Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Loaves For The Whole World

A sermon based on 2 Kings 4:42-44Ephesians 3:14-21, and John 6:1-21.
A sermon on the topic of immigration. 

In our Old Testament lesson from 2 Kings, one man has “twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack” and Elisha wants to use it to feed a hundred people. Elisha’s servant has strong doubts about Elisha’s mathematical skills - "How can I set this before a hundred people?" he said. Elisha replied, "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, `They shall eat and have some left.'" And it was so.

Our gospel lesson from John tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand. A huge crowd had followed Jesus and now Jesus wanted to feed them. The disciples questioned this plan. Philip said, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." Andrew said, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" The details of this story are a little different from the one in 2 Kings, but the overall story is very much the same. People were hungry, there didn’t seem to be enough for everyone, but in the end all had more than enough.

Both of these stories speak about the ability of God to provide. These readings also touch on people’s fear of not having enough. Elisha’s servant and Jesus’ disciples saw the limited amount of food that they had and could not imagine any possible way of it feeding so many people. They must have been hungry themselves, I can picture them worried about giving away all their food. It’s not that they didn’t care about the other people, but that they couldn’t see how they could help themselves while being generous to the crowd.

This is a common human failing, and it does great damage to other people. Throughout history, people have placed many barriers up, intending to protect themselves and what they have by keeping other people down or far away.

In July 1938, the Évian Conference was held in order to discuss the increasing number of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Representatives from 32 countries and 24 voluntary organizations met for 8 days in Évian-les-Bains, France.  Jews in Germany and Austria were hopeful that countries would agree to accept more immigrants. Hitler even said that he would help the Jews leave if there were countries that would accept them.

The United States, despite having called for the conference, refused to increase its immigration quotas to admit more refugees.  Other nations at the conference followed suit.  State department correspondence reveals the US government’s cynical motive in calling the conference was specifically to forestall political pressure to liberalize immigration law.

In 1979, Walter Mondale described the hope represented by the Evian conference:
"At stake at Evian were both human lives – and the decency and self-respect of the civilized world. If each nation at Evian had agreed on that day to take in 17,000 Jews at once, every Jew in the Reich could have been saved. As one American observer wrote, 'It is heartbreaking to think of the ...desperate human beings ... waiting in suspense for what happens at Evian. But the question they underline is not simply humanitarian ... it is a test of civilization.'" (New York Times: Evian and Geneva by Walter F. Mondale)

Civilization failed the Jews. The Nazis viewed the outcome of the conference as justifying their own treatment of Jews, and it may even have contributed to shifting Nazi policy away from deportation and towards their horrific “Final Solution."  With no place to go European Jews were trapped in their native countries, forced into concentration camps, and then slaughtered. 

Why wouldn’t other countries accept more Jewish refugees? Undoubtedly, many people were bigoted against Jews. Many people disliked people of a different race and religion than their own. Many people were fearful of competition for jobs and resources, or assumed that the refugees, destitute after being robbed by the Nazis, would somehow drag them down. Today things aren’t very different. People are still fearful of letting in all the refugees who want to come. Millions of desperate people are trapped in their countries, not allowed to leave for a safer and better life.

We are not trapped, we are free to come and go as we please. But what if that weren’t true? Imagine we went on a mission trip to Haiti, and on our way back we were denied re-entry into the country. Think of all the reasons you have to return that you could tell the officials. You used to live here, you have a job, you own a house, you have family who live here. None of those reasons are good enough to let you back in. Think of all the reasons you have to leave Haiti that you could tell the officials. You don’t want to live in Haiti, there are no jobs there, you would starve, there is wide-spread violence. None of those reasons are good enough to let you back in the US either.  Now imagine that the officials finally realized their mistake, that you were born in the United States, and now you are allowed back into the US. Why is that a valid reason and not those other ones?

Now you might say, citizenship is important. America is for Americans, let Haiti be for Haitians, and so on. Where do we stop with this? Do we say that Virginia is for Virginians only, or Fairfax County is for Fairfax Countians? Or Kirby Road is only for those who live here in McLean?

It is well established in this country that it is both illegal and immoral to discriminate on hiring by race, religion, gender, and so on. It is illegal and immoral for me to not hire a black man from Georgia who is qualified just because he is black. Why is it okay to not hire the black man if he was born in Haiti or Rwanda?

We read in history books how terrible apartheid was in South Africa. This was racial segregation enforced by the government, and it prevented the majority of people who were black from living and working wherever they wanted. This eventually was recognized as evil. It seems to me that we still have apartheid, just on a global scale. Where people were born largely dictates where they will be allowed to live, what kind of work they will be allowed to do, and how long they will live.  That is wrong.

