by Cindy Tutsch | 10 April 2023
This essay was originally published on January 3, 2012.
My dad’s parents emigrated from Bessarabia. Germans settlers had been invited by Catherine the Great to settle in Russia to farm. My industrious forefathers and mothers were among those who were given land to cultivate. Ultimately, my grandparents immigrated to the U.S. and ended up with many other German-speaking families in eastern Washington State. My dad spoke German until he went to school. All through school, he attended a German-speaking church. Before he went to college, he was hired at the local hardware store because he was bilingual, and many of the store’s clients still spoke only German.
I married an Austrian—a Fulbright Exchange German teacher at Pacific Union College. So maybe my family history colors my thinking about immigration.
But I have to say, all these anti-immigration emails and blogs and talking heads seem really elitist and—OK—downright selfish to me. Unless you’re Native American, you or your not-so-distant ancestors immigrated to the United States. But now some want to close or drastically tighten our borders?
Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for vetting potential immigrants in an effort to keep out the drug czars, gang kingpins, and terrorists. It’s the attitude of “We don’t want people coming in who don’t share my religion, my language, and my color” that ruffles my feathers.
(Let me add that according to my friends in other countries, snobbery is not exclusively an American vice. The yawning gap between rich and poor is getting wider in many countries besides the U.S., and immigration is a hot topic around the world.)
Now, I’m not getting all political here. Please, save a tree and don’t write Adventist Today a letter telling us what Ellen White says about getting involved in politics. As a matter of fact, I do happen to know what she says about politics, and I agree. (I am a registered independent, and when I vote, it’s on the basis of issues, not party).
What I’m concerned about here is not politics. It’s compassion. Grace. Caring. Love. It’s hard for me to comprehend the mentality of a Christian who says, “I don’t want one penny of the money I worked hard for to go to provide health or educational benefits for someone who may not have worked hard like I have.”
The person some of you accuse of not working hard may in reality have worked very hard to overcome challenges some of us have never faced. But what if indeed some potential health care recipients haven’t worked as hard as you have? Do you really want to say, “I don’t want them to have health care, because I don’t think they deserve it”?
If Jesus had said, “I don’t want one drop of my holy blood to be given for someone undeserving,” we’d all be without hope and without life, present or eternal. We are all in the same boat—the sinners’ boat—and without the wonderful grace of our Lord, not one of us would have a chance. We don’t deserve a chance to live forever. Jesus offers us salvation, not because of what we have done, where we were born, how hard we have worked, the color of our skin or the language that we speak, but simply because of grace.
Is there a lesson here, an example, about our attitudes toward those for whom Christ also died?
Commenting on the story of the prodigal son, The Interpreter’s Bible states, “The elder brother is sometimes an officer in the church, a leader in reform groups, a ‘key citizen.’ He thinks, or wills to think, that all other races are ‘inferior.’” A man out of work is simply unemployable: “I was always able to find work, and always worked hard. A prodigal like the younger son is just a wastrel.”
I had never thought of the elder brother as being non-inclusive or elitist or caught up in works righteousness in this sense, and I found it insightful for the present debates.
Maybe we would be less intolerant if we had personally experienced the pain of being without health coverage or without educational opportunities. Having traveled in many developing countries, I increasingly realize how much we in industrialized, Western nations have. Some stats indicate, for instance, that just 12 countries hold 80% of the wealth of the world. Others indicate that more than two thirds of the world population lives on less than the equivalent of $2 a day. So it seems to me that we should be a little less “me, me, me”— and be a little more in the sharing mode, particularly when there are hundreds of references in Scriptures to care for the poor, the marginalized, those who have the least in society.
I’m also perplexed by those saying that making health care available to millions who were formerly without health benefits would be tantamount to a government takeover. My brother reminded me that that is how some folks talked when a guy named Lincoln suggested that slaves deserved the “government handout” of freedom and equality! After all, the corporations that made up the South had lots of cheap labor to lose. Thus, they obfuscated the issues, hiding their selfish goals behind the language of patriotism.
No wonder it’s so hard to effect real social change! Just ask Isaiah and a few other luminaries from the past. “Justice is driven back …and truth stumbles in the public square” (Isaiah 59:14), and what are we Adventists doing about it?