Today the immigration problem has greatly polarized evangelical Christians across America. As a group, our views are shaped by diverse and partial understandings of the Scripture and by the values and attitudes of our surrounding community and culture. Unfortunately the latter perspectives frequently have greater influence than the former, as we allow the world to “squeeze us into its mold.” Often heated debates ensue, adding to the confusion and tensions. Emotions run high, giving rise to outbursts that typically produce a lot more heat than light. As a result, our ability to make a real difference in people’s lives in the midst of this crisis continues to wane.
One of the biggest ironies in this situation relates to what we call ourselves—evangelicals—a term derived from the Greek New Testament phrase good news. Christ used this word at the beginning of His ministry, when He announced His purpose for coming to earth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19 NIV).
The sad irony is that instead of proclaiming good news in today’s immigration crisis, our disorganized and divisive voices have been lost in the cacophony of sounds coming from the world. Our nation and churches have not heard a prophetic word from the Lord on this matter. As a result, evangelical Christians are missing a huge opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of millions of individuals who have chosen to come and live among us.
A Clear Path
The immigration problem should not be dividing evangelicals! The following pathway—involving three radical steps—would enable us to give a clear biblical witness of what it means to be an evangelical. In this way, we can offer good news to our hurting and divided nation.
Pray the Prayer of a Sinner
Step one is based on a foundational evangelical truth: We have all sinned and are in need of God’s continuing forgiveness and grace. For that reason, our Lord taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins.”
This certainly includes those who are here without legal documents. Some of them have portrayed themselves as innocent victims. While this may be the case for a few, most are largely if not wholly responsible for their current situation, and they know it. Typically, they entered the country with a temporary visa and overstayed their allotted time, or they came across the border surreptitiously. The vast majority came here in search of a better life, are hard and diligent workers, and deeply desire to learn English and become American citizens. Regardless of their motives, personal qualities, and legal situation, they are not innocent victims.
A growing number of these illegal immigrants are coming to faith in Christ. They too have joined us in praying, “Forgive us our sins.” Some of these newborn brothers and sisters in Christ choose to return to their home country, while for others doing so would be difficult if not almost impossible. Given the complexities of their situations, we can be thankful that we are not called to be their judge—that role belongs to God.
Our responsibility is to love them and pray that God will guide them in their lives and decisions.
At the same time, the rest of us also are in need of God’s continuing forgiveness and grace. This certainly includes our government, whose right hand almost never knows what the left hand is doing. The result continues to be confusing signals for everyone involved. Nearly twenty years have passed since an amnesty for illegal immigrants was granted in the late ’80s, and Congress has just now begun to take a serious look at the situation.
As much as our government has ignored the problem, we as American citizens have not held our government officials accountable for this negligence. In the meantime, while we all enjoy the benefits of immigrant labor that are interwoven throughout our economy and way of life, we also suffer from the negative ramifications of this growing problem.
As a result of this negligence, today an estimated eleven million people are marginalized in our land, including millions of innocent children who have had no say in their situation. Because we all have sinned and come short of what God expects of us, we are in need of His forgiveness and grace. Certainly the Lord’s word to Solomon is also fitting for evangelical Christians today in America: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV).
By taking this first step, seeking God’s forgiveness and grace, we as evangelical Christians could exemplify a radically different way of viewing and responding to the immigration problem.
Profess Jesus Christ as Lord
Secondly, we are called to profess Jesus Christ as Lord and render to Him our first allegiance. For our undocumented brothers and sisters in Christ, this means they must look to Jesus for their salvation and not to the “American Dream.” He is their only true hope for a future of abundant living.
For the rest of us as American citizens, now is the time for a serious reality check. Two basic truths are increasingly obvious. One, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants will not go back to their home countries on their own regardless of how tightly they may be squeezed by restrictive laws and regulations. And two, our government will never muster the resolve or allocate the needed resources to export them. Most are here to stay, having staked their lives and well-being on becoming American citizens and joining the rest of us in this immigration nation to forge a future together.
Given these realities, evangelicals need to pray regularly for our leaders, that God will give them the wisdom and courage to address this situation in a reasonable, compassionate, and timely manner. Furthermore, we also need our Lord’s wisdom and guidance regarding how to exercise our influence. Measures that would deprive innocent children of basic human services should be vigorously opposed, along with any other harsh restrictions that would further marginalize these immigrants and only drive them deeper into the shadows. Given that we all have had a part in creating this situation, we need to stand against any attempts to place undue burden on these disenfranchised people.
Above all, we need to remember that we are first and foremost citizens of God’s Kingdom and fellow pilgrims on earth in a foreign land. As such, we need to allow our attitudes and actions to be shaped by Kingdom values. On one hand, our hearts need to be broken by God each day for the millions of lost immigrants in our midst, compelling us to reach out to them with His message of forgiveness and hope. On the other hand, we need God’s wisdom in relating to our undocumented brothers and sisters in Christ who find themselves in their current predicament. When faced with the temptation to judge them, we need to release that sentiment to the Lord and ask Him to fill us with greater understanding and sympathy regarding each person’s unique situation.
Proclaim the Year of our Lord’s Favor
Finally, as citizens of God’s coming Kingdom, we are called to join our Savior Jesus Christ in proclaiming the year of our Lord’s favor. Forgiveness, redemption, grace, and release—this is the good news God calls us as evangelicals to proclaim in His name. Where the privileged majority in our land conspires to protect and advance its acquired advantages, and our government waffles, evangelicals need to stand in the gap.
The Scriptures are abundantly clear regarding our call as Christians to care for the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, and the immigrant. Nowhere is there a caveat saying that these admonitions are only applicable to those with legal papers. Nor should Christ’s body, the Church, be called on to be enforcers of the laws and regulations of the land. One may ask, but shouldn’t we be law abiding citizens? Certainly, but not policemen! That is the role of our government. May the day never come when the leaders of our country try to entangle the
in cleaning up the mess caused by years of their waffling and negligence! May God bless the church that unwaveringly fulfills her calling to be a house of refuge and to provide sustenance to sojourners and foreigners and those in need! Church of Jesus Christ
This is the path God calls His people to take in His name, proclaiming good news in the midst of the immigration crisis. First, we are all called to confess our sins each day and seek His forgiveness and grace. Second, we are called to profess Jesus Christ as Lord and align ourselves with the values of His Kingdom. Finally, we are called to proclaim the year of our Lord’s favor. In this way, evangelical Christians can make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people both for today and for all eternity. •
—Norman G. Wilson is professor of religion and philosophy at
Indiana Wesleyan University