When we read about the past in history books we read a lot about terrible things that societies and nations condoned. There seems to always be a group of people that are not considered to be people, at least not as equally people as the rest.  As time goes on our society has realized that black people are people, women are people, Jews are people, and now we are in the midst of realizing that gays and lesbians are people. Eventually we will have to face the fact that all people are people. People are people no matter where they are born and discrimination against foreigners will have to cease too.

Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves and the parable that he told to illustrate that commandment was that of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were despised and looked down upon by Jews. And yet, it was the Samaritan in the parable who stopped to help the injured man. Jesus told this parable to teach people that neighbors include all people, even the ones that you don’t really like or don’t agree with or don’t want around.

One of the biggest reasons, other than bigotry, that people want to limit immigration is that they fear competition for jobs and resources. If we let in all the Mexicans, and Haitians, and Guatemalans, who want to enter our country, won’t we soon be destitute ourselves?

Consider our readings today. Elisha’s servant and Jesus’ disciples could not foresee any way that the food that they had could feed everyone in the crowd. But they were wrong: God knew that there was plenty to go around.  But first the disciples had to trust Jesus and be generous.  This – doing the right thing even when the consequences seem frightening, trusting God to protect us – is what we mean by “faith.”

We tend to see limits where none exist, and to assume that others’ gain must come at our expense.  But as Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” God’s power can and does work through us and accomplishes abundantly more than we could even dream of. God’s abundance can meet all need.

Economists largely agree that peaceful immigration creates wealth, rather than destroying it.  Immigrants themselves benefit the most, but Americans are also made richer by each migrant.  According to several studies, if all barriers to migration were eliminated world income would roughly double, and these gains would be concentrated among the world’s poorest.  Faith and reason tell us that if we of the first world overcome our fears and give what we have – not loaves and fishes, but opportunity and freedom – there will be enough for everyone, and we will get back more than we have given.

So what can we do about this?  As individuals, we don’t set national policy.  But before any injustice can be righted, many people have to see it as injustice.  And before many people can see an injustice, a few have to speak out.  Ideas are also like Jesus’ loaves: they can be shared with a multitude, and yet still remain.

Ending global apartheid isn’t yet part of our national political conversation.  No party stands for it.  The controversies on immigration policy now are about how much we should persecute those who come here illegally.  This is not just an American problem, but a global one. But America can lead the way because our country has a proud history of immigration.  The New Colossus is a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus and is engraved on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty. This is the sonnet that famously says,

"Give me your tired, your poor,
 Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

May God make it so once again. Amen!
Many thanks to my husband, David Scherer, for inspiration, encouragement, and editing.

For more on the Évian Conference:
Wikipedia Article
The Nazi Holocaust by Ronnie S. Landau
The Holocaust Conspiracy: An International Policy of Genocide by William R. Perl

Reflection on Walter Mondale Speech:
The Best Speech I Ever Wrote by Marty Kaplan

The original thought experiment on being trapped in Haiti:
Why Should We Restrict Immigration? by Bryan Caplan

Analysis on the benefits of global migration, 
by CGD research fellow Michael Clemens:
The Biggest Idea in Development that No One Really Tried (video)
-It's a 25 minutes video but good overview of immigration benefits

-Discrimination on race vs. discrimination on where someone is born - begins at 9:00 in video
-Why do the people confined to poor countries think this is so? - begins at 10:00 in video
-Discussion on South African Apartheid and how ending it did not hurt whites - begins at 20:56 in video

Literature on the economic impact of immigration:
Economic Impacts of Immigration: A Survey by Sari Pekkala Kerr and William R. Kerr
Immigration by George Borjas (a more "pessimistic" view (+0.2% impact on native wages)
Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk? by Michael A. Clemens (rough estimate of doubling world GDP from unrestricted migration is based on the survey in this paper,Table 1)

Full text of The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

The site openborders.info attempts to collect arguments in favor of open borders.

One last thought experiment (by David Scherer):
Imagine the hypothetical nation of Selfishamerica. Selfishamericans are a lot like us, except that they don't care at all for the welfare of those not born within the borders of Selfishamerica. 
A Selfishamerican would cheerfully leave any foreign-born person to die by the side of the road. What might Selfishamerica's immigration policy look like? Immigrants would of course receive no social services and would be charged a revenue-maximizing tax, perhaps 75% or more, and citizenship would cost $1 million, but immigration would be unrestricted (what Selfishamerican would want to turn away a migrant worker who will be paying them 75% of their income?). Tens of millions of desperate people would be willing to take this terrible deal, pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into happy Selfishamericans' coffers, and would still benefit (a Haitian making minimum wage and paying 75% of it in tax would still be taking home $3750, over five times the per capita income in Haiti). What does it say about us that our actual policy is worse for foreigners than Selfishamerica's?