Baptists back path for immigrants

By Richard Land
Jul 1, 2011

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

Further Learning

Learn more about: Citizenship, Immigration,


1 On Jul 2, 2011, at 9:23am, Duane wrote:

Yes because of this my family and I have left the church I believe in social conservatism and letting 20 million Democrat illegals into my country is political suicide The southern Baptist now will never speak for me again!

2 On Jul 2, 2011, at 7:14pm, Stephen R. Leach wrote:

As a non-christian Spirit filled new creation in our Lord Jesus Christ, I must ask you why you are backing a plan to allow illegal immigrants to benefit from their illegal acts through their kids?  Have you seriously spoken to our Lord about this, because if you did, I’d say you were liars and hypocrites.
The great ‘falling away’ of the christian church is in full swing right now, and y’all have just joined that sinking boat. 
Where were you folks when prayer was taken out of the school? Where were you folks when they began teaching our children that homosexuality was normal? Where were you when the Gov’ts of this land ushered the Lord our God out the door? 
Is your 501(C) tax exemption so important to you or is the Lord more important? Pay your taxes and go to the Lord for your provision, but please seek our Father and repent of your deeds first.  Maybe then He may be able to use you in His final witness of the truth before the time of the end.  Maybe.

3 On Jul 2, 2011, at 9:04pm, Carrie Winans wrote:

How is currently enforcing a current law doing so retroactively?  If you are in the country illegaly you are breaking the law now.  How would this not encourage more people to break the law?  They know if they get away with it long enough they will be rewarded.  How is this fair and compassionate to the “least of these” from other countries who have waited for their turn to come to America?  You know, in countries where being a Christian can get you killed?  I am not sure how rewarding bad behaviour is Christ-like.

4 On Jul 4, 2011, at 2:40pm, George Stanley Monroe wrote:

I’m sorry, but I as a Southern Baptist do not agree with this decision to allow illegal immigrates special status just because their parents chose to break the law. I am disappointed that my religion has decided to venture into politics of this type. I know our religion teaches tolerance, but it also teaches one to stand their ground. There is a proper and legal way to enter this country, and this is not it. I fear that there my be underlying reasons for this decision that have nothing to do with Biblical teaching.

5 On Jul 4, 2011, at 6:33pm, Channing wrote:

Dr. Land, it’s not unjust to enforce a law even if it’s retroactive if it’s the law. All of my sins/works will be judged retroactively on judgment day. Just bec God has delayed the judgement day for us does not mean it is no longer the law. I still don’t understand the reasoning for rewarding (being compassionate it’s called) to thievery and law breaking. Also, it would be one thing IF there was no way for immigrants to become citizens here and they ‘broke the law’ to find safe haven, etc. It’s entirely different when they are already laws, measures, etc available for LEGAL citizenship and yet ignore it. Grace, hck

6 On Jul 4, 2011, at 9:08pm, kevin K wrote:

What ever happened to separation of church and state? The SBC should keep out of the political arena. If you are unaware a majority of the illegal aliens here like it the way it is. They do not pay income tax and they are free to send any amount of tax free cash south of the border and use benefits that citizens in this country could use and have paid taxes on. Yes it is tragic that the children that were brought into our country by their parents are just as illegal as the parents, but when someone commits a crime and you are aware of it and knowingly help them makes you an accomplice these children know that their parents a re illegal and so are they!!  And your analogy with the traffic fines is way off. There is a difference one is a felony and could be construed as treason and the other is a civil misdemeanor. As a Baptist I do not agree with this statement from SBC and I think you will find that most southern baptist will not either.


7 On Jul 5, 2011, at 2:57pm, Skipper Queen wrote:

I DO NOT support the Southern Baptist “Clean Dream Act”.
I am a Southern Baptist, very active in a Southern Baptist Church. Many people I know do NOT support this. You have NO RIGHT to spring this out of NO WHERE and say we support this. Our Convention needs to stay neutral on this issue. I am terribly upset by this push and stance. Do not speak for all Southern Baptists because you must certainly do not have the support on (in my opinion) the bulk of your on members.

