We are all illegal aliens in the kingdom of God

[I posted this on Red Letter Christians two years ago but the Senate’s passage yesterday of immigration reform legislation make it applicable today.]
We are all illegal aliens in the kingdom of God granted entry only by the amnesty of Christ’s blood. That is the strange foundational truth of Christianity. There is nothing I can do to get a green card that will prove to God that I deserve his love. There is no line for me to wait in at the embassy. The single citizenship requirement for heaven is to acknowledge that I don’t deserve to be there and accept God’s offer of mercy through Christ. Those who understand that they are illegal before God are able to receive God’s mercy and share it with others. But thinking that I can earn my way into heaven by accepting the right doctrine, praying the right prayer, or living in a way that retroactively proves my regeneration is like trying to get around with a fake ID. Continue reading

Don’t stop immigration reform over the Boston bombing!

I knew it was coming. The lunatics in the outrage industrial complex are out in full force trying to say that because the Boston bomber brothers are from Chechnya, it goes to show what immigrants will do, and therefore our thoroughly broken immigration system should not be reformed. Actually events like this illustrate exactly why the immigration system needs to be reformed (even though both brothers were naturalized US citizens and their immigration status had nothing to do with what they did). Continue reading

Illegal immigrant hunting permit

immigrant hunting permitWords are inadequate to respond to this image that has been circulating the internet. I’ll only say that we are all illegal aliens in the kingdom of God granted amnesty by the blood of Jesus Christ. Every time we refuse others mercy, we are rejecting our own. God is using things like this to separate the wheat from the chaff and make plain the fruit of Satan. The pigs continue to race off the cliff into the lake of fire; the exorcism of our people continues (Mark 5:1-13). Pray that the world would continue to be saved from us as we are saved from ourselves.

Jesus inside the beltway: Glocalization and relationship-rooted causes

On the last day of our GBCS young clergy leadership forum, we learned the term “glocalization.” It’s actually not an affirmation of the activist world cliche that we should “think globally and act locally.” The problem is precisely that we too often think about activism in global terms instead of local ones. Activism that is understood in kingdom terms should always seek as localized a form as possible even if it occurs over a distance that is global. Let me explain. Continue reading

What it all boils down to for me

I didn’t watch the presidential debate even though I tweeted #JesusIsMyCandidate until twitter kicked me off. I’m really not interested in whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama is a smoother talker because smooth talking involves a completely different skill set than having a conscience or a heart. I love people who will vote on each side and I don’t ever want politics to compromise the unity of the body of Christ which is my number one desire. Still I needed to confess that I am completely biased and impractical and irrational when it comes to how I make political decisions. I’m not trying to tell anybody else what they should decide, but I make my decisions based on some kids God gave me to love who are not my flesh and blood. I love my flesh and blood Matthew and Isaiah. The older they get, the more I know that our whole lives together are going to be a blast. And I’m also very proud of how they were forever shaped by the Lopez cousins and their friends in the mostly-Mexican-with-some-Salvadoran-and-Honduran youth group that I led from 2008 to 2010. My not flesh and blood kids held my sons in church. They babysat them. When we visit, they treat them like out of town cousins, because they are cousins. Continue reading

Immigration: a litmus test for the American evangelical gospel

I’m not sure I could have ever imagined congratulating Southern Baptist fundamentalist leader Richard Land for being courageous. But he caused quite a stir on June 15th when he backed Obama’s immigration policy statement deferring the deportation of undocumented immigrant kids who arrived in the US under the age of 16. I think Land has shown an integrity about his theology that many other evangelicals lack. I know  Obama’s decision-making is partly/mostly an electoral chess move to make a play on the Hispanic vote and get the far right crazies riled up to alienate the independent voters. But regardless of Obama’s motives, I’m close to several Hispanic youth whose lives are completely different now because of this ruling. So I’m happy about that. And furthermore, I think this issue provides an important litmus test for American evangelicals to demonstrate in their response whether they really believe what they say about the gospel. Here’s why.

