Question of The Week: How Should Christians Think About Immigration?

On March 27, 2010, Arizona rancher Robert N. Krentz Jr., was found shot dead on his ranch near the Arizona/Mexico border. As the investigation continued, they suspected an undocumented immigrant responsible for the shooting. The findings are inconclusive and no suspect has been taken into custody, but the suspicion alone was enough. This story made headline news in many national newspapers, here for example, and sparked not only a number of blog post, follow up articles, opinion papers, and other news media, but is also seen as one of the major tipping points bringing about some of the strict immigration legislation proposed and passed in the state of Arizona. Regardless of people’s politics, nobody wants to see something like this happen. It was certainly a tragedy.

On January 6th, 2011, a Unites States Border Patrol agent shot and killed a Mexican 17 yr. old boy who was attempting to cross into America. The news brief can be found here.

Although both stories were found in the New York Times, this one was a paragraph tucked back on page A13. Don’t get me wrong, the amount of news coverage given to the dead rancher was appropriate. But what about the dead immigrant, the teenage boy coming across the border to find work and participate in the same American dream many of our ancestors came for? It took me a single site search to find the stories on the dead rancher, however it took me almost ten minutes to find the second story. And in the age of Google, ten minutes of searching is a relatively long time.

The issue of immigration is a hot topic these days in America. I grew up in Arizona and my whole family still lives there, so it has been an even bigger deal for my family. With the recent defeat of the Dream Act in the Senate, the proposals on laws about anchor babies, the censorship of Mexican-American education classes in  Tucson, and the constant lobbying on both sides of the political spectrum in Congress, immigration reform is an issue that Americans can’t ignore.

As the disproportionate coverage of the two murders mentioned above shows, the debate on immigration in our country is not purely driven by policy, it is driven by prejudice. We often times say more as a country concerning our prejudices by what we don’t say, then by what we do.

As the debate really began to become an important issue in my life a few years ago, and as it becomes a more pressing matter in national politics, I’ve had to really examine my heart on the topic. Although I do have a stance politically on the issue, I want to ask a different question, a more fundamental question: How should Christians think about the issue of illegal immigration? I’m not asking what, I’m asking how.

Regardless of our political leanings, despite our citizenship in the US, we are first and foremost citizens of heaven and as such we as Christians need to first approach this issue as Christians. What is the biblical attitude towards immigrants? How does Scripture balance justice and mercy? What I see happening in the American church with immigration is similar to what happened in the church during the Civil Rights movement, or during the Civil War. Christians are thinking and deciding out of their politics, not out of their spiritual renewal.

So I want us to take a step back from the politics, from the noise of the rhetoric and the extremes of both parties. How should the bible shape the attitude we as Christians bring to the issue of illegal immigration inflaming our country?

I greatly desire your feedback on this. However, I do not want the comments you leave to just start the political back and forth that often times lead to hurt feelings and nothing accomplished. Think of this issue from a spiritual standpoint, examine your own hearts and let’s have a great conversation about this!

9 thoughts on “Question of The Week: How Should Christians Think About Immigration?

  1. Cody,

    I’ve often wondered about and debated this issue of “justice vs. grace” internally myself. Being a fellow citizen of Arizona, it has always been at the forefront of the most important issues of the day, and is one that is certainly full of complexities. It can be very difficult at times to separate the politics from the response of the individual who claims God’s grace, but I think it should generally be kept that way. I believe the passage from Romans 13:1-7 which is in clear support of the power of negative incentives, and verses 8-10, which recalls the greatest commandment, best outline our response to this issue…at least in my opinion.

    Although, fully acknowledging that governments and their policies are made up of individuals and their opinions and beliefs and are thus, an aggregate of the collective opinion and values of a society, I think of them in two distinct realms. I believe the established government authorities must lean more toward enforcement of our laws and impartiality towards the offenders of those laws regardless of their often unfortunate and woeful circumstances. However, I think as individuals who have accepted and benefited from God’s grace we should always keep the greatest commandment in the front of our minds and keep human dignity at the core of whatever we say and do.

    All that being said, I think grace is to be shown on an individual, one-on-one basis between people. As Christians who happen, thankfully, to be Americans, I believe we should always be welcoming as ambassadors of Christ and our country of those who have chosen to reside here legally regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. In response to those who come here illegally and live in the shadows of society, I think that as Christians we should support our laws acknowledging that the governing authorities are put in place and given that authority by God and should work to bring those who are here under illegal status to a legal one through dignified and lawful means. (I personally felt the immigration reform bill in 2006 was the best mix of justice and grace offered to date.)

    It can be very tempting to give into the frustration, however warranted, that is caused by the breaking of our laws and the residual negative consequences and develop a hatred and prejudice for an entire group of people. However, prejudice is found nowhere in the life and gospel of Jesus Christ, and as a result, there is no room for it in the Christian life. I think it safe to say that those who cling to any type of racism or bigotry are not fully embracing the amazing and reforming power of Christ’s promise through salvation. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world, which doesn’t promise fairness of circumstances. But through an appropriate administration of justice and grace we can hopefully move closer to fairer access of opportunity, which is what the American dream is. Of course, that’s the hard part.

