Sanctuary Society, Evangelism, and Safety
A godly society is a sanctuary society.
– “The Sanctuary Society and Its Enemies,” Gary North
– “Immigration Control: Federal Social Engineering,” Gary North
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Welcome to Episode 43 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes I will be getting in trouble – which means, I will be speaking to modern American Christians and conservatives about the Biblical view and historic Christian practice on an issue about which they think as liberals and progressives. Have you ever noticed that American Christians, when challenged with the Biblical or historic (that is, conservative) position on some issues, respond as progressives, “But we live in different times today”? Just like the progressives, who like to say about the Constitution or about the Second Amendment, “But we live in different times today.” Well, immigration is one of those issues. Every time I point to modern Christians or conservatives in general that the Bible doesn’t allow the state to control non-criminal individuals, and that America was an open borders country historically (that is, conservatively), the answer is, “But we live in different times today.” Different, indeed: the lowest crime rate ever, the lowest number of terrorist acts per year ever, the highest level of safety and prosperity ever – I mean, such times are the best times to tremble in fear, right? But such facts are of no consequence to people paralyzed by fear; and that’s exactly what modern American Christians have become. It is for this reason Donald Trump’s ban on accepting refugees – and in general, the immigration restriction policies of the federal government in the last 100 years – have met such thunderous applause among today’s American Christians. Thus, we are safer and more prosperous than ever before, and yet, we are more scared and fearful than ever before, and thus, “the times are different now,” so let’s cheer for policies that have no support in the Bible, and have no support in the history of Christendom, but were always policies of the enemies of God.
But my point here today is not to argue about the facts. There is plenty of evidence that much of the reporting about the threat of Islam, or terrorism, or of the refugees, is either exaggeration or plain fake news. Thomas Eddlem has exposed some of it in his blog post, “Legitimizing Lies.” Others have done it too. I have done it in some of my articles. My purpose today is to examine some of the assumptions we make today about the kind of society we want to have in principle, and the relation of that society to safety and security. I know, we have had a previous episode where I talked about safety, security, and state-worship, so it may sound like I am repeating myself. I am not; we just need to address the issue of safety and security from all its points, because of this idolatry of fear we have among the majority of Christians in the US; an idolatry which trumps everything they read in the Bible, and is effectively destroying the Gospel testimony of the Church in the US.
Donald Trump’s immigration ideas, ban on refugees from certain countries, and immigration restrictions in general have been praised and supported and rooted for by the majority of Christians on the basis that they are just “common sense.” You know, when you are facing that humongous threat by Islam and Muslims terrorists, it is “common sense” to close your borders and isolate yourself, so that you can fend off the threat. Now, for the purposes of our talk here, we will ignore the fact that the threat is really insignificant and doesn’t deserve the $100 billion spent every year on it (in addition to the half trillion spent on dropping bombs on Muslim countries, which create resentment fueling terrorism in the first place). Our focus this week will be, is it really common sense to close our borders to refugees in order to achieve safety, even if the threat was real?
Let me start with “common sense.” Or, rather, the deception involved in the phrase “common sense.” To explain that deception, I need to return y’all back to the 1990s, the longest decade in my life, and perhaps the longest decade in the lives of millions of Eastern Europeans. The longest, because it made us meet with the worst discrepancy of expectations and reality. Communism had fallen, politically, but the economic and social effects of Communism were still there. In the first 5 years after the fall of Communism, the economies in Eastern Europe were still in shambles, there were shortages, and food was scarce. In this situation, it looked like “common sense” that the government should control, in one way or another, the regulations and price controls which were a leftover from Communism. After all, with the scarcity of food, if there were no regulations and price controls, food would be so expensive, no one would be able to afford it, right? Well, with the low prices, everyone could afford it, it’s just it wasn’t there. At times, it was a daily struggle to buy food. Bulgaria, a country which for most of its history was a net exporter of food, was struggling to feed its own people in the 1990s. So the government employed its “common sense” and imposed regulations and price controls to make sure people could afford to buy the little food that was offered on the market.
