Christian Ethics, America, and Illegal Immigration

December 8th, 2006 / 8 Comments

For my term paper in Christian Ethics in America, I chose the topic of illegal immigration. The paper explores the ethics of Walter Rauschenbusch, John Ryan, and Jim Wallis, and applies their social justice frameworks to the current issue of illegal immigration.

The primary question Christians face is what role they allow the state to have in defining a person as ‘illegal.’ Each of the ethicists offers a different understanding of how Christians can relate with and influence culture and government. Likewise, each ethicist’s perspective offers some useful (and also not so useful) tools for engaging the state. However, what struck me as profound was the lack of the cross as a primary resource for these ethicists.

My conclusion, with a nod to John Howard Yoder, argues that only through the cross can we begin to talk about what it means to be ‘illegal’ and what it means to engage the state.

Paper: "Christian Ethics, America, and Illegal Immigration."

Comments (8)

  1. Isaac Chase / March 9, 2007 / http://yeahright

    Hey Scotty,
    this comment serves a duel purpose. an undeucated comment on your topic, and a quick “hey whats up”.
    as christians commanded to obey the laws of the land, arent we required to stand up for the rule of law? we are, afterall, citizens of a nation of laws (supposedly, you might be fooled into believing otherwise by watching all the law breaking and constitution trampling going on around us) doesnt our faith call for a respect of the rule of law in the same way we follow the higher moral code of christianity. i believe it is possible to be compassionate to the poor around us (many of whom are the “illegal aliems”) and yet continue to stand up for the rule of law in our own country. this subject is too complicated to discuss in a short comment but i thought i would just put my two cents in. hope you are well.

  2. Scott Lenger / March 11, 2007 /

    Hi Isaac,

    Thanks for dropping by. The question that you have to consider is: what is normative for Christians, the Church, or the state?

    The Scripture often quoted as advocating the authority of the state, Romans 13, was also used by German Christians to support Hitler’s army:

    "Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience."

    So this concern of Paul for the state can only function if it does not contradict or supersede Church teaching.

    If you hold, as I do, that humans have a God-given right to enjoy and benefit from the earth God has created. Then limiting a person’s access to the earth is contrary to this right.

    I should probably clarify that I’m not advocating that immigrants shouldn’t have to pay taxes, follow traffic laws, etc. I’m only arguing that the portions of earth located within America’s political boundaries belong to God and it’s creation, not to the United States of America. Thus, the US does not have a right to restrict this access.

    There is (and should be) a difference between legal and illegal immigration, but presently it seems to me that in the US, only the illegal option presently exists.

    Your thoughts?

  3. Isaac / December 19, 2007

    Geez man, I wasn’t expecting that one, the whole “earth” thing….This stuff is hard. I’ll have to think about it….maybe we can discuss it at LENGERFEST.

  4. The Paleo Conservatist / March 3, 2008 /

    Admittedly, Christian concepts such as Imago Dei were important considerations for the founding fathers and our resulting system of government. However, I don’t see Christian ethics as commanding free Democracies to take on roles of negative codependency regarding immigration as you have suggested.

    Comparing a free nation’s need to compete for survival in a world of decidedly hostile powers which vie for dominance with the free nation and their responsibility to properly govern which includes controlling immigration, especially when not doing so could result in threats to their survival; threats to democratic and Christian ideologies; and leads to growing negative economic and social results not in the free nation’s or their citizen’s best interests (as well as preventing positive economic and social restructuring in the illegal alien’s countries of origin as they abdicate their citizen responsibilities rushing to financially exploit whatever target nation they can illegally enter), as unChristian because “humans have a God-given right to enjoy and benefit from the earth God has created” suggests a gross misunderstanding imo.

