Illegal Immigrants in the Church?
Mark DeYmaz, directional leader at Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas), Old Testament professor at Denver Seminary, and Matthew Soerens, the U.S. church training specialist for World Relief, debate what churches should do about illegal immigrants in their midst.
Do Everything Legal
Mark DeYmaz, directional leader at Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas
In the earliest days of Mosaic Church, one of our members was issued a traffic ticket. Later we learned he was undocumented. A year or so after this incident, he received a second citation from local police, who discovered that he'd had a fraudulent driver's license obtained with a fake Social Security number.
In every other way, the individual was a law-abiding member of the community and a follower of Christ. Yet he soon received a letter from the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services requiring him to leave the country within 30 days. However, he chose to ignore the letter and remain in Little Rock.
When it comes to meeting the spiritual, material, and physical needs of immigrants, there is strong biblical precedent for getting involved (Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 27:19). But New Testament teaching also makes it clear that as followers of Christ, we are to honor the law and respect the rulers of our land (Luke 20:23-25; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). How should we resolve this apparent tension?
Out of concern for this member and what his decision might mean for the church, I met with local immigration officials to discuss the situation. I learned that a church is in no way restricted from ministering to people based on their legal status or expected to know who within the congregation is and is not properly documented.
For instance, there is nothing illegal about giving undocumented immigrants rides to and from church or providing them with benevolent assistance such as food, shelter, and clothing.
In fact, a church may invite undocumented immigrants to serve voluntarily in any capacity within the church. At Mosaic, however, we have decided not to appoint undocumented immigrants to serve as elders, since our board must conduct legal business from time to time. And we do not willfully hire undocumented immigrants. Several times my heart has broken over learning of someone's undocumented status in the hiring process and, consequently, turning away an otherwise qualified candidate.
Scripture requires that Christ followers and therefore churches obey legal authority. However, we have found it possible to walk the fine line between compassion and conformity when it comes to serving the immigrants among us. As Paul found, too, in dealing with Onesimus, we can remain true to both the mission of God and the authority of man. We will continue to do so unless that authority requires us to deny our faith or the core tenets of it.
I wish there were a simple solution to the current immigration problem, that we could somehow wave a magic wand and fix the whole situation. Unfortunately, an immediate solution does not exist. In the meantime, we continue to love and serve everyone we can.
Ask New Questions
M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas), distinguished professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary
The answer to this question depends on whether the church is a majority-culture church or an immigrant church.
There are many thousands of immigrant churches in the United States. For example, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC)—the Hispanic counterpart and working partner of the National Association of Evangelicals—is an umbrella organization for Hispanic congregations. The NHCLC comprises more than 25,000 member churches, many of which have undocumented members. The same could be said, for example, of countless Korean and African churches in the U.S.