December 3, 2012

Faith and Immigration Policy

Jim Wallis at Evangelical Immigration Table

(Photo credit: Institute on Religion and Democracy)

Several prominent religious figures are participating in a Washington, DC press conference Tuesday morning, December 4 to advocate “immigration reform” as part of “Forging a New Consensus.” More info here.

Editors note: Charisma recently published IRD talking points on faith and immigration policy by Alan Wisdom. Below are the highlights. And here’s Alan’s original full analysis.

There are no biblical passages laying out the details of a just immigration policy for the U.S. today. A modern nation like ours is not analogous to ancient Israel, nor are biblical figures easily comparable to contemporary illegal immigrants. Immigration is a complex subject, and there are no easy answers for it, but here are 10 considerations that thoughtful U.S. Christians should bear in mind:

» 1. The oft-quoted command in Leviticus 19:33-34 that “you shall not oppress the alien” should shape our attitude toward immigrants. But the passage doesn’t say how many aliens should be admitted to the U.S. today. Compassion for the foreigner does not necessarily mean admitting all comers.

» 2. The “sojourners” in ancient Israel were not illegal immigrants. They were temporary residents who agreed to comply with Israel’s laws and respect its customs. They could expect to receive basic justice, but not the full privileges of an Israelite.

» 3. Mary and Joseph were not illegal immigrants when they fled to Egypt to protect the baby Jesus. They were refugees seeking asylum from political persecution—a right that is recognized under today’s international law. There is no evidence that they broke any Egyptian laws.

» 4. Alongside the biblical teachings about hospitality to strangers stand the teachings about the importance of the rule of law. Passages such as Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 stress a duty to obey properly constituted human authorities, when their demands do not violate conscience.

» 5. U.S. authorities are within their powers when they attempt to regulate the flow of immigration into this country. Any state that loses control of its borders will not be able to fulfill its basic God-given responsibility to protect its citizens.

» 6. It is important to distinguish the callings of church and state. The church is called by God to welcome all with the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ without distinction for nationality or immigration status. But the state is called by God to enforce justice. It properly makes distinctions between those who obey and those who break the law.

» 7. The state properly places first the welfare of its own citizens. It does not have to admit immigrants it believes will detract from national well-being.

» 8. There is no place for racism in the immigration debate. People shouldn’t be admitted to or excluded from the U.S. based on their ethnicity.

» 9. There are cases in which a state may decide to show mercy to those who have broken its laws. It may conclude that strict enforcement of the law—for example, trying to deport all illegal immigrants—would be impossible or counterproductive.

» 10. The possible unintended consequences of granting amnesty to immigration-law violators must be weighed. We saw this demonstrated with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, in which amnesty for most who had been in the country illegally led to a spike in new illegal entries. The problem of illegal immigration was amplified.

8 Responses to Faith and Immigration Policy

  1. Sara Anderson says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful talking points. I have been troubled that Christians who struggle with liberalized immigration policy are often vilified as bigoted, lacking in mercy and hateful if they disagree with what amounts to amnesty for “undocumented immigrants.” At an immigration forum I attended several years ago, one theolgian/activist cavalierly dismissed the need to obey immigration law because “the law is unjust.” Another questioned whether a senator who supported deportation for some illegals could really call himself a Christian. Our immigration policy is in desperate need of reform. However we must have compassion for state and city governments (and individuals) overwhelmed by the problems of illegal immigration, as well as being compassionate to those residing in our country illegally.

  2. Eric Lytle says:

    Amen, sister. It cannot possibly be “Christian” to disregard bona fide citizens of the US in favor of those whose very presence in America is a crime.

  3. Gary says:

    I don’t see how one can cite Leviticus to support your pro-immigration argument and then deny Leviticus when you affirm homosexuality.

    • Ray Bannister says:

      I’m glad someone noticed that! Of course, liberals like to say that the Leviticus verses on sexual perversion are “culturally conditioned” and thus no longer binding. Fine – then the verses on immigration are no longer binding, right?

  4. WH says:

    Thanks for sharing. These are some concrete thoughts that I can now consider. Blessings ~w

  5. Gabe says:

    I really appreciated this article. A well-thought, Biblical argument on what the Bible really says about immigration policy. These are the kind of arguments that refute what the amnesty folks are arguing. Frankly, I’ve never understood this argument that we need an immigration policy that “works” or that our current policy is “broken”. I thought the policy was fine — Want to stay? There’s process for that. We have limits on how many people can come per year, but certainly there has been quite the generosity on our government’s behalf in letting people come and stay. The problem is the lax enforcement. If people are going to flout the law and come in on their own, it won’t matter much how we change the policy unless we change it to complete amnesty and let everyone in who wants to stay. Ironically, our laws are much more welcoming and forgiving than Mexico’s.

    I’ve usually agree with Richard Land, but I think his thinking is off on this one. That often happens when one spends too much time with Jim Wallis.

  6. Gabe says:

    I’ll add to the point #3 about Joseph and Mary fleeing with Jesus to Egypt that at that time, they were not crossing any borders. Israel and Egypt were both Roman provinces with the latter coming under Roman control decades earlier when Caesar Augustus was ruling. Moving to Egypt got them out of Herod’s jurisdiction, but they were simply moving within the Roman empire.

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