Asking the Right Question

Vantage Point
Our faith is lived out in the public square.

In 2006, Classis Zeeland brought a concern to synod: how should we worship with undocumented immigrants? The question was born out of the life of its churches, which were ministering to a growing Latino population in the area. Synod 2007 commissioned a study committee, which came back in 2010 with the Report on the Migration of Workers.

Among its many important findings, perhaps the report’s central assertion is this: “God’s Word calls upon believers to respect the governing authorities and the laws of the state. However, citizenship in the kingdom of God obligates believers to the highest law of love for God and neighbor above all, and the exercise of this love should lead believers to advocate for laws that will mandate the just and humane treatment of immigrant peoples” (p. 31).

As the immigration debate continues in the United States, I would like to humbly call all of us back to this great command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). How simple, and yet how difficult. Classis Zeeland’s question could easily be translated to “How do we love our undocumented neighbor?” How indeed?

I’ve been involved in advocacy for immigration reform in the U.S. for about a year now, and I’ve heard a lot of answers to the question “What do we do with undocumented immigrants?” Should we make them citizens? Deport them? Create a process toward legalization? This is the question being asked by government leaders, judges, and law enforcement officials—and well it should be. This has also become the driving question being asked by the church. While this question is right and good, for our faith is lived out in the public square, rarely within the church does it seem to be informed by the great command to love our neighbor as ourself. What would happen to our discussions if they were always driven by that great command?

Perhaps instead of criminals, we would begin to see upright people trapped in a broken system. Instead of takers, hardworking people paying taxes into a system they are excluded from. Instead of distance, relationship. Instead of the “other,” a friend.

Members of Christ’s body will have differing opinions on how best to go about addressing the brokenness of our immigration system. And that’s OK. What is not OK, however, is allowing these discussions to be divorced from that great commandment given to love above all else. Love and compassion must always be our starting point; hate and rhetoric have no place in the discussion. May we all recommit ourselves to asking, above all else, “How can I love my undocumented neighbor?”

Related links:
Immigration Advocacy: Office of Social Justice
“Church Between Borders” curriculum
Immigration Overview: Office of Social Justice
CRC Endorses Statement on Immigration: The Banner

About the Author

Kyle Schaap is a policy analyst and advocacy fellow at the CRC Office of Social Justice. He lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., and attends First Christian Reformed Church.

See comments (2)


When doing analysis about immigrants who are not lawfully in this country, it is helpful to put "sphere sovereignty" glasses on.

Government has a role to play, which is not showing "unconditional love."  Were it to act that way, we would not have a criminal code, nor even a civil code.  No one would commit a crime or a civil wrong because the government would be too "loving and compassionate" to declare those wrongs as wrongs and implement appropriate remedies for those wrongs.  On the other hand, Individual citizens are not government and play different roles (plural). 

Let's make this personal and concrete.  All other things being equal, I do not favor government giving a special path to citizenship to those who have chosen to violate US Law and come here illegally.  I believe US law should be "just," and allowing only those who violate it a special dispensation because of their violations is simply not "just."  Nor do I favor the current Obama administration approach of ignoring and refusing to enforce existing law (as the executive branch of the US Government).

However, when I am a neighbor to my neighbors (which likely includes "illegal immigrants"), or a basketball coach to a local middle school 8th grade boys team (which likely includes "illegal immigrants"), or in church alongside people (some of whom may be "illegal immigrants"), I'm not acting as government -- nor as a government agent -- because I am not government or a government agent.  In my neigbor role, I act as a good neighbor, which sometimes means I act like the "good Samaritan."  Frankly, I don't even ask questions in those roles that would allow me to determine legal status.  I am engaged in a sphere of responsibility that is not the government sphere of responsibility.  Accordingly, I think the question Classis Zeeland asks is pretty easy to answer.  Act like an institutional church.  At the same time, understand that your members should also act as citizens when the vote and otherwise engage the political process (which Classis Zeeland should not interfere with).

When I vote or engage in discussion with my government representatives, I cast my vote and engage in that discussion in a way that encourages government to govern well.  That means taking into account all of the effects for US society -- good and bad, because both exist -- of allowing people to immigrate unlawfully or unlawfully stay in this country.

This article falls short in a critical way because it discusses government and immigration but fails to articulate the government's unique role -- as a distinct "sphere" -- in immigration.  It conflates multiple "spheres," and their respective and differentiated responsibilities, by pointing only to the "rule of love."  In doing so, it tries to leave (perhaps by intention) readers with the idea that whether they are acting as a neighbor, or member of church, or voting/engaging citizen, their analysis should be the same.  That forumula fails, as perhaps does the study commitee report to which is points, to answer Classis Zeeland's question.

I am puzzled somewhat. When we worship, are we called to categorize those we worship based on whether we are law breakers or law observers. We are called to worship and glorify Almighty God. Are we called to judge? If we can worship only on basis of how perfect and righteous we are then I imagine no one would show up to worship..

   I don't know the context of how this question was raised. There are no easy answers.