Relevant Magazine, February 27, 2017
We’re Called to Serve Immigrants Regardless of Their Legal Status
By David Platt
Across this country, it seems everyone is up in arms about immigrants and refugees. Mostly, this is left as a political issue. But for Christians, how to care for outsiders is much more than a policy question.
The gospel not only affects the ways white and black Americans view each other in our culture, or the way we may view people in different countries, but this gospel also affects the way followers of Christ view migrant men and women who are living around us in our country.
A cursory reading of the Old Testament, combined with a clear understanding of Christ’s cross in the New Testament, calls into question the contemporary approach to immigration among many Christians in our culture. In addition to practical ignorance on this issue in the political sphere, our personal lives often reflect little concern for the sojourner in our midst.
Russell Moore writes that the Christian response to immigrant neighbors has been akin to saying, “You kids get off my lawn,” in Spanish. But if the God of the Bible possesses particular compassion for the immigrant, even equating him or her with the orphan and the widow, and if the cross of Christ is designed to compel outreach across ethnic divisions, then how much more should we as the people of God care for immigrants from other countries in our midst?
Consider the story of Sam and Lucas. Sam and Lucas live in Mexico in the midst of desperate poverty, unable to provide for their wives’ and children’s basic needs. One day, a friend tells them that he has found a way for Sam and Lucas to get jobs in the United States. There they can make money and send it back to sustain their families. Sam and Lucas see no other option and agree to go. They say good-bye to their wives and children, and they leave with their friend.
Weeks later, they find themselves lying down in the back of an old SUV, covered completely by a blanket as the truck bounces down the road. Finally, they arrive at a back entrance behind a popular restaurant, where the proud owner steps out. After speaking to the driver in a foreign language, the owner gives him some cash, then opens the back door of the SUV. He uncovers the men and tells Sam and Lucas to get out quickly.
They go inside the back of the restaurant, where the owner sits them down and serves them a quick meal. As they eat, the owner introduces Sam and Lucas to what will be their job: busing tables and washing dishes. After they’re finished eating, the owner escorts them by van to a decaying, shuttered, split-level home that they will share with a host of other workers like them. “I’ll pick you and the others up at 10 a.m.,” the owner says, and off he goes. Sam and Lucas have arrived at their new home.
Sam and Lucas now have a new life. Every day they are shuttled back and forth between the place where they sleep and the restaurant where they work. It is a well-known restaurant, getting all sorts of great reviews and attracting all kinds of different people—people like you and me. But amid all the crowds that surround Sam and Lucas, absolutely no one knows them. No one even notices them. They are destitute, sending as much money as they can back to their families while resorting to alcohol and prostitution to curb their loneliness.
It is not my aim here to stereotype migrant workers—although this story is true, it obviously doesn’t mean that all Latino dishwashers in restaurants have the same story. It is also not my aim to oversimplify either the plight of immigrants in our country or the predicament of how to provide for them. Finally, it’s not my aim here to propose comprehensive political answers for the practical legislative quagmire that illegal immigration presents in our country.
It is, however, my aim to show that the gospel message has implications for the issue of immigration, and particularly for illegal immigrants like Sam and Lucas. Amid necessary political discussions and inevitable personal disagreements, first and foremost the gospel reminds us that when we are talking about immigrants (legal or illegal), we are talking about men and women made in God’s image and pursued by his grace. Consequently, followers of Christ must see immigrants not as problems to be solved but as people to be loved.
The gospel compels us in our culture to decry any and all forms of oppression, exploitation, bigotry or harassment of immigrants, regardless of their legal status. These are men and women for whom Christ died, and their dignity is no greater or lesser than our own.
Likewise, their families are no less important than our own. Many illegal immigrants, like Sam and Lucas, are in the United States for understandable reasons, fleeing brutal economic and political situations in their own countries as they fight for the survival of their own families. Others came to the United States years ago and have now begun families here.
I think of Ricardo, a follower of Christ and the father of five children, three of whom are U.S. citizens. Ricardo entered the country illegally more than 20 years ago, and for the last 20 years he has worked to support his family while serving in his community. However, if Ricardo were to go back to his village in Mexico now, he would be resigning himself and his family to abject poverty.
His other option would be to split up his family, leaving his three “legal” children behind with a neighbor. Surely, just as the gospel compels us to respect the personal dignity of immigrants regardless of their legal status, it also compels us to protect their familial unity regardless of legal status.
All of this is obviously complicated by out-of-date legislation that is out of sync with the current labor market in our country. Add to this our selective enforcement of immigration laws, and it becomes clear to us all, regardless of personal political persuasion, that our system needs reform. And the gospel is not silent even here. The Bible clearly teaches that government exists under God to establish and enforce laws for the good of people. See Romans 13:1-7.