8 On Jul 5, 2011, at 6:55pm, Jim Knight Youth Grunt of a SBC church wrote:

I do not support this and is why as youth worker I will never offically become a youth minster.  I can not with good faith see how the SBC can ask its minsters to push a political agenda that has a way for these immigrants to become Legal citizens rather than Illegal citizens. Notice I said illegal they are breaking the law that law starts at any age. If a man or woman dies in this world and does not know Christ its his or her OWN responibilty to accept him. This is so much simpler than salvation the church should help those in need if those in need are breaking the law and the law to become legal is not against Christian or doctrine then help them become legal.  Pushing the dream act on ministers to the flocks um NO.

9 On Jul 5, 2011, at 7:35pm, Dallas Bumgarner wrote:

I am a Pastor and we have a ministry to Hispanics using ESL and the Bible but in no way do we condone unlawful actions. If they are illegal immigrants, they have broken U.S. law and should be treated like any other person who has broken the law (including me). We introduce them to Christ, teach them biblical principles and encourage them to make right that which is wrong in their lives, Your logic about the speeding tickets is flawed. Please reconsider!
Your Christian Brother

10 On Jul 5, 2011, at 10:17pm, Robert Smith wrote:

I do not recall Jesus saying that we can disobey civil law if we find it inconvenient or that it might hurt someone’s feelings. Dr. Land does not represent me or the majority of my Middle Tennessee Southern Baptist friends on the topic of immigration. I just wish Dr. Land would not make such outlandish statements in his official capacity. He clearly states that he does not officially speak for the membership, but no one in the real world pays any atttention to that disclaimer. It would be much better if Dr. Land took a “no comment” position on this topic.

11 On Jul 5, 2011, at 10:36pm, Jonathan McLain wrote:

I would like to echo what many have already said.  THese are law breakers.  If I get away with breaking a law for years it still doesn’t excuse what I have done.  Stop making excuses we supported law breakers.  Not Biblical Not Moral, Not right.  You should be ashamed of yourself for supporting this resolution.  YOu should be ashamed of doing it in Arizona where they are sturggling to control their border.  You should be ashamed to do it to try to curry favor with democrats. 

Jonathan McLain

12 On Jul 6, 2011, at 12:51am, pastor jose fernandez jr. wrote:

This is a very difficult issue. When you pastor in a community of undocumented it is a totally different story. I have always try to remain neutral to the status of those i serve in Christ. As Dr. Land says we win them to Christ and disciple them in the word. The church is not the INS so it is not our job to turn people in or encourage them to go back. It is my job to develop a sensitivity to scripture and to the leading of the holy spirit. This includes being the best christians they can be while in this country. As the church we also try to provide a way for them to qualify for citizenship—language learning, legal resources , etc. A life before Christ is very different than a life with Christ. For those of you hardcore bible stumpers, God sometimes surprises us in the scriptures with non-convetional methods. Read joshua 2 and Rahabs treament on the spies and her subsequent actions. Pj

13 On Jul 6, 2011, at 1:56am, Wade wrote:

Dr. Land you are simply wrong about this and the position is flawed. The good thing is that a resolution from the convention is not binding upon our churches or upon us Southern Baptists. The “official” position of our convention is on the wrong side of the issue.

14 On Jul 6, 2011, at 3:34am, Stephen Leach wrote:

@Kevin K-  There is no such thing as the separation of church and state my friend; it’s a fraud that has been foisted upon the American people by an activist Judicery.  The constitution holds no words or suggestions that the Church and State are separate.  It does say however, that the gov’t cannot interfere with the free exercise of religion. 
As a Believer, if I’m elected President, how can I possibly separate the fact I am the church and head of State?  The Lords Kingdom will not separate the two, in fact, they’re intertwined together. :)

15 On Jul 6, 2011, at 7:51am, Craig wrote:

As a Christian who happens to be Hispanic I think we need to get are border secured and for one we need to do away with the dream act. Has Mr. Land looked at Mexico’s immigration policy? Does he think I could sneak over there and be allowed to stay to reap the benefits of the state?  I also think as Christians we need to stop referring them to Undocumented I mean you don’t refer to a robber as an undocumented house guest. Let’s all seek the Lord in these decisions.

