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Using the Bible to get opposite answers on illegal immigration


Credit: Reuters/David McNew

The city of Los Angeles voted last month to boycott Arizona  over its crackdown on illegal immigration. There’s been no shortage of politicians and commentators weighing in on the bill, despite some of them admitting to never having read it. 

One of the interesting results is watching how Christians can arrive at opposite conclusions over the bill’s significance. Here are a set of believers who profess the same beliefs, but arrive at completely opposite conclusions over a hot issue. Should a Christian stand behind Los Angeles and refuse to do business with Arizona or support the state in protecting the border?

Jim Wallis’ popular blog, Sojourners, has been running a series of articles criticizing the law despite the comments section containing a healthy amount of support for it.

What is interesting is that both sides use biblical support for their respective positions. Wallis and his writers back up arguments using Exodus and Leviticus, which is later echoed by Christ in Matthew 25:

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. [Leviticus 19:33-34]

Do not mistreat the alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.  Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know what it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. [Exodus 23:9]

The assumption here is that most immigrants are harmless, hungry, hard-working, drug-free, and just looking for opportunity, while policemen are free to be racist. The new bill has now created a problem for Christians because “driving the sick to a doctor or offering shelter and food to the hungry — a direct command of our Christian faith — could be unlawful.”

On the other side, supporters of the bill use the following scriptures to argue that the bill is acceptable:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. [Romans 13:1-3]

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. [1 Peter 2:17]

The underlining assumption here is the opposite of Wallis’ – immigrants are criminals and smugglers, not only breaking immigration law, but also breaking others after they arrive, and the police are just enforcing the law.

So which is correct? Each side has chosen to emphasize a different passage. Wallis emphasizes grace, stating it is OK to break laws if it means taking care of a stranger or reducing discrimination – a Christian directive. His opponents believe everyone should pay respect to the authorities and that they can glorify God by suffering under difficult conditions.

This is obviously a complicated issue and one that can’t be resolved with a few simple words in a column. One attitude worth examining, however, can be seen in the book of Philemon. (shorter than the Arizona bill!) Both sides should embrace each other’s position, like two people both begging to pay the bill after dinner. Look at Paul’s letter where he is figuring out what a runaway slave should do. His answer? The slave should return to his master and the master should receive him as a brother, forgiving him of his debt, with both sides humbling themselves and doing what may be right, but also personally harmful, outdoing the other in love and respect. Perhaps the illegal immigrant should be seeking to return home as the authorities here should be begging them to stay.


  • Tim Delkeskamp 5 years ago

    "Perhaps the illegal immigrant should be seeking to return home as the authorities here should be begging them to stay." Now that is one thought that hasn't come to mind in this whole debate. How might we be able to get that to happen?

  • Mike H 5 years ago

    Any stats on illegal immigrants and what kind of folks they are? Criminals, druggies, or just plain super poor. Would love to hear more of their story, don't know much about them. like the post.

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