Like Christians the world over, I’ve been re-reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ Last Supper, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection over the last week. In John 17, as Jesus prays for his disciples and their successors in the hours before he is arrested, he prays for our unity as his Church:
…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21, 23)
Central to our mission as Christ’s followers is to share with the world this good news: that the Father sent the Son because he so loved the world—but the best observable evidence of that gospel reality, a unified Church, seems a distant, utopian dream. Just within the United States—this small sliver of the global Church—we are divided by denomination, by race, by political ideology, and by the competitive human instinct that leads even those congregations who resemble one another doctrinally, ethnically, and politically to jockey over the same individuals in order to fill their sanctuaries (or auditoriums) and offering plates. Perhaps the situation is not quite so stark: I’m grateful for folks, like my friend John Armstrong, who work tirelessly for “unity in Christ’s mission,” and I know that many—probably most—believers share that desire. It just seems at times that we have so far to go, and might be drifting in the wrong direction.
The issue of immigration—where I spend so much of my time—plays into this question of unity. At one level, the issue of immigration enjoys remarkable consensus: Comprehensive Immigration Reform is perhaps the only significant public policy on which the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the US Catholic Bishops all substantially agree. Usually, as my friend Rich Nathan has quipped, it would take a peace-making Mennonite just to keep these factions of American Christianity from erupting into a fight.
If at the level of national leadership immigration is uniquely unifying, though, the reality is that it can still be a very divisive issue at the pew level. Many American Christians think of this as a political issue—not a biblical issue, as I have argued that we need to view it—and thus they begin any discussion from an entrenched position, whether on the right or the left. Ethnicity divides us even further: despite some valiant efforts, 11 AM on a Sunday remains one of the most segregated hour of the week. As I move quite seamlessly between Caucasian and Hispanic evangelical churches—sometimes even between services within the same church building—I’m startled by how differently most Hispanic Christians view this issue than many of their white brothers and sisters. Latino Christians are drawn to the many texts of Scripture that command us to welcome and extend hospitality to immigrants; some white pastors, intentionally or not, seem to be intentionally avoiding these passages. A politically-conservative host on the English-speaking side of a local Christian radio station echoes some of the rhetoric of secular radio hosts afraid of an “invasion” of “illegal immigrants,” while the Spanish-speaking side of the same network calls people to march in the street—and pray—for immigration reform. Though there are many signs that white Christians are reconsidering their views, a stark contrast persists.
Divided as we may be, though, I believe there is hope for the unity for which our Lord prayed, and it’s found in the death of Christ that we remembered last week. Ephesians 2 tells us that Christ died, first and foremost, for our sins: “when we were dead in transgressions,” God in his grace and love sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to bear our sins on the cross (Ephesians 2:5).
Ephesians 2 suggests that there’s another reason that Christ died, though: as pastor Rob Bugh notes, Christ died for our sins, but also for our racism. Christ’s death “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14) which divided Jews from Gentiles—and, it is fair to say, which divides Hispanics, Caucasians, African-Americans, Asians, and every other ethnic group. Christ’s purpose was “to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Eph. 2:16).
I am convinced that if, by the help of and with the humility provided by the Holy Spirit, we can realize the unity for which Christ prayed and for which he died, the issue of immigration becomes easy. When relationships bridge the differences between us—so that we can recognize the many believing immigrants amongst us as our sisters and brothers—we can respond to immigration not as a political problem but as a family issue to which our biblical faith informs a response.
So let us pray, with the risen Christ, for that unity.
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (“For the Unity of the Church,” from the Book of Common Prayer)
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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