Challenges to Humanity

7 Principles to Help Christians Navigate the Immigration Debate

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Right now, immigration is in the news. Congress is debating various proposals involved with border security. Public officials on both sides agree that the status quo is untenable with border crossings recently reaching their highest on record. And in recent years the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention have passed resolutions on the topic, including one at the most recent convention urging public officials to take action.

Immigration and border security are complicated issues, and faithful Christians will likely disagree on exactly what the best specific policies will be. Yet we can find in Scripture a basic framework to think about the issue well and guide our engagement as citizens.

1. America has the right and duty to secure her borders and protect her citizens.

In Romans 13:4, Paul explains that God delegates power to civil authorities, which are “God’s servant for your good.” The government’s first job is to protect its citizens. This responsibility involves carefully screening who is coming into the country and setting appropriate limits for how many can enter. Without national borders, a nation can’t be secure from those who, in a fallen world, intend to do harm. In Acts 17:26, Paul says that it is God who puts people in their nations and boundaries, implying the legitimacy of borders. Moreover, ancient Israel had borders and respected the borders of their neighbors. Christians shouldn’t see border security as mean-spirited, misguided, or unnecessary, but as a vital function of God-ordained civil government.

2. America should uphold the rule of law.

Writing in the first century to the church, Peter instructs Christians to uphold the rule of law. Echoing Paul’s words in Romans 13, Peter writes:

Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Governments have the right and duty to uphold the rule of law. Romans 13 reminds us that if we break the civil law, we should be afraid, because God has delegated authority to punish evil. Of course, laws should be just laws, and citizens in a democracy like ours have the duty to advocate for just laws and for the elimination of unjust laws. But we shouldn’t champion law-breaking (Titus 3:1).

3. America should create more efficient pathways for people to emigrate legally with limits based on a variety of factors.

Faithful Christians might disagree on the appropriate limits of legal immigration or what criteria might qualify people who emigrate. At the very least, we could agree that those who want to be here and have a deep love for the country make the best citizens. The government should also balance economic needs, the ability for people groups to assimilate into the country, and demand on resources.

We should want to reform cumbersome, confusing, and inefficient mechanisms for government. While efficient government helps citizens flourish by providing order inefficient government leads to disorder. One of the ways we fulfill the creation mandate is by helping communities, cities, and countries move from disorder to order.

We can find in Scripture some basic frameworks to think about the issue well and guide our engagement as citizens.

4. The US cannot take in all those who flee terror and religious persecution, but we should take as many as we can, provided there is appropriate screening.

Jesus said in Luke 12:48 that “to whom much is given, much is required.” The United States’ first responsibility is to its own citizens but, as a wealthy, prosperous, and free country, we should take in many who flee terror and religious persecution after proper vetting. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ seek refuge from evil terrorists and governments who want to kill them for their faith. We can’t take everyone who flees danger like this, but we can take many. Galatians 6:10 says that we should do good, especially to the household of faith. Thankfully, our Baptist churches are serving such refugees in communities across the country.

5. Individual Christians have different responsibilities than the state and federal government.

It’s important for us to understand the difference between the obligations of the state and the obligations of individual Christians. Governments are granted authority by God to protect their citizens, guard their borders, and set up just immigration laws. Individual Christians are commanded to love their neighbors, love the stranger in their midst, and welcome those whom God has brought into our communities. Confusing these two often confuses the immigration conversation.

6. American Christians should welcome immigrants and refugees who end up in our communities.

As immigrants and refugees make their way into our communities, we should see them as image-bearers (Genesis 1-2), not targets for our political outrage or problems to be solved. We should welcome the stranger (Leviticus 19; Deuteronomy 10), and we can do this while also advocating for border security and common-sense immigration laws. Regardless of our specific policy preferences, we should not use dehumanizing language that denies the imago dei in any people group.

7. American Christians should see the nations coming to America as ordained by God and an opportunity for evangelism and discipleship.

The Great Commission declares that the gospel goes to all nations and ethnic groups and that Christians are the ones commissioned by God to deliver this news (Matthew 28:19-20). Today, the nations are coming to America, which we should see as an opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission in our own communities and neighborhoods. What’s more, Paul tells us in Acts 17:26 that “from one man He has made every nation of men to live all over the earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.” God’s hand directs where people live, and he has not erred in allowing this to happen. Rather, we should see the migration of people as an opportunity to live on mission.

Immigration policy is complex, and good people will disagree on the best path forward. But, with this basic biblical framework, we can approach the conversation with clarity.

Editor's Note:

This article was written by Dan Darling, who is the director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement. You can learn more about the Land Center here.

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Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is an author, pastor, and Christian leader. He is the director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dan is a bestselling author of several books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words. Dan’s work is often featured in Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition and his op-eds have appeared in The Washington Post, CNN, Washington Times, Time, Huffington Post, National Review, First Things, and other leading outlets.

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