Faith Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Extreme vetting for heaven?

Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents participate in the second national wave of Operation Cross Check in Sept. 2011. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/ICE

(RNS) On Saturday (Feb. 25) the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Washington will host a panel called “If Heaven Has a Gate, a Wall and Extreme Vetting, Why Can’t America?”

Maybe the title is meant to be taken no more seriously than one of those cartoons with St. Peter questioning would-be entrants to the Good Place. But let’s unpack it anyway.

For starters, the metaphor of getting into heaven through a gate comes from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells his flock (Matthew 7:13-14):

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

So heaven seems to be for the few. As Jesus goes on to say a few verses (21-22) later, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

We’ll get to the business of doing the will of the Father in a moment. What about the extreme vetting part?

Consider the religious persuasions of the three politicians who’ll be sitting on the panel: former congressman and would-be governor of Colorado Bob Beauprez, a Catholic; U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a Mormon; and U.S. Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, who calls himself a Christian, i.e., an evangelical.

Catholicism says that we get past St. Peter by working off our sins in purgatory. Mormonism says just about everybody gets into one or another of its three heavens. As for evangelicalism, i.e., Protestantism, it says the things we’ve done, i.e., our “works,” have nothing to do with it.

In other words, church doctrine denies the premise. Heaven does not have extreme vetting.

But OK, Jesus himself suggests what we do in this life is determinative. And according to Matthew 25, he himself is coming back to do the vetting — separating the sheep who will make it into heaven from the goats who won’t according to specific criteria:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

By contrast, to the unrighteous the King will reply: “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In other words, if getting into heaven is the benchmark for America’s immigration and refugee policy, the vetting we should worry about has to do with us, not them; with what we’re doing — or not doing — for the least of these.

Which suggests a different name for the CPAC panel: “If Heaven Has a Gate, a Wall and Extreme Vetting, Why America Can’t Get In.”

(Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He writes the Spiritual Politics column for RNS)


About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • I’m surprised Mr. Silk even bothered with Jesus and His Return, and that he noted that the Lord Himself will do some pretty extreme vetting. Of course he makes recourse to his progressivism in his final sentence.

  • I’m not surprised, for he is using one of the most abused passages in the NT. The Mount Olivet discourse, of which he quotes only the tail end, has an easily identified theme when read from start to finish, and it has nothing to do with progressivism — indeed most progressives would repudiate the charge that Jesus actually gave to His disciples therein.

  • Your last point I do not doubt, but wherein is the abuse of the passage in this sense? Surely it is clear that when Jesus Returns, He will indeed eternally separate the sheep from the goats. What am I missing here.

  • Yet another example of Christians being no different from anybody else, creating their inherited deity in their own image.

  • The French created a term a thousand years ago to describe overly zealous Christians who felt empowered to do extreme vetting of their neighbors in behalf of and in place of Jesus Christ: “bigot.”

    Funny how that old French shoe still fits those who wear it with self-pride.

  • ” . . . if getting into heaven is the benchmark for America’s immigration and refugee policy, the vetting we should worry about has to do with us, not them; with what we’re doing — or not doing — for the least of these.
    I don’t believe any country’s immigration and refugee policy has anything to do with getting into Heaven. Let’s have some of that separation of church and state here–the old saw that liberal religionists always fall back on when they oppose vouchers that provide kids from failing schools their chance for a quality education from an excellent religious school.
    Churches are about spiritual growth, and leading a life of love as service fit for Heaven. Governments have the responsibility of protecting their citizen–even “the least of these”–against would-be terrorists and criminals who are illegals seeking to do us harm. President Trump’s proposed policy of slowing the entry of those from the seven Mid-eastern war-torn countries was for our protection. God can decide whether or not She wants to invite the criminals and terrorists into Heaven!

  • “If Heaven Has a Gate, a Wall and Extreme Vetting, Why America Can’t Get In.”

    That’s funny and apropos. It would be nice if Americans were a bit more reflective. Perhaps if we dealt with our own white terrorism we’d have more of a moral leg to stand on.

  • The Mount Olivet discourse commissioned the disciples to take the gospel to the nations as missionaries and predicted many hardships and persecutions ahead for them. They were the brethren that Jesus promised to hold the nations accountable for ill-treating. He had made the same promise (on a smaller scale) earlier in Matt. 10 when He sent them to the towns of Israel with the gospel. And in Rev. 6:10 we even hear their souls asking Jesus how long until He would fulfill that promise.

    The passage is abused in that it is routinely taken out of the discourse to which it belongs and is used to push everybody and his grandmother’s pet social project. There is plenty enough exhortation to generosity in the gospels without mangling this particular passage.

  • The meme that heaven has a wall, a gate, and extreme vetting goes against the will of God our Savior who desires all people to be saved [1 Tim. 2:3b-4a]. The Good Shepherd left heaven to seek, find, and bring in lost sheep, not to keep them out.

