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Riding the Fence on Immigration

Riding the Fence on Immigration

What is the Christian response to illegal immigration? Church members in Texas think they have the answer.

This week the Senate officially halted a controversial immigration bill that ultimately would have given millions of illegal immigrants legal status in the United States. The measure was hotly contested, exposing a nerve not just in the political arena, but also among Christians who had to decide what side of the fence they were on.

One unique aspect of the immigration plan was that it had some bipartisan support, making strange bedfellows out of old opponents including President Bush and leading Democratic senators, both of whom pushed for the passage of the bill in Congress. But opposition also came from both sides. Several high-profile Republican and Democratic senators united to ultimately stop the bill. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, a 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, even seemed to flip-flop on the measure, first voting to advance the bill, then days later voting to strike it down.

A chief opponent of the new legislation, Republican Senator Jeff Session, gave an interesting quote on the floor of Congress following the vote to kill the bill. He said that the American people “are not mean-spirited, but they are concerned about a lawful system of immigration.” And though the issue of illegal immigration is incredibly complicated—with factors such as national security, tax breaks and health-care costs—it seems to have brought out many passionate feelings—some, at times, more than bordering on “mean-spirited,” even among Christians.

One group of Christians in Texas, a border state that has long dealt with the problems often associated with illegal immigration, have made it their mission to be biblically compassionate when dealing with the issue. The Baptist General Convention of Texas and Southern Baptist Convention recently adopted new resolutions embracing both legal and illegal immigrants. They point to scriptures such as Deuteronomy 10:18–19 (“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt,” TNIV) and Leviticus 19:33–34 (“When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt).”.

As part of the resolution, the Texas Baptists will run the program Immigrant Services and Aid Center, joining the efforts of the Christian social welfare group Buckner International. The program will offer assistance to immigrants and train churches, equipping them with resources to do the same. Though leaders in the Texas Baptist movement have differing opinions on the nuances of immigration-reform legislation, they are united in their passionate call for outreach and aid to immigrants, no matter what their legal status.

On the other hand, many Christians supporting the enforcement of current immigration policies point to the fact that illegal immigrants did break the law, and that is in conflict with other biblical mandates of moral behavior. Other may point to the example of Jesus, who on several occasions was accused by the Pharisees of countering Hebrew law (e.g., healing on the Sabbath, Jewish eating traditions in Matthew 15:1-3, declaring all foods clean in Mark 7 and Matthew 15), but did so to teach the greater good.

Now that the immigration legislation has been voted down, the legal implications of the issue are no longer up for debate (at least until another measure is brought to Congress after the 2008 presidential election), but the moral response by Christians is a topic that every believer needs to comes to terms with.

Let us know what you think. You can head over to the message boards and discuss your opinions on the topic.

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