We have a responsibility before God as citizens under a government to work together to establish and enforce just laws that address immigration. Among other things, such laws should involve securing our borders, holding business owners accountable for hiring practices and taking essential steps that ensure fairness to taxpaying citizens of our country.
Likewise, we have a responsibility before God as citizens under a government to work together to refute and remove unjust laws that oppress immigrants. Failing to act in either of these ways would be to settle for injustice, which would put us out of sync with the gospel.
I don’t presume easy answers to any of the above, but I am proposing that the gospel requires Christians to wrestle with these questions. Regardless of personal or political views, none of us can escape the reality that we’re talking about our neighbors, and Jesus’ command regarding our neighbors is clear. As long as immigrants, documented and undocumented, live around us by God’s sovereign design—see Acts 17:26-27, we’re compelled to consider how to love them as we love ourselves—see Luke 10:25-37.
ST. LOUIS, JUNE 14, 2016 — The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) overwhelmingly passed a resolution affirming and encouraging ministry to refugees during its annual meeting Wednesday.
“The SBC affirmed today the image of God in all persons, including Syrian refugees. We as the people of Christ must respond to this crisis with urgency and love. I’m thrilled that the SBC stood up for vulnerable refugees in our communities and around the world,” said Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC is a member of the Evangelical Immigration Table.
The SBC, which is the nation’s largest evangelical denomination, last passed a refugee-related resolution in 1985.
“World Relief is grateful for the partnership of Southern Baptist congregations and many other local churches throughout the country to welcome the refugees whom we resettle,” said Stephan Bauman, President of World Relief. “We believe that the biblical mandate for welcoming those fleeing persecution is clear. We see the arrival of refugees as a remarkable opportunity for the Church to live out our faith.”
“Caring for refugees is a wonderful way to share God’s love with people who have escaped unspeakable horrors and who now seek to rebuild their lives in peace and safety,” said Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. “I hope many churches find a way to get involved, and experience the blessings of cross-cultural ministry in their own communities.”
“We stand with the SBC in its support of refugees as they seek safety, freedom, prosperity and community with us,” said Shirley V. Hoogstra, President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. “We are called to support, serve and welcome those who have been displaced from their homes and to work together to encourage their flourishing as well as our own, for that is a true demonstration of the diverse and loving kingdom of God.”
“Thank you to the Southern Baptist Convention for your demonstration of Christian obedience, love and leadership to welcome the refugees and embrace the strangers amongst us — especially those who are fleeing from persecution and death,” said Hyepin Im, President of Korean Churches for Community Development. “We need to be the light for those who are suffering in darkness.”
“We commend the SBC for demonstrating prophetic courage and shining the light of truth, love, grace and mercy for refugees fleeing darkness,” said Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “As Bible-believing Christians, we must lead the way in advocacy for the most vulnerable. SBC, thank you for being ‘light.’ ”
“I applaud the Southern Baptist leaders who have urged their churches and members to demonstrate Christ’s love to refugees, perhaps the most unwanted, unwelcome and unloved people in our world,” said Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision U.S. “I’m hopeful that many others will join them by welcoming refugees here and offering humanitarian aid to millions of refugees who have fled elsewhere in their home regions.”
WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 1, 2016 — Despite heated political rhetoric, a majority of evangelicals across ethnic groups support the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship — including white evangelicals, a new survey finds.
The data from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) show that 54 percent of white evangelicals support the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship and another 12 percent support allowing earned permanent legal status. Only 30 percent support identifying and deporting undocumented immigrants.
Additional PRRI data show that although many are concerned about how immigrants affect “traditional American customs and values,” 55 percent of younger evangelicals believe that immigrants strengthen society.
“We are encouraged by this new research from PRRI that shows the majority of evangelicals support a path toward legal status or citizenship. The growing number of evangelicals who believe we should continue to be a country that welcomes immigrants is a clarion call at a crucial time in our nation,” said Stephan Bauman, President of World Relief.
“While there may be differences over policy details, evangelicals agree that the Bible calls us to treat immigrants with respect and compassion,” said Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. “Thankfully, a majority of evangelicals of all ethnic backgrounds now embrace commonsense reforms allowing law-abiding immigrants to earn legal status and/or citizenship. We ask our political leaders to do the same.”
“I’m not surprised by these findings. Evangelicalism emphasizes God’s grace and mercy,” said Barrett Duke, Vice President for Public Policy and Research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Evangelicals are simply seeking to do for others what God has done for them. We must continue to point people of faith to the Scriptures. God is changing hearts and minds.”
