Last week, I was invited to speak at Houghton College about immigration as part of a panel. Each panelist was invited to answer the question – “What are the most important factors which Christians should take into account when thinking about immigration reform?” What follows is an edited version of my response.
One of the first things we as Christians need to understand when thinking about the issue of immigration reform is that the issue of immigration itself is a theological, biblical issue. The very first book of the Bible explains that we are all made in God’s image. So when engaging the broad topic of immigration, let alone immigration reform, we need to be informed primarily by the fact that immigrants and citizens alike are God’s children. This fact is especially true when we consider immigrants who are Christians – not only are they made in God’s image, just as all people are, but they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We would do well to make sure all our interactions with them and with policies that affect them reflect our awareness of the fact that we are dealing with people made in God’s likeness – which is not something to take lightly.
The idea of immigration, far from being a biblically obscure topic, is actually a key scriptural issue. In fact, the Hebrew word ger, which translates to sojourner, foreigner, or immigrant, appears 92 times in the Old Testament. G92’s name is a reference to this fact. If you are not familiar with the numerous times God explicitly and specifically declares His love for the immigrant in the Bible, you should check out our “I Was a Stranger…” challenge and go through 40 of these verses. In many of these verses, God includes the stranger in the same category of other marginalized people for whom he mandates His people care – the widow, the orphan, and the poor. Sadly, the “stranger” is all too often left out of this phrase when it is being read aloud from the pulpit, despite the fact that the word is right there alongside the others in the Bible.
God clearly calls the church to care about the foreigner. But as Christians, can’t we help immigrants without getting involved in the issue of immigration reform?
If we want to minister to immigrants holistically, my answer to that question is an emphatic “No.” We are called to be Good Samaritans and take care of individuals in need, much like the Good Samaritan cared for the individual he found beaten and robbed. But if we show up on that road every day, ready to care for people, and find out that every day, people are beaten up and robbed, we would be wise to figure out why this happens and to address the root cause. If your doctor gave you a bandaid when you were hemorrhaging to death, you would think he or she was crazy! We cannot just treat the symptoms of injustice and suffering – we need to address the cause.
In the case of immigration, it turns out the “cause” here is our broken immigration laws. This is not a new sort of problem for the US – we have been here before, where the US suffered under broken laws that lead to profound suffering. Last time, the Christian church missed the boat. The situation to which I’m referring is the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. If you want to know how it affects people when the church misses out on its call to bring about justice, let me make it personal for you: my great-grandfather was a slave. My grandfather, his son, fought overseas in WWII to secure freedom and rights for folks abroad – only to be told once he came back home that he couldn’t drink from the same water fountain as white people.
My father was born in North Carolina – in Gastonia Negro Hospital. My father is now a great, strong Christian man. But growing up, he harbored a lot of anger due to the way he and others who looked like him were treated. He did not come to faith until later in life, in part because of the church’s inconsistency in living out what the Bible said about justice and equality.
There are untold numbers of people out there just like my dad – except a lot of them didn’t grow up to be Christians. So many of my black friends grew up in homes where they or their parents rejected Christianity because the church essentially said, “We don’t care about your struggle because you don’t look like us.”
Simply put, advocating on behalf of immigrants can be a missional opportunity – a way to genuinely live out our faith in a manner that portrays the church as the beacon of light it has always been meant to be. In John 12:32, Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” Are we lifting up Jesus when, through our inaction, we say to our immigrant brothers and sisters, “We don’t care about what you’re going through?” My fear is that unless the church gets involved in this issue of biblical justice, we will create a generation of immigrants who, like so many African Americans decades ago (and currently), reject the Christian faith, saying, “In my time of need I looked for you – and you were not there.”
Friends, brothers and sisters, enacting immigration reform may be by definition a political process, but make no mistake about it – advocating for justly fixing our broken laws which harm our immigrant brothers and sisters is an issue of FAITH. As Christians, we need to view immigration reform as an opportunity to live out our faith. Immigration reform is an opportunity to obey two of my favorite Scriptures: Proverbs 31:8 – by speaking up – and Proverbs 3:27-28 – by availing ourselves of this timely opportunity to do good to our neighbors.
Finally – and most importantly – immigration reform will help us live out our faith, because Jesus said to us in Matthew 25 in no uncertain terms that however we treat the stranger, we treat Him. As I see it, our laws do not currently treat Jesus well. And the question is now – what are you and I going to do about it?
Daniel Watts graduated from Wheaton College in 2012 and is the G92 Coordinator. You can connect with him on Twitter at @DanielRWatts.
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.
We are always looking for new guest bloggers. If you are interested in writing a guest blog, contact [email protected].