Arizona Neighbor On My Mind

Arizona neighbor, how I love and advocate for thee. But wait. Who exactly is my Arizona neighbor? Immediately after signing Arizona’s latest (and for some, controversial) immigration law (BS1070), governor Jan Brewer explicitly defined that neighbor for us: “The citizens of Arizona.” No surprises there. After all, if our Lutheran theology of vocation teaches us anything, it is that no decisions on what is just, right, or reasonable in matters of the law should be made without having some concrete neighbor or sets of neighbors in mind.

Governor Brewer should know. She is a Lutheran! “I’ve prayed for strength and I’ve prayed for our state,” the governor said, as she spoke briefly on her wrestling with her decision to sign what has become a highly debated bill. The governor’s bio on her website states that she is an active member of Life in Christ Lutheran Church in Peoria, Arizona, a LCMS congregation located in Maricopa County, the fifth county in the United States with the largest Hispanic population on record (about 1,224,005 in 2008 according to the Pew Hispanic Center).

Theologically speaking, the governor’s speech on signing day clearly reflected her vocational priorities in decision-making within the context of her identity as a citizen and, much more concretely, of her office as governor in the temporal or left-hand realm or kingdom. She stated: “To my administration and to me, as your governor and as a citizen, there is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona.” Vocational priority really does drive decision-making.

And so we return to that question: Who is the Arizona neighbor on my mind? The question is important: It settles who I will advocate for. It also settles who I will NOT advocate for. Who that non-neighbor (?) is and what he looks like is also clearly delineated in the governor’s speech: “Border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration are critically important issues for the people of our state….We do not sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels. We cannot stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings, and violence compromise our quality of life.”

While the bill targets illegal immigrants, the governor is actually more specific than that as she bears her soul–as much as a public official can–on the reasons that led her to signing of BS1070. She is concerned about drug dealers and their cartels, coyote drop houses, kidnappers, and violent people. These are your hard-core criminals! So we know who the real bad guys in this whole picture are as we hear the state governor take us briefly through some of the reasons that led her to advocate for the safety and quality of life of Arizona citizens.

We can’t really blame the governor. As far as advocating for the well-being of some concrete neighbor, within the context of her God-given vocation as governor in the civil realm, the governor has actually done her duty.

Lutheran theology respects and submits to God-given authority, but it also tries to make this little distinction between God-given offices and those who hold those offices at any particular time and place. Office holders in both the right- and left-hand kingdoms can err (ask Luther), but God will still preserve the world in both realms through his established offices. That should bring both fear and comfort to office bearers everywhere. I think governor Brewer might have implicitly given us a sense of that fear of God as she described how her decision to sign the law was not taken lightly and how she thought about its implications “long into the night.”

Arizona neighbor on my mind. The neighbor is relentless. So we keep asking: Who is my neighbor? Some would argue that, in making her decisions, the state governor has let some other neighbors fall through the cracks. Well, that is inevitably always the case in a less than ideal world. Somewhere in between the good guys who need protection (Arizona citizens) and the really bad guys that governor Brewer mentioned explicitly in her speech are a whole bunch of people whose lives are not being taken into account very clearly. These kinds of people range anywhere from legal immigrants of Hispanic origin to illegal immigrants not involved in the kinds of criminal activity explicitly mentioned by the governor. These are people in the margins of legal and political categories, discourse, and decision-making.

Who advocates for those sets of neighbors? Challenges to the constitutionality of the law are coming soon because of its potential threat to the civil liberties of people (that is–let’s not kid each other–Hispanic-looking people!) who are most likely to be racially profiled as a result of the bill’s law enforcement provisions. And so it seems that other civil servants ranging from governors of other states to President Obama himself also have a particular set of neighbors in mind for whom they want to advocate. Who can blame them for that?

And then of course, there will be others who will advocate for the hard-working immigrants whose legal status is questionable but over the years have contributed to the economic vitality of the state, whose children were born here and know no other country than this land of freedom and opportunity, whose families are a weird composite or citizens, residents, and illegal aliens all living under the same roof. These neighbors will also have their advocates. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), for example, has chosen consistently to advocate for the unity of the family as they take a critical look at the rapidly changing nature of immigration laws everywhere. Who can blame them for that?

Then, of course, are church workers who feel that some civil laws are intrusive in their God-ordained work of Gospel proclamation. How many pastors knowingly or unknowingly transport illegal immigrants, taking parents and their kids back and forth from Sunday school and other church-related activities? Will activities that take place in the context of fostering the proclamation of the Gospel and pastoral care be criminalized ipso facto? You can expect some Lutheran churches raise their concerns about left-hand intrusion into the right-hand realm. They will be advocating for the neighbor who needs to hear the Gospel regardless of his or her legal status. Expect that kind of statement of concern from the officers of the 4th National Hispanic Lutheran Convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Yes, that is the same Synod governor Jan Brewer belongs to.

Who is my neighbor? The Lutheran teaching of vocation allows us to be bold in our advocacy of some concrete neighbor. That will often leave some neighbor out, I suppose. But in the end, God still manages to run the world and promote the life of many neighbors, even those who seem to fall through the cracks. We can be thankful for that.

Someday I really would love to see governor Jan Brewer, member of a LCMS congregation, and President Magariño from the Hispanic Lutheran Convention of the LCMS, have coffee together and talk about law, vocation, and neighbor. Better yet, I would love to see them take the Lord’s body and blood together at the same altar. That should be no problem: Disagreements on the law should not get in the way of our unity in Christ which the Gospel creates and sustains. They also should not get in the way of honoring each other’s vocations and those neighbors God has called us to advocate for and defend.

Click Here to Hear Governor Jan Brewer’s Full Speech





58 responses to “Arizona Neighbor On My Mind”

  1. Dcs. Teresita Rodriguez Avatar
    Dcs. Teresita Rodriguez

    As Latin American Lutheran I say AMEN.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Dear deaconess Teresita.
      May the Lord continue to bless your work among the strangers in our midst and also on behalf of the 4th Hispanic National Lutheran Convention of our Synod.

