Could Alabama Baptists Lead the Way in Immigration Reform In America? (by Alan Cross)

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 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?


  1. Dave Miller says

    If Alabama Baptists can lead the way in finding a method of supporting laws against illegal immigration and yet still ministering to those people who are here, it will be a great service. Your suggestions here are worth examination!

  2. Jess Alford says

    Why is Alabama used for the example since the state ranks #31 from the most to fewest number of illegal immigrants? I couldn’t find the answer to this question.

    Why should the answer come out of Alabama since they don’t have a winning football, or basketball team and they will probably never have one.

  3. John K says

    Alan you ask the question
    “Could Alabama Baptists Lead the Way in Immigration Reform In America?”

    I do not think so.
    Does Alabama have the resources to learn 193 languages and cultures?
    Does Alabama have any background in implementation of diverse Immigration Reform?
    Does Alabama have any legal standing or experience to be able to address the our open boarders issues?

    Can Alabama be positive influence?

  4. says

    Alabama has the toughest state immigration laws in the nation and a whole bunch of churches and Christians. That is what I am talking about. You do not have to completely solve a problem to create some working models that could put forward real solutions if adopted on a larger scale.

    Alabama is not the San Francisco Bay Area in terms of diversity, but it has a long history of working at (and failing at) racial diversity and also has the potential to put forward some solutions to this problem.

    Anyone could really. Insert the name of your state into the equation and ask what could happen their is Christians lived sacrificially and with prophetic imagination in light of this issue. I am tired of sitting back, criticizing, and offering no real solutions to the problems before us. We can do better.

  5. Jess Alford says

    David Rogers,

    It just ocurred to me who you remind me of. Either, Do Prince Albert, or Al Borlan. Do you have any flannel shirts? :)

  6. says

    Alabama could certainly look at what other state conventions are already doing.

    The Baptist General Convention of Texas has a rather well-developed immigration ministry called ISAAC (The Immigration Service and Aid Center). ISAAC is a ministry of the BGCT and Buckner International.

    There are numerous staff members in Austin and Dallas and multiple ministries that do different types of outreach to immigrants, and do so in partnership with various other Baptist-affiliated institutions in the state like the Baptist University of the Americas.

    The approach of the BGCT to immigration issues is likely going to be very different from the approach of many Alabama Baptist leaders – just as Rick Perry and the Texas Republican Party approaches immigration issues in a strikingly different way than many conservatives elsewhere.

    There’s a reason for this, I think.

      • says

        If you remember, during the GOP primary debate, Romney went after Perry because here in Texas, undocumented kids can receive the in-state tuition rate at colleges and universities. Perry called Romney “cruel” if I remember correctly and the debate was downhill from there.

        So, we give the in-state rate and financial aid to undocumented kids to the tune of 30+ million over a 5 year period. Meanwhile, Alabama has the law you have, which is, to be kind, strict as strict can be. Those political differences, I think, reveal larger differences in attitudes toward Hispanics, IMO.

        I’ve taught college kids who are Hispanic whose great-great-great grandfather lived in Texas before Texas was a state and before Texas was a republic. We’ve had a significant Hispanic population, documented and undocumented for…forever essentially.

        And because of those historical realities, our culture is different and attitudes toward Hispanics and immigration issues are different. Not saying we’re perfect or anything, Far far from it. But a state like Texas is probably in much much better shape in terms of Hispanic-Anglo-Black relations than Alabama….because of our different history.

        Just reviewing US history, I don’t see many instances when the dominant racial/ethnic group of a region—whites in most instances—were overly welcoming to growing, sizable groups of new immigrants. You can’t authentically welcome and minister to those whose presence causes you some level of fear/anxiety and viewed as a threat to the status-quo (what O’Reilly has been calling “traditional America”). To some extent, AL’s new immigration law reflects those popular fears and anxieties. Those fears obviously exist. They haven’t gone away. They never go completely away.

  7. says

    Yes, David. Very good. That is the kind of thing I am talking about. I wonder what it would take for Alabama to start something like that or work with the one in Texas?

  8. says

    Great discussion and much needed by God’s people. I saw this tonight. This article has some good thoughts to bring to the discussion.

    He concludes, “Citing these poll results [in his piece] proves nothing about whether church members are right or wrong in their opinions. But together with all the uncertainties of biblical interpretation and social/economic analysis regarding immigration, these results suggest that wise church leaders ought to be cautious and modest in addressing this difficult and sensitive issue.”

    • says

      Good article, Les. I do not see anything there that I fundamentally disagree with. Like Dave said, this is a very complicated issue.

      The Government has sent mixed signals for sometime. Aligned with Big Business, a climate has existed that has allowed for Illegal Aliens to come here, work, and receive government benefits. Now, no one knows how to address it. My concern is not with the whole situation at this point, but simply with the person in need that we find in front of us. We should not fear the law of men when it comes to helping people. That is the situation I want to address in Alabama.

      All that I am asking the church to think about is this:

      1. How can we help the person in need in front of us in a way that shows love and honors God?
      2. Is there a way that we can help the person gain legal status?
      3. Is there a way that we can help the person obey the law with humane deportation that perhaps addresses some of their difficulty in their home country?
      4. How can we help keep families together?
      5. How can we help lead people to Christ and then walk out the implications of discipleship in submitting to the authorities?
      6. How can the Church be part of the solution in our communities instead of just turning a blind eye?
      7. Are we willing to pay the price to help someone in need. The Good Samaritan comes to mind here. At the end of the day, our own discipleship hangs in the balance.

      None of that addresses the law or trying to change the law or the role of the Government. Like I said, every nation and state has the right and responsibility to protect its borders and citizens and to enforce its laws. I am just calling for churches in Alabama to show Christian love to all people in light of the current situation.

      Thanks for that article. Good insight there.

  9. Bennett Willis says

    “Why is Alabama used for the example since the state ranks #31 from the most to fewest number of illegal immigrants?” From a very early comment.

    It is much easier to be righteous about something if doing so has little effect on the way you live. We would not be able to do this in Texas because of the impact that it would have on our lives but you can in Alabama since implementation (between the law being ignored and the relatively few illegal immigrants) will have little effect on how things are done on a day to day basis.

    This makes it easy for Republicans to be indignant and to look good to the base—just pass something that is tough, but which does not really matter, because we are not going to enforce it. Just curious, has there been any effort to enforce the law in Alabama? If there has, I’ll have to ask that this comment be deleted.