  • John 14:6 – New International Version
    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

    John 3:3 – New International Version
    Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

  • Never mind Revelation 21:25 says the gates are never closed or maybe considering Isaiah 60:18 in which ‘you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise’…if THAT’S what we’re talking about, think the policy implications might be a little different than what they’re arguing…just sayin’…

  • “President Trump’s proposed policy of slowing the entry of those from the seven Mid-eastern war-torn countries was for our protection.”

    Ignoring information and advice from the state and defense departments, holding visa holders and permanent resident aliens indefinitely without reasonable cause, and violating principles of religious freedom, is not protecting the American people from anything. Except democratic due process.

  • President Trump is focused on the security of the American people rather that whether or not his policies will get him into Heaven! You make a good point about permanent resident aliens. Their passage in and out of this country is one of the small wrinkles in the proposed policy that could easily be ironed out.

    Due process? The security of the US would be severely threatened if the open borders folks had their way about allowing everybody in. They would make no distinction between those who would try to kill us and the people wishing to come here for legitimate purposes!

  • Jesus refers to himself as bread, shepherd, light, water of life, The way, The Truth and The life, (narrow minded and bigoted perhaps?) and yes a gate.

    He is also a stumbling block to any and all who might try to enter his kingdom through yet another way.

    As “the good shepherd” he leads those who “know his voice.”

    As such, “vetting” has nothing to do with works that hope to earn a status and especially an entrance into eternal security.
    Rather, a demonstration of having a relationship of trust, faith, belief, new birth, and resulting obedience.

    Christ himself is the offensively small and narrow gate. He is also the Fathers great pleasure and provision, only provision, for the forgiveness of sin.

    The context of this passage is the grand invitation at the conclusion of his sermon on the mount. Jesus delivers words that were hard to hear both then and now. He follows with an invitation, if not a command, to enter this gate of vetting and avoid the horrors of being turned away for turning him away and going it alone.

    It is God who vets any and all of us. The price for inclusion is His Son. And His Son named any and all of us who might chose to enter another gate as thieves. This is the will of the Father, to be thus securely vetted.

    I love the vetting connection you have made here and the hardline stance it represents.

  • So “focused on security”he blatantly ignored what security experts were telling him about the executive order and not didn’t bother to consult with people who would know how to carry it out. These small wrinkles as you call them are doing real harm to individuals and the nation.

    The security of the US is more threatened by half baked, clearly discriminatory and lazy efforts. Due process is what allows us to figure out who are credible dangers and who isn’t. As opposed to blanket, easily bypassed group classifications.

    You can get off the high and mighty alleged concerned for our safety nonsense. There is no evidence whatsoever the people affected by the order represented a credible well founded threat or that existing vetting procedures were in any way deficient in this matter.

    Resources and effort which could be used for useful security measured are wasted in this useless, harmful crap. You put more effort into making excuses for this garbage order than what was put into making it. It was a perfect example of Trump being lazy, haphazard, bigoted and dishonest.

    There are so many ways an executive order affecting immigration could have been done which would have passed muster and been effective. But Trump wasn’t interested in doing it. It’s telling when the Defense and State departments are the biggest most credible critics here.

  • Leaked DHS Report Contradicts White House Claims on Travel Ban

    “in the wake of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on the administration’s immigration order, asked the Department of Homeland Security for assistance in justifying the travel ban before the courts on security grounds. More specifically, the White House asked the Department to draft an intelligence assessment that, as reported in the press, was supposed to unequivocally show that immigrants from the seven countries affected by the ban—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—posed a terrorism threat to the United States. …

    However, when the Department produced its draft report, later leaked to the Associated Press, the White House wasn’t pleased with the results—and for good reason. The assessment does not support the administration’s position that individuals from the affected countries disproportionately threaten the United States.

  • “If Heaven Has a Gate, a Wall and Extreme Vetting, Why America Can’t Get In.”

    We would be wise to ponder this.

  • I agree that the comparison of our immigration laws and extreme vetting and this guy’s argument against the comparison are both poor arguments regarding God, salvation and God’s sovereign election of sinners to salvation.

  • Again I say, RIGHT AGAIN AS ALWAYS, SPUDDLE! THAT’S WHAT YOU NEED TO HEAR, ISN’T IT? (BTW you have yet to explain what any of this has to do with vetting for Heaven! PLEASE DON’T EXPLAIN! WE’VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR TORTURED LOGIC ALREADY!)

  • Read the article. It is quite informative as to how experts are running from this dookie of an executive order. Even the Department of Homeland Security experts are saying its a joke.

    As for vetting in heaven, I believe that us a subject where the answers are those where one’s mileage would vary depending on faith and sect.

  • Nations don’t “get into” heaven — individuals do. And it isn’t based on “what you do.” It’s based on what you have made yourself become — which is determined by how you have lived your life.

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