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How to Think About America’s Immigration Policy As a Christian

How to Think About America’s Immigration Policy As a Christian

I saw it posted online by a friend: A twenty-something Syrian woman, fleeing the nightmare of war in her country, sold everything so she and her family could make it to a neighboring Arab country. Once there, because they are not allowed to work in this new land, her husband has gone out every single day in search of odd jobs by which he can earn money, while she has had to resort to begging for food and clothing. Some months ago, her brother moved to the United States, and she was hoping to travel soon to America to have hope and a life for her son.

President Trump’s travel ban has been heartbreaking news for this family that simply desires to have a future of hope.

My heart breaks, as does the heart of most Christians, at the plight of this young family, and so many other like them. Amidst the furious petitions to fight Trump’s executive order, the impassioned appeals to compassion for the least of these, and ACLU court battles on one side, and zealous arguments about the threat of terror, defenses of vetting processes, and patriotic-minded cries for security on the other…

Reason gets lost.

No matter where our culture lands on issue of immigration – we as Christians must be able to sift through the hype, refuse to react based on merely emotion, and formulate an ethic around immigration that honestly and compassionately addresses the complex issues involved while remaining true to the heart of Christ.

We also must be able to do so without maligning the faith of those believers who seek to balance the complex issues of immigration policy differently than we do.

Related PrinciplesSee Luminosity-1280

When a situation is complex, the need for nuance increases. In other words, policy decisions should be guided more by general principles than simplistic answers. There are some important principles that I believe should inform our thinking as we seek to advocate for Christian values in our country’s policy response:

See Luminosity-1920-3

1. God is passionate about the downtrodden, and calls all Christians to love our enemies, to care for the oppressed and hurting, and to show compassion to the foreigner. (Isaiah 1:16-17, James 1:27). Scripture also calls people to be discerning, and acknowledges that beliefs, practices, and motivations are significant in how people (and governments) respond to those seeking to come from other nations.

2. Christ’s commands are given to individuals, not governments, and they cannot be applied to public policy in the same way they are applied to each of us personally. Many Christian principles that accomplish God’s purposes, when appropriated by individuals, actually become a force for evil when governments apply them.

3. Whereas scripture makes it clear that as individual Christians are to care for the oppressed and show compassion to the foreigner, it also underscores the idea that government has a God-ordained responsibility to protect its citizens, and that government generally is more geared toward and more effective at fulfilling the role of ensuring protection and justice than in demonstrating compassion/mercy.

4. The issue of immigration in America, rather than being a simple choice between a Christian value (caring about the oppressed/foreigner) and a non-Christian one (not caring about the oppressed/foreigner), actually involves multiple good, Christian values that are in conflict. Faithful Christians can reasonably disagree about the means by which public policy should balance these differing worthy values.

#1 – Christian Responsibility to Immigrants and the Oppressed

See Luminosity-1920-9Responsibility to the Oppressed

There is no question that Christians must value caring for the foreigner, the refugee, the poor, and the oppressed. The love of Christ was directed toward “the least of these”, including those who were culturally shunned by the Jews, and scripture reiterates time and time again that just as God’s heart grieves for the oppressed, so must ours. Christians should be at the forefront of helping to alleviate the suffering and promote the welfare of the thousands of people who are hurting in this world due to poverty, war, injustice, and oppression.

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  • “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27
  • “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37-40
  •  “Provide justice for the needy and the fatherless; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.Rescue the poor and needy; save them from the power of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4
  • “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
  • “Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17
  • “Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
  • “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me[a] to proclaim freedom[b] to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed,19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” Isaiah 61
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:25
  • “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7
  • There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear…” 1 John 4:18

See Luminosity-1920I am grieved when I see callous comments from Christians that seem to display no care or concern for the least amongst us. There is no doubt that God weeps to see the hundreds of thousands of his beloved creatures tortured, raped, displaced, destitute, and hopeless. I cringe when I hear believers speaking as if God somehow favors American lives over Muslim lives. Christians are not to be ruled by fear, and should never make decisions individually or policy-wise out of fear. Without a doubt, many believers need to remember that we are citizens of the kingdom of God more so than citizens of America, and that, ultimately, as Matthew 10:28 says, we are to not fear “those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

However, Christians are also supposed to be wise.

