Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Intersection of Faith & Politics - What would Jesus do about illegal immigration?

My new ministry, Ethnic Embrace USA, seeks to inform, inspire and equip Christ followers to think well about, pray for and reach out to our increasingly diverse "strangers next door." My ministry of prayer and evangelism mobilization has led me over the past two years to consider the foreigners in our midst, including those who are here "illegally." Both legal and illegal status of our immigrant population present unique challenges  and opportunities for Christians to think about at the intersection of faith and politics. Now with immigration reform front-page news again, and questions about how to deal with illegal immigrants a hot button issue of the day, I wanted to write about this issue in a way that would be different from what the media would report. Thus the title of this blog.

Now I don't profess to be an expert on all, or for that matter any, of the issues of immigration, but as I consider the prevailing political climate against the backdrop of God's heart for the foreigner, I find some things that urgently need to be redressed. My comments are meant for Christ-followers and may be of little value to others. But hopefully, as a Christ-follower, you will find something to at least think about the next time you engage in an online immigration debate in our social media crazed world.

The forces of globalization, urbanization and migration are changing our cities and communities, and will well into the future. I am convinced that immigration into the USA - Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, non-religious, and Christian - serves God's purposes in history toward the completion of his cosmic plan (see Revelation 7:9). It is the Lord who marks out appointed times and defines boundaries for the nations (Acts 17:26) and does so for his purposes. More people are on the move than ever before (estimated to be about 232 million globally), so understanding something of our global realities, through a starting point of God's sovereignty (Psalm 22:28), is vital as Christ-followers.  

Illegal immigration is a complex issue with forces at work that may thwart any efforts to reach a political solution and achieve good policy - coming from both sides of our political isle. The simple fact is there are at least 43 million immigrants who now call the USA home, with 10-12 million estimated to be "illegal" - men, women and children. Addressing the challenges of illegal immigration is not only difficult but has become another emotionally charged and divisive issue, even within the Church. Politically, what Democrats and Republicans both agree on is that there is a problem that needs fixing. What Christ-followers should agree on is our position should be informed by making our best effort to answer the question: "what would Jesus do about illegal immigration?" But easy answers are not in the offing. 

We also need to recognize that our government policies, to some extent, have contributed to this challenge and failure to secure our borders is only one of the issues. In fact, many immigrants come here legally at first and then disappear into our communities (between 30- 50% according to a Pew Research Study), so building a fence is only one part of the solution. Our immigration system, or insufficiency thereof, coupled with economic realities (business desire for low wage workers being only one) and other global pressure points all contribute to this problem. If we, as a nation, are partly responsible for our present challenge, and failure to reach good policy makes it so, we should take responsibility by at least demanding that our national leaders get it right this time. More importantly, as Christ followers we must seek solutions that do justice but also extend mercy. I am pretty sure that is what Jesus would do.

A dear friend, who opposes the current immigration reform now before Congress, recently asked me this exact question: "what would Jesus do?" The context: "with those who broke the law." The implication was that Jesus would not be in favor of "amnesty" because he would support our laws.  My read of Jesus however is that he wasn't necessarily stuck on the prevailing law of the culture, challenged the system on the basis of mercy (John 8:1-11), and extended forgiveness as his primary mission. Perhaps the better question is: "what would Jesus ask us to do?" Clearly, he would be looking for a response that glorifies the Father and serves his purposes, rather than our self-interests. That is after all what Jesus did do (John 17:4). That is our starting point if we are to honestly seek an answer to "WWJD?"

Answering the question of "what would Jesus do"" brings us face to face with some complicated realities. While Jesus doesn't directly address illegal immigration, it does helps us to try to understand an issue as he might see it, in as much as that is possible. The Apostle James encourages us to seek the Lord's wisdom (James 1:5) and we can search the Scriptures for some answers but even then we may find disagreement based on our starting point. Below are a few Christian links I have read in considering my position from different sides of the debate (if you read one I would suggest the third):

 Immigration Reform: Another Christian View

A Biblical Perspective on Immigration Policy

Illegal Immigration: Seeking a Christian Perspective - See more at:
Illegal Immigration: Seeking a Christian Perspective
Illegal Immigration: Seeking a Christian Perspective - See more at:

In recent years I have needed to rethink my own starting point on this issue. Politically, I once considered myself a Conservative Christian but today I try to evaluate my positions as a Biblical centrist, with Biblical ideals as primary in my considerations. Sadly, I do find what is being put forward as the Conservative position today is often hard-line opposition to reform, often rooted in nationalism,  rather than in Biblical faithfulness. Without a firm underpinning of Biblical truth, which is presently lack when only 9% of Christians says they approach this issue with Biblical understanding, any political philosophy is being built on the wrong foundation. This is not to imply the Liberal position gets immigration right but that's for another post. It is to say, there is much that is disconcerting about how Conservatives Christians are approaching this issue, in my opinion.

At the intersection, we need to ask some hard questions: What should be our goal as Christ -followers when it comes to illegal immigration? What are we trying to accomplish? Or what should we be trying to accomplish?
What should be our goal as Christians when it comes to illegal immigration? What are we trying to accomplish? Or what should we be trying to accomplish? - See more at:

Some will insist that our laws are the proper starting point. They will insist "it is the Christian thing to uphold the law of the land," based on a their reading of Romans 13:1-3. While that may be a  Conservativism position, not to mention a convenient argument, is it Biblically valid? Actually, it fails on the basis of not being broadly exegetical, and quickly becomes a logical fallacy.  Would a Conservative Christian use the same argument concerning our abortion laws? How about healthcare? Of course not. Conservatives rightly fight against the injustice of state sponsored abortion and have ideologically pushed-back hard on healthcare reform. The laws of the land may not necessarily be just or respect the human dignity of all people, as they should. There is no compulsion to submit to unjust laws and when laws contribute to the problem they need to be changed or discarded. 

