And who is my neighbor?

Yesterday, a friend of mine with a pretty popular blog asked me to write a guest column. Naturally, I was thrilled. Jenny Simmons, lead singer of Addison Road and fellow Baylor grad, had written a post about the largest illegal immigration raid in history when a robust debate broke out. When she asked me to write a post addressing the question, “What should we as Christians do?” there were 9 comments. Just 24 hours later there were 18. Enter my column, reposted here.

It’s a good thing I didn’t write the Bible.

OK, that’s the understatement of the century. But in all seriousness, I just can’t imagine how Jesus came up with such a great answer to “Who is my neighbor?” I probably would have just said “everyone.”

But that wouldn’t get the point across like the parable of the Good Samaritan does. In Luke 10, Jesus’ answer tells us not only are the clean, nice-looking people our neighbors, but so is the naked bloody guy with no money on the side of the street.

We should treat him with pity, and, judging from the parable, extravagance. So who is our neighbor today? As surely as it is the nuclear family next door, it is the illegal immigrant.

The New York Times put it aptly in a June 3 editorial: “A nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants in bondage, exploiting its labor while ignoring its suffering, condemning its lawlessness while sealing off a path to living lawfully.” Although how to handle illegal immigration is undoubtedly a Christian moral issue, it is also an issue that strikes the core of American life.

We were founded to be a refuge from tyranny, oppression, and injustice. Whatever happened to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”? I fear we have replaced it with, “give me your paperwork, wait two to five years, learn a new language, or we will imprison you indefinitely.”

I realize the issue is complex and challenging. We cannot allow immigration to go unchecked. We must protect our citizens and our country first and foremost or we won’t be much of a sanctuary to anyone. However, protecting the immigrant is an important, and recently missing, piece of the American character.

So where should we, as Christians, start?

I won’t rehash the parable for a second time, but I think you know where I’m going with this.

We must love illegal immigrants, our neighbors, as ourselves.

This won’t be easy. I daily have trouble loving people who look, talk, and think like me with as much grace and understanding as I afford my fallen self.

To remind myself to do things, I like to use lists. Little things I can check off, keep up with, and hang on my mirror. But “love illegal immigrants” doesn’t really belong on a post-it note next to my grocery list.

In fact, it sounds downright ridiculous.

It has to be written on our hearts and seen in our actions or else it won’t matter. It won’t be the real, life-changing love that God gives us everyday. It will be hard. It will be awkward. It might even cause you to loose a few friends or social standing. Sound like anyone you’ve heard of before? Jesus didn’t ride into town on a white horse. He saddled up a donkey. Jesus didn’t hang out with the rich and powerful. He chilled with the poor and rejected.

While there are a number of passages in the Bible about following the law and respecting your government, there are more still about loving others unashamedly and unequivocally. Contrary to welfare legislation, there is no such thing as the “undeserving poor.” As human beings, we all deserve compassion. And as Christians, we are all commanded to dish it out with utter abandon. Not delineating between the “good” poor and the “bad” poor, but loving each and every one of God’s creatures as ourselves.

Looking for a practical application?

A good place to start might be volunteering to teach English as a second language. My church in college, Calvary Baptist, had a Wednesday night ESL class open to the community. From that class, a Spanish-speaking Sunday school class was born. Hey, sometimes you just need to use your mother tongue. 

And from that class, a new ministry to immigrants in Waco evolved. It was amazing to see. And it made a difference. Another area immigrants typically lack understanding is personal finance. One member of our church helped organize a “Bank Fair/Carnival” so that parents could learn about checking accounts and other services while their children jumped on bouncy-castles and ate snow cones.

Some people might think providing these classes without knowing if those receiving the services are legal citizens is a crime in itself. I’m not one of them. I think a greater crime, one against God, is committed when we turn our back on the poor. As Jesus said, “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” I’m not telling you to start housing people of unknown descent in your guest room. But loving others is always a risk.

Another practical way Christians can respond to the plight of the illegal immigrant is with our votes. I’m pretty big on the separation of church and state and honestly even invoking political language next to passages of the Bible makes me nervous.
But I’m not telling you who to vote for, just to look at your local and federal elections with a keen eye. Find out where the candidates stand on illegal immigration. Call your congressman or woman. Let them know this issue is important to you.

I believe a key component to the illegal immigration problem is in the hands of lawmakers. As long as companies are hiring illegal workers, they will come illegally. There need to be harsher penalties for companies who employ illegal workers. In many cases, they are exploiting people to work for below-minimum wage, with no benefits, for far too many hours a week. I sincerely think those who hire and abuse immigrants are as guilty, if not more, than the workers are.

For most of us, however, our role is not to pass legislation. In the words of Micah, “What does God require of you? To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Amen.