Responsibility to Be Discerning

It is also absolutely true that there are real challenges to bringing people from other lands and cultures into a new one. There are issues of cultural assimilation. There are demands on resources. There is a very real force of evil in the face of Muslim jihadists who seek to humiliate, enslave, and annihilate anyone who does not adhere to their belief system. Christians must recognize the realities of these challenges and use wisdom in their efforts to serve others:See Luminosity-640

  • “So give Your servant an obedient heart to judge Your people and to discern between good and evil.” 1 Kings 3:9
  •  “Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things. Therefore, do not become their partners… Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them  Ephesians 5:6-11.
  • “Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16
  •  “Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak. Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” Colossians 4:2-6
  • “Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17
  • “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7
  • Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— 16 making the most of the time,[b] because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

See Luminosity-1920-12We are not to be ruled by fear, but we are also warned to be “shrewd” and “discerning”. We are to rescue the poor and needy, but we are to not be foolish. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, but we are to correct the oppressor. Ultimately, I believe, our responsibility is, as Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” Romans 12:21

What, though, does that actually look like in America’s current immigration issue? How do we conquer evil with good in this? More specifically, how do we apply scripture’s mandates about our responsibility toward the poor and oppressed and loving our enemies in light of the fact that there are some very real challenges and even dangers involved with doing so?

I believe we cannot answer that question until we first understand the difference between individual moral obligations and responsibilities ordained by God for the state. Because they are not the same.

See Luminosity-1920-15#2 – Christ’s Commands Are For the Individual, Not Government

Many Christians mistakenly apply Christ’s exhortations to individual believers as mandates they should follow in the form of public policy. Doing so, however, is to not apply scripture accurately, and can actually have the result of perpetuating injustices that are antithetical to Christ’s purposes.

Scripture on Role of Government

Scripture clearly underscores the need for and legitimacy of civil government. Specifically, it provides the basis for government to be in charge of three major responsibilities: to preserve order, to protect its citizens, and to punish those who do wrong[1]. Biblical figures worked within the governments of their time (consider Ruth, Daniel, Joseph, Paul), some even gaining significant positions of political authority (Daniel, Joseph, Ruth). Likewise, Christ never challenged the state’s role in ensuring justice for its citizens, and he affirmed the legitimacy of civil government with his statement in Mark 12:17: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” Government is an entity “instituted by God” as a “servant for good” (Romans 13).See Luminosity-1920-14

While there is absolutely biblical precedent for government having a role in helping the poor, the oppressed, and the foreigner[2], the primary emphasis in scripture is on individuals and communities of believers in fulfilling their duty to the least of these[3] . The obligatory nature of the role of government makes it naturally more ordered toward and more effective at executing justice than mercy/compassion. Biblical precedent indicates that while government certainly can play a role in providing compassion to refugees, its role in doing so can be problematic. Why? Because Jesus’ commands were given to individual believers, and do not apply the same way to governmental entities.

See Luminosity-1920-5Jesus’ Commands and Public Policy

It is important to make the distinction between Christian moral obligations for the individual and Christian recommendations for state or federal policy. Christ’s exhortations were given for individual believers – guidelines in the process of sanctification that disciples of Christ must choose out of obedience to Christ, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. They are not, however, blueprints for public policy. Biblical mandates are intended for believers living out the kingdom of God on earth, not for nations full of non-believers to live successfully in kingdoms of this world.

See Luminosity-1920-20Jesus’ teaching – such as in Luke 6 on doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, and his exhortation in Matthew 25:31-46 on how to treat the least of these – were directed to individuals. This is, of course, because only individuals can ultimately be held morally accountable before God – there will be no national governments in heaven. Whereas individuals act in ways that have moral accountability, government is not an actor but an agent of individuals because civil government simply acts on behalf of a group of people. And, importantly, the government does not have resources of its own; its resources are extracted from individuals. Therefore, the consequences or costs of any “mercy” of humanitarian work the government undertakes is borne by the citizens under its jurisdiction.

