Mark D. Roberts

Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration


Click here for an updated and reformatted version of this series.

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 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.


Click here for an updated and reformatted version of this series.



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.

Read Barneson’s entire contribution here.

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
Diego-Tijuana area.)

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.

Read Carroll’s entire contribution here.

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
this country.

Read March’s entire contribution here.

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.

Juan Martinez
teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary and directs its Center for the
Study of Hispanic Church and Community. He also blogs at Caminando con
el pueblo.

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.

Read Martinez’s entire contribution here.

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.

Kelly Monroe Kullberg is an InterVarsity minister to faculty and graduate students, author/editor of the bestselling Finding God at Harvard, and founder of The Veritas Forum. 

is a God who breaks through barriers – and a God who cares about fair
dealing and indigenous justice. Grace and truth, mercy and justice, God
is too transcendent and too loving to reside in only one part of the
equation. So we should be mindful both of welcoming the other and of
establishing wise boundaries that defend and serve the communities in
which we live. . . .

those who honor God and his Word will love the foreigner, the
fatherless and the widow. The difficulty comes with the influx of
hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants into a region whose
majority population is neither adequately equipped nor enthusiastic to
receive them. In this context it’s appropriate to explore what is
meant, in Scripture, by the usefulness of hedges and fences, the
importance of just weights, and the sheer folly and even sinfulness of
those who spend what they have not first saved. Individuals, groups and
nations that put themselves in debt, especially severe debt, place
themselves in positions of vulnerability and even enslavement to those
whom they owe. As the author of the Proverbs tells us, “The borrower is
servant to the lender.” At some point, it is neither wise nor right to
put ourselves in deeper and deeper debt in order to provide greater and
greater benefits to more and more people.  We’re first to put our own
house in order.

Let’s leave behind the rhetoric and the easy
sloganeering and confront the hard task of discernment. Just as Paul
taught the Church to delineate among widows in order to find those for
whom the Church would provide, we are called, I believe, to make
difficult and principled decisions about stewardship and about
providing the conditions for healthy flourishing communities that can
welcome many strangers not with hostility but with hospitality.  With
kindness and grace.  Obedience to the whole counsel of Scripture yields
sustainable growth and goodness to those in need.

Read Kullberg’s entire contribution here.

Comment: Kullberg sees in Scripture a precedent for national boundaries
and, apparently, even fences. She challenges us to take seriously our
need to be fiscally and morally responsible as a nation. Kullberg
reminds us of the complexity of the issue of illegal immigration as we
look for biblical guidance.

Glen Peterson is founder
and President of the Capacity Partnership Group. He consults with
non-profit organizations on matters of leadership and moral governance,
and has abundant experience in developing community-based partnerships
that serve the poor and the needy.

In the Christian and
Jewish narrative of creation, God makes humans in his own image.
Immigration cannot be discussed and debated only in the abstract, as it
is ultimately about individual people, created in God’s image, who are
immigrants. Each of these immigrants has value to God and to people who
value what God has created. Christian attitudes and actions toward
immigrants, informed by our belief in a common creation and our
possession of God’s image, will inform the way we treat all people,
immigrant or not.

This possession of God’s image also applies to
the self-understanding of the immigrant. Some immigrants think of
themselves as inferior to the majority culture in which they live
because they may come from a place of economic or educational
impoverishment. Immigrants who understand their own intrinsic value
become better educated and participate more fully in the economic and
cultural life of their new home.

Read Peterson’s entire contribution here.

Comment: Peterson rightly points to the foundational question of how we
think about those who have come to the United States illegally. Who are
they, essentially? Are they illegal aliens? Are they undocumented
workers? Or are they, most of all, human beings who bear the image of
God? Our answer to these questions will determine our whole approach to
the issue of illegal immigration and the even broader issues of justice
of which it is a part.

Matthew Soerens is an immigration and citizenship counselor for World Relief Dupage, and co-author with Jenny Hwang of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate.

is at the center of why I and so many American evangelicals have become
vocal advocates of immigration reform. The Hebrew ger, which most
versions of the Bible translate as “alien,” appears 92 times in the Old
Testament. The words of Exodus 12:49 are repeated several times
throughout the Pentateuch: “The same law applies to the native-born and
the alien living among you.” God speaks repeatedly of His special
concern for aliens, who are linked with other vulnerable groups such as
orphans and widows (Ps. 146:9; Dt. 10:18; Ezek. 22:7; Zech. 7:10). God
loves the alien, and commands His people to do the same, remembering
their own history (Lev. 19:33-34). That love goes beyond a general
sentiment to legislation, which God included in the Law He gave to the
Israelites, mandating rules for the harvesting and gleaning of crops
and for tithing that were intended to provide for the needs of
immigrants (Dt. 14:28-29, 24:19-21).

While the scriptural
mandate to care for the immigrant is clear, many Christians wrestle
with what to do with those immigrants who have overstayed a visa or
entered the country illegally. Romans 13 makes clear that God has
established governing authorities and we are called to submit to them.

Read Soerens’ entire contribution here.

