06 September 2017

Biblicism Right and Left

As I remarked here some years ago in a post titled "The Bible and Conservative Politics," conservative Evangelicals had no principled way of deciding when and how specific biblical legal teachings should form part of the modern civil law. As I concluded, 
One should not rule out of bounds arguments in the public square that do appeal to authority, including the authority of the Bible. But if Evangelicals wish to make such arguments, they would be well-advised to be able articulately to answer the question why the modern state should enforce the prohibition against theft and not the commandment forbidding idolatry.
To cause equal-opportunity offense, it is important to observe the Prog-Left Evangelicals do the same and nowhere more often of late than with respect to immigration in general and DACA in particular. The Bible has much to say about treatment of strangers and sojourners in the land of Israel and virtually all of it is positive. Jonathan Burnside and Christopher J.H. Wright have done much to bring out the depth and situated-ness of Torah on these and related issues. God does and his people are to welcome the stranger/alien/sojourner and treat them equally according to (almost all of) the Law. And the prophets pick up and even extend this theme. As Jeremiah Unterman notes in “Justice for All”,
Most interesting is the statement in Ezekiel's depiction of the future division of the land in the time of redemption that "'the gerim [strangers/resident aliens] who reside among you, who have given birth to children among you,' are given land within the tribes among whom they reside (47:22-23)--something that the Torah nowhere considers.
So, does the teaching of the Torah as adumbrated by the prophets provide the singular roadmap for American immigration policy? It would seem not. As Mark Tooley writes here, “There should always be great caution in claiming direct biblical commands for political specifics. Evangelicals, who historically emphasize Scripture alone as authority, are especially prone to this rhetoric of ‘biblical’ policy goals.” And Tooley concludes that
It is facile to claim, as is routine for many religious activists, that divine commands to Israel about caring for the poor or sojourners directly mandate specific welfare or immigration policies for any nation state of today. Activists on these causes instead need actually to provide arguments and evidence for their perspectives. They also need modestly to accept the need for compromise in a consensual modern society not governed by kings and prophets with access to direct divine inspiration.
Bible-affirming Protestants of whatever political persuasion need to recover the moral-theological resources of the past and understand the nuanced policies of the present if they hope to do anything more than signal their virtue on any issue including immigration law.

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