16 On Jul 6, 2011, at 5:45pm, Channing Kilgore wrote:

Dr. Land, ur position doesn’t represent SBC. I have heard ur view on this b4 & when I heard the res. @ the SBC, I knew it was ‘your baby’. Res. comm. passed it off as theirs but in actuality it was urs. This was either disingenuous of the res. comm. or lazy for not researching it themselves.
Jose, would you tell ur church to NOT report thieves breaking into homes across the street bec the church is not the police depart.? Surely not…again, we obey Romans 13, unless it’s sinful…btw, it’s not a sin to report illegal activity…God forbid someone breaks in ur home & someone uses the “Well, I’m a church member not the police” argument.
Kevin K.-it’s impossible to separate church/state issues…biblically, how can u believe this when scripture says “Jesus is King of kings, Lord of lords” or in modern language “President of presidents”...constitutionally, the phrase separation of church/state is NO legal founding document such as Dec. of Ind., Constitution, Bill of Rights.

17 On Jul 6, 2011, at 9:50pm, Joseph wrote:

The church has failed once again.  They have decided for years that tobacco use was ok, and it increased.  They decided that alcohol use was ok, and it increased.
They decided that divorce was OK, and it increased.
They decided that HELLFIRE and DAMNATION was no longer to be preached, but rather love and acceptance…
and homosexuality was ok, and gay marriage was ok,
and now the church is deciding which of mans laws to follow, and which to ignore… and ILLEGAL immigration is ok.

When will the church realize that it is not the duty of the government to LEGISLATE morality, but that of the church to TEACH what is good and right.  No matter how many laws our government comes up, we will always have evil. 

The church needs to give up it’s 501C3 status, if that is all that is preventing it from preaching the TRUTH and stop being afraid of being accused of hateful speech, or ‘offending’ someone.  Jesus loved the person, but hated the SIN.  Why can the church not follow his example?

18 On Jul 7, 2011, at 3:17am, Stephen R. Leach wrote:

This is an interesting response to such a divisive and explosive political issue.
From what I’ve read, there are a great many Southern Baptists who don’t appreciate what their ‘church leadership’ is doing.
Isn’t that the crux of the problem?  The politics of christianity and the thousands of denominations within christendom where not too many seem to be travelling in the same direction. 
Should not the people be represented by the Lord, and not the leaders of a failed Nicolatian system? You can ‘change’ your leadership, maybe; but if the Lord isn’t fully in charge of each individual lives, then actions are nothing more than a clanging cymbal isn’t it; especially within the confines of a religious system. 
“Come out of her my people, lest you share in her sins and partake of her plagues.”  Rev 18:4

19 On Jul 7, 2011, at 4:32pm, SeanM wrote:

1. Political courage is taking an unpopular stand.  Thank you Dr. Land for your courage.

2. If breaking one law makes one illegal, then we are all illegals.

3. The solution is a path to residency not citizenship, I believe, because it compassionately avoids deportation (most undocumented immigrants have no chance to immigrate legally)  but does not give the undocumented the same political rights as legal immigrants who become citizens.

20 On Jul 8, 2011, at 8:38pm, Tim Young wrote:

Unbelievable. Let’s see if you can spot your own error in an apostles admonition of LEADERSHIP”

Mark 3:27 (NIV):  “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house”

No wonder our houses have been entered, our possessions are being carried off, and we are being robbed - in broad daylight…it’s because OUR LEADERS decided to come down on the side of corruption!

Do you remember what happened when the hand wrote on the wall? Do you remember what the voice said while the hand was writing on the wall?

We are NOT sheeple, we are God’s people. If you want to take portions of our tithes and all of your own building funds to feed the illegal poor - then do it.


21 On Jul 9, 2011, at 10:11pm, Bill wrote:

Quote, Richard Land: “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.”

Sir, with this you have presented a flawed analogy. You have committed the logical fallacy of the “Straw Man” argument, by setting up an invalid premise.

