It is puzzling to see so many evangelicals still standing firmly against compassionate actions on behalf of immigrants and refugees. Don’t get me wrong; I understand immigration issues are complex. Believe me. I have learned more in the last two years from ground zero of this debate than I ever imagined I could.
Certainly the mainstream media and partisanship only muddy the waters further. Yet a media-based attack on one’s preferred party’s leadership is not the biggest issue at hand. What is truly at stake here is whether or not we will be faithful to what Jesus Himself called the “second great commandment”: to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:37)
As Christians, we value people over politics, family above political party, and neighbor over nationalism. Because that’s what Jesus commands us to do.
We are the Church, and the Church is a force that follows the servant-leadership example of Jesus Christ. When the world and its politics fail to defend and lift up “the least of these,” Christ looks at His Church and says: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)
Many who remain unmovable on these issues are also actively pushing back against their own evangelical leaders and churches. Among those evangelical organizations who have made public statements in favor of things like asylum and refuge for those in danger, citizenship for “dreamers,” and ending family separations at the border are the Southern Baptist Convention, National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches, and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Each of these groups maintain the conviction that compassion and respect for the law do not have to be mutually exclusive.
If I am being completely honest, however, this post is not meant for the unteachable. This post is for those who are willing to open their minds and hearts further towards compassion for immigrants and refugees. If you are one of these people, then here are 5 REASONS IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES ARE THE CHURCH’S RESPONSIBILITY.
1. The Church is the world’s strongest defender of the sanctity of human life.
Sanctity of life is not just about the unborn. To be “pro-life” means to be pro-human being from the womb and beyond the grave (since we believe in eternal life). Many people forget that the Church was quite late to speak on behalf of the unborn. Abortion was also seen as a complicated political issue until its heinous realities were exposed.
In the same way, the Church is in danger of neglecting to speak on behalf of the downtrodden immigrant and refugee at their most critical moment. The nearly 70 million people who are displaced around the world today did not leave their homes without reason. Many have witnessed and/or experienced unspeakable atrocities both in their country and on their journey to escape.
As Christ’s Church, we do not look at the suffering, the marginalized, and the vulnerable and say “Why should you be my problem?” Instead, we are called to be the world’s foremost protectors of the imago dei in all human life. Immigrants and refugees are not problems to be solved, they are people deserving our best.
2. The Church is the world’s largest advocate of the family unit.
For decades, evangelical churches and their associated organizations have spent billions of dollars and countless hours of airtime speaking on behalf of the family unit. Surely this deep commitment to marriage and family does not only apply to those born in America. Should not the Church be the first place to turn for a family who risks everything to find safety together? Should not the Church be the first voice demanding those families be kept together? Should not the Church be adamant that parents and children not be imprisoned indefinitely and disproportionately for committing a minor offense driven by real danger?
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:2-3)
3. The Church understands suffering better than anyone.
The entire Christian faith is built upon the story of our “Suffering Savior”. The Church has also faced her own persecution since her first days. As the Church father Tertullian famously said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. In a sad irony, many of the immigrants and refugees often scorned by evangelicals are themselves Christians fleeing persecution, violence, abuse, or famine.
Many of us have also forgotten that some of the most important people in the Bible — including Jesus Himself — were immigrants and refugees at some point during their lives.
- Abram and Sarai (first to Bethel and the Negev – Genesis 12:1-9; then to Egypt – Genesis 12:10; then away from Egypt – Genesis 12:19-20)
- Hagar and Ishmael (into the desert – Genesis 21:14-16)
- Isaac and Rebekah (to land of Philistines because of famine – Genesis 26:1-3)
- Jacob and his family (to Egypt – Genesis 46:1-7)
- Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (from Pharaoh – Exodus 2:15; from Egypt to desert – Exodus 12)
- Elimilech and Naomi and their two sons (to Moab – Ruth 1:1-5)
- Naomi and Ruth (to Bethlehem – Ruth 1:6-22)
- David (multiple occasions and places – 1 Chronicles 29:14-15)
- Elijah (to Jordan – 1 Kings 17:3-4; to Sidon – 1 Kings 17:7-9; to the wilderness – 1 Kings 19:3-4)
- Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego (to Babylon/Persia – Daniel 1:1-6)
- Esther and Mordecai (to Babylon – Esther 2:5-7)
- Nehemiah (to Babylon – Ezra 2:4-5)
- Ezra (to Babylon – Ezra 7:6-9)
- Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (to Egypt – Matthew 2:13-15)
- Philip and many Christians from Jerusalem (Acts 8:4-5)
- Priscilla and Aquila (to Corinth – Acts 18:1-2)
- John the Apostle (exiled to Patmos – Revelation 1:9)
- Many other people of God and early Christians (Hebrews 11:37-38)
4. The Church offers something no one else can match.
As Ellen Charry says, “The Church has resources with which the state cannot compete.”
The Church has played an essential role throughout her history in championing many causes that have made the world better. Throughout the centuries the Church has given us hospitals, higher education, music, the arts, and science. Most importantly, however, Christ Himself has both commissioned and equipped the Church to address the ultimate need of every human being – our spiritual need.
When is the last time we or our churches considered the spiritual needs of immigrants and refugees, even those who may come from countries that are considered our political enemies? Are we laying these crises before His wounded feet? Or are we quick to condemn or deflect and cast aside?
Since none of our three branches of US government have yet been able to deliver a solution, perhaps now is a better time than ever for the Church to do her thing.
5. The Bible teaches us that loving our neighbor is impossible without embracing God’s love for the nations.
In Romans 13, the passage of Scripture most recently made famous by Attorney General Jeff Sessions who used it to justify the separation of children from parents, the Apostle Paul said that all of God’s commandments regarding people “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 13:9b-10)
Perhaps the most famous question ever asked of Jesus came from a Hebrew lawyer, who when trying to “justify himself” regarding this commandment asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus gave perhaps his most famous answer — He told the Parable of The Good Samaritan. Jesus’ answer to the question was . . . everyone is your neighbor. Every person from every tribe, tongue, and nation is your neighbor. Every person to the very ends of the earth, among all of creation, is our neighbor whom Christ has commanded us to love and to whom Christ has commissioned us to take and be the Good News.
Has there ever been a more important time for those who belong to Christ to live out Jesus’ answer? Immigrants and refugees are our neighbor as much as our fellow American citizens. They are our responsibility as Christ’s Church. Will we love them as our neighbor, as we love ourselves, or will we continue to justify ourselves?
[NOTE: If in reading this your heart has become more open towards compassion for the current immigration and refugee crisis, watch for my next post. I will share some important talking points on these issues that do NOT come from mainstream media nor are they attached to any partisan agenda. This data and some proposed solutions come directly from updates I receive weekly from a variety of the most reliable sources we have. Follow my site below or watch Twitter @eric_costanzo for the next post].