(This is a translation of the Spanish language post published above.)
For years, immigration reform has been a hot-button issue in the United States. There has never been a time, however, when the topic of immigration was more controversial. Likely voters in the mid-term elections recently stated that immigration is their top concern. The recent controversy regarding the detainment of children at the border has added fuel to the fire.
Many Christians are asking what, if anything, Scripture says to guide us. Our first question when examining any issue should always be, “What does the Bible say?” By God’s grace, I hope to share some of those verses and principles with you. That being said, I am a pastor, not a politician. While I am more than willing to speak out on any moral issue the Word of God addresses, I do not believe you will find in the Bible a clear immigration policy for the twenty-first century. What you will find are principles that should shape how we, as Christians, view our immigrant neighbors. Politically, this is an issue on which good Christians will disagree. Spiritually, we can all agree on what is proper Christian conduct.
Let’s start with this: Jesus was an immigrant. You hear this story every year at Christmas. In Matthew 2, Herod attempted to eliminate the new “king of the Jews” by ordering the deaths of all male children in and near Bethlehem under two years of age. Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt. They fled to Egypt because God instructed them to and because doing so fulfilled prophecy. But by fleeing to Egypt, Jesus’ family became, in the truest sense of the word, “immigrants.”
The fact that our Savior was once an immigrant should cause us to look at the issue from a different standpoint. Imagine, for a moment, if Jesus had been born in 2018 and his family was forced to flee, not to Egypt, but to the United States. Ask yourself this: “How would you want Jesus to be treated?” However you answer that question, that is how you should treat your immigrant neighbors, those who came legally and those who did not. We must treat them as made in the image of God. We must treat them as sinners in need of a Savior. We must treat them as worthy of respect. Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing. You also must love the foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Love the foreigner!
Although I am not a fan of Jorge Ramos’ politics, I have benefitted from his insights into the plight of most immigrants. For example, Ramos said in his most recent book (my translation), “Immigrants do not go because they want to. They are almost obligated to become immigrants in another land…Who wants to leave their parents, brothers, and friends? The ideal would be to grow, work, and live with those who love you. But that’s not always possible.” There are certainly exceptions to what Ramos stated. Yes, some who illegally enter the United States do so for nefarious reasons. The majority, however, came because they were forced to separate themselves from a dangerous or precarious situation.
I learned Spanish while ministering to Mexican migrant workers in North Carolina. These men endured what can only be called hard labor, knowing that they would not be any better off because of it…but their children would. They did not want to be in the United States. I assure you that every one of them would have preferred staying in Mexico and being able to feed their families. For these men, that was not an option.
How would you want to be treated if you were in that situation? Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them.” This is known as the “Golden Rule.” At the time, there was a popular saying that stated, “Whatever harm you do not want done to you, do not do unto others.” Jesus turned the negative into a positive. Whatever good things you would want someone to do for you, do for them. How would you want to be treated if you were an immigrant? What good would you want done unto you? What blessings would you want others to bestow on you? That is how you should treat your immigrant neighbors.
According to Jesus, how we treat the most vulnerable is how we have treated Him and a reflection of whether we truly know Him. In Matthew 25, Jesus taught what is called “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.” In that parable, He repeatedly said that when you care for “the least of these,” you do so for Him. Speaking to the sheep in verses 35-36, He said, “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’” Notice in the middle of this list, Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you took me in.” “Stranger” can also mean “immigrant,” or “sojourner.” It means someone from the outside who is unknown to us. When we take them in, we take in Jesus.
Some have misquoted this verse to state that the United States is obligated to “take in” every person who desires to come. That is not the case. Jesus was not proposing an immigration policy for the Roman Empire. He was talking about how we, as Christians, treat the “strangers among us.” We take them in by caring for them when they are vulnerable, and meeting needs at a time when they are unable to do so for themselves.
I recently had the opportunity to see this in action. A member of my church who is a school teacher brought to our attention a little girl in her class whose family had just arrived in the United States. They did not own a thing except for the clothes on their backs. This teacher worked hard to provide beds for them to sleep on and clothes for them to wear. Our church met some important physical needs and I personally shared the gospel with them. The generosity of the church made a tremendous impact on them and I can only hope that the seeds we planted will result in the fruit of salvation.
In another example, one of our Sunday School teachers called me up a few years ago and asked for a couple hours of my time. God had put it on this brother’s heart to purchase a truckload of food and visit a part of town where central American men gather in the mornings in hope of work. Seeing he did not speak Spanish, he asked if I would accompany him to help give away the food and to distribute Bibles. I thought to myself afterward, “This guy gets it.”
Unfortunately, this is not how all Christians react. When I was a pastor in North Carolina, I once overheard one of my members say that there should be a law banning the speaking of any language but English in public. Try to imagine that you have been forced out of your homeland against your will. Now imagine a woman (and professing Christian) saying you should not be allowed to ask your wife whether you need to pick up a gallon of milk at Walmart because you lack the ability to do so in English! Such an attitude is unbelievably cruel and such cruelty should be nonexistent in the church of God.
More than anything else, when we think of the immigration issue, we should think like missionaries. We regularly emphasize the importance of the Great Commission. And yet, if the same person we want so badly to reach in a different country, happens to move to your town, should you not see that as an opportunity to witness? Would you really sacrifice your money to send a missionary to witness in Iran and not witness to an Iranian neighbor across the street? Whatever you believe about immigration reform, one thing is clear: God is bringing the nations to us and it is our job to share the gospel with them. Whether you agree or disagree with a particular immigration policy matters little. Whether you seize the opportunity to practice the Great Commission at home matters greatly.
If you are a born-again Christian, your allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. You can be a flag-waving, founding fathers citing, anthem-singing, pledge-quoting, barbeque-eating, America-loving patriot. (I am!) And yet, however much you love your country, you must love God’s kingdom more. And loving God’s Kingdom means seeing opportunities to share the gospel with everyone, including your immigrant neighbors.
I have an idea. Rather than spend five more minutes engaging in fruitless online debates about immigration, bless an immigrant neighbor. There are plenty to choose from! And let me let you in on a little secret. Many of our undocumented neighbors are afraid to attend an established church. They are afraid of the exposure. They are afraid that a police officer might attend that church, find out, and turn them in. There is only one way we can combat that: by loving our neighbors. Get to know them. Express genuine interest in them. Care about their needs. Show them the love of Christ. Earn their trust.
To some of you, this article will be deeply unsatisfying. You prefer the political debate to the spiritual discussion we should be having. If I honestly believed that our greatest problems were political, I would devote my life to politics. But whereas I believe our greatest problems are spiritual, I have devoted my life to the gospel. I hope you will as well.
Howard Harden received his BA at Samford, his MDIV and DMIN at Southeastern. He pastors FBC, Homestead, the oldest remaining SBC church in the Miami Baptist Association which has over 400 churches. He preaches four times a Sunday, three times in English and one time in Spanish. The church also has a worship service in Creole (Haitian mission).