Posted On June 29, 2018

A Christian View of Immigration

by | Jun 29, 2018 | Missions, Theology

What a mess. That, really, is the only way to describe what is happening on the southern border of the United States right now and, frankly, for several decades. In no rational world can the situation there be described as anything other than a complete mess. It is a mess spilling into the more than just the border states and manifesting itself in more ways than just the human lives affected by the reality of border crossings. This issue is as much cultural and political as anything, but it is also (as all things are) theological. If Christians are to engage the world around them, they have a mandate to engage it with a Biblical worldview. What we believe about any issue must be permeated with the truths of God’s Word and that is no less true when we engage immigration.

BORDERS

Let’s deal first with borders. God permits and encourages personal property. God is not on the side of a system like communism where all property is held (supposedly) in common, or socialism where individuals may own property but only under severe limitations. In the same way, God is not in favor of open borders. For one, God commanded Adam and Eve to rule over the earth (Gen 1:28). In theory, that’s possible without borders and territory. We could simply work together. But, in a Genesis 3 world, people will work to advance themselves rather than work for the good of others. This makes borders and personal property necessary as a bulwark against the aggression of others which is one of the reasons God never condemns borders and property throughout Scripture. In fact, He showed disdain for changing boundaries in one of the earliest books of the Bible (Job 24:2) and gave a clear command to respect boundaries and borders in Deuteronomy (Deu 19:14). God announced a curse for those who disobeyed the law a few chapters later (Deu 27:17), and inspired Solomon to advise against it twice in the wisdom book of Proverbs (Pro 22:28; Pro 23:10). And if that wasn’t enough, God’s crowning (and yet unfulfilled) promise to Israel has everything to do with the LAND of Israel which God CLEARLY marked through the use of borders (Gen 15:18).

God is not opposed to governments and rulers, nor is He opposed to the enforcement of laws. As Attorney General Sessions rather awkwardly put forth, we are called by God to obey government. It should be pointed out that Romans 13 says more than simply “obey authorities”. Consider verses 1-4 of that chapter: [1] Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. [3] For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; [4] for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. {Rom 13:1-4 NASB}

We learn:

  1. Whatever authority exists has been established by God.
  2. Opposition to God’s established authority is opposition to God.
  3. Rulers exist to cause those who behave badly to fear.
  4. Rulers are a minister of God for good, but a wrath bringer to bad actors.

The command is not just to obey government, it’s to obey GOD by obeying government BECAUSE doing so is part of God’s design to discourage evil and reward good. Christians are further called to “honor the king” in 1 Peter 2:17. Therefore we can see it is God’s model for people to live orderly, lawful lives in submission to authorities. While we are never called to obey authorities unto disobedience of God, nor are we permitted to act in anyway immorally, living an orderly life should most often result in obeying laws. Sometimes these laws are just and agreeable, sometimes they are not. But undoubtedly, the laws a nation has in place to simply enforce a border do not typically rise to the level of disobeying God nor to immorality. They are laws which must be obeyed. Therefore, it seems reasonable that government has every right to use appropriate measures to enforce their border. Fair minded Christians can disagree as to the best tactics and practices, but it isn’t immoral to build or not build a wall, militarize or not militarize, employ contractors or not employ contractors, or use any other appropriate method available.Finding balance in these matters is difficult, but take heart: our God is wise, and His word is sufficient. Click To Tweet

As with all things, government can cross a moral line and enforce the border in a way that is out of step with the Christian worldview. Some examples include a lack of justice under the law, a lack of basic respect to all people who are made in God’s image, jingoism, racism, or a lack of enforcement altogether. The same verse in 1 Peter that commands us to honor the king ALSO commands us to “honor all people, love the brotherhood”, and “fear God”. It is right and appropriate for believers to be stringent in honoring those in authority over us, but we mustn’t do so at the expense of equally clear commands in the rest of the Scripture and, in this case, in the rest of a verse. Finding balance in these matters is difficult, but take heart: our God is wise, and His word is sufficient.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

