Heaven’s Open Borders

Heaven’s Open Borders July 10, 2018

A friend drew to my attention the following meme that a friend of theirs posted on Facebook:

There is so much to say about this. First, since the aim is to make heaven a standard for current American policy, I simply must mention the fact that this is what conservative Christian Trump supporters refuse to do when it comes to things like the economic principles in the Bible, whether ancient Israel’s laws like the Jubilee year, or the early church’s practice of sharing all things in common. A little consistency, or explanation of the rationale for the inconsistency, would be greatly appreciated.

Second, for Protestants, the standard for acceptance is grace rather than merit. How does that translate into refusing entry to conference presenters and persecuted Christians because they reside in specific countries? Sure, it is ignoring their merit, but it seems nonetheless to be lacking in grace.

Third, with regard to those texts that do specify moral standards for entrance into the Kingdom of God, it is the vile and the violent, the adulterers and fornicators, the liars and dishonest, those who are proud, self-interested, self-aggrandizing, and greedy who are excluded. What does that suggest about a policy formulated by someone who seems to be at odds with the values of the Kingdom of God not merely at one point but quite possibly at all of them?

But perhaps most importantly and most relevantly, the most concrete depiction of “heaven” – or more precisely, God’s ideal life being established eternally for a new heaven and a new earth – is the New Jerusalem at the end of the Book of Revelation. We are told emphatically that its “pearly gates” are never shut, and while some are excluded (because their lives resemble that of our current president), the openness of the gates represents not a closure of borders but an open invitation that extends a welcome to all who hear the voice of the spirit.

Does that sound like current American immigration policy to you? And conversely, does current immigration policy in the United States honestly sound like Jesus, or Revelation, or anything else in the Bible?

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  • Thanks for this! I’ve always loved that image of the ever-open gates soooo much. Growing up it was one of the metaphors that broke me out of my narrow, fearful baptist legalism.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    GNB Rev 21:12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates and with twelve angels in charge of the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of the people of Israel.

    The high wall is to protect what is inside the city.

    GNB Rev 21:25 The gates of the city will stand open all day; they will never be closed, because there will be no night there.

    City gates were closed at night or when under attack, in order to protect what is inside the city.

    GNB Rev 21:27 But nothing that is impure will enter the city, nor anyone who does shameful things or tells lies. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of the living will enter the city.

    Even though the gates never close, there will be some that are not able to enter. Having one’s name written in the Lamb’s book of the living is like having a visa for permission to enter the city.

    • Would you agree that the Lamb’s “visa and immigration policy” is very different from that of the current administration. The presence of people from every tribe and nation is very different from the travel ban impacting whole nations, both terrorists and their victims who wish to flee to the U.S. for safety.

      • Rudy Schellekens

        But it is not! “There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth…”

      • Rudy Schellekens

        Unfortunately, that is how legal systems work. And the idea that the ban is an action against Muslims makes no sense. The largest Islamic nation, for example, is Indonesia. There is NO travel ban against that country. But the countries involved are locations where terrorists abound – for whatever reason. And they may behave as totally “normal” civilians in their homeland…

        • Sure, it is “not all Muslims.” But it is treating whole countries based on the actions of a small minority, in a manner that we would not like our own citizens to be treated based on what a small minority of Americans do (or our politicians do).

          The Book of Revelation has people excluded from the city, but seems to always have an open invitation to them to change their ways and enter. There seems to be no notion of being excluded with no chance of repentance and admittance in the Book of Revelation.

          • Rudy Schellekens

            Correct – the invitation is open – yet one more indication that the book is not related to the end of times, end of the world or any such thing.

            I work in a k-12 environment. I grew up with 7 siblings. In both situations, sometimes the group suffered because of the action of one… As siblings, we cared, and thus complained less, As class mates, that did not always work that way. But with countries? How do you predict who will do something unspeakable? And thus you end up with getting innocent people in trouble.

      • DonaldByronJohnson

        It is my (admittedly limited) understanding that there were/are a few countries identified for “special handling” of possible immigrants because they do not have a government that is either willing or able to identify potential terrorists. The concern is that that one cannot tell who is and who is not a potential terrorist for those countries on the list. Obama had and used the list, Trump inherited the list and increased the difficulty of admittance. And one of those countries on Obama’s list changed and is now off Trump’s list and 2 other countries were added.

