The Free Methodist Church's Position On Immigration

By Pastor Luke Jones |  March 1, 2017

With all the news and debate centered around immigration policy this season, it seems only reasonable that I make the official position of our denomination easily available to you.  The following are excerpts taken from “The Free Methodist Position on Immigration.”  The full article includes many more scriptural references and practical action steps than this abbreviation and may be found by googling “free methodist position on immigration” or at the following website:
http://www.fmcusa.org/scod/the-free-methodist-position-on-immigration/
 
Excerpts from “The Free Methodist Position on Immigration”
Produced by the FMCUSA’s Study Commission On Doctrine
 
At the heart of the arguments surrounding immigration matters is a fundamental tension between our desire to care for all persons and our respect for the rights of the state to establish laws, including economic policy. Both are legitimate impulses but their position, vis-à-vis each other, is subject to God’s principles extracted from the Scriptural narrative. If, as we will suggest below, the desire to care for persons is a different and higher category than the state’s right to restrict immigration, then we monitor laws of the state that create friction with the mandate to care for persons (see “A,” “B,” & “E” from 2011 Book of Discipline ¶ 3221) and we advocate to change the behaviors and laws in question (“C” and “D” from the same paragraph).

Another source [of tension] is the foundational Judeo-Christian radical acceptance of all people as created in the “imago Dei.” This is radical because it conflicts with one of the most universal sociological constructs: “in-group/out-group” or “us/them,” by which people feel they belong to a particular group from which the rest are excluded. When immigration is exclusionary it rests upon an acceptance of the in-group/out-group concept. It has laws written by the in-group to benefit the in-group and restrict out-group access. Yet these laws will create tension if all peoples really belong to the “in-group,” those in the image of God. The state will tend to side with protecting the in-group’s economic interest. The church will tend to side with protecting the economic interests of all people: Hence the tension.

The broader tradition of the Church affirms that the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. The Gospel has to be our starting and ending point for discussing the issues surrounding immigration… not nationalistic concerns, economic projections, or fear…

1. The Treatment of Foreigners

God has consistently and persistently commanded His people to treat the sojourners and foreigners with justice and compassion. From the earliest Mosaic commandments through the New Testament, God pushes His people toward a particular care for those who do not “belong,” and who are therefore vulnerable.

2. The Leveling Aspect of the Gospel

Especially when confronted with the leveling aspects of the Gospel (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28), one must recognize that the presumption of difference, upon which immigration is based, is suspect. Of course this Galatians’ passage is not arguing for political equality, but for spiritual equality through faith. Nevertheless, the conclusion is true across the spectrum; in Christ we are the same.

…at the very foundation of the church’s task is the mandate to make disciples across the boundaries of us/them. This is a core identity issue for the church. There is no legitimate church which is not breaking the boundaries of ethnicity, because that is how our Lord defined us and where our Lord sent us.

…Christians are sent on a supra-mission which functions above the temporal boundaries of state and economies. The supra-mission overrides smaller concerns, like migratory status. The supra- mission elevates the principle of care for persons (making disciples) over submission to the state...

3. The Instructions to Be Hospitable

The people of God are a hospitable people. Even though there are numerous New Testament admonitions toward hospitality, few Christians are pleading with the Father to be more hospitable. Yet the practice of hospitality characterizes, in practical ways, what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The apostles Peter, Paul, and John all urge us to be hospitable (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 5:10; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 1:8) both to the household of faith as well as to strangers…

…The Church has historically emphasized the role of hospitality with the saying, “Hospes venit, Christus venit,” “When a guest comes, Christ comes.” We should welcome every guest to our door, our church, our country with the same hospitality with which we would welcome Christ…

…Hospitality is not self-serving, it’s other-serving. It will involve sacrifice, risk, and even identification with the strangers.

…As thoughtful Christians engage with the immigration issue, the default position that we should be hospitable to all pushes us to embrace and care for the immigrants around us.

4. The Admonition to Work

From the original instructions to Adam and Eve to work and care for the garden (Gen. 2:19), we have been charged with having productive lives… The apostle Paul states it bluntly, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). This principle is rarely a part of the immigration dialogue but should be since one legitimate role of government is to allow and encourage work; work is in keeping with God’s purposes for humankind. As thoughtful Christians engage with the immigration issue, the default position is that impediments to work are contrary to God’s desire that we work. That is, if jobs are available in one country and not in another, we desire immigration policy that allows the workers access to those jobs.