Now that we’ve established the theology which under-girds borders, we can turn our attention to those who wish to cross them. There are two types of crossings – illegal and legal. First, let us dispense with the silliness often hurled at us by the left that “no person is illegal.” It’s true and it’s also nonsense. There may not be “illegal persons” but there are “illegal border crossings”. In those situations, the rulers of that land exist as an extension of God’s authority to punish that wrongdoing. It’s not wrong to bring such people to justice. “What kind of justice” is another matter, though. Note that God does not put limitations on honoring the “king”, but simply says that it should be done.

Does that mean that the “king” is not, himself, limited? Certainly not. The rulers of a land are, despite their propaganda to the contrary, ordinary people who are as much subject to the sovereignty of God as anyone. Does the simple fact that one has been elected or appointed to office make everything they do right or good? No, of course not. For example, it is not right or good that Kim Jong Un executes prisoners with Anti-Aircraft guns, that China has a 1 child policy, or that America allowed slavery. In the same way, government can act wrongly in trying to do right. Rulers enforcing laws is right just as pastors preaching sermons is right. But we should not believe that Joel Osteen has done a good thing when he preached a sermon nor that Kim Jong Un has done a good thing in sentencing criminals. Why? Because simply having the form of a good thing does not make the thing good; it must also have substance. Osteen should preach the Bible, not self help. Kim should sentence humanely, not capriciously.

So then, to speak of our current situation on the southern border, it isn’t right or good that children are separated from loving parents and placed into camps and group homes. Admittedly, it is a difficult situation, and one can have grace on those in power as they attempt to formulate a good solution. It is here that Christians must seek to offer counsel and advice to our rulers instead of reducing our role to picking a political side. We should be standard bearers of righteousness and truth to which others can look for guidance (much like Daniel’s role in Babylon and Persia). To that end, I propose foster care and/or swift and legal deportation of illegal immigrants while maintaining the just cause of due process. Foster homes are a perfectly fine solution to the problem if the home is properly prepared and vetted for such a child, and in some cases they may be preferred over keeping the child with the adults with whom they arrived. Christians should be troubled to learn that some (not all) crossing the border illegally are nothing more than human traffickers smuggling children for a variety of terrible reasons. Some are drug mules using children as a distracting prop. For those unfortunate children, foster care is absolutely the best option.

However, in most cases, children are simply accompanying their parents on the journey. While it’s unfortunate their parents decided to break a law, breaking such a law shouldn’t result in having children traumatized by removing them from parents if at all possible. It isn’t an appropriate way to deal with a crime on par with passing a false check, nor is it fair and just for the innocent child involved. The best practice must be to keep those types of families together, prosecute the cases quickly, and to deport such people back to their home country. Reasonable people can disagree about the minutia of the process, but it seems wholly unreasonable to traumatize a child and break up a family when we could just as easily handle the situation a different way without compromising our values or legal position.

Additionally, simply because a law has been broken and justice demands a prosecution and punishment does not mean that punishment has to be harsh or unmerciful. We can choose to enforce our laws in a way that demonstrates grace and exhibits mercy – and we can do this without being weak and inconsistent. In fact, an argument can be made that this is precisely what God requires of us (Col 3:12; 1Ti 6:11). Part of that attitude is treating innocent parties caught in the proverbial cross fire with extra care, making sure their lives are not harmed by another’s sinful act. Sometimes that is the owner of property on the border who must not have his land trampled and destroyed in a zeal to enforce the law. Other times it is children and other vulnerable people brought across the border illegally with their parents. A nation that does not treat such people well, while seeking their good and best as much as possible is a nation that is not acting correctly. In this specific case, the actions of placing children in camps and group homes must be soundly condemned by Christians everywhere. God has a special place in His economy for widows and orphans (Jam 1:27), and so must we.

