Thoughts from a Christian

Having done a lot of thinking about immigration over the past few years, first as an observer and most recently as a practitioner of immigration law, I must say that I am shocked at how little of the rhetoric is rooted in fact or informed by our faith.  Given how much the Bible has to say about immigration, it is very surprising to read that the Pew Research Center found in 2010 that just 12% of white evangelicals say that their views on immigration are primarily informed by their Christian faith;  and that just 16% say they have ever heard the topic of immigration discussed by their pastor or other clergy.   It may come as a surprise, however,  that almost all the major US denominations, both conservative and liberal, have a stated position supporting Immigration reform.  Why the disconnect?  

Most people have not thought, for example, that Jesus was an immigrant twice.  John 1:14 tells us that He was a celestial immigrant who came and and made His “tent” among us!  Then he was a refugee in Egypt during his childhood as he fled from political and religious persecution in his country of birth.

People of faith are or should be known for their understanding of the plight of the immigrant given the fact that we were once foreigners to God but have been made citizens.  Ephesians 2:19 says, “you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household,”  But, in spite of this most people of faith seem to reflect an attitude exactly the same as the rest of society.

As a society, we have turned a blind eye to the desperate immigrants many of whom are fleeing conditions of poverty beyond what most Americans can fathom.  We glibly say that since they  violate the law by entering or overstaying a visa and then accepting employment without authorization, that they are criminals and mercy does not apply to them.  Yes, it is illegal under the law, just as it is also illegal to drive 58 0r 59 in a 55 mile-per-hour speed limit.  However, we come to expect that the police will not give us a ticket for speeding under those conditions since, as a rule, we “wink” at such infractions.  How often some sanctimoniously refer to Romans 12:1 (where the Bible commands us to “be subject to the governing authorities,”) without remembering Matthew 18:21-35 (where the unforgiving steward was told “ ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ ")

There is nothing inherently unjust about having borders and enforcing control of the number of immigrants who are allowed to enter.   It does become an issue of justice, however, when we selectively enforce the law to our advantage and then deny those who break the law any rights and refuse to treat them as we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31). We require them to pay Social Security taxes while denying them benefits. If they are a victim of crime, in many cases, we put THEM in jail and deport them thus effectively making our “neighbor” a target for real criminals instead providing justice and having mercy on him like like the Samaritan in Luke 10.  

As a Christian, I believe that the government has the right and responsibility to maintain and enforce immigration laws.  I do however want those laws to reflect God’s character.  In the Old Testament, many times Godly justice is associated directly with how we treat the stranger. The Bible in fact, legislates how to treat the vulnerable including the foreigners when it says,  "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” Lev 19:33-34. Of course in the New Testament, God tells us that it could be in the form of a foreigner that we could have an unannounced encounter with a heavenly being. And, God tells us in Matthew 25 that one of the characteristics of those who belong to Him is one who shows hospitality  [philo - xenia] to the strangers.

Christians, above all people, should understand how to apply the principles of grace to someone who is from a foreign land. The Bible asks us to remember our “status” as we were before experiencing God’s grace (Ephesians 2:19). Furthermore, God tells his people in Leviticus 19:34 that because of our understanding of grace, we should be all the more compassionate towards foreigners.  

Without doubt, the “Rule of Law” is an important Biblical concept as well. It is important for us to recognize that the oft-quoted passage of Romans 13 in support of the “Rule of law” is rooted in Romans 12, which exalts love of the brethren and love of strangers! Romans 12 encourages us among other things: to give preference to other human beings with honor (verse 10), to extend hospitality to strangers (verse 13philoxenia” as opposed to “xenophobia”).

We must be concerned that the laws of our country are laws that reflect God’s character. Our current immigration laws, far from reflecting God’s character, suppress human dignity and exacerbate xenophobia.  And we, as Americans, have not followed our “rule of law” in the enforcement or application of laws in the context of immigration. Since the 1940’s we have welcomed immigrants (undocumented or not) to build our houses, roads and our country until it was no longer economically or politically expedient to do so. Since 2008, have we suddenly become moralists about enforcing the law?

I want to encourage us to look again at immigration through a Biblical lens. There is no better time than now for preachers and leaders to expose their sphere of influence to a Biblical view of the immigrant. Now more than ever we, as Christians, should be concerned for and should be praying for the direction our country is to take in regards to immigration.   Lord draws near on all the nations.

As you have done, it will be done to you.  Your dealings will return on your own head.  (Obadiah 1:15).