See Luminosity-1920-10This is not, of course, to say that Christ’s guidelines cannot or should not inform our public policy efforts – on the contrary, the more our nations’ policies can reflect Christian principles, the better – but it does mean that the responsibility believers have to live according to Christ in our personal lives does not translate perfectly into public policy for our nation. Even more concerning, trying to apply scriptural mandates given to the individual believer to governmental entities can have an effect on human beings that is exactly the opposite of Christ’s will.

As the number of people increases, complexity rises, and values that contribute to individual well-being can suddenly do just the opposite when applied on a large scale, and by an outside authority. For example, in World War II, Corrie ten Boom exhibited, in her personal life, Christ’s mandate to love our enemies repeatedly while in a Nazi camp by refusing to fight back her captors, and especially when she voluntarily forgave the Nazi who persecuted her and her family. However, if all European nations had, as public policy, translated loving their enemies as refusing to fight Nazi hatred and evil, untold more millions of people would have died, and the entire world would likely have lived under a regime perpetuating Satan’s evil against humanity.

Problems with Confusing Individual Responsibilities With Policy

See Luminosity-1920-71) Individually applicable Christian values often lose their emotional and spiritual essence or benefit when made compulsory through public policy.

Consider the case of giving to the poor. Voluntary philanthropy by an individual out of obedience to Christ or a broken, compassionate heart is love; welfare provided through forced taxation is no longer Christian love, but a mandatory obligation required by the state. This does not mean that government-sponsored welfare cannot be beneficial to citizens, but it does mean Christ’s intended moral and spiritual obligation (and benefit) for the believer who chooses to give out of a heart of gratitude and compassion is no longer relevant when that believer does not make the choice to do it, but is instead compelled by an outward authority (often without even his or her knowledge about its usage).

2) Christian values, when applied individually, can become counter-productive and ineffective for promoting human welfare when applied universally.

Take, for example, the value of providing for the poor and oppressed. When individuals, churches, or community-based groups follow Christ’s mandate to help the poor on a one-on-one basis, they are able to build relationships, learn the ins and outs of the situation, assess strengths and weaknesses, make nuanced decisions about the best ways to help, and provide support in ways that are specific to each particular situation, holistic, multi-faceted, and effective. On the contrary, the government, by sheer virtue of its size and complexity, tends to have to respond as a monolith, rather than to the specifics and peculiarities of individual situations. Even further, it is often hamstrung by bureaucracy, special interests, and ideology. As a result, government-sponsored welfare, while certainly providing some good to many people, is usually fraught with inefficiency, waste, fraud, and is rarely able to adequately assess the murky line between helping and enabling.See Luminosity-1920-6

 

It is the difference between the quintessential “giving a fish” versus “teaching them how to fish”. Christ’s command to care for the poor and oppressed, in the hands of the individual, is often able to help people gain the skills, resources, and support they need to become autonomous, responsible persons who can become servants of Christ in their own right. However, those same commands in the hands of the government often become, at its best, little more than a handout that can perpetuate a destructive sense of victimhood, or, at its worst, a form of dictatorial tyranny in which evil is allowed to reign. Scriptural mandates to individuals cannot be applied uniformly to public policy and, in fact, when people try to do so, many times the impact on human lives is exactly the opposite of Christ’s will.