“It is heartening but not surprising to me that younger evangelicals are receptive toward immigrants,” said Shirley V. Hoogstra, President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. “On our campuses, love for our neighbors from around the world is a central value. This biblical value offers hope for just immigration solutions.”
“When people look to the Bible for wisdom on this complex topic, there is little room for ambiguity. The Scriptures compel us to love, welcome, and seek justice for immigrants,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
DALLAS, MARCH 1, 2016— Texas evangelical leaders gathered at a press conference Monday to discuss immigration reform and call on the presidential candidates to end the negative conversation surrounding immigrants.
At the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) conference, speakers highlighted the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger and stressed the ineffectuality of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“Donald Trump’s campaign is built upon sacrificing the best things about America upon the altar of fear,” said Bart Barber, Pastor at First Baptist Church of Farmersville. “From his willingness to abandon two centuries of religious liberty in America by banning Muslim travel into the United States to his proposal to make Christian missionaries to West Africa ‘suffer the consequences’ of their vocations by refusing them re-entry into the United States, Trump has demonstrated a repeated willingness to panic and turn his back upon fellow human beings at the slightest provocation.”
“The SBTC is supporting the Evangelical Immigration Table based on the six biblical principles that encourage a less divisive conversation on immigration reform,” said Gary Ledbetter, Communications Director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
“It seems to me our new brand of conservatism doesn’t know what to conserve. Conservatism now seems to mean nativism, protectionism, us against them,” said Tim Moore, South Central Mobilizer for the Evangelical Immigration Table. “It has a hostile tone. It divides, and I believe it does the nation no favors in building our collective future. America’s greatest strength is our heritage and ethic of pluralism.”
“Super Tuesday Republicans have a chance today to demonstrate appreciation for immigrant families and their contribution to a brighter and more prosperous America or follow the lead of earlier states drawing a bright white line in the sand that may well deny America ever having another conservative president,” said Pastor Ademir Simoes, Past President, North American Brazilian Baptist Association.
Des Moines Register Digital Ad Boosts Effort
DES MOINES, JANUARY 27, 2016 — In a letter today, evangelical leaders across Iowa are sending a message to presidential candidates to encourage a compassionate response to immigrants and refugees, as guided by Scripture.
Joined by five national evangelical leaders, the 32 Iowa signatories seek a biblical approach regarding immigrants and immigration. The letter is also featured in a digital ad buy: a takeover of the Des Moines Register’s Caucuses page.
“Immigrants are not just our co-workers but also our neighbors, friends and members of our church family,” the letter reads. “Having lived and worshipped together, we know them to be vital members of our community. When our immigrant neighbors are attacked with harsh rhetoric, we feel their pain.
“ … Scripture guides us toward a just and compassionate response to immigrants in our country. We encourage you to heed its words and get to know our communities. Come meet us and our immigrant neighbors, friends and fellow church members.”
The following are quotes from signatories:
Douglas Van Aartsen, Pastor, First Reformed Church, Ireton, Iowa:
“I support this endeavor because I believe that we as Christians are called by God to welcome the immigrant and to treat everyone with the dignity and respect that are ours, because we are all created in the image of God and find salvation in Jesus Christ alone.”
Leith Anderson, President, National Association of Evangelicals:
“The Bible says a lot about immigrants and how we are to treat them. This letter invites candidates to begin with the Bible to develop our immigration policies.”
Shirley Hoogstra, President, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU):
“With the primaries approaching, it’s crucial that we engage with our political leaders on matters that are important to us through letters like this. The impact of our broken immigration system is something that is near to all of our hearts, as the people directly affected are our neighbors, classmates, students and fellow church members. Therefore, we must ensure our leaders understand that as Christians, we are called to both love the stranger and to uphold the law, and so we must work together to find solutions that meet both of these goals.”
Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC):
“Demagoguery or constructive conversations; that is the choice for today’s presidential contenders. As it pertains to immigration, Americans will no longer tolerate sound bites. Now is the time for a solution that will protect our borders and values. Now is the time for a Christian conservative prescription; one that stops illegal immigration while integrating those currently here in a manner that reflects the hopes of Ronald Reagan and the conviction of Jack Kemp. Now is the time!”
Film Explores Biblical Response to Immigration
WASHINGTON, D.C., JANUARY 22, 2016 — This weekend, The Stranger will make its television premiere on GOD TV, a worldwide faith-based programming service on TV and online.
The film, which highlights the stories of three families caught in our broken immigration system, has been screened nearly 3,700 times in 47 states and Washington, D.C., since its debut in June 2014.
