The Gospel of Immigration
By Dr. Russell Moore
September 14, 2011
I’m amazed when I hear evangelical Christians speak of undocumented
immigrants in this country with disdain as “those people” who are
“draining our health care and welfare resources.” It’s horrifying to
hear those identified with the Gospel speak, whatever their position on
the issues, with mean-spirited disdain for the immigrants themselves.
While evangelicals, like other Americans, might disagree on the
political specifics of achieving a just and compassionate immigration
policy, our rhetoric must be informed by more than politics, but instead
by Gospel and mission.
This is a Gospel issue. First of all, our Lord Jesus Himself was a
so-called “illegal immigrant.” Fleeing, like many of those in our
country right now, a brutal political situation, our Lord’s parents
sojourned with Him in Egypt (Matt. 2:113-23). Jesus, who lived out His
life for us, spent His childhood years in a foreign land away from His
relatives among people speaking a different language with strange
In so doing, our Lord Jesus was reliving the life of Israel, our
ancestors in the faith, who were also immigrants and sojourners in Egypt
(Exod. 1:1-14; 1 Chron. 16:19; Acts 7:6). It is this reality, the Bible
tells us, that is to ground our response to those who sojourn among us
(Exod. 22:21; Ps. 94:6; Jer.7:6; Ezek. 22:29; Zech. 7:10). God, the
Bible says, “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and
loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner,
therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut.
This is much more than a “political” issue, abstracted from our
salvation. Jesus tells us our response to the most vulnerable among us
is a response to Jesus Himself (Matt. 25:40). God will judge those who
exploit workers and mistreat the poor. No matter how invisible they seem
to us now, God hears (Isa. 3:15; Amos 4:1; Jas.5:4).
This is also a question of our mission. There are upwards of 12
million undocumented immigrants in this country right now, and many more
in the Latino community who came here legally. If our response to them
is to absorb the nativism and bigotry of some elements of society around
us, we are showing them a vision of what the Bible calls “the flesh”
rather than the Spirit. If our churches ignore the nations around us who
are living in our own communities, we do not reflect the Kingdom of
God, which is made up of those from every tribe, tongue, nation and
language (Rev. 7:9).
It is easy to lash out at undocumented immigrants as “law-breakers,”
and to cite Romans 13 as reason to simply call for deportation and
retribution. But this issue is far more complicated than that. Yes,
undocumented immigrants are violating the law, but, first of all, most
of them are doing so in order to provide a future for their families in
flight from awful situations back home. Many of them are children (as
our Lord Jesus was at the time of His immigration).
And, even given our nation’s Romans 13 responsibility to maintain
secure borders, the message our nation sends to those across our borders
isn’t clear and univocal. As Southern Baptist leader Richard Land puts
it, there are two metaphorical signs on our border: “Keep out” and “Help
This isn’t to say that there aren’t real political challenges here. I
agree that the border should be secured. I support holding businesses
accountable for hiring, especially since some of them use the threat of
deportation as a way of exploiting these vulnerable workers. I support a
realistic means of providing a way to legal status for the millions of
immigrants already here. But there are many who disagree with me, and
for valid reasons.
The larger issue is in how we talk about this issue, recognizing
that this is not about “culture wars” but about persons made in the
image of God. Our churches must be the presence of Christ to all
persons, regardless of country of origin or legal status. We need to
stand against bigotry and harassment and exploitation, even when it’s
politically profitable for those who stand with us on other issues.
And, most importantly, we must love our brothers and sisters in the
immigrant communities. We must be the presence of Christ to and among
them, even as we receive ministry from them. Our commitment to a
multinational Kingdom of God’s reconciliation in Christ must be evident
in the verbal witness of our Gospel and in the visible makeup of our
Immigration isn’t just an issue. It’s an opportunity to see that, as
important as the United States of America is, there will be a day when
the United States of America will no longer exist. And on that day, the
sons and daughters of God will stand before the throne of a former
undocumented immigrant. Some of them are migrant workers and hotel maids
now. They will be kings and queens then. They are our brothers and
We might be natural-born Americans, but we’re all immigrants to the
Kingdom of God (Eph. 2:12-14). Whatever our disagreements on immigration
as policy, we must not disagree on immigrants as persons. Our message
to them, in every language and to every person, must be, “Whosoever will
Russell Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article is reprinted by RELEVANT Media Group with permission from his blog.
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