3) Actions that are Christian in nature when performed by an individual under the conviction of the Holy Spirit can actually become terrible acts of injustice when government engages in them.See Luminosity-1920-21

Forgiving one’s enemy is a Christian virtue when applied from one individual to another; the government “forgiving” serial pedophiles by letting them out of prison or freeing them from accountability to society is unjust and harmful to the larger community. The Christian value of rejoicing in suffering, if re-cast on a policy level, can have the effect of subjugating battered women victims to being destroyed by their attackers, children to their abusers, or rape victims to sexual predators. A Christian family might rightly choose, out of obedience to Christ and a personal calling, to sacrifice their finances, freedom, space, and emotional safety by fostering or adopting an orphan into their family. This sacrifice would be very likely to result in well-being for both the orphan and the family, as the believers chose to live out Christ’s values out of their own free will. However, if the state mandated families to foster or adopt orphans whether they wanted to or not, the likely result would be disastrous for both families and orphans as children would be forced into homes that did not want them and were not prepared to raise them.  Family placements would be fraught with ill-preparedness, resentment, bitterness, and turmoil, resulting in terrible consequences for individuals, family, and society as a whole.

So while Christian principles must certainly guide our public policy decisions, any believer responding effectively to this issue must recognize that Christian response to human problems on the individual scale should not necessarily be the same as the response to human problems on a national and international scale and that, in fact, values, which further Christ’s purposes when freely chosen on an individual scale, can create environments completely contrary to Christ’s intent when mandated on a large policy scale.

Therefore, the real challenge with respect to immigration is not how Christ calls individual believers to respond to the crisis, but how Christians should advocate on a policy level. Because regardless of public policy related to refugees, on an individual level, Christian persons and communities of faith have an unequivocal obligation to demonstrate love and compassion to these hurting children of God.

See Luminosity-1280-6#3 – Government’s Job to Protect

In addition to the fact that Christian responsibility for individuals cannot be equally applied to public policy, Christians must understand the primary role of government, as ordained by God. When the Bible focuses on governmental authority, it recognizes its role as oriented primarily toward justice, not compassion or mercy. This is not to say that government’s justice should not be tempered by mercy (which it certainly may be), but that the primary function of the state is toward executing justice rather than outlaying compassion. Conversely, the majority of biblical teachings with respect to compassion for others are directed at individuals, not governments or civil agents. Romans 13 lays out the role of the state in meting out justice and bringing order; God delegated the power of the sword to governments to protect its citizens.[4]

See Luminosity-1920-8The Old Testament clearly respects borders and boundary lines for nations.[5] For example, the Israelites requested permission from the Amorites, after leaving Egypt, to pass through their land.[6] Ezekiel 47 defines the boundaries of the Promised Land for the Jews, and in Deuteronomy 32:8 the Lord makes it clear, “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.” Proverbs 22:28 exhorts the people, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.” National boundaries were an important part of God’s provision and security for His people.

With respect to scripture’s treatment of the role of government toward foreigners, the Old Testament absolutely supports a principle of fair treatment of foreigners under the law[7]. It is important to understand, however, the differences in how scripture categorizes foreigners. There are three Hebrew terms that are sometimes translated “foreigner” in scripture. One common term, ger, is often translated “sojourner” or “stranger”, and would be similar to what we understand as legal residents.[8] They were people who had gained permission to enter the country from appropriate authorities and were expected to comply with Israelite law and customs – understanding the new land to be their home for some extended period of time.[9] According to Old Testament law, the ger were entitled to benefits similar those of the Israelites[10], including the right to glean the fields, be paid the same as the Jews, participate in Jewish religious practices, and receiving the same legal rights.See Luminosity-1920-23

Two other synonymous terms, “nekhar” and “zar”, are often translated as “foreigner”, however they were clearly differentiated from the ger, and did not receive the same protections or benefits under the law. The nekhar and zar sometimes referred to invading enemies (such as in Is. 1:7 & Obad. 11), or people who came to live on the Israelites’ land when they were exiled (Lam. 5:2). Most often, however, the nekhar and zar were foreigners passing through Jewish lands on a temporary basis.[11] Unlike the exhortations to treat the ger like native born citizens, references to the zar and nekhar are primarily accompanied by warnings or prohibitions in scripture, especially in areas where those individuals would have a direct influence on Jewish culture, such as intermarriage and their religious practices/beliefs.[12] In many other places, scripture mandates different responses to peoples from different lands, such as when the law clarifies specifically that Ammonites and Moabites may not enter the temple, but that Egyptians and Edomites may.[13] Scripture underscores the idea that the beliefs, practices, intentions, and motivations of foreigners have an important impact on how a nation responds to them, and that discernment is important in order when a nation opens its doors.

