In April of this year, President Trump issued a zero-tolerance border policy that separated families, specifically children from their parents who had crossed the USA/Mexico border be it illegally or as asylum seekers. In mid-June, Trump dropped this policy of splitting up families, however there are still children who are separated from their parents because of that policy. Furthermore, Trump’s new policy allows families crossing the border to be indefinitely detained in USA holding facilities.
This is a problem, and it is not only a problem for presidents, senators, and political philosophers to figure out. This is an issue that every Christian in America must speak and act in light of the politics of the gospel. In this article, we will attend to this gospel speech and action. First, we will examine how Christians might counsel our fellow US citizens and national government in which the gospel is the first and final word and natural human rights are the second and center word of our speech. Next, we will attend to how Christians in America might act in concrete ways that show the world that the church’s identity as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family and Christ’s body trumps every natural tie to biological family and national citizenship.
SPEECH: Be Wise O Kings and be Warned
Every political system – monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, etc. –is fundamentally and irreducibly about authority. So is the gospel. “Jesus Christ is Lord” is an announcement of authority. Moreover, God’s authority is not divided into nice little categories of jurisdiction in which Jesus gets all the spiritual stuff and politics gets all the actual stuff. Remember Jesus’s final words in the Gospel of Matthew: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). Therefore, every authority be it in the form of laws, governments, or politicians is an authority under authority.
This is the bedrock of Christian counsel to the state. The church calls on the principalities and powers to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God because whatever authority they possess is authorized under the authority of the King of kings to whom they will answer as Lord and Judge. As Psalm 2 declares:
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Ps. 2:10-12)
This is the politics of the gospel—the politics of the authority of Christ over every law, government, and politician—and it is this speech that must form the first and final word whereby Christians counsel the state.
SPEECH: Everyone in America is a Liberal
If the authority of the gospel forms the first and final word for Christian counsel to the state, what about the words that come in the middle? How ought we to address our fellow citizens in the nation of which we are part? Before answering that, allow me to drop a political truth bomb: Everyone in America is a liberal. You are a “liberal” if you think that there are natural (i.e. inalienable) rights (i.e. liberties) possessed by every human being regardless of economic class, gender, or national origin. In other words, everyone in America, be he a conservative or a progressive, believes in universal liberties naturally and innately bestowed on every living person everywhere. This gives Christians a shared language and vocabulary to use when discussing the hot topic issue of immigration with our fellow country men and women.
Using natural rights reasoning as the second and center words of our address we can argue for three basic principles regarding immigration:
- People have the natural right to migrate across national borders in order to preserve their own and their family’s lives.
- People have the natural right to form nations contained within specific territorial borders and to control and regulate that border.
- A nation must regulate its borders with justice, mercy, and humility so that it does not violate a person’s natural human right to migrate across borders in order to preserve life.
Such an account of the natural human right to migrate across national borders in order to sustain life and the rights of societies to control immigration across its borders with justice, mercy, and humility provides common ground for Christians to engage in political dialogue with their fellow American citizens using the shared vocabulary of liberalism—inalienable human liberties regardless of class, gender, and national origin.
ACTION: Baptism is Thicker than Blood
Christians north of the USA/Mexico border have brothers and sisters south of the border with whom they share a thicker bond than the birth ties of biological family and national citizenship. That thicker bond is baptism. And, as brothers and sisters in the household of faith, we share in a single commonwealth (Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:12-14). This is significant because while economics may not be the only issue driving the immigration conflict in America, it is certainly a primary concern.
We do not need to wait for American politics to sort itself out before we can concretely act as if Christians north and south of the USA/Mexico border really have been united by baptism into the body of Christ in any meaningful sense (1 Cor. 12:13). Moreover, we who are rich in this life must also be rich in good works (1 Tim. 6:17-18). Further, what better way for the world to know that we are Christ’s disciples then by our self-sacrificial love for one another (Jn. 13:35)? And what kind of love would the world see if they watched churches across the USA putting their money where their mouth is, opening their wallets, and partnering with churches south of the border in order to meet the concrete needs of all those who lack, especially those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
Despite what it may think, the state is not the final arbiter of justice. Whatever authority nations, governments, and politicians possess, it is authority that will answer to a greater and higher Lord. Furthermore, God has unleashed another power on the planet: a household of faith—the body of Christ—who through speech and action counsel the rulers and authorities to be wise and be warned because Jesus Christ is Lord. And when through natural rights reasoning, Christians counsel their fellow citizens and national government to exercise their right to control immigration in view of the human right to sustain their own and their family’s lives, Christians reason together with the rulers and authorities to show justice, mercy, and humility. Moreover, when one part of the body of Christ suffers, every part suffers with it, and when through self-sacrificial love churches above and below the USA/Mexico border partner together in order to meet the specific and ongoing needs of all, especially those of the household of faith, the body of Christ is mutually enriched, the state knows that it is not ultimate, and the world knows that we are Christ’s disciples.
Michael Spalione is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Aberdeen.