In fact, our nation was founded upon the rejection of unjust laws - "no taxation without representation." It is clear that many of our Founders relied on Biblical principles, as far as they understood them, that helped shaped their thinking (not withstanding the issues of slavery, civil rights and women's voting equality) to set in place our laws. Likewise, we need to ask, are we committed to honoring God in how we adjudicate our laws? Is our position aligned with Christian values and supported by good Biblical understanding? Or, is our position based more on our favored political ideology? Is trying to be faithful to the Jesus way our motivation? 

Biblical Faith trumps politics where our laws are inadequate to the task, as they presently are. That is the direction I'm taking at the intersection. Then we must take a hard turn to Scripture for guidance but where do we begin? Let me suggest one of my favorite Bible verses: 
"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8
As Christ followers, we must seek solutions - cultural, political, economic, international - in ways  that align with God's heart to for his people to "do justice," "love mercy" and "walk humbly." I suggest that this three-point verse can serve as at  least a filter for our thinking about any issue we face today. These three - justice, mercy and humility - must work in harmony or we're not rightly aligned with God's will. Those with a bent toward justice must consider mercy, while those who lean toward mercy must consider justice. Both must do so with humility. Let's see what might happen when we run this illegal immigration issue through this Biblical filter.

Let's begin with mercy. Where would we be without God's mercy? One argument being put forward is that because illegal immigrants broke our laws they are not entitled to "amnesty." They should not be permitted to stay in this country because they are law breakers. Some certainly broke our immigration laws in coming here but many are here because their family brought them here. Do any deserve to stay? The thing about mercy is that it is never deserved. It is a pardon of the guilty for no other reason than the benevolence of the merciful. Mercy is in fact amnesty, a mitigation of the penalty for the infraction committed. But are we willing to extend mercy?

The position of many opposed to amnesty is to round up and deport millions of "illegals," three-fifth of whom are reported to have been here more than 10 years. This approach is impractical (how do you round up 11 million people people who are living in the "shadows"?), expensive (it would cost an estimated $285 billion to deport all illegal immigrants if it could be done at all) and irrational (it doesn't consider all the socioeconomic factors involved which is shortsighted and emotive) to the challenge.  More importantly it lacks the Biblical primacy of mercy (James 2:13). If our desire is to honor the Lord our solutions must begin with mercy, as it is the place God begins with us. Being merciful is also a command of Jesus (Luke 6:36). Mercy without justice however is simply "bleeding heart" Liberalism.

How then to we do justice? There are consequences for our sins that are not overwritten by mercy. Certainly law-breakers need to pay a recompense for their infraction. If, however, our system is at least partly to fault for many of these immigrants staying here without proper processing, that needs to inform our judgments. From what I understand of the present bill being put forward in Congress, the illegal immigrant is held accountable for their actions, required to pay a fine and taxes, prove they have gainful employment, learn English, pass a criminal background check and get in the back of the line for lawful entry. That seems reasonable to fit the crime. Providing a retributive justice pathway to citizenship is then not "amnesty," although it's being labeled that way. For the many people who are contributing to the common good as productive members of society it is the right thing to do and "justice for all."  

To complete our triumvirate, how do we walk humbly before our God? Let me suggest a few things because the lack of civility within our national debate is only making matters worse. First, humility calls us to an honest and thoughtful approach to the issue, not a knee-jerk reaction (Proverbs 16:11). Do we make our best effort to understand the issues before we respond? Second, humility calls us to put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). Do we consider their importance to God, their needs and the ramification of our position on their lives? Third, we must never allow bigotry or bias to define our position (1 Peter 2:1). Do we really want to be known by "unChristian" behavior, which tramples upon God's grace (Hebrews 10:29)? Finally, then humility must be concerned with our public witness not just our personal feelings. Is the meek character of Christ (Matthew 5:5) our guide?

While we won't get the above three ideals perfect, they can serve as guiding principles to determine our direction at the intersection. We must acknowledge that Scripture does lean more heavily in the favor of mercy. Jesus does says, "blessed are the merciful" (Matthew 5:7).

There are other issues to consider and I'll do so in another post but as a closing thought here, I'm presently reading Cornelius Plantinga's "Engaging God's World - A Christian vision of faith, learning and living." Plantinga shares a thought that I think it we should consider in how we respond to the issue of illegal immigration as Christ followers:
"...the work of Jesus Christ represents the intelligence and expressiveness of the triune God. According to God's intelligence, the way to thrive is to help others to thrive; the way to flourish is to cause others to flourish; the way to fulfill yourself is to spend yourself."
As Christ-followers we need to think well about current issues, through a Biblical lens and not just accept every meme because they align with our politics. That is how we live at the intersection. We  who have the "mind of Christ" must plunge the depths of the great question: "what would Jesus do?" I hope this blog provides a place to start thinking and praying about this great challenge of illegal immigration before our nation. I pray we will run our answers through the filter of mercy, justice, and humility.

Prayer, of course, will also help us find our bearings at the intersection. In our present fallen world, political powers and parties frequently have their own agendas that often keeps Biblically based policy from becoming reality. This gives us another reason to pray - "Your Kingdom come, your will be done." That is what Jesus would do

[I welcome your thoughts but please keep the your responses civil and Christ-like. If you found this blog post helpful, please share it with others. Also subscribe for future posts. Thanks and blessings.]

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