Saturday, January 7, 2017

Good News for the Immigration Problem

Today the immigration problem has greatly polarized evangelical Christians across America. As a group, our views are shaped by diverse and partial understandings of the Scripture and by the values and attitudes of our surrounding community and culture. Unfortunately the latter perspectives frequently have greater influence than the former, as we allow the world to “squeeze us into its mold.” Often heated debates ensue, adding to the confusion and tensions. Emotions run high, giving rise to outbursts that typically produce a lot more heat than light. As a result, our ability to make a real difference in people’s lives in the midst of this crisis continues to wane.

One of the biggest ironies in this situation relates to what we call ourselves—evangelicals—a term derived from the Greek New Testament phrase good news. Christ used this word at the beginning of His ministry, when He announced His purpose for coming to earth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19 NIV).

The sad irony is that instead of proclaiming good news in today’s immigration crisis, our disorganized and divisive voices have been lost in the cacophony of sounds coming from the world. Our nation and churches have not heard a prophetic word from the Lord on this matter. As a result, evangelical Christians are missing a huge opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of millions of individuals who have chosen to come and live among us.

A Clear Path
The immigration problem should not be dividing evangelicals! The following pathway—involving three radical steps—would enable us to give a clear biblical witness of what it means to be an evangelical. In this way, we can offer good news to our hurting and divided nation.

Step One:
Pray the Prayer of a Sinner
Step one is based on a foundational evangelical truth: We have all sinned and are in need of God’s continuing forgiveness and grace. For that reason, our Lord taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins.”

This certainly includes those who are here without legal documents. Some of them have portrayed themselves as innocent victims. While this may be the case for a few, most are largely if not wholly responsible for their current situation, and they know it. Typically, they entered the country with a temporary visa and overstayed their allotted time, or they came across the border surreptitiously. The vast majority came here in search of a better life, are hard and diligent workers, and deeply desire to learn English and become American citizens. Regardless of their motives, personal qualities, and legal situation, they are not innocent victims.

A growing number of these illegal immigrants are coming to faith in Christ. They too have joined us in praying, “Forgive us our sins.” Some of these newborn brothers and sisters in Christ choose to return to their home country, while for others doing so would be difficult if not almost impossible. Given the complexities of their situations, we can be thankful that we are not called to be their judge—that role belongs to God.

Our responsibility is to love them and pray that God will guide them in their lives and decisions.

At the same time, the rest of us also are in need of God’s continuing forgiveness and grace. This certainly includes our government, whose right hand almost never knows what the left hand is doing. The result continues to be confusing signals for everyone involved. Nearly twenty years have passed since an amnesty for illegal immigrants was granted in the late ’80s, and Congress has just now begun to take a serious look at the situation.

As much as our government has ignored the problem, we as American citizens have not held our government officials accountable for this negligence. In the meantime, while we all enjoy the benefits of immigrant labor that are interwoven throughout our economy and way of life, we also suffer from the negative ramifications of this growing problem.

As a result of this negligence, today an estimated eleven million people are marginalized in our land, including millions of innocent children who have had no say in their situation. Because we all have sinned and come short of what God expects of us, we are in need of His forgiveness and grace. Certainly the Lord’s word to Solomon is also fitting for evangelical Christians today in America: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV).

By taking this first step, seeking God’s forgiveness and grace, we as evangelical Christians could exemplify a radically different way of viewing and responding to the immigration problem.

Step Two:
Profess Jesus Christ as Lord
Secondly, we are called to profess Jesus Christ as Lord and render to Him our first allegiance. For our undocumented brothers and sisters in Christ, this means they must look to Jesus for their salvation and not to the “American Dream.” He is their only true hope for a future of abundant living.

For the rest of us as American citizens, now is the time for a serious reality check. Two basic truths are increasingly obvious. One, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants will not go back to their home countries on their own regardless of how tightly they may be squeezed by restrictive laws and regulations. And two, our government will never muster the resolve or allocate the needed resources to export them. Most are here to stay, having staked their lives and well-being on becoming American citizens and joining the rest of us in this immigration nation to forge a future together.