    • Jon-Michael Ivey

      Yes, Jesus does specifically tell us that he will deny entry to those who in this life failed to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, to visit the sick and those in prison, and to welcome foreigners. He tells us that we will be judged by the measure we use to judge others. It is very hard to get around the fact that rejecting even illegal immigrants in this life will be viewed as rejecting Christ himself, and that those who crack down on immigrants are not eligible for citizenship in heaven.

      • Maya Bohnhoff

        Thank you. This is yet another place in the Gospel where Jesus, with clear emphasis, tells us that our “citizenship in heaven” as you put it is dependent on our obedience to His commandment to love and care for, not just our own families, friends and well-wishers, but everyone who requires that love and care.

      • Josh

        You say:
        “He tells us that we will be judged by the measure we use to judge others”

        Yet you say:
        “It is very hard to get around the fact that rejecting even illegal immigrants in this life will be viewed as rejecting Christ himself, and that those who crack down on immigrants are not eligible for citizenship in heaven.
        That sounds like a lot of judgment, Jon. You may want to go easy on the self-righteousness.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    How to read the Bible from a one-sided perspective – a good example!
    The Bible can not be used to pick ‘n choose application. The Savior who cries out, “Come…” is the same Savior who says “Not everyone who cries Lord, Lord will enter…” That same Savior also had something to say about the “single door.” And a “narrow road.” And how some would try to come into the shepherd’s pen through windows rather than through the One door.
    All through the sayings of Jesus w see the fact of separation between sheep and goats, those who “do the will of my Father…” and those who don’t.
    If you want to draw the parallel, be complete. There are many “open doors” into this country, the U.S. I used one of those – legal immigration. There is another open door, asylum for oppression and violence. But entering because of fleeing bad economic circumstances is NOT one of those “open doors.” There IS a pathway laid out for that.

    I am an immigrant. A real immigrant. Not one of those who has been here for generations – those are NOT immigrants! Great-great-great-great grandparents may have been, once upon a time…
    Married to an American citizen for 20 years at that time, it still took a year to get the legal permission, and with every check written, no guarantee of permission.

    • I didn’t – I immigrated illegally. Quite accidentally, actually, not that it should matter, but being white, college-educated and English-speaking, I was able to get landed immigration status with relatively little fuss, although even that took more than three years.

      ETA: Although I think making any comparisons between the Bible’s talk of roads and openings is rather silly as we aren’t actually a nation under “Biblical” laws.

    • Maya Bohnhoff

      Yes, but the one door isn’t belief in Jesus Christ as I was taught in childhood. Jesus is very clear that the one door or narrow way is our ability to obey the commandment to treat others with love and compassion–just as we would wish to be treated, even in our worst moments as human beings or direst need. In those passages where He speaks to this urgent subject, He does not call any attention to belief in Him or doctrinal correctness but purely to what we do with regard to other human beings.

      He not only tells us this through emphasis, repetition and context, but demonstrates it.

      And therein lies the sick irony of Christians proposing to bar desperate people from our country based on jumping through legal hoops. In the scheme of things, it recalls Christ’s admonishment to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (i.e. material things) and unto God what is God’s. These refugees and undocumented immigrants are God’s.

      • Rudy Schellekens

        Um, “I am the door…” seems pretty clear “I am the way, truth, life…” seems pretty clear too.
        And He definitely calls for belief in HIM – may want to read the rest after John 3:16… Those who do not believe in him are condemned already…

        Rendering to Caesars means – if it has to do with legal issues (like paying taxes – or open/closed borders, that IS Caesar’s area, not ours to decide what us or is not a legal entry.
        The refugees are NOT God’s, nor are the illegal immigrants. ILLEGAL, is the correct term. UNDOCUMENTED is a euphemism to hide the ugliness of the topic.
        And the US, as many other countries, has rules on seeking asylum. As a government, there is the right to make sure the need indeed exists. The privilege IS abused.

        I grew in a country that welcomed people needing refuge – but at the same time, stopped economic refugees. Difficult decisions, but they can and should be made and understand by the local population.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    There are indeed some standard set for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Among the most important is that you will not be welcome in heaven if you yourself did not welcome foreigners in this life. We will be judged by the standard with which he judge others. It is hard to get around the fact that “Christians” who refuse to help poor refugees will similarly be refused access to Heaven. Welcoming illegal immigrants here is a requirement for legal immigration and naturalization as citizens of heaven.

    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.’

    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then
    they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or
    thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not
    minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    • DonaldByronJohnson

      There is a crucial word in the above verses and that is “stranger”. This one of the ways the Hebrew word “ger” was translated into English in many translations and I think this is what Jesus meant. The ger was a gentile living inside the borders of Israel. While they were not Jewish, there were certain specified rules that they had to obey from the Tanakh. In other words, they were to abide by the laws that applied to them.

