Citizenship Confusion: Illegal Immigration and the SBC

Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

Image credit: Kent Harville

Although I am not a Baptist, I have tried to follow news about the Southern Baptist Convention, and recently I have been encouraged by their engagement with politics. Last year, Russell Moore impressed me with his objection to the Glenn Beck rally. And at last week’s Southern Baptist Convention, they passed a resolution on illegal immigration that is bold, loving, and important:

Messengers have adopted a much-debated revolution [sic] on immigration that asks “our governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” . . . .The resolution, though, was amended to state that “this resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.”

It is to our shame that such a resolution is needed, but many conservative Christians have allowed their frustration at our government’s poor immigration policies to turn into a hatred, disgust, or disregard for immigrants (for example, referring to them as “illegals” or calling this crisis an “invasion”). In regard to immigration policies, a failure to see immigrants as people has allowed some Christians to view immigration laws far too simplistically: if someone did not come into our country legally, they should be kicked out, because they broke the law.

What this kind of thinking doesn’t take into account is that these immigrants are not simply young, single males who can be uprooted from their communities and sent back to their home. These are families and single mothers and elderly couples. These are people whose lives could be devastated if they were deported (particularly considering the current drug war in Mexico). What I love about the SBC’s resolution is that it does not fall into the either or fallacy that so often dominates the political conversation about immigration. We must be just and compassionate. We must provide a path to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures.

As citizens of the United States, it is not necessarily in the best interest of the Southern Baptists to ask our governing authorities to implement such a path to legal status for illegal immigrants. But as Christians, they realized that they have a higher obligation. They have an obligation to treat these immigrants as people first, not as faceless burdens on our economy.

I’m also strongly encouraged that the SBC voiced this resolution as a religious body. They could have simply recommended that individual baptists support immigration reform, but they went further and appealed to the government. American Christians treasure their right to follow their private conscience, so we prefer to have our churches encourage us to be politically active but not to speak on our behalf, which would usurp our right. But there are times when the church needs to speak out. And by passing this resolution and making a political statement as a religious body, the SBC has demonstrated that our heavenly citizenship and corporate membership in the church has a higher demand upon us than our American citizenship and our individual political preferences.

Also see this fantastic blog post by Russell Moore which elaborates on the Christian response to illegal immigration.

"Radford made a connection between Ender and Hitler.Another possible connection: Could Card have been referring ..."

‘Ender’s Game,’ Genocide, and Moral Culpability
"Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us ..."

Music Matters: David Bowie, Still Not ..."
""that many of us do not accept that a few cells of human DNA constitute ..."

How I Changed My Mind About ..."
"No thought given to the unborn child whose life was 'silenced and oppressed'... sad."

How I Changed My Mind About ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Alan, I’ve perused this place on and off here and there. Mostly I’m with you on the particular views articulated in these “Citizenship Confusion” pieces. But I’m a 2kingdomite, and while I agree with you personally, I’m not sure it’s the business of the church to make such statements. I understand the importance of Christ’s church maintaining its prophetic role in culture, and you might argue that this is one of those instances that demand it speak up, but it seems to me it’s just as easy to confuse citizenship no matter what the politics.

    Put differently, what I’m saying is, World magazine and Sojourners are two sides of the same coin.

  • Alan Noble


    Thanks for your comment and off and on perusal.

    I’m still sorting through where I stand on the Two Kingdom Theology. There are certainly aspects of it that attract me, but when comes to issues like this one, it seems to me that the church can and should speak out, particularly since the extent of their political action is the resolution itself (as far as I understand it). I would be more concerned, as I’m sure you would be, if the SBC was planning to draft a particular legislation, demand that congregations vote for specific politicians, or to form rallies promoting particular agendas. But given that so many conservative Christians and Republicans/Tea Partiers have promoted fairly uncompassionate policies on illegal immigrants, it strikes me as appropriate for the SBC to address this issue at a denominational and national level.

    I also like that the SBC did not use language to insinuate that this resolution was the only Christian response to the immigration problem. They leave open the possibility that there are other, more just and more compassionate ways to deal with immigration than allowing a legal path to citizenship. There is an essential humility here that I believe makes it difficult to confuse Christianity and a political platform.

    I completely agree that World magazine and Sojourners are two sides of the same coin, but right now I suppose I believe that the most biblical and loving theology of culture and politics is one where Christians as individuals and churches as bodies do act politically, but only with profound fear and trembling. It is just as easy, as you point out, to conflate liberal politics with Christianity as it is to conflate conservative politics Christianity. But despite that danger, I believe there are times when it is appropriate for the church to speak on political issues.

    In many ways, my theology of politics mirrors my understanding of the New Covenant. It is much, much easier (in my mind at least) to live under Levitical law where there are clear boundaries for what I can and cannot taste and touch. But under the New Covenant, most of the actions I undertake do not have clear instruction from Scripture, except the greatest two commandments, which are notoriously difficult to apply. Although some would like to believe it is so, there is no clear biblical standard which tells each of us what is appropriate to watch on TV in every situation. I suppose that’s not quite true, rather, the biblical standard is that we honestly and continually bring our hearts before God, asking Him for wisdom, considering our actions and how they are loving or unloving to others, etc. This is a lot of work. And more often than not, we get it wrong. It requires constant reflection, community, and sensitivity.

    In the same way, I think that Christians must engage in politics individually and corporately, but we must do so with solemnity and trepidation (acknowledging the dangers) and with humility (acknowledging that we don’t usually have certainty on political policies). I know this philosophy is ugly and frightening and can lead to everything from far right militias to far left Christian communists, but I feel that it reflects the messy, particular, complex world that we live in.

    All that said, I’m quite open to hearing suggestions for better models.

  • Once again, a careful and helpful response here, Alan. Thank you for it.

    I’m in large agreement, not least if the underlying assumption is that different times call for different responses (from the church). How one model (of how X relates to culture) handles the situation in one age can surely differ in another.

    That said, I’m fairly entrenched in the conviction that the people of God will always suffer a paradoxical relationship with the powers that be so long as our Lord tarries—precisely because it’s a body politic presently determined by its future (a la Pannenberg), and so will always be “out of sorts.” Assuredly, I do reserve a place for the church “speaking” to the government (unlike some other 2kingdomites), but to my mind it rarely includes resolutions, statements, etc. No doubt such things are symbolic, and maybe I underestimate their importance, but I get the sneaking suspicion that at the end of the day they’re useless.

    By way of anecdote, in the midst of WWII the small French farming village, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon (made up mostly of Huguenots), didn’t issue statements about the atrocities of Nazi Germany or resolutions about their own government’s evil collaboration with them; instead, they quietly harbored some 5,000 refugees, most of them Jews, much to the detriment of their own lives.

    The difference in the immigration issue will not be the SBC’s resolution, but when Christians stop resorting to ghettoizing their approaches to these things (i.e., a human response to immigration rather than a Christian one—at the risk of creating an unnecessary bifurcation) and those very Christians join the rank and file already extant in the world who are already working toward the precise end to which the SBC resolution points (in various degrees).