Alan blogs at Downshore Drift. This article is a follow-up to the article we published here a couple of days ago (link is below).
After my resolution on ministering to immigrants in Alabama did not make it out of the resolutions committee on Tuesday, I have become pretty motivated to think through this issue and I wonder if it might not be possible for Alabama Baptists to tell a better story than we have. I wrote about what happened here:
I understand the desire to affirm the law in regard to illegal immigration and I think that we should do that. Scripture tells us that we should submit to governmental authority. I know that there are people who are challenging the law in the courts and I think that is a good thing too, as that is their right as Americans. I also affirm those who would want to overturn the law through calling upon the legislature to do so. As Americans, we have those rights.
But, that is not really my concern – not today, anyway. The reason that I wrote the resolution is because I wanted to encourage Christians in Alabama to minister to people in need who they meet on a daily basis without fearing that they were breaking the law. The actual immigration law is kind of sketchy on whether or not it is okay to help illegal immigrants in need. It should have a “Good Samaritan” clause, but it does not. Still, that is not my primary point. My main issue is that Christians obey Scripture and help those in need no matter the legal situation.
But, beyond the immediate issue, could Christians in Alabama help solve the immigration problem in America? Here are a few ideas:
1. Could Christians and Churches help advocate for immigrants on the path to citizenship? Could we essentially be caseworkers for them to help them become legal, helping both with the cost and the work involved. My friend, David Rogers, left a comment on this post as it appeared on SBCVoices.com referencing Paul’s intervention in the situation between the runaway slave, Onesimus, and his master, Philemon. Non Christians have used this book to claim that Paul did not forbid slavery. But, he did something different – he morally delegitimized it through offering himself in sacrificial love and through lifting Onesimus from the status of slave to brother. Here are David’s words:
As I commented over at Alan’s blog, I believe the book of Philemon is a good case study on this topic. In many ways, Onesimus, as a runaway slave, was the counterpart in that day and context to an “illegal immigrant” today. We do not know how Paul first came into contact with Onesimus, but we do know that he led him to Christ. I don’t think it is a far stretch of the imagination to assume he first ministered in some way to his physical and/or psychological needs. We do know that Paul took the initiative to intervene on his part, writing a letter to Philemon, requesting lenience for Onesimus’ disobedience, and asking that, beyond that, he treat him as if he were not a slave. Paul even offered to pay himself all the legal costs involved in the exchange. I believe it is significant that the letter to Philemon is also addressed to the entire church of which he was a member, thus insinuating that he expected the whole church to be involved and to take an active role in responding to his request to Philemon.
As we attempt to apply these principles to the situation today of “illegal immigrants,” I think that, as Christians, and as churches, we should reach out to them and show them the love of God, with the hope of winning them to Christ. We should not just turn a blind eye to their illegal situation, but should rather become personally involved, doing what we can to help them to remedy it, even it means putting our own time, energy, and resources on the line to help make it happen.
2. As Christians ministered to immigrants and identified illegal aliens in our midst, what if we either helped them become illegal or, if that were not possible, helped them return to their home country, paying their way and helping their family when they arrived home? The main reason that they have come here is for economic reasons. What if we used our massive wealthy to alleviate their situation, help them obey the law, and work with them to benefit their family back home, all while sharing the love of Christ with them? That sounds crazy, I know. It sounds like it would cost us something. I get it. It also sounds like it would be abused. Yep. But, what if we spent ourselves on behalf of the hungry as Isaiah 58 tells us? What if we sacrificed ourselves instead of used the law to protect ourselves? What if we did not see the illegal immigrant as an “other” to be despised, but as a human being made in God’s image that could be lavished with grace?
3. If the State expects the citizens of Alabama to be, in effect, immigration agents, what if the Church stepped in as a place of refuge, assimilation, and compassionate deportation? For those who had children born in the United States and are U.S. citizens, we know that the Federal Government does not want to deport the parents and leave the children as orphans. So, what if we worked to keep those families together legally so they could come out of the shadows and live productive lives? What if the legion of lawyers that are in our churches did this work pro bono so they could help others in need? What if the Church, especially Baptists in Alabama, told a better story?
4. As Southern Baptists in Alabama, we have many leaders of business, government, education, and society in our churches. We know who the employers of illegal immigrants are. We know the businesses that hire illegal aliens to work cheaply and under the radar. These businesses often serve us in many capacities. What if we identified these businesses and offered ourselves to them to help educate their workers and help them become legal workers here with at least a work visa if not citizenship? If the business does not want to cooperate because they would rather pay $3 an hour, then it is not an ethical business and Baptists in Alabama should not work with them. Their business would dry up rather quickly. If we don’t want to do this because we are afraid that higher labor costs would drive up the prices of our vegetables or roofs or construction or other businesses or industries, then we are admitting that the real problem is us. On the one hand, we vote for Republicans who try to get rid of illegal aliens and on the other hand we like them here because they keep things cheap through their cheap labor. Hopefully, we could help change the business climate.
5. Advocate for human rights everywhere. Whenever we see people being abused or in poverty or being taken advantage of, we should step in and say no to this. We should help those in need and call upon those doing the abuse to stop.
There are a lot of things that Alabama Baptists are aware of in our communities where we do nothing. That should change.I am fine with obeying the law. The law gives us an opportunity to radically display the love of Christ in a difficult situation. The law cannot solve the problems of our state. Alabama Baptists make up roughly 17% of the population of Alabama and still have a lot of influence. What if we used our influence on something that could mark a way for the rest of the country? What if Alabama Baptists demonstrated how local Christians through Christian love and sacrifice could help address a problem that the Federal Government or State Government had no answer for? What if the future of the American Church is found in the sacrifice of the present?
I want to think about this some more and try to think through what Baptists in Alabama can do to tell a better story – a Gospel story – in regard to immigration. Perhaps the way to reclaim our witness in this state and in America is right in front of us?