    2. BOB Avatar

      I am 71 years old, and have travelled to many places in the world, most thanks to the military. I have seen poverty, I have seen goodness and I have seen evil. I am a Christian Lutheran, Missouri Synod and have been since childhood. I have sinned mightely in my life, but GOD has always forgiven and restored me.
      I have great compassion for the poor and destitute, BUT, I have a great respect for the law. Is our government from GOD as the bible says, or is it from man. Are we to respect GOD’S government as HE says or not. When a people are helped; not in their own country, but in ours; and they come by the millions and millions; and they take from that country not only food, but free medical care and housing and schooling and welfare, and along with these people come the criminals who charge these people large sums to transport them across a legal boundary; that is not only a crime, but isn’t it the taking, theft. If it continues, then it will bankrupt our country; and there will be no food, no housing, no medical care, no welfare, no schools and we will be as destitute as the country they left. Our nation has passed literally millions of laws trying to improve on the Original Ten, and it certainly hasn’t worked out so far. Do we need more and more laws, only to be broken. We need reason, and GOD’s wisdom and mercy; but we also need to respect the laws we have or will end up bankrupt, both financially and spiritually.
      I pray for our leaders, our political leaders and our Christian leaders to be able to have discernment as to what is legal and what is Right.

      1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
        Leopoldo Sanchez

        Thanks for your comments, BOB. I appreciate your concern for the poor, as well as your respect for the law. My impression is that Christians on various sides of the immigration debate share those basic commitments with you. Disagreements often lie in whether certain aspects of immigration law deal adequately or not with various sets of neighbors, including those undocumented or illegal immigrants who are among the poor and destitute. How shall we deal with them?

        Having great respect for the law does not make us immune to that poor and destitute neighbor you have great compassion for. So the question is how to live out both of these commitments, which God demands equally of us–namely, obedience to the 4th and 5th commandments. It’s not an easy answer. I sense your struggle with this question as I read your post. While you acknowledge that government is from God always, you also pray for civil authorities to actually discern what is legal and what is right. This tells me that your obedience to the law is not blind obedience, but a respectful yet critical one informed by the distinction between what God has instituted always (i.e., government) and the particular office holders who fill those positions and particular laws they enact.

        You also raise the issue of the extent of a nation’s generosity when dealing with illegal immigrants, including of course the poor and destitute. How much is too much help? Does too much help end up hurting others who also need the help? I consider that to be a responsible question, and I want to acknowledge its validity. It is, in some ways, then, a fair question, but the way you argue it is not entirely fair because it presents what I consider to be a one-sided view of the illegal immigrant.

        Let me explain. Your explicit description of immigrants who are here illegally as thieves, and your implicit reference to them as parasites who feed off the system, is harsher than necessary. Those characterizations tend to depict the illegal immigrant as a lazy person (usually, a lazy Mexican) who is only interested in taking resources away from others. This is not really fair in most cases. Illegal immigrants are not that passive at all. They are quite typically hard workers by almost anyone’s account, contribute to the economic vitality of many states taking jobs that many Americans would typically not take in agricultural and service sectors (for now, I leave aside the question of whether those jobs are ultimately good), and in many cases pay taxes and get social security taken out of their paychecks (even if through the use of fake IDs). There is, of course, an issue of illegality here, but my point is that illegal immigrants are not merely parasites. They are also contributors.

        I could make similar comments about calling illegal immigrants thieves. I think such a label is simplistic. It paints the immigrant as a passive leech who only receives and sucks the life out of others, but never gives anything in return. Not a realistic picture by far. It is also a little bit hypocritical, it seems to me, to benefit from the hard labors of these illegal immigrants and at the same time call them thieves. Unless I am prepared to stop consuming fruits, vegetables, wine, chicken, and other products that at some point were touched by the hands of these illegal immigrants, I should probably stop reducing them to the category of thieves. More helpful would be for the law to have a way to acknowledge the illegality of these immigrants while also finding a reasonable way to create a path for hard-working laborers who want to contribute to this country to earn their citizenship.

  2. Steve Newton Avatar
    Steve Newton

    Thanks for this post. “Who is my neighbor?” It’s great to be pointed to the (or at least on of) fundamental theological problem that needs to be answered as we wrestle with immigration issues today! This post will help me and will help the members of my congregation discuss this. Again, thanks.

    Steve Newton

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks for your reply, pastor Newton. Luther is helpful with the emphasis on the neighbor. What does it mean to fulfill the law of God? For sure, we know the law of God (more concretely, the ten commandments). But how is the law fulfilled in my life? That is a potentially abstract approach to the question–Luther might say. Instead, one first looks at the concrete vocations and neighbors God has put in our lives. When we serve them, we are fulfilling the law of God.

      There is a sense in which obedience to the law is seen concretely through the lens of our God-given vocations and the neighbors we serve through those vocations. At the same time, Luther can remind us that we also have responsibility to those neighbors who are in need but do not seem to fall neatly into one of our vocations. The law of love is, as it were, above this or that vocation. Who are those neighbors? The answer is different for everyone, I suspect.

      Anyone who needs my help is good, of course. But if everyone is your neighbor, then no one is really concretely your neighbor. Right? And so I still do think that starting with vocation and the neighbor as a way to get at questions of obedience to the law is promising. It actually drives you to argue or advocate for some neighbor from some context of actual service or station in life.

  3. Ron Avatar

    Crossing the border illegally is illegal. It is a crime. If you cross the border illegally, you are a criminal regardless of whether you break any further laws such as acts of violence. The difference between someone who simply crosses the border illegally and one who commits violence after crossing is this: the first crosser committed only one crime, the second crosser committed two crimes. Jesus loves them. I love them too. But Jesus never once told us that it is okay to commit a crime as long as the crime is a little one.

  4. Nilo Figur Avatar
    Nilo Figur

    Interesting article! There is a question to be answered here in the U.S. and in any other country: If being ilegal here (or anywhere else) is right, what is wrong?

  5. Carl C. Trovall Avatar
    Carl C. Trovall

    Thank you, Leo, for the stimulating words.

    Hospitality to the hungry and weak and stranger is a biblical virtue. Isaiah reiterates: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: …to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to run away form your own flesh and blood?”

    Jesus certainly seems to be citing Lev. 19:18 when he says “love your neighbor as yourself.” How interesting to see the idea’s reiteration in Lev. 19:34: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”

    I am aware that modern nation states and their borders are different from the Ancient Near East, but there still seems to be conceptual and ethical parallels. Yet, having worked on the border for seven years, I came less to see distinctions between documented and undocumented, than between the hungry and needy, and those who were filled. What might we say to Jesus’ sojourn into Egypt to escape death? What of those who cross borders to save their family from malnourishment or starvation?

    Are we, the pilgrim church who are aliens and strangers in the words of 1 Peter, our undocumented neighbor’s keeper?

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks very much for your reply, Carl.

      The Scriptures do teach consistently what might be called love for the strangers in our midst. Your thoughts are helpful in reminding us of that biblical teaching or value. On the one hand, there is no reason to think that such scriptural teaching or value is only culturally bound. It is, in fact, universal. God’s will for all times and places. We cannot escape that fact. We are bound to the teaching of the Word of God. On the other hand, one should also acknowledge that Scripture, in advancing such value, is not attempting to deal specifically with the issue of “illegal” immigration.

