What Should Churches Do About Immigration?


Let's face it: Global migrations in the 21st century will not disappear just because of wishful thinking.

While 6.3 billion people in the world in 2002 were native born, according to the BBC's "Fact File: Global Migrations," 175 million were foreign born. The expectation is that this number will grow to 230 million by 2050.

This global phenomenon also affects the United States. At present, one in every 35 people in the world is an international migrant. If all migrants lived in the same place, it would be the world's fifth-largest country.

In North America in the year 2000, more than 40 million people were considered immigrants. Of them, about 12 million are still living in the shadows of what is called for them "illegality," in fear of deportation and separation from family.

Illegal immigrants, lawmakers, regular people--all of us--should be actively seeking a solution to the immigration maze. That includes churches.

Options for churches might be difficult, but not doing anything only perpetuates the status quo. Just very recently some churches in the United States have been forming a coalition called "New Sanctuary Movement" with a declared purpose to "enable congregations to publicly provide hospitality and protection to a limited number of immigrant families whose legal cases clearly reveal the contradictions and moral injustice of our current immigration system while working to support legislation that would change their situation."

While some of our Baptist churches would perhaps not feel ready for such a radical stance, there are many things a local church could do to promote justice and understanding in the immigration debate. The following are just a few suggestions.

First, since we Baptists declare the Bible to be our only rule of faith and practice, Baptist churches should be studying carefully what the Bible has to say about immigration. There are some texts I would suggest for a series of Sunday school lessons for any church or group of Baptists who want to learn what the attitude of the Bible is toward the stranger, and what kind of hospitality is expected from believers: Exodus 12:49, 22:21, Leviticus 19:10, 19:34, Numbers 15:15, Deuteronomy 10:17-19, 27:19, Jeremiah 22:3, Acts 10:28-29, Romans 12:13, Ephesians 2:19-20, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8, Hebrews 11:13, 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9. Baptist professor Penrose St. Amant used to say that Baptists are a people with "an open Bible and an open mind." Hopefully, we still are like that.

Second, Baptist churches should be adopting for themselves Jesus' agenda for mission and ministry: Luke 4:18-19. It is good to know initiatives like the New Baptist Covenant and EthicsDaily.com are advancing the understanding of Jesus' mission for our churches. This understanding, however, will never be realized until each of our churches adopts Jesus' declaration of mission as its own declaration of mission.

Third, Baptist churches should be studying the issues. Turning away from the immigration realities will not solve the problem. Hiding the head under the sand will only make things worse. Churches should be advancing and creating centers for social and political studies. The world is becoming less and less welcoming for churches, especially for those churches that want to follow Jesus' prophetic vision. Studying social and political trends should be also part of the Sunday School curriculum in a Baptist Church.

Fourth, churches should be siding with the weak and the poor, not with the strong and the powerful. Churches should hold politicians and lawmakers accountable to the values they profess. Churches should be serving the needs of immigrant families and appealing to the hearts and minds of fellow Americans to welcome the stranger in our midst. Churches should beware of falling trapped in the political intricacies of the moment. Churches should always be pointing high and afar, to the values of the Kingdom the church proclaims, to the realities that are to come, to the new heaven and the new earth the Bible announces.

Finally, churches should remember salvation is a holistic experience. Salvation is more than a trans-death concern. Salvation is a here-and-now issue, one that deals with questions of life and death for many people. For many lawmakers, immigration is a question of laws and papers. For immigrants, immigration issues are issues of life and death, family issues, questions that touch their lives in a definitive way.

I am sure there are many other things churches could and should do to advance the integration of immigrants into the fabric of society. At the very least, churches should be doing something, anything.

Perhaps, if we ever do something "for the least of these," one day we will hear: "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for ... I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25:34-35).

Daniel Carro is Latino ministries Kingdom Advance ambassador for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and professor of divinity at John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va.

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