A Christian Response to Undocumented Immigrants

A Christian Response to Undocumented Immigrants September 30, 2014

In my previous post I argued—or rather, observed—that from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible unambiguously presents the Christian faith as one which welcomes the foreigner. Christianity is an immigrant-oriented religion. Both the prophets and Jesus had some scathing words for those

that mistreat or fail to welcome the immigrant.

Now, some will say: “Yes, but the Bible also teaches that we are to obey our governments; therefore, we should build higher walls and establish stricter laws against illegal aliens!”

This is the primary biblical argument against welcoming undocumented immigrants. And it is true: Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 say that Christians should submit to governing authorities. But most Christians would agree that we should only submit to the state in so far as such submission does not prevent us from obeying Jesus.

For instance, if our country outlawed Bibles, I seriously doubt that Christians would joyfully submit to the state’s laws by coughing up their Scriptures. Or what if strict gun control laws are passed and gun ownership is now deemed illegal by the state? Would Christians gladly give up their guns? Or more realistically, what if the state demands that every church must include gay and lesbians in their churches as full members? Will these Christians, who quote Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 against undocumented immigrants, gladly submit to the state?

I doubt it.

What’s striking is that many Christians who would be okay breaking another country’s laws by smuggling Bibles into the country are outraged at the thought of breaking their country’s own laws by image bearers being smuggled across the border. We desire to reach the nations, but when the nations reach us, we vote for higher walls.

The fact is, Scripture itself says that there are times when God calls us to break the laws of Rome out of allegiance to Christ. As Peter boldly declared: “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). The entire book of Revelation warns the church against getting too chummy with the nation you are living in. Christians are to submit to the state as a general rule; but they are never to blindly follow the state. I’m so thankful some German Christians realized this hard truth 70 years ago.

Now, let me back up a bit. Let’s converse. (Here’s where you picture me walking down from the pulpit and casually mingling amongst the crowd.) I do not necessarily want to argue that the issue is settled, that Christians should harbor undocumented immigrants. There are certainly many other issues we’d need to work through. We would need to develop a robust theology of civil disobedience and look at similarities and dissimilarities between 21st century America and ancient Rome (our political situation isn’t exactly the same). We also need to study the phrase “least of these” in Matthew 25 to see if it’s referring exclusively to believers. I do want us all to see, however, that at the very least, there is a good, biblical case to be made that welcoming the strangers among us (regardless of whether she has the correct documentation) trumps our submission to the state.

Even if the Bible is not that clear (I personally think it’s fairly clear), one thing that’s undeniable is that many “bible believing” Christians are much more influenced by political, economic, and cultural authorities than the Bible when they think through the topic of immigration. Just look at some of the comments in my previous blog. Arguments such as, “Illegal aliens hurt our economy” (which is doesn’t), or “crime rates will soar through the roof if we don’t build higher walls” (which is untrue) are not biblical arguments and they ignore, and even fly in the face of, pervasive biblical themes.

Pervasive themes. Themes that are not hidden under some verse in Leviticus, but are reiterated over and over from testament to testament, from Moses to Jeremiah to Jesus. If we believe that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, and if we desire to be biblical and preach against unbiblical versions of Christianity, then we are hypocrites if we don’t at the very least ground our view of immigration in the text of Scripture.


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