The Great Commission does not tell all the nations of the world to come to America to hear the gospel. The Great Commission tells the church to GO TO all the nations and take the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20). The current immigration crisis in America has blurred the eyes of many American Christians who seem to want the Federal government to do the hard work of missions for them. Rather than wrestling with whether or not they should GO and TELL; many American Christians simply want the government to enact an open borders policy so other nations can COME and HEAR. This is spiritual laziness, disguised as Biblical piety and missionary zeal. Thabiti Anyabwile is one clear example of this type of unbiblical and wrong-headed thinking; and how many Christian leaders will misinterpret the Bible to achieve their political purposes.
In a recent interview for “The Gospel Coalition” Thabiti bemoaned how selfish American Christians were for supporting a restriction of the national border. He smugly commented that “Christians need to go back to their Bibles” to be informed on issues like this. Of course, the obvious question would be, “What exactly does the Bible say about American immigration policy?” And the answer is nothing. Thabiti took the question, “How should Christians respond to refugees?” And answered the question, “How should the United States respond to immigration?” These are two entirely different questions because the United States is not synonymous with Christianity and all immigrants are not refugees.
For those unfamiliar with Thabiti, he serves as a pastor of Anacostia Baptist Church in Washington D.C. - having preciously served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands and as a staff member at Mark Dever's Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington. He made a name for himself in evangelical circles because of his association with Dever, and later having ties to John Piper. He was born as “Ron Burns”, but changed his name when he converted to Islam. He later converted to Christianity, but kept his Muslim name. He has a compelling testimony and many conservative Christians respect him as a fresh tonic to the phony reverends like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who give black Christians a bad name. While Thabiti may not be in their ballpark, he is much closer than most of his fans realize. He has spoken glowingly of Bernie Sanders and the Black Lives Matter movement, while criticizing police and elevating “black” causes at the expense of Christian unity. Thabiti is the worst kind of dangerous because he mixes racial politics with conservative Christianity to sound orthodox while leading the undiscerning astray. I don't know his motives. Maybe he means well, but I don't trust him.
Thabiti, and many other Christian leaders like John Piper and Russell Moore continue to confuse the United States government with the Church and draw praise from many confused Christians who KNOW that Christians should be gracious to everyone, and ASSUME Thabiti and others are right when they criticize American immigration policy. The problem here, is that it is the church's job to be gracious and evangelize whoever they come in contact with. It is the Federal government's job to protect us and our liberty as we do this. And immigration standards fall well within the government's role in this area. The Bible says the “governing authorities” are to “wield the sword” and keep the peace. They are to punish evil and protect the innocent. (see Romans 13) But they are not to step in and do the work of missions for an increasingly lazy (and liberal) church. Many Christian leaders are nothing more than pawns for whatever political group they belong to. Thabiti complains about this reality, even though he himself seems to be just as guilty of it. In citing Old Covenant Israel as an example of those who were called to be gracious to “sojourners among you” he states, “The American church has been cozy with power for a long time; and it doesn't remember slavery in Egypt.” The problem with this statement is that American Christians never were slaves in Egypt. They were slaves to sin. And to take the typological picture of Old Covenant Israel and pagan Egypt; and then try to see the fulfillment in America and it's immigration policy is to distort scripture, mix and match covenants, and force a physical fulfillment on a spiritual reality. We are not Old Covenant Israel and we were never slaves in Egypt. The true church is the “New” Israel and were freed from our bondage to sin. This has absolutely nothing to do with America's policy on immigration. Should the church be gracious to “the sojourner among you?” Of course. But this doesn't mean the Federal government should disregard all security measures and promote an open borders policy. Not even Old Covenant Israel did that. They had walled cities, with armies, and guards, and laws which had to be obeyed.
Thabiti's words sound very pious, but they seem to be more rooted in his personal hatred of Donald Trump than in anything the Bible actually teaches. For months, Thabiti has railed against Trump with every fiber of his being. He's accused him of being a racist, as he openly endorsed Hillary Clinton. In so doing, Thabiti tipped his hand as being more concerned with his personal preferences than with protecting life itself. If Thabiti had supported a third party candidate, or no one at all....more power to him. But Thabiti, openly announced his intention to vote for the infanticidal, feminist Clinton. And that is shameful. And in so doing he lost all credibility on cultural issues. And strangely enough, he uttered not a word against Barack Obama's immigration policy which also included temporary bans and deportation. Of course, he still has a large platform because he has “The Gospel Coalition” seal of approval. This means that many conservative, and even theologically “reformed” Christians will swallow whatever rhetoric he puts forth and assume he is trustworthy. Even if he has a clear ax to grind and is twisting scripture to defend his political positions. Unfortunately, The Gospel Coalition seems to be morphing more and more into a Christianized version of the Huffington Post; and Thabiti is becoming the new Arianna Huffington.
In The Gospel Coalition clip, Thabiti goes on to make the ludicrous and breath-taking comparison of Paul in Athens in Acts 17 as an example to defend his immigration position. He cites that God has determined the “boundaries and habitations of people that they may be brought to the gospel.” Thabiti apparently sees this as a justification for open borders. But doesn't the text itself say that citizens of other countries “boundaries and habitations” have been determined by God? And was Paul making any reference at all to immigration, or even more absurd, to AMERICAN immigration? Of course not. Has the sovereign God who determined a Syrian live in Syria, also decreed that they can't hear the gospel unless they come to America? Or did God tell Christians of all nationalities to GO and TELL, rather than expect them to COME and HEAR?
Does this mean Christians who support secure borders are being “un-Christian” and hateful, as Thabiti suggests? Not at all. In fact, Christians can and should support helping refugees and others in need. But it shouldn't be through government policy, it should be through private charity in both practice and in financial support. The knee-jerk reaction of most Americans is to look to government in general to solve all their problems. And to use the United States government in particular to solve all the world's problems. But this is not America's job as a country. And it is not the government's role as the “governing authorities.” If you feel led to support Syrian refugees for example, then YOU should give from your own pocket to support them rather than trying to force the government to take from everyone's pocket to support them. If you feel a burning desire to share gospel with Syrians then you should give to missions causes in that region, or consider going there as a missionary yourself rather than trying to force the entire country to welcome all (even potential terrorists) to enter through open borders. America is not the church. Immigration is not missions. And national defense is not “hateful ideology” as Thabiti suggests.
Thabiti uses a lot of liberal buzzwords that will probably go unnoticed by many Christians who have been hypnotized by such words. He speaks of “injustice, empathy, sojourners, and the voiceless” to criticize Christians who expect the government to do it's God-ordained role of keeping the peace through immigration policy. And to promote his own “anti-all things Trump” position of open borders, etc. For a man to have the audacity to browbeat Christians for not defending the “voiceless” when he himself openly supported Hillary Clinton is both staggering and nauseating. In this clip, Thabiti comes across as pious, pompous, and condescending. He waxes eloquent about his own perceived Biblical knowledge, while distorting the scriptures to achieve his own political ends. And then accuses anyone who opposes him of doing the same things he does. He has taken a page from the playbook of the Democrats and duped many conservative Christians in the process. While he may be right on some theological issues, I encourage Christians to just avoid him. He's too blinded by his hatred of Trump to speak rationally on matters of culture.