Every time you exceeded the speed limit, it was for a limited period of time. If the cops caught you doing that at the time, you would be liable. But at some point you slowed down to the within the speed limit.

Illegal aliens don’t break the law by coming to the country, they break the law by staying in the country. In other words, as long as they are here, they are still “exceeding the speed limit.”

I have nothing but contempt for people, especially fellow Christians, who misrepresent an argument just to make it easier for them to knock down. It’s something liberals do constantly. Are you a liberal?

22 On Jul 12, 2011, at 10:18am, Julio Garza wrote:

First of all, putting yourself in the undocumented person’s shoes would help a lot. The Fathers of our country did the same many years ago. They fled their countries to seek a better life, a life where they could “pursue happiness” with dignity. Like undocumented people, they to where not allowed peacefully into this land and they fought to give everyone of us a better future. Most undocumented people come to contribute to the economy with their work, they spend their money here by living, eating, buying gas, here. They don’t come to take over but to be part of.

23 On Jul 12, 2011, at 10:27am, Julio Garza wrote:

Comment # 5: Channing, even though God will judge retroactively on judgment day, he did provide a way for you to be saved. You could call it amnesty if you want, because even though our salvation came at the highest price that could ever be paid (Christ’s blood), it wasn’t paid by us. (Dr. Land proposes restitutionary measures). You’re right, it’s not unjust, but it’s merciful. Christians are called to that (recall the parable of the two debtors). This way that He provided you didn’t earn, but was given to you by first not giving you and I what we deserve (we call this mercy, he was compassionate to us) and secondly but amazingly beautiful, by giving us what we could never have attained by our own works (we call this grace), giving us access to heaven (citizenship not only residence) and salvation NOW from our sins, by renewing our minds with His Word. He redeemed our soul now, and will redeem our bodies in his second coming.

24 On Jul 14, 2011, at 10:01pm, Janice wrote:

Oklahoma immigration laws were strengthened about two years ago. When laws changed I saw Romans 13:1-7 being played out. This Scripture in Romans tells us that all governments have been placed in power by God. Those refusing to obey the laws of the land are also refusing to obey God. The authorities do not frighten those who are doing right, but they frighten those who are doing wrong. The illegals here went into hiding. Some went home. This Scripture also speaks of paying taxes, which most of these illegals did not do.If you want to see where your thinking leads, look at California. They’re broke. They embraced the “nanny state” and probably thought they were being good Christians. Now, they are unable to help themselves. According to economists, a country the size of the United States can afford to absorb about one million people. To my knowledge, God never said anything at all about being “politically correct” or humanistic.

25 On Jul 14, 2011, at 10:40pm, Carol C. wrote:

These social policies supported by Jim Wallis and Richard Land are stealing in the name of the State and as a Southern Baptist will fight with my pocketbook and with all my might this doctrine of Marxism. God does not say anywhere in His Scriptures to steal from others to forcibly give to those who refuse to work…for those who can’t there is help.Our only choice may be to leave the SBC and I dare say that is the ultimate plan of satan to destroy this Body of Believers because they are one of the few who stand for Righteousness and Truth. “Sojourners”-funded by an atheist who is a Marxist. Wonderful, and Richard Land gives him a platform…terribly disturbing.

26 On Jul 15, 2011, at 11:03pm, Jonathan McLain wrote:

One of your problems is that you are combining imigrants in the same pool as illegal immigrants. Most of the people in this country are descendants from immigrants, but they came here through the front door.  Don’t compare the two.  They are not the same.  The problem with supporting illegals is that you are supporting law breakers.  We must not land on the side of law breakers.
Even if illegals come to contribute to the economy,still they have broken the law.  WE MUST NOT SUPPORT LAW BREAKERS NO MATTER HOW POLITICALLY BENEFICIALLY it may be.

27 On Jul 15, 2011, at 11:11pm, Jonathan McLain wrote:

Sean M what law have you broken that makes you illegal?  What law have I broken that makes me illegal? 

