A Call for Immigration Reform Informed by the Bible

With just a few clicks on an ancestry website, I recently traced my own U.S. immigration story to 1650 - just 30 years after the Mayflower's landing - when my nine-times great grandfather, John Whitlow, stepped off a boat into what would later become Virginia. Undoubtedly, he did not have permission or a visa from the Rappahannock Indians, so truth be told, he was an "undocumented" arrival.

Considering the complexity of my own family tree, alongside my experiences growing up in central Texas, I have to ask myself: How should I respond as an evangelical pastor to the current immigration issues in the United States? Going to Scripture, I quickly find that the Bible instructs Christians to obey the laws of the land in Romans 13, while also repeatedly calling followers to welcome the stranger like in Matthew 25.

So I must ask myself; so we must all ask ourselves: How can we honor and respect the rule of law taught in Romans 13 and follow God's many instructions to love our immigrant neighbors like in Matthew 25?

The U.S. government has in many regards simply looked the other way as people immigrated here unlawfully, perhaps because unauthorized immigrants greatly contribute to our economy. Much like driving over the speed limit is illegal but you are unlikely to get a ticket, the vast majority of the people present in the U.S. unlawfully have never faced any penalty.

So while the nature of immigrating illegally definitely disrespects God's command in Romans 13 to submit to the law and governing authorities, we as American citizens must also come to terms with our own disrespect of Romans 13. Turning a blind eye to people coming here to work and contribute to our economy - not to mention to contribute to our communities and churches - is frankly to dishonor Romans 13 by covertly perpetuating a kind of "voluntary slavery."

And then considering Jesus' call to do unto others as we would do unto ourselves, I wonder how I would feel, working in a foreign land but knowing it would never be my home. I'd feel like a slave, that's how I'd feel! These people are here, more than 10 million of them, and they are not going anywhere. And while we must secure our border from future illegal immigration, we must also consider the many other ways this crucial issue affects our country, our communities, our churches and our homes.

Taking a unilateral approach to this issue, such as only securing the border, trivializes the many families, church members and friends whom this affects. Instead of just working to secure the border, why not do something better? Something wiser, more elegant. Why not create a virtual border by issuing visas and work permits and, yes, a chance to eventually earn citizenship, to those who can meet the requirements. It just makes sense - and as we bless these people, they will bless our country.

What I am describing is not amnesty. I was a pastor in Texas in 1986, when our nation offered an "amnesty" program for a half a million undocumented immigrants (it helped our businesses thrive, kept families together and spurred new ministries like ESL classes in churches). I've seen amnesty, so let me be clear: the proposals under consideration in Washington, D.C., right now are not amnesty. If these policies become law, immigrants in the United States unlawfully will have to come forward and pay a fine to earn the chance to get right with the law. There will be no free passes.

It's time for both parties to work together. This issue is too urgent to be politicized, and for too long folks have jumped to one side because their opponents are on the other. This is a people issue, and with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, this situation can be greatly improved.

Jim Walters is the Senior Pastor at Bear Valley Church in Lakewood, Colo.