In light of President Obama's speech last night on why he is taking action regarding immigration, here's a post I wrote last year on how Christians should respond to immigration reform.
Perhaps the most beloved story in the Gospels, and indeed maybe the
favorite story for many from the entire Bible, is the story of Jesus’
birth. Even when it is not the time for Christmas, the familiar
nativity story lives on in our hearts and minds, narrating for us the
incarnation of God into the world in the person of Jesus. Yet, while we
celebrate and retell the story with feelings of warmth and comfort,
from its beginning to its end the story is a narrative about the
rejection of Jesus as a stranger and alien in a foreign land.
tells us that when Jesus was born, Mary laid him in a feeding trough
because there was no room for him in the inn. Matthew narrates a story
about a young family having to live a nomadic life because of the threat
of governing authorities. While these stories may not be entirely
historical, both birth narratives reflect what Jesus knew to be true
about his own life, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke
9:58). Throughout his life, while Jesus did gather a small following,
in most cases, he was rejected. The story of the incarnation, then, is a
story about how the God of creation had entered into that creation as a
rejected alien and stranger. Can this story shed biblical light on the question concerning our current immigration policies?
I am ill-equipped to answer questions about
immigration from a legal stand point, and I see the strengths and
weaknesses of various positions on the issue. But as Christians who
follow a Savior who himself lived as an alien rejected by his own, I am
troubled that many folks are not concerned about developing a
compassionate response to the immigration issue.
the horror of 9/11, xenophobia has been prevalent in
our country. This fear of foreigners has grown out of a return to an
entrenched and zealous patriotism that has gone too far in its
understanding of America as the only culturally pure society. Yet, some
blame must also be placed on our fear of not feeling secure and the
perception that American culture is under threat. Such xenophobic
tendencies may overtly or implicitly influence our feelings about
immigrants and our political positions on the issue of immigration.
might Scripture inform us as we struggle to formulate common sense and
faithful Christian responses to the issue of immigration? First, we
need to recall God’s commands to Israel regarding aliens in their midst.
The Mosaic Law states that God is one “who executes justice for the
orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food
and clothing.” Moses goes on to command Israel to “love the stranger,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:17-19).
we turn to the New Testament, we find that followers of Christ are
called citizens of the kingdom of God, and alien and strangers to the
world. The Christian movement negated ethnic differences and crossed
boundaries of ethnic separation to welcome all into the kingdom of God.
Jesus consistently reaches out to the outcasts of society, even the
Gentile, who were viewed as ethnically inferior by the Jewish religious
leaders. Paul reaffirms the breaking down of ethnic divisions by
stating that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, as both have been
joined together into one new humanity (see Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-22).
thing we must keep in mind is that most immigrants we see and meet in
our communities are not undocumented immigrants. They are law abiding
citizens who desire a better economic and political life for themselves
and their families. We should remember that at some point in history
our ancestors were immigrants to this country seeking exactly what
immigrants to the U.S. seek today. Moreover, we cannot simply blame
immigrants for problems such as crime, loss of jobs, or other social
programs. These problems would exist even if there were no immigrants.
And, while there may be as many as 11 million
undocumented immigrants in the U.S., many of these are hard working people
who are seeking a better life for themselves and for their families.
The majority contribute to the economy of this nation, including doing
many jobs that Americans will not perform, as well as starting small
businesses in the entrepreneurial spirit of America, as a report
on NBC indicated.
people of faith, we should be informed about this important issue and
voice our religious conscience. But if we claim to follow Jesus, we
need to make sure our views are more informed by the compassion of our
faith than the fear our culture feeds us. Our positions on the issues
surrounding immigration must not only model the teachings of Jesus on
welcoming the strangers and outcasts, they should also be views that see
the person of Jesus in every human being. If they do not, we may find
ourselves asking Jesus, “When did we see you as a stranger?” only to
hear, “Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did
not do it to me” (Matt. 25:31-46).