The argument, though, may be turned on its head. Since it is a noble goal of government to provide a climate where rewarding work for a fair wage may be had, one might argue that the state is entitled to protect jobs for its citizens, those of the in-group, however that group is defined. The argument breaks down at this point, however, as the clear intent of exclusionary immigration law, is not to provide work, but rather to protect work only for its citizens, which becomes essentially a selfish act.
The opportunity to open work to foreigners is a part of the American experience…That America proudly welcomed those yearning to breathe free, yearning for a chance to work, yearning to provide for their families, has been largely lost in the current immigration discussion…

The current unfortunate reality in the United States also includes a large class of immigrants who are undocumented (probably some 11 million), primarily because of the quota system that limits menial-worker visas by country-of-origin. Undoubtedly some are criminals and scoundrels among the undocumented workers, but the vast majority have braved untold dangers and risked their meager savings to come to the U.S. to work for us. They know they are breaking the law yet intuitively recognize the inconsistencies between U.S. law, which criminalizes them, and the U.S. economy that depends on them as a significant labor source and continues to hire them. They are largely forced into the underground economy and the invisible world which is afraid to access health care, police protection, schools, retirement programs, the welfare system, and churches. This invisible world also, incidentally, is the context in which human trafficking thrives…

5. The Principle of Consequences

We recognize that every country reaps the consequences of its actions. If a country has followed poor economic policy, exhausted and polluted its farmland, exiled the creative and wise, allowed great corruption to impoverish its people, or chosen state religions that are contrary to God’s ways, the citizens of those countries may be eager to abandon their poverty and emigrate to a better system for which they did not labor, sacrifice, or save...

…People born under the curse of poor government and damaged lands should be able to have a chance to work hard and provide a future for their children.

…Christians are called to be purveyors of new opportunities and hopes for those who have been betrayed by their governments.
Therefore, we respect the right of governments to restrict immigration but also are eager for fresh start opportunities to be extended to those who come from countries that have had poor governance.  We [also] advocate for creating conditions in native lands which would make immigration unnecessary.

6. The Admonition to Submit to the State

…We’re also reminded that the Apostle Peter calls for submission to the state…(1 Peter 2:13-14). The Apostle Paul similarly calls us to respect the state’s authorities…(Romans 13:1-2) Yet we quickly note that both Peter and Paul disobeyed the state…Underlying their assertions about submission to the state is an understanding that we always submit to the state, but we obey the state only when the state’s policies do not conflict with higher principles; when they don’t require sub-Christian behavior from us…

…Christians differentiate between policies we support and policies against which we militate. The Christian church has a long history of differentiating between good laws and bad (slavery, limited suffrage, racial discrimination, public executions, etc.) and of advocating for change when bad laws are discovered. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus responded that we must love God with all that we are, and also love our neighbor as we love ourselves. “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands,” He said (Matthew 22:40). When any immigration policy and laws are designed to protect certain rights at the expense of loving our neighbor equal to loving ourselves, the Christian is in fundamental disagreement with them.

Therefore, we submit to the state, including its right to punish us when we believe and act on principles of a higher order that bring us into non-violent conflict with state policy. We advocate for public policy that increases the embracing mechanisms of immigration law, to the degree that they don’t drain other countries of highly skilled persons needed to lift those countries to a higher state of well-being.  We oppose public policy that encourages (even unintentionally) the creation of a class of undocumented workers by restricting immigration of those workers that sections of our economy rely upon.  We understand that ecclesial functions are granted by God, not the state, so we do not cede ecclesial functions to the state. This means that we offer the sacraments, conduct marriages, perform funerals, and ordain ministers without consideration of their immigration status.

Conclusion

The Christian is squarely in the Hebraic tradition which welcomes and cares for the immigrants among us. Although conscious of His specific purpose among His Hebrew family, our Lord consistently elevated the worth of persons of all nationalities (Syrians and Sidonians in Luke 4, the Italian centurion, the Syrophoenician woman, the Samaritan woman, etc.) and His final instructions to the church focused on other ethnicities (Mt 28:19-20). The apostolic record in the book of the Acts is of the good news crossing the boundaries of economic class, geography, language, gender, and ethnicity. Our central commandment is to love God and our neighbor…

American Free Methodists recognize the tensions between current national immigration policy and the church’s theology and practice. We recognize that exemplary Christian citizens will often feel the friction between the two systems and will call their governments to closer approximations to God’s principles. In the meantime, we minister to all persons, especially and intentionally to the foreigners among us.

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