'We are all God’s offspring': Thoughts on immigrants, aliens and the 'other'

June 5th, 2017

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.

David F. Watson blogs at davidfwatson.me.

comments powered by Disqus