taking the words of Jesus seriously

I am thankful that a considerable number of religious leaders –including conservative evangelicals- support a compassionate immigration policy. But, sadly, there are still many Christians who urge harsh, exclusionary policies and harbor hostility towards undocumented immigrants. Some people who describe themselves as “Christians Against Illegal Immigration” engage in fear-mongering, circulate dubious conspiracies and urge getting rid of undocumented aliens at virtually all costs.

Followers of Jesus who are not in sympathy with their position are denounced as “treasonous ‘Christians’ [who] seek to undermine the very institutions and people which gave life to their creed, ” a strange claim that gives the nation undue credit while marginalizing God. According to the anti-immigration radicals, those who enter the U.S. illegally are diseased, terrorists or criminals. The very fact of their entry into the country is sufficient to label the as criminals.

But deeper, darker criminality is often suggested by those who want to be rid of them, though no credible study reveals immigrants –legal or otherwise- as having any larger percent of criminals that the general U.S. population. There has been no more of a problem with terrorists arriving through the southern border than terrorists coming by way of the northern border. As for the anxiety about disease being brought into the U.S. by undocumented immigrants, the concern is significantly overblown.

The intensity of opposition toward illegal immigrants has been ugly and that ugliness has infected some Christians. People who claim to follow Jesus are among those at anti-illegal immigration protests who wave sign declaring “Return to Sender” and “Go Home” and much worse while shaking their fists, spitting and shouting. The hatefulness that is at the core of some of these protests became blatantly apparent recently in response to the tens of thousands of children at the southern border. Most often their parents sent their children away in a desperate attempt to save them from being victimized in countries where the murder rate is astronomically high.

Related: The Gospel, and Immigration Crisis, According to the Grinch

Arriving primarily from Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, these vulnerable children are refugees from vicious gang related drug wars that are tearing apart the social fabric of their lands. But anti-illegal immigrant radicals are much more concerned with closing the borders than they are with opening their hearts. Rather than responding to the thousands of endangered children as a humanitarian crisis, many can see it as little more than an immigration crisis, one that partisans illegitimately lay at the feet of President Obama.

The mean spiritedness of the protests reached a low point in Murrieta, California, with dozens of people screaming and banging American flags on the sides of buses loaded with children and mothers with infants. Predictably vile, Ann Coulter declared that church leaders and members who advocate compassion and help for the child refugees are “fake Christians” and she went so far as to claim “not one of these moral show-offs believes in God.” Apparently, those who angrily demand that the endangered children be immediately sent back into severely hazardous situations are more truly Christian than Pope Francis, who spoke against turning the children away and urged that they be “welcomed and protected.”

How is it not obvious to anti-illegal immigrant activists who are Christians that Jesus’ admonition, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31), is particularly relevant in dealing with the young –and not only them- who come seeking protection from violence and death? Yet some claim those who support a more generous approach to immigration “do not think Biblically.”   How can the Christians among the strict, harsh border enforcement advocates justify the hard line they take?

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association appealed to Acts 17:26 and claimed, “The Scriptures make it clear that national sovereignty, including clearly defined borders, is God’s idea.” The passage says, “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live.” But contrary to what Fischer suggests, the point of the text is not the need for borders that should be enforced but that so “that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him” (vs. 27). Bryan stretches scripture to the breaking point by claiming, “Our southern border is there by God’s design. To … regard it as something not worth respecting and defending, is an insult to the God who put it there for our benefit.” God as creator of one humanity is what Paul is proclaiming, not the need for strict enforcement of immigration laws.

The main “biblical” argument that Christian anti-illegal immigration radicals have given rests on Romans 13, a catch-all scripture that has often been used to justify rigid compliance to unjust laws. Laws are important for an orderly society but not all laws are created equal. As Christians we need to ask what ends a law serves. Yet Jesus said, “”The first commandment is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

The apostle Paul wrote, “The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14). Even in Romans 13 Paul wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (vs. 10). Turning away vulnerable children at the southern border in the name of law –as well as the harshness some have displayed regarding undocumented immigrants- offends against the superiority of the law of love. When the l love of law is given priority over the law of love things turn ugly very fast. I agree with  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws….Any law that degrades the human personality is unjust.” And any law that endangers the lives of vulnerable people by thrusting them back into a highly threatening situation is unjust and those who push for strict enforcement of such laws are agents of injustice.

Also by Craig: Singing Praise to God, Not America

Eduardo, a 10-year-old from El Salvador, told workers with the private relief organization Save the Children, “We left our home because it was dangerous. I was in 4th grade at school, but on Fridays, I had stopped going because they were called ‘Black Fridays.’ That’s because almost every Friday, gangs would break into homes. They also came into my school one day.” Jesus taught he would say to those who welcomed strangers, “you welcomed me” and to those who did not welcome strangers “you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:35).  Border impermeability is not a worthy goal for those claiming to love Jesus.

I am pleased to see that over two thirds of Americans believe undocumented Central American children entering along the U.S.-Mexico border should be treated as refugees and not returned to their nations, according to a poll released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute. My prayer is that every Christian will be among that number.

Photo Credit: Katherine Welles / Shutterstock.com

About The Author


Craig M. Watts is author of "Bowing Toward Babylon: The Nationalistic Subversion of Christian Worship in America" (Cascade Books 2017), an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, and a life-long peace activist. He is lives with his wife Cindi in Oaxaca De Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico.

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