Thinking Biblically About Immigration

Jul 30th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

America has been experiencing a crisis for some time now in the area of its immigration policies and practices.  In this Perspective, I want to add a biblical perspective to the discussion.  There is little doubt that politics and economics frame the immigration debate in our culture.  Two biblical mandates, instead, should also inform our thinking as Christians?the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  Dr. Alex Mindes, National Director of Hispanic Ministry and Gateway Theological Training of the Evangelical Free Church of America, asks that we view the nearly 18 million undocumented people living in America as an opportunity:  ?Many of these people are outside of their home in countries, separated from their families, and outside of their own governments? systems.  They are prime for the gospel.?  It is demonstrably illegal for us as Americans to hire them or to provide false paperwork for them, but we can evangelize them.  Three fundamental parameters are dictated to us by Scripture:  (1) All immigrants, even those who are illegal, are made in the image of God and of infinite worth and value.  (2) Both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment inform our approach to illegals.  (3) The Apostle Paul walked a fine line between compassion and the execution of the law.  [The best example of Paul?s demeanor is in the book of Philemon.  Onesimus, the slave, was running away from his master.  Paul discipled him and then eventually sent him back to his master.  But he told Philemon, the master, to treat Onesimus as his brother and that Paul would pay any of his debts.]  Dr. Michael Pocock, Chairman and Senior Professor of World Missions at Dallas Theological Seminary, offers three key points that enable us to maintain a biblical perspective on immigrants:

  1. Because all people are in God?s image, immigrants should be treated with dignity, even if they attempt to circumvent the law.  They must be held accountable but at the same time the state should do everything it can to prosecute abusive employers who also are breaking the law.
  2. The Old Testament helps us see that God makes provision for alien and poor workers, exemplified in the case of Ruth and Boaz.  Boaz permits an alien, Ruth from Moab, to glean in his fields and offered her protection from his own male workers as well as safety, respect, water, and shelter.
  3. National governments are basically units of government established by God to accomplish His purposes.  Rule of law must be respected and government has the obligation to establish policies for the well-being of its people?and this includes laws that establish a reasonable and manageable flow of immigrants into its nation.  Somehow, Christians must find a way to embrace a policy that reflects understanding, compassion and respect for immigrants, while at the same time urging respect and honor to government and its laws.  Pocock writes that ?Christ?s immigration policy would stress ministry to migrants and also the responsibility and privilege of Christian migrants to spread the gospel wherever they are.?

Finally, the Bible makes it clear that many biblical persons were in fact immigrants at some point in their lives:  Abraham; Isaac; Jacob; Joseph; Moses; Elimelech; Naomi and her sons; Ruth; David; Joseph, Mary and Jesus; Aquila and Priscilla; and Jewish Christians fleeing persecution.  Pocock concludes:  ?Whether it is hospitality to strangers (Rom. 12:13), or entertaining those who cannot repay (Luke 14:12-14), doing good to all persons ( Gal. 6:10), or considering all people equally no matter their culture or ethnicity (Col. 3:10-11), the Bible speaks to our attitude toward those of other races or cultures.?  The church should lead the way in finding the balance between treating immigrants with dignity and obedience to the rule of law.  Compassion mixed with respect for law must be realized in the church.

See the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of Kindred Spirit for the authors cited in this PerspectivePRINT PDF

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