Immigration: a litmus test for the American evangelical gospel

Immigration: a litmus test for the American evangelical gospel June 15, 2012

I’m not sure I could have ever imagined congratulating Southern Baptist fundamentalist leader Richard Land for being courageous. But he caused quite a stir on June 15th when he backed Obama’s immigration policy statement deferring the deportation of undocumented immigrant kids who arrived in the US under the age of 16. I think Land has shown an integrity about his theology that many other evangelicals lack. I know  Obama’s decision-making is partly/mostly an electoral chess move to make a play on the Hispanic vote and get the far right crazies riled up to alienate the independent voters. But regardless of Obama’s motives, I’m close to several Hispanic youth whose lives are completely different now because of this ruling. So I’m happy about that. And furthermore, I think this issue provides an important litmus test for American evangelicals to demonstrate in their response whether they really believe what they say about the gospel. Here’s why.

The evidence of whether Christians really believe that they deserve God’s wrath but have received grace instead is whether they have thus renounced the right to judge what other people deserve. Here’s how Paul puts it in Romans 2:1-4: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” Which of us if we lived in a land like Mexico devoid of opportunities and wrecked by drug mafia violence would not do exactly what every undocumented immigrant has done for the sake of their families? We judge them for making a decision that we will never have to make and breaking a law that is impossible for us to break.

Under the reign of God’s mercy, there is no question of who deserves what. Not one of us deserves anything, but God showers blessings on us abundantly anyway. If I recognize my total depravity without God’s grace, then “deserve” is not a word that should exist in my vocabulary, and it should have no part in my thought process regarding the immigration debate. It is certainly legitimate to ask practical questions about the consequences for society if millions of economic refugees flood through our southern border. It is certainly legitimate for the US to enforce immigration laws that protect our society and economy from collapse (though the current immigration laws on the books are ridiculous and unfair for a number of different reasons). Bottom line is for Christians who understand Jesus’ blood to be unmerited amnesty from the price of our sins, it is not legitimate to argue that fellow sinners should not be “rewarded” with amnesty after  breaking the law, which is precisely what God has done for us. And that merit-based argument against immigration amnesty is exactly what predominates the speech of most grassroots evangelical political activists, which shows that they don’t get their own gospel.

Now a lot of times evangelicals like to compartmentalize between what God does regarding our individual eternal destiny and the attitude we should take towards other people in our world. But Jesus’ parable about the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35 calls out this compartmentalization directly. If we’re like the unmerciful servant who can receive pardon for debt from his master and then go and jack up another servant who owes him money, then we haven’t really been saved yet. The parable suggests that a major point of God’s forgiveness is to make us merciful towards others. If God’s mercy doesn’t make us merciful, then we haven’t really accepted God’s mercy. That’s why an issue like immigration policy is an important litmus test of whether our primary loyalty is to the God who gave us amnesty or the world that enforces meritocracy.

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  • What a powerful post – Thank you!

  • Lane

    Amen to this post, Morgan. As an Alabama native now in Boston, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read conservatives back home invoke the Romans 13 verse about “the governing authority” while being silent on other passages about not oppressing aliens and strangers. (Who are picking their tomatoes and cutting up their chicken.) Lots of justice, rigidly defined, and little mercy. Good to hear about Land.

  • Margie