Comment: As you’d expect, I am encouraged by Soerens’ effort to ground
this conversation in Scripture. He rightly points to biblical passages
that seem, at least at first glance, to point in opposite directions
with respect to the policies and laws of the United States. How can we
show appropriate biblical concern for the “alien” if that “alien” has
entered and/or remains in a country illegally?

Miguel de la Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology and author of Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration.

us begin by pointing out that the way in which the questions are
formulated betrays Eurocentric biases.  The usage of the term “illegal”
is not a neutral word; it connotes criminality – that those who are
illegal are somehow inherently bad, if not evil.  But do we call a
driver who is driving without a license an illegal driver?  Or do we
call a taxpayer who fails to file his documents in time an illegal
citizen?  Of course not.  Not having proper documentations, either as a
driver or filing one’s taxes, does not make the person a criminal.  The
reason migrants without proper documentation are called illegal has
nothing to do with their character, or their moral framework; they are
illegal because those in power have the legislative authority to impose
their definitions on society.  This is nothing new.  We have a history
where the biases of past Americans in positions of power made their
worldview the legitimate norm.  For most of this nation’s history, it
was illegal for blacks to experience the freedom of whites.  It was
illegal for women to vote.  When such laws restrict humans to
participate in their full humanity, it is not the individual who is
illegal; rather it is the prevailing laws that rob a certain group of
people of their dignity that are illegal.  And as such, Christians have
a moral obligation to disobey such illegal laws.  Immoral laws are
usually ignored, not out of disrespect for the rule of law, but because
the lack of justice erodes compliance.  When the people continuously
disregard the law, it indicates a lack of consent; and without the
consent of the public, laws ceases to hold society together.  For this
reason, Christians realize that justice and equality toward the least
always trumps any laws of nations that disenfranchise portions of the
community.  Whenever immoral laws are in place, a moral obligation
exists to be illegal.

Read de la Torre’s entire contribution here.

Comment: De la Torre’s critique of the word “illegal” points to
legitimate problems, but avoids the most obvious meaning of the word
“illegal” in the phrase, “illegal immigrants.” They are immigrants who
have broken the law in the way they entered and/or remained in the
country. But, because de la Torre believes that the immigration laws of
the United States are themselves “illegal” (which he uses in a way that
apprears to mean “immoral”), he seems not to acknowledge that
undocumented immigrants have done anything wrong. I think de la Torre
is raising crucial issues here. But his use of language muddies the
water rather than making the issues clearer. The rest of his piece is
quite engaging, raising historical issues and ethical implications that
deserve serious consideration. De la Torre believes that the United
States has caused the present immigration dilemma through its unjust
practices in Latin America.

Tomorrow I’ll share my
contribution to the Cross Examinations conversation of illegal
immigration, and begin to offer some reflections that go beyond what I
had written earlier.

Why Are Christians So Divided on Illegal Immigration? 

If you’ve been following this blog series on illegal immigration, or if
you’ve been listening to Christians talk about this issue, then you
know there is a wide array of opinions, many of which are
contradictory. Consider, for example, the question of whether people
who are in this country illegally should be deported. For some
Christians, the call to love and respect all people and a commitment to
the family means that we must not deport undocumented workers,
especially parents of children, who have not committed a crime (apart
from being in this country illegally). Other Christians, emphasizing
the need to uphold the law and to respect the rightful authority of the
government, argue that deportation, however painful it might be, is the
only just starting point for those who do not have the legal right to
remain in this country. Then there are many Christians who viewpoint is
somewhere between these two poles. And this diversity concerns only the
matter of deportation. You’d find a similar breadth of opinion about
other matters related to the larger issue of illegal immigration.

is there such a vast difference of opinion among Christians concerning
illegal immigration? Of course this is nothing new. You’ll find similar
diversity among followers of Christ when it comes to many other
socio-political issues, including: abortion, taxation, the military,
the role of government, etc. Any complex issue, and illegal immigration
is surely one of these, inevitably divides the Christian house. (Some
people on either side of this debate insist that this issue is not
complex. For them, it is simply a matter of legality or justice for the
poor or . . . . But denying the complexity of this issue is both
intellectually wrong and practically unhelpful. If we aren’t willing to
deal with intricacy of this issue, we won’t ever be able to make
headway in solving it.) (Photo: Ellis Island in New York, where
thousands of immigrants entered the United States)

One obvious
reason why Christians differ so widely on illegal immigration is that
Christians differ widely on theological matters. This is true even
among those who affirm basic Christian orthodoxy. It is even truer when
you take into account the fact that many who consider themselves
Christians do not believe what orthodox Christians have believed
throughout the centuries. So, for example, while many Christians would
seek to build their understanding of how to deal with illegal
immigration on the basis of Scripture, others would see Scripture as
one part of this foundation at best, and a erring one at that.

diversity of Christian opinion about illegal immigration reflects that
fact this issue is not merely a matter theology. It involves theology,
legal theory, economics, political theory, sociology, and history, just
to name a few disciplines. Thus, Christians who agree strongly on the
theological statement that we must love our neighbors, including
undocumented workers, might disagree on the right of a sovereign nation
to establish and defend its borders, or to pursue the economic benefit
of the nation even if people right across the border are poor.

what leads Christians to differing conclusions on illegal immigration
is a matter of their starting point. If, for example, you start with a
deep concern for national security and fear that a porous southern
border is an open door for terrorists from around the world, then
you’ll usually end up at a different conclusion than if you start with
a deep concern for the well-being of families who have undocumented
workers as parents.

