The Local Church and the Undocumented Worker (Part 1)

Immigration is at the forefront of recent political debate. According to a 2005 Pew Hispanic Center report, there are 11 million undocumented workers in the United States. This comprises one third of the total counted U.S. Hispanic population. Churches involved in Spanish ministries are constantly questioning issues dealing with ministering to undocumented workers. A pastor will ask, “What should we do with illegals?” This series of articles will address that question.

Throughout Christendom, there are two extreme philosophies when it comes to undocumented immigrants and the local church. The first philosophy says that legality of citizenship is not important to God and that it should not be important to the church. This view, held most widely by Hispanic pastors in the U.S., sympathizes with the incredible difficult situations that people are sometimes escaping from when they come to America. A Mexican father, for example, might be faced with extreme poverty, a corrupt government, and a culture of drugs. He crosses the border hoping for a job that will provide a better life for his family. Those who hold this philosophy say that crossing the border illegally under these circumstances is not sinful. Proponents often quote Leviticus 19:34 and claim that the sinners are those who reject the foreign alien.
The other extreme philosophy believes that illegal immigrants do not have a place in the church. Those on this side of the issue are very uncomfortable ministering to illegal migrant workers in any way. For some, the reasons involve politics and the fear of possible repercussions from helping illegals. For others, the uneasiness comes from an unchecked disgust with the current immigration situation. Their disgust brings them to the ideology that illegal aliens are a type of second-class human being who should be at the bottom of the list of people groups to reach with the gospel.
Finding a balance between these two extreme viewpoints comes by recognizing that illegal immigration indeed is a sin, but also by dealing with the sinner in a biblical fashion just as one would any other lost individual. Part two of this article will examine how this type of balanced philosophy plays out practically in the local church.

by David Whitcher (former Coordinator of Hispanic Ministries with Baptist Church Planters)