Prices have dropped 25%. Many homes now are worth less than their mortgage principal. Many homeowners have defaulted on their loans. Banks and other lenders have collapsed. Financial institutions still in business have tightened loan requirements. Spending has slowed. Construction has stalled. Workers have lost jobs. Manufacturing has slowed. Stock markets worldwide have suffered sell-offs. It’s a mess out there.
If we could have increased the number of families seeking to buy homes by, say, 1.5 million, what might have happened? Could we have averted that run of falling dominoes? Might we have dodged the recession bullet? What might happen if we, even now, could bring more homebuyers into the market? Might we speed the end of the worst recession in the past 75 years?
Some experts predict that home prices will drop another 20% before leveling off, so the dominoes of economic downturn continue to fall. According to economist and Forbes columnist Gary Shilling of A. Gary Shilling and Co., the only effective way to reverse that trend is either to bulldoze those houses glutting the market (any volunteers?) or to invite more immigrants into the U.S., especially those toting H1B visas (to fill key positions needed in American businesses) to purchase those unsold homes.
We have argued in this column that the present policy on treatment of immigrants needs to change, spurred on by fundamental Christian ethics of grace and justice as is being advocated by the Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda (see p. 6). It promotes legislation that paves the way to an “earned path to citizenship for most undocumented residents.” Such a move could provide a ready remedy for our economic woes.
We Christians ought to be pressing for a change in immigration policy because the Bible tells us to do so. The Bible does not teach us to “Do unto thy fellow citizen as thou wouldst have thy fellow citizen do unto thee.” No, it teaches, or rather, compels us with ferocious clarity: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus19:33,34).
Neighbor love knows no national borders.
Let nobody be naïve: the love of strangers does not come easily. The early church, in order to fulfill its worldwide commission, was forced to confront its prejudice against aliens and outsiders. Not only did their mission force them to allow Gentiles (slang term was “dogs”) to join their fellowship. These Christians ventured against their own instincts out from their hometowns into foreign cities, sharing with those strangers the gifts God had given them. They even had to adapt their methods and requirements to the foreigners’ ways — sometimes allowing behaviors and beliefs that compromised or even overturned some of the centuries-old, Biblically-taught practices of their faith: circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, keeping kosher, etc. Plus, some proved to be bad eggs: every crowd has its criminals.
But when they found the grace to extend grace, the church grew exponentially. Moreover, the grace they extended generated grace returned. When the mother church in Jerusalem suffered through a severe recession of its own, the Gentile churches took up offerings and sent money, lots of money, to help them. Grace begat grace.
The love commandment often operates that way. As was illustrated in Pay It Forward, the 2000 book, movie, and resulting movement, acts of grace extended often generate acts of grace in response.
Sometimes, such acts simply change the economics of a situation so that everybody benefits. An embrace of immigrants could do so even now. So, while we would still advocate treating immigrants with the same grace we have received and with the same love with which we would have others love us, why not seize upon this convergence of economic woes and immigration challenges to enact immigration reform? Everybody could win.