The Reverend Pastor Keith Mlyniec: Immigration Exegesis
[In light of Bishop Thomas Tobin’s call yesterday for ICE to halt “mass” arrests of illegal immigrants, Pastor Mlyniec’s Engaged Citizen post of April has been moved to the top of the blog.]
Dear Governor Carcieri,
It seems the media has chosen to portray all the clergy in our state as standing together with one voice against your recent executive order. Hence, the April 03 Providence Journal’s opening line of their lead story, “In an extraordinary show of unity, leaders of Rhode Island’s religious community yesterday called on Governor Carcieri to reconsider…” I would like to take this opportunity to share with you that not all the clergy of Rhode Island are opposed to your executive order pertaining to illegal immigrants.
As a pastor in South County, I support your leadership decision to boldly deal with such a complex issue. While I am in full agreement with other clergy in the need to be concerned for the care, rights, and dignity of each human being residing in our great state, I do not see any legitimate biblical justification to stand opposed to you. In fact, it is my opinion that there is ample biblical evidence to support your decision.
I recently heard a bishop justify his position by quoting Jesus, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Best that I can tell, your executive order is not aimed at strangers, but illegal immigrants. Jesus never said, “I broke your laws and you harbored me as a fugitive.” Yes, we are to love our neighbors, but we are also to uphold and obey the local laws of the land as taught by the Apostle Paul when he said, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1).”
Next, I heard a rabbi quote from the Old Testament, “…for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” What he didn’t mention was that the Israelites were officially invited to Egypt at the request of the Pharaoh, that they were publicly welcomed, and that they were given the best of the land (Genesis 47). They did not slip into Egypt under the cover of darkness and attempt to live there illegally. While I applaud the rabbi for his generous show of hospitality and concern for human rights, I must respectfully disagree with his biblical argument which implies that those who have intentionally chosen to break the laws of the land should be considered strangers and therefore taken in and treated as the native in the land (Leviticus 19:34). We must keep in mind that in those days, both the natives and strangers willingly obeyed the laws of the land (Ruth 1:16).
And of course, like many others, I then heard a reverend declare, “In God’s kingdom, there are no second-class citizens.” Now, I am a firm believer in the equality and rights of each and every human being. However, I must respectfully point out to the reverend, that the State of Rhode Island may indeed be the “Ocean State” but it is certainly not the kingdom of God on earth. I also call to his attention that there are two distinct divisions of people in our state, those who are here legally and those who are not. I do not deny that we should consider those who are here illegally as first-class people, friends and employees. However, as hard as this sounds, the reality is that they are not citizens of the United States of America and therefore there is no citizen “class” in which to put them.
I affirm and support the efforts of my well-intentioned and passionate clergy brothers as they take a stand to calm the fears and anxieties resulting from your executive order. I also commend them for standing to be shepherds and peacemakers for their flocks. They have encouraged all of us to display a greater love for our neighbors and their well-being. I will be in prayer during this wave of unrest and division that God would grant peace and understanding to all involved. As we dwell in a season of difficult days, may God continue to grant you humility, wisdom, and the strength to continue to make decisions filled with justice for all.
With great respect,
The Reverend Pastor Keith Mlyniec
West Kingston Baptist Church