Politics or Theology? Thinking About Immigration

Eds. Note: We are combining and editing two posts from last year into one.  The original pieces were both a little bit longer than they are here.  You can read the originals here and here


Every so often, we have an "immigration crisis."  After the hot flash of controversy last summer with the mostly South American children who were escaping some of the poorest and most dangerous places in the world and crossing the border by the thousands, our current immigration crisis has become more of a slow burn.  President Obama announced by executive order that he was taking action similar to President's Reagan and Bush.  A lawsuit commenced, and a judge has recently ordered a stay on the order, even as congressional Republicans have threatened to defund Homeland Security unless President Obama walks back the Order.  What happens next is pretty unclear, although most legal experts think the executive order will eventually commence.  

We have no interest in advocating for a particular policy position.  But, as Christians, we have pretty clear teaching on how we are to respond to those in distress.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’" Matthew 25:34-40

If you don’t think those making the trek from South and Central America through Mexico, and into the United States are, in some sense, the ‘least of these’ I would encourage you to read accounts from the folks who are working with them directly, or the historical accounts of those who made the trek from Ireland, or China, or anywhere else.  The most interesting thing that Jesus said in that Matthew 25 passage is the part where he said “except if ‘the least of these’ did something illegal, then just treat the issue as a political issue, and don’t help them because it will set a horrible precedent and other kids families might think its ok for them to do illegal things too…like risking their lives to get to America.” Just kidding, Jesus never said that.

Obviously I recognize that there are real political issues that need to be considered in the way that the United States government responds to this crisis. However, what I am asking today is not how the United States should respond, but how citizens of the Kingdom of God should respond. We should respond with compassion, and by encouraging others to respond with compassion. We should respond by encouraging our government to treat these immigrants with compassion, no matter what is determined about their long term ability to stay within our borders. The overwhelming majority of the children flooding into our nation are doing so because they are leaving or being sent from dire situations in search of hope. Their hope is mostly misplaced, since the United States cannot offer the peace and security they are looking for, fundamentally. What they need is our hope. Instead of worrying about precedent, fences, and that sort of thing…let’s encourage pastors like Felix Cabrera (and others) in their effort to reach as many of these kids as possible with the hope they didn’t even know they had.


We believe that our primary concern in regards to the issue of immigration should be one of compassion, rather than specific policy concerns.  However, our contention goes one step further: as Christians, not only should we prioritize compassion for the weak and the needy rather than specific policies for certain nameless and faceless social groups, but it should be easy for us to identify with immigrants and refugees based on our shared history as sojourners in a foreign land.

Last year, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a fantastic and thought-provoking piece for The Atlantic entitled “The Case for Reparations,” arguing that African-Americans are owed some level of reparations because of the USA’s history of slavery and discriminatory governmental racial policies. Predictably, the response was varied, but overwhelmingly critical from the viewpoint of conservatives (which often includes evangelicals.) One response from someone who is ostensibly evangelical and conservative that was decidedly not critical was from Dr. Alan Noble, who wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition entitled “Is There a Case for Racial Reparations?” He doesn’t ultimately definitely provide an answer, but he does argue that at the very least Christians, more than anyone else, should understand the notion and idea that payment for the sins of our forefathers is just, fair and even necessary. In other words, Noble argued that more than perhaps any other group, Christians are uniquely situated to be sympathetic to the idea because of our theology, not because of our morality.

We believe that the same principle applies to issues of immigration, illegal or otherwise, and especially the recent case of refugee children. Why? Because surely Christians are uniquely situated to understand what it means to be sojourners in a faraway land, a land that is not our home. We should know what it means to be constricted by artificial boundaries created by those who are both more powerful than we would like and less sympathetic than we would hope. Luckily, God gave us the basic framework for how to think through this issue. In Leviticus 19:33-34, God said, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”

Is there a direct connection to the “strangers” in the U.S.A.? Perhaps not. That’s why this blog post is not a policy position. There are other issues at play; issues of national sovereignty, the USA’s place in the world, and those who are already within our borders and are also suffering, poor and needy. But God’s word is unchanging, and what is clear is God certainly thought that the Israelites shared history as sojourners and aliens in a land not their own uniquely positioned them to be compassionate and kind to the aliens in their own midst.

Not only as the people of God do we still share that history, we are presently sojourners and aliens in a land not our own, and Jesus is constructing our real home, and our own land, even as we speak (well, write/read). The immigrants and refugees in our midst share that experience. Our morality should allow us to sympathize with people who walk and travel, sometimes for years, for the slim chance that opportunity awaits them in the U.S.A. But sympathy is not enough. It is our theology that should allow us to “love as ourselves” the sojourner looking for hope in a faraway land, an alien that is not content making mudpies in a slum because they dare to imagine what it means to have a holiday at the sea.


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