After having dealt in detail about how Israel treated outsiders, the question must now be asked as to what exactly does this mean for believers today?
Can these long ago events really provide any insight into the current state of affairs?
The problem of racism and alienation on the basis of cultural differences is in no way receding into the background of history. On the contrary, it is probably worsening as the world continues to get smaller and smaller via technology and globalization.65 It is beyond the scope of this paper to proscribe a thorough account of the current situation or action to be taken. I do however want to conclude with a few ideas falling somewhere in between questions and propositions that can perhaps be taken up in another study. Moreover, this section is not intended to raise every application possible, even from the few points drawn out above. Rather, I am working with what I believe needs to said to my context, 21st Century, Southern, white, suburban, Christianity based on conclusions from Exodus.
First is simply universal human dignity must always be a primary concern.66 It is far too easy to get caught up in having one’s Christian identity wrapped up in preserving the pristine, polite religion and the political stability to which many in the South are accustomed.
This is of course intricately connected to the second point, that the church must do everything possible to allow sojourners in America equal economic opportunity. Doing so may cause the current stability of communities, incomes, neighborhoods, and even education to suffer in the short term. However, refusing to do so is idol worship with god being played by political and social stability. Making any discrimination based on economic or ethnic issues is simply heresy against the truth the God’s word.67 In short, Christians must be willing to bear shame and embarrassment in order to display humanity’s equal worth in God’s creation. It is this aversion to embarrassment, and its corollary the need for respectability, which makes all Christians on some level guilty of making race-based value distinctions. Regular corporate prayer, confession, and repentance on the issue are therefore urgently needed.69
Of note is the fact that the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 implores all to work for the, “orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick,” but makes no mention of the immigrant.70 This seems a gross omission given the millions from every corner of the earth filling the streets of every American city, large and small. Based on our study of race relations in Exodus, there is no excuse for not intentionally mentioning this vast demographic. If the church in general and Southern Baptists in particular are truly not to oppress the sojourner as Exodus defines oppression, the Christian community is under every obligation to set political sentiments and sensationalism aside and do whatever it takes to make immigrants feel at home and valued. Arguing for individual freedom and a business friendly environment is simply not enough.
How might this practically be done? Churches must begin to ask themselves hard questions about identity and allegiance. For example, how many churches preach that Christ died for all, but offer sermons, bible studies, and discipleship resources only in English?
How many teach American parishioners Spanish?
How many only have worship services and events catering only to the tastes of contemporary, middle class, American styles?
How many are taking concrete steps to fight for access to quality health services and education for immigrants and their children?
Is there any doubt that not doing so is making distinctions that God does not? It seems every Sunday we reinforce divisions not based on the world and the church, but based on race and culture. It is this tragedy, which Exodus urges us to guard against.
If nothing else, Exodus’ treatment of foreigners reminds modern Christians the Gospel is much more than a proclamation to be intellectually assented too. It is to be the characterization of a people who do not proscribe to the world’s standards of insiders and outsiders, but who say in one accord with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob there can be no love without justice.71 How this plays out in the modern world is tricky business and I do not pretend to propose comprehensive solutions. It is high time however that we as Southern Baptists repent of our cultural chauvinism and begin to lead with prophetic confidence in finding answers.
On a personal note, this will be my last entry for a couple of months.
65) J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation, 23.
66) Walter Brueggemann, A Social Reading of the Old Testament: Prophetic Approaches to Israel’s Communal Life (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 56.
67) Hays, From Every People and Nation, 203.
68) Charles C. Ryrie, Biblical Answers to Contemporary Issues (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 58.
69) The Baptist Faith and Message, [online], accessed 27 October 2011, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp; Internet.