One of the reasons that people seem to be
talking right past each other in this conversation, without being heard
and without the slightest chance of actually influencing those with
whom they disagree, is that they come from such different places, not
just intellectually, but also experientially. If you work in a job,
say, in construction, and have lost opportunities for work because of
undocumented workers who are willing to work for less, then you’ll tend
to be more worried about this problem than the average person and more
inclined to be strict in enforcing immigration laws. If, on the other
hand, you know illegal immigrants and their families, if you feel the
pain that would be caused to innocent children if parents were to be
deported, then you’ll be lean toward leniency.

For many in our
country, their experience of illegal immigration is not personal, but
mediated . . . literally. It comes through the media. But the media
does not speak with one voice on this issue. Sometimes, the media
exposes the plight of the undocumented, showing their poverty and, in
many cases, oppression in their home countries, and the danger and
abuse they have experienced in this country. At other times, the media
focuses on the ways in which illegal immigrants have hurt this country,
fostering violence or putting heavy demands on social welfare. So, your
mediated experience of illegal immigration with be shaped differently
depending on which radio station you listen to, which magazines you
read, and which pundits you trust.

Given what I’ve said here
about the intellectual and experiential diversity of Christians, not to
mention a variety of other factors, it makes sense that Christians have
so little unanimity about illegal immigration and what we should do
about it, both as a nation and as a church.

This makes me
wonder: Is there a place from which all Christians should start when it
comes to this issue (and others like it)? If we want to think about
illegal immigration as Christians, and if we want to treat all people,
including undocumented workers, as Christians, then where should we
start? I’ll wrestle with this question in my next post in this series,
which will appear on Monday.

Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: Where Should We Start? 

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?

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.)

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
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.)

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?

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?

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.

Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: One Essential Starting Point 

Though acknowledging that we might choose one of several valid starting
points when seeking a biblical, Christian perspective on illegal
immigration, I would argue for the precedence of two. These two
starting points get us looking in the right direction and help us see
more clearly how other biblical truths inform the issue of immigration
and undocumented workers.

Genesis 1

The first
starting point is the first chapter of Genesis. Here we find one of two
distinct but complimentary stories of creation. Here we start to learn
who we are as human beings and what God intends for us, Genesis is a
fine starting point for our conversation of illegal immigration, not
only because it is the literal beginning of the Bible, but also because
it begins to reveal the mind of God concerning the nature and purpose
of human life.

In Genesis 1, God creates the heavens, the earth,
light, darkness, the sky, the waters, the seas, the dry land,
vegetation, the sun, the moon, the fish, the birds, and the rest of the
animals (1:1-25). Then God creates human beings: “So God created
humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and
female he created them” (1:27). After blessing the first humans, God
said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue
it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28). Having created human beings, God
observes his whole creation and sees that it is “very good” (1:31).
(Photo: Adam and Eve, from the Catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and

adam-eve-catacomb-4.jpgWhat in this account of creation informs our thinking about illegal immigration? First, we learn that human beings are created in the image of God.
Nothing else in the universe bears the divine image. As you might
imagine, theologians differ on exactly what this image entails. Some
point to rationality. Others emphasize moral judgment. Still others see
God’s image as that which authorizes human beings to manage God’s
creation. In spite of disagreeing about the precise nature of God’s
image, virtually all theologians agree that it sets humanity apart as a
unique element of creation.

Moreover, the fact that humankind
bears God’s image reveals the sacredness and dignity of each and every
human life. Every single person, without regard to gender, race,
capability, appearance, popularity, citizenship, or accomplishment,
reflects God’s own image and is, therefore, sacred and worthy of
respect and honor. Just as it would be foolish to treat God with
contempt, so it is in our regard for and relationship with each human

If all human beings bear the image of God and therefore
are to be treated with dignity, then this surely includes those who are
in the United States illegally. So called “illegal aliens” are, first
and foremost, sacred beings created in God’s own image. Thus they, like
all of humanity, should be regarded as sacred and treated with respect.

does not necessarily require any particular solution to the problem of
undocumented workers in the United States, however. After all,
criminals are also divine image beavers and deserve respectful
treatment even in their incarceration. So it is possible for someone to
accept the sanctity of each human life and, at the same time, to
believe that illegal immigrants should not be allowed to remain in this
country. But if we think of those who are in the USA illegally as
sacred beings, this will surely affect how we think about our treatment
of them as a nation.

