The recent immigration controversy—about the administration’s decision to separate children from their parents at the border—has ended, at least for now, with President Trump’s promise of an executive order to end the practice. His decision was clearly due to the near universal outcry against the policy. It was a rare moment for Christians, as believers of all stripes were united on this one point of public policy. When Jim Wallis and Franklin Graham, and nearly everyone in between, condemn the administration’s policy, it’s practically a miracle. And for this, we should be grateful.
It stands in contrast to the usual order of things, but it might be an opportunity to examine some of our assumptions about entering the public square to pursue justice in the name of Jesus Christ. We do well to remember that first and foremost, our job in this life is to help people see and comprehend the love and power of Jesus Christ. Standing with a unified front on a particular issue goes a long way in that regard. But we also have to figure out how to help people see Jesus when we don’t agree.
To reiterate what Christians of nearly all stripes have agreed on lately: We found it deeply troubling that so many children were needlessly separated from their parents at the border, and we along with so many others called for an immediate halt to this practice.
Where We Stand
Furthermore, we believe that a zero-tolerance policy on any issue is not likely to produce justice; rather it will only exacerbate injustice. The most recent example in US history is the zero-tolerance policy both white and black leaders championed against crime and drug use in the 1980s and ’90s, with good intentions. This has resulted in the US having the largest prison population in the world today, with many inmates suffering unjust prison sentences. A zero-tolerance policy at the border will only lump the deserving and the undeserving into the same pile, with injustice for many.
On this, most Christians seem to agree. Christianity Today’s position is more expansive, of course, and this is where Christians begin to part ways. For years we’ve championed a more generous and open immigration policy. Recent conflicts across the globe have multiplied the number of refugees exponentially, and this sad reality has only prompted us to double down on this commitment.
We take this stand first and foremost based on our reading of Scripture, the main theme being the call to love our neighbor, which we believe includes the neighbor knocking on the national door. For that particular neighbor comes poor, afflicted, afraid, and confused. To us, the first act of love toward these neighbors is welcome. The second act is to determine with both compassion and justice whether they should or should not be permitted to migrate to the US.
Admittedly, we’re stepping away from clear biblical teaching to matters of prudential judgment at this point. Nevertheless, we believe our judgments are informed by biblical teachings on mercy, justice, grace, and the image of God. We believe that those who cross the border illegally—that is, not at designated ports of entry—are not necessarily criminals. In our view, most who take that route do so because they are desperate to save their lives and that of their children. As such, these ought to be treated as those seeking asylum, and thus granted the rights and privileges we grant anyone seeking asylum until their case is adjudicated.
Whenever Christians enter the public square, on one side of the immigration debate or the other, there will be a combination of biblical and prudential rationale that motivates their views.
Yet we at CT do not assume all the Bible and all the wisdom falls on one side of any complex political issue. Even when we disagree with them, we acknowledge that those who want to restrict immigration argue biblically and prudentially as well. We just happen to believe that the biblical principles and prudential reasons we marshal take priority given the need, the state of our economy, and the massive resources available in the US, among many other prudential factors. In short, we believe America is strong and dynamic enough to absorb and assimilate many more immigrants than we have been welcoming for decades. And we believe that the courage, perseverance, initiative, and hope that carries immigrants to our shores will only strengthen the American character.
When believers of all stripes can take stands together in the public square, that is a great witness. But so often, it’s difficult to know with absolute certainty what prudential steps are required to fulfill a biblical mandate. And so on many important issues, Christians have different views. It’s perhaps why Jesus didn’t say that the world will recognize him when we take the right stands together. Instead he says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Unfortunately, our witness to the truth and love of Jesus at other times has been compromised in the public square. We have rehearsed this problem many times in our pages. When we are rude and hostile to one another, we signal that we love only some neighbors. More to the point: We love our political allies but not so much our brothers and sisters who take a different view.
It seems to us that the first step in loving those with whom we disagree is to take the trouble to listen, really listen, to what they believe and why. In this respect, we each might ask ourselves some pointed questions, like:
Those who favor more immigration: Don’t those who insist on the rule of law have a point? Who wants to live in a society in which people are encouraged to have a cavalier attitude toward the legal system?
Those who wish to restrict immigration might ask themselves if their concern for the welfare of their local communities or the nation should always trump the welfare of desperate people at our borders.
And so on. Even when we disagree with those who differ from us, we can enter the debate recognizing that they too bring something true and right to the discussion. It may even result in us finding some powerful points of agreement.
Unfortunately today, most days it is almost unimaginable to an unbelieving world that what was said of the early Christians could be said of us: The church father Tertullian imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “Look ... how they love one another … how they are ready to die for each other.”
We’re not calling for a live and let live approach, the lazy “everybody has their own truth” and “why can’t we all get along?” It’s our duty to carefully read Scripture and prayerfully think through issues, and come to firm convictions. That often means we’ll come to different conclusions.
But we need the very believers who do not see things our way. When it comes to political solutions to complex problems, we see in a mirror dimly. Even when we have to end up disagreeing about the best way forward, it’s rare that charitable listening doesn’t help us see more clearly. And we’ll sometimes find, surprisingly enough, that we agree on more than we had imagined. And when we can’t agree, we can continue the debate until events and Providence reveal a larger truth we can both see clearly.
And maybe, along the way, an unbelieving world will see us striving for justice, living mercifully with one another, and walking humbly with our Lord—and they just may recognize him for who he is.
Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity Today.