    I doubt very much that Jesus or the Bible would command a Christian nation, for example, to allow themselves to be flooded with and overcome by hordes of pagan immigrants as happened to Rome in 410 by the Visigoths after Constantine I began to Christianize the Roman Empire or Muslim invaders as happened to Southern Europe beginning in 711 when the Umayyad Caliphate invaded plundering and enslaving Christian Europeans as they overcame Christian kingdoms.

    In the latter example, if it weren’t for the brave actions of Christians at the Battle of Tours all Western Civilization might well have been lost forever along with all of the advances that eventually sprung from it (modern liberty, modern science, etc…) many of which scholars tell us were stifled and even stillborn in cultures that adhered to other worldviews their successful manifestation being a result of the Christian worldview’s unique explanatory power.

    We can argue this indefinitely friend, because I think you are very confused as to what the Bible has to say about the role of government in the world.

  5. Scott Lenger / March 3, 2008 /

    Paleo: I don’t believe we should, command Democracies to do anything, but neither should we sponsor or reinforce their unjust policies. In that respect, the welfare of the foreigner and the stranger supersedes my own economical interests.

    I’m not sure the Visigoths as an analogy accurately reflect 21st century immigration, but irregardless, I believe the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount and died on the cross provides a very different example of how to respond to pagan hordes than the one you are suggesting.

  6. John / April 25, 2008

    Paleo is right about arguing indefinitely. I think Scott’s belief is based on Christ’s very simple message of love. If any law contradicts the message, love is supposed to supersede. Paleo’s argument seems to come from studying history and applying some economics sense.Personally, i agree with Scott. I believe that we should work for the good of all human beings because ultimately, the earth belongs to Christ.

  7. Another John / October 27, 2008

    I’m glad to see a genuine discussion about immigration that doesn’t rely on a knee-jerk xenophobic response.

    When I search the scriptures for “stranger” and “alien” (which can take very little time to do electronically nowadays) I overwhelmingly find references for welcoming them and ensuring that justice is not denied them as long as they at respect certain ceremonial laws, at least in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Christians are compared to aliens and sojourners who live in a land that is not their home, our true home being in Heaven.

    I’ve yet to come to a conclusion on my view regarding illegal immigration, but my gut-level reaction is to put myself in the place of someone who happened to be born on the south side of an imaginary line in the desert. I know what I would do if my children were malnourished with no possibility for education or advancement.

  8. Lisa Wing / May 29, 2009

    Wow I love this issue as there really is so much to discuss with no real right or wrong answer as of yet.

    As a Christian myself in my opinion, its easy to get compassionate for these poor innocent “victims” of a bad government they are currently forced to live under (ex. Mexico). Of course as a human being they want better for themselves and their families and its very unfortunate that those opportunities are not there for them in their country.

    However, our government and laws are there for a reason. Let me scale it down a bit.

    I’m sure you are a giving compassionate Christian yourself. But would you honestly beable to “open” your home to ANY person who walked in and said they wanted to live in your home because its nicer, cleaner, has better food in the fridge, etc. Even if these people who came to your home were crying out to you to please let them live in your home, would you honestly beable to let them in if they refused to pay you rent, tell you anything about their health background, give you any personal info about themselves, etc??

    My point of this example is this, yes its sad that USA cannot house every single person who wants to live here. We just can’t. If we opened our borders to anyone at anytime with no regulation, our medical facilities would be flooded, our financial economy would be compromised, our job market would be flooded, our welfare system would be flooded, our way of controlling disease and crime would be compromised, and the well being of our country would be at stake.

    Yes, as Christians we have to be compassionate to those less fortunate. Of course. But we must do so in a regulated way. I’m sure you would be more than happy to open your home to someone in need. But I’m sure you would do it the right way (rent out a room, or maybe for free but you would at least need to limit how many people you’d let stay, etc)

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Hi, my name is Scott and I design websites. You can see some of them by visiting my portfolio. When I have the time (which is seldom these days) I like to blog about Christianity, especially theology/ethics. If you want to know more you can read my about page or follow me on Twitter.


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