws have been a way of restricting the voting rights of the poor, Catholics, Chinese, & and of course Blacks. I readily admit that immigration quotas and voter laws are not inherently evil, but they do negatively impact people and when that happens Christians must always recognize, acknowledge, and scrutinize such laws. And when these systems have their footings in racist ideas and have been manipulated time and again to racist ends we must be quick to scrutinize these systems. [Anyone who does not think I am accurately reporting the history should start with On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights by Lawrence Goldstone.]
Let me illustrate with something person. Many believe in voter ID laws (and I am not inherently opposed to them), but most of these laws require a state photo ID with permanent address. Obtaining one of these is difficult when one lives on a reservation with no recognized house address, among other reasons. [find out more here] The same is true of other minority groups where access to necessary documents like a birth certificate or social security card is more difficult. I should not skip over my own situation– I have been told that to obtain a photo ID I must remove my dark sunglasses and the picture must show my eyes, this is all but impossible for me. Am I to be prohibited from voting because of a physical handicap. These may not be the direct intent of the laws but they are the consequences, and as Christians we must consider these if we are to promote the ideal that everyone has the right to participate in the system.
The same can be said of immigration laws, which though they may not be directly racist are built on older laws which are; further, when we look at who is able to comply with such laws it is most often people of means. The result is that those who are most desperately in need of assistance are the ones with least access to our resources. We have failed to hold to the standard of The New Colossus:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
We no longer accept those who are in need, we create ethnic quotas that often hinder people from developing countries from entering. We restrict access to refugees while claiming to be a beacon to the world. These are not the actions of a Christian nation. Not that we must completely open borders or cannot have some voter ID laws, but we must ask what is the grounding for such laws. Many times when I make these statements I am met with comments like, “Do you want massive voter fraud”, or “So you want to completely open the borders and let everyone in [including terrorists].” I heard such statements a number of times when Mr. Trump was trying to shut down immigration from Muslim majority countries (a policy that harmed Christians [Here is what I wrote then]). These comments are a logical fallacy, it is a false dilemma to assert that the only options are to continue a structure built on a racist past or to have a complete free-for-all. I can advocate for sweeping voting reforms which make access easier in places where voting is currently difficult while still allowing for checks to prevent fraud. But doing so requires a significant overhaul to how things are done and requires us to consider what restrictions are in place for others that are not in place for myself or my culture. The same is true of immigration, I can advocate for stringent checks [I would suggest looking into the requirements to be labeled a refugee, they are staggering] while allowing that our country can do more for immigrants. But doing so might necessitate we scrap many of the old ways of doing things in favor of a new outlook.
The Bible makes no statement on voting because it was an unheard of concept for the Biblical authors, but assuring that equity is achieved would be a Biblical principle. Equity is not that everyone has the same footing, equity is that everyone can reach the same heights. Equity is recognizing that our current system negatively impacts certain subcultures disproportionately and seeking to fix that error. Equity is making sure everyone has equal access to vote not by establishing polling places by population [e.g. 1 per every 10,000 voters] but in places that will allow for even access to polling places (more in rural areas or where people have less access to transportation). Equity is making sure that no group is squashed by the system. The Bible is more clear on immigration:
You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19 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: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34 ‘Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.’ Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ Deuteronomy 27:19
Again, I am not advocating a specific policy what I am advocating is that Christians have a common starting mentality. If we all agree that a Christian nation is one where we welcome the foreigner then we will not hear people supporting a ban on immigration from Muslim majority countries. We will still have disagreements in policy but compromise will be far easier. If we can all agree that voting needs to be equitable we will stop and consider when we hear voting reform acts suppress access in a specific group. We must recognize America has not been acting like a Christian nation when it comes to dealing with racial and ethnic distinctions in immigration and voting.