Surprised by Hope: God’s Justice and Illegal Immigration, Part 2

We are the aliens

The next theological observation is found in several verses, such as —

(Heb 11:13) All these people [in the honor roll of faith] were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

(1 Pet 1:17) Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

(1 Pet 2:11) Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

We are the aliens! Therefore, we cannot, as Christians, say this is our country and not yours. It’s not ours. Our citizenship is in heaven and we are told to live here as though we were not citizens of this place.

Imagine that you’re a missionary in, say, Romania. You are not a citizen. You honor the laws, as you enjoy the protection of the government from thieves and murderers. You pay your taxes. But you aren’t a Romanian. Rather, you are a stranger and an alien in someone else’s country, passing through to do God’s work.

How would an American missionary in Romania respond to illegal immigrants in Romania? Plainly enough, I think, he wouldn’t be too concerned about whether the alien is there legally or illegally. Rather, he’d preach Jesus.

On the other hand, if he saw Romanians suffering due to incompetently managed immigration policies, he’d feel compelled to call the government to account for its incompetence. The government fails of its God-given role when it allows criminals in the country or allows so many people in at once that the schools and hospitals can keep up with the load.

Just so, if the government refuses to allow impoverished people in at a time when Romania has jobs that need to be filled, he’d justly announce God’s condemnation on those who’d close factories rather than let an alien work.

God’s imperatives outweigh our imperatives

I’m told that Rick Atchley, who preaches for the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Ft. Worth, said something like, “Since we didn’t go to Latin America to preach Jesus as we should have, God is sending them here!”

Rick sees events from a Christian perspective: “How will this wave of immigration affect the mission of the church?” That’s quite different from, “How will this affect my earning power?”

And if we see this wave of immigration as possibly the work of God, we have to see things very differently.

Many immigrants are Christians

While there are drug runners and murderers who illegally immigrated here, there are also God-fearing, church-going Christians. Now, we will need to wrestle with the question of whether a Christian should illegally cross the border, which is not an easy one, but the fact remains that a significant number of immigrants are brothers in Christ. And we can’t ignore that fact.

There are no exceptions to the command to love our neighbor

The discussion of how we, as God’s people, should deal with illegal immigration starts with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. What does love compel us to do?

Now, love can be tough at times, as all good parents know. Love doesn’t mean being soft on crime or giving welfare to those who don’t deserve it. Love can mean letting someone who refuses to work go hungry! Tough love is very Biblical.

But tough love requires us to care as much for the other person’s problem as our own.

(Phil 2:3-4) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

That’s a tough verse when you ponder how it might apply across national borders.

To be true to Jesus’ command to love our neighbors — the Good Samaritan, while an alien in Judea, cared for a man of a different nationality and ethnicity — we cannot draw lines at national borders.

Some conclusions

I don’t have the answers. I just keep hoping to one day stumble across an intelligent discussion among Christians about illegal immigration — a discussion premised on scripture, not self-interest or what the politicians are spouting. Nor would such a discussion be premised on sentimentality and a refusal to confront inconvenient facts, such as the huge burden illegal immigration is placing on our social safety net.

Now, I almost always vote Republican. I’m an economic conservative. I have no love for socialism. I think criminals should be in jail and taxes should be low. And yet I think most of what I hear from my Christian brothers and sisters on illegal immigration is utterly worldly.

I think a thoughtful, Christian discussion would have to take the following into account (among other things) —

* If people are so desperate for a better life that they’ll risk life and prison to cross over into the US, why is there so little opportunity where they are coming from? If hard working people are leaving Mexico to work in the US, the problem isn’t work ethic — it’s something fundamentally wrong with Mexico.

* Can we do anything to solve the problem at its source? Can we get with the churches in Mexico and call for the kind of reform that would allow people to prosper at home?

* Can we call on the US government to push for the kinds of changes that would allow Mexico to prosper?

* Until Mexico (and other similar nations) is reformed so that their citizens can find work at home, how can we help them find work here without overwhelming the resources we have here for our own poor and without letting criminals in? After all, while we must love the immigrant poor, we must also love our own poor.

* How can we best show Jesus to the immigrant community?

Now, none of these questions admit of obvious or easy answers. They may not even have good answers. But at least they are aimed at doing what’s best for the aliens, while recognizing that our resources are finite and we also have duties to the poor of America.

The politicians aren’t, the best I can tell, asking a single one of these questions. They have entirely different concerns.

I really don’t care which party they’ll support if they one day become citizens. I don’t care whether they become citizens of the US at all. I’m much more concerned about their becoming citizens of God’s kingdom. And if that happens, then they’ll vote well enough.

On the other hand, I care deeply about how immigration is overwhelming our social services network, because we need for that system to work. We need for hospitals and schools to be well funded and adequate to the task. When they are overwhelmed, no one is helped.

And one of the tasks God gives the government is to protect us from criminals — murderers, drug dealers, and such. When our policies cause immigration to overwhelm our police, we all suffer — natives and aliens.

Therefore, I really can’t advocate opening the borders wide. But neither can I advocate deporting them all into poverty while we have jobs here unfilled. That can’t be right.

And so … no, I don’t have the answers. I just know that we can do better than we have in thinking through this together — and we can insist that our government do better, too.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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