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.  John 10:1

28 On Jul 16, 2011, at 9:37pm, Hector Melendez wrote:

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21

#1 The Federal government has the obligation to protect our nation, i.e. protect all of our borders (North, South, maritime and air), so we must pay our taxes and demand the Executive to his job.

#2 I hope and pray that all of you seek the Kingdom of God first and obey His commandments. I hope you are more concerned about sharing the gospel (Mat 28:18-20) with everyone you come across regarding of their skin color, culture, native language or immigration status.
A real disciple of Jesus Christ will even forgive his enemies (revenge is of the Lord), feed the hungry and thirsty, take care of the homeless and fatherless and visit the outlaws who are in prison.

29 On Jul 19, 2011, at 1:45am, Channing Kilgore wrote:

Julio, First I don’t have to put myself in their shoes, nor do I have to put myself in a thieves shoes to know and be able to say that stealing is wrong…I don’t have to experience everything to have better knowledge..that was the same temptation Satan gave to Adam/Eve…God’s word is enough…second, they are not ‘undocumented workers’, they are illegals…and illegal means illegal…i don’t call someone who breaks into my home an ‘undocumented resident’...this is political garble language to confuse the issue just like ‘pro choice’ sounds nicer than ‘pro baby death’...Third, our founding fathers fled but also STOOD UP to tyranical gov’t to make a better life…why can’t ‘undocumented people’ go home and take American capitalism, free gov’t, etc and make their own gov’t do it? it cost our founders their lives…i’m pretty sure they didn’t die to let others come here and unassumingly steal the work, living conditions, school systems, culture, etc.

30 On Jul 20, 2011, at 5:39pm, PAMELA MANN wrote:

THANK YOU, SBC, & Dr. Land, for your public stand supporting the DREAM ACT.  There are thousands of children/young adults in the US, who were brought here by their parents, OR were smuggled in as victims of human trafficking…of which I rescued a few…and were then educated in our public school systems. WHY NOT allow them to continue their education and be put on a path of citizenship to become productive, proud citizens of our great nation, after we have educated them through childhood?  Sounds like a sane and humane solution to me.

31 On Jul 22, 2011, at 6:56am, Alan Davis wrote:

Just obey the laws. And the goverment should enforce them, and Dr. Land dosent speak for me (respectfully submitted as I know Dr. Land is probably a true servant of the Lord).

32 On Jul 22, 2011, at 6:28pm, Tim Young wrote:

I wish I had your belief that Mr Land is a true servant.

I cannot believe that someone who is as involved in selling the pablum and rotteness of this “spiritual” meal…is either complicit in the propaganda, or so tone-deaf that he’s not capable of hearing Christ’s message.

I do not think anyone who accepts & sells the support of dangerous, debilitating, illegal activity that is being used to overwhelm our social network - from the PULPIT - should ask the LORDS people to do something he CLEARLY has not asked his Lord (the heavenly one) for permission to sway…

I am reminded of a prophet of God, a donkey, and an angel with a flaming sword.

Mr Land, stop beating the donkey and lift up your eyes.

Why would the Father of truth stoop to using lies to sell his plan?

33 On Jul 25, 2011, at 6:45pm, Mark Crotinger, D. Min. wrote:

The messengers of any particular Southern Baptist Convention have never spoken for me, nor have they asked me what I thought, on this and many other issues.  Whether it is the current issue in this article or the boycott of Disney, they do not speak for me, or for other Southern Baptists.  That is the difference between messengers and representatives, as we have been taught for years in a more local setting.  Messengers vote what they think at that time with no responsibility to those who sent them.  Therefore, they do not speak for me.  Dr. Land does not speak for me.  No entity of the SBC speaks for me.  You have touched a vital nerve in us.  It is not necessarily about the issue at hand as i see it.  Stop trying to speak for us, or even most of us.  You do not.  This has been a concern of mine for over 20 years.

The comment thread for this article is now closed. Please use our contact form.

You May Also Like

LIFE DIGEST: Judge blocks Indiana ban, upholds life at fertilization FOURTH OF JULY: America, the exceptional nation