A few years ago, immigration was barely a blip on people’s political radar. Today, immigration has been catapulted to one of the most divisive issues in America and across the western world. Depending on what side of the argument you take, you’re either a righteous, compassionate saint or you’re a fascist, xenophobic bigot. Even the Church has been forced to take sides in this debate leading to heated dialogue. What should a Christian think about the issue of immigration?
An examination of the biblical notion of the Kingdom of God can be quite helpful to this discussion. Indeed, the concept of immigration has been used to allegorize entrance into the Kingdom of God by John Bunyan in his classic book Pilgrim’s Progress. The main character, Christian, is seeking to leave his native city and immigrate to the Celestial City. Christian is even saddled by a threat to his life: his sin pulling him down to Hell. In order to get into the Celestial City, Christian must obtain certain artifacts (i.e. a passport, visa, or green card), things that the character Ignorance lacks denying Ignorance entrance. Christian is even separated from his family as they refuse to accompany him (though they later make the journey).
It is easy to see the principles of modern immigration woven into Bunyan’s story. These images of immigration, however, are not Bunyan’s invention but are taken directly from biblical theology. God is a sovereign over a kingdom of people; therefore, He must deal with those who are not part of the Kingdom as well as those who wish to be a part of the Kingdom. How does God deal with those who are not part of the Kingdom?
1. Immigration Into the Kingdom is allowed
First, immigration into the Kingdom is allowed. The Bible clearly states that Christ died for the “world.” John 3:16 eloquently states that God loved the world and sent Christ to die for it. John 1:29 and 1 John 2:2 say that Christ takes away the sin of the world. 2 Cor 5:14-15 says that Christ “died for all,” 1 Tim 4:10 says that Christ is the Savior of “all men,” and Heb 2:9 says that Christ has tasted death for all people. While there is much theological disagreement over exactly what these passages mean, what is not in dispute is that anyone can immigrate into God’s Kingdom. The pathway is made available to all people, but “few there are who find it” (Matt 7:13-14).
2. There are Rules for Entering the Kingdom
While anyone can enter the Kingdom of God, Scripture also makes it clear that not everyone will enter the Kingdom. There are rules about how a person may enter the Kingdom. Paul succinctly states the rules for immigration (i.e. the Gospel) in 1 Cor 15:3-4: that Christ died for humanity’s sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was physically resurrected on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Others might know of this teaching as the “Romans Road” to salvation: that all people are sinners and condemned to the judgment of death, that the gift of eternal life is found only in Jesus Christ who died for our sins, and that one must confess Jesus’ death, resurrection, and lordship. One must believe these things in order to be saved and enter God’s Kingdom. That is what divine law requires.
Further, the Kingdom does not have open borders. As the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) indicates, there is a barrier between those in the Kingdom and those outside of it that permanently separates those who are within the Kingdom and those without. No one may enter the Kingdom unless the requirements are met. Lastly, God does not respect a person’s “status” when it comes to entering the Kingdom (Acts 10:34, Rom 2:11). Who you are, where you came from, or what you might be experiencing in life does not grant you a place in the Kingdom. Though God is loving and caring, the rules must be followed if one wishes to enter the kingdom.
3. Denial of Entry to and Expulsion from the Kingdom is Allowed
Those who do not follow the rules regarding entrance into the Kingdom are either denied entrance or are expelled. This truth is seen in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13) and the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt 22:1-14). The five foolish virgins did not do what was necessary to enter the wedding, and they were denied entrance. In the Wedding Banquet parable, one man tried to slip into the wedding without “wedding clothes,” and he was expelled. These parables make it clear that a person who does not follow the rules for entering the Kingdom will either be denied entrance or will be cast out if trying to slip in surreptitiously.
4. Families are Separated by the Kingdom
These rules for immigrating into God’s Kingdom also separate families. As Christ states, he has come to divide family members regarding entrance to the Kingdom (Matt 10:34-36, Luke 12:49-53). Even Paul’s teaching about unbelieving spouses demonstrates how the Kingdom often separates families (1 Cor 7:15). While such a state of affairs is unfortunate, it is not unjust. God’s moral purity places requirements upon both us and himself. The rules must be enforced, and God will enforce them.
Certainly, I have not covered all that the Bible has to say about the issue of immigration, but these theological truths should give one pause when thinking about Christianity and the issue of immigration. Like Bunyan’s character, Christian, who was seeking the Celestial City, there is only one legal way to immigrate to the United States, and it is not unjust or unethical to require people to adhere to just laws or face the consequences−−as unfortunate as those consequences might be. These are things to consider as the Church navigates the thorny issue of immigration.