Never let a problem to be solved become more important than the person to be loved. —Barbara Johnson
Immigration reform is not just a way to improve our country; it is a way to stop destroying it. Immigration is not merely a complication to be addressed; it is an injection that can bring vitality. A broken system is not just a problem; it is a piercing thorn that causes ongoing pain.
A few months ago, I testified before a Senate subcommittee on immigration. Opening the hearings, Sen. Charles Schumer introduced a variety of leaders in various fields, among them Alan Greenspan (economics), Thomas Manger (law enforcement), and me (religion).
I addressed the moral grounds for immigration reform, emphasizing specifically the religious mandate we all have:
“The hope of any religion is that those who have been on the wrong path can be set upon the right path. The need for comprehensive immigration reform is to create a path that will help people do the right thing. A broken system produces a dysfunctional society, fractured families, and it increases the vulnerability of both legal and illegal residents. It helps criminals who thrive in the shadows and it harms decent people, consigning them to a life of insecurity, hiding, and minimal contribution to the general welfare.”
We are the people of a redemptive God who works the kind of redemption that doesn’t just minimize the damage; it creates a better reality than the one before the damage.
All systems are made up of laws or principles. Breaking a just law even for good reasons doesn’t hurt only the lawbreakers; it can destabilize society. But while we need to create just laws and obey them, the ultimate goal is to create and protect right relationships. So immigration reform should not stop at building an orderly and prosperous society. We have the chance for some much more noble things: building a culture that respects all people because they are made in the image of God, reforming the law in a way that promotes choosing right action after wrong choices, and preserving the family as society’s bedrock.
The urgency of immigration reform is a spiritual concern, not only an issue of earthly problem-solving or curing the hellish hate and isolation that poison our society. Immigration reform could be the next iteration of our country’s great legacy of making the most of our differences. As I said to the Senate subcommittee:
“Including the stranger is not just a matter of compassion but a necessity for greatness. ‘Loving your neighbor as you love yourself’ is not only a moral commandment, but a path to national nobility; if we can build a nation of families and support networks that not only help the marginalized to be successful, but help the successful to be helpful, then we can better live up to our potential as a people.
“In the end, I believe our nation will not be judged by the productivity of our budgets, or the genius of our laws, or even the earnestness of our faith communities. We will be judged, both by history and by God, by the way we treated people, especially those who needed our help.”
Dr. Joel C. Hunter is senior pastor of Northland—A Church Distributed in Orlando, Florida.