Evangelicals and Immigration Reform
By the Cross Examinations Group
The Cross Examinations series asks pastors, professors, and writers to explore questions of vital importance to the church in a coherent and constructive manner. We hope that reflecting together will stimulate thought, focus conversation, and ultimately prove more edifying to online readers and to the church. Previous installments in the series have considered theological renewal amongst evangelical churches, the right relationship between evangelistic and social justice ministries, and evangelicalism and homosexuality.
The present installment asks the following question:
Immigration and illegal immigration are matters of grave ethical concern. Does the Bible give principles or insights that should guide Christian thinking on this issue? Is there a 'Christian position' on illegal immigration? Would it be un-Christian to expel illegal immigrants who have built their lives in the United States?
In addition to regular members of the Cross Examinations group, experts and activists in the area of immigration were invited to contribute. Thus our responders to the question are:
M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas), professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary, asks why "Christian responses" to the immigration crisis have so often been indistinguishable from secular responses.
John March, a church planter, pastor and blogger, offers four reasons why Christians should care about the plight of the immigrant.
Juan Martinez, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, suggests that "as Christians we need to look at the log in our own eye before we can remove the mote in the eye of the undocumented."
Kelly Monroe Kullberg, campus minister, bestselling author and Christian thought leader, encourages Christians to love "not only the foreigner who comes to us in need, but our neighbors, such as those in Arizona, whose needs are being ignored."
Glen Peterson, a founder of community organizations and partnerships serving the poor, writes that "Leaving the broken immigration system as it is only offers amnesty to human traffickers, smugglers, and unscrupulous employers who take advantage of migrants."
Mark D. Roberts, prominent speaker, author and blogger, supplies four biblical principles that pull Christians in different directions on the immigration debate.
Matthew Soerens, a citizenship counselor and author of a book on the immigration issue, points to "commonsense solutions that both honor the law and welcome the stranger."
Miguel de la Torre, professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology, speaks of "a moral obligation...to be illegal" and how Hispanic immigrants come "following what has been stolen."
Jeff Barneson is a longtime staff member for InterVarsity's ministry to faculty and graduate students at Harvard University.
The questions Christians should ask themselves go beyond the political.
The Bible (as in Leviticus 18:33-34) instructs the people of God to treat aliens in the land as though they were native-born. They are told to love the aliens as they love themselves, since they themselves were once aliens. Jesus even makes the disquieting suggestion (in Matthew 25:31ff) that neighborliness is a standard of God's judgment. "Lord," said the goats, "when did we see you a stranger and not invite you in?" For Right and Left, this is a serious challenge. Are we willing to love the alien neighbor as we love ourselves -- not just with the policies we advocate, but with our time, our relationships, and our money?
Another thought occurs to me as I consider how rapidly our country is changing through immigration: What if God's intention in the hyper-diversification of our country is akin to what happened when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D.? Historians question whether the message of the early Christians, without the presence of the Romans, would have spread beyond the local setting of Jerusalem. What if the present situation in the United States is just another accelerated opportunity to bring good news to people who are more than ready to hear it?
I believe it with all my heart: If we spend all our time and energy on the policy discussion, and never reorient our perspective and realign our congregations to engage with actual immigrants and their actual circumstances, we may miss out on the extraordinary opportunity that God has placed in front of us.
Or perhaps this is a backward way of thinking. What if God is sending the huddled masses here to meet our yearning? What if His Gospel cannot go forward right here in our own communities until we remember our alien status in this world, until we experience God's love for all His people everywhere?
[See the full reflection here.]
M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Theological Seminary and author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible.
What has been disconcerting to me is that all too often Christian responses in the United States to immigration are not different in any substantial way from the responses of those who do not profess the faith. Discussions tend to be limited to protecting national borders and "the American way of life." There are complaints about the supposed economic costs brought on by added pressures to schools, hospitals, and law enforcement. These are legitimate issues, but there is no explicitly Christian orientation to the debate. If there is, it usually is limited to quoting the call (in Romans 13) to submit to the governing authorities.
What might a more fully biblically informed response to the immigration challenge look like? Where would it begin? The starting place of a discussion determines in large measure its tone and content. If we begin with Genesis 1 and the fact that all humans are created in the image of God with infinite worth and great potential, the debate will be quite different than what is witnessed now in media sound-bites. It will focus on persons with needs and gifts that can contribute to the common good, instead of taking a default negative defensive posture against newcomers in our midst.
