My friend Danny Carroll, who is a distinguished professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and the author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible, argues very effectively that any discussion on immigration for Christians should begin with Scripture and, specifically, should begin where Scripture begins. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and, in that first chapter of the Bible, we learn that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). While we should search the entirety of the Scriptures to understand how, as Christians we should respond to the issue of immigration, we can begin by recognizing that immigrants are first and foremost human beings created by God.
Like every other single human being on this planet, immigrants bear the imago dei, the unique reflection of the Creator God. While immigrants, like the rest of us, are imperfect and marred by sin (Genesis 3:16-19), each carries an inherent dignity. They also possess incredible potential: they were created for work and to contribute, which is why we err if we focus only on the costs that immigrants bring to a society or an economy. As evangelical columnist Michael Gerson notes, immigrants are “not just mouths, but hands and brains.”
The Founding Fathers of the United States recognized this inherent dignity, at least theoretically. They boldly held, in declaring their independence from Great Britain, that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Regardless of country of origin, of socio-economic status, of family of origin, of physical or mental disability—of any potential disqualifier some might want to apply—each person has dignity and rights because they are endowed to them, not by the government, but by God.
To be sure, our Founding Fathers did a pretty terrible job at implementing this ideal. The author of these profound words, Thomas Jefferson, held African slaves who were denied the rights to live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Though no one could rob the dignity God had placed within each African held as a slave, our government did its best to mar it by permitting oppression and injustice.
Those words, though, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” helped guide our country out of slavery, and then out of the subsequent injustice of Jim Crow laws and other structures of overt racism. Dr. Martin Luther King harkened back to these words in challenging the United States to live into its ideals. He called the Declaration’s words “a promissory note… a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” But he refused “to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”
(Sidenote: we highlight these words on our new g92.org t-shirt, which we seriously recommend that you purchase and wear, challenging others to think of how these easily-affirmed words apply to undocumented immigrants).
We have made progress as a nation. But we have not yet arrived.
Those rights that are supposedly “unalienable” do not apply, in our country, to those that our laws call “aliens,” non-citizens who were born with God-given dignity but not with a governmentally-designated nationality in the United States. The governments of many other countries deny their own citizens these rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the United States—with its strict regulations on who can and cannot migrate to the United States—keeps them from realizing these rights on its soil as well. When immigrants in search of these supposedly divinely-endowed rights arrive unlawfully—crossing a border without inspection or over-staying a temporary visa—we make clear that they do not have the same rights as U.S. citizens, occasionally restricting their economic and, sometimes, their physical liberty.
Immigration policy questions are complex, and it is not always clear how easily-affirmed statements about human equality can be realized in laws and structures. As we talk about immigrants, though, my hope and prayer is that, at least within the Church, we affirm the dignity inside of each immigrant, made in the image of our God.
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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