As listen to the debate about this issue, I
am concerned that many people, including many Christians, talk about
undocumented workers and their families as if they were something other
than precious human beings created in the image of God. It seems,
sometimes, that people speak of illegal aliens as if they were almost
less than human. What defines these human beings, fundamentally, is
their illegal status. Surely this kind of rhetoric, and the attitude it
reflects, is inconsistent with a biblical understanding of human life.

course it is also true that all people impacted by the problem of
illegal immigration need to afforded respect as sacred creatures. This
includes, for example, ranchers whose lives are endangered by a porous
border between the United States and Mexico, unemployed American
citizens whose opportunities for work are limited because of
undocumented workers, etc. Whatever solutions we propose for the
problem of illegal immigration, Christians simply cannot compromise the
divinely-created specialness of each human being

1 provides another crucial cornerstone for our understanding of this
issue. It comes after God creates man and woman in God’s own image:
“God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and
fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the
sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that
moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28).

Taken literally, the command
to be fruitful and multiply has to do with making babies. That’s how
the man and woman will fill the earth and subdue it. They will exercise
dominion over creation through their children, grandchildren,
great-grandchildren, and so forth and so on.

But the command
to be fruitful suggests a broader notion of fecundity. When read in
light of the rest of Scripture, we can see God’s intention for human
beings to live fruitful lives in a metaphorical sense. God created us
so that we might contribute value to his creation through our active
stewardship. In a phrase derived from Aristotle and often heard these
days, Genesis 1 provides a vision of divinely-intended “human
flourishing.” Human beings, as bearers of God’s image, are to live
fruitful lives. We are to use our talents and abilities to exercise
stewardship of God’s creation. (Photo: A fruit stand near Tepic,
Mexico. Photo by Tomas Castelzo. WikiCommons)

might this picture of fruitfulness/flourishing impact that discussion
of illegal immigration? It shows us what God intends for all human
beings, including, of course, undocumented workers. God wants us all to
live fruitful lives, lives that make a difference, lives that
contribute to the goodness of this world, lives of fulfillment. Yes, to
be sure, sin complicates this picture. But God’s original purpose for
humankind remains, and this purpose helps us to see the issue of
illegal immigration from a distinctive Christian perspective.

most important challenge and opportunity set before us is not border
security or amnesty for illegal immigrants or deportation or
reformation of our immigration system. Rather, the question posed by
Genesis 1 is this: How can all the peoples of the Americas (and
ultimately the world) live fruitful lives? To put it differently, how
can those who inhabit these two connected continents fulfill the vision
of Genesis 1:28?

To be sure, this is a giant question. But it is
a question that should lie behind all Christian consideration of
illegal immigration. Our ultimate concern is not just the well being of
our nation, nor even just the well being of those who are in this
country illegally, but rather the fruitfulness of all people,
regardless of citizenship or status.

I’ll have more to say later
about an implication of this concern, but, for now, I want to offer
this goal of fruitfulness of all people as a corrective to what seems
to be common in many conversations of illegal immigration. Those who
“take the side” of undocumented workers often speak as if they care
mainly or exclusively about the fruitfulness of these people. Those who
are concerned about the well-being of the United States often seem to
care about the fruitfulness of our citizens to the exclusion of others.
A biblical perspective, I believe, inspires us to shape a world in
which all peoples in the Americas (and beyond) would have the
opportunity to lives truly fruitful lives.

Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: Another Essential Starting Point

In my effort to view illegal immigration from a Christian perspective,
I have suggested that there are two essential biblical starting points.
The first is Genesis 1, a passage that reveals the unique nature of
human beings as bearers of God’s image and our unique calling to
fruitfulness in life. Christians are taught in through this text to
treat all people with dignity and to shape a world in which all people
have the opportunity to live fruitful lives. 

Even as you might
have guessed that Genesis 1 would be one of my reliable starting
points, given its placement as the first chapter of the Bible as well
as its theological content, so you’ll probably be able to guess my
second proposed starting point. When it comes to Christian reflection
on any issue or concern, it’s always a fine idea to start with Jesus. He is, after all, God in human form. So if we want to know the mind of God about something, we do well to look to Jesus.

does not address the issue of illegal immigration in any specific way.
Nor do we have a record of his relating to illegal immigrants per se.
Nevertheless, Jesus provides plenty of grist for our mill as we
consider the issue before us. I would like for us to reflect upon
Jesus’ teaching, example, and impact. (Note: In the following discussion, I have been helped by a book by M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and The Bible. This is a very sane and wise book written by a biblical scholar who is also bicultural [American, Hispanic].)

