Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Against the Covenant

The other legal issue that we have to consider, biblically, when talking talking about the idea of sanctuary cities in our modern time is what kind of law we are talking about. When someone says that an immigrant is illegal, what does that mean? 

To some, a law is a law is a law. Illegal means a law has been broken. Thus, a crime has been committed. Thus, justice demands penalty for the trespass of the law. But in Israel, at the time when cities of refuge were first established, the people weren't really talking about a criminal code. In fact, God never really talks about a criminal code. To God, the law is covenantal.

And it's covenantal in two directions. First, it is covenantal between man and man. These are the rules for living together in community; these are the expectations of mutual relationship. I don't steal your ox and you don't steal mine. I don't charge interest on a loan and neither do you. These laws were created not because they formed an orderly society, but because they established the groundwork for an authentic relationship.

Second, the law is covenantal between man and God. It's a reminder of what faithfulness looks like. When we talk about covenantal ideas, we're talking about agreements in which one party's breaking of the faith does not free the other party from keeping it. So if you steal my ox, this does not free me to steal yours - stealing an ox continues to be wrong because it is anti-covenantal. If I take your ox anyway, it disrupts the relationship between you and I because we begin to exist in a tit-for-tat rather than respect and love, and it disrupts the relationship between me and God because I have precisely done the very thing that He desires me not to do.

So that brings us back to the question of the illegal immigrant. What is the law that is being broken here? Is it a criminal law, one that has been issued for the purposes of ordering society and making something civil? Or is it a covenantal law, one that has been established for the purpose of establishing authentic relationship?

The argument here could go either way. (Remember when I said I wasn't going to tell you what to think about this, but rather how to think about it?) Some may say it's a criminal law, for the purposes of nothing more than ordering society and making a way for certain things to occur, like record-keeping, taxation, national security, whatever. Some may say it's a covenantal law, that the laws on immigration are meant to ensure a personal investment in the American way of life and therefore, obeying those laws is the first sign of respect that an immigrant shows in coming into this covenant. 

Fair enough. Both arguments have some strong support to them, depending on which way you lean. That then introduces, does it not, a second question: to what law are you bound?

Imagine yourself living in a sanctuary city, or in a city that is thinking about becoming one. Civic duty, perhaps, bounds you to the criminal law in a certain way. Just as it is incumbent upon you to report someone who is breaking any other law, it is incumbent upon you to report someone who has immigrated illegally. But you are also bound by a covenantal law, one that commands you to look other human beings in the eye and love them. 

I don't imagine everyone in the cities of refuge was comfortable with the idea that murderers could live there scot-free. And that's what they were - murderers. Unintentionally, of course, but they had killed someone. Most of us would be a little uneasy about that. Most of us are a bit uneasy about immigrants living next door. It's a natural human reaction. But that's why we are given the minds to consider what it is that binds us. Is it civics? Is it covenant? Is it a mixture of the two? Is it something else entirely?

Again, I'm not going to tell you what to think. But this is something that we have to consider when faced with this issue. What law binds us? In what way does that law bind us? Are we living here civically or are we living here covenantally? What do these things demand of us? What do they require? 

And what if...well, stay tuned. There's something more to say about criminality. Tomorrow. 

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