March 15, 2011
Illegal Immigrants in the Church
Walking a 'fine line between compassion and conformity'
Late last year, we released "Illegal Immigrants in the Church," from Church Law & Tax Report. In it, Richard Hammar and Ann Buwalda, an immigration attorney, review the details on what churches need to know about immigration law as it relates to welcoming undocumented immigrants into church and recruiting them to work or volunteer. They explore commonly asked questions by churches, and provide information to help churches understand their legal responsibility towards undocumented immigrants in church.
In February, this question surfaced again when Christianity Today asked three distinguished voices about how churches should respond to illegal immigrants who are in their midst.
Below are excerpts of the responses from Mark DeYmaz (directional leader at Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas and coauthor of Ethnic Blends: Mixing Diversity into Your Local Church), M. Daniel Carroll Rodas (distinguished professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible), and Matthew Soerens (U.S. church training specialist for World Relief and co-author of Welcoming the Stranger), as well as links to their full responses.
Read their takes, then tell us how your church is addressing this question.
"When it comes to meeting the spiritual, material, and physical needs of immigrants, there is strong biblical precedent for getting involved (Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 27:19). But New Testament teaching also makes it clear that as followers of Christ, we are to honor the law and respect the rulers of our land (Luke 20:23-25; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). How should we resolve this apparent tension? Out of concern for this member and what his decision might mean for the church, I met with local immigration officials to discuss the situation. I learned that a church is in no way restricted from ministering to people based on their legal status or expected to know who within the congregation is and is not properly documented."
Read DeYmaz's full response.
M. Daniel Carroll Rodas:
"The original question can make issues of legality the overriding focus. These issues obviously are important and must be dealt with. But they should not be the starting point of the discussion or the defining dilemma.
An appreciation of the full biblical witness concerning immigration redirects our attention to the complex needs and wonderful potential of these newcomers, made in the image of God and coheirs in the body of Christ. A very different conversation is generated with another set of questions:* Is the present immigration system compassionate and just?
* How can churches serve as a constructive moral voice in the national debate and express the love of God to immigrant families?
* What steps can be taken so that both majority-culture churches and immigrant congregations learn from one another?"
Read Rodas' full response.
"The church's Great Commission is to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19), and immigrants—regardless of their legal status—present a mission field at our doorstep. Churches should welcome immigrants, recognizing a divinely appointed mission opportunity.
Welcoming immigrants who are here unlawfully, of course, raises new questions for many churches. First and foremost for many is, Are we breaking the law by helping? In general, the legal answer is no. In most states, it is entirely lawful to preach the gospel to undocumented immigrants as well as compassionately meet their tangible needs. We can minister effectively and still be fully in submission to God-ordained governing authorities.As laws change, though, Christians in some states may need to wrestle with whether their mandate to love immigrant neighbors requires civil disobedience."
Read Soerens' full response.