      • Jon-Michael Ivey

        Whatever the term was that Jesus used (he was probably speaking Aramaic rather than Hebrew), the author of the gospels believed that the appropriate Greek term was “Xenos” (as in Xenophobia.). The new testament argument is not dependent upon the old testament verses speaking about a “ger.” Also, it is worth noting that statistically speaking immigrants, including illegal immigrants, are less likely to violate laws than natural born citizens are. The only laws most can be blamed for breaking are those which apply differently to citizens and strangers, which by the biblical standard are unjust statutes.

        • DonaldByronJohnson

          I think this decontextualizes what Jesus said. Jesus was a practicing Jew doing Jewish things and obeying Torah.

          Some illegal immigrants are drug smugglers or sex traffickers. Because what they are doing is very illegal, they try to enter by any way they can.

  • Josh

    Here’s a lesson in self-contradiction:

    “Heaven’s Open Borders”

    “We are told emphatically that its “pearly gates” are never shut, and while some are excluded (because their lives resemble that of our current president), the openness of the gates represents not a closure of borders but an open invitation that extends a welcome to all who hear the voice of the spirit.

    Note: that last bit “an open invitation that extends a welcome to all who hear the voice of the spirit” is mighty Calvinist of you. That being said, it’s nonsense. It’s clear from the prophets including John the Baptist more acutely that the invitation is to those who hear the voice and REPENT. Jesus said it like this, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

    Another note on poor exposition:
    “Third, with regard to those texts that do specify moral standards for entrance into the Kingdom of God, it is the vile and the violent, the adulterers and fornicators, the liars and dishonest, those who are proud, self-interested, self-aggrandizing, and greedy who are excluded.”
    Again, self-contradiction with your idea that heaven has open borders when, in fact, one must follow that “state’s” approved mode of entrance.

    That being said, do you not think it’s self-interest that leads people to cross borders? Do you not think that the vast wealth of the U.S. is a motivation for crossing the border? Don’t you find that a bit greedy? Do you not find it dishonest to enter a country by sneaking in? Is it not a lie to pretend to not be illegal?

    This being said, welcoming foreigners is much different from welcoming immigrants. You’d call it selfish to close borders to immigrants, but I bet you would ignore all that capitalists have done for foreigners: namely creating the greatest amount of wealth in human history AND has been the most giving to society and whose businessmen and women have done more to alleviate poverty than any charity organization or even church.

    You can keep your grandstanding; I’ll keep my consequential economics.

  • Pastor Craig

    Apples and oranges. Government policy has absolutely nothing to do with faith. Using the Bible or our faith to assess the viability of government is a nonsequitur.

    • jjuulie

      Very true. But that cuts both ways. Those who try to use the Bible to justify excluding people are also comparing apples to oranges.

      • And the separation of government and faith, of biblical teaching and government policy, itself reflects a particularly American and Baptist approach to maintaining religious freedom. The truth is, though, that even in a democratic context with separation of church and state, there are voters whose values are shaped by their religious convictions.

        • Josh

          If you’re interpreting separation of church and state as “religious conviction can play no role in the vote”, then you’re thoroughly misunderstanding the purpose of separating church and state.
          If my interpretation of your implication is wrong, I’m willing to be enlightened.

          • I am not understanding it that way, which is why I wrote that precisely that is not the case…

          • Josh

            I should’ve been less ambiguous in my statement.
            What I’m really wondering is:
            Are you suggesting that church and state are no longer separated because one is voting with their religious convictions?

            I’m basing this on your last statement particularly:
            “there are voters whose values are shaped by their religious convictions.”

          • What I’m stating is that the “separation of church and state” represents a particular approach to religious freedom that did not exist in ancient times, and which cannot mean in a democratic context that religious beliefs held by voters and politicians can be somehow kept entirely separate from their stances on laws and other matters.

          • Josh

            “which cannot mean in a democratic context that religious beliefs held by voters and politicians can be somehow kept entirely separate from their stances on laws and other matters.”
            One’s views on laws being informed by their religious convictions is not the same as “separation of church and state”.

            The “separation of Church and State” is a formal issue, and to talk of it informally (as if the discussion is about the voter’s role in democracy and not the actual discussion: government’s role respecting a certain religion) as in this context is to render it ambiguous and does a major disservice.

            The fact is, as Dallas Willard so eloquently put it, “You have a belief.”
            This belief, religious or irreligious informs one’s views on laws so that this combination is inevitable…but this is NOT negating “separation of Church and State”.