      Being honest about this interpretative limit allows us, on the one hand, to seek to practice love for the stranger regardless of his/her legal status, and on the other hand, to quite frankly look to other places in Scripture for further reflection on the issue of illegality per se. That second concern has led me in the direction of reflecting further on immigration in terms of the relationship between the two realms, law, vocation, and neighbor. My piece is an attempt to bring those other biblically-informed frameworks into the discussion.

      Once again, “gracias” for your comments and your love for the strangers in our midst.

    2. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks Nilo and Ron for your comments. My perception is that people who have questions about this or that immigration law are not arguing for illegal immigration. Whatever is illegal, according to whatever law, is illegal. There is no real argument there.

      What people argue about is whether this or that immigration law–either broadly or in certain aspects–adequately deals with the issue of illegal immigration. There is where the disagreement lies. That is why there is an ongoing and, in some cases, passionate national conversation or dialogue about such things. It is not an issue of being for or against something illegal. The issue is whether the current law deals adequately, fairly, justly, reasonably, or constitutionally with the issue.

      In my reflection, I seek to show that answers to those questions concerning this or that law are answered, either knowingly or unknowingly, from the perspective of one’s vocation(s) in some realm or kingdom (spiritual, temporal) and in view of some concrete neighbor or sets of neighbors.

  6. Mike May Avatar
    Mike May

    Politically, I have always viewed illegal immigration problematically. Of course all people in America, Native Americans included are ultimately immigrants. That aside, this country was largely built on immigrant labor. The problem lies in the kind of support the government provides to the immigrant. Extensive government spending and open borders are incompatible. One or both must give.

    Theologically, there is also conflict. Active righteousness clearly requires us to love our neighbor. Jesus expanded our definition of neighbor in his parable of the Good Samaritan. Further, He told us when we visit someone in prison we really visit Him. James tells us simply wishing someone is warm and well fed is worthless. We are thus called to action in ways we might not have envisioned. Yet Paul tells us to be subject to the governing authorities. (Rom 13:1) If we do not agree with a law, we may work to change it, but that does not give us the right to ignore it. Extreme cases such as Nazi Germany laws for reporting Jews or communist laws forbidding the practice of Christianity, may result in a clear conflict between God’s law and man’s laws. In those cases the Christian will hopefully obey God, whatever the cost. But is illegal immigration that kind of conflict?

    Finally, thank you Dr Sanchez for pointing out that those on both sides of this debate can and should join together in the Lord’s Supper. How lonely would that table be if we only joined those with whom we agreed completely on all political matters, worship styles, clothing trends and sports teams?

  7. Steve Morfitt Avatar
    Steve Morfitt

    Estimado Doctor,

    Of course you have hit on an area of Lutheran Theology which is so terribly nuanced, not in the abstract, but in the practical, that so few are up for the rigors of following all the implications of this glorious doctrine of vocation to their logical, penultimate, painful–even brutal conclusions.

    I think I have a basic grasp on the symmetry of the theory of the regnums but staring this in the face takes great faith.
    It is not hard to understand why conservative Christians opt for the apolitical stance–or some dualistic notions of the innocent hobby of religion and faith divorced from the world around us.
    I suspect you can well imagine my conversations with members and their comments about the governor of Arizona. A more despicable human being cannot be found.

    I am fairly confident that Luther’s highly illuminated doctrinal insight was less than affectively convincing to the families of the casualties of the Peasant’s War. So it would seem is the emotional burden of our times along this most important border.
    I have been helping two brothers who live on the street for some time, one was arrested yesterday for sexually abusing a young girl a few blocks from the church. I have never checked the immigration status of these two men–it was in doubt for me always. But who and how is my neighbor now in light of this horrific crime?

    So I pray for political leaders more than I ever have. May the Spirit of Christ guide Governor Brewer and her state, a humble prayer for a sister in the throes of her God-given vocation. Kyrie Eleison.

    1. Ken Howes Avatar
      Ken Howes

      The example of the two brothers whose immigration status hasn’t been checked is the perfect illustration of the operation of the new Arizona law. The police have cause to detain the one, but not the other. If there is anything about him that causes a question of his status–for example, having no identification of any kind–they have ground to inquire further about him. That doees not, however, give them cause to do anything with the other brother. He is not in their custody for any other reason. Even if the one brother is subsequently determined to be in the USA illegally, the other brother, having given the police no cause to stop him, is not subject to detention or to any questioning.

      That being the case, this law is not about ethnicity; it is about law enforcement. Will we declare laws that make it illegal to set car bombs or fly aircraft into skyscrapers in New York unconstitutional because the only ones who have broken those particular laws in recent years are Moslems? Of course not.

      As Christians, our calling is to love our neighbor as ourselves. That does not mean that we should countenance a crime when we have discovered that one has been committed. In Gov. Brewer’s case, her specific vocation calls on her to see to it that the constitution and laws of the United States and of Arizona are enforced.

      Love for our neighbor does mean that we do not want to see anyone persecuted–if there develops a pattern of police establishing a crime called “Driving while Mexican,” this law might have to be rescinded because of abuses that it is being used to cover; on the other hand, it also means that we do want to see residents of the border area protected from bands of criminals crossing the border and residents of the city of Phoenix protected from the wave of kidnapping that has hit that city.

  8. Hector Hoppe Avatar
    Hector Hoppe

    Thanks, Dr. Sanchez, for you reflections on this topic. It surely demands a lot of thinking on our part to be able to voice it properly and act accordingly.
    I was not surprised to see that one comment mentions that crossing the border illegally is a criminal act. From my point of view it is only a criminal act for the United States of America. It is not a criminal act for Mexicans that are actually coming back to a territory that it was bloodily stolen from them by the Americans some years ago. They are only returning to their own land.
    This situation raises another issue: Who sets the borders? And who decides what a criminal act is?
    I know we cannot change history, but as Christians, we need to exercise compassion and love toward those who have been stripped of everything in life, even their human dignity.

  9. Rev. Paul T. McCain Avatar

    Dr. Sanchez, thank you very much for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking article. You have captured the complicated issues surrounding this law.

    While I can certainly understand the desire to control the travel of people who are doing horribly illegal things from entering this country, I am concerned that this law, effectively, will put Hispanic people in Arizona, in the position of having to “prove” they are Americans, when their families have been in America already for hundreds of years already!

    On the other hand, is this something that should be done out of love for the neighbor?

    But, if and when the government tries to interfere in the Church’s ministry, there is where we shall simply have to say, “We must obey God, rather than men.”