Given these realities, evangelicals need to pray regularly for our leaders, that God will give them the wisdom and courage to address this situation in a reasonable, compassionate, and timely manner. Furthermore, we also need our Lord’s wisdom and guidance regarding how to exercise our influence. Measures that would deprive innocent children of basic human services should be vigorously opposed, along with any other harsh restrictions that would further marginalize these immigrants and only drive them deeper into the shadows. Given that we all have had a part in creating this situation, we need to stand against any attempts to place undue burden on these disenfranchised people.

Above all, we need to remember that we are first and foremost citizens of God’s Kingdom and fellow pilgrims on earth in a foreign land. As such, we need to allow our attitudes and actions to be shaped by Kingdom values. On one hand, our hearts need to be broken by God each day for the millions of lost immigrants in our midst, compelling us to reach out to them with His message of forgiveness and hope. On the other hand, we need God’s wisdom in relating to our undocumented brothers and sisters in Christ who find themselves in their current predicament. When faced with the temptation to judge them, we need to release that sentiment to the Lord and ask Him to fill us with greater understanding and sympathy regarding each person’s unique situation.

Step Three:
Proclaim the Year of our Lord’s Favor
Finally, as citizens of God’s coming Kingdom, we are called to join our Savior Jesus Christ in proclaiming the year of our Lord’s favor. Forgiveness, redemption, grace, and release—this is the good news God calls us as evangelicals to proclaim in His name. Where the privileged majority in our land conspires to protect and advance its acquired advantages, and our government waffles, evangelicals need to stand in the gap.

The Scriptures are abundantly clear regarding our call as Christians to care for the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, and the immigrant. Nowhere is there a caveat saying that these admonitions are only applicable to those with legal papers. Nor should Christ’s body, the Church, be called on to be enforcers of the laws and regulations of the land. One may ask, but shouldn’t we be law abiding citizens? Certainly, but not policemen! That is the role of our government. May the day never come when the leaders of our country try to entangle the Church of Jesus Christ in cleaning up the mess caused by years of their waffling and negligence! May God bless the church that unwaveringly fulfills her calling to be a house of refuge and to provide sustenance to sojourners and foreigners and those in need!

God’s Path
This is the path God calls His people to take in His name, proclaiming good news in the midst of the immigration crisis. First, we are all called to confess our sins each day and seek His forgiveness and grace. Second, we are called to profess Jesus Christ as Lord and align ourselves with the values of His Kingdom. Finally, we are called to proclaim the year of our Lord’s favor. In this way, evangelical Christians can make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people both for today and for all eternity.  •

—Norman G. Wilson is professor of religion and philosophy at Indiana Wesleyan University

NOTE: This article was first published in Wesleyan Life Fall 2006, Posted On: 9/26/2006 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Today THE WESLEYAN CHURCH issued a clarion call for comprehensive immigration reform. See the statement below that was released this afternoon to send to the national media, Congress and the Administration:

THE WESLEYAN CHURCH joins with the National Immigration Forum and other Evangelical and Christian organizations in calling for broad, commonsense immigration reform that includes a conditional path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

THE WESLEYAN CHURCH has origins in historic Methodism and the American holiness and revival movements, endeavors to balance passionate evangelism and discipleship with godly concern for social reform, and embraces kingdom values regarding immigration that are grounded in biblical principles.

Immigration is a contemporary issue that beckons Wesleyans to act as agents of Spirit-filled outreach and compassion in North American society.

I am honored to be a part of this Kingdom movement that will make a difference in the lives of millions of people for whom Christ died!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Evangelicals Invited to Join the Call for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Evangelicals increasingly are speaking out regarding the need for a comprehensive reform of our nation’s broken immigration system.  Millions are affected, including more than 11 million people and an additional 5 to 6 million of their innocent children and other dependents. This blog contains a number of posts on this topic, setting forth solid biblical and theological principles and perspectives.   Unfortunately, our political parties have been polarized and stalemated for years.  

