Honestly, I'm hesitant to share what I'm learning about immigration for fear of political fights. When some people hear that I'm teaching on immigration, they make assumptions about where I'm coming from and what I'll be saying.
That's the world we live in. But that's not the world of the Bible.
The Bible doesn't assume immigration is a political issue, at least, not primarily.
But this is where we usually start. We usually start with these verses ...
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.At first glance, this seems a solid starting place. "Submit to the governing authorities." Obey the law and it will be like you are obeying God himself. Obey the law and you will have no reason to fear.
- Romans 13:1-4
We hear that we are a nation of laws. Our laws, for the most part, are clear and easy to follow. Law-abiding people are welcomed. Break the law and face the consequences. It seems simple. It even seems biblical.
But it isn't.
Simple, that is. It isn't simple. And it isn't exactly or strictly biblical.
Look at the author. Paul was a law-abiding man. Except when he wasn't. He preached even when the law didn't allow him to. He bucked the governing authorities at the cost of great pain. The authorities that wielded the sword used it to take off Paul's head.
Paul isn't an isolated example. The apostles resisted the governing authorities, claiming "we must obey God rather than men." And they paid the price.
Jesus also paid that price.
In the bigger narrative, strict adherence to law was not the example we were set. We follow a tradition and a God who resisted authorities, who toppled them and triumphed over them.
So what do we do with verses like this? And what does this mean for our conversation about immigration?
The context provides a clue.
I find it fascinating to read the verses that come right before Romans 13:1-4. Do you know what they say?
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21).
Think about this. "Overcome evil with good." How is evil conquered? Mysterious and terrible, evil ultimately met its match when Christ died on the cross and triumphed in the resurrection. Christ submitted to the governing authorities. In a miscarriage of justice, he overcame evil with good.
The good Paul is talking about looks like submitting to the governing authorities, accepting the consequences of living a Christ-like life in a Christ-created community.
And that life looks like this ...
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.What do you notice about this life, this community? Deep relationships. Others-centeredness. Commitment to the Lord. Hospitality. Shalom. Humility.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
- Romans 12:9-16
It is wonderfully difficult to have abstract political conversations with real people in your vision, people you are called to love, to show hospitality toward to live in harmony with, to be willing to associate with ... despite the politics of it.
Political conversations often ignore the human reality. But the Bible doesn't allow for that.
Here's the human reality in the immigration conversation:
- Immigrants are people
- The children and families of immigrants are people
- The natives and locals are people
- The recent arrivals are people
- The Minutemen guarding the border are people
- The ICE agents are people
- People with documents are people
- People without documents are people
- Democrats and Republicans ... they're people too
Throughout the Bible, you see this clear trend: people come before before politics.
The real call of God is to love real people and to love the real God who makes real love possible. Love can eventually lead to a variety of political postures and positions. But we must start with love.
We have to start with people.
This is the third post in a Short Series: A Biblical Perspective on Immigration. The next post in this series will be ... Immigrants in the Bible.