    As a side note: I’m more apt believe the actions of the border patrol agent who shot the 17 year old illegal immigrant was not out of prejudice but rather personal protection given the extreme drug violence that has been such an epidemic in that region. I think it’s easy for people to second-guess the actions of a possible life and death situation, but you don’t know what is going to be coming over that fence, what their intent is or what kind of firepower they’ll be wielding. I admit my ignorance of search engine optimization and will humbly defer to your expertise, but I think the fact that this event occurred only a few days ago and is currently under investigation may be the reason it has gotten less coverage compared to the rancher story, so far. Although, when I did a simple Google search for “shot at border” it was the first link in the queue and every subsequent link after that on the page.

    What are your thoughts my friend? I’d love to hear them.

    • Hey Tyler! Great to hear from you!

      I appreciate your insight and balance in approaching this subject. I especially appreciate your insight as a military man and admit that I was probably unfair in the conclusions that I jumped to about the border shooting. We all see things through a certain lens and my lens definitely informs my conclusions with those things.

      As for the balance of justice and grace, especially as it relates to the issue of immigration, I like what you said about the difference between the role of government and the role of individuals. Government needs to lean towards enforcement and individual Christians need to lean more towards mercy.

      Since I will be posting a few follow up posts by my brother-in-law, Ian Danley, who addresses a lot of the things you bring up at length, I won’t go into it too much here. One thing, however, related to your thoughts on Rom 13, is that I think we need to really examine the implications of this passage and how it relates contextually to Rom 12 and also how this passage should be interpreted differently, if at all, in light of a democratic system of government.

      With regard to the first point, Rom 12 stresses the idea of being zealous in being just to one another and acting with love. In that context, Paul talks about following the authorities as they support and enforce the just treatment of people by fellow citizens. Rom 13 does not say that Christian citizens must follow the authorities if they decree unjust harm against others, promote idolatrous commitment to something other than God, or other things like that. I don’t think you’re saying that, but that is something that needs to be clarified.

      With regard to the second point, as a democracy, the governing authorities over us is the result of electing citizens. Therefore the rule of law resides not in the elected officials, but actually in the electing citizens. That’s not to say that we as citizens can do whatever we want, but that does mean that we, as Christians, have the very rare opportunity of allowing the mercy granted to us through Christ to influence the policies governing over us. This is something I’ve been mulling over quite a bit recently. As Christian Americans who have an electoral voice, how can we advance the gospel of love and mercy in the way we participate in the political process?

      Throughout the whole narrative of Scripture, there is a common theme of loving the stranger. Both in the Old and New Testament, God calls Christians to take care of the stranger, particularly the stranger in need. Whatever the policy conclusions we come to as Christians concerning immigration, the biblical attitude towards loving the stranger, the submission to authority structures that reflect and enforce genuine justice, and the freedom to have our individual mercies shape public policy need to be significant factors.

      Like I mentioned before, I’m going to post tomorrow some more in depth examinations of that, but I’m so glad you weighed in. I deeply respect you and your opinion and I appreciate your balanced and detailed insight.

      I hope you’re doing well brother!

  2. It is easy for me to not care about an issue, especially when it becomes a political issue. I know I should care more than I do, about issues such as Tax’s and health care, our national debt etc. But I often am more likely to shrug and move on knowing that God is sovereign, least that is my justification. But this is a human issue, and we, as is our King, are in the business of people. We are called to be stewards of one another. The answer to Cains question “Am I my brothers keeper: Gen 4:9 Is yes you (we) are. I am to be a neighbor to all Luke 10: 23-37. No where does it say, near as I can tell, I am only a neighbor to the lawfull, or only those who work and pay tax’s.

    I must with my limited vision, get just a glimpse of how God sees us

    I must sacrifice my judgments, they are not mine to have. every one is desirable and purposed to God.

    The short and direct answer to: How should Christians think about the issue of illegal immigration? The way we would (or should) think on any other human issue, whether abortion, immigration, homelessness, child hunger, addictions, abuses, we are our brothers keeper, circumstances matter not.

  3. Don’t really have an answer to the question. It’s a tough one. Often our personal feelings/beliefs cloud the Biblical view of how things should be done/handled. I also think because of our prejudices, it’s easy for people to take verses from the Bible to support all kinds of views. Personally, I think I agree with Jon, who posted before me.

    Anyway, more wanted to say, “good post.” 🙂

  4. Pingback: A Few Theological Lenses for the Immigration Issue: Part 1 « Shouts From the Wilderness

  5. Pingback: A Few Theological Lenses for the Immigration Issue: Part 2 « Shouts From the Wilderness

  6. Pingback: Question of the Week: When Should Christians Not Obey? « Shouts From the Wilderness

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