While it has drifted off the radar screen at the moment Tim Morgan at Christianity Today’s political blog recently raised a question that is sure to come back into the forefront as a hot divisive issue, what to do with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and their children. That it is coming back as an issue is clear from President Obama’s plans to grant them citizenship, an effort that news reports say will begin next month and last through the summer.
Morgan’s question was not so much the policy issue directly, but asks the question in terms of “What would Jesus do?” My thinking on this question has always been somewhat mixed. On the one hand, it is a great question and one that we should all ask far more often than we do. But if that’s the case, then what is the problem with the question?
My problems begin when the question enters public discussions, and are for a number of reasons. The biggest problem is that your answer to the question will strongly depend on your knowledge of Jesus, and even for Christians in general, the actual knowledge of Jesus is somewhat lacking, and even more so for the public at large. While it can be very valuable to struggle with this privately in prayer and contemplation before God, as a general rule, the more people involved, the less prayer and contemplation you will have.
I think it can be stated as a general rule that nobody really knows what Jesus would do in the case of such public policy issues. In fact, the verse that would seem to apply the most is, Jesus’ comment in Matthew 22:21 concerning taxes, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
The problem with trying to figure out what Jesus would do in any particular issue of public policy, is that we live in a world corrupted by sin and governed temporally by sinful people. Issues of public policy such as illegal immigration are basically tinkering at the margins. Jesus would go to the root of the problem, and when he was finished, the answer to the question of “What would Jesus do about illegal immigrants would be : nothing, for there would not be an Illegal immigrants issue to begin with.
This is not to say that we should have open boarders and allow everyone in, it is to point out the reality that the roots of the Illegal immigration problem are vast and deep. There is the economic, political, and social problems in the countries from which the illegal immigrants come. If every country in the world had the freedom and prosperity of the United States, there would not be a problem.
Then there is the breakdown of law in this country that has allow the problem to grow such that there are now so many here. If there were only a few thousand illegal immigrants in the country who had only been here a few months, again this would not be an issue. But for a variety of reasons, government at many levels have ignored the growing problem until now there are millions of illegal immigrants here, many for decades.
So to come in now and ask “What would Jesus do?” is somewhat like asking what would Jesus do to deal with his past sins? He wouldn’t do anything because he would never be in that position. When he does come back he will not tinker with minor issues such as illegal immigration. He will address the root issues and eliminate the problems that cause it in the first place.
One other problem I frequently have with this question comes from the view of God that currently predominates the public square: God is Love. The predominant view of God is Love, often expresses itself in such questions making them almost “What would Love do?” In this case wouldn’t love say we should have compassion for the illegal immigrants?
While certainly true, that is not the only attribute of God. We sinful humans are never very good at balancing, and it takes a lot of effort. When balancing something on the end of your finger, if you get distracted or inattentive, it will fall. The same goes for the church balancing the attributes of God. God is Love, but he is also Justice. Psalm 101 starts, “I will sing of your love and justice; to you O Lord, I will sing praise.”
Love says we should have compassion for the illegal immigrants, but justice says that they have broken the law. Then there are all the other attributes of God, such as Righteousness and Holiness. So what would Jesus do about the illegal immigrants and their families? Ultimately I don’t know.
I do think that we need to approach the issue beginning with all the attributes of God, not just Love that would let them all stay, or Justice that would throw them all out. I also think that any solution would have to focus on the root causes that has allow the problem to get out of hand in the first place, though unlike Jesus, here we are somewhat limited to control over our own country, though we can work to spread economic freedom and liberty to other countries. Still while easy to say, working these out into actual public policy will take a lot of contemplation and prayer.