Guthrie's Gospel

Economic justice from a Christian perspective

No Christian can support the GOP’s attacks on immigrants and refugees

It is the duty of Christians to welcome and embrace refugees and immigrants regardless of where they’re from and what faith they hold. This is made clear throughout the Bible.

The Old Testament is full of exhortations to the faithful to treat foreigners and refugees with the same justice and compassion we would want for ourselves.

In Exodus, God commands the Hebrews not to mistreat or oppress foreigners:

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.  If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:21-24)

This point is also made in Leviticus:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Deuteronomy tells us that God loves the foreigners who reside among his faithful, providing for their material comfort, and that the truly faithful are to love foreigners as He does:

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:16-19)

Deuteronomy reiterates this point by cursing those who ignore the Lord’s command:

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

The books of the prophets continue to reiterate this central duty of those who worship God.

In Jeremiah, the we are warned against empty religion that does not fulfill the Lord’s teachings:

Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.  This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:1-7)

Zechariah also condemns oppression of foreigners:

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ (Zechariah 7:8-10)

Malachi warns that the Lord will put on trial those who deprive foreigners of justice:

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.  (Malachi 3:5-7)

The New Testament continues this theme. In Matthew we are shown that Christ Himself and His holy parents were themselves refugees in the time of Herod:

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  (Matthew 2:13-16)

And in His parable of the sheep and the goats, Christ makes clear the gravity of treating those in need, which certainly includes refugees, with a hard heart:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40)

Upon those who live their faith through practical compassion He will bestow heavenly rewards, but those who turn away strangers Christ will likewise turn away.

Paul too speaks about the importance of welcoming strangers with open arms. In Hebrews, Paul exhorts us to show hospitality to strangers and to remember those, like refugees, who suffer:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:2-3)

All this is reflected in Christianity’s central moral precept that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, Luke 10:27). “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’,” as Paul teaches in Galatians 5:14, “for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law” (Romans 13:8).

Those who do not exercise practical love for their neighbor, even their foreign neighbor, even their neighbor who lives beside them without a visa, have renounced Christ and His teachings. It is to them that Christ says “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

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A Christian response to Syrian refugees

In the wake of the vitriolic opposition to aiding Syrians fleeing their ravaged and war-torn homes that has arisen in some dark corners of the American discourse, I feel compelled to address the issue from Christian perspective.

Syria has been locked in a grueling civil war since the latter part of 2011. Syrians of all religious and ethnic stripes have faced years of unending conflict and are largely trapped between the brutality of their dictator al-Assad, the horror that is the Islamic State. Thus they are fleeing by the millions, something I’m sure many American Christians would do if faced with such unrelenting violence.

In response to this humanitarian crisis, many countries, including the United States, have agreed to offer a new life to a portion of those escaping Syria. In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Paris, many, including some who profess Christ, have suggested that the right thing for America to do is to refuse to allow Syrian refugees into the United States or to add new draconian screening measures to our nation’s already thorough security screening. The question thus becomes, what is the Christian response to this crisis?

The answer should be obvious to any student of the Gospel. As Christians, we must offer comfort and aid to those in need, even when those in need are foreign, speaking a different language, practicing different customs, and, often, following a different religion.

For those who find this conclusion less than apparent, there are three Biblical passages that I think will be particularly helpful in clarifying Christ’s teachings.

The first is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:29-37:

 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

The parable begins with a declaration of the core of our faith. We are to love God and our neighbor. Jesus then goes on to tell the story of a Samaritan who went out of his way to help a person in desperate need, making clear that the Christian response to another’s suffering is to show mercy.

What makes this parable all the more striking is Jesus highlights the righteousness of an outsider. Samaritans were, and are, a religious group similar to but distinct from Jews. Especially at this time in history, Jews and Samaritans would have viewed each other with enmity. Yet Jesus, speaking to a Jewish audience, shows the unrighteousness of a priest and a Levite while highlighting the righteousness of a man his audience would have viewed as inherently unrighteous.

Christ taught that mercy and compassion know no ethnic or religious boundaries. If a man who was not a follower of Christ could be an exemplar of Christian morality, then, as Christians, we must be even more merciful, for the Samaritan acted righteously without the teachings of Christ, but for those of us to whom much has been given, much is required (Luke 12:48).

Our duty to aid Syrian refugees is further reinforced by Leviticus 19:33-34:

 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 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.

God demanded of the Israelites that they treat foreigners with justice and that they love the foreigners as they loved their own kind. This duty remains with all Christians today. We are required to love those who are different just as we love ourselves, for it is what God demands of us. Even if we view Islam as a false religion, even if we view it as an evil religion1, there is still no excuse for acting with mercy toward Syrian Muslim refugees.

Finally, we may turn to Matthew 25:31-46, where Christ tells his followers that those who treat the downtrodden with mercy will inherit God’s kingdom while those who shunned them will receive eternal fire:

 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Whatever we do to “the least of these” we do to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It is hard to think of people more fitting of the designation of least among us than Syria’s refugees. After living under an oppressive dictatorship and facing years of civil war that has destroyed much of their homeland, they have been forced to flee. They leave behind their homes, their worldly possessions, their homeland, the graves of their loved ones and ancestors. They leave behind friends and family who cannot or choose not to flee. They leave behind all the horrors they have seen and a land whose custom, language, and religions were familiar for Turkey, for Europe, for America. They are met with new languages and new cultures. They are met with both open arms and open hostility in lands whose geographic, cultural, and political landscapes are often foreign and strange. They have chosen to become lost in the world because the world they knew was too terrible to endure. These truly are the bearers of Christ. Let us feed them and give them drink. Let us clothe them and give them shelter. This is Christ demands of us, for whatever we do to the Syrian refugees, we do to our Lord Himself and He will judge us accordingly.

