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Immigrants and others

Immigrants at Ellis Island (Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)


Immigrants and others

A look at the church’s historical perspective

Evangelicals and Immigration by Ruth Melkonian-Hoover and Lyman Kellstedt (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) gives good historical perspective on varying Protestant responses to immigration: welcome, evangelism, settlement, and pushback.

For decades Baptists and Presbyterians were “particularly active at the southern border, establishing churches and services for primarily Mexican migrants” who went back and forth across the border and would sometimes “share their newfound Protestant faith with others upon return to Mexico.” Many Chinese immigrants also returned to their homes after several years in America, so B.W. Johnson, editor of The Evangelist, did not want to “prevent them from coming to our shores. The Christian should hail [Chinese immigration] as a means of carrying out the commission of his savior and sending the gospel to China.”

Attitudes varied by ideology and denomination: “Liberals of the Social Gospel variety were often supportive of immigration restrictions, while conservative Baptists often favored increased immigration,” as did others who emphasized evangelism. Some Christians emphasized “Americanization through Evangelization,” but conservative Presbyterian leader J. Gresham Machen waxed sarcastic about attempts “to proceed against the immigrants now with a Bible in one hand and a club in the other. … That is what is sometimes meant by ‘Christian Americanization.’”

Both the National Association of Evangelicals and the Assemblies of God in 1981 pushed congregations to sponsor refugee families and passed resolutions emphasizing “the Christian and moral obligation to respond positively” to refugees, in part because they “represent a very responsive people to the gospel.” In recent years the tide has turned, with many leaders supporting travel bans and strict immigration limits. 


The Other Press publishes books off the beaten track. Theodor Kallifatides’ The Siege of Troy, translated from Swedish (2018), is a lovely little novel of a teacher and students hiding in a cave from bombs in German-occupied Greece during World War II: She calms their fears and captivates their minds by telling them the story of The Iliad. Peter Stamm’s Agnes (translated from German) is a haunting tale of modern alienation, with intimations of sex and abortion. Ahmet Altan’s I Will Never See the World Again (translated from Turkish) is the moving memoir of an imprisoned writer. 

Hitler by Brendan Simms (Basic, 2019) brings 700 pages to bear on the question debated for decades: What made Adolf Hitler tick? Simms quotes Hitler’s statements that he “acted in the world as a representative of the ‘have-nots.’” His primary foes were capitalists, particularly British and American ones, and he portrayed Germany as a “socialist people’s state” opposed to “global high finance,” in which German Jews were involved. 

I’ve long contended that placing socialists on the left but national socialists (Nazis) on the right is a device to leave liberals in the middle, and a mistaken charting. Both kinds of socialists want more centralization: The difference is that socialists want government ownership of industries and Nazis are satisfied with governmental control of them by terrorizing their owners. 

Donald Whitney’s How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian? (NavPress, 2019) notes that assurance lies not in our works but in Christ’s finished work. The associate dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shows we should not expect perfection but should be able to answer this question positively: “Over the past few years, has it been your habit to do what is right more and more and to sin less?” 

Whitney writes that neither financial success nor perfectionism is an indication of blessing: “People with false assurance are either legalistic or loose.” He notes, “Concern about your inability to live up to God’s standards is also a good sign. … Don’t be so stringent and ruthless in your self-examination that you lose sight of the Cross and the power of Jesus to save sinners.”

Mez McConnell’s The Creaking on the Stairs: Finding Faith in God Through Childhood Abuse (Christian Focus, 2019) is a great book to give those who suffered greatly as children and are far from God. —M.O.


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  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Mon, 11/18/2019 03:07 am

    I think you fail to make the distinction between the Church and between the State. The church's responsibility is to maintain the flock under their care and to bring the gospel message to the world. One way to carry that out is to sponsor immigrants and help the immigrants coming to your country. Of course, you "give unto Caesar that which is Caesars" which would include following the immigration laws, but remembering you are not necessarily the border police. If an illegal immigrant came to your church you should not call ICE and have the guy deported, but should show Christian love and help the guy in due time to get his immigration status in order. I think Paul's working with Onesimus is an example that we should follow in Philemon where he worked with Onesimus bringing him to Christ first and at the appropriate time addressed the issue of him being a runaway slave which was illegal under Roman law. The church should resist any law that would make them into enforcers of immigration law. 

    The State's first responsibility is to make sure evil doers are punished and citizens and others (that they interface with) receive justice - but the citizens come first. It is wrong to allow in all the world's hurting because it would reduce us to a third world nation, which would be unjust for the citizens bringing chaos and turmoil. The Institutes of the Christian Faith, Book Fourth, chapter 20, by Calvin goes into the responsibilities of the civil government. Allowing uncontrolled borders where evil doers come in and hurt people, sell drugs, and attempt terrorism is wrong.  Also, we see Soros pushing open borders where his objective is to fundamentally change America away from our Christian roots. Wisdom would tell us to appose his agenda. Some have pushed for the United States to allow more refugees, but even here we need to recognize limits due to the tax burden on the people. The typical refugee requires a lot of financial help (about $70,000 over 5 years) from the federal and local government. Even after 5 years, the typical refugee only makes $11/ hr. The conclusion is that our government and leaders have the right to show some compassion by being generous with tax funds helping the poor, refugees, and the like, but they need to resist uncontrolled spending where an undue burden is placed on the tax payers. Our out of control debt should cause us to reduce the amount given to the poor and refugees, for we can hardly pay the interest on the debt! It is not inconsistent to hold to a strict political view on what the state should do in promoting justice (e.g. protection of our borders, enforcing our laws and building the "wall"), while holding a gracious response to the immigrants (both legal and illegal) within the midst of our churches.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Mon, 12/09/2019 05:27 pm

    If refugees are averaging $11/hr after only 5 years, I'd say that's quite an accomplishment. Most of them have to master a new language, adapt to an unfamiliar job market, and work their way up from the bottom. So what do you expect only 5 years into that endeavor?