The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself… — Leviticus 19: 34
In a previous post we outlined the importance of political engagement for the sake of the gospel. In this post, we turn from principle to application. How do we apply the Gospel to key issues in our day? In this example we consider the topic of immigration.
Who are the immigrants? The overwhelming majority of people living in the USA today are descended from immigrants, and that includes most people reading this article. These days, according to the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, about a million immigrants enter the USA every year. Most are motivated by push and pull factors: violence and a lack of opportunities in their home countries on one hand, and on the other, freedom, safety and opportunity in the USA.
About half of all immigrants currently enter the USA legally. The other half enter the USA illegally through people smugglers or by overstaying tourist or business visas. How do unauthorized immigrants get by? By 2018, an estimated 560 cities, states and counties provide sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants. For example, California provides state-wide sanctuary. County jails in Colorado and New Mexico don’t honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers transferring criminal aliens into the custody of ICE. Twelve states plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. Additionally, fake IDs can be bought over the internet. Most unauthorized immigrants take up semi-skilled work in farming, fisheries, forestry, cleaning, the food industry, maintenance and construction. According to the Pew Research Center there are now about 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the USA (mostly from South American countries), making up 3.4% of the entire population. Two thirds have lived in the USA for over 10 years.
Some of the issues around immigration are complex, emotive and exploited by activists. However, in applying Biblical truth to immigration, we don’t allow our opinions to be fashioned by the unstable cross-currents of post-modern political rhetoric. As followers of Jesus Christ we first consider the issue within the framework of Scripture (creation, fall, redemption and consummation). We learn from the Bible that every human being (including the immigrant) is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), fallen, but offered salvation through the blood of Christ (John 3:16). As bearers of God’s image and loved by God, every human being deserves dignity. We are expected to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:27), to act justly and mercifully to them (Micah 6:8), and not turn aside or oppress them (Malachi 3:5; Zechariah 7:10).
Secondly, when it comes to immigrants in particular, we learn of God’s special concern: God instructed Israel to leave portions of their fields unharvested so that the poor and alien could glean there (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:21). After all — as God reminded Israel — they themselves had been foreigners in Egypt (Exodus 22:21, 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19). In the New Testament, Paul reminds us that believers (we ourselves) were alienated from God (Colossians 1:21-23), so having been alienated and drawn close to God, how can we view other aliens with anything less than compassion? Jesus reminds us that the way we treat strangers (including immigrants) is a test for whether we know Him at all (Matthew 25:31-46). If we ignore, demonize or oppress immigrants we ignore, demonize or oppress our Lord.
Demographic changes in the Twin Cities, MN, are representative of changes taking place in the rest of the country. A million first and second generation immigrants from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe now live in the Twin Cities, so we are already united in Christ with those who are believers: they are in churches and they are our friends and neighbors. Indeed, when Christ returns to renew and restore the universe, He will rule over a kingdom that includes every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Revelation 5:9) – many of today’s immigrants will be citizens with us in the City of God.
Thirdly, as followers of Jesus we seek to bring godly wisdom and balance to the issue. Unfortunately, many Christians are fearful of and hostile towards immigrants as if all are criminals who freeload off the welfare system. Indeed there are those who do. But most are good, hard-working, family-oriented contributors to society — entrepreneurial men and women who, just like us — and like our forbears — yearn for freedom, and aspire to be Americans in the fullest sense.
Does that mean we should provide blanket amnesty to undocumented immigrants? No. Do we levy harsh punishments on immigrants for breaking the law? Again, no. We don’t abandon the law in favor of a general amnesty. People who break the law by entering the country illegally must be held accountable, admit wrong-doing, and pay penalties (such as fines and unpaid back-taxes) appropriate to their situation. As Christians we respect the rule of law, but we also respect the dignity of immigrants — undocumented or not.
At the heart of it all is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The issues raised by the immigration question aren’t neat or easy to answer, but as followers of Christ we address immigration issues by applying Biblical principles. We apply the riches of the Gospel to demonstrate the healing truth that Christ provides, and as we do so we demonstrate the relevance of faith. Our call is to understand immigrants with godly compassion, and apply practical deeds of love in the name of Christ. At the center of it all is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for in Christ, all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). He reconciles to Himself all things (Colossians 1:20).
Below are eight principles for an immigration policy (listed in One Nation Under God — see reference below) that we might consider both just and merciful, that respects the rule of law, and that also express the compassion of the Gospel. These principles appear in an article written by Barret Duke in the Regent Journal of Law & Public Policy, and do not in any way constitute the official position of Village Schools of the Bible – we don’t expect the reader to agree with what is listed below, but we believe this starter list helps people begin to consider, before the Lord, a reasonable, Biblical approach to the immigration question.
- Safe and secure borders.
- Paths to legal status (paths to citizenship, to legal work permits and to temporary visits to the USA).
- Appropriate penalties for breaking the law (e.g. paying fines and back-taxes for previously undocumented income).
- Cut-off date for applying for legal status (to encourage applications for legal status in a timely manner)
- Penalties for businesses that hire undocumented workers.
- A dependable worker-verification system (so that employers can quickly and reliably verify an employee’s status)
- Rapid unification of spouses and children with law-abiding immigrants.
- Deportation of immigrants who are dangerous criminals.
Research suggests that immigration is beneficial to the economy, and that crime rates involving immigrants are lower than that for US citizens generally. So immigration is not a problem so much as it is an opportunity to enact immigration reform that balances law and compassion. In the political field, Christians have the freedom to join with other people of different faiths (or no faith) to pursue the general welfare and common good of our society. Both Democrats and Republicans have failed to enact immigration policy that both respects the law and treats immigrants with compassion. Both parties have used immigration as yet another weapon to attack their opponents in a cynical fight for votes and for power.
As Christians, we offer a third way, because our loyalty is to Christ, not to a political party. For this reason we are perfectly positioned to critique both political parties and offer principles that embrace both truth and love together, that uphold the law, but also acknowledge the value and dignity of all human beings; that balance justice and compassion; and that reflect both the holiness and grace of God.
Recommended Action Steps
- Search the Scriptures to discern God’s heart for immigrants.
- Research the facts, dialog with others about the immigration issue from a Gospel perspective, and pray for spiritual discernment and Biblical conviction.
- When voting for political leaders, vote for those whose position on immigration honors Christ and can be justified Biblically.
In Christ all things hold together — Colossians 1:17
- Ashford, B. and Pappalardo, C. One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics. B&H, 2015.
- Brooks, C.W. Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City. Kregel, 2014.
About the author
This article is written by Warwick Alcock, Director of Operations at Village Schools of the Bible. Warwick is a first generation immigrant, having arrived in the USA 20 years ago on a temporary work visa before taking up permanent residence. He is now a US citizen.