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Immigration: law or compassion?

Earlier this week, thousands rallied in demonstrations and protests across the country to draw attention to the 11 to 12 million "illegal immigrants" or "undocumented immigrants" (whichever term you prefer) living in this country. Legislation in the Senate appears stalled, but I’m heartened by the discussion this is fanning among people, especially Christians. Not only does it raise an awareness of the issue, but it causes us to really examine and discuss how we are to live out our faith.

Christianity Today came out with another editorial on the issue that, imho, encourages us to look deeper into what elements come to play when we discuss issues like immigration. Blessed is the Law—Up to a Point responds to criticism from readers on CT’s first editorial, Blessed Are the Courageous (which, in honor of full disclosure, I found right on). Managing editor Mark Galli (who, when I met him years ago at an Evangelical Press Association dinner, seems a real down-to-earth fellow) writes what I consider a great response to an objection I hear often myself.

Galli begins:

We expected a fair amount of criticism for portraying sympathetically the plight of immigrants in "Blessed are the Courageous." We did not expect one complaint to be repeated in nearly every email:
Your article "Blessed Are the Courageous" misses the point. People, regardless of their beliefs, nationality, good or bad are illegal if they do not follow the law to enter the country. If we are a nation where the rule of law is supreme, then it is wrong to only obey the laws we believe in, and disobey those we don't.
Since nearly every critic expressed this exact sentiment, we thought some clarifications were in order, as well as a challenge for our law-and-order brothers and sisters. While legislation has been temporarily scuttled, we nonetheless want to encourage conversation about issues surrounding immigration.
Galli goes on to challenge the idea that law is the axis of our decision making:
Surely Christians of all people should recognize that there are moments when law-and-order is not "supreme". . . .

The issue before us is not whether law should be obeyed in normal circumstances. We all agree on that. In addition, everyone agrees that under certain circumstances, laws should be disobeyed. Even normally law-abiding Christians assent to that—or deny the witness of Scripture.

The question is: Under what circumstances is it appropriate to disobey a law? And the particular question facing us now is: If a person from another land is suffering economic and political hardship, and if the immigration policies of the U.S. make it nearly impossible for some immigrants to enter this nation, is it legitimate (albeit regrettable) for an immigrant to enter this nation clandestinely to gain those freedoms?
Here is where I think the issue lies as well. As I’ve written before, it is wrong for people to live in the poverty-stricken conditions many of the immigrants are fleeing. If we can do something about it, we should. Law is important—but it isn’t the basis of our thinking or decision making. Just because a set of laws are on the books, doesn’t mean they can’t be changed for the better. We need laws that both meet our needs for security and also give “justice and liberty” to these people among us.

Galli concludes his editorial on whether the law should be supreme:

About this particular concern, Christians will disagree. Some will argue that compassion for the suffering should take precedence over strict adherence to law.

While security, overtaxed healthcare, and other issues also desperately need to be addressed, CT thinks legislation reform should give some slack to those who have entered our land illegally. Some will remain unconvinced.

But it seems to us that those who remain unconvinced have to do more than merely proclaim the supremacy of law-and-order. They have to explain, in the face of the biblical teaching to extend hospitality to the stranger and succor to the suffering, why the law of man should reign supreme in this instance.
Editorials like this challenge us to examine why we think what we do—and that is always a good thing. I happen to agree with Galli. You may not. But when we discuss issues like this, it’s important to get below the immediate issue and honestly examine why we believe what we do. Honest dialogue goes a long way towards not only understanding each other, but solving the problem at hand.

(Image: taken April 10, 2006 during an immigration demonstration on the Mall by robin.elaine at