Illegal Immigration: How Should the Church Respond?

Written by Drew on May 21st, 2007

With a bipartisan immigration bill on the table in the Senate, it is important to note that illegal immigration is not just a political issue. It has also become a hot theological debate that has pitted Christian leaders against one another in one of the most confusing discussions in recent memory.

If the newspapers are any indication of the Christian response, it would appear that evangelicals condone the illegal activity that has brought more than 12 million undocumented workers into this country.

The Charlotte Observer published a story at the end of last year that reflected the views of the United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Alex Smithers, co-chair of the Charlotte district Latino Ministries Committee, said, “The big political issue is, ‘Are they legal or illegal?’ But from a religious perspective, that is not an issue. Our focus is to be nice to them.” The same article reported that a Baptist Church in the area provides a job bank for Latinos. The church’s Spanish-speaking minister said they “don’t care” whether their members are legal or illegal.

According to the Associated Press, churches in five big U.S. cities announced plans to protect illegal immigrants from deportation by sheltering them in their sanctuary earlier this month. Rather than upholding the laws of the land, these churches have chosen to actively defend crime. Groups like Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform back these moves with Scripture, saying it is the church’s responsibility to honor the law, but sometimes it is necessary to oppose legislation that is unjust. CCIR cites passages like Isaiah 10:1-4, Jeremiah 7:1-7, Acts 5:29, and Romans 13:1-7.

Many church leaders are saying the system’s broke and that something has to be done with the millions of Latino immigrants who seek employment in the United States. There’s no doubt that policy changes are needed in this issue. The bill that is currently before the Senate looks promising, but it is being stiffly opposed by some conservatives who charge that it amounts to nothing more than amnesty. The cry of “amnesty” is effective at fomenting opposition, but it is an oversimplification of the new bill. The new legislation sets border security as a priority, demands that illegals qualify for a four-year visa and later renew it for another four years, requires a trip to one’s country of origin for a green card, calls for the candidate to learn English, and levies a $5,000 fine.

While Congress debates our nation’s immigration policies what should the church be doing?

1. First of all, Christians everywhere need to remember the purpose of the church. Jesus did not die to protect criminals from the law or to reform government policies. He died to save sinners. The church’s job is to make disciples for Jesus by bringing this message to the world and baptizing believers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19-20). This means more than being “nice” to illegal aliens.

2. We also need to identify the real enemy. Emotional immigration advocates often charge America with corruption, when the real reason we are in the middle of this debate is because of corrupt nations like Mexico. It is known that some Mexican officials support illegal immigration to the U.S. They know that immigrants from their country will send billions of dollars back home to support their families.

People come to America in desparation because they are fleeing unspeakable conditions. Who is responsible for that? This is one problem in the world that Americans did not create!

3. Churches need to make a commitment to the laws of the land. It is true that the apostles disobeyed a law that commanded them to cease preaching the gospel (Acts 5:29). But our nation’s immigration policies, while far from being perfect, fit into a different category than the demands of the Sanhedrin in Acts 5.

Paul commanded Titus to remind Christians “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient” (Titus 3:1). He ordered the church at Rome “to be subject to the governing authorities” and pay their taxes (Rom. 13:1-7). Peter said essentially the same thing (1 Pet. 2:13-17). The attitude of some evangelicals, described above, sounds a lot like the words of Jesus’ enemies in Matthew 22: “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Jesus was aware of their malice and responded with the now famous proverb, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (vv. 15-22).

I wonder how many Spanish-speaking ministries uphold the law in their congregations. The gospel calls for sinners to repent (Lk. 13:3; Acts 2:38). How many preachers are asking illegal immigrants to repent of their rebellion by going home and returning to the U.S. through the proper channels?

4. Along with a commitment to the law should go an understanding of it. Should the new bill before the Senate be passed into law, a number of opportunities would present themselves to evangelistic churches looking for inroads into the Hispanic community. For one thing, the law would require immigrants to pass an English test before they can gain citizenship. The Lord’s church could take advantage of this, offering to teach English using the Bible.

It’s long past time for Congress to be working on new legislation regarding America’s immigration problem. When new laws are finally passed, dedicated Christians must find a way both to honor God and show love towards the millions of impoverished sojourners who need the gospel.


7 Comments so far ↓

  1. Tommy Tidwell says:

    Thank you for a wonderful article. As a preacher of the gospel I agree with every word, and hope that what you say has a good hearing. I am somewhat concerned, however, about this new bill. Much like any other bill Congress comes up with, it is a band aid to a much bigger problem. We have to get serious about this.

  2. Ed Rangel says:

    A moral dilemma: I know a construction worker, a Mexican, and I also know for a fact that he is illegal. However, he wants to study the Bible with me. Should I begin teaching him that he is illegal and that he cannot become a Christian until he is back in his country and is legal? Why should I teach him the gospel if he will still be illegal when he comes up out of the water? Is he not still sinning? This is not a dilemma for me because I preach to many illegal aliens and have converted several.

    Could it be that for some of us Christians our political view fashions our religious view? Should it nor be the other way around?

    Ed Rangel

  3. Drew Kizer says:

    You are exactly right, Ed, that our religious views ought to guide our politics. That is why the subject of repentance ought to be discussed in relation to our outreach towards the Hispanic community. Does God demand repentance of only those sins we find personally disagreeable? Or does he require repentance of all sins?

    Concerning the logistics of teaching an illegal immigrant the gospel, let me say that true repentance, the kind of repentance required for salvation, begins in the heart. Therefore an illegal immigrant is not required to return to his home country before he can be baptized. To suggest this is the misunderstand the nature of repentance. However, if he has really repented, then after his baptism his repentance should start to bear “fruit”: “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Lk. 3:8). This would include a submission to the laws of the land, wouldn’t it? If a trip home is not required, then is rebellion a fruit of repentance?

    There is no way to make the gospel approve of illegal immigration.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Rangel,

    In support of Drew’s position, the book of Philemon should be able to address any concerns some may have on this matter. I do not believe that Paul had political correctness or societal popularity on his mind when it was written.


  5. Friar Cook says:

    I think it makes more sense if we keep it simple. Humanity did not create the planet, so we really do not get to decide what the borders are. Christians should ignore this issue all together, and we are told to have compassion for the sojourners among us.

  6. almcfaughn says:


    I think I understand what you are trying to say, but we need to understand two things: (1) when God gave the children of Israel the Promised Land, even HE gave specific “borders” for it; and (2) we are told several times in the New Testament, both by command and implication, to respect and honor the laws of the land in which we live. That command necessarily implies an understanding of where “the land” is.

  7. Drew Kizer says:

    Friar Tuck, you’ve been around Robin Hood too long. I don’t want to question his sincerity, but he never has had much respect for the rule of law.

    I would add to what Adam said that, while God created the world, he put man in it and commanded him to subdue it (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 8:3-8). That alone ought to tell us we are responsible for maintaining order on this planet. How is anarchy good stewardship?

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