While there is no doubt that Christians have a preeminent responsibility to love, care for, and show compassion to immigrants, refugees, and the oppressed, this is not the primary responsibility of the state. Scripture supports the reality that any compassion government shows for those outside its borders is secondary to its obligation to the well-being of its own citizens. This means that while public policy is certainly an important component in how Christians can fulfill their responsibility to the foreigner, it can never be the primary means by how our obligation is fulfilled, and there will likely always be some level of conflict between the Christian individual’s duty to the immigrant and refugee and the government’s duty to its own citizens.

#4 – Good Values in ConflictSee Luminosity-1280-4

Contrary to how it is often portrayed in social media and the press, immigration policy is not a choice between a Christian value (caring for the oppressed/foreigner) and a non-Christian one (shunning the oppressed/foreigner). It is, rather, a balancing act between multiple good, Christian values, including the Christian obligation to provide justice for the oppressed, to preserve the sanctity of life, to provide hospitality, to be a good steward of the resources we have been given, to foster responsibility rather than dependence, to demonstrate compassion, to guard against evil/ungodly influences.

For the believer, Christian values must trump self-centered or non-Christian ones. For example, if a person says a disparaging comment to me, the values at play in my response are 1) loving my enemy versus 2) preserving my own pride. Between those values, scripture makes it clear that the Christian principle of loving my enemy trumps self-centered value of preserving my own pride, so my obligation is to respond in a way that is loving.

In contrast, when large groups of people are involved (such as in the case of public policy) there is usually more than one Christian principle in play – and often those Christian principles conflict with one another. This is the case with immigration policy, where the laudable goal of showing compassion to the immigrant (especially those for whom healthy life in their country of origin is not realistic) can come into conflict with the goal of preserving the sanctity of life for those who might be the victim of terror brought by that immigrant, or the value of hospitality to the downtrodden can come into conflict with the value of being a good steward of our country’s resources (when resettling refugees, for example, costs twelve times more than supporting that individual in the Middle East[14].)See Luminosity-1920-24

The issue at hand is that multiple worthy values are at stake in this situation, and the pursuing of one of those values is understood by many to conflict with other values that are equally or more important. We must first acknowledge the values that are competing, and have humility around the complexity involved with balancing these different values. In seeking to find that balance, Christians must recognize that values which involve the well-being of persons supersede those that involve the stewardship of things. But there are many good values involving the well-being of persons that conflict in the discussion of immigration policy.

See Luminosity-1920-22As we seek to balance conflicting values around the well-being of people, it is important to remember that we cannot do everything, cannot save everyone. There will never be enough people, resources, or ability to ameliorate all of the problems on this planet, until Christ’s work of redemption is complete. Does Jesus care about the lives of Americans more than the lives of Syrians? Absolutely not. However, the reality of life in this fallen world is that, until Christ returns, there will always be lives that need saving. Christ underscored this truth.  He said to those scolding the woman who anointed him with perfume, “You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want…. She has done what she could [to honor Christ]” (Mark 14:7-8). And, as he said in John 16:33, “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” The world is broken. It has always had, and will continue to have, significant problems that have endangered (or will endanger) the well-being of its people – some perpetuated by our own human sinfulness, some by pure virtue of living in a fallen world. On this sinful, broken planet, choices will always have to be made about who gets helped, and how much help they get, and what kind of help is given, and all of those choices present conflicts to numerous good and healthy values.

