“The status of our neighbor can’t be a prerequisite for the church’s concern about aliens and their families.”

I am the son of immigrant parents.  My family story is similar to so many other families in our country, of foreigners arriving to our shores seeking a better life for themselves through hard work and education.  Over 50 years ago, JFK spoke of the United States as a “nation of immigrants”, and while the ethnic make-up or our country has certainly changed over the decades, this descriptor of our identity still rings true.

Immigration reform is once again at the forefront our national agenda, and there are a variety of opinions of how we should treat immigrants in the U.S.  Chiefly, the debate is over those people who are in our midst unofficially.  Whether you call them “illegal aliens” or “undocumented workers” probably belies your views of what laws our country should pass to bring about a comprehensive program to treat fairly the foreigners in our midst.

This article is NOT about what immigration law should look like.  Indeed, faithful Christians might have quite different ideas regarding political solutions to our current circumstances.  The LCMS does not have an official position regarding immigration reform, but has recently published a Lutheran framework for addressing immigration issues as a guideline for making informed and faithful decisions about participating in the political process. (My article is based on the contents of this booklet, entitled “Immigrants Among Us.”  For a free e-copy, please contact us at info@immanuelriverside.com)   While there is no clear biblical mandate on what U.S. immigration policy should be, Scripture is very clear on the role of each individual Christian in response to the alien in our midst.

YOU WERE ONCE AN ALIEN

Even as God was forming the nation of Israel and leading them into the Promised Land, He was explicit in His instructions of how His people were to treat the sojourner.  We are all aware of God’s loving concern for the poor, fatherless and widow, but we often overlook the fact that the alien is also frequently included in this biblical list of the most vulnerable in our society.  God loves all people, and He made it clear to His chosen people that they were to show love and respect to the foreigner. God reminded the Israelites that they too were once aliens in Egypt, and therefore they should treat kindly the foreigners living in their midst.  Not only did this include helping them with basic needs, but also practicing justice for those who are oppressed.

JESUS’ CONCERN FOR THE WELFARE OF THE FOREIGNER

Jesus showed this same loving concern during His ministry. While Christ’s main mission was to serve the lost sheep of Israel, our Savior often went out of His way to interact with and help foreigners (see Matthew 15:21-28).  He healed their diseases, forgave them their sins, and invited them to become co-heirs in the Kingdom of God.   He often praised those who the religious leaders considered outcasts. Of the Roman Centurion, Jesus says, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10)

Even as our country debates over immigration reform, the legal or illegal status of our neighbor can’t be a prerequisite for the church’s concern about the basic dignity of aliens and their families.  This is made clear in the debate Jesus once had with a particular lawyer.  The lawyer was looking for a loophole in God’s command that we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves.  “Desiring to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29)

Jesus responds to this legal probing by telling him the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  In the story, it is not the priest or levite who acts justly, but an alien – a Samaritan – that shows us what it means to love our neighbor.   Our love for the stranger among us is never abstract, but rather shows itself concretely by providing for basic needs, showing kindness and respect.

YOUR LIFE AS A CHRIST FOLLOWER

What does that mean for each of us?  Who is your neighbor?  Learn from Jesus’ parable and consider all those you pass by in your daily life.  Whether you are at work, school, shopping, visiting, or at home, you constantly come into contact with many who need God’s love.  No matter what your political views, your calling as Christ’s ambassador in the world is to be eager to love and serve your neighbor, even the alien among us.  In so doing, you will have a foretaste of that great moment in heaven when Jesus will gather together all His children “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”  All together we will cry out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  (Revelation 7:9-10).

GUIDELINES FOR OUR CHURCH IN SERVING THE ALIEN IN OUR MIDST

  1. We openly invite all people, no matter their immigration status, to fully participate in the life and membership of Immanuel Lutheran Church and School.
  2. We openly and generously offer assistance to all the poor of our city, no matter their immigration status.
  3. We are not required by law to investigate or report the status of immigrants who are involved in our ministry.Immanuel is a safe place for all people to receive spiritual care through Word and Sacrament.
  4. We will encourage and assist immigrants in any way possible to gain their legal status.
  5. Because it is against the law to employ undocumented immigrants, Immanuel honors civil authorities and refrain from doing so.