Darrow Miller and Friends

What’s LOVE Got to Do with Immigration?

How should love change the way we participate in today’s immigration debate?

A big piece of the answer was posted recently at The Gospel Coalition by DNA board member, Tyler Johnson.

Tyler is the lead pastor of Redemption Church, a multi-congregational church in the Phoenix metro area, and co-director of the Surge Network. Tyler co-authored the piece with Jim Mullins, pastor of theological education and cultural engagement for Redemption Church.

Romans 13 is regarded as the primary New Testament chapter on the role of government. Paul establishes government as God’s servant and representative: For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Rom 13:1 ESV) Accordingly, many Christ-followers see Romans 13 as the standard by which to expect the government to deal decisively with immigration concerns.

Tyler and Jim agree that Romans 13 assigns to the government responsibility to uphold the law. But they make an important point about the context: Romans 13 is immediately preceded by Romans 12, which “calls the church to be shaped by God’s mercy into a community marked by self-giving love … expressed through hospitality, generosity, blessing, humility, prayerful dependence, empathy, and … and feeding enemies.”

In other words, to demand that the government administer justice (per chapter 13) without first reckoning with the church’s responsibility to love (per chapter 12) is to short-circuit the structure, and thus gut the message, of the text.

Here are some highlights of the Johnson/Mullins post:

  • If Romans 12 and Romans 13 are ever separated in our minds, we risk turning these precious words into cheap, self-righteous slogans like, “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” If we exclude Romans 12, we’re in danger of becoming passive people who don’t embrace the church’s role of bearing witness through self-giving love. If we exclude Romans 13, we’re in danger of becoming angry and confused people who lack proper respect for the role of government and the rule of law.
  • … a small number of people within [immigrant] communities are involved in abhorrent activities like drug smuggling, murder, and human trafficking. But most immigrants are not. It’s important to view them through the lens of Scripture, rather than the sensationalistic, fear-mongering lens of a news crew’s camera.
  • We live in a challenging and complex world, always faced with the temptation to be ruled by fear. But we know that fear drains our love, and love expels fear. When it comes to our relationships with our neighbors, fear and love are completely incompatible.
  • Choosing love over fear doesn’t mean we’re ignorant of the real dangers and complexities of welcoming an immigrant population to our community. It simply means that we’ve entrusted our lives to God. The fear of God is the only legitimate form of fear.

Go here to read the entire article.

– Gary Brumbelow

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Gary is the Disciple Nations Alliance editorial manager. He manages Darrow Miller and Friends and serves as editor and co-writer on various book projects. For eight years Gary served as a cross-cultural church planting missionary among First Nations people of Canada. His career also includes 14 years as executive director of InterAct Ministries, an Oregon-based church-planting organization in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Gary is a graduate of Grace University, earned an MA from Wheaton College and a Graduate Studies Diploma from Western Seminary. He lives near Portland, Oregon with his wife, Valerie. They have two married sons and twelve grandchildren. In addition to his work with the DNA, Gary serves as the pastor of Troutdale Community Church.


  1. Russ White

    November 30, 2012 - 5:30 am

    I completely disagree with this line of reasoning… You should not –you CANNOT– apply reasoning about the Church to the government. There is a fundamental category error in thinking you can enforce mercy through the law, or even that the law can be made merciful. To put this as clearly as possible:

    Government is law.
    Law is just.
    People are merciful.

    Even in the most pressing situation of all, God condemns us through law, and saves us through mercy –but the mercy is individual and voluntary on the part of Christ. God didn’t make law that Christ was to go to the Cross, Christ obeyed through his own will.

    So what we are trying to do with this entire “use the government to enforce social justice” game is perverting both law and mercy by making law unjust, and mercy unloving.

    You say, “the law must be tempered with love,” in the case of illegal immigration, but what you’re really saying is, “because we love people, we should allow them to break the law.”

    Wrong. Completely and totally wrong.

    • admin

      December 20, 2012 - 5:16 pm

      Dear Russ,

      Thank you very much for reading and responding. Please forgive the delay in this reply, in part necessitated by my desire to consult with Tyler Johnson (the writer of the article I pointed to) and Darrow Miller (the owner of the blog).

      I agree with much of what you have said. For example, the role of government and that of the church are distinct. As you say, “God condemns us through law and saves us through mercy” and in fact at the cross, law/justice and mercy meet.

      The main thing I would say in response to your comment is that both government and the church are to operate under God, both are accountable to God to perform their respective roles in ways that honor Him. The role of government includes enforcement of just laws. Yet even when a law officer is arresting an illegal immigrant, that act can (and should) be done in a way that acknowledges that the lawbreaker, too, is made in the image of God and, as such, is to be respected as a fellow human being. The role of government and church are distinct, but a government worker (e.g. a police officer) may well also be a Christian. How he performs his duty can be infused with love. (In fact, I have seen this in a Christian police officer I rode with one time when he engaged a young man he had arrested, speaking to him about his behavior and winsomely seeking to influence him to virtue.) As a policeman, he must uphold the law. As a Christian, he must love. These are not mutually exclusive.

      Most Christians are not government officials. They are not responsible to enforce law. But they are responsible to love the alien. The Bible regards the alien as worthy of care: Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice … (Deu 24:17 NIV) is just one of many such exhortations in the scripture.

      I do not see the phrase “the law must be tempered with love” in the article. I suppose the writers could be taken as suggesting that “because we love poeple we should allow them to break the law” but I don’t believe that’s their intent.

      Thanks again for writing, Russ.

      Gary Brumbelow