Friday, September 08, 2017

Immigration: Christian Individuals and Civil Authorities

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Christians are manifestly enjoined to treat the stranger with straightforward honesty, hospitality, good will, love and kindness. If the Christian individual’s treatment of immigrants and refugees can be guided unequivocally from God’s commands, precepts and examples found in the Bible, why are Christians in the U.S. so divided by the subject of immigration? Part of it can be explained as just approaching the Bible differently. I believe in large part we arrive at differences because of different understandings of the purpose of government and different applications of the Christian’s relationship to government.[i] In other words, much of what we debate is not how the individual should treat strangers, but how the government should treat them.

From whence cometh government, and what is its purpose? Michael Oh puts it succinctly: “Government...has been instituted by God not only for the good of humanity but also for the glory of his own name.” Here are some biblical principles.

Civil authority is instituted by God, both generally and specifically.
  • Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
  • Daniel 2:21 and he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings
Civil authority is an agent of justice, rewarding good and punishing evil.
  • 1 Peter 2:13-14 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
  • Romans 13:4 for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
Civil authority deserves prayerful consideration and lawful obedience.
  • 1 Timothy 2:1-3 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
  • Mark 12:17 And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him. (Cf. also Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17)
Civil authority is not absolute (only God’s authority is).
  • Acts 4:18-19 And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.
  • Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
Broadly we can say that our government both generally and specifically exists by the decree of God and at the delight of God. In engaging its purpose, it should defend what is good and those who abide by it, while punishing what is evil and those who practice it. Christian citizens should be good citizens who obey the law, pray for & promote peace and seek justice. Only as a last resort should they disobey the law, choosing obedience to God over obedience to government.

Some people, once they have gone through this many scriptures and this much thinking, will have all the right answers (or at least think they do). As for me, I confess to not knowing how to put together every piece of this puzzle. There is no direct command from God to governments how they should or should not regulate immigration. I find nothing to indicate that government regulating immigration is either inherently moral or immoral.[ii] I believe any such laws should ideally correspond with the purpose of government. As much as is possible, Christians should use their influence to promote good. In conclusion, with hope for more light in the future, I say this. When unsure of which direction to turn, follow the course that does less harm. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

Finally, I leave you all with this thought that Chris Johnson wrote in a comment at SBCVoices, “Whatever the plight of the ‘Dreamer’ ends up with respect to whether they remain in limbo (Obama’s directive), become legalized (neo-amnesty with perks through Congress), or are systematically removed in order to follow the law of the nation (existing laws on the books), the churches can be there to help, love, and share the gospel. The great commission is something the church can do in all three of those scenarios...that will never change.”

[i] In addition, we derive much of our view on immigration and immigration law from the application of principles we find (or think we find). I am unfamiliar with the history of border controls and entry requirements (such as visas, passports). I am not aware of anything like that in either the Old or the New Testaments. The concept of territory and borders can be found in Scripture (e.g. Numbers 21:22), but not like we have refined it in modern “first-world” countries.
[ii] Curiously, there are a number of people who emphatically deny that the United States is a Christian nation, and furiously clamor for complete separation of church and state – and yet when it comes to immigration they argue for the government to found the immigration laws in what they believe are Christian principles. This study has revealed another odd inconsistency. A good number of Americans who support complete amnesty for illegal immigrants also support same-sex marriage. When supporting the former position (amnesty), they do so citing the Old Testament Law of Moses (i.e, what it says about foreigners/strangers). When supporting the latter position (same-sex marriage) they deny any weight to the Old Testament Law of Moses passages against homosexuality (often comparing it to laws against sowing different kinds of seeds). Consistency, thou art a jewel!

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