“We are all God’s offspring”: thoughts on immigrants, aliens, and the “other”

As a Christian, you are beholden to no political party. You are beholden to the church and to the theological principles by which church makes its ethical decisions.

It is important that we remember this today. Our political life in the United States has become toxic. Never in my lifetime has it been so difficult to discern the truth about what is really happening. Fake news is called real news and real news is called fake news. There has always been a manipulative aspect to politics, but now it seems that manipulation is the constitutive element of political life. Truth be damned. Reason be damned. Winner take all.

This puts Christians in an odd spot. Human beings are social creatures. Aristotle believed that human beings were, by nature, political. Hence the oft-quoted maxim, “Man is a political animal.” I would tend to agree with him on this. We are inextricably bound in relationships that form our worldview and morals. As Christians in the United States, we live in a context that is increasingly unfriendly to our perspectives. Yet we are nonetheless political animals. The temptation is to “go along to get along,” to allow ourselves to be formed by the ambient culture, rather than the righteous counterculture set before us in Scripture. The identity of the church is thus subsumed by the identity of the culture in which we live, and while we may use the language, symbols, and structures of the church, we have abandoned her God-given mission.

Every day, all day long, we make ethical decisions, and it is imperative that we test these decisions against the witness of Scripture, the witness of our communities of faith, and the witness of the historic church. That way, when we engage the hot-button issues of our day, we will make principled Christian decisions, rather than simply going with the persuasive flow of a particular political tide.

By now you’re probably asking, “What’s your point, Watson?” Okay… I’m getting there. I’ve been asked to support a resolution during the United Methodist West Ohio Annual Conference this year. It can be found on p. 48 of the Book of Reports. The purpose of this resolution is to affirm the dignity and God-given value of populations in the United States that are under political fire and may face considerable discrimination. I don’t sign my name to very many resolutions, but I have agreed to support this one.

My reason is simple: my primary way of understanding people is theological, rather than political. The title of the resolution is “All God’s Children,” and yes, I believe we are all God’s children. Many of my fellow evangelicals will counter that, in the New Testament, only those who follow Jesus, those whom the church comprises, are described as God’s children. Becoming a child of God is something that happens through adoption into God’s household.

Well, yes and no…. There are passages like Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:5-7 which speak of the Spirit of adoption that Christians receive, and which allows us to cry out to God, “Abba! Father!” (see also Ephesians 1:5). The way Paul describes becoming a child of God in these letters, it involves accepting Christ and being adopted into God’s household as heirs.

I was recently reading Acts, though, and I came across a passage that made me think more deeply about the relationship between all human beings and God. As Paul is speaking to the Athenians, attempting to persuade them to become followers of Jesus, he says to them,

From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, 

‘For we too are his offspring.’

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals (17:26-29). 

For we too are his offspring…. The quotation is from the third-century B.C. poet Aratus, who was obviously not a follower of Jesus. Paul’s point, though, is to show the Athenians, by referencing one of the Greek poets, that all people are children of God. The Greek word translated “offspring” in the NRSV is genos. It is the word from which we get “generation.” All of us, regardless of religion, race, or nationality, are descended from the one true God.

Do I think non-Christians need Jesus? You bet I do. But whether they receive Jesus or not, they are still God’s offspring, and that makes a huge difference when we begin to think about the ways in which the policies and attitudes we support may affect them.

At least, it should make a huge difference. As Christians we are compelled to think about people theologically, and not just politically. I have to admit: I am continually baffled that the people in the United States who are most consistently pro-life are not, as a rule, stronger advocates for the immigrant, alien, exile, and stranger. To me, pro-life means pro-life. I am for life, and I am against things that undermine the value of any human life.

I’ve made some folks mad with posts like this one before. One person, who actually turned out to be a really nice guy, asked me if I lock my doors at night. Do I take care to protect my own home? If so, why would I not take care to protect my country? To be clear, then, I believe in the rule of law. I believe we must have clear policies, by which we abide, related to immigration and related matters. But for Christians the real question is whether the policies by which we abide and the way in which we conduct ourselves in the public square truly honor Christ. Do we honor Christ by the way in which we treat others? Do we honor the God who created these people, who are God’s offspring? Are we thinking, acting, and speaking in ways that are consistent with Scripture?

I want to follow Jesus. If that makes folks mad at me, if it makes me an outsider, if it sets me outside of any clear political affiliation, so be it. More than anything else, I want to follow Jesus. When it comes to the immigrant, the alien, the exile, or the “other,” this is the best way I know how to do it.

