Illegal immigration tests the compassion and reason of Christians confronting this emerging national crisis.

A recent bout of raids on “illegal immigrants” had one Hispanic pastor’s church members frustrated and worried. As the Latino believers—some in the United States illegally, most legally, yet all in search of a better life—gathered for a service, their pastor spoke reassuringly: “Esta no es oficina de imigracion. Es casa de Dios y puerta del cielo!” he said, paraphrasing the words of the biblical refugee Jacob. (“This is not the office of immigration. It is the house of God and the door of heaven!”)

Indeed, thousands of Mexican believers in recent years have illegally crossed the border into California, joining millions of others in search of work, good health care, and education for their children.

Whether they are called illegals or undocumented workers, the rising U.S. immigrant population, and especially the growing presence of Latinos in the Southwest, has set a political brushfire that is testing the core of constitutional guarantees.

For evangelical Christians, the immigration issue raises many scriptural questions, such as how to apply the biblical mandate to care for the poor and dispossessed; how to resolve the tension between nationalism and the global concerns of Christianity; and whether evangelical theology can address the real-life problem of developing a compassionate and orderly immigration policy.

With the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement by Congress, the fundamental relationship between Mexico and the United States is shifting dramatically on all fronts. And at times, the goals of public policy and Christian ministry are in conflict.

“I would say that the evangelical church doesn’t even ...

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