ASK BOB: How Should Christians Respond to Immigration Issues?

Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.



I have a question about immigrants that enter the US illegally.  Some may or may not commit crimes but nevertheless are often protected and provided for in sanctuary cities. My questions:  1) Why do many clergy and churches seem to side with the view that it is ok to not obey US immigration laws and defend immigrants that break them? 2) Is there some biblical reference to justify disregarding or not obeying the current laws of the land as it regards to illegal immigration?



You are right.  Many preachers, including evangelical ministers, are sympathetic to the concept of open borders and sanctuary cities, even if it means disregarding the Scriptural teaching about obeying the law of the land.  I think there are several reasons for that position.

(1) The Old Testament repeatedly encouraged the Jewish people to treat the alien with respect and generosity. “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”  (Exodus 23:9)

(2) Both the Old and New Testaments instruct God’s people to be kind and sympathetic to the poor and needy. Jesus said, “The same as you do it to the least of these, you do it unto me.”

(3) Many evangelicals see those immigrating to the United States as potential converts to Christianity.  We’re commanded to make disciples of all nations.  What better way to evangelize foreign countries than to win people from another nation to Christ?  Hopefully, they, in turn, will witness to their friends and family members back home.

(4) Another contributing factor is the historical precedent of European Christians harboring Jewish people and helping them escape German death camps during World War II. No one would accuse Corrie Ten Boom’s family of going contrary to God’s will when they hid Jewish people in their home.  Even though they were disobeying Nazi laws, they were doing the will of God.  National laws are not to be obeyed if they contradict God’s laws. When Peter and John were commanded by the authorities not to preach any more about Jesus, they responded that they had to obey God not man.  (See Acts 4:18-20)

However, I think Christians who intentionally break American immigration laws are making a mistake.  While we are instructed to help the poor and the oppressed, there is a limit to what we can do.  For example, the Bible instructs Christians to practice hospitality, but we can’t take hundreds of people into our home at the same time.  The head of the family first has an obligation to provide for and protect his own children.

A compassionate nation needs to welcome immigrants, but there is a limit to the number that can be assimilated.  It’s a tough decision to turn someone away, but that’s a decision that is entrusted to government leaders — not individual whims.  The European Union has practiced lenient immigration policies in recent years which has resulted in a migrant crisis in many European countries.

Just as we would expect guests in our home to respect and abide by our rules, our country’s leaders need to ensure those immigrating to our country agree to abide by our laws and respect our values.  The Old Testament commanded the Israelites to be consistent with foreigners in their land when it came to administrating the law.  “You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born”  (Leviticus 24:22).  There was not to be a double-standard of justice. It’s not in the best interest of our nation to welcome immigrants who are predetermined to live according to a separate set of laws, disrespect our values, or even harm us.  The result of a totally open border policy is increased division, anger, and violence – not increased evangelism.

America has traditionally been a nation that welcomes immigrants.  That’s a wonderful legacy.  However, there is a legal process to enter and become a citizen of this country.  The Bible also puts a high value on justice.  It is unfair to those who go through the proper legal procedure to allow others to “cut in line” or disregard the law altogether.

There are laws currently on the books about how aliens can apply for citizenship. There are also laws describing how long a non-citizen can reside in this country and what they have to do to extend their stay.  One of the reasons we have such a huge problem with immigration is that we have been so lax and inconsistent in enforcing those laws.  For years businesses have looked the other way and taken advantage of cheap labor. Now there are millions of non-citizens and their children living in the shadows, hoping not to be discovered or deported.

There is no easy answer to the immigration issue.  Any caring person is opposed to deporting all who are here illegally.  But when individual Christians intentionally break the law it only compounds the problem instead of helping to resolve it.

In seeking a compassionate solution, it’s comforting to remember that we are not the only alternative.  There are other countries where refugees can go and be welcomed and prosper.  If we turn some away, we are not relegating them to gas chambers or total despair.  They may have an even better chance in another country where they may not have to learn a new language or their opportunities for employment are enhanced.

In my opinion, sanctuary cities can compound the problem.  When mayors disregard federal laws and refuse to report the whereabouts of illegals, specifically those who are repeating, dangerous criminals they endanger law-abiding citizens.  The result is escalating crime and a breakdown of the rule of law.  Solutions are complex, but there must be consistent, enforced laws so that everyone knows where the parameters are and what to expect when laws are disobeyed.

This is one of the reasons it’s important that we elect leaders and lawmakers who know God and respect His Word.  “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”  (Proverbs 29:2)

– Bob

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