The Church As Strangers

 

Another perspective which is important to remember is that as the Church, followers of Christ, we ourselves are outsiders on this earth. Peter called the early Christians "aliens and strangers in this world" (1 Pet. 2:11). We of all people should understand what it is to be divided between two cultures, two ways of being. We are called to live our lives and form our opinions not based on the demands of our nation, but upon the example of Christ. Instead of listening to the nationalism and xenophobia expressed by our political leaders, we should concern ourselves with caring for the foreigner, as God commands.

Romans 13

One common Christian objection to unauthorized immigration is that it is against the law. After all, doesn't the Bible tell us to obey the authorities? Then why do unauthorized immigrants, many of them Christians themselves, keep coming across our borders in violation of our laws? Moreover, why should we, as Christians, aid them in their "lawbreaking" when in certain cases to do so would make us break the law ourselves?

One of the chapters which is most often utilized to preach against unauthorized immigration is Romans 13, part of a letter written to a church which was in increasing danger of religious persecution by the state. According to Paul:

"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience." (Rom. 13:1-5).

A government can be just in some matters and unjust in others. Current immigration laws often protect the wrongdoers, those responsible for the systemic injustice which has led to immigration in the first place, and punish the innocent.

Importantly, the verses preceding and following Romans 13:1-5 exhort Christians to love:

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12: 9-21)

and

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not covet,"[f] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8-10).

Peter and John

A better example of Christian response to power can be found in the book of Acts. Peter and John were arrested by the religious authorities, who ordered them to stop preaching the gospel. This was their response to power:

"Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!" (Acts 4:19).

When given a choice between obeying God or the system, however sacred that system was held to be, Peter and John chose God. Christians today advocate changes in policy in many areas because of the same reason; they listen to God instead of government. They realize that human beings made in the image of God are more sacred than the oppressive systems which objectify them. The immigration debate should be no different. If God calls us to love and welcome the stranger as if he or she were Christ himself, then that is a call that we need to follow, in cooperation with or in spite of the authorities.

 

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