(Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series detailing the influences that have shaped my changing perspective on the issue of immigration. The first part can be read here.)
In my previous commentary, I explained how a renewed emphasis on the meaning of the Declaration of Independence supports a generous view of immigration in the United States. The Declaration lays the foundation for immigration as one of the “unalienable rights” all humans possess in equal measure.
As a practicing Christian, however, I don’t just look at life through a purely political lens. I also view it through my faith tradition and the source of that tradition — the Christian Scriptures, especially the words of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the New Testament.
A Christian perspective on immigration
Early in Christ’s ministry, according to the Gospel of Luke, he enters a synagogue in Nazareth and reads a passage from Isaiah. This passage could be considered his personal mission statement:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. (Luke 4:18-19; NLT)
Importantly, Christ indicated that this was also the mission statement for his followers. In the Gospel of Matthew, he discusses who would be rewarded and who would be condemned in the judgment to come. He states that those who will be rewarded are those who, when
I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me. (Matt. 25:35-36; NLT)
When asked when they ever did these things, the reply is: “When you did it to one of the lease of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.” (Matt. 25:40; NLT)
Those who are followers of Christ are called – one might even say commanded – to help those in need regardless of where they are from. It is our duty to demonstrate love, grace and mercy to those who come to us for help.
Bible: ‘We are to obey God rather than any human authority’
Moreover, if the law would try to prevent us from doing so, it is our duty to disobey the law. As Peter declared to the Temple authorities, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Acts 5:29; NLT). St. Augustine’s admonition (quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail) that “an unjust law is no law at all” has echoed through the centuries as an admonishment to Christians that they are expected to be faithful to a law higher than mere human authority.
Despite what various members of the Trump Administration have said, Christians are called to obey the commands of Christ even when they conflict with the law — perhaps especially when they conflict with the law. This was the example of the early Christians. They were frequently persecuted, sometimes killed, for living their faith when the law tried to prevent them from doing so.
As a person who believes we are still called to live our faith (not just profess it), it seems clear that my obligation toward those who are fleeing poverty, disease, violence, political persecution and other dangers is to welcome them and to help them.
While I recognize that not all of us can directly take in, feed and clothe those needing help, we can support organizations that are attempting to meet these needs. We can also urge our policy makers to create policies conducive to helping those individuals and families integrate into our society more fully and effectively. At the very least, we could urge those policy makers to refrain from creating policies that make it more difficult for immigrants to legally enter and remain in the U.S.
Possessing a living faith, not a dead one
The idea that Christians could support abandoning those fleeing hardships to their fate is entirely contrary to New Testament teaching. James, the brother of Jesus, tells us:
Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds it is dead and useless. (James 2:15-17, NLT)
Just as an honoring of the Declaration of Independence leads me to believe the appropriate response to immigrants seeking a better life is to extend the hand of friendship, the words of the New Testament also bring me to the conclusion that the only appropriate response to those fleeing hardships is to welcome and assist them.
If I am a believer in the power of Christ to transform lives, the teachings I base my faith on call to me to bring those who need His love, grace, and mercy into an environment in which His transformative power can be extended. Just as important, it warns against turning such away and denying them the opportunity to experience those blessings.