Jesus’ Teaching and Illegal Immigration

center of Jesus’ own preaching was the announcement of the good news
that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:14-15). In Jesus’ words and
works and ultimately through the community formed in his name, God was
beginning to establish his reign on earth. Thus Jesus taught his
followers to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as
it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). The kingdom of God is God’s reign over
all things on earth, a reality in which God’s will is done on earth as
in heaven. This sort of kingdom, according to Jesus, was on its way,
beginning in his own ministry. (For much more on the teaching of Jesus,
see my blog series: What Was The Message of Jesus?)

justice of God goes hand in hand with the kingdom of God. Jesus
portrayed himself as the one who, in fulfillment of Old Testament
prophecy, was authorized to implement justice for those who needed it
most: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to
bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the
captives and recovery of sign to the blind, to let the oppressed go
free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, based on
Isaiah 61:1-2). Thus, Jesus instructed his followers to “strive first
for the kingdom of God and his righteousness [or justice, dikaiosune in Greek can have either meaning]” (Matt 6:33).

of the distinctive features of the kingdom of God, according to Jesus,
was a reversal of earthly fortunes. In the so-called “Sermon on the
Plain” in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours in the kingdom of god.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
For you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.” (Luke 6:20-21)

The news is not quite so good for those who are well off in this life:

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to your who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:24-25)

the “upside down” kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, love becomes the
distinguishing mark of its citizens. Yet love is not reserved only for
God and our neighbors, but even for our enemies:

you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even
sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good
to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If
you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to
you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love
your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your
reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he
is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your
Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

When we love people
in tangible ways, this not only reflects the caring heart of God, but
also it expresses our love for God. Jesus tells this story of the last

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and
all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate
people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the
goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the
left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you
that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me
food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a
stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I
was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you
hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked
and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in
prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell
you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of
my family, you did it to me'” (Matt 25:31-40).

who is included among those who received tangible acts of love: the
stranger. The Greek word translated as “stranger” here is xenos, which can also mean “foreigner.” It denotes someone who is an outsider, who doesn’t belong. Jesus identifies with the xenos to such an extent that welcoming the xenos
is welcoming Jesus himself. (Photo: The children’s choir at Irvine
Presbyterian Church acting out the Parable of the Good Samaritan.)

In the parable we know as “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus paints a picture of the archetypal xenos (from the first-century Jewish point of view) who loves another xenos,
and thus becomes a model for all who would follow Jesus. In the kingdom
of God, that which divides people from people fall away, replaced by
love that knows no national or ethnic boundaries.

Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: Another Essential Starting Point (Part 2)

The Actions of Jesus

we consider the relevance of the actions of Jesus for the issue of
illegal immigration, we must once again remember that Jesus did not
encounter the same kinds of situations and challenges that we face
today. Nevertheless, several of his actions bear witness to how
Christians who seek to imitate Jesus might live in relationship with
undocumented workers and their families.

It is worth nothing
that Jesus was himself an immigrant during the first years of his life.
Shortly after his birth, Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt in order to
protect him from being murdered by soldiers of King Herod (Matt
2:13-18). When Herod died, Jesus and his parents returned to their
hometown of Nazareth (Matt 2:19-23). About Jesus’ time in Egypt, we
know very little, however.

When Jesus began preaching the good
news of the kingdom of God, he demonstrated the presence of the kingdom
in various ways. He healed the sick and cast out demons, showing that
God’s power was indeed present. Jesus cared for the crowds, proclaiming
the kingdom and healing the sick, because “he had compassion for them”
(Matt 9:35-36; 14:14). His empathy for people in need led Jesus to
minister, not just to souls, but also to bodies. (Photo: “Christ
Healing the Paralytic by the Pool of Bethesda” by Bartolomé Esteban

one case, Jesus was approached by a leper who sought to be cleansed of
his disease (Matt 8:1-2). Not only was this man stricken with a
terrible physical condition, but also he was ostracized by his
community because he was ceremonially unclean and a danger to the
health of others. The fact that a leper was allowed to approach a holy
man like Jesus is a testimony both to the leper’s desperation at to
Jesus’ exceptional welcome of a person in need. When Jesus touched the
man, thus allowing himself to become unclean, the man was cleansed of
his leprosy (Matt 8:3). But this was not the end of what the kingdom of
God meant to the former leper. Jesus sent him to the priest in his
town, who would verify that the man had been cleansed and enable him to
be restored into his community.

The fact that Jesus had
intimate fellowship with a leper was scandalous, but, to make matters
worse, Jesus often hung out with people judged to be unsavory and
unacceptable. We read this in Matthew’s Gospel:

And as
[Jesus] sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners
came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees
saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with
tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those
who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go
and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have
come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (9:10-13)

associated with people who were on the outs, those who were
marginalized because of their behavior as well as their physical

The activity of Jesus in demonstrating the presence
of the kingdom may not tell us how the United States should deal with
the issue of illegal immigration, but it surely guides Christians when
it comes to how we relate to those who are in this country illegally,
as well as to their families. Millions of undocumented workers live on
the edge of poverty or on the downside of that edge. They are often
victimized by people in power since they have relatively little legal
protection. In the eyes of many Americans, illegal aliens are viewed
rather like lepers, as outcasts who are not welcome in our communities,
as people who threaten our way of life. Or they are seen more like “tax
collectors and sinners,” people whose behavior excludes them from our
fellowship, friendship, and compassion.

If we ask the classic
question, “What would Jesus do?”, in reference to illegal immigration,
we would no doubt hear different answers with respect to American legal
and social policy. But it seems undeniable to me that Jesus would
associate with and care for the tangible needs of undocumented workers
and their families. He would seek their wholeness: spiritually,
physically, relationally, socially. Those of us who follow Jesus are
called to do the same.

Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: What is Our “Big Goal”?

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?

For some Christians, the “big goal” has
to do, first, with extensive legal and social reform. When confronted
with specific problems, like the porosity of the border between the
United States and Mexico, these people say something like “We can only
deal with that problem in the context of comprehensive immigration
reform.” At times, the phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” is
code for “some kind of amnesty for undocumented workers.” At other
times, the phrase points to the huge need for the United States to deal
with illegal immigration, not as a one-problem issue, but as a
multi-faceted issue that comprises a multitude of problems and
challenges. The ultimate “big goal” of those who talk about
“comprehensive immigration reform” appears to be legal and social
change that leads to merciful treatment of immigrants and potential

For other Christians, the “big goal” is the
well-being of the United States of American and its citizens. Whatever
happens with those who are in the country illegally and with those who
would like to immigrate to this country, the “big goal” is the security
and prosperity of our nation. Once we’re well on our way to this goal,
then can we establish a wise policy for immigration and for dealing
with those who are in this country illegally.

Some folks try to
find middle ground, arguing that treating undocumented workers and
their families mercifully, thus allowing them to remain in this
country, is, in fact, the best way to advance the well-being of the
United States. Middle-ground people point to our need as a nation for
workers who are willing to do various kinds of manual labor, as well as
the contributions to American society made by undocumented workers and
their families. The “big goal” of middle-grounders is the well-being of
both undocumented workers and American society at large.

find ourselves at an impasse when it comes to the issue of illegal
immigration in part because we embrace different “big goals.” As I
listen to a wide variety of voices, I find that most differences of
opinion can be boiled down to a difference over the “big goals.” Some
care most about the well-being of undocumented workers and their
families; some care most about the well-being of the United States.
Once you know somebody’s “big goal,” you can more or less predict their
views on a wide range of issues related to illegal immigration.

I think about this issue from a Christian perspective, it seems to me
that something “big” is missing. We are missing an even “bigger goal”
that flows from the teaching of Scripture and that can redirect our
thoughts and efforts in a more fruitful direction. This “bigger goal”
is suggested at first in Genesis 1 and God’s instruction to human
beings to be “fruitful.” It is glimpsed again in Jesus’ announcement of
the kingdom of God and his efforts to bring wholeness to broken people.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains his mission in this way: “The
thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may
have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). God’s intention for
us, both individually and corporately, is that we live fruitful,
abundant lives, both now and in the age to come.

Thus, as we
think from a Christian point of view about the plight of illegal
immigrants and their families, our goal should be that each one has the
opportunity to live a fruitful, abundant life. How could we want
anything else for these human beings who are made in the image of God?

here’s where we come to a problematic assumption that is often not
expressed, even though it is made by people on both sides of the
immigration debate: It is highly unlikely that undocumented workers
and their families will be able to live truly fruitful lives in their
own countries.
The realities of poverty, political oppression,
economic injustice, poor education, and poor medical care, just to name
a few, make it very difficult for millions upon millions of Hispanics
to flourish in their homelands. Their only hope of a fruitful life is
in the United States. So they come to this country, making large
sacrifices and braving many dangers, because they expect a better life
here. And, for the most part, if they can make it here and settle, they
will have a better life . . . as will their relatives back in the
homeland, who receive money from their kin in the United States.

As I think about this situation from a Christian perspective, I find myself wishing for a radically different reality. Wouldn’t it be best for everybody if no person from Latin America ever needed to come to the United States in order to flourish?
Isn’t the best-case scenario one in which every individual in Latin
American had the opportunity to be fruitful in his or her own land?
Many might still choose to immigrate to the United States, of course.
But nobody would come out of a desperate need for food, decent
education, quality medical care, liberty, and so forth. All would have
the freedom and opportunity in their own countries to life fully
fruitful lives.

Wouldn’t this solve the problem of illegal
immigration, even more than building a giant fence? Even more than
comprehensive immigration reform? Even more than adding more troops at
the border? Even more than penalizing employers who hire undocumented
workers? Even more than providing a legal way for these workers to
remain in the United States? Even more than sending them and their
families home? Even more than any particular solution to any particular
problem associated with illegal immigration?

As a Christian
who is committed to the fruitfulness of each human life, I would argue
that we need far more than comprehensive immigration reform. We need
comprehensive hemispheric social, economic, legal, and spiritual reform.

We need a hemisphere, not just a country, in which all people have the
chance to flourish right where they live. Some may, of course, choose
not to do this. But, ideally, nobody would be forced to live in poverty
and oppression.

