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Honoring our Immigrant Neighbors

For the Lord’s sake be subject to every human authority, whether to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

I Peter 2:13-17

Peter, writing to Christians in Rome, offers advice on navigating Roman culture. He affirms the role of government to ensure social order, but then encourages them to use their Christian freedom in positive ways. He ends by telling them to honor everyone, including the emperor.

So, what does this have to do with immigration? Too often the immigration conversation seems like a choice between immigration reform and border security. On one side, it’s assumed that support for immigration reform is to be for open borders. On the other, there’s the assumption that insisting on border security means they have no compassion for immigrants and refugees.

The reality is meaningful immigration reform must include measures to help secure the border. At the same time, making it easier to come to this country legally will greatly diminish the need for people to break the law.

Peter tells us we are to honor everyone, regardless of social status. Notice how this text flattens social status. Everyone is due honor—not just citizens, the wealthy, the employed, or leaders… everyone. In this way, the emperor is on the same level as the common person.

All people deserve respect and dignity because we are all created in the image of God—there can be no favoritism. James says the same thing:

“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”

James 2:1

Undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers deserve honor and dignity. Immigrants are vital member of our communities who deserve an opportunity to get right with the law, to come out of the shadows.

Congress has the power to reform our immigration system by passing laws that make it easier for people to come to this country. Congress has the power to provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, and to provide a pathway to status for undocumented immigrants.

Ask our leaders to rebuild the asylum system to welcome and support refugees into this country. This is an important way we can honor our immigrant neighbors. When we do this through the proper channels, we “honor the emperor”—we recognize the importance of institutions and laws to preserve the social order.

Our legislatures have the power to enact reform if we have the will to step outside of our ideological camps (both conservative and liberal) and use government to meet the needs of others. We can provide border agents with the resources and tools they need to make sure criminals and terrorists are kept out of our country. In listening to border agents, it’s clear this doesn’t have a be a wall. Instead, more human power, technology, and increased legal pathways are the way to a secure border.

As Christians living in the United States, Peter instructs us to use our Christian freedom for good and not for evil. We can use the cultural power of our government to seek the flourishing and wellbeing of our immigrant neighbors. Consider contacting your member of congress and your senators. Ask them to support immigration reform that is bi-partisan, honors our immigrant neighbors, and upholds the importance of the rule of law.

Inspired to get involved in the conversation? Sign up for our six-week advocacy classes using “Welcoming the Stranger” by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang.

Jason Lief lives in Sioux Center, Iowa and works for the National Immigration Forum as a Bibles, Badges, and Business Immigration Mobilizer.

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