It’s almost always a good idea for pastors to steer clear of politics, especially controversial issues. But then Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Apostle Paul in defense of the controversial practice of separating children from families caught crossing the border illegally, and pretty much every pastor in America groaned. Immigration already is a powder keg and churches in America have people on both sides of the issue. Pastors can ignore it... they want to ignore it and that may be the easy solution. But the attorney general brought The Bible into the conversation. There is also the issue of the plethora of verses on defending the helpless (ex. Psalm 83:3-4). But pastors don’t need to stay in their bunkers of silence because there are great opportunities here to teach about Scripture, Jesus, and the purpose of The Church. Real change doesn’t come through laws but through transformed hearts. There’s no better way to do this than through The Bible, Jesus, and The Church.
Here are three ways pastors can respond to the immigration saga.
TEACH BIBLE LITERACY SKILLS
Sessions referred to Romans 13 as justification for the controversial practice, which has since been reversed and is still being fought. This is an example of interpreting scripture out of context, which led to a faulty application of the Word of God. In Romans, Paul is writing to the church in Rome and the theme for this particular section (Ch 12-15:13) is about practicing righteousness. Rome at this time (~57AD) was ruled by Nero and within a few years he was heavily persecuting Christians. Paul is clearly not saying that Rome is good and ordained by God. His point is that God is sovereign and any government is only in power because God allows it. So his message in Romans 13 is for Christians to obey Rome DESPITE persecution and the fact that it’s being ruled by Nero. Why does Paul write this? It’s because he wants believers to focus on things that matter for eternity (justification, sanctification, everything in Romans 1-12) and NOT on the current unpleasant political climate.
Today, every group (except one) can cite this passage of scripture to encourage their people to obey the government despite persecution. The one group that CANNOT cite this passage is the government referring to itself. If the attorney general, who is smart, accomplished, and has been a church attender for many years, doesn’t understand the importance of context when interpreting scripture, then every pastor has a congregation full of people who lack basic Bible literacy. This is a great opportunity to address this weakness in The Church.
COMPARE THE HEART OF JESUS AND THE PHARISEES
The basic argument for each side of the immigration issue boils down to this:
Think of the children! VS. Think of the law!
It’s really that simple. Each side prioritizes their focus and makes decisions accordingly.
A pastor’s role is not to help make laws but to help guide people to have a heart like Jesus. So here is another great opportunity to explore scripture. Take a look at how Jesus responded to pain and suffering compared with how the Pharisees do.
Spoiler: Jesus focuses on compassion and the Pharisees focus on the law (Ex. Luke 13:10-17, Jesus heals on the Sabbath).
Pro Tip: A Christian is supposed to be like Jesus, not the Pharisee.
The issue of immigration isn’t this simple but a pastor’s role isn’t to solve the world’s problems. It is to help disciple people who will do it with the heart of Jesus.
EXPLORE THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH AND THE EFFECTS OF FEAR
To paraphrase William Temple's famous quote, “The Church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This means that a core characteristic of The Church, and a Christian since it’s the believers that make up The Church, should be selflessness. Jesus becoming human is the prime example of this. So the Christian reaction to immigration or any human crisis should be compassion first and self-preservation second. It’s obviously much more complicated than this and wisdom needs to be applied to every situation. But our immediate reaction does reveal if we really understand the purpose of The Church. So what’s going on in regards to the immigration saga?
Everyone has a sinful nature. This means it’s natural for people to fear and act out of fear. It’s natural for people to be afraid of the problems undocumented immigrants will bring. This fear is multiplied by myths and focusing on extreme cases without the context of wider statistics. But this fear is legitimate and natural.
Pastors are thoroughly equipped to help people tackle their fear.
“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” - 2 Timothy 1:7
Throughout scripture there are many passages that teach people not to be afraid. Pastors can be the champion for people who struggle with fear.
Immigration reform is a complex issue and nothing written in this post will solve the problem. Blindly applying it to laws and policies would be unwise. But pastors aren’t called to solve political issues. They are called to disciple people to have the heart and spirit of Jesus in thinking about, talking about, and if they are in a position of influence, to solve the problem in a way that honors the Lord, who loves all people. How wonderful it would be if leaders now, and hopefully the next generation of leaders, were people who understood how to properly apply scripture to life, had the compassionate heart of Jesus, and were selfless and fearless in the way they led and governed. Pastors have an opportunity to help steer America towards this reality.