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Dear Paul.

      Thanks very much for your comments. I agree that a reasonable immigration law should ideally be nuanced enough to deal with issues of illegality in the strict sense (i.e, entering the country without a valid visa or permit) as well as issues that deal more specifically with crimes that involve putting the lives of a greater number of neighbors in danger (e.g., drug and sex trafficking and violence)–what you call “doing horribly illegal things.” The two issues might be related in some cases, but are not the same thing.

      For example, some conscientious citizen will probably not think twice about advocating for the deportation of some drug dealer in the neighborhood, but he might think a little harder about seeking the deportation of a hard-working Mexican who, in his God-given vocation as father, has made the difficult decision to cross the desert and fled to the U.S. in order to provide for his children’s needs and protect them from the threat of violence at the hands of drug cartels in his homeland. A measure of patience will likely be allowed in the latter case as the father’s situation (and his family’s) can be resolved through some legal means. That assumes, of course, that the law can and should make room for the kinds of situations that merit facilitating appropriate work permits to hard-working people who meet real labor demands or refugee status when there is a reasonable fear and threat of death if sent back to the country of origin.

      On the issue of Hispanic people in Arizona, Gov. Brewer does acknowledge the inherent dangers of the law when it comes to Hispanic Arizonians who are legal residents of the state. She has explicitly stated that discrimination will definitely not be tolerated in her state. Here the question, of course, is one of the intent of the law versus its actual wording and constitutionality. We shall see how the courts rule on that one.

  10. Steve Morfitt Avatar
    Steve Morfitt

    Salmo 82
    Comentario Concordia
    Rodolfo Blank

    Certainly vocational commentary on the “Elohim” noteworthy in light of your article.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks for the reference. I will have to track it down. In the meantime, I am sure brothers Hoppe and McCain at CPH will be most pleased with your recommendation of this resource. : )

    2. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Hola profesor Héctor.

      You ask us to consider the delicate issue of historical memory–or in some cases, amnesia–concerning the historic presence and past treatment of Mexicans in this country we call the U.S.A. Such is a complex history that involves, among many factors, a “manifest destiny” and territorial expansionism fed by questionable eschatological claims concerning divinely-favored nation status and quite frankly racism or discrimination against colored peoples. It is a sad history of Mexicans turning against Mexicans, of Mexican families being divided from each other suddenly by new borders that were not there before, of broken promises made to Mexican families who lost their lands to greedy people who spoke a different language from theirs.

      There is much injustice here. Why do we not remember? Yahweh tells Israel to remember the strangers in their midst because they too were strangers in Egypt. Why should Yahweh insist that His people remember the strangers in their midst. Might they have forgotten when things were going pretty well for them? But history changes and moves on. And we forget. At the same time, we cannot change history–as you put it. It is tempting to speculate about the historical irony of seeing territories that were once Mexican becoming once again flooded by Mexicans–the majority group of immigrants to the U.S. You acknowledge the limits of deploying that argument given that we simply cannot go back to a past history that is no more.

      And yet there might be a place for remembrance. At the very least, it prevents us from making arguments against illegal immigration that are charged with racist or discriminatory language concerning immigrants who look and speak differently from us. There is also a place for remembering, as some have said in other blog comments, that this is a nation of immigrants. That is not an insignificant kind of statement. It is not an argument intended to solve the issue of illegal immigration per se, but such remembrance of an immigrant past–which, of course, is also part of our own identity as a Synod in the U.S. (not to mention, Argentina, brother “Hoppe”!)–does call for a basic concern for the struggles immigrants go through in their journeys. So your concerns, while not intended to solve the issue of illegal immigration specifically, do help–it seems to me–to put a human face on the issue. Immigrants cannot, in other words, be reduced to a legal category, or to a political, social, or economic problem–even if those factors come into play to discuss illegal immigration. Immigrants are human beings.

      They are not naturally good people to be put in some pedestal, but they are also often marginalized, invisible, despised, and vulnerable. I don’t think I am exaggerating. And so regardless of where one stands on this or that immigration law, one must still find room to affirm the basic humanity of God’s creatures, find a way to love that stranger even if I dislike him or her, and especially advocate in some way for those among the pack of neighbors “who have been stripped of everything in life.” Your post reminds us not to forget basic commitments Christians are called to embody.

  11. Douglas Rutt Avatar

    Muy estimado Dr. Leopoldo,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reflections on this topic, something that has also made my blood boil lately, but even more, has saddened me deeply, especially as I was watching the rhetorical grandstanding and bursts of anger on the part of television commentators last night. I was wondering when the question of the Mexican/American War was going to come up, which Ulysses S. Grant famously called “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.” He also felt that the bloody civil war was God’s punishment to the U.S. for having embarked upon such a blatantly expansive land-grab.

    But that was then, this is now. As I said, it saddens me to see the fear and anger, and in many cases, lack of understanding–for example regarding the “cost” in social services to the state–that surrounds this problem issue. Someone might find it interesting to check out some of the facts here:

    Indeed, the case has been made that besides being able to stay in affordable hotels and each fresh fruits and vegetables relatively inexpensively, the illegal immigrants’ impact on the U.S. economy in terms of social services, including cost of prisons, is minimal. In fact, some have argued that all the uncollected social security benefits and unclaimed income tax over-payments actually lead to a boon for the tax system.

    Regarding the “neighbor” question, however, I’m not sure you can hold the civil government to uphold an ethical standard that can flow only from the gospel. That is probably the biggest question I have concerning the essay. In a paper I delivered 13 years ago to the CCM (now defunct) of the LCMS, I pointed out that while the civil realm may feel constrained to enact laws, for example, establishing an “official” language, it doesn’t diminish the Christian responsibility to do everything necessary to serve the neighbor or alien, even going so far as to learn a different language so as to be able to serve him/her with the good news of Jesus Christ. In other words, I’m not sure we have sorted out completely the implications of the doctrine of the two reigns. To love your neighbor, even if he/she is unlovable, or to “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” is something that is only possible because of the gospel, and therefore it is unreasonable, it seems to me, to expect the civil authorities to live up to that ethic.

    Thanks again for taking up this important topic. You might want to check out my little reflection based on a recent article by Samuel Escobar at my blog:

    Paz en el Señor,

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Estimado Dr. Rutt.