It is important, however, to recognize that these choices also obligate the helpers in some way. This is especially true when the power of the state is involved – the cost of public policy is borne by the citizens. We are, as Christians, called to be those helpers, to voluntarily put ourselves under obligation to those who need our help. We are called to do good and honor Christ as we are able, as we are led by the Holy Spirit – even, if we are so called, to the point of sacrificing our own to save our brothers and sisters. What help we can provide, what sacrifices we are led to make to rescue the lives of others as disciples of Christ, we are to do. However, where this becomes problematic is when we move from making the choice, out of obedience to Christ, to sacrifice ourselves or our resources for the lives of others, and instead begin requiring others to sacrifice themselves or their resources. God does not call that of us, and, in fact, makes it very clear that discipleship is to be personally chosen, not outwardly coerced:See Luminosity-1920-17

  • “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20
  •  “I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own.” John 10:17-18
  • “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7
  • “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
  • “Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” John 7:16-17
  • “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4
  • “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20

For the Christian individual, there are times at which God calls us to even sacrifice the highest value – the sanctity of our own lives – in the interest of His higher purposes. However, if this is ever done, it is always something that each individual must choose for his own life, of his own free will, in obedience to Christ. There is no biblical mandate for Christians to force others to sacrifice their lives for someone else (in fact, scripture demonstrates the contrary)­. This is an example of how Christian moral obligation for the individual does not translate perfectly into obligation for groups of people.

Choosing to give one’s own life for the sake of another is one of the highest forms of Christian virtue. Forcing large numbers of people to give up their lives for the sake of others is one of the highest forms of tyranny.See Luminosity-1280-5

If it becomes clear that governmental policy which would help the lives of one group of people ends up putting the lives of another group of people at significant risk, then we as Christians should not advocate for that policy. God does not call us to trade some lives for others. We should, instead, work to help that group of people the best we can, as we feel led, on an individual or faith-based community level, and advocate for policy that can provide the most benefit to that group of people without putting another group at risk. Because all governmental policy obligates its citizens to sacrifice in some way through bearing the costs (financially, culturally, etc.) of that policy, we must be very cognizant of the real ways immigration policy obligates citizens by bringing good values into conflict, and honestly weigh the costs involved.

The bottom line? We as Christians most certainly can sacrifice ourselves for the well-being of others, but we are not given license to force others to sacrifice themselves. Public policy requires sacrifice on the part of its citizens, therefore we must be very, very cautious about how we seek to apply biblical principles to the role of the state.

See Luminosity-1280-8Christian Public Policy in Balancing Competing Values

Balancing the multiple important values at stake in the immigration debate is not in any way simple or easy. I think responsible Christian public policy around this issue must honestly acknowledge the very real problems at stake, and seek to balance them in a way that honors our duty to the Lord, our duty to our fellow citizens, and our duty to the least of these, while keeping in mind that the role of the government is very different from our roles as Christian individuals. I also believe that Christians of good faith can differ on what balancing the complex issues of immigration within public policy actually looks like.

There are some principles I think can be helpful in discerning how to formulate a sound Christian public policy on immigration, including:

1) Immigration policy must recognize the reality that governments, as instituted by God, have been given primary responsibility for the protection and well-being of their own citizens before the protection and well-being of others and, by virtue of its inherent nature of power/compulsion, that government is more naturally geared toward protection and justice than toward mercy and compassion.

See Luminosity-1920-262) Christian immigration policy must recognize that while individuals and non-governmental organizations can affect significant impact on the lives of the oppressed, the immigrant, and the refugee, government is, in reality, the door for foreigners. The degree to which the door of government is open or closed has tremendous impact on the lives of the least of these, and can be a powerful force in advancing (or not advancing) Christian compassion and care.

3) Immigration policy must accurately assess the potential problems and/or threats that immigrants bring to their host country, and seek to minimize that threat as much as possible, so that the well-being of one group of people is not sacrificed for the well-being of another.