 

 


  1. I am not proclaiming that Islam is an evil religion. I am acknowledging that among some of those who oppose offering sanctuary to Syrian refugees this view of Islam is sometimes held.

Music Monday: Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)

 

In honor of the holy Martin Luther King, Jr., here is a second song for this Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)” by Nina Simone

“Turn the other cheek
He’d plead.
Love thy neighbor
Was his creed.
Pain, humiliation, death
He did not dread.

With his Bible at his side
From his foes he did not hide
It’s hard to think
That this great man is dead.”

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Icon

Martin Luther King, Jr. Icon

On this late January day, let us remember the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all others who have struggled to live Christian lives and to bring the Kingdom of God to those who most need it. Let Rev. King’s example inspire us to work for the benefit of our neighbors, to better their lives and to create a better society for them to live in, because by acting out our love for our neighbors we are showing our love for God. The racial injustice Dr. King worked against is still prevalent. The economic injustice Dr. King worked against is still prevalent. The militarism and violence that Dr. King worked against is still prevalent. Let us take up his struggle, the struggle of many, many other people as well, and tear down the personal and institutional racism we see around us. Let us create an economic system based not on greed and inequality, but in line with the egalitarian spirit of the Bible. Let us beat our swords into plowshares. Let us do what God calls us to do and let water roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

I will leave you today with a few quotes from Martin Luther King himself:

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human system it fail victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.

Music Monday: Changes

“Changes” by 2Pac

“I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere
unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin’ changes.
Learn to see me as a brother ‘stead of 2 distant strangers.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
How can the Devil take a brother if he’s close to me?”

Music Monday: I’d Rather Have Jesus

“I’d Rather Have Jesus” by Loretta Lynn

“I’d rather have Jesus
Than silver and gold
I’d rather be His
Than have riches untold
I’d rather have Jesus
Than houses or land
I’d rather be led
By His nail pierced hand

Than to be a queen of a vast domain
And to be held in sin’s great sway,
I’d rather have Jesus
Than anything this world accords today.”

Back in action

Dear readers, I must apologize for having not written anything here for some time. My wife got a new job in late November and we spent most of December moving, cleaning our old house, and getting settled into our new house and our new lives in a new city. All has been going well and I think things here will be better than where we used to live, but the move has made me more than a little distracted. Anyway, I’ll try to get back into the swing of regular updates and regular contemplation. May God bless us all.

Music Monday: Ghetto Gospel

“Ghetto Gospel” by 2Pac

“If I upset you don’t stress never forget
That God isn’t finished with me yet.
I feel His hand on my brain when I write rhymes
I go blind and let the Lord do His thing.

But am I less holy ‘cuz I chose to puff a blunt
And drink a beer with my homies?
Before we find world peace we gotta find peace
And end the war in the streets.”

Music Monday: King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3

“King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3” by Neutral Milk Hotel

“I love you Jesus Christ.”

The economics of Clement of Rome

Pope Clement I is one of the earliest Christian writers, outside of those included in the New Testament, to have any of his writings survive. He is alternatively listed as the second or fourth bishop of Rome by later Church Fathers and he offers us an important insight into the mind of the Church in the waning years of the first century. Only, one piece of his writing has come down to us today, his Letter to the Corinthians, also called the Epistle of Clement or 1 Clement. In it, among other topics, St. Clement discusses the proper Christian social order.

For St. Clement, the Christian community was one that focused on working together for the good of all. He writes:

37. Let us then, men and brethren, with all energy act the part of soldiers, in accordance with His holy commandments. Let us consider those who serve under our generals, with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage. Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

38. Let our whole body, then, be preserved in Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He has given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by words, but through good deeds.

St. Clement emphasizes the radical interdependence of Christian society. We are called to be subject to one another for the mutual advantage of all. We are called to share our wealth with the poor, to show our wisdom through good deeds, and to treat the weak and the powerful with the same respect and love. He does not describe Christian life as being driven by competition or the striving for profit, as the modern capitalist society is ordered. For St. Clement, proper Christian life is defined by unity, cooperation, and economic relationships that see to the basic needs of all people. The Christian life was not one of individualism, but one of community.

St. Clement takes special note of the plight of the poor and the weak when he offers up this prayer:

We would have You, Lord, to prove our help and succour. Those of us in affliction save, on the lowly take pity; the fallen raise; upon those in need arise; the sick heal; the wandering ones of Your people turn; fill the hungry; redeem those of us in bonds; raise up those that are weak; comfort the faint-hearted; (59)

Here, St. Clement is calling on God to aid those in affliction, pity those on society’s lowest rungs, to help those in need, to heal the sick, and to feed the hungry. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to infer that these are the very things we as Christians should do.

For Pope Clement, social concerns were not merely an issue of ethics, but were deeply intertwined with Christian spirituality. For St. Clement, such concerns were an outgrowth of Divine Love. St. Clement admonishes the Corinthians “Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ” because “Love unites us to God” and “In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls” (49). Love mystically unites us with Christ our God, who suffered bodily death because of His love for us. He has taken us to Himself. It is right and meet then that we set aside our personal pride and abundant self-esteem to live in community and subject to His will. It is right and meet that we should sacrifice our personal excess to make up for the personal lack of others, for this is a far easier sacrifice than Christ’s crucifixion.