Sunday, September 25, 2011

Philosophy of Biblical View of Immigration

Ben and I are taking a new-people intro class to the church we've started attending in Lincoln.  They gave us a booklet that has several ministry philosophies written by the church elders.  (i.e. philosophy of leadership, ministry to the poor, children's ministry, discipleship, Biblical instruction, service, worship, etc...)  We didn't really discuss it in class, but it was given as extra info if we wanted to read it.  Both Ben and I found their "Philosophy of Biblical View of Immigration" particularly helpful, especially since it's such a hot-button issue right now.  So, here it is... word for word.  If you don't have a Bible on hand, google the references to read the short passages while reading this not-so-short article.  The scripture references they've included are helpful!  (Italics emphasis throughout is mine)  I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this philosophy!

"The establishment of La Iglesia Berea, the Latino ministry of Lincoln Berean Church, and LBC's involvement in helping establish ethnic churches in the state of Nebraska, raises several important issues, not least of which is the debate over undocumented immigration, in purely political terms.  When questions surrounding immigration arise, one tends to adopt the stance of one's own political party.  Christians need to think differently.  Our default position on matters of immigration should not be those of our political party of choice.  We are required first and foremost to respond to immigration issues from a perspective shaped by biblical principles rather than the current political rhetoric which is often based in misinformation, fear, and self-interest.  In cases of conflict between any particular political perspective and a biblical perspective, the biblical perspective must override one's political allegiance.

A number of biblical principles and themes guide the Christian's understanding of how one should respond to the issue of immigration.  First, immigrants of image-bearers of God and objects of God's love.  As image-bearers, immigrants posses both inestimable worth and full moral status, and thus, are to be treated accordingly.  How we treat those, including immigrants, who image God, is an indication of what we think about God.  Their immigrant status (whether legal or illegal) neither diminishes their image-bearing nor the degree to which God loves them.  They are our equals.

Second, the Bible is filled with stories of people who were outsiders and foreigners whether exiles, refugees, or immigrants.  The nation of Israel itself lived in foreign lands (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, etc...) and suffered abuse at the hands of the host nations.  The stories of Joseph, Ruth, Daniel, Esther, and others portray the difficulties of living in a strange land.  Many forget that Jesus was an immigrant for a time in Egypt with his family (Matthew 2).  The Christians to whom Peter writes (1 & 2 Peter) were displaced people not only spiritually, but socially and politically as well.  The Christian experience is also depicted in scripture as a story of being a foreigner and outcast in this present world with all the accompanying dangers Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 1:17, 2:11).  The immigrant's story is our story and Christians should be in the best position to identify and sympathize with their plight.  Part of the reason God requires his people to care for the foreigner is because that was their experience (i.e. Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34).

Third, God repeatedly issues commands to his people to care for and love the foreigner, outcast, oppressed, and marginalized.  God's covenant with Israel required them to treat the foreigners and strangers among them as one of their own and to care for them (Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 14:28-29; 24:14, 19-21; 26:12-13).  The prophets frequently warned Israel of coming judgment for not honoring this requirement (i.e. Amos, Micah).  Under the new covenant [new testament] it is not different.  Jesus (re)issued the obligation to love God and our neighbor with our whole being (Matthew 22:34-40).  In Jesus' explanation of who our neighbor is, he used an example of an outcast (Luke 10:25-37).  Beyond our general responsibility to show love, compassion, and care for all the marginalized among us, the Christian is given a special responsibility to care for fellow Christians (Romans 12:9-13; Galatians 6:9-10).  Many, many immigrants we encounter today are followers of Jesus and part of the family of God to which we belong.  We, the church, are responsible for their welfare.  One of the indications that we are followers of Jesus is our love for others who likewise follow Jesus (John 13:24-25; 1 John 1:3-11).

Fourth, the consistent biblical teaching on love and justice focuses on others and not me.  The love that God expressed toward us and that we in turn are to express toward others is one that seeks the best interest of the other person (Philippians 2:3-4).  Moreover, at the heart of the biblical concept of justice is the idea that justice is accomplished when we disadvantage ourselves for the advantage of the community, particularly the least well off.  Justice is not solely making sure my rights are protected or someone gets what they deserve for breaking the law (though those have their place). Justice is done when we sacrifice for the least well off.  Consider God's justice in disadvantaging himself (the Incarnation) for the advantage of all of us who are desperately needy people (Philippians 2:5-8).  We may be most like God when we bring about justice.  Putting aside our "rights," resources, and privileges to aid those in need, including immigrants, is what God calls "good" and what he requires from his people (Micah 6:8).

Fifth, Christians are to be good citizens and honor their governing authorities and respect their laws (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).  Jesus modeled this for us (e.g., Mark 12:13-17).  But, this does not require blind adherence to any law passed on by governing authorities.  Laws that go counter to God's commands, principles, and values are not binding upon Christians (cf. Acts 4:8-20; 5:27-28).  Certainly laws requiring violation of one's commitment to follow Jesus do not have force upon the Christian.  Christians must give serious thought to whether and what extent current immigration laws are unjust, and whether they require Christians to act and support actions that are contrary to God's desires as to how we are to treat immigrants.  We must recognize that the church and the government have two different missions.  The mission of the church is to announce the Gospel of the Kingdom to all people and work for God's Kingdom making disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).  There are no boundaries or preferred groups of people.  The mission is global and the final authority is God's rule.  The aim of the state is to look after its own citizens ensuring their protection and well-being through legal, economic, military and institutional means.  The mission is local, or national, and the final authority lies with the agreed upon laws of the state and those who enforce them.  While ideally the two missions should work together, this is unlikely in a fallen world.  Though we respect the state and its mission, in cases of conflict between its aims and the church's, the Christian must give allegiance to the mission of the church.  For example, if the state or national government passes a law requiring churches to report undocumented immigrants in the midst or lose their tax exempt status, the church should not obey that law, but continue to carry out its divine-given mission of welcoming, loving, ministering to, and supporting those undocumented immigrants in its midst. 

It is through this biblical grid that the church as a whole and Christians individually must consider how to respond to immigrants and the immigration issues that confront us.  The church is called to treat immigrants (image-bearers of God living in very difficult circumstances) with love, compassion, mercy, and justice exactly as God has treated us, and because as "strangers in this land" we can identify with their plight.  We are to look after their best interests.  The church also has a special responsibility to those immigrants who are of the "household of faith" to use its resources to care for them.  They are part of our family and fellow co-heirs with Jesus."

Seeking God's heart for immigrants,