      Thanks for your insightful comments and resources to help us sort through the web of competing claims concerning immigrants. My overall approach is to see various stats on immigrants with a healthy measure of skepticism and openness. One should seek the truth as much as possible to understand the neighbor we are dealing with and advocate properly and persuasively on his or her behalf. At the same time, and in general, one should be somewhat wary of claims that either put immigrants on a pedestal or attempt to demonize them. For example, on the one hand, if an immigrants’ legal status is not resolved over time as a result of some romantic view of illegal immigrants as morally neutral victims, I fear that we would not only undermine their humanity (and the tough struggles and decisions they go through) but also promote their continuous living on the margins of society because of our inability to help them solve their precarious situation. We would be promoting their invisibility and increasing their level of anxiety and fear in a society that already looks at them with suspicion. On the other hand, inflammatory “amarillista” rhetoric about immigrants that propagates senseless myths concerning immigrants are blind to serious systemic issues immigration law has to deal with and include any number of questions (e.g., not only border security, law enforcement, and government spending, but also labor demand, economic contributions, worker and human rights, family unification, etc.).

      The argument concerning the ability of government to uphold an ethical standard that only flows from the Gospel is a compelling one. It seems to me, at the same time, that one could also simply deal with government authorities on the basis of the first use of the law. One assumes the natural knowledge of the law in such a move. And so it is not uncommon for individual Christians and even large sectors of the church (or its official representatives) to call civil authorities to be just and fair in their dealings with all people as they make decisions about the aims of this or that civil law whether they are Christians or not. One could also, of course, argue for the church’s role in calling upon civil authorities who happen to be Christian to act justly and fairly with all people as they work in the creation and enforcement of laws. One would assume that, in such cases, the Gospel will motivate Christian authorities to act rightly, reasonably, and even charitably in relationship to some neighbor for whom they will be advocating–including but not limited to the constituencies that elected them for service. Finally, there is also your point about not putting too much hope in the ability of government authorities in general to act in accordance with natural law or for the sake of the most vulnerable neighbors at all times. And so this reality will inevitably lead to situations where Christians, operating in the right-hand kingdom and thus in the interest of the proclamation of the Gospel, will feel compelled by the Gospel to do what is necessary–short of violence, of course–to obey God rather than men if and when certain laws would interfere with or penalize the church’s responsibility to do her God-given duty among immigrants regardless of their legal status.

      Muchas gracias.

  12. Chris Born Avatar


    Thanks for starting the great discussion on this issue. I think it is often too easy to to categorize and entire group of strangers when they do not look like, sound like, or eat like the dominant resident group. I can only think of the internment camps where our Japanese neighbors, many of whom were 3rd and 4th generation US citizens, were forced to move when we were at war with Japan, being made to forfeit careers, education, property, and communities they had long been part of.

    German immigrants had an easier time “blending in” so to speak; I am sure the US interment camps had a xenophobic aspect as well as a racial component. I wonder if the German immigrants were not Anglo-looking, would not Roosevelt have determined that they, too, ought to have been interned?

    I fear that the influence of the smaller–yet very dangerous–transnational criminal element (something I am sure both the US and Mexican government could work together to stop) may cause the more xenophobic among us to forget the general plight of these other neighbors who only have their family on their mind.

    I also wonder when being modern US American Christian came to mean caring less for the neighbor and his physical welfare, and more about strengthening our physical comfort and consumerist urges. Should exuberant obedience to immigration law give a convenient reason to forget, nay, justify mistreatment of the poor? When I think about the story in Luke 10, it is telling that a member of the true out-group, a Samaritan, long mistrusted and maligned by those in Jerusalem, would be the center of the story, helping the neighbor. Could you imagine if a poor traveler from Oaxaca spent a great deal of money to save a beaten Anglo on a desert road to Nogales? Surely Jesus intended to shame the rich and pious among us who cannot see through our prosperity.

  13. Rev. Robert Mayes Avatar
    Rev. Robert Mayes

    Dr. Sanchez:

    Thank you for your insight on this pressing and challenging issue. What you have written should definitely be considered for all who grapple with this.

    Hermann Sasse once wrote that theological problems are at the same time, practical problems. The way one teaches an article of the faith will determine to some extent how one deals with a challenge in the same article. For example, the way one teaches about baptism will determine if one baptizes infants.

    With this in mind, I would like to hear your thoughts on the Commandments and their ordering in response to illegal immigration. We are to help and befriend our neighbor in all of his bodily needs (5th commandment). We are also to honor the government as God’s temporal authority (4th commandment). This includes the definitions our government has set up as to what constitutes an illegal immigrant and what constitutes a legal citizen.

    Sometimes the 4th commandment trumps the 5th, such as in the case of a just war where the government authorizes soldiers to fight in defense of her neighbors at home. There, the soldier in a just war can fight and harm the enemy soldiers, yet not be guilty of the 5th commandment. Likewise, the governor who sentences a criminal found guilty of a heinous crime to the death penalty is also not guilty of breaking the 5th commandment, because he is to bear the sword by God’s authority (Rom. 13).

    The problem comes with illegal immigration. As you rightly say, many illegal immigrants are not guilty of heinous crimes. We are called to show all people Christian care and concern in their bodily needs, and I agree that that should also include illegal immigrants. But these are still illegal immigrants, who are acting against the temporal authority God has instituted (for many differing reasons, I’m sure). Since there does not seem to be any Scripture that speaks to the American struggles over illegal immigration, I assume that this is a temporal matter that we should honor our government in (while at the same time, pressing for human rights and necessities).

    Does the 5th commandment trump the 4th in this case? Or does the ordering of the commandments matter here? How do you suggest the Church should act in mercy to illegal immigrants? When and how can Christians try to help their illegal friends and neighbors try to become legal citizens?

    Your thoughts are most appreciated. Thanks.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Fullerton, NE

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks for your comments, Rev. Mayes. You raise an important question: How does one equally fulfill God’s demands on us when these demands appear to be in tension with one another. Might one have to trump the other? Is there a logical ordering of such demands in this or that situation? You mention, in particular, a couple of cases where the 4th commandment seems to trump the 5th one as civil authorities bear the sword against some in order to protect others.

      Reflecting on his thoughts on temporal authority, Luther would say that, in these specific cases, the sword is being swung by the civil authorities collectively on behalf of those whom they have been called to protect–say, the residents of their state when faced with criminal threats, or the residents of their nation as a whole in the case of just war. In such cases, the government bears the sword in order to restrain gross manifestations of sin and evil, and promote justice and well-being in the land. Civil authorities who happen to be Christian and might question their standing before God for bearing the sword against another (e.g., killing in war) should be reminded that they are acting according to their office. If the issue is the certainty of salvation, Christian civil servants need to be reminded that the works they perform according to their call is not the condition for their salvation. Only the Gospel, not this or that work, brings the sinner into a right relationship with God through faith in Christ.

