Creating Culture: Immigration and the Gospel (Part 1 of 5)

Creating Culture: Immigration and the Gospel (Part 1 of 5)

by Pastor Chris Kumpula

Immigration is an important current through God’s redemptive plan for mankind. Immigration began at exile from Eden, or at least when the people of Israel emigrated from Egypt to Canaan. As Israel began to establish themselves in the land, it became clear that God’s purpose was to draw all nations unto Himself. Isaiah 42:6 announces God’s missional purpose for Israel: “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations.” Amos 9:11-12 likewise speaks of a day when He “will raise up the booth of David” for the benefit of “all the nations who are called by my name.” Israel was a busy intersection of the world that God used to draw the lost. And even after the people of Israel were themselves captured and taken to a foreign land, God told them to “build houses and live in them” in Jeremiah 29:5. Throughout the Bible, the people of God emigrated and settled and emigrated again.

God’s desire has always been that we love immigrants as our neighbors. Leviticus 19:33 instructed Israel that “when a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” God shows that we love the immigrant because we, just like the Israelites captive in Egypt, were once immigrants loved by God.

This theme is prominent. Boaz showed this lovingkindness to the emigrating Moabite named Ruth. As she immigrated to Israel under distressing circumstances, she benefited from the law of gleanings for sojourners (Leviticus 23:22) and experienced the grace of God through Boaz’s vocation. Paul wrote of God’s grace for gentiles, reminding us in Ephesians 2:13 that “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” In John 4, while most Jews considered the Samaritans outside the covenant promises of God, Jesus invites and entreats a Samaritan woman to taste the living water of the Gospel. Peter wrote that believers should live in the present reality as sojourners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11), not seeing this world as our true home.

Immigration is beneficial. It does indeed supply additional labor and demand for goods. But immigration is now complicated by the cumbersome apparatus of the modern nation state.

After the wars of the Reformation and the Thirty Years War, a sweeping peace settlement was reached in 1648 called the Peace of Westphalia. This constellation of treaties established the political norm of “Westphalian sovereignty,” that is mutually defined territorial borders and internationally recognized sovereignty of each state to conduct its internal affairs. Immigration now involved crossing controlled borders. The nation state and the modern welfare state necessitate immigration controls previously unnecessary to governments. These political issues are complicated.

Luther’s “two kingdom” theology is helpful here. We may refer to the “right hand” spiritual kingdom where the Gospel is wielded or the “left hand” kingdom where the sword is wielded to execute justice in temporal governance.

On the right hand (eternal kingdom), we would see each and every eternal soul as a precious creation made in the image of God. Each is unworthy of salvation, yet each is graciously called to faith in Christ. Our concern in our vocation as believers is to show immigrants the grace of Jesus- to give them the Gospel.

On the left hand (temporal kingdom), we affirm that people possess human rights from God, but we also submit to the governing authority of the state. For the sake of justice, security, and good order, we treat immigrants with caution. In our vocation as citizens, we struggle to balance a suspicion that immigrants are coming for the free goods of the welfare state with a realistic appraisal of the dismal circumstances they leave behind at home.

We ought to be conflicted, empathizing with families escaping failed social experiments in Latin America, famine in Africa, and war in the Middle East on the one hand, and seeing neglected vocation, complicity, and opportunism of those leaving the mess behind on the other. We love our neighbor but still ponder a fence. Some face real choices in their vocation about INS reporting. Those choices should be hard for us as citizens with two passports, one in the kingdom of God’s grace and another in a land of the rule of law.

Christians today too often make the mistake of confusing kingdoms and conflating God’s mercy with temporal justice. It is little wonder that those outside Christianity are appalled by the apparent double speak: we ascribe our own human rights to God such that no one can take them away from us, while we deny those same rights to those who have experienced tragedy at the borders and beyond. Our humanity is questioned. Do we really believe in freedom?

To answer such questions, we need both doctrinal clarity and hearts of mercy, because immigration presents an immediate opportunity for the church. The opportunity for congregations is missed where we fail to think about contextualization, assimilation, and acculturation.

-Pastor Chris Kumpula serves Word of Life Church in Mankato, MN.

This is part 1 of 5 of the series “Creating Culture: Immigration and the Gospel.” Go to Part 2 of 5