American Family Association (AFA) blogger Elijah Friedeman thinks Alabama’s new, draconian law targeting undocumented immigrants and anyone who would assist them or knowingly fail to turn them in, is wonderful.
What puzzles him, according to his essay posted Friday on AFA’s Rightly Concerned website, is that many Christian church leaders, even conservative ones, oppose the law (see also here) – after all, Friedeman writes, undocumented immigrants are the conceptual equivalent of convicted felons who have escaped from prison.
It’s hard to decide which notion is more astonishing – that Friedeman struggles to understand the nature of Christian charity that places helping people ahead of checking their papers, or that he would consider people who, for the most part are merely trying to support their families by doing hard work at low wages few others are willing to do, the equivalent of robbers, rapists and murderers.
“Let’s say that a convicted felon escapes from prison. This prison escapee is – illegally – living freely in America,” Friedeman writes. “If a church, with full knowledge that the felon was a prison escapee, welcomed him into their midst and gave him car rides to and from church, those in the church could – and probably should – face charges for knowingly harboring and aiding someone who was breaking the law.”
The same should be true for an “illegal alien … living freely in America in complete disregard for the rule of law,” Friedeman says. “As Christians, we should respect illegal immigrants and love them, but we should not help them break the law.”
Friedeman ignores that knowingly abetting an escaped convict has always been illegal in every U.S. jurisdiction. Until Alabama passed its law in June, it was not illegal for a church or anyone else in the state to feed, clothe, house or render first aid to someone lacking proper residency documentation; indeed, the law required that they receive treatment in emergency rooms and that their children attend school. The Alabama Legislature chose to create two entirely new classes of state criminal: People lacking proper documentation and the people who help them.
Friedeman also disregards the long history of churches worldwide that, on the strength of their faith, have acted on behalf of escaped slaves, political dissidents, refugees, victims of abuse, children and countless others. Would he now insist that religious groups’ first obligation is to act as de facto government agents?
Numerous churches, understandably, have objected to the new state law. Four Alabama Christian bishops, in a lawsuit filed in August, argued that the law would “make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans.”
Curiously, many right-wing Christian commentators – including the AFA's chief ideologue Bryan Fischer – have complained that LGBT rights would compromise or criminalize Bible-based preaching against gay and lesbian lifestyles, yet AFA apparently isn’t worried about criminalizing Bible-based charitable acts on behalf of immigrants in need.
Friedeman breezily dismisses the dilemma church partisans face. “I don’t think that anyone would suggest that if an illegal alien was lying beaten and bloodied on the side of the road that we shouldn’t help them,” he writes. “It’s highly unlikely that any church would face prosecution for taking an illegal immigrant to church, particularly in a conservative, Christian state like Alabama. But should the church face prosecution? That’s another question.”
Indeed it is: Would Jesus demand papers?