I would like to use this space to talk with you about an issue of the utmost moral importance. It’s an issue where no clear-thinking, righteous Catholic could possibly differ in judgment. Yes, it’s time that Catholics united and stood up for legislation that outlaws the use of incandescent light bulbs. Not only would such legislation help protect our environment, but it is actually mandated in the Bible. Are you not familiar with Mathew 25:35?
For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:
If you’re wondering what this Scripture passage has to do with banning incandescent light bulbs, well, it’s as applicable to this issue as it is to the Senate’s attempts to pass an immigration reform bill. Yet our Vice President has cited this passage to shame Christians into supporting immigration reform.
You’ll pardon me for failing to see how this biblical injunction means that I must support a bill that allows those who have entered the country illegally to jump ahead of those who desire legal passage into this country.
Unfortunately it has become something of a game to misappropriate bible verses in order to justify either legislation or, in some circles, to actually defend behavior or attitudes that contradict most other Bible passages. How often have you read a blog post criticizing, say, Nancy Pelosi for defending abortion rights, only to see someone in the comments to said post utilize the “let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” non-argument? It’s not enough to just cite the passage, you actually have to demonstrate how the passage you’re citing actually links to the position you’re taking. Sure, not every Bible verse will literally match up and you do need to interpret according to the proper context, but there should be at least a reasonable nexus between the Scripture quotation and your position on a semi-related issue.
What’s also infuriating about Biden’s sudden adherence to biblical literalism is that he glosses over, say 1 Corinthians 6:9 when it comes to same-sex marriage, and that pesky 6th Commandment when it comes to abortion. Yet strained references to unrelated Bible passages are perfectly acceptable according to ole Joe when it’s a piece of legislation his boss and his party are really desperate to pass.
If only Joe Biden were the only Catholic stretching logic in order to justify Senate action. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, authored this letter encouraging support for the Senate’s bill. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the Bishops supporting immigration reform, it’s just that the arguments deployed in defense of the bill are, well, indefensible, starting with this:
Each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals, and schools we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system. Families are separated, migrant workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings die in the desert.
This is a very unfortunate choice of words. Note the use of the passive voice: families are separated, migrant workers are exploited. What this passage does is essentially deny any agency in the migrant worker. In fact, the wording actually dehumanizes the worker in a certain sense because it takes away any moral culpability on his part. Those who have chosen to immigrate to the United States – legally or illegally – have largely not done so against their will (I will not discuss here those who have been forced to leave the country against their will thanks to our lack of effective border security). If families are separated, then that responsibility adheres to the individual or individuals who have knowingly entered the country illegally.
There is more:
We can continue on our current path, which employs an immigration system that does not serve the rule of law or the cause of human rights, or we can create a system which honors both principles.
I have admitted that the current immigration system could use improving, but this is complete hyperbole. Even if one grants – as I do – that the current system is overly restrictive, how does it not serve the rule of law? Is the system unjust? No. Moreover, Archbishop Gomez fails to recognize where the rule of law is not being respected. It’s the person who has entered the country illegally who has flouted the rule of law. If the system is broken, then perhaps we should point the fingers at those who have broken it by overrunning it.
We can maintain a system that fosters illegal behavior and undermines the law, or fashion one that provides incentives for legal behavior and is based upon fairness and opportunity.
Again, in trying to defend the migrant worker the good Archbishop is effectively dehumanizing him by suggesting that the person just has no other recourse than to break the law. Furthermore, the very bill that Archbishop Gomez and his fellow American Bishops are promoting creates dis-incentives for legal behavior. Those who are already here illegally will not be punished other than in the most minimal way, and most of the supposed restrictions being placed on them can easily be disregarded. In essence, they will have an opportunity to gain legal status ahead of those who have played by the rules. Where is the fairness in that? Where is the respect for the rule of law in that?
I am growing tired of those who misuse Scripture and who offer empty platitudes in an attempt to convince Catholics they are morally obligated to support certain public policies. Of course Jesus’s words and teaching should always be at the forefront of our minds as we’re formulating political opinions. What I find offensive are efforts to appropriate those teachings and infer a certain pre-determined end.
© 2013. Paul Zummo. All Rights Reserved.