The call for Christians to balance obedience to God and complying with their nation’s laws is louder these days when it comes to immigration, a group of ministers concluded Tuesday during a monthly discussion of faith-based responses to practical problems.
“Some Christians call civil disobedience divine obedience,” the Rev. Bill Carroll told about 75 people attending Theology On Tap at the Oil Horse Brewing Co. in downtown Longview.
No specific disobedience to immigration laws was spoken about by the four ministers leading the discussion on “The Christian Response to Today’s Immigration Debate,” but there were numerous citations of lawbreaking by God’s people in both the Old and New Testament eras.
Carroll, the new minister at Trinity Episcopal Church in Longview, said Christians who sat in at lunch counters during the civil rights era are a good example of letting conscience trump civil law.
The Rev. Colin Bullard noted that the apostles Peter and John famously asked authorities whether it was better to follow God’s law or man’s law.
“And I think there’s a place for that (question), also,” said Bullard, another new arrival in town as senior pastor at First Baptist Church Longview.
Bullard pointed out the verb phrase Peter and John used was “subject to” and not “obey.”
“We can be subject to the government authorities without obeying,” he said. “If you believe a law does not comport with God’s heart, we have a lot of ways to make the law better. ... The question is different for individuals and the church than it is for government. We’re just called to be faithful where we are and tend the fires in Longview, Texas.”
God’s heart tells Christians that immigrants are in the image of the one they worship, Bullard said. Immigrants coming to America’s southern border share traits with immigrants dating to the sons of Israel who fled famine and migrated to Egypt, where they became a slave workforce.
“What happened is the Hebrews became numerous,” Bullard said. “(Egyptians) benefited from all the labor that the Israelites brought to the table. They can’t get rid of them, because they’re dependent on the labor.”
The Rev. Evan Dolive of First Christian Church in Longview provided a synopsis of immigration in America, in which successive waves of ethnic nationalities, such as Irish and Chinese, have arrived here and been treated poorly by those who got here before them.
At one time, he said, the country established quotas based on percentages of each ethnicity already here — for instance, if 10% of the population was Chinese, then 10% of immigrants in a year could be Chinese.
“This happened for decades upon decades upon decades in the United States,” Dolive said. “America was seen to be a country with a certain way of life. ... Immigration is a question of ‘belongingness.’ A country gets to decide who belongs and who doesn’t.”
Dolive said his great-great-grandfather was a Sardinian immigrant to Canada, and he then crossed illegally into America when quotas were in force.
“The motto that came out of that was, ‘America for Americans first,’” he said. “We shorten that today to ‘America first.’”
The New Testament story of religious authorities challenging Jesus by asking if God’s people should pay taxes came up repeatedly during the discussion. Jesus’ answer was to note the image of Caesar on a coin and to reply, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”
The Rev. Kendall Lane of First Presbyterian Church of Longview finally noted there is a second half to Jesus’ advice in that story. Jesus finished his sentence with: “... and render unto God that which is God’s.”