As things begin to heat up on the immigration debate in Congress, the role of the church will be significant. In response to an editorial in Christianity Today calling for suggested reforms and more input from Christians, I want to draw attention to the tone of current messaging on immigration and call the church to a more biblically shaped prophetic voice.
As followers of Jesus, we would do well to remember that the issue of immigration is fundamentally not a national security issue; it is a human rights issue. The media and many of those in Congress have successfully made this a national security issue and as a result, we have allowed the adoption of policies such as indiscriminate raids, indefinite detention, the breakup of families, and a widespread campaign of fear to spread throughout immigrant communities.
To counter this, we must stop framing our message from a national security perspective, and instead, frame our message from the perspective of the suffering of immigrants and their families under the current broken system. Indeed, to frame our message and necessary reforms from the viewpoint of immigrants is to better reflect the witness of Jesus, who was incarnate among the most vulnerable, and who has taught us that in welcoming the stranger, we welcome him.
In focusing on securing the borders, the church’s emphasis on “humane methods” is lost amid an overwhelming chorus calling for what amounts to a greater militarism of the border. When we join this chorus, we also lose the distinctive nature of our voice and our mission, which is to be incarnated among the vulnerable and defenseless in society. Our calling, in its simplest form, is to defend immigrants and their families, not the State.
Further, when the editors of Christianity Today frame their suggested reforms around national security and then encourage the church to do the work of “assimilation” and evangelism among immigrants, they are calling the church to a Constantinian form of missiology. When the focus of the church is blurred from defending the rights of immigrants and their families, to also defending the rights of the State, we come dangerously close to forfeiting our prophetic call to hold the State accountable for its treatment of immigrants. When the church loses its prophetic calling, our mission becomes little more than societal maintenance by assimilating the vulnerable into their assigned place at the bottom of the social, economic, and political order, no matter how unjust that order may be. This is a skewed and unbiblical missiology.
Immigrants are not threats to our nation so that we should recoil in fear and ask for greater militarism on our borders. Immigrants are not mere objects of evangelistic crusades so that we can assimilate them into a culture and society in which they remain powerless and pressed down. Immigrants are people who have families and whose stories are so rich with perseverance, passion, and faith that we will receive God’s good news as we do the simple biblical work of welcoming them into our communities. This is what makes immigration a human rights issue, and this is what must define our calling – and our message – as followers of the migrant Christ.
Bill Mefford is the Director of Civil and Human Rights for the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. He is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and is based in Washington, D.C.