In past months, I have received invitations to attend meetings on the issue of immigration. I have expressed myself both publicly and privately to my lawmakers about what I think about the issue and have written about the matter.
It is now getting new attention since the election, and has been for a while by political party leaders in both Republican and Democratic circles for a very pragmatic reason—the realization that Latinos are and will be ever more politically influential as a coalition that can turn an election. Many years ago, when I taught a course at Samford University’s night school on the history of American Christianity, one of the issues that the writers saw as emerging was how religion and democracy would fare in the 21st century as our nation became less and less a nation of majority European white Christians and more and more a pluralistic and diverse culture.
Politically, of course, the immediate implication is whether our way of government and our fundamental political faith in freedom and opportunity can survive without an underlying cultural and ethnic commonality. The jury is out in many commentators’ minds, but for Christians this is not really a central matter.
For us who follow Jesus Christ as disciples there are other issues more important. First, we have a Kingdom that is not of this world, and our allegiance to that Kingdom exceeds our ties to any particular moment in the world, though we live there and love the world God made, and all who are in it. Second, we have a responsibility to bear witness to Jesus Christ in words and deeds, to the values and story of that kingdom. Therefore, we persuade others to come with us and follow Jesus. We build churches. We feed the hungry and minister to prisoners and victims of domestic violence and we welcome strangers, because Jesus Himself told us that he would be among them. “When you do it unto the least of these…” is burned into our hearts forever. We will be judged at the end of time, according to our gospel, by our actions to those who are suffering.
Finally, we have an entire Bible, Hebrew scriptures and Christian, that bear witness to the responsibility God gave us to treat outsiders, sojourners, strangers, foreigners, aliens—whatever word you use, the Bible speaks clearly and repeatedly—with dignity and respect.
This is where my thoughts about immigration come from—not political opportunity or power issues, but a very simple and deep knowledge that this is right. Being harsh and punitive to the weak, be they Irish immigrants in the 19th century or Dust Bowl refugees in California in the 1930s or Japanese citizens in WW II, is a cultural inevitability, but it is never a Christian response. Whatever governments or political parties choose to do, and we may be in them to influence them, we are forever more worried about what the Living God thinks of us than the local culture and our anxious fears.