4) Immigration policy must honestly assess the risks and benefits, both to Americans and to the immigrants themselves, of bringing persons into the country versus establishing supports for helping those individuals be able to safely remain in their countries of origin. A holistic policy should consider efforts that support foreign governments constructively tackling the issues within their countries so that they can have the resources, infrastructure, and sociopolitical systems that create healthy societies and support human well-being where their citizens can thrive.See Luminosity-1920-28

5) Regardless of current public policy on immigration, Christians should support non-governmental groups and individuals (particularly Christian ones) who are committed to serving refugees and oppressed peoples in other countries. We must pray for immigrants and refugees, donate money to organizations that actively serve the oppressed, and get actively involved with serving the least of these in our communities.

What to Do – Individually and Communally

In addition to policy recommendations, I believe that we as Christians must actively be working individually and as churches to help the hundreds of thousands of hurting people displaced by war, political unrest, and religious fundamentalism. Our hearts should break for their situation, and as believers, we must see through the eyes of Christ, on an individual and faith-based community level, and recognize that these are people who need Christ’s love. No doubt, God has provided us a unique opportunity to minister to those whose religious beliefs would likely otherwise lead them to be closed-minded to the gospel. It is important to not get lost in our role as American citizens, but remember that we are first citizens of the kingdom of God. And that, even as our country’s role is to protect its citizens, on an individual level, we have an obligation to see these refugees (including Muslim refugees) as adored creations made in the image of the God we serve.

What can that look like, on a practical level?

See Luminosity-1920-27

See Luminosity again-1920I recommend the following:

  1. Christians can give to reputable Christian organizations who are working directly with refugees. I highly suggest non-profit and church-based ministries rather than governmental organizations, to ensure that resources are handled effectively, and in a manner commensurate with Christian values. One organization I highly recommend is Global Partners in Peace and Development at gpartners.org. Friends of ours who run this organization are currently in Jordan right now working with the refugee population, and any money or assistance that goes to this organization is used in the best possible way for the maximum benefit. Support can be provided for tangible things such as rent, food boxes, blankets, mattresses, heaters, medical needs, diapers, prenatal care, and refrigerators. Our friends are “on the ground” building strong relationships with refugees, are providing for their physical, emotional, and financial needs, while sharing with them the love of Christ.
  2. Rally your church to hold a Refugee Sunday to raise awareness and money for our brothers and sisters suffering around the world. Global Partners in Peace and Development provides all the information you need to raise money for the refugee crisis right now, including videos of the work they are doing on the ground. Go to https://www.gpartners.org/refugeesunday for more information.
  3. Pray. Spend time individually, as a family, and in your church praying for the refugees in crisis, and pray for our governmental leaders to know best how to handle it. Pray for the situation in the Middle East and for hearts to be changed from within.
  4. Become informed. Take the time to research everything you can about the situation, reading information from both sides of the political spectrum. Talk to those who work with refugees, and refuse to succumb to either/or thinking.
  5. Don’t jump on the bandwagon. Whether it’s the “They’re all going to kill us” side or the “You’re a bigot/non-Jesus-follower if you don’t let them come” side, monitor your public communication about this issue so that it is balanced, grace-filled, and as fact-based as possible, rather than emotionally charged. Recognize that this is a complex situation and that Christians of sincere faith can disagree on the specifics of how pertinent Christian values should best be applied through public policy. Speak the truth in love, respond with humility around the complexity involved, and resist the temptation to claim there is a simple or obvious response to this crisis.
  6. Support missionaries who are working in this area of the world to change hearts for Christ, because ultimately the defeat of Islamic terror and other global ills will come from within, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

See Luminosity-1920-2Conclusion

The plight of oppressed people should stir Christians to action, and Christians should care about and be involved in public policy related to immigration. However, we must clear about the difference between applying Christ’s mandates to the individual believer and applying those values to policy recommendations. We must also recognize that intentions to help the poor and oppressed on an individual level can become injustices when the power of the state is used to obligate citizens to do things Christ calls us to do voluntarily, out of obedience to Him and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We must not react out of fear or emotion, but honestly and accurately identify and acknowledge the real risks and challenges that radical Islam poses to humanity, and ensure that any policy recommendations regarding refugees do not sacrifice the lives of one group of people for others, while simultaneously remembering that, ultimately, every one of these human beings (yes, including the Islamic State fighters) are beloved human beings God seeks to bring to Himself. In that process, we also must realistically assess the fact that although our role as Christian individuals is to show compassion to the foreigner and justice for the oppressed, God has charged the state with the role of protecting its citizens, and that, sometimes, that role legitimately conflicts with and supersedes the government’s role in demonstrating compassion to the oppressed.See Luminosity again-1920-2

