In Theory: Illegal immigration: WWJD?

There are some 11 million undocumented people in America. Arguments rage about what can be done about them, from deporting each one to awarding citizenship depending on length of time in the U.S.

In the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus overturned the common view of looking down on Samaritans and made his followers look at them in a positive light. In the story, an injured man is ignored by a priest and a Levite but helped by a Samaritan. At the end, Jesus asks, “Which of these three seemed to be a neighbor to him?” A follower answers, “He who showed mercy on him.” Jesus' response is, “Go and do likewise.”

Q: If Jesus was around today, what do you think his stance on America's undocumented immigrants would be?

The Samaritans and the ancient Hebrews had a long history together, back to when Joseph’s brothers sold him in slavery. There were times when they were in community with each other, marrying and raising families from their combined cultures. And there were times that they were bitter enemies.

America is home to the largest Spanish-speaking population outside of Mexico. For many reasons, undocumented immigrants from many cultures have occupied this country faster than bureaucracy has been able to verify and authenticate them.

In Jesus’ story, he is not addressing his followers. He is telling the good Samaritan story to a teacher who has come to spar with him. Jesus casts the Samaritan in the role of radical activist; Jesus cast the Samaritan in Jesus’ own role, the role of savior.

As we humans confront each other over documentation, Jesus’ stance would be to remind us, “the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Not one country or another’s, but the Lord’s. As times and methodologies change, Jesus tells us that it is in working together, and treating each other with dignity and respect rather than as “have and have nots,” that our challenges are more clearly identified, approached and solved. None of us ever knows when we will need the aid of a good Samaritan. When we are in distress and someone reaches out to help us, most likely we will not be first asking him or her for documentation.

Our country is in distress over the illegal immigrant issue. We constantly attack each other and leave each other beaten and bloody on the side of the road. How quickly we must get past the punitive part and get to the salvific part, where each one that is already here is assigned a healthy, respected, tax-paying responsibility for being an American.

The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel


The Bible teaches us to show compassion to any person in need that we encounter, as in the case of the good Samaritan. If an immigrant is found needing food, shelter or urgent medical care, we have a moral obligation to meet those immediate, life-sustaining needs. 1 John 3:17 says, “whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” The needy and immigrants in Israel were allowed to glean in fields after harvesters to meet their needs. Israel was commanded never to forget that they too had been strangers in a foreign land.

But biblical examples teach that immigrants are accountable to obey the laws of the land, including immigration laws. “The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you,” says Exodus 12:49. When the son of an Egyptian man among the Israelites in the wilderness was found guilty of blaspheming God’s name, at God’s command he was stoned to death. Immigrants should not be allowed to manipulate our legal system, as is the case with Los Angeles-area “maternity hotels” that advertise in Chinese-speaking countries. Paying them a fee of $20,000, pregnant Chinese women come for the specific purpose of giving birth in the U.S. so that their children will have U.S. citizenship, passports, free public schools and low-interest student loans — all supported by tax revenues to which they themselves never contribute. Our response to immigrants must include both compassion and equity for everyone involved.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


The suggestion that Christ’s illustration was meant to teach a lesson on immigration is just wrong. The real point had much more to do with God’s law. Christ came to save mankind and the epicenter of his work was Israel, but here were a people who had the law of God but had been following it superficially. Jesus compared them with this hypothetical northern neighbor from Samaria to show the superiority of living God’s law from the heart over the hypocritical smugness of obeying the jots and tittles without true love of fellow man.

People with the law should do it better than those without, but it wasn’t so. The whole law is summed up in two commands: love God and love neighbor. How can we love God if we can’t love people? If the story informs anything regarding immigrants who crossed the border illegally, it’s to remind us they are people, just like us; they want to live and thrive.

The thing about “neighbors” is that they don’t live in your house. They live next door. When they just walk though your back door uninvited, it’s a problem. So how do we deal with these neighbors from the south who come through the back door of our country? The Bible teaches, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” Do we have governing authorities? Certainly, and we’d love for every immigrant to follow the law in becoming American.

But if you’re coming here, learn English and be American! We aren’t Mexico or anywhere else, and we don’t want to be, anymore than the various reasons why you left there. Much of the aggravation caused by illegal immigration is the drain on our resources and the anti-American culture that accompanies. If we can address those two issues, we’d be closer to a resolution; but while we’re working on it, we have to love them; we must.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


I don’t truly know what Jesus would say about undocumented immigrants if he were around today. But I believe he would encourage the same kind of behavior the Gospel of Luke described in the story of the good Samaritan, one of the biblical stories that has had a profound impact on my life and faith. So I think Jesus would ask us to treat our neighbors, whatever their culture or nationality, with compassion — going beyond the minimal requirements of justice under the law.

When I was in elementary school, I remember having a puzzle of the United States that made it look as though no other lands existed at the outer perimeter of our country. But I learned there were other countries beyond my own and that the borders between our country and others had been artificially drawn by war, conquest and negotiation — not by the value of creating relationships among people. I am afraid that some of us have forgotten that today. There are many who seem to believe that we should isolate ourselves from others and send those who have crossed our artificial borders back where they came from — or at least where their parents came from.

I don’t expect to convince those who have already made up their minds about who belongs in our country and who does not that they should change their minds. But I hope that there are many more who are open to treating others with the same compassion espoused by Jesus so many years ago. If there are enough of us, we may just be able to make laws that honor our relationships as neighbors instead of separating us as adversaries.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta


One of the earliest known biblical creeds, found in Deuteronomy, is the words to be said over the thank offering for the harvest, when those who were settled in the land were to remember their history and heritage as a landless people. These are words that Jesus would have recited many times:

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, … the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, … and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”

The people were then instructed to celebrate the bounty of the harvest, “together with … the aliens who reside among you.”

Once in the promised land, the people of God were never to forget their beginnings as wanderers; they were to be kind to and care for any sojourners in the land. “You shall [like God himself] also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).

In the earliest eras of American ethos, we paid similar honor to our shared remembered history as immigrants. Who wasn’t, or whose parents or grandparents weren’t, from someplace else, hadn’t arrived here with equal measures of desperation and hope in their souls, and lived awhile by the kindness of others?

We should have made it an American creed to be recited with grace at meals, or at least every Thanksgiving: “Our ancestors were wanderers who came to this good land by grace. Let us embrace and celebrate with the strangers among us today. Amen.”

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge


If we use the New Testament as a guide, it is unlikely Jesus would take a public stance of any sort on undocumented immigration.

Jesus avoided direct comment on politics, including the question that concerned Jews the most: Roman rule. Even when asked whether it was lawful to pay Roman taxes, his answer, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's,” didn't specifically address the legitimacy of Rome's authority. Jesus' work focused instead on changing the hearts of individuals, a process that ultimately benefits society as a whole.

Immigration policy is complex and divisive issue. None of the proposed solutions is easy, particularly in a time of economic hardship. On a personal level, the level on which Christ worked, our task is simpler. As politicians craft bills, we can and should voice our opinions. Most of all, though, we must treat people with kindness and charity.

The LDS church discourages members from entering countries illegally. But we also believe that any new law must treat immigrants with compassion and respect for family relationships. In a June 2011 statement, the church expressed concern about any plan “likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God.”

“The church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship,” the statement said.

I have been with immigrants on the border and listened to them speak of their dreams and difficulties. I understand their desire and admire their ambition. To me, the church's statement meets the standard of compassion while also respecting the millions who have waited years to enter legally. Would it be just to allow the undocumented to leapfrog ahead of them on the path to citizenship? Where might Jesus stand on that?

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta

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