Evangelicals & Immigration

Posted on October 28, 2013 by


statue-of-liberty-2-434537-mWhile the 1970s and 80s were decades of growing evangelical unity, the 2000s have thus far been marked by the movement’s fractures. While it is too simplistic to say we have new evangelical diversity, we do have energetic evangelical movements on both the right and the left.

There is much that distinguishes the two groups theologically, so it is not merely a political divide, though it manifests itself as such. Theologically, the evangelical left focuses on the advent of God’s Kingdom in the here and now and is willing to use the state to fulfill Christian obligations of love and compassion. The evangelical right is more likely to emphasize individual salvation and private solutions to social problems, so God’s Kingdom is not ignored, but it is not seen as being fulfilled until Christ’s return.

Immigration is beginning to demonstrate this cleavage. Time notes the divisions among evangelicals, particularly how both sides claim biblical solutions that are opposed to one another. The Evangelical Immigration Table is seeking comprehensive reform. To justify its positions, it relies heavily on Old Testament passages that describe how the children of God are to treat the poor and strangers, essentially arguing that these requirements are applicable to Americans and argue in favor of immigration reform.

Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration take a different approach, arguing that Scripture does not demand any policy that leads to amnesty, and that Old Testament passages presuppose an Israel that defines its borders and secures them, and that discussions of strangers and sojourners do not necessarily apply to illegal immigrants.

It is simplistic to state the EIT represents the evangelical left and the EBI the right, especially because immigration, as a political matter, does not adhere to a simple conservative/liberal dichotomy. There are strong business interests on the right that favor comprehensive reform, for example. Given the list of signatories for both organizations, it is also clear that well known figures are found on all sides. One person, Eric Metaxas, actually defected from one group (EIT) to the other (EBI). His stated reason, according to National Review Online, was the Evangelical Immigration Table’s relationship to George Soros, the Democrat bankroller who favors a variety of progressive causes.

When I look at immigration, a couple of aspects do concern me, though I am not going to pretend these are novel or authoritative. Immigration is a complex issue that resists simple solutions. I generally bend more toward security and border control, but I also recognize the improbability of deporting millions of illegal immigrants, and we cannot simply ignore the roots that many have established here. Theologically, I am wary of the Immigration Table’s reliance on Bible passages that are either not about immigrants at all (like Luke 13:29, “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.”) or that may be about legal immigrants. For example, Lev. 19:33 says “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong” is applied to illegal immigrants. Wayne Grudem, who cites David Hoffmeier, argues the Hebrew word used here (“ger”) actually references legal immigrants in Israel by permission. Even these “sojourners” did not necessarily have the full rights of citizenship when compared to children of Israel, though they did have more privileges than “foreigners” who had no recognized legal standing. Put differently, the theological case is more complicated than often assumed.*

While it may seem idealistic, I am troubled when evangelicals call on Scripture to support a political position that is theologically ambiguous. Pretending the text is straightforward distorts Scripture for political purposes, which pulls Christianity into a conversation inappropriately. This politicization of Scripture turns God’s Word into a political tract and does not reflect well on believers who claim an authoritative Scripture that yields incompatible outcomes. This causes non-believers to question either the Word of God’s authenticity or our own credibility or both. We should avoid using the Bible to justify our beliefs unless we can speak with the full Witness of scripture, confident of the connection between a biblical principle and a desired policy outcome.


*See Wayne Grudem. 2010. Politics According to the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Pgs. 1004-1007 in the iBooks edition.

Posted in: Immigration