But the recent election results offer a unique opportunity.  Both political parties are looking for new ways to work together.  In recent years, a growing number of Evangelical leaders have been calling for comprehensive immigration reform (links to representative organizations are found in the side bar to this blog).  In recent months, key religious, political, and educational leaders have been looking for more balanced approaches to addressing this situation.  A significant number of those that are affected are our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Today we as brothers and sisters in Christ have a new and tangible way to join in the call for comprehensive immigration.  During the past year I have had the privilege of representing The Wesleyan Church and Indiana Wesleyan University on the Midwest Coalition for Immigration Reform and the Region’s Future

Now you can add your name to this call, at the following link:

Together we can make a huge difference.  Thank you for your prayerful consideration about this opportunity and for your courage to take a stand for our Lord and Savior and his present and coming Kingdom.

Your brother in Christ,


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Living as Christians in Hoosier Land

The lenses that we wear certainly affect the way we see the world.  The fifteen years that Kim and I lived in Latin America have greatly affected my vision.  Today I love to get acquainted with immigrants, and especially with those that have only recently arrived in our country.  Often I imagine myself in their shoes. 

Since we returned to live in Indiana, our circle of Hispanic friends has grown to several hundred people from the Caribbean and Central and South America.  Interestingly, lots of other immigrants and minority people are also now a part of my growing circle of friends.  It is fascinating to me to imagine what they are thinking and feeling about life here in Hoosier land.  I am even more intrigued with the way their children are adapting to life here in North America.
At the same time, Kim and I have another world of friends, mostly white people, many that have not traveled or lived far from their birthplace.  Many of those in our extended families are included in this other world.  Lots of them consider themselves Christians, but their points of view about immigrants and minorities are often very different than ours.  Typically Kim and I try to keep our opinions about minorities and immigrants to ourselves when they talk, but at times it’s really hard.  Sometimes the things that our family and white friends say are insulting and painful, because we hear them talking about others that we also love even though they may not realize it.  Often our impression is that these friends and family members are spending a lot more time listening to talk radio and talking racist trash with their friends than they are getting to know the immigrant neighbors that now live among us.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  It’s not that I consider myself to be totally free from ethnocentrism.  I’ll confess that often my first reaction when I meet someone of a different culture and language is to pull back from them.  In fact, I’m only recovering from my self-centered biases and prejudices on a day by day basis myself.  Maybe the reason I get so passionate about the insensitive comments of others about minorities and immigrants is because I can hear echoes of my own ethnocentric attitudes rearing their ugly heads again.

Here is where living in the Word of God is so important.  The temptation is to allow the sinful world to shape our perspectives and attitudes.  I especially love what Paul says in Romans 12:2 about this matter:

Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Romans 12:2 JB Phillips translation)

Clearly God has a different plan in mind regarding minorities and immigrants than the world does.  When I live in His Word, I am reminded that we are closer to God’s kingdom when we spend quality time with people from a variety of cultures.  The Bible portrays this picture in many passages, from Abraham (Genesis 12:1, 2) to Pentecost (Acts 2) to the multitude of peoples from every nation, tribe and tongue that someday will gather around the throne of Heaven (Revelation 7).   I imagine this is part of what Jesus had in mind when He prayed to His heavenly Father, “…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 NIV).

Having minority and immigrant friends also helps me to keep a biblical perspective as the immigration debate rages around us. Often I can see our immigrant and minority friends’ faces when I hear hateful comments from our other friends and acquaintances of the majority culture.   Many of my immigrant and minority friends are innocent children, who have a special place in our Lord’s heart and also in heaven.  My hope and prayer is that God will use me as a bridge between cultures, my own majority culture and other minority and immigrant cultures.  Maybe in that way, I can have a little part in helping our Lord’s Kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Evangelicals and Illegal Immigrants?

The title of this blog calls attention to the disconnect when people call themselves “Evangelical” and do not stand in the gap for undocumented immigrants. 

A lot of Evangelicals that have been silent are now confessing their ignorance regarding this problem and negligence in following the biblical principles that call us as Bible believing Christians to support this reform.  Others are still stuck on the fact that those that are here are “breaking the law,” which reflects a simplistic and uninformed view on this matter (many previous posts on this blog and links in the right-hand column address this issue and others).   However, many are coming to recognize their oversight, confess their sins of omission, and join in the call for comprehensive immigration reform. 

