Bernie Diaz, June 20, 2018
A crack in the election foundation of the Trump Administration has surfaced in its attempts to reform America’s long-broken immigration policy, forcing an in-house debate among evangelical Christians torn between their biblical mandate to show compassion and mercy towards alien immigrants or “sojourners”, and the support for the president’s efforts to make this country’s borders safer.
In the wake of news and media reports that the White House had directed border officials to detain infants and young children in three so-called “tender age” shelters at the Mexican-U.S. border, after being separated from their families who illegally crossed into the United States, President Trump signed an executive order ending the process of separating children from parents who cross the border illegally.
“We want to keep families together. It’s very important,” the president told reporters. Though the White House had yet to release details of the order at the time of this post, earlier reports indicated the Homeland Security Secretary drafted one requiring immigration officials to detain children along with their parents, thereby keeping families together.
The new policy came amid a mounting outcry against the administration’s “zero tolerance” stance toward illegal immigrants, announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which had reportedly led to the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents since April.
Child welfare advocates decried the trauma suffered by children taken from their parents with no idea when they might see them again. “The shelters aren’t the problem, it’s taking kids from their parents that’s the problem,” said one South Texas pediatrician, who has visited the shelters. Doctors and lawyers given access to the facilities described rooms full of children crying hysterically and immigrants being caged in allegedly less than humane conditions.
The President took to Twitter of course to blast his opponents for the problem, blaming the failed policies of prior Democratic administrations for the sorry state of our immigration plight and border security (i.e. DACA-“Dreamers”).
Indeed, no rational American should dismiss the dire state of illegal immigration in the U.S, where more than 12 million undocumented aliens may be living in this country, costing taxpayers billions of dollars in welfare type aid, health care and education, to say nothing of illegal immigration’s inherent risk to national security, posing threats of international terrorism and violence from criminals with bad intent entering into the United States.
Therefore, the conundrum which has long baffled pro-family conservatives and biblically minded Christians, is what to do about this massive problem? How do we reconcile border security and responsible immigration policy – including limits as to how many immigrants may enter this country, with compassion and ministry to illegal, God image-bearing immigrants?
On the one hand, both first lady Melania Trump and former first lady Laura Bush, questioned if not condemned the recent White House policy. “This zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart Mrs. Bush said in remarks published last week.
While on the other hand, a number of high-profile Trump officials have spoken in favor of the policy. Last month, Attorney General Sessions said, “If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
God and Immigration
One church body had gone as far as to begin the always difficult task of executing church discipline over this issue- against America’s top lawmaker! CNN reported that more than 600 members of the United Methodist Church issued a formal complaint against the Attorney General, a fellow church member, charging that his “zero tolerance” policy on immigration violated church rules and may have constituted child abuse.
Officially, the complaint charged Sessions with violating the UMC’s Book of Discipline, its code of laws and social principles. Such charges could lead to a church trial, though few expected that to happen to the A.G.
Instead, the Methodists charging Sessions, who included both clergy and lay members, asked for a “reconciling process that will help this longtime member … step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly families and children.”
The complaint was addressed to the pastors at two churches Sessions attends, in Alabama and Virginia, and reads, “Mr. Sessions — as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position — is particularly accountable to us, his church.”
Additionally, a number of evangelical humanitarian organizations such as World Vision, urged a “compassionate response” and “family centered and child-focused solutions to immigration detention.” Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore tweeted an article showing photos of kids being separated from their families along with a verse from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel:
“Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and widow are wronged in you.” (Eze. 22:7), which contextually comes from a passage where the prophet details the sins for which God will judge Israel.
The church is obviously torn on the issue of what exactly should be done to deal with illegal immigration. The above notwithstanding, a Pew Research poll shows that more than two out of three white evangelical Protestants (68 percent) believe that the United States is not responsible for accepting refugees (including Christians fleeing Syria).
Curiously, believers wrestle with a similar label given them by the apostle Peter (1 Pet. 1), who described disciples of Christ as aliens, foreigners, immigrants or what I referred to in a preaching series last year, as Strangers on Earth.
Immigration is both a challenging and complex issue for the worldview of Christians in part because the Bible is not explicit in detailing immigration law and status for ‘sovereign’ nations under the sovereignty of God. Although Israel did secure its borders in certain occasions as protection from its pagan enemies (Nu. 35:6-32; 2 Ki. 20:20), sovereign states are usually left to their own devices scripturally, as to how to secure themselves.
That idea is so prevalent that the U.S. Attorney General cited a passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (Ro. 13:1-7) as justification for the work of immigration authorities at the border: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Jeff Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (daughter of evangelical leader and former Governor Mike Huckabee) later also said that “it is very biblical to enforce the law.”
While there is some truth in Session’s argument, he may lifted much of that scripture’s meaning and application out of its context, since it was intended for a Christian only audience in the first century, facing great persecution and tribulation under the rule of the Roman empire.
Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with White House immigration policy, politics do not define how Christians are to view fellow “foreigners” or aliens within their midst. The question to ask of God’s word, is how should believers – sojourners themselves, live with immigrants who do reach American soil- whether they be legally documented or not?
We must first remember the Lord Jesus Christ’s admonition to disciples to love neighbor as self as the Good Samaritan did, which does not exclude immigrants- legal or otherwise.
As I posted in a somewhat parallel blog last year during the Syrian immigration crisis, “Many an immigrant and “dreamer” child – a child born in the U.S. of immigrant parents who struggle to keep their families intact, are children and families in need of Christ, His gospel and redemption. They are people who present opportunities for churches and Christians to rescue, serve, love and bless with the Spirit of Christ.”
A Biblical Policy?
What would God have us to do then with illegal aliens and this immigration issue? I’ll simply repeat three thoughts from last year’s post:
“First, I believe the Bible clearly teaches that we are to obey the laws of our land as instituted by God, including immigration law whether we personally like them or not. National security is the preeminent priority of a civilized and just government.”
Attorney General Sessions is generally right on this one if we’re talking about believers who know their scripture.
“Second, Christians are to be compassionate, merciful and evangelical whenever possible toward immigrants (Exo. 22:21; Lev. 19:33–34; Matt. 25:35), as God has always instructed his people to be from Old Testament history to New.”
Is it not true that believers are called upon by God and his word to care for the poor, orphans and widows regardless of their immigration status (Ja. 1:27, 2:2-15)?
Third and finally, “ … though illegal immigrants are subject to prosecution of those laws, we can respectfully petition our government to grant leniency (not to be confused with amnesty), common grace and mercy to those immigrants – particularly with children and those that have become citizens by their naturalized birth, having been, remained and/or become productive, tax-paying, law-abiding permanent residents (green-card carrying visas) and citizens of this country.”
As I wrote before, the issue is complex, curious and controversial. To achieve justice and mercy at the same time is quite a tall order for any of our nation’s lawmakers publicly and for biblically minded Christians privately.
So, may the love of God and people reign in the hearts of God’s children as lights among the darkness of our times as we struggle in the debate over immigration.