The Bible is a book of people on the move. The Old Testament law has a number of measures intended to protect the sojourner, and the New Testament describes Christians as sojourners in this fallen world. Paul teaches that Christians ultimately are neither Jew nor Greek, but one in Christ with those of different nationalities and social backgrounds.
A more biblically grounded look at immigration should generate a different kind of discussion, at least among Christians. The nation must attend to the pragmatic items listed above, but the way in which these are handled might change if Christians offered their unique voice and perspective.
[See the full reflection here.]
John March is a church planter, a pastor in Edina, Minnesota, a writer, and a blogger at Pilgrim March.
As a Christian, I feel it is important for me to talk about this polarizing political issue. I've witnessed what appears to be an increasing hostility and bitter resentment toward Mexican immigrants, and this sort of attitude has no place in the church. Here are a few reasons why we as the church should value, speak up for, and seek to be in relationship with immigrants, Mexican or otherwise:
1. Jesus was an immigrant. While Jesus was just a small child, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee from Palestine to Egypt because of the genocidal decree issued by Herod. He spent many years in Egypt, and his family returned to Palestine after Herod died. When God deigned to put on humanity, it was in the cultural dressings of an illegal immigrant. Not only is God not far from those on the margins of society, he himself was on the margins of society in the person of Jesus.
2. All humans are created in the image of God. Jesus exhibited an incredible ability to cut through the prejudices of society. He loved the people that no one else seemed to be able to love. Paul said the gospel tears down every dividing wall that keeps people at odds with one another, whether racial, social, gender, or economic.
3. Ancient Israel was meant to be a place hospitable to the alien, sojourner, and immigrant. After Israel entered Palestine, God commanded them to care for immigrants and wanderers, because that's what they themselves had been for so many years (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34).
4. We are all immigrants and sojourners in the world. As Christians, our primary allegiance is to God and to God's kingdom. We are first and foremost citizens of heaven. Oftentimes immigrants understand this intuitively because they are outside the dominant power culture in the country to which they come. White Christians living in the suburbs of America (like myself) are wise to recognize this implicit advantage immigrants have in living as though they are aliens and sojourners in the world.
I understand that we need laws that govern our borders, and those laws should be enforced. Currently, those laws do not work well, and that's why immigration reform is so crucial. I hope it includes some pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have lived here for many years and are more at home in this country than their country of origin. In the meantime, I plan to love and welcome anyone and everyone, regardless of legal status. My allegiance is first and foremost to the Kingdom of God, and in God's government acceptance is preeminent. Join me in loving immigrants and learning from them as we hope for immigration reform that results in a more just and equitable treatment of all people in this country.
[See the whole reflection here.]
Juan Martinez teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary and directs its Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community. He also blogs at Caminando con el pueblo.
Undocumented immigration has become something of "grave ethical concern" in the United States over the last few years. It was not considered a problem in the past. Immigration laws and their enforcement have changed over the years, depending on the economy and the national sense of security. Not many years ago people crossed the border fairly freely. Today the rich and the educated can easily obtain visas, but there is no way that the poor can obtain visas. In spite of the complaints about people going to the "front of the line," there is currently no line in which most of the undocumented could ever obtain legal status, no matter how long they waited.
We complain about the undocumented, but not about the fact that the undocumented come because there is work for them. Our economy depends on their labor; the social security system takes advantage of the contributions they will never claim; and for the most part they are paid unjust wages because they have no legal recourse. Because of NAFTA, U.S. companies are drawing more profits from Mexico than ever before and U.S.-subsidized agricultural products have put many Mexican farm workers out of work. The Mexican drug problem exists mostly because of U.S. consumption and U.S. arms. Most people recognize that the new law in Arizona will likely lead to racial profiling, but most of them are still in favor of the law. Yet none of these things create a "grave ethical concern" among U.S. Christians.
I do not want to belittle the issue of undocumented migration. But as Christians we need to look at the log in our eye before we can remove the mote in the eyes of the undocumented. The undocumented desperately need fair and just immigration reform. But this will not solve the problem of undocumented migration into the U.S., no matter how much is used for border enforcement. As Christians we need to ask difficult ethical questions about the immigration issue. But let's address the issues we have created, not only those raised by the weakest members of our society, the undocumented.
Kelly Monroe Kullberg is author or editor of several books, including Finding God at Harvard, and A Faith and Culture Devotional. She is the founder of The Veritas Forum. See her new site here.
I offer my thoughts as one who has spent several wonderful summers among the very poor in Central America, and who seeks the counsel of Scripture in all its richness and wholeness. It's important to see through political slogans and emotional appeals and to focus on the breadth and balance of scriptural teaching, and so to recover a wisdom tradition that is adequate for the real world.
On the matter of immigration, it seems that we're called to balance teachings that encourage the welcoming of some (though apparently not all) strangers alongside teachings that encourage cultural and economic stability, the stewardship of resources for sustainable flourishing, and justice not only for the stranger who comes from afar but for the neighbor who already lives amongst us. Those who honor God and his Word will naturally love the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. The difficulty comes with the influx of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants into a region whose majority population is neither adequately equipped nor enthusiastic to receive them.
In this context it's appropriate to explore what is meant, in Scripture, by the usefulness of hedges and fences, the importance of just weights, and the sheer folly and even sinfulness of those who spend what they have not first saved. Individuals, groups, and nations that put themselves in debt, especially severe debt, place themselves in positions of vulnerability and even enslavement to those whom they owe. As the author of the Proverbs tells us, "The borrower is servant to the lender." At some point, it is neither wise nor right to put ourselves in deeper and deeper debt in order to provide greater and greater benefits to more and more people. We're first to put our own house in order.
It's hard to think of boundaries when our hearts are open and full. But the book of Proverbs, and Jesus, remind us of the folly and sin of presumption, of building on a weak foundation, of spending what one has not first saved, of giving what one has not first received. They also remind us to love not only the foreigner who comes to us in need, but our neighbors, such as those in Arizona, whose needs are being ignored. One man's "justice" ought not to be another man's "injustice." No one is entitled to steal from another. Lawlessness with escalating violence and incivility is not justice. Its yield is not peace. Blessing to one is not theft from another.
When the United States has paid down our own multi-trillion dollar (and growing) debt, when more of our unemployed are given the dignity of work, when we have regained cultural stability, strength, and wise leadership, we will be better able to afford an increased rate of immigration. In our present circumstances, however, we are a false hope.
Hopefully those who love Jesus Christ will continue to plant seeds of faith and wisdom that will help build up local cultures in Central and South America. Hopefully we will also restore our nation to thrift and productivity, so that we might lead the world in sustainable generosity, in defense of the cause of the fatherless and widow, and in sharing food, clothing, and cheerful hospitality.
Let's leave behind the easy sloganeering and confront the hard task of discernment. Just as Paul taught the Church to delineate among widows in order to find those for whom the Church would provide, we are called, I believe, to make difficult and principled decisions about stewardship and about providing the conditions for healthy flourishing communities that can welcome many strangers not with hostility but with hospitality. With kindness and grace. Obedience to the whole counsel of Scripture yields sustainable growth and goodness to those in need.
[See the full reflection here.]
Glen Peterson is founder and President of the Capacity Partnership Group. He consults with non-profit organizations on matters of leadership and moral governance, and has abundant experience in developing community-based partnerships that serve the poor and the needy.
There may be no "Christian Position" on immigration, legal or illegal, but there are principles that will inform our discussion and shape our conclusions about immigrants as human beings, about fairness, and about God's work among us. The issues are nuanced and complex and require the serious attention of Christians who seek to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.
In the Christian and Jewish narrative of creation, God makes humans in his own image. Immigration cannot be discussed and debated only in the abstract, as it is ultimately about individual people, created in God's image, who are immigrants. Each of these immigrants has value to God and to people who value what God has created. Christian attitudes and actions toward immigrants, informed by our belief in a common creation and our possession of God's image, will inform the way we treat all people, immigrant or not.
This possession of God's image also applies to the self-understanding of the immigrant. Some immigrants think of themselves as inferior to the majority culture in which they live because they may come from a place of economic or educational impoverishment. Immigrants who understand their own intrinsic value become better educated and participate more fully in the economic and cultural life of their new home.
Economic systems pull inexpensive labor from countries south of our international border when there is a need. Related economic forces push laborers northward in search of ways to provide food and shelter for their families and children. Economic forces also push labor away when there is less demand during economic shifts that create fewer jobs. Christians know about God's interest in economic fairness for workers from James 5. Workers deserve fair treatment and payment for their work. Fair employers and just legal systems will not treat certain individuals differently for arbitrary reasons.