Things got worse and worse, of course, and for what reason I don’t know, at some point the public opinion started changing from the traditional “common sense” of “regulate them to make it affordable” to the novel “radical” concept (also called “market fundamentalism” by some opponents) of “free them to produce.” So eventually the Parliament and the government decided to experiment with – horror of horrors! – a liberalization of prices and production. Defying “common sense,” by an act of Parliament, the bulk of regulations on food production, import/export, and pricing were removed overnight. So now the speculators could take advantage of the shortages, and where a loaf of bread used to cost 25 cents, they could sell it for $2.5 now, if they wanted. (The average monthly income was a little over $100.)
Guess what. It never happened. First, within just a couple of weeks, the stores were full. Prices first jumped just a little bit above the previous regulated levels, and then quickly dropped to below them for most products. Most of it was imported (for the agriculture was desolated under Communism), but within a few years owners of agricultural lands figured it out. By year 2000, Bulgaria was back to being a net exporter of food, disproportional to such a small nation. Even today, this is the country with the lowest food prices in the European Union. There’s still tons of problems to solve in the politics, the economy, and the society in Bulgaria, but this one is a clear success story. Put it on your list to visit one day. You may be shocked to find out how much food you can buy for your dollars. And it is real food, not Walmart junk.
The lesson was that “common sense” was not common sense. Or, rather, that what passes for “common sense” is in fact not so common, that it is conditioned by our religious presuppositions. The previous “common sense” was based on a metaphysical view of reality, that there is a certain metaphysical amount of goods in the world, and that in order to not have people starve, the government had to intervene with a metaphysical solution, namely, regulate the prices and the distribution of that food. The problem turned out to be, surprise, surprise, ethical/judicial: food producers and importers liked to be free, and therefore didn’t like regulations and price controls. Notice, it wasn’t even about money, since the prices eventually settled down to lower than the previous price controls. It was all about liberty and justice: they would produce only if they were free and independent of bureaucrats. Thus, only an ethical/judicial solution could work. Common sense was not what we thought it was; it was contrary to our instincts. Scratch that, it was contrary to our presuppositions.
Yeah, I know, this would come as a “Duh!” to most Americans, what’s the big deal about it. We all know that the supply and price of any commodity depends entirely on the initiative of producers; thus, it is obvious “common sense” that government regulations won’t work. What most Americans don’t realize is that we are besieged by thousands such examples, in our personal lives, in our communities, and in our social and political and economic endeavors, where our “common sense” is not common sense, because it is not informed by nor based on covenantal, that is, ethical/judicial presuppositions, but is rather informed by inherited cultural bias which is seldom Biblical or covenantal.
The Bible, in fact, speaks of such conflict between “common senses,” and, guess what, this conflict is one of the major conflicts in the Bible. Common sense is not an objective reality, it is conditioned by religion, and in many places in the Bible God contrasts the common sense of His Law-Word to the common sense of pagan religions and man’s word. Some of the examples are more obvious and mundane, but some are spectacularly “radical” and literally turn the world upside down. The most radical, of course, is in Matt. 16:25, Mark 8:35, and Luke 9:24: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” What passes for common sense, the instinct for self-preservation, is really not common sense at all. It is those who sacrifice themselves that get life; or, expressed figuratively in John 12:24 and 1 Cor. 15:36, the seed doesn’t come to life unless it dies. Another, just as radical, has to do with principles of leadership, Matt. 20:25-27: to be a leader among the Gentiles, one has to learn how to lord over people; but in the Kingdom of God, whoever wants to be a leader must become a servant. Or, as Dennis Peacocke expressed it in a lecture about 30 years ago, “Whoever serves, leads.” In a similar vein, we see the conflict between two views of common sense in 1 Samuel 8: The elders of Israel had abandoned God and wanted a king to solve the problems with the arbitrariness of the courts and national security. What could be more common sense than having a king to deal with these issues? Isn’t that what the government is supposed to do? Look at all the nations around, don’t they all have their kings? Samuel’s view of common sense, informed by the Word of God, was to the contrary: having a king won’t make you more safe and secure, for your king will be your oppressor. Scrap that nonsense with having a strong central power and strong borders, and return to God as your King, obey His Law, and you will have safety. Common sense, in the final account, is not so common, and is not really sense, that is, reason. It is nothing more than the outworking of a faith. When the faith is false, the common sense will be false, too. And you will know the faith of a person by his views of common sense.