Yes, yes, I know that what I’ve just proposed is
not just a “big goal,” or even a “bigger goal,” but rather a “humongous
goal.” And I can well imagine that some will accuse me of being
hopelessly idealistic. So be it. But, as a Christian, I am not
motivated by what is humanly possible. Rather, I believe that all
things are possible in Christ, even social reform that seems hopelessly

I’m not suggesting that the United States should
ignore the problem of illegal immigration and focus only on hemispheric
change. Nor am I suggesting that we should not have some sort of
widespread immigration reform. Nor am I suggesting that the United
States should not work to secure its borders. Nor am I suggesting that
the United States, as a nation, should be the exclusive or even primary
mover for hemispheric reform. Rather, I am speaking now as a Christian
to Christians. I am envisioning the church of Jesus Christ across the
Americas mobilizing so as to improve the well-being of all peoples in
this hemisphere. I am imagining Christians in church leadership,
business, government, education, medicine, and other fields coming
together to work on the “humongous goal” of hemispheric change that
would make illegal immigration simply unnecessary. (In fact, many
Christians are already doing this very thing. But there is so much more
that needs to be done.)

So, there you have it, a “humongous
goal” which flows from the biblical understanding of human life and the
kingdom of God. Is it crazy to envision such broad change in our
hemisphere? Perhaps. But I am encouraged by something Jesus once said
when he spoke of something that seemed to his followers to be
impossible: “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are

Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: Living with Divided Loyalties 

Suppose you live in a country that is home . . . but not quite home.
You find yourself fitting in to the culture of the place you live, but
not quite. You embrace the values of your current home, but sometimes
find yourself at odds with those values. You want to see the place you
live flourish, yet feel a deeper commitment to another place and its
well-being. Your heart is unsettled; your loyalties divided.

I describing the experience of undocumented workers and their families
who live in the United States? Yes, I am, given what I’ve read, seen,
and heard. Many who are in this country illegally love the United
States, yet they feel a deeper loyalty to their homeland, the place of
their people, their family, and their culture. Their situation is
similar to many first-generation immigrants to the United States,
though it may be exacerbated by the trials associated with being in
this country illegally. I can understand why undocumented workers live
with divided loyalties.

But I did not write the first paragraph
of this post as a description of the experience of immigrants to the
United States, either legal or illegal. Rather, I was attempting to
illustrate the experience of Christians who, though at home in this
world, are not at home here. In particular, I sought to describe what
it’s like to be a Christian and an American, especially when
considering issues where our divided loyalties are felt most strongly,
issues like illegal immigration.

Dual Citizenship in Philippians

helps us understand our situation as Christians in terms of living in
one place while being a citizen of another. In Paul’s letter to the
Christians in Philippi, he contrasts those whose “minds are set on
earthly things” with those who follow Jesus: “But our citizenship [politeuma]
is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the
Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). Earlier in this letter, Paul urged the
Philippians to live consistently with the good news of Christ: “Only,
live your life [politeuomai] in a manner worthy of the gospel of
Christ. . .” (Phil 1:27). The verb translated here as “live your life”
actually means “live your life as a citizen.” In other words, Paul was
exhorting the Philippian Christians to live their life in Philippi as
citizens of heaven. (Photo: The Via Egnatia, a Roman road in ancient
Philippi. Photo courtesy of Used with permission.)

philippi-via-egnatia-5.jpgIt’s not just an accident that this language shows up in Paul’s letter to the Philippians but not elsewhere in his writings (politeia,
a related word, appears in Ephesians 2:12). People in Philippi were
familiar with a kind of long-distance citizenship. Because Philippi was
a Roman colony, its citizens were also citizens of Rome, a city on the
Italian peninsula some 500 miles to the west. Citizens of Philippi were
given all of the rights and privileges of Roman citizens, and thus felt
a profound connection with the capital of the empire.

In a
similar way, Christians belong to this world. We are residents of the
places where we live, citizens of our countries. Yet, at the same time,
we are citizens of heaven and are called to live our lives according to
the values and vision of that citizenship. This means that Christians
who live in the United States are, in a sense, dual citizens. But our
primary citizenship, and that which should always govern our behavior,
is our heavenly citizenship.

For most of us and for most of
the time, we are able to exercise our dual citizenship without
conflict. Because, for example, we are afforded exceptional freedom in
the United States, we are able to practice our religion both in private
and in public without fear of reprisal. Whereas millions of Christians
throughout the world cannot be openly Christian without risking
imprisonment or worse, we are free to live as citizens of heaven and
citizens of this country.

But there are times when our
citizenships pull us in different directions at the same time, forcing
us to choose between our divided loyalties. Christian pacifists, for
example, are never able to support American military efforts with their
words or their participation. In the 19th century, many Christians who
opposed slavery on religious grounds not only labored for a change in
laws, but also helped slaves escape from their bondage. These
Christians broke the laws of the nation because their heavenly
citizenship trumped their earthly one.

When it comes to the
issue of illegal immigration, most Christians feel a powerful tension
between our citizenships. As citizens of the United States, we are
concerned for the well-being of our country. We are distressed that so
many people have broken and are breaking our immigration laws. We are
worried that our porous southern border invites the influx of organized
crime, and allows for the immigration of terrorists.

