Brief interlude (in discussion of The Bible Made Impossible): more on states’ illegal immigration laws

Last May I stirred up a huge controversy here by condemning newly minted state laws that criminalize Christian behavior.  The provisions to which I objected were those that criminalized (actually made felonies) knowingly transporting illegal immigrants and sheltering them.

Several people here objected, claiming that these laws exempted humanitarian transportation and shelter.  As it turned out, however, those qualifications applied only to emergency service workers, hospitals and state-licensed humanitarian organizations.  No one ever proved here or elsewhere, to my satisfaction, that these state laws (especially in Oklahoma and Alabama) did NOT, in fact, criminalize individual acts of humanitarian aid to needy illegal immigrants.

Today’s newspaper contains an article from the New York Times (by Campbell Robertson) reporting on a federal judge’s ruling on the Alabama law.  Quote: “She [the judge] blocked a broad provision that outlawed the harboring or transporting of illegal immigrants….”

The state’s governor, according to the article, expressed expectation that the blocked sections of the law would be upheld on further appeals.

I will say this again: I do not believe a legislator or government official can be a Christian who writes, passes or signs a law that criminalizes basic Christian behavior.

Thank God for a U.S. District Court judge who saw the folly in such a law and blocked its enforcement.

To me, these laws raise the specter of fascist xenophobia that usually leads to concentration camps (as in the U.S. treatment of US citizens of Japanese descent during WW2).

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  • C. Ehrlich

    While I agree that this is a case of fascist xenophobia, someone might suggest that the voluntary act of knowingly transporting illegal immigrants isn’t a “basic Christian behavior” any more than the voluntary act of knowingly transporting a bank robber. I realize there are significant differences here, but how do you draw the line, if you do?

    Perhaps the key here is whether one’s act merely constitutes “humanitarian assistance.” Would you support a law permitting one to voluntarily provide humanitarian assistance to a known terrorist or assassin? I think I would. But how would we specify what is to count as humanitarian assistance? (Giving an illegal immigrant temporary employment might seem like an act of humanitarian assistance.)

    • rogereolson

      If I’m providing transportation to and from work for a known illegal immigrant–that’s one thing. If I’m driving an illegal immigrant to the grocery store because she has no other way to get there to feed her family–that’s something else. Common sense could help a lot.

      • C. Ehrlich

        Imagine this exchange between the poorly funded disciple of Christ and the illegal immigrant whose car won’t start:

        Christian: I’ll give you a ride to the grocery store, but not to work.

        Immigrant: But if I don’t make it into work, I lose my paycheck. To feed my family, I need the ride to work.

        I’m skeptical whether commonsense tells the Christian to reject the immigrant’s request.

        • rogereolson

          He could always drive him to a grocery store close to his work! 🙂

      • Joe Canner

        A further distinction has to do with the “knowingly” part. I don’t think it is our responsibility as (Christian) citizens to check for papers before offering humanitarian assistance. If so, than how would we find out if someone was undocumented, unless they told us? Moreover, how would someone prove in court that they didn’t know?

  • David Guin

    As an Alabaman, I can confirm that our new law did, in fact, criminalize providing humanitarian – or simply friendly or evangelistic – aid to immigrants. The Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches successfully challenged that portion of the law, which would have made it a crime to give an undocumented immigrant a ride to church services or to provide them with food, shelter or clothing. Sad but true. Thankfully that portion of the bill was overturned in court, but it should never have been written.

    • rogereolson

      And I would go further and say those who wrote it either knew not what they did or are not Christians in spite of their church membership (whatever it may be).

  • A friend of mine recommended your book on Arminianism to the pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist Churches who is poring over it while visiting Israel. He texts his profound impression which leads me to think your book may have further-reaching impact than you could have imagined. Like a seed that splits a rock . . . TRUTH rises to the surface!

  • Tim Reisdorf


    You may recall how much I dislike laws and distrust government in general from earlier comments. So I’m right there with you.

    Having the freedom to do what we ought to do is the reason we have freedom. Government at its best does not infringe on this.

    On the other hand, American citizens are concerned about their property and way of life being hurt by those you call illegal immigrants. This is one of their solutions. Do you have anything positive to add or alternative solutions in addressing their concerns?

    • rogereolson

      Yes. Cracking down on those who employ them (which is usually a form of exploitation).

      • Tim Reisdorf

        So, on the one had you have the illegal immigrants legally living off the people (given by generosity or force of government). On the other hand, you refuse to let them work so they cannot legally earn their shelters, food, healthcare, etc. You are condemning them to a permanent underclass – forcing them to live in the midst of a black market world and have them beg or live on the government dole for a living. Sounds like a back-door way to enforce fascist xenophobia, though I can understand that is not what you intended.

        • rogereolson

          Please. There is nothing in Jesus’ teachings that requires a Christian to give anyone a job. And enforcing border laws and immigration laws is necessary. You’re trying to compare apples and oranges there, my friend.

          • icthusiast

            “enforcing border laws and immigration laws is necessary”

            Is it? By what measure or standard? Sounds a bit like refusing hospitality to the ‘alien among you’ by ensuring that she/he remains alien and not ‘among you’. I think Jesus had something to say about using the laws of men to overide the commands of God!

          • rogereolson

            That’s easier to say than do. Sure, in an ideal world (such as the Kingdom of God to come!) there will be no borders, but the Kingdom is not yet. Given the realities of nation states, immigration laws and border enforcement are necessary. But criminalizing humanitarian aid to illegal immigrants is not.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Isaiah writes: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (5:20).

    “I will say this again: I do not believe a legislator or government official can be a Christian who writes, passes or signs a law that criminalizes basic Christian behavior.”

    Though I wouldn’t put it the same way you do, I do wonder about those who “reverse” things that should be good and bad. “Forbidding good works”, “legalizing and subsidizing murder”, and “encouraging theft” – I scratch my head and try to comprehend what they are thinking. Who are these voters that put them into office? Roger, you might call them unChristian. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I’d surely call them misguided.

  • Rob

    “I do not believe a legislator or government official can be a Christian who writes, passes or signs a law that criminalizes basic Christian behavior.”

    That seems pretty harsh. What if they don’t recognize the law as criminalizing something Christians ought to do?

    Do you agree with the Catholics who think pro-choice politicians should be denied Eucharist? I know you are not Catholic but so I am asking if you agree with the spirit behind such a practice.

    • rogereolson

      I understand their thinking and think it is their right to do that. If I were pastor of a church in Oklahoma or Alabama and a legislator who wrote one of those laws that criminalized Christian conduct (i.e., something Jesus commanded of us) I would exercise church discipline and seek his or her excommunication unless and until he or she repents and withdraws support for the law. I know of a non-fundamentalist Baptist church in California that excommunicated a doctor who turned his clinic into an elective abortion clinic. I applaud it for that.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Today’s newspaper contains an article from the New York Times (by Campbell Robertson) reporting on a federal judge’s ruling on the Alabama law. Quote: “She [the judge] blocked a broad provision that outlawed the harboring or transporting of illegal immigrants….”

    Luke 10:30-38 (NIV)
    30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
    31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
    32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
    33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
    34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
    35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
    36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
    37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”