(The following is an unabridged version of an editorial that appeared in the Dallas Morning News. Please scroll to the bottom for a list of additional resources.)
According to the U.N., the Dallas-Fort Worth area receives more refugees than any other city in the U.S. Immigration is an issue that is not isolated to our borders; it is in our backyard. I, and my faith family, consider it a great privilege to welcome and serve others who we assume have been appropriately vetted by those charged by God to do so. Because of where we live, we have a rare opportunity to model Christ’s love to those new to our land, even as our government wrestles with the rule of law regarding immigration.
The emotionally-charged rhetoric we’ve heard in recent days makes it seem that we must choose between love or law; compassion or security. How can we both “do justice” and “love kindness,” as it says in Micah 6:8? It’s a question that many have posed to the Christian community specifically. If followers of Christ claim to love people as Jesus does, how could we ever turn anyone away from a safe harbor?
But the choice between justice and love is a false choice. To understand why, we need to explore both the role of government and the role of the Church. 1 Peter 2:13-15 makes clear that the role of government is to “punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” This makes justice and law a fundamentally good thing and essential for any healthy community. Goodness and justice cannot be defined by the ever-changing values of today, but must come from a right understanding of the never-changing nature of God. Our founders understood this when they ordered our liberty around the goodness of God, declaring “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
God’s word also makes clear that while the government’s role is to protect, the role of the Church is both to remind the government of its duty to be just and model to the world God’s kindness and love. In John 13:34-35, Jesus commands His followers “to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples.” We are not only commanded to love one another, but also to love the sojourner in our land. Leviticus says, “the stranger who resides with you shall be as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself.” This is a clear mandate, and to some, it may seem at odds with the rule of law.
The crux is how we choose to define loving-kindness. Loving-kindness cannot be defined (as it often is) as the approval or celebration of any behavior. Kindness is never at odds with justice. Rather, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love “rejoices with the truth.” This reflects the nature of our God, who is full of both grace and truth; both 100% kind and 100% just. Kindness under the rule of law should never be applied to one group at the expense of another. Applied to today’s context, we cannot choose indiscriminate amnesty because it is “kindest” for immigrants, nor should we close our borders because it seems “kindest” for our citizens.
It is imperative that we understand that God has ordained both government and the Church as divine institutions, each charged with separate tasks to bring order and goodness to all people. Their roles are different, but complementary, and to confuse the two is to invite ruin. It is only through an understanding of and advocacy for each institution’s God-ordained roles that we can achieve both love and justice simultaneously. Achieving this balance is, admittedly, a delicate and difficult task. I urge you to pray for our leaders, even as we hold them accountable.
Scripture gives us examples of how to achieve this balance. The heritage of the Christian faith is steeped in the stories of sojourners, including Abraham, Isaac, and Ruth. However, throughout Scripture, two different words are used to make a distinction between types of sojourners. Ger is used to describe sojourners that enter a land and choose to peacefully adopt social and legal customs of that land. Nekhar is used to describe one who enters a land with the intention of consuming it, rather than contributing to its welfare. This distinction is as important today as it was then. There must be systems put in place to ascertain the intention of those who desire to come here, and to make provision and warm welcome for those who want to enter our land peacefully. This is how we achieve both justice and kindness.
Regarding our new neighbors who are already living lawfully among us, this is our opportunity to put love into action and serve them. We must engage, show compassion, and offer practical assistance to those who are fleeing unimaginable hardship. You can start simply by forming a relationship with just one new person who is new to our Metroplex.
At Watermark Community Church, we’re privileged that more than 70 different nations of origin are represented in our faith community. In our partnership with other ministries in the area, we offer many opportunities to care for refugees, immigrants, and sojourners.
Finally, while I am blessed beyond measure to call this country my homeland, I stand firm in reminding you of this truth: America is not the hope of the world, Jesus Christ is. I invite you all to investigate this claim and to come and see the freedom available to all through His grace.
Todd Wagner is the pastor of Watermark Community Church in Dallas, TX.
Use this guide to help you think through the best way to engage and host international friends.