Continue reading

Love: One Georgia Mayor’s Response to Immigrants

Came across a story on CNN about Paul Bridges, the “conservative Republican” mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, who’s been speaking out against the new Georgia law that makes it a crime to provide humanitarian aid to undocumented immigrants. Bridges is just a laid-back Christian guy from the country who happened to bump into a Hispanic couple outside a grocery store 12 years ago. He saw them carrying heavy grocery bags on foot so he offered them a lift to their house in his pickup truck. When he saw that 30 people were living in two broken-down trailer where they lived, he decided to go back with some lasagna to share with them. One thing led to another until he ended up visiting his immigrant friends in Mexico and then coming back to get trained as an English as a Second Language teacher. Now they call him Don Pablo and he’s part of their community.

This guy reminds me a lot of my great-uncle Walter who used to have a watermelon farm down in Premont, south Texas where he employed undocumented immigrants almost exclusively. Walter has spoken so much Spanish in his life that on the rare occasion he talks in English like when his brother Ralph and great-nephew Morgan come to visit, he has a thick Mexican accent. I remember going to see him one summer a few years ago when Texas was contemplating an anti-humanitarian-aid law. Walter kind of teared up talking about it and said, “I don’t give a damn if I go to jail. How’s the law going to tell me I can’t help them?”

Being a pastor in one of the few churches I know about where conservatives and liberals are able to worship together side by side, I really want to be careful about how I talk about controversial issues like this in public. I can totally understand where people are coming from who are angered by a government that doesn’t enforce its laws. Their anger at governmental dysfunction is absolutely legitimate and it’s completely unfair to call that racism. I also understand people saying that we need to have tightly regulated borders both for security reasons and for economic reasons. That’s perfectly reasonable.

Having studied the issue extensively, I do have to confess that I feel pretty strongly that the current immigration system is unfair (check out this helpful illustration of the current process if you’re interested). It also has been frustrating to me to see the statistics of how the US trade agreement NAFTA destroyed millions of jobs in the Mexican agricultural industry and pushed workers into migrating (see article). To be fair, there are reasons why we’re stuck with the immigration system we have and they’re not completely cynical (a fair immigration system would require a lot more overhead on the part of the government, for instance). Also some economists challenge the argument that NAFTA caused illegal immigration. So I can respect the fact that decent people are going to disagree with me on this issue.

However, just like Paul Bridges and my uncle Walter, I have spent enough time among undocumented immigrants to view some of them as part of my family. That’s why I cannot accept the way some people try to moralize this issue and say that undocumented immigrants are evil and sinful. It would be profoundly ungrateful for me to say that it’s sinful for people born on the south side of a river in the desert to cross that river to the side that I was born on so their children could have the same chance of a decent life that I do. I have privileges that I did not earn, so who am I to say that another person doesn’t deserve them because of where they were born?

As with a lot of other issues, you feel differently when you actually know people whom the issue concerns instead of thinking about it completely according to abstract principles. It’s very natural and entirely Christian to wish for the well-being of people you care about, even if they’ve broken the law. God’s law is to love your neighbor as yourself. When God’s law conflicts with human law, we should follow God’s law. Whatever else is true, I know that as a Christian, I belong first and foremost to the kingdom of God. My allegiance to American laws is subordinate to my allegiance to God and is only relevant insofar as it serves the purposes of God’s kingdom. I follow the law of the land because to do otherwise in most cases would be to blaspheme the name of the God I’m supposed to represent and harm my witness to others as a Christian.

With respect to God’s kingdom, I am an illegal alien washed clean by the Rio Grande of my baptism and legalized only by the unmerited amnesty of Christ’s blood, which is my green-card. None of us are not illegal aliens in God’s kingdom because none of us deserve to be there, but the only way to forfeit the heavenly citizenship God freely offers us is to live as though we are the kingdom’s rightful citizens and don’t need Christ’s amnesty. When I judge undocumented immigrants for chasing after privileges I have that I do not deserve any more than they, I am acting like the unmerciful servant in Jesus’ parable and cultivating a presumptuously ungrateful attitude that is eternally hazardous.

God bless Paul Bridges for his beautiful Christian witness! I disagree with the current immigration laws myself, but you don’t have to abandon your belief in even those laws to love unconditionally the people that break them.