A few years ago, Russell Moore took a lot of heat for pointing out that Jesus was once an illegal immigrant. Dr. Moore took even more heat for imploring Christians in America to allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ to shape their rhetoric in reference to immigration. I can only imagine the kind of vitriol Dr. Moore’s article would’ve have earned him had it been published in 2016. That being said, I don’t understand the high level of consternation that the brief article provoked among professing Christians. It wasn’t overly political and, more importantly, it was and remains a true and good reminder to keep our focus on the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Of course, a country must secure its borders. I’ve never claimed otherwise, and neither did Dr. Moore. In fact, he very plainly wrote,
I agree that the border should be secured. I support holding businesses accountable for hiring, especially since some of them use the threat of deportation as a way of exploiting these vulnerable workers. I support a realistic means of providing a way to legal status for the millions of immigrants already here.
For the record, I wholeheartedly concur with that paragraph lifted from Dr. Moore’s article. However, like Dr. Moore, I’m troubled by the ways in which many professing Christians interact with the issue of immigration, both in word and deed.
For starters, our most important priority as Christians should be—overwhelmingly—to obey our King’s final earthly command to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Are my first thoughts when confronted by immigrants—or even discussions about immigrants—about my safety or my wallet or a political agenda? Or am I thinking that the immigrants, undocumented or not, are humans made in the Image of God who are in need of Jesus? If it’s the former, then my priorities are out of whack—sinfully so.
Dovetailing with the fact that sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be priority number one for Christians in reference to immigrants, we should also strive to speak about immigrants with words and a tone that reflects God’s words and tone in the Bible. Sadly, much of the rhetoric from professing Christians in America concerning immigration is filled with resentment, anger, and even hatred at times, and is used to promote strife and sow discord.
If an undocumented immigrant hears me spew vitriol in reference to him and his fellow immigrants, why should he listen to me when I share the good news about Jesus Christ with him? Well, the answer is that he shouldn’t and probably won’t. Further, and sadly, I highly doubt that those whose speech is dominated by vitriol and strife are concerned about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with immigrants to begin with. Disobeying King Jesus should not be taken lightly, and any political ideology that places stumbling blocks in front of the Great Commission is a political ideology that should be discarded by Christians.
Once again, none of that is to say that nations shouldn’t strive for ways to secure their borders. For example, the Bible assumes the principle of private property. In His Word, God reveals that humans have the responsibility before Him to respect others’ private property. It is just and right to seek ways to preserve and protect the material things that God has blessed us with. But, those whom God has materially blessed also have a responsibility before God to serve others with and through their private property. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to leave the corners of their fields unharvested. They were commanded to do so in order to provide food “for the poor and the sojourner” (Leviticus 23:22). For the record, the word “sojourner” could also be translated “immigrant.”
The Book of Ruth is a beautiful example of a wealthy citizen demonstrating philanthropic love for an immigrant. Instead of demanding that Ruth go through the process of being legally hired as one of his day laborers, Boaz sends her home with enough food to last for months. He then not only forbids his workers from harassing Ruth, he instructs them to make sure that they are leaving extra grain behind for her. I would imagine that Boaz’s words and actions would make him a political anathema among many professing Christians in America.
Christians should desire an immigration policy that seeks to both protect and preserve our nation’s material blessings while reflecting God’s generous love and compassion. We should want to open our materially blessed country, our comfortable homes, and our hearts to the poor and the sojourner. We should want to do this because God loves us and whatever material blessings we have are from Him and should be used for Him. And we should want to open our land, our homes, and our hearts to the poor and the sojourners because throughout the Bible, God reveals that it’s His will for His people to heap compassion and love on other humans, including immigrants, for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.