When I speak on the topic of immigration, the first question I’m asked is usually about how I got involved in immigration work. The answer? I put up a trampoline in my backyard. One day, I came home to find many Latino (next door neighbor) kids having a great time. At the time, most of them didn’t speak English, so I used Google translate to ask them about school. Their response suggested I said something else. They felt sorry for me and tried to teach me how to say a few phrases correctly. Before long, our yard was their hangout.
At the heart of the gospel is Christ’s command to love our neighbors. Figuring out how to love my physical neighbor is how I became an advocate for immigration reform. When we moved to Sioux Center 16 years ago, most of our neighbors were white. Now, many are from Guatemala or Mexico. Our family had to figure out what it looks like to love someone who doesn’t share our same language or culture. What does it mean to love a neighbor who may or may not have legal status?
“…loving my neighbor means seeking their flourishing, which begins with making it as easy as possible for them to build a life of their own.”
For me, loving my neighbor means seeking their flourishing, which begins with making it as easy as possible for them to build a life of their own. This means prioritizing agency over charity. There are times when charity is necessary; however, creating the conditions that allow people to meet their needs, and the needs of their family members and friends, is the foundation for flourishing. Political advocacy plays a crucial role in this. Unfortunately, the partisan rancor from both sides has caused the Christian community to lose sight of politics as a creational good. It’s seen as a partisan zero sum game, or a tool to secure individual freedoms—neither of which point to the gospel. Political action that focuses on “freedom for”—seeking the well-being of the broader community, including those on the margins—is a form of politics grounded in the kingdom of God.
I work part time for The National Immigration Forum and the Evangelical Immigration Table as a Bibles, Badges, and Business mobilizer. My job is to have conversations with faith leaders, business leaders, and law enforcement about the need for immigration reform. Both sides—Republican and Democrats—know our immigration system is broken; both sides also know there are people living in this country without legal status who have become important members of our communities. There are common sense solutions to immigration that honor both the rule of law and human dignity. There are sensible ways to secure our borders and provide legal ways for people to come to this country to seek a better life.
Currently, our politics tends to objectify our immigrant brothers and sisters. One side can’t shake the ethnocentric, nationalistic impulse to build walls between a particular way of life and that of immigrants. The other tends toward virtue signaling, reducing immigrants to political pawns with promises that are made but rarely kept. As common-sense policy changes fail, many immigrants are left to fend for themselves. To address this situation, we—the Christian community—must use our access to power, wealth, and influence to seek the flourishing of our neighbors. The prophet Jeremiah tells the people of Israel in exile, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”1 Peter tells the community in Rome to “live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”2 We are, as Peter puts it, “aliens and exiles.”3 We are citizens of the kingdom of God called to seek the welfare of our nations and communities. A truly reformational perspective does not interpret this in a dualistic way, as if the politics of the kingdom of God negates the politics of this world; instead, we recognize that in Jesus Christ, the political processes of this world are being transformed into a new creation. This new form of politics is one that “honors everyone”— undocumented immigrants and presidents alike.
“…in Jesus Christ, the political processes of this world are being transformed into a new creation.”
What started with a trampoline has led to meals shared at the home of Afghan refugees and meetings with members of congress. These experiences have given me hope for my immigrant neighbors, and hope that our politics can find a way to solve problems. For this to happen, the Christian community needs to reclaim political power as a creational good—a tool we can use to provide a way for undocumented immigrants and refugees to flourish as human beings made in the image of God.
This article is part of our ongoing series: Living with Intentionality. Our lives are a series of decisions of how best to love others, care for our creation, seek good, prevent harm, and glorify God. We will highlight these articles where fellow believers make very intentional choices that can expand our imagination for what the Christian life—and the life of the mind—can accomplish.
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“In its welfare you will find your welfare”. Truth from Jeremiah ! We have found our welfare at our backyard swingset and our garden. We have become “grandpa and grandma” to a ton of Latino children. We’ve shared in backyard barbecues. christening, graduations. Joy!