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Thinking biblically about immigration policy

Immigration activists climb flagpoles during a protest on August 2, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Immigration activists climb flagpoles during a protest on August 2, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Lexey Swall/Getty Images

What influences the Christian’s thinking on immigration policy once he or she is suitably informed about the issues involved? Most evangelicals would agree that something akin to “the Bible” or “the Holy Spirit” would be the correct answer for this and all such questions. A few years ago, Josh Sieweke realized that for many Christians—including himself—the correct answer is not necessarily the accurate one.

Sieweke is the Atlanta Office Director for World Relief, an evangelical humanitarian organization dedicated to helping churches serve “the most vulnerable,” a categorization that would certainly apply to many types of immigrants. He has observed that believers’ attitudes often seem more influenced by political ideology than by scripture, and he admits this was once the case for him as well. “Growing up in a politically conservative context, it took me a long time to realize I hadn’t been thinking about immigration biblically,” he says. He now admits that his flawed thinking persisted even after he joined World Relief and began working with refugees being resettled in the Atlanta area. “I camped out in the idea that ‘refugees are legal’. I would visit churches and half-joke about it: ‘Don’t worry, you can help these people—they’re legal!’”

A turning point for Sieweke came when he read Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate, written by fellow World Relief staffers Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang. He remembers feeling nervous when the book came out, fearing that his employer would stake out a position he could not support in good faith. Instead, the book convicted him to change his mindset.

“The book was so helpful, specifically to my concept of justice,” relates Siewke. Having grown up believing that “justice” means “obeying the law,” he came to understand that the Christian idea of justice must begin with God himself. And if God is the standard of justice, then the law is “just” only insofar as it reflects God’s character and upholds his ideals. For Sieweke, this idea liberated him to pursue true justice with renewed vigor. “The great thing about the American system,” he says, “is that we have the ability to work to change laws that are not as just as they should be.” And that includes laws relating to immigration policy.

World Relief undertakes continuous efforts to educate and empower churches to pursue this kind of justice for immigrants and citizens alike. Sieweke is one of many signatories of the Evangelical Immigration Table’s Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform, a document that calls Christians to biblical thinking about immigration policy and policymakers to enact legislation that does the following (quoted directly from the organization’s website):

  • Respects the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protects the unity of the immediate family
  • Respects the rule of law
  • Guarantees secure national borders
  • Ensures fairness to taxpayers
  • Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

Aside from advocating for justice at the policy level, Sieweke’s renewed mind freed him in another respect as well: ministering to people where they are. “When I used to say ‘refugees are legal,’ that was my excuse to ignore other immigrants,” he observes. “But God doesn’t give me that option. Even if an undocumented immigrant needs to be locked up or deported—and many do—that is not an excuse to fail to love that person.” This call to love unconditionally will resonate with Christians whose minds are guided by scripture, regardless of the political persuasions they hold.

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