Skip to main content

This is one of the questions we’ll be addressing in a 4 part series about undocumented immigrants, social justice and the church. To start, I would like to introduce Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, two thoughtful Christians with whom the OSJ collaborates regularly. Read on for their answer to our question.

“Most of the people who care most passionately about championing the needs of undocumented immigrants are the undocumented themselves, or their relatives or friends.

That’s human nature—we have enough problems of our own, without caring about other people, right?

If we want to follow Christ well, though, I think there are a number of reasons that we need to care about the situation of immigration in our country.

First of all, there is a strong biblical mandate to care for the immigrant. God repeatedly tells the people of Israel that the law he is giving them “applies to the native-born and to the alien among you” (Ex. 12:49). God sets for his people the standard that immigrants to their land should be treated equally, with the same rights and the same responsibilities. He commands his people to do so at least in part because they have a history of their own—as foreigners living under Egyptian oppression—and he wants them to do better, loving immigrants as they love themselves (Lev. 19:33-34).

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we find God calling out immigrants—along with two other vulnerable groups, orphans and widows—for special attention. God “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18). He did so not just through a sentimental statement of love, but by legislating systems that would ensure that these vulnerable groups’ needs were met, telling the Israelites to go over their grain, grape, and olive harvests just once, leaving the gleanings for the alien, the orphan, and the widow (Deut. 24:19-21). That linkage extends into the prophets, where Ezekiel condemns the rulers of Israel for having “oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow” (Ezek. 22:7).

The New Testament expands upon the idea of hospitality to strangers: Jesus himself says that those who welcome a stranger are welcoming him (Matt. 25:35), while the author of Hebrews suggests that by extending hospitality to strangers, we may be entertaining angels without knowing it (Heb. 13:2). Many Americans think of hospitality as preparing a nice meal for our friends or having a guest room available for extended family, but—while those are certainly noble activities—the biblical ideal of hospitality goes much further, to those unknown to us. Anyone can love his friends, Jesus tells us (Luke 6:33), but to love our neighbor—including those, as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan suggests, may be individuals very different than us who are in need—is a larger task. We do not get to choose who our neighbor is, nor can we except ourselves from the command to love them because they have broken a law.

While responding to God’s explicit commands ought to be enough, there is another reason we would do well to extend hospitality to immigrants: they present a missional opportunity right at our doorstep. Jesus’ Great Commission to his followers was to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19); with immigration, the nations show up right at our doorstep. The presence of immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, is not an accident: Scripture suggests that “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27). God’s hand is in the migration of people precisely because he longs for them to find him.

Missiologists will tell you that immigrants are amongst the most receptive groups of people to the gospel. What a tragedy, then, that as a whole, we do such a poor job of welcoming them. According to the Billy Graham Center, less than one in ten immigrants will be welcomed into the home of any American, to say nothing of an American Christian. If we are willing to take up the challenge, we could see many immigrants enter into a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ.

Finally, we have to care about immigration because it is already an urgent issue within the church. Research by Todd Johnson of Gordon-Conwell Seminary suggests that immigrant congregations are already accounting for American evangelicalism’s fastest growth, which means that immigration issues are not an issue “out there” but something we have to face within the church. If we believe that the Church is bigger than an individual congregation, but the entirety of the Body of Christ scattered throughout the globe, we cannot dismiss those parts of the body for which immigration issues are a daily reality. Further, “If one part suffers, every part suffers” (1 Cor. 12:26)—and if we are unaware of the suffering that exists within immigrant churches as a result of a dysfunctional immigration system, it is probably because we lack meaningful relationships.

Most white evangelicals regret the way that, for the most part, we sat out on the Civil Rights Movement, leaving our African-American brothers and sisters on their own as they struggled for what we now readily affirm was biblically-mandated justice. This time around, we have the chance to stand with our Latino, Asian, and African brothers and sisters as they struggle for a more just immigration system.


Not sure what other people are thinking, especially in light the of the political tension here in the USA, but I thought this was a sound biblical perspective on the issue.  We are Christians first, the constitution and gov't law comes second.  I also love the defining of true biblical hospitality.  That's been hard to get across to my congregation even though they see us take in strangers and sometimes foreigners on a frequent basis.

As the person who authored the Biblical & Theological part of the 2010 Study Committee Report on this issue (, I appreciate this post.   It's exceedingly easy to find biblical data on treating strangers with kindness.  But it often clashes with those who also point out that we are to obey the governing authorities and thus--unlike in ancient Israel where foreigners were not breaking laws to be among the Israelites--how do we negotiate our commitment to divine-like hospitality with our relationship to the state?   Tough questions but our default setting should be to find ways to live out the gospel to its fullest extent and let that desire frame our larger discussions.

Thanks, Kris, for making this important perspective piece available.  And my your California trainings be blessed as well as the W. Michigan ones next week

   I am fairly new to the CRC, but SO appreciate the effort being made by the church to reconcile these types of issues with the bible. 



While I agree with most of what you say in this fine article, I still choke a bit on the phrase "undocumented immigrant".  A quick check found an interesting passage in Exodus12:43-50.  Especially v. 48 make clear all must obey regulations and 49 directly concludes, "The same law applies to the native-born abnd to the alien living among you."  Romans 13: 1-7 is very clear believers are to obey the government and the government under God's authority has the power of punishing wrongdoers.  I'm all for welcoming everyone into our congregations, but what about obedience to God's authority.  I will gladly forgive any and all who are sorry and want to change, but does that take away accountability to obey God and obey the law?  To become 'documented'?  I hope we can lovingly sort out this 'clash' Scott H. refers to and truly live out the gospel of Christ.  We're trying to improve attitudes and reach out in the love of God, but it isn't easy.

Wendy Hammond on September 12, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm interested in learning what the term undocumented immigrant means. Is it that they entered legally but their papers lapsed because they didn't know what they were supposed to do? Entered illegally? Attending Calvin as a Canadian spouse and not supposed to be in the US on a particular visa? In the process of getting a green card but it's not all the way through the system yet? I suppose it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things because if they are in your church or community you need to show love to them, but there are a lot of scenarios I can think of where someone would find themselves undocumented without knowingly breaking any laws.

   And if we asked a U.S. IRS agent what the toughest part of his or her job was, it would be, Americans lying to my face every hour about their taxes. Some of these immigrants I'm sure are indeed lying about their status. And why is that? Are they trying to earn enough money to send home so their children don't starve to death? Is it because of the rampant drug related violence threatening their very lives? And us Americans lying on our tax returns? It's so we can clear an extra grand or two and pad our income while denying our government what we lawfully owe. These men & women file into my church every Sunday & saddle up next to me for service. And we are to consider denying the immigrant the same priviledge? I'd rather get out of God's way & let Him do the judging & welcome ALL sinners.

Thank you for this very informative article laying out the Christians role in caring for undocumented and documented immigrants.


Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post