A Kingdom Response to President Obama’s Speech on Immigration

I am created in the image of God. I am a follower of Jesus.  I am an American citizen. I am the daughter of an immigrant.  These are markers of my identity and my perspective has been shaped by these strong realities.

For years I have been learning about immigration as an issue, and have also been helping churches and Christian leaders think biblically about how to respond to what has become a political crisis in our nation. Whatever you believe about last night’s decision by the President, there are things we can remember as the Body of Christ.

First, God makes very clear in the Scriptures that He loves immigrants. Deuteronomy 10:18 reads, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. Nicholas Wolterstorff  coined the phrase “quartet of the vulnerable” to describe the groups of people God repeatedly says we ought to have special concern for. They are the orphan, the widow, the foreigner and the poor. The Hebrew word for foreigner or immigrant is “ger” and is used over 90 times in the Old Testament. God’s love for immigrants is not something he is silent on, and his concern for immigrants is made clear in his Word.

But God is not simply suited to love immigrants from afar and show them special concern on his own. Following the passage in Deuteronomy where he explicitly states his love for them, he goes on to give guidance for what his people’s response out to be in the very next verse. “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for your yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” The Hebrew people were commanded to LOVE the foreigners in their midst, and the church today is called to the same response.  

This is an opportunity to care for the Body of Christ, and make manifest the goodness of our God. Many immigrants are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are part of us. Loving and serving them is like nourishing ourselves every day with good things to eat, it keeps us healthy and thriving. Immigrant churches in our country are the fastest growing churches, and represent a vibrant future for our faith.

While there is significant growth in many immigrant churches, there is also significant pain. The risk of deportation resulting in the separation of families is a reality that undocumented families have to face on a daily basis. Most of us with citizenship or legal status only think of permanent separation from our children and spouses as the most extreme and unlikely of situations, and still it is terrifying to consider. Sadly, the same is not true for our undocumented brothers and sisters. Our Scriptures teach us that when one part of our body suffers, we all suffer. Engaging in this struggle alongside one another is what we are called to do, and will result in the flourishing of the Church to the glory of God.

Though many immigrants are brothers and sisters, a great number do not already know the beauty of being in relationship with God. This is where making manifest the goodness of our God comes in to play. When we love immigrants and help them thrive in our country, we put on display the great love of their Creator, and in many cases have the opportunity to share His story with them. At risk of sounding cliché, the world is on our doorstep. We have the opportunity to share the gospel with the same excitement and fervor we have on a mission trip, right here within our own context. Rather than viewing immigrants as enemies, as has been the rhetoric in Washington and in some media outlets, we have the opportunity to honor in them the imago dei and see what kind of transformation will come through the work of the Holy Spirit.

I’m often asked about the factors that contribute to the influx of immigrants to our country. There are volumes of data that exist about the “push and pull” factors causing immigrants to cross our borders, both lawfully and unlawfully. Beneath the geopolitical and socioeconomic factors that exist is a deeper, more meaningful undercurrent that moves people. The apostle Paul reminds us today from his speech so long ago in Athens that, “From one man, He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” Why people come has more to do with the Kingdom of God than the laws of any land. Biblically and historically God has been involved with the movement of peoples across the lands of the earth. The Church is called to always remain open to welcoming the stranger in its midst, regardless of their legal status. Thinking more about the involvement of God in these movements may bring a clarifying perspective that allows us to see people above politics. The political conversation is critical to engage, but is not our starting place as a Church.

May our conversations and interactions with those in our faith and those outside our faith, those with legal status and those not having legal status, those born within our borders and those born outside our borders, be full of grace, honor, and love.

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