Monday, April 17, 2006

How Christians Might Think About the Immigration Issue: Part 1

Immigration policy has become a hot button issue. The current debate finds many people, even church leaders, weighing in with opinions.

I'm not going to give an opinion about how to approach immigration reform in this country. As I read the Bible, God's authoritative truth source, I can't find a chapter or verse that tells me whether or not to erect a wall on the border with Mexico; whether or not an amnesty or a fast-track to citizenship is the Christian approach to this matter.

But on the pages of the Bible, I do find ways of looking at this issue, windows through which we individual Christians can consider the various immigration proposals now before us and make up our own minds. To some extent, my blogging colleague, Pastor David Wayne, has "stolen my thunder" on this issue in a well-written post on his blog. I read it and thought, "That's what I was going to say."

My wife convinced me though, that I might have something else to offer here. So, here and in several subsequent posts I hope to write, I intend to talk about Biblical windows through which Christians might want to examine the immigration issue.

Window #1: Christians believe in obeying the law of civil authorities, as long as those authorities don't command us to ignore God's will for human beings. We've believed this even when civil authorities were hostile to Christian faith.

In spite of the enmity or malignant indifference of the Roman Empire toward Christianity, for example, Paul wrote to the band of Christians in ancient Rome:
Let 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. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing.

Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13:1-7)
Martin Luther said that God rules in two ways, through two kingdoms:
  • First, there's God's kingdom of grace. This is the kingdom under which Christians live. Christians believe that they've been given a new relationship with God, with others, and with themselves. Their old sinful selves have been crucified with Christ and by God's charity--His grace, they know that all believers in Christ live with God forever. That new status begins now, in this life. In the kingdom of grace, God doesn't have to coerce His people to love God or love neighbor. They seek to do so voluntarily.
  • Second, there's God's kingdom of laws. Luther says that because not all will want to voluntarily surrender to Christ, God also establishes coercive government authority. Governments exist in order to establish a baseline of mutual expectations and a modicum of order among people who live in any country or community. Governments are authorized by God to levy taxes, create police and military forces, and impose fines, all to coerce those who would otherwise "go their own way" (Acts 14:16) into involuntarily acceding to respect for God and respect for neighbor.
Christians are called to voluntarily submit to the kingdom of laws out of consideration for their neighbors. They know that unless people have come to submit to God's kingdom of grace, given to all with faith in Jesus Christ, the love of Christ controlling them, they are wont to live selfishly and to disregard the good of their neighbors. (Romans 3:9-20) So, in voluntary deference to the common good, Christians believe in obeying civil authority and the law.

Of course, whenever a governing authority commands people to do what they know is contrary to God's will for us to love God or love neighbor, Christians are obliged to resist civil authorities in whatever way is appropriate. Means of resistance could include everything from an email to a member of Congress to overt acts of rebellion, depending on the egregiousness of the command. Whether in the face of mere peer pressure or government authority, Christians are also told in God's Word:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
When confronted with the choice of either conforming to God's will or to the will of those who command us to do something against God's will, Christians know that we're called to go with God and His call to love God and neighbor every time.

Christians then, believe in obeying the law of civil authorities, even laws regarding immigration policy, so long as they don't command us to violate God's command to love God and neighbor. The practical implication of this, of course, is that governments have a right to maintain their nation's borders. Immigration restrictions are not an inherently bad thing. That's Window #1.

If the view through this window has offended you, come back here tomorrow. I suspect that what I write then will offend a whole different group of people.

THANKS: Thank you, Dr. Andrew Jackson of for linking to this piece.

THANKS Charlie Lehardy, whose blog, AnotherThink, is one of the very best around. He kindly linked to this post.


Deborah White said...

I hope you include in this series the Christian way to view the millions of US employers who hire these undocumented workers (at low wage with no benefits and poor working onditions) , and the Bush Administration, which knowingly and deliberately chooses to "look the other way" when employers hire illegals.

The millions of illegal imigrants here are merely the symptom, and we all know how easy it is to blame the symptoms without looking at the disease that causes the symptoms. The disease is a broken US economic system that relies on below-minimum wages paid to illegals (or anyone) to make more profits.

Living here in Southern California, we see it every single day: Illegals would NOT be here if employers didn't entice them here, and the US government didn't allow and even encourage their illegal immigration onto US soil and into US fields, factories and construction sites.

There is an obvious and immediate fix to illegal immigration: criminalize every employer who hires illegals. The issue would be entirely cured in three months.

Mark Daniels said...

I promise to tick everybody off. I will not recommend a particular public policy. But I will talk about ways in which I think Christians can look at this issue.

No doubt economic exploitation is one component of this matter and the Bible has a thing or two to say about that.


Deborah White said...

I wish that every American...and especially every member of Congress....could live here for 30 days, to clearly understand the realities and truths of illegal immigration, rather than politicians' pandering to constitutencies and the media exploiting stories to attract readers.

But I suppose one could say that about every story.....this is just the one that is part of OUR daily lives here.

Hope you had a delightful Easter, Mark.

Love Bowls said...

Deborah, Here in Canada we have the same problem. But not with illegals but Welfare. I agree the government has a responsibility, but I believe the problem is that everyone wants big wages. Youth from Eastern Canada go West to the oil fields for 10,000 C$ a month; so who is available for the $10/hr jobs. Here in Quebec, the absence of English speaking french, stay at home while companies bring in French (France)workers.
And we in Canada,have a great social net which seem to catch a lot of fine fish (poeple whom need help) as well as a lot of trash.

Guess it is a fact of being fisherman of men.

Love, Canada

PS. Not ticked off, just not looking forward to 125$ passport

Charlie said...

I'm glad you have decided to post on this, Mark -- you should listen to your wife more often. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this series. I think the discussion of immigration among Christians will be helped if we can go back to some of the foundational principles we all agree on, and that's the value of what you've written. Good job.

MikeW said...

I think it is easy to get distracted on this issue. Certainly a number of groups and institutions are culpable beginning with our politicians who pass laws they then underfund so they cannot be enforced, to businesses that take advantage of a ready, willing, and able cheap labor pool, to union organizers who see illegal workers as a new constituency to manipulate and control, to the average American whose only value is reflected best by Wal-Mart's promise of low prices (damn the consquences to the greater society). That said, this isn't just our problem. The biggest culprit in the illegal migration of over 10% of Mexico's population into this country is the Mexican government and the families that have misruled and exploited that country for the past century. They benefit the most by exporting their workers illegally into this country because it acts like a safety valve, reducing the pressure for change by getting rid of those that would benefit most. So, what should Christians do? That's not a hard question, is it? While we are helping the poor and disadvantaged and loving our neighbors as our selves even when those "neighbors" may be a Spanish-speaking migrant worker and his family, we should also examine our own hearts and habits and reflect on the desire for low prices at any cost and then finally, we should harangue our representatives to push for a real fix to the problem, a fix that can only come by reforms in Mexico. Anything less will be just another bandaid and we will be discussing this again in another 10 years or so.

Best regards,

Mark Daniels said...

Charlie and Mike: Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

Mike, thanks for the time it took for you to compose your ideas on this subject.

As I indicated to Deborah, I don't intend to offer policy proposals. But I do think that what both you and she have written reflect one of the windows through which we Christian must look, although your critiques differ.

Blessings in Christ,