From Birmingham News
In a recent news article, the USAToday reported that Alabama churches were leading the charge again the new immigration law, recently passed. Now, something like this should not be surprising, but it is — and that is a testament to the Church’s failure in the social arena in recent years, particularly the evangelical Protestant Church.
The moment was particularly poignant in Birmingham where the churches became notorious for failing to act on civil rights issues in the twentieth century. The Birmingham City Council, too, another body not too enthusiastic about desegregation during the civil rights era, unanimously called for the repeal of the immigration law.
Of the Christian churches present, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Roman Catholic Church all had made statements condemning the law, or at least criticizing it. Conspicuously absent were the Alabama Baptists. While the Cooperative Baptists were involved, it was stunning how the mainstream Baptists of Alabama looked so different from their Christian brothers and sisters who opposed the legislation.
Out of anyone in Alabama Churches, Baptists should have been the first to speak up.
Given our history and strong emphasis on the separation of the Church and the State, I fail to understand why my fellow Baptists in Alabama were not (and are not!) chomping at the bit, getting ready to combat the immigration law. The substance of the Alabama law forbids even giving so much as a ride to someone who might be an illegal immigrant. It effectively prohibits ministry to the population of illegal immigrants in the state. Bishop William Willimon of the United Methodists claimed that in the wake of the April storms and the passage of the law, many were reluctant to seek aid because of the new law. No one and nothing should get in the way of Baptists performing the ministerial functions of the Church, especially not the State. When did the government get to decide to whom the Church ministered?
Reverend Mike Shaw of First Baptist Pelham reportedly said that he thinks the law should be enforced. Specifically he said, “I think all laws need to be enforced.” All laws? Is there no unjust law? Is there any room for opposition to the injustice of the State in Shaw’s perspective? I may not think Christians need to be in office to draft legislation, but that does not mean by any means that they should just acquiesce to any law regardless of its content. Where would we be if Baptists had always done that? We would probably still have segregation and might even have slavery. It is an abhorrent, devastating, and dangerous position to just assume that every law should be enforced.
But what about Peter and Paul? Does not Paul say, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God…”? Does not Peter also say, “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.”?
I hate to break it to you, but I am in no way sure that still applies.
Let me explain. Peter and Paul did not live in a democracy. They lived under the oppression of the Roman Empire. They had no say as to what laws were laws and what were not. We do. Their instructions probably had more to do with discouraging open rebellion against the government, which was impractical and only resulted in violence and death (think what happened in 70 CE in Jerusalem). Paul’s exhortation to nonviolence in Romans 12 also forbids such an uprising, and that makes swallowing Romans 13 a little easier.
What would Paul say to our current situation? Obviously, I can’t speak for him, but he says something right before Romans 13:1 that people so love to quote: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” To comply and assent to injustice is to be overcome by evil (I admit, this is a weakness of those who only follow semiseriously the political philosophy I outlined last week). Baptists, if Baptists are to be the Church, should join their Christian (and Jewish and Muslim!) brothers and sisters in Alabama in standing up for the rights of their family the government has labeled as untouchable. For God knows no borders, no boundaries, no arbitrary demarcations of nations. No wall, no law, no government can stand between God and his people.