This is an important truth to keep in mind when we look at the modern conservative and Christian view on immigration controls, and especially on the travel and refugee bans of Trump’s administration. The main argument for such controls and bans is supposed “common sense”: we live in such a dangerous world, with so many enemies trying to destroy America, therefore it only makes sense to close our borders and thus provide safety for The US and its citizens. Again, such dangers are grossly exaggerated and even imagined, given the real data. But is that “common sense” really common sense? Could it be that such common sense is based on a false faith and is therefore false? Is it possible that the Bible has a different common sense for us?
What does the Bible say about strangers and national security?
In my lectures on immigration of two years ago, I laid out the principles for a Biblical immigration policy. These principles, if we follow the testimony of the Bible, must be, first, that the same law must apply to the stranger as to the homeborn. This, of course, applies to the basic rights of individuals against the state (not against God), the rights protected in the second table of the Ten Commandments, namely, life, liberty, and property, if we appropriate this convenient summary. And, second, that the function of the state is only to punish evildoers, not to control non-criminal individuals. Which means, any person who has not committed a crime – as the Bible defines crime – should be left free to pursue his goals and improve his own life and the life of his family in any manner he decides and in any place he decides. These two Biblical principles, of course, logically lead to the only Biblically defensible immigration policy, namely, open borders. Since some people are eager to misinterpret this concept, I will only throw in that open borders for non-criminal individuals is not unprotected borders against criminals or hostile armies. It only means that as long as we have individuals for whom we have no proof to be part of an army or to have committed crime, we should not stop him from traveling or from seeking gainful employment or safety for his family. Now, when we have a testimony against certain individuals, that’s a whole’nother ball game altogether.
In those lectures, I also expounded on a concept that is embedded in the Biblical view of borders and the stranger, namely, a society that is a city of refuge. Which means, a society which opens its gates and borders for people fleeing slavery, persecution, or other injustice. It was not just the cities of refuge within Israel where someone who had killed a person without intent could flee to. Israel was supposed to be a society open to the world to see and taste, and to the world’s poor and oppressed to flee to and join. There were no laws that established any restrictions on immigration, nor was there any institution that would control immigration. To the contrary, the Law expected that strangers would freely come to live in Israel and take advantage of its liberty, and economy, and even of its system of care for the poor. The charity that the Law prescribed was to be extended to the poor not only of Israel, but also to the stranger. Gleaning was to be open to all, including the stranger (Lev. 19:10; Deut. 24:21). The tithe each year was to be deposited in the towns for sustenance for the poor, and the stranger in town was entitled to eat from it (Deut. 14:28-29). But there was more. Refugees from oppression were to be allowed free entry and liberty within the nation of Israel, in Deut. 23:15-16:
You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him.
In other words, not only was Israel to have open borders and full legal protection to immigrants, it was supposed to be a sanctuary society. Now, keep in mind that Israel was not the United States, a mighty and populous nation protected by two oceans, the technological miracle of the world, spending on its military and security as much as the 20 largest nations combined. It was a small nation surrounded by greater nations, all utterly hostile to it and its God, lacking any centralized authority or professional standing army. The surrounding nations were ruled by military hierarchies which normally went on military raids to acquire slaves. This means that any fugitive slave could belong to a military leader in a neighboring country. Offering such a slave a sanctuary could mean a foreign policy conflict, leading directly to war. Our “common sense” today would tell us that such sanctuary policy would be detrimental to the national security of Israel; and yet, God specifically commanded that runaway slaves were granted freedom and full legal protection in Israel.