It will air tomorrow at 8:45 p.m. EST and Sunday at 1:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. EST, online as well as on television. The screening is part of the network’s broader focus on refugees, which includes a social media effort using hashtag #loveyourneighbour.
“The Stranger challenges perceptions of what is the ‘typical’ immigrant story and shows how the strangers in our midst are also our co-workers, neighbors, classmates, and sisters and brothers in Christ,” said Liuan Huska, whose family is featured in the film.
Pastor Derrick Smith and his wife, Meghan, speak in the film about their involvement with the Kaleidoscope Multi-Ethnic Fellowship in South Carolina and about welcoming our immigrant neighbors.
“Christians have a unique opportunity to show the love of Jesus by welcoming the stranger among us,” said Meghan Smith. “The Stranger shows us how our faith can inform our politics and how scripture can serve as our guide for how to address the important issue of immigration reform.”
“While the rhetoric of fear dominates the political conversation surrounding refugees and immigrants in our country, it is more important than ever to have a biblically grounded view of the Christian necessity to welcome the stranger,” Derrick Smith said. “There are eternal ramifications. This film explores real stories that humanize the issue.”
“The Stranger offers a stirring presentation of the biblical and human dimensions of our nation’s debate on immigration reform,” said Dr. Barrett Duke, Vice President of Public Policy and Research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who is interviewed in the film. “Before you make up your mind about this important issue that affects millions of families, you should watch this film.”
WASHINGTON, D.C., DECEMBER 17, 2015 — Evangelical Christian leaders are thanking Congress today for agreeing to a spending bill that does not target refugee resettlement.
In a letter to Congress, a press call, a panel on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, leaders have underscored the Christian and American value of compassion for refugees and the need to protect Americans as well as protect those who are most vulnerable. A radio ad this week sounds a similar theme.
“Congress, via the leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan, exhibited prophetic courage by not surrendering our Judeo-Christian values on the altar of expediency, said Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
“Local churches throughout the United States are eager to continue to welcome refugees as an expression of our biblical faith, just as they have done for decades,” said Matthew Soerens, U.S. Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief. “I’m grateful that, in coming together to pass this critical bill, Congress has not in any way impeded the ability of carefully-vetted refugees to be considered for resettlement, nor the ability of local churches partnering with World Relief and other resettlement agencies to welcome them.
“As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ and his subsequent flight as a refugee, fleeing a tyrannical government, we thank God that we live in a nation with a long history of welcoming those fleeing persecution, and we thank our elected officials for continuing that noble tradition.”
“Despite many differences, congressional leaders have reached agreement on funding the essential functions of government, including providing for our national security, resolving international conflicts and caring for refugees who have fled those conflicts,” added Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations, National Association of Evangelicals. “We are especially pleased that the agreement does not include provisions that would have prevented life-saving help for some of the most vulnerable refugees. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we continue to pray for peace and to care for the victims of war.”
CHICAGO, DECEMBER 17, 2015 — Today, evangelical leaders from Illinois are sending a letter to Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin, calling on the congressmen, as well as Gov. Bruce Rauner, to show compassion and to welcome Syrian refugees into the state.
The 17 signatories remind the senators of the United States’ history as a safe haven for those fleeing from persecution, and the extensive security system in place for refugees to safeguard our nation from harm. It comes after Rauner said in November that the state would stop accepting refugees.
“Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of travelers to the U.S. Our current system has been time-tested and effective,” the letter reads. “With more than 3 million refugees admitted to the U.S. since the 1970s, there has never been a terrorist attack perpetrated in U.S. by an individual admitted through the refugee resettlement program.
“We should take caution—and we are—but we also cannot let fear drive us to turn away, even temporarily, to those fleeing persecution. This does not reflect the moral courage and compassion characteristic of our great nation and great state of Illinois.”
“As a resident of Chicago and a member of the Irving Park community in Chicago, I, and the many congregations that we are a part of through City First, would like our Illinois legislators to know that we welcome immigrants and refugees in our area,” said signatory Rev. Mark D. Johnson, Pastor/Executive Director, Tapestry Fellowship/City First Foundation, Chicago. “We stand for the freedom and opportunity of millions in America and throughout the world. We ask that all of our legislators prayerfully enact policies that reflect compassion and justice.”
“As Christ followers, welcoming the stranger is our indisputable biblical call,” said Liz Dong, Midwest Regional Mobilizer for the Evangelical Immigration Table. “Many evangelical churches and leaders here in Illinois and around the country understand that a compassionate response to receiving refugees and immigrants does not have to come at the expense of security. America has led the way in being a refuge for the persecuted and the vulnerable. We hope we will not forsake that heritage.”