      Now, when the certainty of salvation is not the issue, but there are nevertheless some legitimate concerns about the right exercise by some civil authority of an office that God has established, those civil servants who happen to be Christian also need to be reminded to act fairly, justly, reasonably, and to some degree even charitably in their dealings with all neighbors. In the case of civil authorities who do not claim to be Christian, one can at least attempt to appeal to their conscience and the law written in the heart so that they might exercise their office according to what is just, fair, and reasonable in their enactment and enforcement of laws.

      Putting aside what the civil authorities should do or not do according to the established limits and more flexible prerogatives attached to their particular offices, Luther goes on to say that a Christian, acting as an individual, does not have the right to take the sword against another. He must not seek vengeance for himself, as it were, by taking someone’s life or, more broadly, by putting in jeopardy’s the neighbor’s well-being. An individual Christian is called to turn the other cheek and suffer all things even for his enemies, for those he despises for the right or wrong reasons–we might say, whether they are criminals or illegal immigrants, or whatever. That is really a high ethic, a cruciform ethic, that Luther lays out before us. The government might seek vengeance, but an individual Christian should never do so. At the very least, this ethic should really make us think twice about our “individual” reason(s) for seeking punishment, retribution, or vengeance against illegal immigrants for this or that thing they might have taken from “me.” Luther suggests, it seems to me, that an individual Christian must not complain about what he is getting or not getting, but simply turn the other cheek when he perceives a wrong is being done to him and leave any punishment and vengeance to the government. I admit. This sounds tough to swallow.

      Luther goes on to say, however, that Christians, according to their callings, can advocate for the well-being of those neighbors they have been called to serve. If a thief enters my house and threatens to beat me up unless I give him something, I might turn the other cheek as an individual Christian. However, if my family is in the house at the same time, I am no longer just “me,” but also someone who is called to be a husband and a father. That means that, in such a context, I am no longer merely an individual who should turn his cheek, but one who, bound by God-given vocation(s), should now come to the defense of his wife and children, and–God forbid–in some unfortunate cases, even hurt the thief in order to defend one’s household. The ideal, of course, is always to work through legal channels to seek justice rather than get one’s hands bloody. Another example: If I think that the presence of an illegal immigrant in my neighbor is a clear threat and danger to my family (say, a young drug dealer/gang member), then, I cannot simply take the abuse and should do what might be needed to protect my loved ones. However, I should not seek to do so by taking matters into my own hands, but to the degree that it is possible, to appeal to the governing authorities to resolve such issues.

      It might also be productive to highlight a bit the ambiguity of fulfilling God’s demands in regard to both the 4th and 5th commandments when you think about the tension in terms of two different persons’ vocations and thus vocational priorities. Here again who our neighbor is drives the decision-making. For example, a border patrol agent might actually disagree with current immigration law, about how it does not seem from his perspective to take into consideration the economic needs and the labor demands that bring those who are poorest into the U.S. (a 5th commandment concern for the life of the needy neighbor). And yet, in his vocation as a border patrol agent in the civil realm, he is bound to stop even the neediest neighbor at the border and seek his deportation (a 4th commandment concern). On the other side of the border, you have a Mexican father who has tried desperately to find decent work to no avail in his land, but needs to provide for his children the basic necessities of life. That Mexican father might actually know that crossing the border without proper visas is illegal (a 4th commandment concern), but his God-given vocation as a father compels him to cross the border to find work simply because he is bound to his children whom God has put in his life to take care of (a 5th commandment concern for the life of the needy neighbor).

  14. John Avatar

    To Ron…

    I keep reading where immigration outside Federal Law is illegal.

    SURPRISE, FOLKS!! It’s not, it’s EXTRA-LEGAL!

    Under the United States Code, it is not a CRIMINAL OFFENSE to cross our frontier without papers/permission. It is an administrative law action. The border crosser, absent an actual crime, does not go into our Federal criminal court system. He/she is administratively held, and then leaves.

    What frustrates me is that extra-legal immigrants can take advantage of our higher-education system at “in-State” rates in many States … including Kansas. I don’t mind K-12, but college, vo-tech, and University? No. They should pay the out-of-state rate.

    God’s Peace to you all

    1. Greg Grose Avatar
      Greg Grose

      It IS a criminal offense for an alien to cross the border “at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers”, etc.


      It is true that deportation of illegals is handled administratively/civilly.

  15. Ann M. Moe Avatar
    Ann M. Moe

    Thanks for this post, which as of this morning, along with this article by Dr. Veith, that gives clarity to Luther’s “doctrine of Two Kingdoms” has been forwarded to over 100 in my address book. I believe what Dr. Veith so clearly writes in his article speaks to how Gov. Brewer views her responsibilities to God and His people as living in “Two Kingdoms”.

    I live 12 miles south of San Francisco, CA. My daughter and family live in AZ and therefore, Governor Jan Brewer is their governor for which they are thankful.

    LC-MS Dr. Gene Edward Veith: Christianity & Culture: God’s Double Sovereignty article here…

  16. Rev. Charles P. Schaum Avatar
    Rev. Charles P. Schaum

    Dear Prof. Dr. Sanchez,

    I believe that a number of comments have illustrated that the concept of a border is the most superficial of the issues in play.

    First, we have the issue of government and jurisdiction. All human governments are corrupt due to sin, yet God still uses them for his purpose of maintaining order in a particular time and place.

    Second, corrupt governments often create laws that are problematic with respect to providing services and safeguards in an orderly society. Yet we must ask whether God has required governments to follow a particular -ism. I do not see that in Scripture. Nevertheless, I believe we need to realize that governments on both sides of the border have failed people.

    We cannot turn this into some socialist egalitarian kind of issue because that again departs from Scripture. The chief moral onus for regarding one’s neighbor is placed on individuals and certainly, churches. It is not placed in the hands of governments in the sense of Marxist liberation theology. Moreover, since my property is a gift of God to me and my household and I, as a US citizen, consent to share of that property by participating with the government for the welfare of others, I expect that said participation will not be contrary to the inalienable rights under the government that God has provided. The government taxes my goods, chattels, and real property; it does not lend its money to me as a sort of tenancy.

    Third, it would appear that the Mexican government has substantial problems. I would suggest that organized crime, paramilitary organizations, and a tremendous gap between the wealthy and the poor all contribute to that. I would also suggest that the Mexicans really will have to fix their country. If they cannot do it, the US may have the right to “help” them, IMO.

    Fourth, I would submit that organized crime has stemmed from societal models prevalent in countries where the middle class has been less prominent. I would suggest that some of the demographics involved pertain to Protestantism’s strong connection with the mercantile class and the economic benefits reaped therefrom. I would also suggest that Roman Catholicism has an historical role in contributing to Latin American and Southern European social issues.

