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?”