If you survey Christians and ask how we decide between right and wrong, many of us will point to our faith. I’m happy about that, but what do we do when people of the same faith come to different views of the same issue and both claim to be right?
It’s happening in many places with many issues, but a story in the Los Angeles Times on Friday struck my interest. The story is about immigration, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), Stephen Sandstrom and Tony Yapias.
Both live in Utah, both are Mormon, both look to their faith to decide moral issues, and they disagree on immigration. Mr. Sandstrom was born in Orem, Utah (and is a citizen by birth). He believes that being a Christian means following the rules and obeying the laws. Someone who enters this country outside of the law violates this and should be deported. As a state legislator he introduced a bill, patterned after a similar bill in Arizona, which requires the police to determine the immigration status of people they stop and suspect may be undocumented. He is quoted in the LA Times story: “This country is the greatest nation on Earth because God had a hand in its formation. A lot of that is because . . . we obey the rule of law. Turning a blind eye to illegal immigration jeopardizes the rule of law.”
Tony Yapias was born in Peru and when he was a child his father came to the U.S. to forge a better life for his family. Tony and the rest of his family were able to join his father when Tony was 14 but the strain of the separation was too much for his parents’ marriage. As an adult Tony joined the LDS church in part because of their emphasis on family.
Which one is right? The issue of immigration has divided many groups, but most Christian groups support immigrants and oppose laws like the one Mr. Sandstrom advances. But most Christian groups aren’t like the Mormons. They are hesitant to view any law as wrong. In the LA Times article it talks about how they are Pro-Life, but discourage anything that protests legal abortions. They counsel their people who live in Communist countries to obey the laws, even the ones they disagree with.
This is one reason I’m not a Mormon. I don’t see God’s hand in many of our laws. I don’t think God is present in Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson and I think there is a strong case to be made that our government continues to need the voices of our prophets. I believe the prophets answered Dred Scott with the 14th Amendment and Plessy v. Ferguson with Brown v. Board of Education. If you’ve read a previous post you know where I stand on homophobia.
I believe it’s more important to be faithful than obedient, and I believe it’s more important to follow my conscience than my intellect. I am many things: I am a married man, I am an American, I am an inhabitant of Earth, and I am a Child of God. The fact that I’m bound by God matters more to me than my connection to the United States (whose 14th Amendment tells me we who were born here are all citizens). If someone born 40 miles south of where I live wants to make a better life for his children, I get it. My grandparents moved south (from Canada to Massachusetts) to make a better life and I benefit from that. If they cleaned hotel rooms and carried luggage so I can be who I am, I am grateful.
And I refuse to deny that to the next generation from now. The next man, woman, or child I meet may well have a hard time speaking to me in English. That’s OK because my grandparents had a hard time with English too. If that person is cleaning my house, mowing my lawn, or waiting for work outside a hardware store, I admire hm (her) for making a better life for his/her children. And I pray that his/her descendants are grateful.
And with respect to Mr. Stanstrom, I think he’s wrong.