            To be clear: “separation of Church and State” is about the government’s role in respecting a religion (forbidden to do so by the First Amendment); it is not about excluding immigrants or banning abortion clinics. It’s about government’s role in dictating what the Church (really, faith) can do and/or which Church (really, faith) can do it.

            Thus to express views (or even vote) on these issues isn’t to combine Church and State; it’s to give/take from the State the power to act.

          • When the majority in the United States hold a particular viewpoint, things get far blurrier than you suggest. Take polygamy, for instance. Is the outlawing of it an infringement of the rights of certain minority religions? Is the majority viewpoint, also associated with particular religious traditions, keeping church and state separate in such an instance?

            I am aware of everything you are saying, but even defining religion as “beliefs” reflects a particular view of religion that does not fit many religions.

          • Josh

            “Is the outlawing of it an infringement of the rights of certain minority religions?”
            No; it’s an infringement of the rights of individuals; marriage is a contract among persons. Government should never had been involved in determining who is and is not married.

            “Is the majority viewpoint, also associated with particular religious traditions, keeping church and state separate in such an instance?”
            No; separation of church and state is a byproduct of Enlightenment principles. A government refusing to coerce its citizenry into a certain religion is not an infringement of freedom of others; religious affiliation is an inalienable right transcendent of religion–this is why atheists and theists alike can cling to “natural law”. To favor this right is not to favor a religion, even if certain religions are more affiliated with this idea than others; in fact, it’s expected as some religions (and opinion) are “more correct” than others. Not all claims to Truth are equally valid.

            “even defining religion as “beliefs” reflects a particular view of religion that does not fit many religions.”
            No, it doesn’t. A belief intersects one’s religion but doesn’t constitute the whole of religion–it may even be diametrically opposed to one’s religion. For example, why does one “sin”? Because, at least in that moment, the belief is that the sin is the best option. You’re rendering the terms “religion” and “belief” ambiguous with this treatment.

          • In saying that government should not have been involved, does that not suggest that in this instance separation of church and state did not work in the way it might have ideally worked, perhaps for the reasons I suggested?

          • Josh

            I wasn’t taking the “pro-separation” position; that wasn’t the point I was addressing. At issue was not religious coercion through the vote; the vote itself is coercive.

            What you identified as “separation of Church and State” is a different topic and should not be confused with the tyranny that is government establishing a religion–this topic should remain separate and much less nuanced or ambiguous versus the oppressive nature of voting.

  • Brenda Finnegan

    Favorite Christian joke: Man dies and meets St. Peter at the pearly gates. St. Peter says “Welcome! You need 500 points to come inside. Tell me about your life.” Man proudly responds, ” I was a member of XYZ church for all my life, and I was head of the Administrative Board for ten years.” St. Peter says “Great! That’s one point. What else you got?” Man: “Well I sung in the church choir.” Peter: “That’s nice. That’s another point.” Man: “And I married a good Christian woman and was faithful to her all my life.” Peter says: “Wow! We don’t see that much any more. That is wonderful. That’s another point.” Man: (under his breath) “Three lousy points! At this rate, the only way I’m getting in is by the grace of God.” St. Peter exclaims: “That’s it! 500 points! Come on in!”

  • Maya Bohnhoff

    Yes, Jesus does make it very clear what it takes to enter the “pearly gates”. He is asked directly what one must do to have eternal life. His answer is the two greatest commandments, which are to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (In another context, He says that upon these two commandments, all the others depend.) Jesus says, and I quote: “Do this and you shall live”

    When questioned further about who this neighbor is, Jesus tells a story the cast of which are two people who are the worst of enemies—a Jew and a Samaritan. They are literally not supposed to interact; they are as unclean to each other. In the story, the Samaritan saves the life of his Jewish enemy, cares for him and pays a proxy to care for him.

    Jesus clear bottom line: “Go and do likewise.”

    There is no wiggle room there, though I know that is not what the meme suggests. The meme suggests you have to have your “papers” in order and that you must meet some manmade criteria to get in. “Do this and you shall live”, on the other hand, suggests a different criteria. God’s.

    If this emphasis is not enough, there is also the Sermon on the Mount in which (Matthew 7:12-14) Jesus gives this commandment about how we treat our neighbors (even the ones we disdain and despise) again with a slightly different wording: because God is merciful and loving to all His children, Jesus says, “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

    This isn’t about having your documentation in order; it’s about how well we, as individuals, obey Christ’s repeated commandments to love and care for others, even those we do not know or do not like.