See Luminosity-1920-25I believe that Christian immigration policy should honor our responsibility to the oppressed, while recognizing the state’s primary responsibility to the well-being of its own citizens. On a personal level, Christians should actively pray for, and give to causes to help address the refugee crisis. We also have a responsibility to send missionaries who seek to wage a spiritual battle for the souls of radical Muslims and persons of other faiths by sharing and demonstrating the love of Christ in any ways to which God opens the door. While doing so we should keep in mind that while we cannot, as a people, alleviate all suffering in this world, and trying to do so can serve to simply cause suffering for a different group. However, we can each do something. And that is where the power of our individual relationship with the Lord comes into play as we, as believers, remain obedient to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in our lives, and seek the specific ways in which He calls us to “not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” Because, ultimately, this battle is not one between Muslim jihadis and the West, but between Our Lord and Satan. As we do the difficult work of discerning the Lord’s will both in our individual lives and in public policy, may we remember the words of Ephesians 6:

“10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”


[1] Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17, Titus 3:1, Amos 5:15, Judges 17:6

[2] For example: Daniel 4:27; Job 29:7,12; Psalm 72:1-4, Genesis 41:57

[3] For example: Matt. 6:2-3, Matt. 19:21, James 1:27, Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 2:44-45; Eph. 4:28; 1 Timothy 6:18; Hebrews 13:16, 1 Tim. 5:3, 16; Romans 5:25-27; Psalm 41:1, kinsman-redeemer in Ruth 3-4

[4] Edwards, J.R. (Sept. 2009). A Biblical Perspective on Immigration Policy. Center for Immigration Studies. http://cis.org/ImmigrationBible

[5] For example: Dt. 32:8, Prov. 22:28, Prov. 23:10-11, Ez. 47:13-23, Num. 34:1-15, Dt. 19:14

[6] Num. 21:21,22

[7] Lev. 19:33-34, Ex. 22:21; Dt. 27:17

[8] Hoffmeier, J.K. (2009). The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible. Crossway.

[9] Dt. 16:9-15; Hoffmeier, J.K. (2009). The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible. Crossway. P. 50.

[10] Lev. 18:26, Num. 15:15-16, Dt. 26:12-13, Dt. 24:19-22, Lev. 19:9-10, Dt. 24:14-15, Lev. 19:33, Ex. 23:9; Hoffmeier, J.K. (2009). The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible. Crossway. P. 51.

[11] Hoffmeier, J.K. (2009). The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible. Crossway. P. 51.

[12] Ex. 12:43-49; Ez. 44:9, 1 Sam. 7:3-4, Neh. 13:23-31,

[13] Dt. 23:3-8

[14] Zeigler, K. & Camarota, S.A. (Nov. 2015). “The High Cost of Resettling Middle Eastern Refugees.” Center for Immigration Studies. http://cis.org/High-Cost-of-Resettling-Middle-Eastern-Refugees

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2 Responses to “How to Think About America’s Immigration Policy As a Christian”

  1. Phebe Lee says:

    This was outstanding – well thought out, researched, and faithful to Biblical passages quoted. Very balanced, informative and fair. Excellent!

    • Phebe Lee says:

      Sorry you think my comment “ïmmoderate”but it is a true reflection of my feelings. Although at times she got my back up, I feel her continued observations & examples were so complete and balanced that I was molified/convinced of her points. All in all,the article, scholarship,etc. were outstanding and balanced, informative and fair. (I’d prefer not to have only one mission project mentioned, but that’s life!)

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