Seeking Justice For Migrant Families When The Government Abuses the Bible


The sounds and images of immigrant children ripped from their dear ones (parents, aunties and uncles, family and chosen family) this past week have been perhaps one of the darkest moments of our shared life together in this country. Equally insidious is the role the Scriptures have been used by government leaders to prop up oppressive and coercive behavior by the State.


Take the use of Romans 13 for instance - it was trending a week ago on social media because the Attorney General quoted it as one justification for splitting up migrant families. I very often say “what you see depends on where you stand.” And when it comes to reading Romans 13, how the Attorney General and how a mother running from broken societies in Honduras or Guatemala read this Bible passage are likely worlds a part. I wonder if the Attorney General realizes the immense amount of power and human authority he stands upon. I also wonder, to quote the Jesuit scholar (and Steven Colbert’s favorite priest) Jim Martin, if he’s “read all the verses.”


When reading the Scriptures in context and with humility, you begin to see things hidden there in plain sight that have been there all along. Except God wasn’t hiding them - it was our own inability to see in the first place. So, when reading Paul’s injunction to respect governing authorities in what was perhaps his finest theological treatise, Paul is saying submit to authorities who have been appointed in God’s mystery for the appointed hour. But it comes after this long prelude in chapter 12 about sacrificial living, radical equality, perseverance for the long haul, belonging to a borderless global body of Christ and doing all things in love.


Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other.
— Romans 12:9-10


So when Romans 13 comes around, it’s not like it is a separate idea - it’s an integral piece to the puzzle. Paul argues for nonconformity to the patterns of this world while also saying, live in peace and service. The whole business about governing authorities? It’s in fact all null and void if what they are doing is evil. And in the end? Resistance is still all about love. 


Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.
— Romans 13:8-10

Love is love is love.

Immigration justice, care for migrants and welcoming of refugees have been central to how we’ve churched together for four years. One of our earliest gatherings - way before we made any sort of tweetable news around inclusion - was fully devoted to “Welcoming the Neighbor.” We’ve since focused our missional work around care for refugees and immigrants, including a Bridgetown Forum with Jenny Yang from World Relief. (By the way, if you’re looking for an excellent book on the Biblical basis for this work from an evangelical perspective, read her powerful book Welcoming The Stranger.)


In Portland this very moment, migrant children taken away from their parents at the border, are in detention centers, run by government subcontractors. That’s right. Miles from where we all sleep tonight there children wondering if they will see their families again.


And even in our own Christ Church community, immigration matters are very close to home, affecting some of our very own people and our families - which, in the Christian household means we say “Us” or as St. Paul would’ve called the Body of Christ.


Here’s what we’re going to do about this:


  1. We are donating the entirety of our Sunday offering this week to two organizations: CAUSA, an Oregon based local non-profit that provides immigration legal assistance, and the Global Immersion Project, an incredible group that works on both sides of the southern border, connecting neighbors face-to-face and working for immigration justice.
  2. Stay informed and available to work with community and national partners. I’m on a conference call this coming Monday with Sojourners about faith-rooted response and I’m speaking with another national community partner early next week about ways people can volunteer this summer if there feel so called.


I’m also deeply committed to doing all of this committed to peaceful non-violent resistance in the spirit of Rosa Park, John Lewis, Coretta and Martin Luther King. We do these things, not because it is about politics, but because it is about what Jesus would do: come alongside to love and serve others, care for widow and orphans, and speak truth to power.

Christians like Dorothy Day, Fannie Lou Hamer, and William Stringfellow are models for how we might live faithfully today.

Christians like Dorothy Day, Fannie Lou Hamer, and William Stringfellow are models for how we might live faithfully today.

If all this God-talk and Political-talk is confusing coming from a pastor, I get it. A lot of us grew up in churches and faith communities that wouldn't often talk about such things. I'm not saying we're all going to join a march or occupy government offices (although some of us might). I would simply invite you to get to know the names and writings of folks like Dorothy Day, William Stringfellow, Fannie Lou Hamer and so many more who have, throughout Christian history, stood up, gay, straight, black, brown and white, for God's dream of the peaceable kin(g)dom.

We'll be spending some time providing more information and background on these stories, and how to level up with some special reading and discussion groups.

In the end, my prayer is simply that we might be one small part of helping reunite these families as well as contribute to immigration reform out of our Christ-centered commitments to Equality, Inclusion, Relationships, Hope and Perseverance.


Please email me if you have any ideas how you, your people, or your family are getting involved or how you might get more involved. Every little part helps - we all cannot do all the things available.


Let’s be in prayer, too, that our society would recapture an imagination for community, hope and love despite our differences.




ps. If you'd like to go deeper on these themes, check out my podcast Public Theology - with new episodes every week.