“Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (Matthew 22:21).
I’m back in my office after a week in the beautiful San Diego/Tijuana area. Our group spent the better part of the week on the Mexico side of the border, learning about the complexities and frustrations of U. S. immigration policy from a Mexican perspective. We were deeply impacted by many, many stories of hardship. This past Saturday, however, we came back across the border and visited Border Field State Park, where we had the unique experience of staring at the border fence right across from the Tijuana beach where we enjoyed tacos the night before.
Much to our surprise, we encountered a very friendly, well prepared, and available Border Patrol officer standing right along the fence who explained the details and challenges of his job. There is no doubt that many people who cross the border merely want to make a living and escape the dire poverty and hopelessness that face them in Mexico. However, the Border Patrol officer drove home to us that the Mexican Cartels regularly attempt to run drugs, human trafficking, and organ harvesters into the states. It is not uncommon to catch them attempting to scale the double fence that protects our borders or even cutting through it. And no, I don’t want to wake up in some seedy hotel missing a kidney. Though immigration has a very human side, it also has a very dangerous side, and I am grateful for the service of men and women who keep crime and exploitation from crossing the border. The Southern Baptist Convention’s 2011 resolution on immigration provides a very nice starting point as we think about how to resolve this dilemma. As nice as it would be to revert back to the better days of 100 years ago, when there was no fence at all and one could literally walk over to the Tijuana side and get a taco (yes, they are that good), those days are gone. While we need to treat human beings who have been created in the image of God humanely, we also need to protect our country. We have enough problems on the inside to deal with.
But how do we reconcile these tensions on a personal level? Take our border patrol agent as a frontline example. If many of the individuals crossing illegally have nothing more than very real human needs, how can anyone justify sending them back to such hardship? As the border patrol agent stated very clearly, he has a law to uphold. It is not his job to decide whether or not to execute it. Jesus explained that certain things most certainly belong to Caesar—to the government. The Apostle Paul illuminated this when he argued that the government is given the sword, the authority to execute laws (Romans 13). Our nation, and every nation, has the right to create and execute laws that will protect and promote the well being of its citizens. And men and women like our border patrol agent must carry them out.
Still the authority of our nation only carries so far. Peter and the rest of the apostles made this point to the Jewish religious leaders who commanded them to speak in the name of Jesus no longer: “We must obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5:29). As followers of Jesus, we need to recognize the importance of order in society and the right of the government to enforce it. Sin wrecks havoc on all humans and human institutions. By the grace of God, governments create some order to restrain the effects of sin. (And some governments do a better job than others). However, we are followers of Jesus, and his commands carry us further. He commands us to speak the good news and to love. We cannot let fear and uncertainty prevent us from loving people in Jesus’ name. No matter how you feel about the current immigration policy, you cannot shirk your duty to love your neighbor, whether they are U. S. citizens, have their green card, or have entered the country illegally.
Many people in the news paint a harsh picture of those entering the country illegally. Others sharply criticize those attempting to uphold the law. Christians must look past the rhetoric and remember that while Caesar can mint coins, and has every right to do so, his coins cannot be spent in God’s Kingdom. There is no exchange rate for Caesar’s coin here. Do not neglect to love people in Jesus’ name, no matter what the newscasters say about them.