    Fifth, I think that history is replete with examples of how there have been few “good guys.” (Ach, mein lieber Hector, ich könnte wohl zustimmen, aber…) Let’s consider the benighted cultures that were playing blood sports and doing human sacrifices. Did the Spanish and Portugese nevertheless do very nasty things to them? Certainly. So, with Bolivar and L’ouverture we see the genesis of the fall of New Spain and French holdings as well.

    Did the British tax the colonies unjustly? Did the British, Swedish, Danish, French, and other powers infringe upon some people in a markedly inhumane manner? Assuredly, and the British colonies expelled fifty thousand Tories, confiscated their property, and left them to die in the Canadian winter during the Revolution. So much for the liberties of the Declaration of Independence!

    Then you have the systematic oppression of American Indians and the depersonalization of slaves from Africa and the Caribbean, a trade in which Spain and Portugal both participated and from which they profited. You have the anti-Chinese legislation of the 1880s that served as a model for anti-Jewish laws of the mayor of Vienna and Hitler’s Third Reich.

    You have Abe Lincoln suspending habeas corpus and only freeing Confederate slaves, not those in the Union. You have McKinley bowing to US business pressure to topple the Hawai’ian royal family in violation of treaty. You have Woodrow Wilson mass-firing African-Americans from the US Government, persecuting nonviolent Christians, shutting down any newspaper he did not like, and hiring thousands of agents that functioned much like the Gestapo did later. You had Franklin Roosevelt the socialist targeting and imprisoning Japanese-Americans. You had anti-Hispanic treatment of veterans (the Longoria case). The list goes on.

    One can consider some equally odious episodes in pro- and anti-union incidents, yet it remains clear that organized labor and godless forms of socialism and communism have long been connected.

    Indeed, one can cite an equally long tale of murder, rapine, and injustice in Mexico. Their standard of living is a reflection of the manifest ineptitude of their government to function.

    You also have the US banking system, the terminal point for the drug money through which the Mexican elite holds its grip and its financial stability. You have a US government that does not police its banks unless a politician finds it expedient.

    Sixth, I would also submit that the corruption of Mexican government helped to spur the Tejanos and people like Austin and Houston to push for independence, of whom I read in Texas history when living in El Paso. Yet the Tejanos quickly found themselves ostracized. I would suggest that Roman Catholicism’s identity in Mexican culture over against the markedly Anglo-American Protestantism had a lot to do with that, in addition to racial bias.

    Seventh, you have little incentive for the US government really to pursue those who employ illegals. As Tom Lehrer already said in the early 60s regarding Senator George Myrphy’s position, “Should Americans pick crops? George says no. ‘Cause no one but a Mexican would stoop so low.” Yet ask Americans to pay higher produce prices and watch them complain! Many want their economic cake and the ability to eat it, too. There is a certain immorality to that.

    On the one hand, you have a law that has a number of just causes, as has been ably illustrated here. Moreover, those causes are not likely to disappear while drugs, crime, and crooked governments persist. On the other hand, you have mass complicity from one end of the supply chain to the other in enticing people to break the law. That evil is not as dramatic as violent crime, but it is evil nonetheless and answerable before God.

    Here is what Lutherans have said on the matter: An intentional sin, a sin of premeditation, is a mortal sin.

    Many Americans are engaging in mortal sin by being content with a corrupt economic and financial status quo. Many Mexicans are engaging in mortal sin because they know full well that they are entering a jurisdiction contrary to legal prescription (sorry Hector). And people on both sides are allowing innocent people to be hurt on both sides. A lot of forgiveness is needed.

    That is the issue at hand. Until we allow for talks and action that will call both sides to account, we get nowhere.

    In any case, my immigrant forebears obeyed the rules when they came here from Germany and Norway. I expect the same from others. Those who cannot respect the laws of my jurisdiction cannot respect me and thus endanger me and my family.

    I am all for a guest worker program and a means to document and track migrant workers, making sure that they share equitably in the tax burden. I remember the Mexicans who would routinely use public services in El Paso. Should they steal from my tax contributions? No. But if they have a legitimate way of giving back, then perhaps a mutually beneficial solution is reachable.

    We cannot let these issues be swallowed up by longstanding cultural friction and bias. I do recognize that their stability and well-being not only is God-pleasing, but it also helps me and my relationship with them to get past antagonism to a point where we can work together mutually and constructively.

  17. Elmoe Avatar

    Thousands and thousands of words…

    Thankfully, simple truths come in much smaller packages. Christ says all that needs to be said in 48 words: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”. The context? He was talking to the Pharisees, and answering their question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”? (I think it would be a fair characterization to say that the Pharisees had nearly made an art form out of classifying their various laws among their citizenship and giving them relative degrees of importance….sound familiar?)

    How convenient that so many “religious thought leaders” are providing these legislators cover with ample amounts of verbiage that give the specious appearance of religious authority when in fact they are nothing more than complex layers of manmade “Christianized” jargon meant to skew this simple truth in order to justify a human behavior that is not Christ-like. This is what religion does, whether Lutheran or otherwise. Remember our history, many of the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan in the 50’s & 60’s were in fact Christian ministers, deacons and church elders…

    The simple truth in Christ’s words? Respect others and regard their needs and desires as highly as you regard your own. Why do we find it so difficult to apply this simple truth to “illegal” immigration in general, and the Arizona law specifically?

    It is human nature to emulate those we admire most. Thousands of words written by “religious thought leaders”, or 48 words spoken by Christ addressing the greatest commandment in the law. Who shall we emulate? Who shall be our authority? Hmmm….seems like a no brainer to me.

  18. Jim Avatar

    I think it is a bad law, and will almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutionally overinclusive. Either that, or Az courts will narrowly construe the reach of the law to rule out police activity that would rise to unconstitutionally overinclusive “profiling.”

    But whatever the constitutionality of the law, it’s a bad law. I do not believe the immigration into the U.S. should be restricted, except for violent criminals and for individuals carrying serious contagious diseases. Restrictions on migration to provide for yourself and for your family are almost certainly a violation of natural law and natural right. And, ironically, given current demographic trends in the U.S., and given economic development in Mexico, in 20 years the U.S. will be begging Mexican workers to immigrate to the U.S. to work and, coincidentally, to pay taxes. This “problem” will solve itself quicker than almost anybody thinks.

