Loving Illegal Immigrants for the Righteousness of God

In an interview by Joyce Chang, Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief, says the Church needs to

become a place of refuge, welcoming these immigrations in our midst. This begins with our language, in choosing not to use words such as ‘alien’ and ‘illegal immigrant’ to isolate and define this group of people by their actions.

It is not to those who have overstayed their visas that we owe kindness, but rather it is to God that we owe this kindness to them. Nothing they have done puts us in their debt, but everything we have makes it our bounden duty to show forth the righteousness of God, both in the magistrate’s due execution of the law and in individual citizens’ loving treatment of those who have broken the law. The righteousness of God has been revealed in his Son’s vicarious death for our sins and resurrection for our being pronounced just; and it is in mystical union with the Son of God, today, that Christian believers both are counted righteous and become righteous. In Christ, incorporated into his Body, we must all pay reverence to his dying for the whole human race. As men who have broken the law of God and witnessed the awesome majesty of his word, we can uphold the rule of law and still act as a society that knows the grace of God; for it is by this very grace that we even have the rule of law sustained.

This is not a matter of giving up language expressing that these people have broken the law and continue to live in breach of that law. He who has broken the law has made himself a criminal, and he will not be set right by nicer terms. The justice of God demanded not a nice glossing over of our trespasses but the death of God’s only-begotten Son. Likewise, softer terms will do nothing to set things right, even according to human ability. The problem with illegal immigrant is not that it names a lawbreaker a lawbreaker: if the phrase be problematic, the problem is that it may give the impression that certain persons, not certain acts, are illegal. The phrase need not be so interpreted, since a fast runner is someone who runs fast, and a slow thinker is someone who thinks slowly; but the potential for a false impression is where, if anywhere, the problem is. Naming someone by his breach of the law nowhere exceeds the terms even the New Testament uses.

Nor is it a matter of giving up language expressing that these people who have stayed illegally are outsiders.

For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: he doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

To be hospitable to strangers, to welcome guests, one has to know who is a guest and who already belongs. One must, in other words, call them strangers. It is by recognizing a stranger that we recognize the God who knows him, and in no way else can we love this stranger with the love of God. To attempt to love him with another love, a love not of God, is only to give something else under the name of love, falsely attributing to it the fairest name.

No, what I think we should do is call people illegal immigrants and strangers; but we must learn reverently to see illegal immigrants as persons to be loved despite their offences, and strangers as persons to be loved because they are strangers.


5 responses to “Loving Illegal Immigrants for the Righteousness of God

  1. I’m not really seeing a consistent application principle for churches to harbour illegal immigrants.

    One can invoke the so-called “law of sanctuary” whereby all kinds of illegals, not merely immigrant illegals, are to be protected within the four walls of the church because of love and all that. However, given the recent outcry against churches protecting sexual predators within the four walls of the church and that justice demands that they be reported to the police and unceremoniously cast out of the church’s fellowship pending repentance, I don’t see a consistent or principled application of the law of sanctuary.

    There is of course a proper distinction between illegal immigrants and legal immigrants with work visas and who are not citizens. Even the Old Testament permits the “strangers” to dwell in the land but are subject to a different set of laws in the land, the vital point being that they are still subject to laws which an illegal immigrant by definition is not.

    Thus, again, the only principle which I think one can invoke to justify the church’s harbouring of illegal immigrants is the law of sanctuary which permits harbouring all kinds of illegals, however, churches themselves do not really believe in that principle, so I am puzzled as what is the difference between one class of illegals whereby Christian charity demands that we give them sanctuary and that of another class of illegals which whereby justice demands that we cast out of the church and into the authorities’ arms.


    • I have never advocated harbouring illegal immigrants through claims of sanctuary. The ill-will borne toward them, however, does sometimes reach fantastical proportions, and it would do the Church credit to do for them what we could. As with sexual predators, the clergy should be urging foreigners staying illegally to turn themselves in to the civil authorities; but we can also urge our neighbours to restrain their wrath.


  2. If one says that the sexual predator is cast out because of unrepentance, than that can be easily answered by asking, so should churches harbour repentant sexual predators, murderers and thieves who, regretting and repenting of their sin, nevertheless seek for the church’s sanctuary from the arm of the law?


  3. As with sexual predators, the clergy should be urging foreigners staying illegally to turn themselves in to the civil authorities; but we can also urge our neighbours to restrain their wrath.

    All right.


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