Ad to Air Before and After Tonight’s GOP Debate
LAS VEGAS, DECEMBER 15, 2015 — A new radio ad calls for compassion toward refugees and other immigrants.
The ad will air nationwide on more than 100 local Salem Radio affiliates before and after tonight’s Republican primary debate. Salem Radio is a co-sponsor of the debate, with host Hugh Hewitt among those who will ask questions.
“God calls us to care for [refugees], regardless of their religion and wherever they are,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, says in the ad. “Of course we must maintain our security. And we can do that without turning our backs on the neighbors here and around the world whom we are called to love.
“Let us call on our political leaders and candidates to protect Americans and protect the innocent. And let us engage in a conversation that honors our values as Christians and as Americans.”
For a recording of the call click here.
WASHINGTON, D.C., DECEMBER 2, 2015 — National and local evangelical leaders from across the country joined a press call today to voice their support for welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, and highlight the biblical call to welcome the vulnerable.
As Congress considers how to move forward on refugee-related legislation, Evangelical Immigration Table organizations also sent a letter to Congress today, calling for compassion and declaring their churches’ and colleges’ commitment to help refugees resettle and integrate successfully.
“Our faith inspires us to respond with compassion and hospitality to those fleeing violence and persecution,” the letter states. “Jesus himself was a refugee, and he teaches us to do unto others as we would have them do to us. Compassion is not in conflict with national security.
“The U.S. refugee resettlement program has embodied both values and continues to be a valuable humanitarian tool that should be supported. Our nation has rich history as a beacon of freedom and hope. Please help us as we write the next chapter in this history.”
The following are quotes from speakers on today’s call:
Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations, National Association of Evangelicals:
“Evangelicals have strongly supported the U.S. refugee resettlement program for decades because it not only reflects the American value of protecting human life and freedom, but also our Christian commitment to caring for the most vulnerable. The United States has the best and most secure refugee resettlement program in the world. Our approach has worked so well because evangelical Christians and others have played a prominent role in welcoming the 3 million freedom-loving refugees who are now valued members of our communities and churches.”
Ali Chambers, Lead Pastor of Mosaic Church, Memphis, Tenn.:
“We come to the issue of immigration with a Christian perspective and with a historical perspective. In the history of humanity, we have all been refugees or immigrants, many of us fleeing persecution. As a pastor I lead my people to approach immigration and the outsider in that way. We always want to be welcoming to those who are less fortunate than we are, who are vulnerable, who are hurting. This is the heart of the gospel message. And we would hope that our country’s response would reflect that as well.”
Barrett Duke, Vice President for Public Policy and Research, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention:
“The Middle East is in great turmoil today, but the church is not. Our security resides in a Savior who overcame death itself. Some look at the current Syrian crisis and respond with fear. Fear divides, love unites. Our confidence in God can empower us to look past fear and see in the refugee a fellow human being, created in God’s image, who needs our love and help.”
Tyler Johnson, Lead Pastor of Redemption Church Arizona:
“The responsibility of pastoral leadership is to remind congregants of God. Christians believe God is seen perfectly in the man Jesus Christ. Jesus himself was an international migrant whose family was fleeing violence. Christians are to call one other to greater love and good deeds. The Bible tells us that this call to love extends even into the purpose of government. Government is given by God to create more loving and just societies.”
Chris McElwee, Local Impact Pastor, Wheaton Bible Church, West Chicago, Ill.:
“Immigrants bring things to our community that are so welcome and so needed. We learn so much from our immigrant brothers and sisters: their grit, their determination, their high value of family and community. We as a church have benefited from learning from these people who have come from all over and joined our congregation. It has been a real gift to have the opportunity to learn from them, grow with them, and see their families thrive in our community into the second and third generations.”
Mike Phillips, Senior Pastor, Immanuel Fellowship, Frisco, Colo.:
“We are advocating a compassionate approach to the Syrian refugee crisis. Many evangelicals, specifically here in Colorado, are increasingly bothered by negative rhetoric that is fueling hate and fear. As I’ve looked at the vetting process, I think it’s a very tight, very good process, but I understand that some people are frightened. I’m hearing from evangelicals that they want to be more proactive to help the millions of refugees.”
Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy, World Relief:
“Evangelical leaders across the country are standing with refugees as an outward sign of their compassion and faith. The U.S. refugee resettlement program must continue to welcome the most vulnerable refugees from around the world. We urge Congress to not restrict the program in any way and instead work with local faith communities and governments to welcome refugees.”
The Evangelical Immigration Table is a broad coalition of evangelical organizations and leaders advocating for immigration reform consistent with biblical values.