One of the most chilling images emerging from eyewitness accounts of last week's Norway massacre is the vision of a clean-cut man in a police uniform coolly gunning down terrified teenagers hiding in the woods. Here was a man hunting children for sport.
Maybe that's why I froze when I glanced at the bumper stickers on a car in front of me yesterday afternoon. The first one declared: "Welcome to America. Learn the damn language." That's crass, but not surprising. But just above it, another sticker read: "USA. ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT HUNTING PERMIT." A caption added: "No Bag Limit. Tagging Not Required." I winced: Here were people joking about hunting people.
The sentiment is unsettling, and it's repeated in many vitriolic conversations surrounding illegal immigration. Maybe you and I wouldn't display such a bumper sticker, but I've heard respectable Christians discuss this issue and speak of people made in the image of God like stray cattle that need herding.
I know the caveat: Illegal immigrants have broken the law and they should have to face the consequences. But it's difficult to have a reasonable conversation about reasonable solutions when disdain for people is the starting point. (Often I hear that disdain spill over into animosity toward any immigrant-legal or illegal.) Jesus, the friend of sinners, invited swindling tax collectors and prostitutes to dinner. He demanded that they repent, but he didn't lead with scorn. (Here was a man fishing for men.)
For Anders Behring Breivik-the predator who's charged with killing at least 76 people last week-the youth he cut down on Utoeya Island represented the future of a political party with an agenda item he hated: allowing more immigration. Breivik railed against the influence of Muslim immigrants in Western Europe. And while reasonable Europeans have made some reasonable arguments for tightening immigration laws, Breivik abandoned reason and massacred people who threatened his views.
Meanwhile, he spoke of his violence, in at least some of his online ramblings, as a quest to defend "European Christendom." Christians are rightly dismayed to hear media outlets describe Breivik as a "Christian fundamentalist" when his murderous life grossly rejects the fundamentals of Christianity.
That point brings me back to the third bumper sticker on that car yesterday afternoon. Directly across from the crass admonition to learn English and the mock permit to hunt and bag illegal immigrants was another sticker: It bore a cross and the name of one of the largest churches in town.
Maybe whoever bought the sticker doesn't despise illegal aliens as much as the slogan suggests. And maybe some of the Christians I know don't scorn illegal immigrants as much as their conversation sometimes suggests. But Puritan author John Owen once warned believers to fear the sinful nature of their own hearts, even when the offenses seem light:
"Sin always aims at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go to the utmost sin of that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it rise to its head."
And following the pattern of Christ's teaching, every instance of unrighteous anger would be murder if allowed to flourish.