Today I write something a little bit different than my traditional style for this blog; but as I prepare for Sunday’s message I see something happening that has left me frustrated. It isn’t where I intend for Sunday to go, but even if only for my own sake I wanted to get these thoughts out.
This Sunday we are going to talk about the infamous flight to Egypt by Mary and Joseph in Matthew 2 after getting word from an angel that Herod was out to kill Jesus. A family, facing persecution, flees to another country with the hope of being welcomed and safe. Hmm…
Jesus was a refugee! Right?
No wait…Jesus was a refugee?
In our current news cycle with so much consideration given to the immigration crisis, the treatment of families at the border, and rulings from our court systems, this passage feels like it is filled with landmines for believers. We have been trained that every issue is an either/or situation. You have to choose. You perhaps need to find those who line up with your ideological spectrum and go from there.
Having served in a range of church traditions, I have a pretty diverse group of friends. I have spent time in more conservative, literalist churches. I have also spent time studying and serving with more progressive believers who push to ask deeper questions, examine context, and talk about listening to the Spirit. Forgive me if these seem like broad, judgmental strokes as it does not apply to each person. But for the general theme seems to have fallen along these lines and the end result is that we have two groups of believers that spend lots of time talking ABOUT each other, but rarely WITH each other.
So…what does that have to do with the passage about Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt?
In almost a stunning twist of events…my progressive friends have taken the verses about Mary and Joseph fleeing with baby Jesus at face value. Sure sounds like a refugee to me! Jesus was a refugee and so the Christian response to immigration issues is to welcome everyone. Case closed and anyone that has opposite views is just being judgmental and heartless.
As I have scanned the internet reading various interpretations, I have found many from a more conservative background that say that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were NOT refugees. One person online noted that really Egypt was a Roman territory and so they weren’t REALLY fleeing persecution as refugees. And then…to talk about the immigration crisis we are expected to turn our attention to Romans 13 where it is pretty clearly laid out that we are supposed to follow the laws of the land. So Romans 13:1 is to be taken literally, but we really need to ask more questions about that Matthew passage?
I write this not to share my views on this issue, but to draw our attention to what is happening when we use scripture to figure out how to handle these issues and it seems best to do it through the discussion on immigration:
-For a minute, the progressives seem more like literalists and the more conservative folks want to start looking more at context and ways to contort scripture to say what they want to say.
Please never forget that anytime we read scripture, we bring our own biases to the conversation. We WANT scripture to say something and it can become tempting to twist it and use it to prove our point.
Having biases is not necessarily a bad thing and they can even be helpful, but only IF we know that it is happening. We must rely on our experiences, backgrounds, and ideological leanings to have true discussion. This is why it is so important to read scripture together. We talk it out, we ask good questions.
There are places in scripture where I wish my more progressive friends would choose to be more literal.
There are many places where I wish my more conservative friends would look at the context, ask better questions, and trust the Spirit’s guidance (affirming women in ministry would be a great place to start).
Rich Mullins once said “I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing.”
That statement is enough to make me lose some of you. I get it. If that is true, how do we know that things are true? Do we not trust the Bible? What about the slippery slope? Oh no!
It is possible to believe that the Bible is 100% true and also be aware that none of us are gifted to understand everything 100%. We read the scriptures, but we do so with humility. We do it with no agenda other than of being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can fulfill God’s will.
We read together, aware of our biases, and we trust that through genuine conversation we will begin to live lives that are honoring to God.
So…what do we do with something like the immigration? Sit down. Talk to someone who understands things a bit differently. Figure out why you have come to your conclusion. Find out what in their experience has led them to theirs. Dig deeper.
And through that, we trust that the Spirit will guide us all.
Perhaps there is a way to be welcoming of those who are in danger and at the same time honor the laws of the land? I really don’t know. It’s time to ask better questions.