Economic forces over the past fifteen years have attracted nearly half a million people per year that the legal system has not been able to accommodate. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that there are 10.8 million laborers in the United States who live outside of the current immigration law and are therefore undocumented. It is un-Christian to allow people to live in a system that allows some workers to have fewer human and civil rights than others. The current system allows for human traffickers, unscrupulous employers, and other criminals to prey upon the vulnerable immigrant labor force that has built riches for others. Immigration reform that is fair and just to the vulnerable workers is an ethical issue for Christians. Leaving the broken immigration as it is only offers amnesty to human traffickers, smugglers, and unscrupulous employers who take advantage of migrants.
Jesus calls Christians to love across the social constructs that divide us. Men and women who want to follow the example of Christ will look for ways to help, to improve the lives of those who have less than us.
Mark D. Roberts is a widely read and widely respected author, speaker, blogger (here), and Senior Director of Laity Lodge.
The Bible provides principles for Christians who are considering the issue of immigration (including illegal immigration, which will be the focus of my comments here). Though these principles may, in the end, lead to a "Christian position" on illegal immigration, they do not do so unanimously or simplistically. Christians who believe that the issue of illegal immigration has an easy answer -- no matter what answer they prefer -- are not paying attention to the diversity of the biblical witness. I will mention four basic biblical principles that pull us in different directions at once:
1. Christians are called to welcome all people into our communities of faith. This includes persons of all races, ethnicities, and nationalities. It includes undocumented workers and the business owners who employ them, lawmakers who pass laws to limit illegal immigration and those who protest such laws. The church is to be a place of refuge for all sinners, a place of welcome for all people.
2. The United States of America is neither a church nor a Christian nation in the sense that it is to fulfill the calling of the church of Jesus Christ. The values, priorities, and activities of the country may rightly differ from those of the church and the individual Christian. If someone steals my car, as a Christian, I am called to forgive that person. The government's job is not to forgive, but rather to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate that person.
3. Christians are instructed in Scripture to honor government authority and to support even its use of "the sword" in the exercise of its governing responsibility. Yes, there are times when Christian loyalty to God trumps loyalty to Caesar. But, in general, Christians are to be subject to governing authorities as we obey and uphold the laws of the nation (e.g., Rom. 13:1-7).
4. God's people, including Christians, are to be committed to justice, especially for those who are powerless in society, including "aliens" (Ex. 22:21-24; Lev. 19:33-34). The call of God to do justice is not limited by national borders. Christians must be profoundly committed not only to our own personal flourishing and that of our fellow citizens, but also to the well-being of our neighbors in other countries. Christians can never be satisfied with economic prosperity in the United States when so many of our neighbors to the south are caught in poverty.
If these four principles apply, then no Christian answer to the illegal immigration problem in the United States will be an easy or simplistic one. We need a serious, biblically-informed, mutually-respectful conversation among Christians of varying viewpoints as we seek to determine God's guidance for our churches and our nation.
I know from experience that the vast majority of those who come to the United States illegally do so because they were trapped in poverty and injustice in their native countries and had no hope of improving their lives for themselves and their children. Christians throughout the Americas should be working in diverse ways to help those south of the U.S. border to have the opportunity to escape from poverty and oppression in their own homelands, even as our nation finds wise ways, in the words of Emma Lazarus in "The New Colossus," to welcome into our country "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore."
Matthew Soerens is an immigration and citizenship counselor for World Relief Dupage, and co-author with Jenny Hwang of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate.
Scripture is at the center of why I and so many American evangelicals have become vocal advocates of immigration reform. The Hebrew ger, which most versions of the Bible translate as "alien," appears 92 times in the Old Testament. The words of Exodus 12:49 are repeated several times throughout the Pentateuch: "The same law applies to the native-born and the alien living among you." God speaks repeatedly of His special concern for aliens, who are linked with other vulnerable groups such as orphans and widows (Ps. 146:9; Dt. 10:18; Ezek. 22:7; Zech. 7:10). God loves the alien, and commands His people to do the same, remembering their own history (Lev. 19:33-34). That love goes beyond a general sentiment to legislation, which God included in the Law He gave to the Israelites, mandating rules for the harvesting and gleaning of crops and for tithing that were intended to provide for the needs of immigrants (Dt. 14:28-29, 24:19-21).
