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.
Dear EFCA Family,
My heart is troubled as I consider the challenging and complex issues facing our nation today. Seeing news reports of children separated from their parents at U.S. borders deeply touched me. I believe the heart of the Lord must be breaking as He sees immigrants caught in the middle of political posturing in America and children separated from their parents.
As people of God, and those who value both the rule of law and the dignity of people, how do we respond? It is important for us to ground our thinking, words and actions in the truth of the Scriptures. My desire is to help our pastors and church leaders navigate these issues in ways that honor the Lord and reflect His Word and heart. We must be wise in our response and point people to the Scriptures, calling them to pray and live like Jesus.
What follows is a pastoral word intended to inform and call the EFCA to pray. This is the unique privilege and responsibility of the Church. Certainly, there is more that can be done, and there are varied responses to which God may lead some to respond. But fundamentally remember this: “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
Thank you for reading and joining me in prayer.
In the process of writing this piece, news broke on June 20, 2018, according to the Associated Press, that “President Trump signed an executive order to keep families together at the southern border, saying at the White House that he doesn’t like the sight of children being separated from their families.”
We are thankful to hear this news. This means some of what you read below will now be dated. But we post it nonetheless because we believe there are important matters to consider and about which to pray regarding larger issues related to immigration. Additionally, we pray that what has been written may be a model for how we think about and process things as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ committed to the Scriptures as we live out our faith.
In light of the zero-tolerance policy on immigration in which children are separated from their parents if they cross the border unlawfully, many EFCA sisters and brothers ask about a response from the EFCA.
The EFCA does not make many statements about public matters. Being congregational in polity, most issues of the day are addressed at the local church level. Sometimes the EFCA speaks more definitively through Conference Resolutions. Some of those are included below. At other times, however, there are issues we as leaders believe important for us to address in more of a pastoral manner, not as an official word from the EFCA.
On April 6, a zero-tolerance policy was announced regarding immigration. The Justice Department would prosecute everyone who crosses the Southwest border. As part of this policy shift, migrants traveling with children or unaccompanied minors are detained. U.S. immigration law charges the adults with a crime, but not the children. This means they are held separately, children separated from their parents.
With this news all over the media, with strong sentiments on various sides, with the issue of “the law” and “the dignity of humanity” and the juxtaposition of the two, how are we to process these issues? What are we to believe? How are we to respond? What is the individual Christian’s responsibility and response? What about the church?
I was raised in Laredo, Texas, and have family on both sides of the border. As a resident of the Texas-Mexico border and a pastor of multiethnic churches, I have seen first-hand the agony when families are separated and deported. I know this issue is complicated and I understand that our evangelical family may be divided on this matter.
When hired by the EFCA in 2006, this matter was part and parcel of my effort to make disciples of all people. The EFCA was one of the first evangelical denominations to create a systemic solution to this complex problem. We created Immigrant Hope to provide the HOPE of the gospel, HELP in a legal pathway, and a HOME in the Church. Immigrant Hope, like any pathway in the EFCA, must embody our ethos, which is articulated in our Statement of Faith, which demands that we live out our faith, love others sacrificially, have compassion for the poor and seek justice for the oppressed. Immigrant Hope was our successful effort to affirm the “image of God” in all individuals. This requires that people be treated with dignity and affirms that all should live by the “rule of law.” The creation of Immigrant Hope demonstrates that just because a matter is complicated does not mean we must choose between “rule of law” or the “dignity of the individual.” We must hold ourselves to that standard and expect our government officials to uphold these same principles.
We are like other evangelicals. We embrace various political positions and persuasions. While we may differ on the immigration debate, there are some strong points of agreement found in a poll by Lifeway Research.
We all need to encourage government officials to work hard to find a comprehensive and humane solution together. There is no win unless we all win on this matter. This is a complex problem but a problem that will not go away with soundbites, slogans or blaming. We need wise men and women to rise up and find the just solution for our day. Separating children to leverage a better negotiating position does not become any party or country. The inhumane treatment of children for any reason is not becoming of “one nation under God.” We can do better. We must do better.
Tethered to the text and grounded in the gospel, we remain deeply committed to affirm and live out both love for God and love for others, as we read from Alex above. We grieve to see children separated from parents. God cares for families and He cares for children; He also cares for the immigrant.
As we consider these children separated from their parents, we reaffirm the biblical teaching regarding children espoused in a previous Conference statement. The way we respond to children in need evidences our response to God, and manifests an authentic relationship with him.
Consistently, we find in Scripture that our heavenly Father shows great compassion for children, especially those in distressed situations who require special care (Gen. 21:8-21; 2 Sam. 9:1-13; Esth. 2:5-7). During the ministry of Jesus, the treatment of children was cited as an evidence of our own deepest response to him (Mk. 9:35-37; 10:13-16). The loving care of distressed and displaced children is a sign of an authentic relationship with God (Dt. 24:17, 19; Prov. 23:10; Jms. 1:27).
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.
Grounded in these biblical truths, the Christian church has always been committed to loving God and loving others. Based on God’s revelation and relationship with his people, the church has affirmed in belief and practice concern and care for the well-being of all, especially those who are most vulnerable.
The EFCA continues that history. In our Statement of Faith (Article 8, Christian Living), we affirm the following: “God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed.”
We have also affirmed Resolutions addressing some of the key biblical truths undergirding how to think about these matters pressing on us at the moment.
In 1996, the Conference affirmed A Stranger at Our Gates: A Christian Perspective on Immigration. We affirmed, in part, immigrants are to be welcomed as “individuals made in the image of God, the object of Christ’s love and as people of intrinsic worth who are in need of our affirmation and support.” Here is the key statement:
As Christians, we must ensure that our response to the issue of immigration is directed by a world view that is shaped by biblical principles rather than secular rhetoric. . . . Historically, immigration policies of the United States appear to be directed more by racism and economic self-interest than compassion. . . . As evangelicals, we are called by God to aid the vulnerable. Therefore, we must see the alien and the stranger as individuals made in the image of God, the object of Christ’s love and as people of intrinsic worth who are in need of our affirmation and support.
In 2000, the Conference affirmed Unto the Least of These: A Resolution on America’s Children. In this we read about the significance of the family, children and the church.
The Bible supports the fact that God has a special interest in children, especially those who are marginalized. He has chosen the symbol of a father to reflect his relationship with us. Psalm 68:5 says, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” If His heart is to father the fatherless, God is calling us to be good fathers and mothers to those in our communities. Several scripture passages exemplify this theme. Psalm 27:10, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” In the New Testament, James makes it very clear that caring for the marginalized is close to God’s heart. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27-28).” Christ rebuked the disciples for thinking that He was too busy for “little ones.”(Luke 18:15-16) His assertion that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” indicates that children have a natural inclination to be open to spiritual things. This is consistent with what we know about conversions to Christ.
The Church has a unique role in ministering to these children and families. The Church, when compared to the State, offers families a non-adversary support system and a wide web of caring relationships. The life-changing power of Christ, demonstrated through caring relationships, offers these families and children hope and life.
Finally, compelled by the mandate of the Lord Jesus Christ to make disciples, and constrained by our love for immigrants, in 2010 we began the ministry of Immigrant Hope, through which we continue to serve many with the love of Jesus Christ.
For the people of God and the church of Jesus Christ, we affirm that “to clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
May we humbly, dependently and corporately call out to God in prayer, and ask him to intervene, to guide and lead us in how we ought to respond, and that it might be resolved in a way that reflects his goodness and glory.
As we pray broadly, we can also remember to pray for some things specifically: