Jesus, the Bible, and Xenophobia

The US Supreme Court has ruled on two cases that are different, but have an affinity. One case ruled on gerrymandering on the state level, to promote or protect a partisan majority in a Congressional district. The second case ruled on the legality of a “citizenship question” in the 2020 census.

What is the affinity between these two cases? Both are driven by fears of changing electoral demographics. As has been forecast for decades, the USA has now become a diverse and multi-hued nation.

Fear-mongering is a common and crude reaction to changing voter constituencies. Gerrymandering, using sophisticated computer analysis, helps politicians to maintain control and remain in power. A citizenship question can generate fear to suppress voter registrations — but reduce federal funds in under-counted congressional districts.

At the turn of the 20th century, a huge influx of Italian, Polish, Russian and Eastern European immigrants transformed the electorate. By 1910, 13.5 million immigrants were in the USA. Between 1892 — 1954, Ellis Island processed about 12 million immigrants.

Fears of demographic change often produce a backlash of xenophobia. There was the Know-Nothing movement of the 1850’s, especially in the East. In the West, following the California Gold Rush (1848–1855) and construction of the Transcontinental Railroad with cheap Chinese labor, the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) barred Chinese immigration.

In John 4 we read that Jesus
“had to pass through Samaria.” While “Jews do not associate with Samaritans,” Jesus welcomed a minority woman into a gospel conversation. Jesus didn’t overlook their religious differences: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” But an entire Samaritan village came to confess Jesus as the “Savior of the world,” not just the Savior of Israel.

From Acts 16, I often remind friends that the first Christian in Europe was Asian. Paul and his team obeyed God’s vision and guidance to take the gospel to Europe for the first time. But the first person to become a disciple in the Roman colony of Philippi was not a
“man of Macedonian,” but Lydia, an Asian immigrant who was in Europe to pursue economic opportunity.

With the Samaritan woman, and with Lydia, the majority populations of Palestinian Jews or the European Philippians could have taunted, “Send her back!” “Samaritans don’t belong here!” And “Lydia, you sell duty-free fine linens in our local markets.”

But Jesus is sovereign over all the movements of all people groups. His
“all authority in heaven and on earth” is the basis for our “going and making disciples of all nations.” And "all nations" includes unwelcome political exiles expelled from Mesopotamia and ambitious Asian immigrants.

Should Christians try to preserve the dominant culture, suppress voter registration, or scapegoat immigrants? For Jesus' followers, there's a higher citizenship, not based on maintaining political control. There's a Gospel way. Hospitable love, not hostile fears.

Mass chants have degenerated from “lock her up” to “send her back.” The 2016 race invoked anti-corruption. The 2020 campaign may stoke xenophobic scapegoating, justified as patriotism. “MAGA” can become “MAWA” — make America white again.

The Bible challenges all Jesus’ followers. You may be a proud citizen of Rome — or of the USA. But
“our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:18-20). There is a higher obligation than nationalistic patriotism: “let your manner of life (politeuomai) be worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). So, if you are a citizen of God’s kingdom, your life must reflect the gospel — the good news of God’s love, and not exploiting human fears.