Such sanctuary was not limited to slaves, however. Any individual could immigrate to Israel and settle and become a citizen, even if he originally belonged to the enemies of Israel, even if Israel was at war with them currently. In fact, such defectors seem to be extremely valuable, and they often became political, military, and religious leaders. Rahab is a well-known example, but there are many more. Caleb, the leader of the largest tribe, Judah, was a Kenezzite; meanwhile, his own countrymen were one of the Canaanite tribes whose land God would give to Israel (Gen. 15:19). Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, was a Hittite, another tribe whose land was to be taken and the tribe wiped out; and yet, he was a neighbor of the King of Israel and a captain in his army. Obed-Edom was a Philistine, a compatriot of Goliath of Gath, and yet, the Ark of the Covenant stayed in his house for three months (2 Samuel 6:11), and he and his 68 relatives later served before the Ark in the Tabernacle (1 Chr. 16:38). If Israel was as fearful as modern Americans, and if its borders were closed to immigrants in times of wars worse than anything America has experienced, these men would never be able to come to Israel and join Israel. Man’s safety is in closed borders and building walls. God’s safety – true safety – is in building a sanctuary society.
In comparison, the pagan nations around Israel were all closed to immigrants. Edom would not allow Israel to pass through their land. Egypt had closed borders and a permission by the Pharaoh was needed to settle in it. Pagan Greece and Rome denied any rights to non-citizens. How is it, then, that God commanded Israel to be a sanctuary society in the midst of so many enemies who had closed borders? How was God planning on building safety?
Because the safety of a nation is not in its isolation, but in its relations. And specifically, in its evangelism to those outside. Israel had a superior culture, of superior liberty and justice for all. Nothing in the pagan world could compare to this. That’s why the nations were invited to see and experience the Law of God in action. Deut. 4:5-8 establishes this function of Israel and its laws as evangelistic tool:
See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
Solomon, in his consecration prayer for the Temple he built, declared the same principle of evangelism through open borders, in 1 Kings 8:41-43:
Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.
The principle was clear: a godly society is a sanctuary society. It is not afraid to keep its borders open, it welcomes the stranger and grants him protection, it especially welcomes those who flee persecution and sets them free; and it invites the world to come and experience the superiority of its liberty and justice for all. By doing this, a sanctuary society wins the hearts and the minds of its enemies – that is, in a way, evangelizes them – and thus prevents wars and disasters. A paranoiac society which keeps its borders closed and returns the slaves to their masters, earns only the hatred of the world, and the wrath of God. And there is no wall or immigration policy that can prevent that wrath.
This was the accepted common sense of Christian America for three generations after the War for Independence. America kept its borders open, and invited the huddled masses of the world, yearning to breathe free, to come to its shores and join it. And as along as America did it, it grew and prospered and became the mightiest nation on earth, commanding 50% of the world’s GDP. Until, in 1920, a coalition of socialists, occultists, racists, and warmongers was able to change the tide and pass the first immigration restriction laws. After 1920, America was no more a sanctuary society, except for a very short time in the 1980s. And it is more insecure than ever. Contrary to man’s common sense, closed borders do not provide safety. Only a sanctuary society can be safe. When we as a nation reject the plea of the oppressed and return them to their oppressors, God delivers us to our worst fears.
That’s why Trump’s executive order will only bring more insecurity and danger on America.
The reading I will assign for this week are two essays by Gary North. One is old and exists in a pdf format, and can be searched through google, “The Sanctuary Society and Its Enemies.” The other is fairly recent and is titled, “Immigration Control: Federal Social Engineering.”
And, as usual, I will ask you to consider supporting Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a mission in Eastern Europe which has been preaching and teaching the comprehensive application of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every area of life, from personal ethics to institutional justice, and has proven to be successful in its work. Visit BulgarianReformation.com, subscribe to the newsletter, and donate. God bless you all.