While the scriptural mandate to care for the immigrant is clear, many Christians wrestle with what to do with those immigrants who have overstayed a visa or entered the country illegally. Romans 13 makes clear that God has established governing authorities and we are called to submit to them.
Fortunately, there are commonsense solutions that both honor the law and welcome the stranger. Comprehensive Immigration Reform includes many elements, including reducing backlogs to family reunification, increasing border security, establishing new mechanisms for lawful entry, and an earned legalization process for many in the country unlawfully. Earned legalization is probably the most controversial: this means neither amnesty nor open borders, but nor does it mean the other extreme of deporting the estimated 11 million individuals currently in the U.S. illegally. To do so would be a fiscal and economic nightmare, and would separate millions of United States citizens from their undocumented spouses, children, and parents. As Christians who believe that God designed the unified family as the fundamental building block of society (Gen. 2:23-24), we should strive to keep families together.
That's not to condone the fact that some of these immigrants have overstayed a visa or entered the United States illegally. By finding a penalty -- such as a monetary fine and a requirement to get to the back of the line for permanent legal status -- that avoids deportation and family separation for those immigrants without serious criminal offenses, we can uphold the importance of the law and keep families together, applying both justice and mercy.
Miguel de la Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology and author of Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration.
Let us begin by pointing out that the way in which the questions are formulated betrays Eurocentric biases. The usage of the term "illegal" is not a neutral word; it connotes criminality -- that those who are illegal are somehow inherently bad, if not evil. But do we call a driver who is driving without a license an illegal driver? Or do we call a taxpayer who fails to file his documents in time an illegal citizen? Of course not. Not having proper documentations, either as a driver or filing one's taxes, does not make the person a criminal. The reason migrants without proper documentation are called illegal has nothing to do with their character, or their moral framework; they are illegal because those in power have the legislative authority to impose their definitions on society. This is nothing new. We have a history where the biases of past Americans in positions of power made their worldview the legitimate norm. For most of this nation's history, it was illegal for blacks to experience the freedoms of whites. It was illegal for women to vote. When such laws restrict humans from participating in their full humanity, it is not the individual who is illegal; it is the prevailing laws that rob a certain group of people of their dignity that are illegal.
Christians have a moral obligation to disobey such illegal laws. Immoral laws are usually ignored, not out of disrespect for the rule of law, but because the lack of justice erodes compliance. When the people continuously disregard the law, it indicates a lack of consent; and without the consent of the public, law ceases to hold society together. For this reason, Christians realize that justice and equality toward the least always trumps any laws of nations that disenfranchise portions of the community. Whenever immoral laws are in place, a moral obligation exists to be illegal.
The question that should have been asked is why are "they" here, and why do "they" keep coming. For some, "they" come here to take away our jobs and use up our social services. For others, "they" come in search of the American Dream, hoping to find a better life for themselves and their families. These are the two most common answers given when asked why "they" cross the border -- ignoring that it was the borders that crossed Hispanics with the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. Nevertheless, the real reason "they" keep coming is bananas. Yes, bananas. And our refusal honestly to deal with the role of bananas contributes to much of the misinformation surrounding the current immigration debate. Before 1870, most Americans had never heard of bananas. By 1899 Americans were consuming over 16 million bunches a year. In that same year, the Boston Fruit Company merged with United Fruit to create the notorious United Fruit Company, the largest banana company in the world, with plantations throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
Around this time, President Teddy Roosevelt began talking about a "gun boat diplomacy" and "speaking softly but carrying a big stick." We may remember these sayings from grade school, but few understand their impact on the histories of Central and South America. Teddy was describing how the full force of the U.S. military was at the disposal of U.S. corporations, such as the United Fruit Company, to protect their interest....
[See the full response here.]
For over a century the U.S. military provided and protected the freedom for U.S. corporations to build roads into developing countries throughout Latin America to extract, by brute force if necessary, their natural resources and cheap labor. Some of the inhabitants of those countries, deprived of a livelihood, took those same roads, following the resources that were taken from them. They come following what has been stolen. They come to escape the violence and terrorism unleashed in order to confiscate their resources and cheap labor. This changes the questions usually asked about the undocumented. The real question we are faced with is not whether they should come or stay, but, ethically and morally, what responsibilities and obligations exist for the U.S. in causing the present immigration dilemma.
Also see a Mainline Protestant perspective at Holy Hospitality: Seeing Christ in the Immigrant
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