Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

As I explained in Friday’s post, Christians differ widely on their understanding of illegal immigration and what should be done about it. This doesn’t mean that every Christian perspective is equally valid, however. Many are based on an inadequate grasp of relevant facts or on an incorrect theology. But the diversity of thoughtful Christian perspectives on illegal immigration does make me wonder if and how Christians can move toward any sort of consensus on this issue. Our goal would be not simply to foster agreement, but also to use that agreement as the basis for helping to shape a just world that reflects God’s own character and action.

As I have said before, how we think about illegal immigration is often determined by our starting point. Start with the threat posed to national security from porous borders and you’ll end up with a different conclusion than the person who starts with compassion for children with parents who are in this country illegally. Having listened to the debate about illegal immigration for many years, I have found that I can almost always tell you where a person will end up on the basis of where that person begins the conversation.

So, I wonder, is there a place where Christians should start if we are seeking a truly Christian perspective on illegal immigration? Or are there many such places? Is one starting place better than another? Or is every starting point equally valid?

It seems to me that the primary goal of theological reflection on the issue of illegal immigration is to discover what God thinks about it, what God is doing about it, and how we might both agree with God and cooperate with God in his activity. Of course such things are often not easy to discern. But this is what we’re seeking. (At least it’s what I’m seeking. I recognize that this can sound arrogant. But I don’t think it’s arrogant to seek after God. Arrogance comes into play when I am so sure I have God in my own little box of understanding that I jettison humility and refuse to listen to evidence that threatens my comfortable certitude.)

gutenberg-bible-5.jpgIf what I’ve just said about the goal of our inquiry is anywhere near true, then the best starting place would be one that will help us discover the mind and activity of God with respect to illegal immigration. You won’t be surprised to learn that I, as an evangelical Christian, believe that Scripture is the first place to which we must turn if this is our goal. The Bible, when responsibly interpreted in the community of God’s people, helps us know the mind and activity of God. Moreover, Scripture reveals Jesus Christ to us, the Word of God incarnate, and any Christian theology of anything must be centered in him. (I realize, of course, that many people, even some Christians, do not share my commitment to the authority of Scripture. We can debate this at another time. Now, I’m simply laying my cards on the table. Photo: A copy of the Gutenberg Bible.)

Yet even if we agree that we should begin with the Bible to determine what God is thinking and doing about illegal immigration, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll concur on where within the Bible to start. The Bible, after all, is a long book, or, better, a long collection of books that offers dozens of possible starting points. For example, should we begin a text like Leviticus 19:33-34?

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Or should we begin with Romans 13:1-2?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

In fact, a truly biblical theology of illegal immigration will be a fully biblical theology, one that takes into account the diversity of perspectives in Scripture itself. This implies, by the way, that we must take seriously those passages of Scripture that make us uncomfortable, that don’t support our personal inclinations concerning illegal immigration. For the most part, when Christians talk about this issue, they draw from Scripture that which fits their predetermined perspective, ignoring that which doesn’t fit. We need to do better than this if we truly seek God’s mind and activity.

Though I take seriously the diversity of biblical passages and themes relevant to the issue before us, I do think that there are two starting points that can be defended as so essential to the conversation that they must be considered by anyone who is looking for God’s perspective on illegal immigration. I’ll explain what I mean in tomorrow’s post. 

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