Yet, as
citizens of heaven, we are deeply concerned for the well-being of
undocumented workers and their families, not to mention our neighbors
to the south who might seek to escape from poverty and oppression by
entering our country illegally. We recognize that millions of so-called
illegal aliens are contributing to the flourishing of our country
through their work and their moral character. As Christians who are
committed to marriage and family, we cannot imagine how it would be
just, not to mention merciful, to divide families by sending
undocumented workers back to their home countries. And as people who
have a vision for the fruitfulness of each human being, we have no
desire to maintain a social system that keeps people from flourishing.

when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration, Christians live with
divided loyalties. There is no other way. But we cannot simply stand by
and let injustice get a free pass because we can’t make up our mind on
things. We have to think, speak, vote, and act. When we do these
actions, we will feel an unavoidable tension between our citizenships.

want to close with three interim conclusions. First, I believe it’s
essential for Christians to admit this tension. Sometimes Christian on
either side of the illegal immigration issue speak as if there is no
such tension. This, it seems to me, is not truthful or helpful. Only
when we can be honest about our divided loyalties will we be able to
figure out how to work with them to forge a more just and godly society.

I believe that our heavenly citizenship takes precedence over our
earthly citizenship. If there is an irresolvable tension between the
two, then we should go with God. This means, for example, that we must
be committed to the flourishing of all people in the Americas, without
undue regard for national borders. No, no, I’m not calling for an open
border. But I am saying that God is not more committed to the
well-being of someone who lives in El Paso, Texas than he is to someone
who lives right across the border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. As
Christians, we must share God’s concern for and commitment to all
people, regardless of national origin.

Third, as Christians seek
a Christian perspective on illegal immigration, we must do so in
community with other believers. All of us have the opportunity to learn
from others, including and especially those with whom we disagree. It
seems to me that when it comes to the matter of illegal immigration,
the amount of genuine listening to folks who see things differently
from ourselves adds up to about zero. Few issues bring forth such
hard-headed and hard-hearted certainty as this one, even among brothers
and sisters in Christ. Therefore, as we seek a Christian perspective on
illegal immigration, we would all be well served to keep in mind a key
passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

If then
there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any
sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy
complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full
accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of
you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let
the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:1-11)

May God grant us the mind of Christ when it comes to illegal immigration.

Appendix: Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: A Helpful Resource

I have recently read a book that addresses the issue of illegal
immigration from a Christian perspective and want to recommend it to
you. The book is Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R.

First, a word about the author. Dr. M. Daniel Carroll Rodas is uniquely position to write this book. He is an accomplished Old Testament scholar
who teaches as a full professor at Denver Seminary. Dr. Carroll affirms
the authority of Scripture and cares deeply about the church of Jesus
Christ. He is also bi-cultural, the son of a Guatemalan mother and an
American father. He has lived both in Latin American and in the United
States. Thus he understands the issues associated with immigration
(including illegal immigration) in an unusual and unusually-valuable

Carroll-Christians-Border-4.jpgNow, about the book, Christians at the Border.
This book is mainly a careful study of biblical texts that are relevant
to the issues of immigration. Carroll’s first chapter, however, offers
a short history of Hispanic immigration into the United States, as well
as an overview of the complex issues facing us today. I found this
chapter to be extremely helpful, especially since I am not aware of
much of the history. Because of this unfamiliarity, I am unable to
evaluate the accuracy of Carroll’s historical observations. But, since
my academic expertise lies in biblical studies, and since most of this
book focuses on Scripture, and since I found Carroll’s work in these
sections to be balanced and reliable, I am inclined to believe that his
historical insights are accurate.

Given Carroll’s personal
situation as a bi-cultural American with Hispanic roots and
experiences, I wondered if his book would reflect some sort of bias.
Frankly, I didn’t see this at all. In fact, he works hard to be fair to
all sides in the debate. Carroll does not seem to be arguing for some
particular socio-political response from the United States to the
problem of undocumented workers and their families. Rather, he wants us
to begin to think about this issue in truly biblical terms. Here’s his
statement of purpose for the book:

My intention is to
try to move Christians to reconsider their starting point in the
immigration debate. Too often discussions default to the passionate
ideological arguments, economic wrangling, or racial sentiments that
dominate national discourse. Among Christians, my experience has been
that there is little awareness of what might be a divine viewpoint on
immigration. This book is a modest attempt to help remedy that
shortcoming. It is neither exhaustive nor comprehensive. Rather, it is
designed as a primer for a more biblically and theologically informed
approach to the topic. (Kindle Location 133)

Carroll believes, as I do, that “Christians must think about and act on Hispanic immigration as Christians
(KL 143). Carroll elaborates: “The contention of this book is this: if
Christians want to address the problems posed by the immigration of
Hispanic peoples and contribute to possible solutions, then they should
do so consciously as Christians and more specifically as biblically
informed Christians” (KL 569).

The outline of Christians at the Border
is simple. The first chapter focuses on the historical and cultural
context in our time. The second two chapters deal with the Old
Testament. The third chapter examines the New Testament. The final
chapter offers a summation. Carroll does not propose solutions for the
national problems. Rather, as promised, he offers help for those who
are trying to deal with illegal immigration as Christians.

I found this book to be most helpful. It is focused, concise, and well-argued. I recommend Christians at the Border highly to anyone who is seeking a biblically-Christian perspective on illegal immigration.