10 thoughts on ““We are all God’s offspring”: thoughts on immigrants, aliens, and the “other”

  1. I truly appreciate this post, and I love the expression “righteous counterculture” – a new one for me. David and I have differed in the past as to what that might mean in practice, but the fact we are on the same page this time around gives me hope. Thanks David.

  2. I agree with everything you wrote here, however, the resolution as written does have a few problems.

    While political and even theological coservatives will rightly quibble with some of the supporting background information in the resolution, 3 of the 5 action statements in the resolution will have almost universal support across the theological spectrum.

    However, action statement 3’s call for law enforcement to disregard all violations of current immigration law (with the exception of individuals posing a known hazard to public safety) is a position with little support outside of the political left. Most definitely want a “kind” immigration policy, but I would argue that few in the UMC actually support an open border approach (regardless of the BoD language inserted by GBCS),

    Likewise, action statement 4 is a non-sequitor to anyone who is not part of the political left; it is a couched statement against a “Muslim ban” which is widely recognized as “fake news” by those who do not lean strongly to the political left. In other words, it is a call to oppose an issue that doesn’t exist since no one (except for possibly some far-right fringe groups with no political support) is advocating for what the resolution opposes. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to support a non-sequitor other than that it unnecessarily ties the UMC to a leftist political narrative.

    Thank you for your consistently thoughtful and thought-provoking posts!

    • I hear that, Paul. Thanks for the honest feedback. These are good points. And I appreciate the frank but irenic tone of your comments. Blessings!

  3. How about making amendments to the conference resolution that specifically prohibit religious legal codes from superseding civil law; i.e., there will be no sharia law with the U.S. ? And how about support for civil laws that ban masking of identities in public? No burqas, no niqabs in public or on photo IDs like drivers licenses. In Virginia, while I doubt anyone would enforce it, the wearing of a hijab or niqab would violate section 18.2-422 of the Code of Virginia and constitute a class 6 felony. While the strength of the U.S. experiment with a constitutional republic has always been aided by immigration, it was always understood that assimilation with the prevailing American culture was the desired goal, and not the creation of balkanized enclaves. Even the Mormons felt the hand of the U.S. Army when they attempted to carve out Utah from the rest of the county and they chose assimilation and turned their backs on certain of their dearly held religious practices in order to peacefully coexist and re-integrate with the rest of the U.S.

    Also, since you rightly and compassionately express your concern for those who do not follow Christ, shouldn’t your conference support something like evangelical outreach with a physical presence in communities like Dearborn, MI and the Somali community in Minneapolis? What better way to counter radicalization of immigrant communities than to evangelize them.

  4. ” for Christians the real question is whether the policies by which we abide and the way in which we conduct ourselves in the public square truly honor Christ?”

    I am one who supports Americans first who conduct ourselves in the public square in of honor of Christ.

    As a American whose ancestors mostly came here from Africa in slavery and became Americans in 1868 I support a closed border and returning to their homeland illegal aliens. There are 8 million illegal aliens in the USA workforce out of 11M adults.

    I honor Christ as we address the institutionalized racism against People of African Descent (PAD) who are American citizens so that we will not fail as a nation. For the most part these illegals have no institutional invest in the success of the USA.

    I want them to go home and I support us helping to changing that home.

    In my opinion conference has spent a insensitive amount of money in reaching out the Hispanic community while ignoring its PAD citizens.

    We do not promote the jailing of their employers who complain that that citizens do not want the jobs. These employers have not invested in developing the PAD that has been crippled by 50 plus years of experience disinvestment in vocational and trade public education.

  5. Using the floor of annual conference to serve the masked agendas of the progressive sect will achieve the very aims Jesus contradicted with his life and death and resurrection. United Methodism has become a mess of antagonisms and shibboleths, in part, because we’ve exchanged the gospel for a parody. Our politics are not superior, and they cannot calm and restore or heal the nation. We ought to be saying with the Apostle Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

    • The good thing I witnessed in Tampa came to pass in 2016. The UMC in 2020 will be United with a progressive agenda based on a interpretation of scriptures based on the 2015 letter from the Bishops of the fastest growing part of our church. Hopefully we will have avoided the over 7,000 church trials based on the intentional violations of our rules and have agreed on a means to continue our agreed upon agency successes like UMCOR.

      This UMC will be posed for growth.

      • You are a man of peace. But gesture politics in the UMC expose us for being policy dilettantes, rather than fools for Christ’s sake. And look what machinations have taken over our own household, what audacious disobedience under the gloss of holiness.

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