For all evangelicals, please check out this video of this news conference a few days ago by the Evangelical Immigration Table.  We celebrate this rising tide among the leaders of many Evangelical and Christian denominations and other Christian organizations. 

Key leaders of my own denomination, The Wesleyan Church, are part of this growing movement, including our General Superintendent, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon.

So how about you who call yourself “an evangelical?”  Together we can make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people and also in God’s kingdom, both here on earth and more importantly in heaven.  Will you join us in calling for comprehensive immigration reform now?  Respond here with your ideas regarding some practical steps.  Most of all, contact your legislators and government leaders.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Prosecutorial Discretion and Code Words from the Noisy Far Right

President Obama’s announcement last Friday, June 15th, 2012, concerning “Prosecutorial Discretion” relates to a policy change for deportation proceedings for thousands of undocumented children.  This action is another indication that the problem of undocumented immigrants will not be solved by inaction, which describes the current approach of Congress. Inaction summarizes the tone of the “Immigration Solution” that was set by the Tea Party and the extreme (and noisy) radicals of the far right.

In summary, the idea of inaction is that by not addressing the problem and making life miserable for over 11 million people without documents, the majority will self-deport, thus leaving only a handful that our courts would need to deport through legal means. Instead, our courts are swamped. This newly announced policy by President Obama has received widespread support by many thoughtful and reasonable people.

At the same time, the air and cyber waves are flooded by negative reactions in this highly polarized and politicized environment. Many of the exaggerated criticisms regarding what this new policy represents are so outlandish that responding would be a waste of time both for the writer and the reader. A careful review of this policy suggests that the changes the new policy represents may have only minimal impact for the majority of millions of innocent undocumented children and young people (Napolitano Memo) The new provision applies only to those facing deportation proceedings. The broadest impact of the President’s announcement is symbolic, bringing the discussion into the heart of the current election cycle.

So as the debate continues to heat up, let me offer a starter list regarding code words from the noisy far right, and invite your additional suggestions:


  • Amnesty. Reductionist language for anything other than deportation, whether self-deportation or forced.
  • Illegal. Reductionist language, defining people based only upon their lack of documents due to our broken immigration system.
  • Taking jobs. The presumption that American citizens are out of work because of “illegal immigrants.” A more careful analysis of our economic problems does not support this simplistic answer to our economic woes.
  • Immigration Reform.  Often refers to "toughening" the laws instead of addressing the current dilemma faced by millions.
  • Wait in line.  Typically means, "go back home." The problem? For most there is no line to get in, and there's no "home" to go back to.
So, what other "code words" need to be added to this list?  Your input is welcomed!

At the same time, your continuing prayers on behalf of so many marginalized children and young adults are needed more than ever. May this debate bring our nation's leaders to the only reasonable, moral, and Christian answer to this problem—genuine comprehensive immigration reform without further debate or delay.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Immigration in Indiana and “The Christian Right”: Neither “Christian” nor “Right”

Many of the “Christian Right” in Indiana think that the only Christian position on the immigration debate should be in favor of ridding our state of all illegal immigrants with whatever means possible. They presume that those who do not have documents are “illegals” and therefore should not have any rights. To them, it seems so simple, hinging primarily on obeying the law.

In the immigration debate, however, this position is neither “Christian” nor “Right” (as observed by a reader of the Indianapolis Star article, cf. Judge Issues Injunction on Indiana's Immigration Law (Indy Star, June 25, 2011). Not because these sincere believers are totally wrong. Rather, they are only partially right, emphasizing one principle while ignoring many others.

In reality, the immigration situation is so complex that a legalistic punitive approach such as the one currently in question in Indiana is not an appropriate response, neither from a Christian perspective nor from a view to justice. The complexities of the immigration problem in our state are explored in much greater depth in previous posts on this blog.

The Wesleyan Church has set forth biblical principles that ought to be applied in the search for a Christian response to the immigration problem in our state (cf. link in right hand column of this blog). Obeying the law of our land is certainly an important consideration. But there are many others of equal importance. The Wesleyan statement provides a balanced biblical perspective for all Christians to take into account, as together we strive to obey both God’s laws, all of which are right and just, and those of our government, inasmuch as they do not violate God’s higher laws.