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Clergy representing various denominations join immigration reform supporters gathered at a rally at the U.S. Capitol in 2006.
Associated Press/Photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari
Clergy representing various denominations join immigration reform supporters gathered at a rally at the U.S. Capitol in 2006.

A Christian conversation on immigration

Immigration | Two different perspectives on how believers should approach the immigration reform debate

Christians are on both sides of the debate on what to do about illegal immigration. Since the Bible tells us that iron sharpens iron, we asked two leaders with different positions to summarize their arguments:

  • Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, based in Washington, D.C., and the author of “Security and Immigration: What Is the State’s Duty Under God?” in The Review of Faith & International Affairs (2011).
  • M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is a distinguished professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Baker Academic, 2008). He is the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference’s national spokesman on immigration.

—Marvin Olasky

Immigration, political realities, and the gospel

By Mark Tooley

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tooley0511.jpgSome prominent evangelical leaders have taken a high-profile role in advocating legislation that would grant legal status to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. Some have described this political cause as a “gospel imperative.” Some have cited Old Testament admonitions to extend hospitality to the “stranger” as implicitly endorsing what is often called “comprehensive immigration reform.” Some have even claimed that Jesus was an illegal immigrant, apparently recalling the Holy Family’s escape from King Herod into Egypt for a season.

Political arguments referencing the Bible have often elevated American politics and helpfully remind us that government falls under divine sovereignty. But specifically claiming that the Bible endorses a particular contemporary political stance is often problematic and sometimes even dangerous. Doing so implies God’s favor for one political position and demonizes the opposition. Routinely portraying political debates as apocalyptic struggles between good and evil militates against political compromise and any social consensus necessary for the common good.

Neither the Scriptures nor Christian tradition typically offer specific political counsel on most contemporary issues. Instead, they offer broad principles about justice, human dignity premised on bearing God’s image, and, no less importantly, the persistence in this age of human sinfulness, which not only precludes but even forbids expectations for political perfection. Political expectations should always be limited, and the unintended consequences of ostensible political reform always a concern. Christianity’s refusal to offer a detailed political map, embodied in Christ’s own rejection of earthly rule and avoidance of specific political stances during His own troubled time on this earth, means that most political issues are matters of prudential judgment. It also means that faithful Christians will often be on nearly all sides of most political issues.

Christians are clearly divided on the best way for the United States to address immigration law. Polls seem to show most Americans and Christians favor some eventual path of legalization for current illegal immigrants. Yet polls also show most Americans and most Christians favor lower levels of overall immigration. Current evolving legislative proposals for “immigration reform” backed by some evangelical elites call not only for mass legalization of current illegals but also increased levels of legal immigration. The United States currently permits roughly 1 million new legal immigrants annually, a number that exceeds every other nation.

The current U.S. debate over immigration policy, like all political debates in this country, pits competing interest groups against each other. Backing mass legalization and increased immigration are business interests wanting cheap labor, some labor unions wanting increased membership, Democrats wanting to enlarge a Hispanic demographic that votes strongly for them, Hispanic interest groups wanting to expand and empower their own constituency, Republicans desperately hoping to appeal to Hispanic voters, and some church groups and officials who similarly believe their own outreach to Hispanics would benefit from the advocacy. Opposing mass legalization and often increased immigration are many working class laborers worried about the effect on wages and the job market, law and order advocates distressed about the effect on law enforcement, cultural traditionalists concerned about the erosion of American traditional culture, some environmentalists concerned about the effects of rapidly expanding population, fiscal conservatives worried about further expanding the social welfare entitlement state, some Republicans worried about the electoral impact, and some legal immigrants who resent that illegals will be rewarded for bypassing the legal process they observed.

On the extremes are anti-American ideologues who reject all national sovereignty and demand open borders, and racialists who fear an American that is less white and Anglo.

Excluding these extremes, most of these interests groups are perfectly legitimate voices who rightly advocate their cause within the great forum of American politics. There are believing Christians among all of these groups. Most of these advocates on both sides believe their cause would not only benefit their constituency but would also benefit the nation. It’s part of the genius of the American system that such competing interest groups, which collectively comprise the American people, peacefully and democratically push their cause before the public and within Congress. What typically emerges ultimately on most contentious issues is hopefully some approximation of a near national consensus, with nobody completely winning or losing. America’s Founding Fathers, with a fairly Christian understanding of fallen human nature, understood that politics cannot assume or seek pure virtue but instead should constructively channel myriad competing interests, avoiding absolute power or victory for any constituency.

Photo of Mark Tooley by James Allen Walker for WORLD

Photo of M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) courtesy of Denver Seminary


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