The growing support for immigration reform among evangelical Christians has been getting a lot of traction in the media these last few months. This new awareness of the presence of evangelicals is good on a couple of fronts. On the one hand, it suggests that religion still matters in this country, at least to some degree, and that those of faith still can speak into the public square. On the other hand, this positive stance toward constructive change in our immigration laws helps dispel some stereotyping of evangelicals. Various authors and media portray us as angry and closed minded… even simple-minded! In interviews that I have had with secular reporters it is not uncommon for them to register surprise at the existence of an evangelical social conscience on this issue. So, in a sense the evangelical stance on immigration reform serves as a test of the relevance and sensitivity to those outside the Christian faith – and sometimes to those who place themselves at a different point on the spectrum of Christian traditions.
There is another sense in which immigration is a test of Christian faith. As I have tried to show in several publications, the experience of migration permeates the Bible from start to finish. Migration even is a central metaphor for the Christian life (1 Peter 2:11; cf. Phil. 3:20; Heb. 13:14). The more we learn about migration and the more we get to know immigrants, the more we will be able to comprehend fundamental things about belief in God: dependency, marginalization, a set of values that the culture does not accept, a different set of allegiances, and the importance of mutual support and encouragement.
There is one more way in which immigration is a test of Christian faith, and this builds off the previous point. The immigration reform issue forces believers to choose sides based on what we think the Word teaches. If one is convinced of the call to work for reform based on what the Bible says, that determination means embracing an Acts 4:19 decision moment. That is, this is the time and place to stand up for and speak out on God’s love of immigrants. This conviction can prove to be uncomfortable. It may lead to rejection; it might spur some to challenge unjust and inefficient laws and to get involved in various forms of activism. Immigration reform becomes the test, in other words, not only to others but also to ourselves, of fundamental beliefs about the Gospel, the mission of the Church, and the Christian life.
Do we truly appreciate the significance of this time for Christian witness and discipleship?
M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is distinguished professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and the national spokesperson on immigration for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He is the author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Baker Academic, 2008). A second edition will appear this December. He has a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and his PhD from the University of Sheffield.
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