Christianity and Illegal Immigration
A conversation began with some friends regarding illegal immigration and it got me to thinking, what is a biblically consistent approach to this uniquely modern issue. In my preliminary research, I found that there was very little on this topic, at least very little from a text-centered orientation. So, I will attempt to do this here. In the conversation, one of the texts presented was Romans 13. In Romans 13 Paul tells the Roman Church that their governing authorities are divinely appointed and that all authority (even earthly authority) comes from the throne of heaven. With this truth in place Paul impressed upon his readers that to rebel against that authority was to rebel against God and in so doing incur his wrath. This text was used to justify that America round-up every illegal immigrant and deport them for violating the laws in getting here. Their answer is a simple one, they broke the law, we cannot forgive lawlessness or lawlessness will run rampant, therefore the law must be enforced and those who broke the law must be deported. Romans 13 solidifies this argument for them.
A Double Standard
My question then becomes, have those arguing for this enforcement of the law and respect for authorities not recognize what their interpretation of Romans 13 implies as to this country’s own history. That in rebellion our forefathers violated Romans 13 by not submitting to their own authorities. Or how about this, many who argue for this strict and stringent understanding of Romans 13 will defend their right to own a gun even if the government (divinely appointed authority) removes that right, even to the point of saying they would rebel with those firearms they are trying to keep. If the double standard set here is not clear yet, let me try to break this down a little bit.
The issue as it stands is that 11 million human beings are now living in this country illegally. Some of them came here legally on work visas and never went back, some snuck across the border. All of these people came over here to make a better life for themselves and their families. The current immigration policy regarding entrance is a strict one, especially in comparison to many of our geographical neighbors (like Canada for instance). Some would argue that this difficulty is a reason that many come here illegally or stay here illegally. Whatever the reason the reality is that they are here with most having children who were born here or raised here the grand majority of their lives. There is no question that these people broke US immigration law when coming here, the question is how do we handle the situation.
American Revolutionaries also came and settled in a land not their own who had children born and raised here and not in their respective countries. When the authorities at home began taxing colonies for added revenue for expansion, the colonies became inflamed with irritation and cries of injustice and liberation began. In response came increasingly violent altercations between colonists and British military until it all came to a head and the colonists authored the Declaration of Independence. Colonists went to war using violence to acquire their freedom from oppression and unfair treatment.
In each instance, a people group felt that the laws being impressed upon them were not just. In each circumstance, those people chose to take action and break the law. Illegal immigrants merely came here without the right papers. American colonists started shooting British troops. In each circumstance, these groups did not obey the presiding authority over them. Do you see how this is a double standard. We want to deport 11 million people with family and friends here in the US because they do not have the right paperwork, but are ok with shooting members of the military when we feel we are being taxed unfairly? I think it is clear from the above that if Romans 13 is applied like some suggest that the USA should have never come to be.
The last thing I would like to point out in this section is Martin Luther King’s approach. Most in this country view MLK as the modern example of how to affectively acquire change through peaceful means. What many do not recognize is that MLK was regularly demonized by those who opposed him and the civil rights movement. Not only this, but in conducting his sit ins and protests he broke the law many many times. Was MLK wrong for doing this, or was he doing what was necessary to stop injustice in the country he called home. Was he wrong? If you apply Romans 13 in the same way that it has been applied to the issue of illegal immigration then yes he is wrong. However, I am not inclined to accept that interpretation and here is why.
The Gospel Holds the Key
As Christians, we have the special responsibility of representing Christ to a world that is dying. With this in mind, it is imperative that we come to understand situations from uniquely Christian points of view, and apply that understanding in how we suggest our government enact laws and enforce ethics. Living in a democratic nation we, the people, have more power than our brothers and sisters in the faith throughout history. Our voice can be heard far louder and because of this, Christians carry a heavier responsibility in making sure that the laws as they stand are just and that they treat human beings with the dignity and respect owed them. With this in mind, I posit that many Christians (especially those of the evangelical bent) have missed the mark in understanding this situation from a uniquely Christian perspective.
So let me begin here by giving a simple outline regarding what we Christians believe about our state of being before Christ and the work of Christ on the cross and in the tomb. The scriptures tell us that before we came to Christ that we were strangers and aliens to this world (Eph. 2:12, 19), enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and lawless (Romans 6:19). In this state, we were deserving of nothing but death, condemnation, and divine wrath. Nothing less than perfection earns you enough merit to even speak with God let alone have a relationship with him. In Christ Jesus, we not only speak with God, but we have a relationship with him. On the cross, Christ purchased our punishment for sin, forgave us, and blessed us with the Holy Spirit, which helps us to live lives powered by him and through him. The act of Christ on the cross is so final, so complete, that all of sin past, present and future is forgiven for those who chose to come to him in repentance surrendering themselves to him and serving him and one another in a bond of love, hope, and faith. This gift given to us is free to us and costs us nothing to acquire, but that does not mean that this grace was free. No, for God this grace cost a heavy toll, the death of his Son. God was under no obligation to pay the penalty, and yet he did it so that we could be with him in loving eternal fellowship.
Romans 13 speaks to Christians, as a service to God and as representatives of Christ to follow the laws that our governments enact. We are called to this being warned that disobedience will lead to discipline from the Almighty himself. This said, the immediate inclination of the Christian should be one of compassion and mercy, not law and order. We should not be eager to thunk the law-breaker for in doing so we show something of ourselves that God is not fond of, self-righteousness. Do not forget that you, yourselves stand charged and guilty of breaking a law far more holy than US immigration law. Do not forget the mercy afforded to you in Christ and that it cost God a great deal. In this same vein, we as Christians should be inclined to compassion, mercy, and selfless sacrifice.
We should be advocating that these illegal immigrants be given amnesty. Yes, it will cost us money, but so what. God paid our penalty with the blood of his own eternal son; can we not spare our own resources to care for our fellow-man? When this issue of illegal immigration comes into contact with the gospel, I am afraid that the only appropriate response is one of grace. If this were an individual case, the issue may be different; if children were not involved, the situation may be different. The issue is that in this instance we are referring to 11 million people. That is not a small number. It is a group of people who outnumbers most states in the USA. Are we rea;;y prepared to show the door to our fellow human beings, and fellow image bearers, trying to make it by in a world that rewards injustice, and punishes what is good and true. Let us not be as the world is, looking for our own self-interest above the needs of our fellow creatures. With the same exuberance that God displays in accepting us, let us accept and forgive the law-breaker in this instance, as his grievance is a small infraction.
Now I am not saying that this should be exercised as a permanent immigration policy, I am just advocating for this solution in dealing with the issue as it stands today for the 11 million people that are already here. I am stating that the natural disposition of a Christian in this situation should be one of empathy, and grace. The manner in which some talk about human beings, like you and me comes across as cold, and apathetic. This is not appropriate for one calling themselves a disciple of Christ, it is not befitting of a person called to be an ambassador of the heavenly kingdom to the world. When we think about how we are to represent Christ, let us always be mindful of God’s many mercies to his own people, the church. It is with this in mind that we interact with the world, serving and loving the “least of these.” I pray that this find all of you well my friends. Peace and Blessings, and as always thank you for reading.
With Love in Christ