This past Wednesday, United States immigration authorities arrested 680 undocumented workers in Mississippi in what Mike Hurst—the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi—said was the “largest single state immigration enforcement operation in our nation’s history.” As reports came in, it was apparent that this was something important.
I live in Mississippi. I have both lived and served in two of the areas affected by these arrests. I grew up and pastored in Carthage, MS and lived in Morton, MS, where my dad pastored. When I was a bi-vocational pastor in Carthage, I worked at the local high school. I taught English and coached football daily encountering students whose parents were undocumented. My children very likely went to school with some of the children who lost parents on their very first days of school.
As I have had the opportunity to reflect on what has happened, I want to propose a few pastoral reflections that I have come to as I have thought about what happened this week.
1. Let’s not let our political views overshadow the Gospel.
I get it: many of these folks were undocumented workers. But understand also, not all of those who were arrested were. I have talked to people from one of the plants that was affected, who told me that they arrested American citizens. Why? Honestly, it seems like they were arrested because they were Hispanic. These workers were eventually released but this should cause us to be concerned.
I understand that the State has an obligation to make and enforce the laws and Christians have an obligation to the State (Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-14). I understand that the issue on our Southern border truly is one of national security. I understand that many of the immigration laws and policies are outdated and ineffective. I realize that there is still much to be done politically in this area of American life. However, I also realize that we are talking about real people with real families in real communities that are really hurting. No matter what we think or feel about the issues surrounding immigration we must remember the people and families that have been affected are people who bear the image of Christ. We must remember that these people matter to Christ and, as such, should matter to us. How we react to this situation shows what we truly believe about the Gospel.
2. Let’s weep with those who weep.
Understand, many children who are American citizens went to school while their parents were being arrested. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Imagine this. Many of these children were left with no place to go; in response, many of the schools had to come up with emergency shelters simply to give these children a place to go. Again, I realize that many of these adults were being arrested because they were breaking the law but the kids left outside in tears were innocent victims.
One of the most common responses to this that I have heard is that this is no different than when American children are separated from their American parents who are arrested. True. However, many Christians are using this simply as a way to deflect from the fact that our hearts are not concerned at all with this. We indict ourselves for not caring about children in general if we fail to weep for either. As Christians, we are called to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and if we do not weep for either, what does this really say about us?
3. Let’s err on the side of compassion.
We have been commissioned to take the Gospel to the ends of the world but we are missing out on the fact that the world is desperate to come here. Many small towns in Mississippi are even seeing an influx of people from all around the world. These are opportunities for us to make a difference for the Kingdom of Christ. We no longer have to go to the ends of the earth because the ends of the earth are next door and our children are playing together. Let us be committed to living an ethic of compassion as we seek to both love our neighbors and take the Gospel to them.
4. Let’s remember the Gospel of grace.
I am reminded by the words of Christ at the Last Judgment when he separates the sheep from the goats: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:34-35).
We must remember that if not for the Gospel of grace we would all be guilty and unworthy of entering the only Kingdom that matters. If we care more about our earthly citizenship than our heavenly one, we may find ourselves enjoying neither the way we should.
5. Let’s remember the blessings that God has given us.
I recently read a book that made an incredibly insightful claim: “millions of people still knock at the doors of this country, while emigration from it, which one would expect to be substantial, given how much discontent with it is being constantly publicly expressed, remains astonishingly rare” (Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism: A Short History, 63). There is much truth in this statement. We Americans enjoy common grace simply by being born here. There is no wonder why people want to come here. We Christians enjoy special grace and we should be willing to extend it to others.