The problem with Immigration

immigration_2201250bImmigration is a topic that divides opinion.  Do we need to keep ‘them’ out?  Or do we need immigration to balance our working economy?

Whatever you think it is certainly a topic that isn’t going to go away.  Every week there are stories of migrants risking their lives to cross to Europe and stories of those trying to buy, hide or force their way into the UK – and these are often tragic stories with people dying at sea, in the air and at our ports.

There are economic and social perspectives on the question of immigration that are regularly rehearsed in our news items – but there is a theological perspective as well.

The Bible reminds us that regardless of the colour of our skin, we all have the same roots: fundamentally, we’re all part of the same human race.  The narrative of Creation, so widely rejected by our society, portrays a picture of man and woman in the image of God with equal dignity before God.  This means no human being is more or less human than another.  Every person is made in God’s image.

If this really is true then it’s not a case of ‘them’ and us…just us.  If we really are one human race then we must be careful not to stereotype and isolate ourselves from others but to organize and engage them in meaningful ways.

If we can do this then we are setting the stage for understanding how the gospel is uniquely able to create unity from apparently irreconcilable diversity.  Think about what we read in the New Testament.  The cultural division between Jews and Gentiles was very deep during the first century – it was very much them and us.

Yet as the story of the church unfolds, we read that Gentiles began believing in Jesus. At first Jewish Christians didn’t know how to respond.  Should they accept even Gentile Christians?  If so, did they need to impose Jewish customs on them?  Though Gentiles were finally accepted into the church, they felt at best like second-class Christians.

Then we read Paul’s words in Ephesians 2v12-22.  Here we see the unique power of the gospel to reunite people from (and, for that matter, within) different ethnic groups. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  In the beginning sin separated man and woman from God and also from each other.  This sin is at the root of ethnic pride and prejudice.  When Jesus died on the cross, he conquered sin, making the way for men and women to be free from it and restored to God.  In so doing, he paved the way for men and women to be reconciled to one another.  Followers of Christ thus have one “Father” as one family in one “household,” with no “dividing wall of hostility” based on ethnic diversity.

This doesn’t mean we should throw open our borders and be a home for every nation, there are still economic and social perspectives that must be considered, but I hope it does, at least, change the language we use when discussing immigration.

The gospel reminds us that when we’re talking about immigrants (legal or illegal), we’re talking about men and women made in the image of God and pursued by the grace of God.  Consequently, followers of Christ with faith in God must see immigrants not as problems to be solved but as people to be loved.