The Crisis

Children separated from parents at the US-Mexico border. Protestors marching in American cities to reunite migrant families. President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions scrambling to defend a “zero tolerance” policy that prosecutes all illegal entries as criminals and separates parents and children. Immigration bills being argued over and languishing in Congress. Promises of a wall, security, and protection from “invading hordes” of migrants while Dreamers are fearful for their future and while those seeking asylum from violence in Central America make their way to our border and beg for help and safety. This is America in the summer of 2018.

Global migration is at the forefront of our minds these days. From what is happening in the United States, to the global refugee crisis, to ongoing unrest in places like Venezuela, the Northern Triangle of Central America, Syria, or Myanmar, or economic struggles in Sub-Saharan Africa accompanying a population boom that will reach 2 billion by 2050, the reality of people movements and global migration is ever before us. And, there is no return to “normal” on the horizon.

World Refugee Day in June accompanied news from the United Nations that there are now 68.5 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced, with 25.4 million of that number who have been forced to leave their home countries. The world is experiencing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, and there is no end in sight. War, oppression, persecution, violence, internal instability…all of these are reasons for people leaving their homes. There are also 3.1 million asylum seekers around the world fleeing persecution. These numbers do not include those who have had to flee because of natural disasters or economic hardships. The nations of the earth are moving as massive populations shift around the globe.

All of this movement (and potential movement) is giving rise to a reaction in many of the Western and industrialized nations that people are trying to migrate to. Some of that reaction is taking the form of nativism and far-right populism. Calls to close European borders to refugees or build a wall along the US-Mexico border grow louder from some groups while discussion erupts about what makes a nation what it is. Is a nation defined by a shared history? Borders? Language? Ethnicity? Race? Culture? Around the world, people ask how they can navigate the challenges that come from blending nations and cultures together, especially when fear, economic pressure, security concerns, the rule of law, and political considerations are involved.

These challenges are a new reality that will dominate the world for the next several decades. The questions related to global migration are just beginning. They aren’t going away. Calls to solve the problems of migration, border security, and who gets to migrate will continue to befuddle politicians and policymakers. How newcomers are welcomed and integrated into society will be an ongoing challenge and question all the way down to local towns, schools, neighborhoods, and churches.

The Christian Witness

Christians in the midst of the reality of global migration have both a responsibility and an opportunity. There exists responsibility to speak words of wisdom, guidance, truth, patience, humility, and compassion and mercy to the state and political process that will decide how to handle these ongoing challenges. We are called to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). Salt seasons and preserves, and light illuminates. With nations engaging in full-on conversation and discussion on who they are as a people, how to best live life, who gets to emigrate, and who is welcomed, the church, full of citizens of both the Kingdom of God as well as the nations, has a responsibility to speak to this ongoing crisis in a humane, wise, and biblical way. People all over the world are engaged in spiritual conversations about the value of human life, what it means to live in community, and who they really are. The church must speak into that biblically, not first as citizens of their nation-state, but as the people of God.

Through engaging in the migration discussion with wisdom, advocacy, and ministry, the church also has an opportunity to witness gospel truth and the reality of God’s Kingdom to the kingdoms of this world. The church is not to dominate the state, but rather the church is to witness to the state what life is like under God’s rule and how people can be a part of God’s family. The church does this by preaching the gospel to the nations and by representing God’s heart, will, compassion, and justice to problems and broken places in the world. One of those areas spoken of often in scripture concerns the treatment of the migrant or the sojourner. Over and over again, God says that His people are to love the sojourner as they love themselves and are to treat them well, like the native-born.[1]

A Specific Response

Southern Baptists passed a resolution on immigration at their annual meeting in June of this year calling for humane and biblical treatment of immigrants. After establishing that the immigrant was made in God’s image and loved by God, the resolution went on to speak to the following:

RESOLVED, That we desire to see immigration reform include an emphasis on securing our borders and providing a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity, resulting in an efficient immigration system that honors the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we declare that any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage all elected officials, especially those who are members of Southern Baptist churches, to do everything in their power to advocate for a just and equitable immigration system, those in the professional community to seek ways to administer just and compassionate care for the immigrants in their community, and our Southern Baptist entities to provide resources that will equip and empower churches and church members to reach and serve immigrant communities; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to address immigration issues with their local churches and to exhort their congregations to serve their local immigrant communities; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we affirm that all immigrants are either brothers and sisters in Christ or people whom God loves and has given us an opportunity to reach with the gospel where otherwise they may never have heard.

The Baptist response is one way forward. The church at large must consider that the movement of the nations around the earth is an opportunity to lead in both gospel ministry and service to migrants as well as to speak to the state about how to manage this challenge with wisdom, justice, and compassion. The church can encourage border security while also calling for compassion and concern for the migrants themselves. Protecting borders does not have to mean that a nation deals with people in inhumane ways. This current crisis provides a chance for the church to step in to the quagmire and lead the state and culture in a biblical direction that benefits all. I pray that we do not miss the opportunity before us.

Alan Cross is a Southern Baptist minister and a Missional Strategist for the Montgomery (AL) Baptist Association. He also serves as a consultant for the Evangelical Immigration Table in the Southeastern US and is the author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus (NewSouth Books, 2014).

Photo Credit: US-Mexico border fence at beach in Tijuana. By Romel Jacinto, via Flickr.

[1] Exodus 22:21-24; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:14-20; Isaiah 58:7; Zechariah 7:8-14; and many other passages.