Monday, February 13, 2017


Over the weekend a friend on Facebook questioned me about this issue of illegal immigration and the refugee crisis.

My original post was a link to an article that highlighted the inevitable clash between churches that offer amnesty or sanctuary to those fearing deportation, and the Immigration Enforcement Agencies that are tasked with finding, arresting and deporting these people.

His question was this:

"I am curious to hear your defense of someone illegally entering a foreign nation, and following that up with repeatedly violating multiple other laws of that nation while simultaneously illegally receiving a variety of monetary benefits...Surely you aren't going to argue that the mere "existence" of immigration laws represents an "unjust law" that - as a believer - can be morally ignored? I'm just trying to establish a 'baseline' for your argument, here. Where does 'just enforcement' begin, in your view? Or is there no such thing?"

It's a fair question and one that that I myself have wrestled with over the years as someone who has tried to reconcile my faith with everything else in my life. 

In the past, I might have tried to do exactly what he asked me to do: Justify the legality of immigration laws in our country, or seek to directly balance the words of Jesus with American immigration policy.

But that's not what I do anymore. I have a different perspective now. 

Here's how I answered my friend:

"Do I need to justify prostitution to care for a prostitute? Is it 'anti-criminal justice' to serve in prison ministry? Am I pro-drug use if I serve someone who is addicted to drugs?

"No. We show mercy and grace and the love of Jesus to everyone."
See, we don't need to limit our ministry to those who are "righteous" and "law-abiding". In fact, to do so would be completely pointless. 

If someone is already "good" then who needs Jesus?

And Jesus was quick to point out that it was only those who were sick who need a physician, and it's only those who admit they are blind that receive healing for their blindness.

The greatest blindness, of course, is not recognizing our own blind spots. If we fail to see ourselves in the outcast, and the poor, and the broken, then we also fail to see Jesus in them as well.

"Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done it unto me," Jesus reminds us. 

So, we really only love Jesus as much as we love the people around us who are poor, and weak, and hungry, and thirsty, and naked and in prison.

What's more, we are reminded in the New Testament that we ourselves are equally in need of Jesus and His mercy and grace and healing as anyone - and everyone - else we see:

"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?....And that is what some of you were." [1 Cor. 6:9-11]

We forget that we are no better than anyone else. We are all sinners saved by the same grace. We are all people who are dearly loved of God and in need of His endless mercy.

Refugees and illegal immigrants are people, just like you and me. They love their families. They want to live in peace. They are running from war and oppression and poverty and looking to find a new life here - just the way we would if it was our family - our children - who were starving and dying and in need of safety.

Regardless of what the laws might say, we are answerable to a higher authority. Jesus, our glorious eternal King, commands us to treat everyone - especially the weakest among us - as if they were Him. 

It's not our job to work out who is most deserving of His mercy. That's way above our pay grade. Our job is to love everyone we see and to recognize that our King commands us to be extravagant with our love. 

So, do I support illegal immigration? No, I don't. But I do support loving everyone around me. If those people happen to be illegal immigrants, or refugees, or Muslims, or anything else, my job is to love them as much as I love Jesus.

If you're following Jesus, it's your job too.


My new book, "Jesus Untangled:Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb" is available now on Amazon. 



Dan Notti said...

"my job is to love them as much as I love Jesus" I heartily agree with this and believe it should be our highest aspiration and aim! That said, I think another component of this discussion that is often disparaged and demeaned. It is the one that considers the encouragement to righteousness, or right behavior, as an ingredient of loving people.

Along with all the things that we can do for the folks we meet, both spiritually and physically, isn't there a place for encouraging abiding by the law? Wouldn’t that be something Jesus would do? And did do? Remember when he was asked about paying taxes to Caesar? They marveled at Him then, would they ridicule Him now?

To me, one thing it means to be right with God is to abide by legal authority -- as long as it does not go against my conscience and my obedience to God.

Given that, wouldn't there be merit in discussing the positive value of living within the law and pursuing lawful entrance into the country? I would think that if we knew someone who had committed a crime, we would encourage them to turn themselves in and have that offence cleared before men as well as God…right? What is the difference here?

I often wonder why it is so difficult for us to include the exhortation of Romans 13 in the discussion of illegal immigration…
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”

Just a thought…

Keith Giles said...

Dan, you said: "I think another component of this discussion that is often disparaged and demeaned. It is the one that considers the encouragement to righteousness, or right behavior, as an ingredient of loving people."

And I would agree, but I would add that "encouragement to righteousness, or right behavior" is never a prerequisite for loving people.

Often, this is where we end up, unfortunately. We justify being tight-fisted with the homeless because we tell ourselves "they'll only use it for booze or drugs". We justify shunning LGBTQ people because "they're living a sinful lifestyle", etc.

Keep in mind with the many immigrants who are being deported at the moment, many of them DID enter the US legally and they have visas, but those have expired years ago. Our immigration system has done a horrible job of keeping up with these people and giving them an easy path to extend those visas or apply for citizenship here.

I know several people who have tried - and many have failed - to jump through the hoops to obtain US citizenship. Most have shared with me how very complicated, expensive, confusing and painful that process often is.

That being said, this is a complicated issue and it's not as black and white as we might think.

It's also, from a common sense perspective, not a very good idea to forcibly arrest and deport thousands - or even millions - of people when they contribute billions to our economy [in Southern California alone!] and when they perform services that we depend on for food, transportation, etc.

Just look at what happened a few years ago in Georgia when they imposed a harsh immigration ban there. Food rotted in the fields because everyone ran away in fear. That wasn't good for farmers, consumers, or people who enjoy eating to survive.

All that aside, as followers of Jesus, our main mission is to love everyone as Jesus does and, I would argue, let others worry about enforcing the law.

That's my two and a half cents.

Love ya!

Pastor Karen McNeill-Utecht said...

I would add that this passage is often used to say that Jesus intended us to follow the law of the land or the ruler as if it were separate from who we are in faith. Actually, if that were true, why would one of the charges against him be that he forbid Jewish subjects from paying Roman taxes?

That phrase should always be understood in light of the second half of the verse, "render unto God the things that belong to God." A simple reading suggests that there is a human sphere and a God sphere. Then why did its meaning baffle some of his listeners? Simply put, everything belongs to God.

The fact that these Jewish leaders had the money in their pocket, which was against their law, showed that they already were giving tribute to the roman god-king. Which, in turn they tried to get him in trouble with both the Jews and the Romans.

Governments aren't bad per se, so long as they do not prevent us from exercising our calling as followers of God through Christ. When it maintains justice and equity for the greater good, then civil obedience is wise.

However, when there is a conflict between law or leaders that prevents us from following our mandate to love our neighbors, feed the poor, free the oppressed, et al., that is when we will be blessed when we are reviled for his name sake.