How Would Jesus Respond to the Situation at the Border?

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I was asked by a pastor friend to answer a question that he had received from one of his parishioners about how Jesus would respond to the current situation at the border. The parishioner was asking from a seemingly sincere place. The broader question was asked, do we just let everyone in? How do we balance what is realistic from what might be the most inclusive response and how do we decide who is let in?

First of all, I think it is a good question from those who are asking it from a sincere place. There are too many, particularly politicians, who are often seeking to distort the picture of what is going on and not asking from a position of good faith. I do believe their distortion of the issue might be seen somewhat in the premise of the question as if we are actually in danger of letting too many people in. I would first of all challenge that premise by looking at U.S. History and pointing out how we currently have some of the most stringent and restrictive policies in our history and that we used to have open borders and it did not destroy our nation. Right now, the narrative is that Biden is letting everyone in when actually he is being almost as restrictive as the Trump Administration was. However, that is a whole other issue. The point I want to focus on now is the most pressing issue-how would Jesus respond.

I would not presume to claim exactly how Jesus would respond to the current situation at the border in the United States, but I think there are about four points that are seen in the Gospels that might give us a clue to the positionally of Jesus. First of all, I believe Jesus would respond by saying, I was that child refugee. This is what makes Christianity so unique when it comes to the issue of immigration, even compared to many other faith traditions, which might speak to the issue in the periphery. Christianity speaks to it more directly-with Jesus being embodied as a desperate refugee fleeing to Egypt. I have to believe that this detail in the story was intentional and not only in the immediate story of Jesus and his family fleeing from Herod, but also for Jesus identifying with those fleeing from violence and desperation across the world. When we approach this issue, the fact of Jesus being a child refugee has to be at the very front of our imaginations and has to drive our decisions as Christians.

The second point I think we need to consider the other teachings of Jesus on the foreigner and stranger. The most prominent is Matthew 25. When Jesus says, when you welcome the stranger, you welcome me. Of course, in this context, the stranger is not just the person down the street you don’t know but also includes the idea of the foreigner. The stranger is the Greek word Xenos, which is where we get the term xenophobia. Jesus particularly identifies with the poor and vulnerable, including those that are coming from outside the nation and culture. There are many other places throughout the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Luke, where this embracive stance towards the outsider is seen whether it is praising the Roman Centurion, the parable of the Good Samaritan, or upholding the faith of the Gentiles in Luke 4 while undermining the nationalist religious sentiment of the leaders-a move that led them to almost throw him off a cliff. If we are going to err in either direction on immigration, we must err on the side of welcoming Jesus rather then leaving him in a place of desperation, insecurity, and squalor at our border. Though Jesus loves all, he is particularly present with those who are poor and oppressed and those fleeing from violence situations. When we accept or reject these individuals in a way we are embracing or rejecting Jesus himself.

I believe how Jesus would respond also centers on the issue of justice. Jesus, harkening back to the prophets, is particularly concerned about ensuring the poor and foreigner are not oppressed. When we look at the issues of the border and immigration, particularly for those in Central America, many are fleeing due to partially the US responsibility both through the intervention in countries in Latin America and our drug war. We also have to think about this from a historical perspective how we live on stolen land (like almost everyone in the world). However, our land is one that has fewer people per capita than almost anywhere else on Earth. Ultimately, this is God’s land and to hoard it and act like we have no responsibility for those living in desperation around the world is in some ways deny the kingdom of God and the reign of God over what we do. It is in many ways an injustice to tell those who are leaving from poor and desperate situations that they cannot come into a safer place, it is denying them the very right that God gave them as image bearers of God in the world he created.

Ultimately, the response of Jesus would be one based in grace. Even if the idea of justice does not connect for some, as Christians we have to go back to the ideas of grace, forgiveness, and mercy. God has forgiven us everything through Jesus. He has accepted and embraced us despite all of our flaws. In this way, our stance towards immigrants has to be one of acceptance and mercy, even to those who don’t “deserve it” in our minds. Of course, the reality is that immigrants coming in are actually largely strengthening our economy and helping us as a nation as a whole, so we’re not even really having to sacrifice. The most direct impact of increased immigration on the lives of many Americans is affordable produce-they face no negative ramifications. However, if we were having to sacrifice and it was actually negatively affecting our lives, the stance of the Christian should still be one of embrace and grace. It would never be justified to throw out the vulnerable because it is inconvenient to help. For me, it is clear that the stance of the church should be pushing politicians to a towards a more inclusive response. This does not mean that every single policy detail will be agreed upon exactly and of course there are nuance in all these questions, but the Christian should always be at the frontlines of in bracing the immigrants we should never be the force that is trying to restrict Jesus at our borders.

I am an education professor in South Carolina with an emphasis in immigrant rights and peace education