Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Immigration remains an ongoing problem. When we do not hear about it, it is not as if immigration has gone away or the problems associated with it are solved. It simply means the news cycle has moved on to other matters.
As Christians, this reminds us of three important matters. First, issues affecting fellow image-bearers, those created in the imago Dei, the image of God, are to be of concern to us (individually and personally) and the church (corporately).
Second, we must not allow the 24/7 news cycle to determine what we conclude is important and what warrants our time, prayer and resources.
Third, knowing about something is not the same as doing something. We all live with limitations of time, resources and geography. We can all do something, but no one can do everything.
The most recent issue related to immigration surfaced a few weeks ago related to detention centers at the Mexican-American border. Once again, as last year, children are at the center of the discussion. These detention centers are not designed for children, which has created significant problems for those in custody.
Earlier this month, the House and Senate approved a border funding measure of $4.59 billion, which President Trump signed, providing financial help to those agencies on the front lines of these detention centers. This will enable the agencies to address some of the most critical needs for these children.
A short time ago, Kevin Kompelien, president of the EFCA, and Alejandro Mandes, executive director of All People Initiative, joined me on the Theology Podcast to discuss the immigration crisis and detention centers at the Mexican-American border. I thought it would be helpful to include some key biblical truths to ground our discussion, a few introductory thoughts related to immigration, some thoughts about how to engage in broader cultural issues, and finally some thoughts related to the more specific issue of the detention centers at the Mexican-American border. We conclude with a few resources.
The questions that guided our discussion are included. This will not only help you to follow the discussion as you listen on the podcast, but the questions can also serve as a model or example of how you can conduct this same discussion with elders or others in the church. The questions might also serve as a basis for your own research and reading, as an opportunity for you to search the Scriptures and learn and grow in your understanding of this issue. As ministers and servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are called to teach on these matters and to model how we are to think about and discuss them. Theology is best done in community, not on social media.
God’s Word is always the place to begin and end as we ponder how we as the people of God are to think about such matters and respond to them. Here are a number of critical truths that must be foundational for all of our thinking, processing, pondering, praying and participating as believers, those who live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ through our submitting to his authoritative Word.
All human beings are created in the image of God and thus have dignity and worth (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1, 3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jms. 3:9).
All of life is a gift from God (Acts 17:25) and therefore sacred, from conception to death, and those who serve the “God of the living” (Matt. 22:32; Mk. 12:27; Lk. 20:38) affirm the sanctity of life and care for all (Ps. 139:13-18; Rom. 13:8-10).
As sons and daughters of God the Father through faith in God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, we are both called and enabled to love God and love others (Matt. 22:37-39; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27), both individually and as the church, the people of God.
God has compassion for those image-bearers who are most vulnerable (Dt. 10:18; Isa. 1:17; Ps. 68:5; Gal. 2:10; Jms. 2:14-17), and as his children we to “be imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1), to engage in “religion that is pure and undefiled . . . to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (Jms. 1:27).
Affirming these biblical truths, there are also some specific application points related to the issue of immigration. Here are a few:
Our primary lens for viewing immigrants is as fellow image bearers, those created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). As fellow image-bearers, they have worth and dignity. Our primary lens for understanding immigration should be biblical and missional, not political (consider Ruth, Uriah the Hittite, Jesus as a refugee in Egypt, and others). Principles that govern our thoughts and actions toward immigrants since they are created in the image of God, fellow image bearers, include sacrificial love, hospitality and missional opportunity (Lk. 12:12-14; Gal. 6:10; 1 Pet. 4:9; Heb. 13:2). At the heart of this is love for God and love for others (Matt. 22:37-39; Mk. 12:30-31; Lk. 10:26-27).
It is a natural human – and fleshly – response to fear the “other,” those who are considered outsiders. Often when approaching the “other” with fear, one of the responses is to diminish their humanity, and consider them less than or other than human. One would not likely say that outright, but it is evidenced in a response. It is a sinful response according to the flesh (for a Christian response, cf. Gal. 3:26-29; Eph. 2:11-22). A response grounded in the gospel and evidencing the work of the Holy Spirit is that we put to death the sins of pride and arrogance, and we put on the graces of Christ and live out the fruit of the Spirit, especially those graces of humility and gratitude. This also means we specifically work against the sins of xenophobia and ethnocentrism with the disciplines of hospitality (Heb. 13:3) and missional courage (Acts 10). The word of the year in one of the word lists in 2016 was xenophobia, a “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers.” This is contrary to the exhortation from the writer of Hebrews who writes to Christians, “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” philoxenia (Heb. 13:2). Christians do not exude fear of strangers or others (xenophobia). Because of God’s work in our lives as Christians, we extend love for and to strangers or others (philoxenia).
As with any other issue related to sin, sanctification and growth into the likeness of Christ, living life under the Lordship of Christ in a fallen-redeemed-but-not-yet-glorified world has its challenges. It is one thing to affirm biblical truth. It is another thing to make specific application about how best to conduct ourselves in this fallen world. There are differences of understanding in application. And yet, we are all called to be witnesses with lips and life of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8), of being on mission to the ends of the earth until the end of the age (Gen. 12:1-3; Matt. 28:18-20). In the midst of this, pastors and the churches must speak boldly and clearly about what the Bible says and how that influences every aspect of belief and behavior (Col. 3:1-4; Eph. 4:1-6). It is also important to remember that in this process of sanctification and remembering the immigrant, as believers we acknowledge even our earthly home is not our final home, that we are pilgrims or sojourners (Phil. 3:20; 1 Pet. 2:11; Heb. 13:14).
In this fallen world, and at this present moment, immigration is a huge issue, not only here in the United States, but globally. Most would agree that it is broken, or at least needs to be addressed. But there are significant differences of view on how it ought to be “fixed.” This is why when it surfaces again through a news cycle, it creates a lot of heated conversation.
During our discussion, we began more broadly by addressing cultural issues at large. We live during a day of tectonic worldview shifts and we are drowning in a moral tsunami. How do we keep abreast of these issues, how do we process them, and how do we help God’s people, those who we have been called to shepherd, think about, discuss, process, pray about, and respond to these issues? This discussion was guided by the following questions:
As leaders in the EFCA, how do you determine what cultural issues to address or to which to respond? In a sense, you could respond to everything. And we live in a day in which someone somewhere expects you to say something.
This is a day of polarizing rhetoric. As Christians, how do we watch what we say and how we say it, and how do we respond? In other words, how do we engage in conversation that is polarized?
How do we think about and process the news? It is challenging seeing and knowing everything. Not all can have first-hand experiences. How do we sift the news reports we hear, especially since most all will write or speak from their own perspective with their own agenda?
Following some thoughts about how to live in the midst of these shifts and the unending global news feed, how do we remain spiritually sensitive and not grow spiritually or emotionally numb to the issues happening around us, and in particular, those in our backyard, about which we can do something personally? During the interview, we focused on the specific topic of immigration and the detention centers at the southern border between the US and Mexico. We were guided by these questions:
One of the ways we can serve those on the front-lines of ministry in our EFC churches is to provide resources to read and discuss. Here are a few that will help you to understand some of the issues and use as resources to share with others, so that this can be a basis for either beginning or continuing a discussion on these issues: