by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Copyright Â© 2010 by Mark D. Roberts
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Immigration, especially illegal immigration, is one of the most
pressing and distressing issues in the United States today. Bring up
the subject, and you’re almost certain to get passionate opining. Bring
it up in settings where people hold diverse viewpoints, and that
passion will often explode into open conflict.
Nowhere do we see
this kind of dispute more clearly than in the debate about the recent
legislation passed in Arizona, which is meant to strengthen
anti-illegal immigration efforts in the state. For some, the health,
integrity, and safety of our country are at stake, and Arizona is doing
what is necessary to preserve them. For others, the state is
perpetrating a gross injustice upon innocent human beings, based on
racism and xenophobia.
Not surprisingly, Christians differ
widely in their estimation of the Arizona law in particular, and
illegal immigration in general. As I have listened to Christians debate
these issues, I have heard a wide range of opinions. And, believe me, I
have heard plenty, since I have lived in California for most of my
life, and Texas for the last three years. In states that lie along the
Mexican border, immigration is probably the hottest and move divisive
issue we face.
I have been concerned by what I have perceived to
be the absence of serious, theologically-probing, mutually-respectful
conversation about immigration and illegal immigration in the Christian
community. Oh, there have been plenty of proclamations and diatribes,
but relatively little conversation where people with differing
convictions work to understand each other and, even more importantly,
to understand what God might have to say about the matter. Conversation
about immigration among Christians has mostly resembled what we see in
the secular arena, with people talking mainly to those with whom they
agree and blasting away at those with whom they disagree.
I must confess that I have not contributed to the conversation about
immigration, so my criticism of Christians applies equally to me. So
when Patheos, an
outstanding website that promotes religious conversation and
understanding, asked me to contribute to such a conversation, I felt
both honored and obliged to say “yes.” They were not asking for a
dissertation from me, only a few paragraphs of reflection in their Cross Examinations series, part of their Cross and Culture conversation. Patheos
also asked a number of other Christian leaders to offer their thoughts.
All of us share a common commitment to Christ and the authority of
Scripture. Yet we represent a wide variety of perspectives on
immigration and its connection to our faith.
Here’s the question that Patheos posed to me and eight other Christian thinkers:
and illegal immigration are matters of grave ethical concern. Does the
Bible give principles or insights that should guide Christian thinking
on this issue? Is there a ‘Christian position’ on illegal immigration?
Would it be un-Christian to expel illegal immigrants who have built
their lives in the United States?
In the next
couple of days, I’ll summarize the answers given to these questions as
well as present and explicate my own position. You can read all the
answers and comments in this Cross Examinations conversation at this link.
always, I’m interested in your observations and opinions. Feel free to
add a comment or email me with your thoughts. Perhaps we can in some
small way grow in mutual understanding as well as understand of how
Christians should approach the issue of illegal immigration.
A Variety of Christian Perspectives on Illegal Immigration
First, I want to thank those who commented yesterday.
Your honesty, insights, and charity encourage me to believe that it is
possible to have a constructive conversation about this divisive issue.
As I explained earlier, I started writing about this issue by participating in a Cross Examinations conversation
with eight other Christian thinkers. Some of you may have checked out
that conversation already. You’ve seen the diversity and thoughtfulness
of the answers there. Today, I’m going to put up some excerpts from
several Cross Examination articles, along with links to the whole
article and a comment or two from me.
Jeff Barneson is a longtime staff member for InterVarsity’s ministry to faculty and graduate students at Harvard University.
if God’s intention in the hyper-diversification of our country is akin
to what happened when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D.?
Historians question whether the message of the early Christians,
without the presence of the Romans, would have spread beyond the local
setting of Jerusalem. What if the present situation in the United
States is just another accelerated opportunity to bring good news to
people who are more than ready to hear it?
I believe it with
all my heart: If we spend all our time and energy on the policy
discussion, and never reorient our perspective and realign our
congregations to engage with actual immigrants and their actual
circumstances, we may miss out on the extraordinary opportunity that
God has placed in front of us.
Comment: Barneson’s challenge is for Christians to seize the missional
opportunity afforded by the immigration of diverse peoples to our
country. He is not dealing here with the legal and political issues.
Though Christians need to weigh in on these matters too, Barneson
reminds us not to let the social matters keep us from seeing the
ministry potential before us.
M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas)
is Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Theological
Seminary and author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the
Church, and the Bible.
has been disconcerting to me is that all too often Christian responses
in the United States to immigration are not different in any
substantial way from the responses of those who do not profess the
faith. Discussions tend to be limited to protecting national borders
and “the American way of life.” There are complaints about the supposed
economic costs brought on by added pressures to schools, hospitals, and
law enforcement. These are legitimate issues, but there is no
explicitly Christian orientation to the debate. If there is, it usually
is limited to quoting the call (in Romans 13) to submit to the
governing authorities. (Photo: The U.S.-Mexican Border in the San
What might a more fully biblically informed
response to the immigration challenge look like? Where would it begin?
The starting place of a discussion determines in large measure its tone
and content. If we begin with Genesis 1 and the fact that all humans
are created in the image of God with infinite worth and great
potential, the debate will be quite different than what is witnessed
now in media sound-bites. It will focus on persons with needs and gifts
that can contribute to the common good, instead of taking a default
negative defensive posture against newcomers in our midst.
Comment: If you read my introductory post in this blog series, you know
that I share Carroll’s concern about the lack of distinctively
Christian reflection on the immigration issue. I also agree with
Carroll that the starting point in this conversation is crucial. He
begins with Genesis, which is never a bad idea for Christians. I am
impressed enough with Carroll’s thoughts that I have recently purchased
and begun reading his book on immigration, Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible. So far, I am quite engaged.
John March is a church planter, a pastor in Edina, Minnesota, a writer, and a blogger at Pilgrim March.
are all immigrants and sojourners in the world. As Christians, our
primary allegiance is to God and to God’s kingdom. We are first and
foremost citizens of heaven. Often times immigrants understand this
intuitively because they are outside the dominant power culture in the
country to which they come. White Christians living in the suburbs of
America (like myself) are wise to recognize this implicit advantage
immigrants have in living as though they are aliens and sojourners in
the world. There is much we can learn from them. (1 Peter 1)
reform is complicated. I get that we need laws that govern our
borders. We need rules for how people enter our country, and they need
to be enforced. Currently, those laws do not work well, and that’s why
immigration reform is so crucial. The system is broken and it needs to
be fixed. I hope it includes some pathway to citizenship for illegal
immigrants who have lived here for many years and are more at home in
this country than their country of origin.
In the meantime, I
plan to love and welcome anyone and everyone, regardless of legal
status. My allegiance is first and foremost to the Kingdom of God, and
in God’s government acceptance is preeminent. Join me in loving
immigrants and learning from them as we hope for immigration reform
that results in a more just and equitable treatment of all people in
Comment: I agree with March concerning our need to love others,
regardless of their legal status. But how does this relate to the
government’s need, one might even say, the government’s responsibility,
to insure order and punish those who have broken the law? Does the call
to love illegal immigrants necessarily mean that we should grant them
full and immediate amnesty? Or is love, in this case, more complicated.
teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary and directs its Center for the
Study of Hispanic Church and Community. He also blogs at Caminando con
I do not want to belittle the issue of
undocumented migration. But as Christians we need to look at the log in
our eye before we can remove the mote in the eyes of the undocumented.
The undocumented desperately need fair and just immigration reform. But
this will not solve the problem of undocumented migration into the
U.S., no matter how much is used for border enforcement. As Christians
we need to ask difficult ethical questions about the immigration issue.
But let’s address the issues we have created, not only those raised by
the weakest members of our society, the undocumented.
Comment: I would be most interested in Martinez’s ideas on what would
solve the problem of undocumented migration into the U.S. Some of what
he writes in the rest of his article suggests the need for just
economic development in Latin America. I’d like to hear more about
this. I appreciate his looking at the issue in a perspective that is
broader than simply the immigration issue in the United States.