Last week, I had the privileged and honor of attending Immigrant Pathways Institute in Chicago. Basically, I spent about 9-10 hours a day learning, studying, and researching our current immigration laws. Additionally, I was able to engage in some challenging theological discussion with seminary students, Biblical theologians, professors, pastors, and lawyers. After only a week of class, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I do feel like I gained a few specific insights, some of which I would like to share here.
1. As Christians, we have to start with Scripture, not with the Law. If we start at the Cross, and continue to keep that our focal point, then we cannot help but see all humanity as made in the image of God. All are worth His death, so all should be worth our time, love, and energy. No one is beyond His grace, so as we try to be like Him, we must strive to extend His grace as well. Noel Castellanos, Executive Director of CCDA, said it brilliantly: “Justice is about all people being made in God’s Image and injustice is anything that tries to strip that truth from people.” If we look at the issue of immigration from this point, we can’t help but seek to learn before we judge. We have to hear the stories, understand the motives, look at the law in light of God’s justice, and shape our opinion from that place.
2. We are called to submit to the law, which does not always mean follow it. Danny Carroll, author of Christians at the Border and a theologian from Denver Seminary, made this point more eloquently than I ever could as he explained it during one of our devotions during the week. He shared that there is a distinct difference between submitting and following. In Romans 13, Paul is clear that “whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (v. 2, NRSV).” The problem is that many Christians end the discussion with this verse. I think this is unfortunate because Scripture also makes it clear that there are times when we are not to follow the law of the land, but submit to the authority and consequences that may come from doing so. In Acts 5:27-42, we see the story of Peter and the apostles being brought before the authorities who are angry that they have disobeyed the law of the land by continuing to preach in the name of Jesus. The apostles respond to this anger by saying, “We must obey God rather than human authority (v. 29, NRSV).” There are times when the law of the land does not match the law of God, and we have to choose God’s law. This does not mean, however, that we do not still submit to the authorities. In Acts, there is no account of Peter and the apostles resisting the punishment issued by the law of the land. They willingly take the punishment and submit to the authorities without following their law.
3. God’s law is clear when it comes to immigrants. If we look at Scripture, the values we find in the Old Testament, and the commandments throughout the New Testament, it is clear we are called to love and welcome the stranger. We are called to treat the immigrant like someone who is native born. If you don’t believe me, take a look at one of these many verses: Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 24:19-21, Exodus 12:49, Psalm 146:9, Zechariah 7:10, Malachi 3:5, Matthew 25:35-36 and 40, Hebrews 13:2.
4. The Law is unjust. This may be controversial for some people, but this is the honest conclusion I have come to. For starters, it has not been fully enforced for decades. By not asserting the law, it does lose a bit of its authority and our government finds itself in a place of contradiction. In the past 20 years or so, we have made it relatively easy for people to come here, find work, start lives, lay roots, all while giving them very few rights. Now, our country seems to be in a bit of a dilemma. We have 12 million+ undocumented immigrants in our country, many of which were small children when their parents brought them here, and now we want to start enforcing the law? Basically saying, “While we felt like you benefited us, we were OK with overlooking the law, but now that we are struggling and it seems like there just isn’t enough to go around, we would like you to leave. Oh, and by the way, since it will be WAY too expensive to round you all up and deport you, we are just going to pass more and more laws that make life miserable for you, so you will chose to leave on your own. Who cares if you have children who have lived here for practically their entire lives, or if you have continually paid your taxes, been apart of our churches, served our food, cleaned our houses, taken care of our children and grandparents, we just don’t want you anymore.” Supporters of laws like Arizona’s SB 1070, or Alabama’s HB 56 might tell these immigrants to “get in line” and “do things the right way.” What was overwhelming clear to me as I studied the law in depth is that for the majority of those who are undocumented, this is impossible. These “lines,” for the few that may qualify, are upwards of 20-30 years. As I learned the different ways people can migrate legally, the countless names and faces of my neighbors went through my head. I thought about their stories and their background and realized that there is probably not even one who, under our current law, would ever be able to migrate legally. I just can not wrap my head and heart around how this could possibly be just or how this could be what God wants.
5. Immigration in our country is an incredible opportunity for the Church. When I look at my own story and how God has shaped me, specifically in the last 7 years, I realize that the immigrants in my life have played a crucial role in it. As I have focused my energy on depth with Christ while I seek to love and minister to my neighbors, I have learned more about God’s heart for His people, unending grace, racism, entitlement, evangelism, vision for the future, and purpose for my own life than I ever could have imagined. Not only do we have the nations at our doorstep, making the great commission a whole heck of a lot easier, but the opportunity for redemption of our past is GREAT. Let’s be honest, the mainstream Church has missed the boat on some huge justice issues throughout our history: slavery, Chinese Exclusion Act, Civil Rights, just to name a few. Are we going to let history repeat itself? Are we going to sit by silently while fear of the other and entitlement guides our thoughts, words and actions? Or are we going to stand up and proclaim that ALL humans are made in the image of God and we are not going to allow anything strip that truth from people? We have an opportunity to intervene in the lives of those who are vulnerable, suffering, and most definitely hurting as strangers in our land and share the Good News with those who do not already know Him, all while growing in our depth with Christ and becoming more and more like Him. I don’t know about you, but I do not want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to look back at this time in our history with shame in their fore fathers because we did not do more to advocate for the marginalized. I have a strong sense that we are at a crucial point in our history and I do not want us to miss the opportunity.
As I process all I am learning and what God has called me to, I have to continually ask God to break my heart for what breaks His. As I do this, I feel myself more and more burdened by the stories of my immigrant neighbors and the unfortunate apathy of many of my brothers and sisters.
Forgive us Lord and help us to be more like You.
*A special thank you to all those who shared their wisdom with me over the last week: Danny Carroll, Craig Williford, Matthew Soerens, Noel Castellanos, Bill Hamel, Alex Mandes, World Relief staff, Immigrant Hope staff, and Trinity Seminary Students.
Bethany Anderson is a Christ follower, wife, foster mom, activist, and neighbor and is blessed to be all of these things in the context of her Christ community and a non-profit organization, called Solidarity (www.solidarityrising.org). Bethany dreams of loving children who are hurting, traveling to every corner of the world, the Church actually being the Church, and seeing people truly fall in love with Jesus Christ. You can read more about her journey towards depth with Christ and unity with her neighbors at www.whyifight.com, where this blog originally appeared.
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