Thursday, November 29, 2018

What does the Bible say about immigration?

Over the past few years the topic of immigration has been front and center in the United States. This has left many people to wonder, especially Christians, what the Bible has to say about immigration. Is it bad to be a Christian who supports building a wall at the border of Mexico and the United States? Does the Bible encourage us to let people immigrate without any restraints? Hopefully this conversation will help us to find a balanced approach that takes all of the biblical data into consideration.

A primary instance of immigration control in the Bible is found in the story of Nehemiah. This story is about God using the man Nehemiah to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem that was destroyed by Babylon. It was standard practice in those days to build fortified structures around cities in order to prevent malicious individuals and armies from being able to enter the city and create havoc. The fact that God inspired Nehemiah to rebuild this wall provides support to the idea that God is not against a government controlling it's borders and preventing high risk individuals from entering the country. 

A primary passage that is often used to support a more lenient immigration policy is in Leviticus 19:33-34 and reads, "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." It is agreed upon by the large majority of Biblical scholars that this passage provides principle support for the fair treatment of immigrants, the issue of applying this passage to government policy on people who live outside our country is that it seems to deal primarily with an immigrant that has already been allowed entry into the country. It references the Jews residency in Egypt as an example, which was an instance in which Pharaoh allowed Joseph's family to legally move to the land of Goshen and occupy it. In other words, this passage contains little content that addresses "the process of admittance" that God recommends for immigration, and if any inferences are made they would actually point to the legal allowance of the Jews into Egypt by the government in honor of Joseph's upstanding reputation. 

So, two of the conclusions that we can come to from the Bible on the issue of immigration is that God is not opposed to controlling who is allowed to immigrate permanently to the country, but God is opposed to treating those who do legally immigrate unfairly. One of the major issues that Society needs to begin to Iron Out is how do we create an immigration process that incentivizes people to pursue legal immigration versus simply entering the country illegally. And how do we have real safeguards in place that would keep dangerous people   being able to enter the country?

If we look to the Bible as our guide for immigration policy we must remember that it was written during a time when immigrating from one country to another without the consent of that country was a very dangerous thing. On the issue of immigration we must advocate for a fair legal process of immigration. We must advocate for fair treatment of people who do legally immigrate to our country. And, we must also advocate for respect for the laws of the land and discourage illegal immigration. We need to be careful not to demonize one another over a political issue that has a lot of moving parts. At the end of the day we are called to "go into all of the Nations and preach the gospel" so as much as we would like more people to immigrate to our country we should be willing to go to them and share the gospel even more fervently.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Should Christians participate in Halloween?


Ghouls, goblins, witches and candy... This is what many Christians associate with the yearly Halloween festivities in America. There has been a historic divide between Christians about if and how we may participate in Halloween.. So much so that it has led to friends arguing harshly, churches issuing mandates, and most Christians left feeling confused about the matter. In this article I intend to review the history of Halloween, look at some of the Christian objections to participating in Halloween, and offer what I believe to be a Biblical approach to this issue that all Christians can unite on through Christ's love.

So what is Halloween? Where did this all get started? First of all the word "Halloween" comes from the Scottish term for "holy evening" or "hallowed eve." The day known as Halloween by modern American culture finds its origination in the Catholic Church which established the holiday as an evening of observance before "all saints day" on November 1st. All saints day is a day set aside for Catholics to celebrate all of the saints of church history whether known or unknown. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

"In the 7th century CE Pope Boniface IV established All Saints’ Day, originally on May 13, and in the following century, perhaps in an effort to supplant the pagan holiday (the festival of Samhain) with a Christian observance, it was moved to November 1st. The evening before All Saints’ Day became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween."

Many historians have assumed that the choice of November 1st for All Saints Day by Pope Boniface IV (thus creating Halloween on October 31st) was an attempt to supplant a widely celebrated pagan holiday called Samhain. Samhain was a Celtic holiday which was thought to initiate the spirits of those who died that year into an annual transition into the afterlife, as well as give spirits who died in previous years the opportunity to visit earth for a day. The Romans later incorporated large aspects of this into their holiday calendar thus making it widely practiced by non-believers. 

Many Christians who object to participating in Halloween festivities point to this ancient holiday that was supplanted by Halloween in the 7th century. The argument basically says that because October 31st was once a pagan holiday we must not participate in Halloween festivities or we are committing a form of idolatry. However, this does not stand to reason. Most Christians who take their children trick or treating on Halloween are not doing so in honor of a pagan holiday from ancient Celtic times. They are simply letting their kids dress up like different characters and collect candy with their friends. There is nothing inherently sinful about this activity if done simply as an exciting family outing. 

Another objection raised within the Christian community points to the increase in occultic activities on October 31st by people who follow occultic beliefs. This arguments basically says that because people who are involved in the occult do more occultic activities on October 31st Christians should not participate in any Halloween festivities. However, this does not stand to reason either. Most Christians who take their children trick or treating on Halloween are not doing so as a form of participating in the occult, nor is it an occultic practice. One suggested parameter that I advise is to make sure that the costumes your children wear are not promoting the occult (witches, ghouls, goblins, and other dark creatures). If your children wear superhero costumes or a costume of their favorite tv character there is nothing inherently sinful with this practice if done simply as an exciting family outing. 

Now that I have addressed the two most common arguments against Halloween I will now provide some suggested parameters for Christians who do participate in trick or treating. In addition to the costume element I mentioned, I would suggest teaching your children about the true history of Halloween and how it is rooted in Church History. You may also share with your kids about Reformation Day which is also on October 31st commemorating the 95 theses of Martin Luther being nailed to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Take time to frame the evening as a family outing and not the "pursuit of pleasure." To often we promote a hedonistic version of Christianity. I also encourage churches not to surrender Halloween to secular society and consider fall festival outreaches around Halloween time.

Finally, I want to speak to my Christian brothers and sisters who try to stop other Christians from participating in Halloween in any way. I understand that you want Christians to separate themselves from anything that appears to have ungodly origins, however we must remember what scripture says in Psalm 118:24:"This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it." We as the people of God are to be in the world but not of the world. If you feel uncomfortable with Halloween then I affirm your choice to not participate in any way, but I also encourage you to make the issue more about Christians redeeming each day we are given rather than becoming reclusive on days that we perceive to be ungodly. Yes, there are godly parameters that must be set on any day of the year, as well as Halloween (as mentioned earlier). But let's remember that society would never have a chance to meet Christians and hear about our Lord if we all remain hidden in our homes. Just something to think about... I hope this article is a blessing! 

Written by: Dr. Kyle Bailey