LEGAL IMMIGRATION

We must also not allow modern media to distract us from the reality that many immigrants come to the United States legally. While a nation is under no Biblical obligation to allow immigrants at all, it seems contrary to the attitude of the Bible to be unwelcoming. God finds hospitality laudable (1 Pet 4:9; Heb 13:2, Rom 12:13), commands us repeatedly to be kind, reminds us that God is not concerned with difference in appearance or nationality (Rev 7:9, Rom 2:11), and gives specific commands to Israel to welcome strangers (Ex 22:21; Lev 19:34). While immigration is a complicated and difficult issue for any nation, with a pressing need to balance realities of economics, protection, diplomacy, and many other equally difficult matters, we should not end up in a position where we see immigrants as anything less than law abiding people who want to be our neighbors. Sadly, I fear this attitude is not as popular among the church nor the nation as it should be.

Photo Credit: Matt Biddulph via Flickr

Nonetheless, while Scripture is clear that we are to show hospitality, be kind, de-emphasize differences, and welcome strangers, we should be clear about what those things mean. Hospitality, kindness, etc. do not mean capitulation. It is right for Americans to bristle at the idea of an immigrant fleeing socialist oppression that created unlivable conditions in their home country and then advocate for socialist ideals in their new home. Similarly, while we should make our new neighbors comfortable and welcome, we ought not feel any obligation to fundamentally change those things that make our own nation distinct, particularly if they improve the lives of citizens. Furthermore, while there is no wrong in speaking a foreign language, it’s unreasonable to move to a nation that speaks Language A and expect everyone born and raised there to speak Language B. It may behoove the native residents to learn Language B, and it is indeed kind and just to be sure important communications are made in an understandable way, but an expectation of the native to change and the immigrant to be continually accommodated is rude and unreasonable.

Finally, any guest that stayed in your home so that you could do his laundry and cook him meals while he bought things on your credit card would be rightly condemned. So also an immigrant who is here to partake of social welfare while refusing or inadequately contributing to society should be rightly condemned (2 Thes 3:10-12). While that sort of behavior is less common than many believe, when it occurs it should have no place in an immigration system.

I have also heard it said of some Christians that unfettered immigration is good because it brings the mission field to the American Church. We must all be advocates of serving and reaching every single person that comes through our doors on Sunday, and local evangelism must continue to be a priority for all believers. We shouldn’t seek to keep our churches homogeneous by any means, but it’s also not an imperative to racially diversify the church. In general, Christians should think a lot less about race and ethnicity. While missions may be possible within walking distance of our front doors, the reality is the need for foreign missions will never cease prior to the return of Christ. Moreover, how we should inform our national debate about appropriate immigration is an entirely different conversation than how to make missions easier. We should seek to be faithful and trustworthy in our advice to rulers, not self serving. Let us in the church bear the burden of reaching others, not impose that burden on a non-believing society who don’t share our passion to see missions expanded. Our Lord will provide all that is needed, but, if He decides to bring the mission field to our neighborhood, we can rejoice all the more.

In the end, the United States will cease, and the Lord will return at some point after that. In that day every square inch will belong to our Lord and every person will serve Him. It’ll be a glorious day! Until then, an advanced and civilized nation must grapple with difficult issues like immigration and borders. Naturally, there will be many differing opinions as to what is right and what is best. Our goal, now and always is and should be to serve others well, be it with advice, counsel, mercy, or kindness. The Christian Worldview must not stand merely as another voice in the crowd. It must be what marks us, what sets us apart. It must be what convicts our hearts, what informs our minds, what decides our politics, and what inculcates our words. In every way, we must exalt our Lord and hold high the standard of His truth until the whole world either sees its superiority and submits to it, or rejects it altogether as they continue to wage war with God. Either way, we help to solve the problem by operating rightly from the basis of Scripture, engaging the public discourse with our theology – not our politics.

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