How Should Christians Respond to the Immigration Debate?

One of the hot-button topics in our country today is the debate over immigration. I’m referring specifically to those individuals from other countries who attempt to bypass the normal channels of legal immigration.

We’ve been inundated in recent weeks with news coverage over the separation of families; the conditions of the detention centers; raids by ICE in various cities; and the competing and contradictory viewpoints of the political parties. It’s impossible to imagine that there is anyone in our country who isn’t aware of this issue and who doesn’t have some kind of opinion on it.

The way that you view this issue will primarily determine your response to it. You can frame it as primarily a legal issue, a moral issue, a compassion issue, an economic issue, a societal issue, or a political issue.  How you frame this issue will largely determine which side of the debate you fall on.

Each viewpoint has its go-to arguments that for them provides an iron-clad answer. It would be interesting for someone to look at this issue taking into consideration all of the different points of view equally and offering a solution.

For the Christian (and that’s who I primarily write for) this is also a spiritual issue. And that should be where we begin.

Let me make it clear that I am not addressing this in the framework of a national policy as much as I am your own personal attitude. A Christian’s first concern should be our personal perspective.

However, even framing the immigration debate in a spiritual context does not guarantee agreement (when did we ever have agreement when it comes to the spiritual?!). But there are a few things as Christians that we need to consider as each of us develop our own personal opinion.

Let me give you a few things to think about.

First, the Bible has a lot to say about immigrants, especially in the Old Testament, and we need to take all of it into account, remembering that Israel spent time as immigrants in Egypt. I understand that America is not Israel but the various statements in the Old Testament related to the foreigner/alien/stranger (all terms related to non-Israelites) show us something about the heart of God. Statements like the following need to be considered.

You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21).

If a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33).

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. (Zechariah 7:10).

These statements address a number of different issues related to the immigrants in Israel, but one of the primary applications is how they relate to the worth and the dignity of a person. We are to treat illegal immigrants the same way we treat anyone else in terms of their worth and their dignity.

Another consideration is Christ’s statement in Matthew 22 that we are to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). This doesn’t refer just to just those who are in our country legally. It refers to anyone you come into contact with. In the context of the immigration debate, how do you love your illegal neighbor?

A third consideration for the Christian is the relative importance of this world in contrast to the next. Even though Abraham lived in a land promised to him by God, he was not tied to that land. In fact, we’re told that he lived there as if he was living in a foreign country. For him the Promise Land was not home for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:9-10).

Abraham was all about what is to come, not what is now. And that should be our perspective. On a scale of 1-10 where we live now doesn’t even make the chart compared to the 10 of heaven. Which makes the spiritual viewpoint far more significant than any other.

One way to assess where you stand on this issue is to ask yourself the question, What’s more important to me, keeping the illegal immigrant out of my country or helping him/her get to heaven? You answer reveals your heart.

Finally, take into consideration that people are always more important than policies. Jesus came for people not policies. Jesus died for people not policies. Jesus rose for people not policies. And Jesus is coming back for people not policies.

I understand that for our nation, or any nation to function there has to be laws and policies. And because every leader is human, every policy will be less than perfect. But again, my emphasis is not on policy but on our attitudes toward this delicate issue.

Sometimes as Christians we hide our less than admirable attitudes behind the language of policy.

One of the most helpful articles I’ve read from a Christian perspective on the immigration issue is What the Bible Says About the Current Immigration Crisis. You can read it at

And remember, always, always, always make it about people not policies. If you have to err, do it on the side of people, not policies.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Rethinking the Immigration Debate

Few issues have fueled the fires of debate in our society like illegal immigration. This one issue alone has set friend against friend; conservative against liberal; federal government against state governments; race against race – and unfortunately Christian against Christian.

Each side in this debate has their arguments but as Christ-followers our views need to be more informed by the teachings of scripture than the rhetoric of a political party. Yes, Romans 13 bears on the issue, but it is not the only Biblical teaching that does. For the Christian, this goes much deeper than simply keeping the law or respecting civil authority.

Among other things, our response needs to be informed by:

1. Grace. By definition grace is giving and receiving what is undeserved. Do illegal immigrants deserve to enjoy the freedoms and blessings of our country? Not according to some but that’s exactly where grace comes in. Wherever you are on this issue, you need to make sure that grace is part of your answer. God dealt with us on a far more serious issue than immigration (sin) on the basis of grace (Ephesians 2:8), He continues to relate to us by grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) and He expects us to show grace to others (Colossians 4:6). How can we who have been recipients of grace not in turn show grace?

2. Mercy. Like grace, mercy needs to be part of our answer to this difficult issue. In scripture mercy or compassion is normally associated with the weakest and most vulnerable in society, IE the neediest. The vast majority of immigrants certainly fit into this category. Even if you are a proponent (and I suspect that most readers of my blog are) of the rule of law, even this must be tempered by mercy. King David wrote in Psalm 25:7 do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to your mercy remember me. Isn’t that how we want God to deal with us? None of us would ask God to deal with us based only on His justice (rule of law). If He did we would be lost. We want God to deal with us on the basis of His mercy and that’s how we need to deal with other people – even illegal immigrants.

3. Love. The greatest commandment according to Christ is to love God and love our neighbor (Luke 10:27). The parable of the Good Samaritan was told to explain who our neighbor is. In short your neighbor is the person that God puts in your path who has the deepest need – whether they are in our country legally or illegally. Our response is to meet their need in love.

4. The Gospel. As strange as it sounds this too needs to be included in our answer. Even illegal immigrants are people who need to hear the gospel. We have a great opportunity to share Christ with people who have come to our country, regardless of their legal status. We can literally go . . . and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) without ever leaving our country. Too many Christians are too focused on getting rid of the illegals when our first focus should be on sharing Christ with them.

5. Our Speech. Too often Christians use the same harsh rhetoric as everyone else when discussing this issue. We talk about those people as if they were less than human. We decry the fact that they are using our health care and welfare resources (does mercy matter here?). We can’t even say the word immigrant without a harsh tone creeping into our voice. We forget that when we speak the truth (and we need to on this and all other issues) we need to speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15). Love for God, love for others, even love for illegals.

6. People. I recognize that one of the foundations of our society is the rule of law. We are, at least by definition, a country of laws. Even our leaders are subject to the law. That’s why so many people want to come here, even if they have to come illegally, because this is a land of opportunity and safety. And we are a land of opportunity and safety because we have laws. But laws can never be more important than people. Christ died for people not for laws. And somehow as we debate this issue in our country we need to remember that we are dealing with people who carry in themselves the image of God. People who were created by God. People who are loved by God.

The immigration debate needs to be moved out of the emotional realm and, for the Christian, into the Biblical/theological realm. It’s time that we stopped listening to the political pundits and starting listening to God. When you do you may be amazed at how it will inform your thinking.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve