At the heart of the political debate over immigration is the tension we often find in Scripture between justice and compassion. How do we reconcile that tension? How do faith-based people in a civil society do what’s both moral and just? Can we be both, reasonable, and right? Immigration issues have divided the nation at this time, and we see a lot of hate and racism.
The Bible does encourage kindness toward the outsider and the alien. But it also specifically says we are to follow the laws and obey civil authority. Millions of immigrants have broken the law. And we are a nation of laws, but we need to be a nation that shows love and mercy to the foreigners too.
Romans 13:1 says, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God (NASB).” To be faithful to this passage, Christians have to respect the laws of our land, including the laws regarding legal immigration, and expect all people to obey the guidelines and requirements included therein.
We as Christians are called to live justly by obeying the laws of the government; we are also called to be compassionate people, showing grace to those in need. Respect for the law and the necessary recognition that illegal immigration is a violation of law does not require or even permit one to ignore the persons involved in the illegal immigration. All people, regardless of their citizenship status, deserve basic human dignity and respect.
How do we balance the need to enforce our laws and the need to show compassion to those living in our country illegally? This failure to find the perfect balance is the reason this problem has not yet been solved by our political leaders.
There may be lots of political positions that differ on how we accomplish it, but if we are going to err, we need to err on the side of God. If we do not, we will be in some way accountable to God for our failure to be obedient.
Most of us agree we should be as compassionate as possible; what we don’t agree on is whether violators of immigration laws are “justly” punished. Some think these law-breakers are immoral, and that justice would, therefore, be done by sending them home. Others believe that they are helping to make this nation greater.
God had the same dilemma when man sinned against Him. Man needed to be punished for their sin, but at the same time, God wanted to give grace. How could this problem be solved? Jesus offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice in our behalf, paying the penalty, and being the open door to God.
The Gospel of Mark 7:26-30 tells the story of a woman, a Gentile, who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus said to her that it would not be right to take the children’s bread and feed it to the family dog. In other words, Jesus reminds her that his ministry is first and foremost to the Jews. To give this woman bread might very well be to take it out of the mouths of those to whom Jesus already has responsibility. The woman replies, “Even the dogs under the table get to eat the crumbs.” And Jesus praises her for her answer and her faith, healing her child.
Here in America, we know that the government’s main responsibility is to the legally abiding citizens and residents, but there are plenty of crumbs under the table for those that are not only bread-eaters but also bread-makers. The reality of illegal immigration is not only that they are criminals who want to enter our country to do us harm, but the great majority of illegal immigrants entered America simply to earn a better life economically and educationally for themselves and their children.
1 John 1:9 describes the nature of the Heavenly Father as having both of these qualities. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God’s justice, also translated righteousness, describes His perfect holiness as contrasted with our human sinfulness. God’s compassion opens the door to forgiveness and salvation. God’s compassion does not ignore our sin, but recognizes our sin and yet provides a way to redemption, the forgiveness that Christians believe was earned through the death and resurrection of the Savior Jesus.
One of the biggest problems in this immigration reform is that we do not want to reward those breaking the law with a path to citizenship. Many politicians are requesting that the immigration reform must have a path to citizenship, but most of the illegal aliens are more interested in finding rest from persecution and the opportunity to work and live in peace. Surveys of people who qualified for a green card during the Reagan era and had the opportunity to become citizens have not done it, but they enjoy working and living in peace. This is changing now because of the hateful persecution that immigrants are suffering.
The United States needs to create a set of laws that provide a way to redemption to the illegal aliens; we cannot allow the rule of law to be ignored consistently. The current immigration laws in America are not working. The millions of illegal immigrants in our country now must be required to admit their law-breaking and face some consequence; it may be a monetary fine or some form of criminal punishment. While we respect and enforce our laws, we must also show compassion and grace to those in need. There are children of illegal immigrants, who did not choose to break the law, we must punish the parents who did choose to break the law, but not the children that are innocent victims.
In Matthew 25, Jesus calls His followers to give aid to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, those without clothes, the sick, and those in prison. Christ’s followers are to obey His instructions as He said, “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). I suggest that we begin to address the issue of illegal immigration by asking God to help us live our lives under both circumstances, Romans 13 obeying the law and Matthew 25 providing aid to the stranger.
The Bible teaches that “everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). “Illegal” immigrants have violated the law. The biblical injunctions to honor authority should motivate us toward justice for them. When faced with a choice between biblical mandates, we should try to obey both. We need to reform our laws in a way that bring justice for those seeking to enter our country legally or illegally. But we need to be compassionate in meeting their basic needs while they are here. — by Jesús Muñoz
Jesús Muñoz first wrote this article in response to questions by the Social Concerns Committee, which recommends annual resolutions addressing societal issues from the standpoint of biblical values. These resolutions are presented at national conference for approval by the delegates.