Baptists back path for immigrants
In dealing with the divisive issue of immigration reform, American Christians have needed to balance their devotion to Scripture with their respect for the rule of law.
As the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) 2011 resolution “On Immigration and the Gospel” explains, the Gospel commands us “to love our neighbor as self.” Christians have a biblical mandate to care for “the least of these among us” and for the “strangers” who live among us.
The Bible also commands us “to respect the divinely ordained institution of government.” Christians have a right to expect government to enforce its laws. Disrespect for the rule of law festers into lawlessness.
Several factors have made it increasingly difficult for American Christians to maintain that balance of personal grace with institutional respect for government. Government has failed to enforce immigration laws and has shown little intention of securing the border or the workplace. Consequently, we have posted two signs at our borders: one says “No Trespassing!” and the other says, “Help Wanted!”
The government’s incompetence has allowed 12 million-15 million undocumented workers to come here and work, some of them for decades.
A conversation I had with a congressman is illustrative. He said to me, “It’s immoral to break the law.”
“Agreed,” I replied, “but it is also immoral to not enforce the law for two decades and then decide arbitrarily one day that you are going to do so retroactively.”
Suppose the government informed me that they had been monitoring my driving and now they were going to fine me for every time I had exceeded the speed limit for two decades. I would owe a tidy sum, whereas if they had stopped me the first couple of times, I would have slowed down permanently. Most Americans would reject such a policy as unfair.
Government inaction has allowed undocumented workers to work here, yet their illegal status has kept them from assimilating to the majority culture as rapidly as previous immigrants. This is rending the social fabric in ways that are far easier to rend than they are to mend.
The SBC resolution urges government to secure both the workplace and the borders, then “to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” This passed by a 4-1 margin among local church messengers nationwide.
This is not amnesty. It acknowledges the undocumented have broken the law and must be punished; thus, “restitutionary measures” such as fines, criminal background checks, learning to read, write, and speak English, and going on probation for a number of years before full legal status could be earned.
This approach frees Christians to balance their respect for government with their duty to act redemptively toward everyone they encounter.
Originally appeared in The Tennessean, June 29, 2011