    That said, in fairness I think we should note that Gov. Brewer did not in fact say that the law was only for “Arizona citizens.” She said it was for Arizona citizens and for “everyone” who is in Arizona “legally.” But even that is not strictly accurate. To the extent that criminals are excluded from immigration into Arizona, then current residents in Arizona who reside there illegally (or extra-legally, as the case may be), are protected as well by the law.

    Also, why does Prof. Sanchez seem to want to hide his own assessment of the law’s impact? For example, Prof. Sanchez writes that “Some would argue that, in making her decisions, the state governor has let some other neighbors fall through the cracks.”

    “Some would argue”?

    Why doesn’t Prof. Sanchez just own the claim himself? Is there any real doubt that the law prefers some rather than others? Why place the claim in the mouths of (unnamed) others?

    And why the equivocation at the end? Sure Lutherans can disagree about public policy and still commune together. But that doesn’t make the Arizona law any less wrong. And I think it would have behooved the LCMS more if Prof. Sanchez had said so frankly rather than hiding behind the rhetoric of moral equivalence.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Dear Jim.

      Thank you for your comments. When I wrote the article, my goal was not to offer my own personal opinion on the Arizona law in particular or on “illegal” immigration in general. More fundamentally, my goal has been to offer a theological framework, grounded in the Lutheran tradition, that would allow for an open conversation on the issue without attempting a preemptive strike on this or that side of the debate. If you read my comments in response to various blogs, you can see that for the most part I am attempting to play the role of a facilitator of dialogue, returning as much as possible to the intersection of theological and ethical concerns that is part of responsible decision-making and morality. In doing so, I am simply fulfilling my vocation as a theologian writing for a blog that, not insignificantly, goes by the name of ConcordiaTheology.Org.

      Having said all that, I have argued primarily for a shift in discourse towards the question of the concrete neighbor, and so against some abstract and in some cases uncritical approaches to the law. However, I have also argued against easy dismissal of questions concerning the law precisely because some neighbor or set of neighbors is inevitably in mind when law is promulgated. I have argued for advocating boldly and persuasively for some concrete neighbor nevertheless, which determines who actually requires my attention and protection first. And I have argued that one should do so by looking at the concrete vocations or stations in life in which God has placed each one of us, which determines how (or the ways in which) I will attend to the neighbor(s) whom I have been called to serve first. These are the theological claims I own, writing in the context of my vocation as a theologian of/for the church. And these claims just happen to allow for a big enough tent of neighbors and advocates who, in my opinion, need to hear one another and persuasively advocate for somebody.

      I also have other vocations though. I am an officer of the 4th Hispanic National Convention of the LCMS, for example. In the context of that particular vocation, guess which neighbors I will be advocating for first along with the other officers? That should go unsaid after reading the article. Needless to say, that particular vocation calls me to be concerned about those neighbors who seem to have fallen through the cracks. The President of the 4th Hispanic National Convention of the LCMS, who has also recently commented on this blog (though probably more informally as a concerned Christian and citizen than as the official President of our Convention), is sending the official concerns of the officers in writing to Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, President of the LCMS, with a copy to Rev. Larry Stoterau, President of the PSW District, who oversees the work of LCMS congregations in a region that includes the state of Arizona. That official letter becomes the how or means of advocacy. In the context of our particular vocation as officers of the Hispanic Convention, we are indeed concerned with the potential dangers of Hispanic racial profiling you have mentioned in your letter. No surprises there. We are also concerned with the potential dangers of penalizing church workers for transporting illegal immigrants in the context of evangelistic activities, pastoral care, and mercy work. No surprises there either. In advocating for such concrete neighbors, however, the officers of the Hispanic Convention are careful not to put down or water down the importance of immigration law, the complexity of ascertaining what is fair and reasonable in this or that law, the honor and respect due those who serve and make difficult decisions in civil government, and the God-given responsibilities civil authorities have to promote the life and well-being of the neighbors they have been called to serve.

      Once again, my comments illustrate that some neighbor ultimately drives us to himself or herself. And so we take some stand. At the same time, I acknowledge that our vocations are many, and they compel us to serve different sets of neighbors, including bloggers who want to be faithful to God and neighbor and value what theology has to offer as they struggle with various real-life issues that affect us all. I can live with the potential ambiguity and paradoxical nature of this state of affairs, as my response should amply show.

  19. Norman Teigen Avatar
    Norman Teigen

    I am not in the LC-MS, I am in the ELS. I am very pleased to read the author’s essay and the varied comments from the responders. It shows to me that there is a great deal of room within the Missouri Synod to consider varying viewpoints on the important subject under discussion.

    I commend you all.

  20. Aurelio Magarino Avatar
    Aurelio Magarino

    The Arizona law is not the first attempt to criminalize undocumented immigrants and people that help them in our country. I understand all the arguments about law and order. But there is an issue no one talks about. The unguarded borders, the hunger and the many social problems down south the border, the greed of business people in the US and the appealing of the American dream are factors that have contributed significantly to our present immigration problem. Behind the lack of action to create a reasonable immigration law are economic factors. The 14 or 15 millions of undocumented immigrants have become cheap labor, a new form of slavery, exploited by many employers in our country: from small business to large corporations. Also, the fear of the growth of the Spanish-speaking community is another contributing factor. The hatred against Hispanics is fueled by this type of legislation. In addition, this kind of legislation condition people in the US to accept laws that curtail individual rights when states and counties goverment pass laws that violate fundamental human rights.We need to protest this law not only because Hispanics become targets of authority abuse, but also because all US citizens at one given point may be lossing more individual rights.
    During the reign of Hitler in Germany a Lutheran pastor, if I remember well his name was Martin Neomoller (forgive the spelling) in retrospect said something very profound when he criticized the silence of people against abuses of particular ethnic groups. Abuses that gave rise to a system where no one was safe. He mentioned that the first group abused by Hitler were the Jews, no one complained, then Catholics,no one complained, then Protestants, no one complained, then anyone dissenting, no one complained. HE reminded us that at the end no one was left to protest Hitler’s atrocities. Abuse of power and reduction of individual liberties creeps in our society if we do not stand for the vulnerable and voiceless now. The law is not a good law because opens many opportunities for authority abuse that were already happening before this law was passed. This law is racist because it is targeting basically Spanish people and if do not say something against it now, tomorrow it will be another group the target of hatred and discontent in our society.
    Lastly, as Christians we have a moral responsibility with God’s kingdom agenda showing compassion, protecting the victims and potential victims of abuse. Also, we need to recognize that immigration is a complex issue. But the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and people that assist them because they see undocumented immigrants as people created in God’s image is NOT the WAY TO GO.
    Blessings and let us pray that our federal government have the will to do what is right in this complex problem.

    1. Philip Meyer Avatar
      Philip Meyer

      I’ll leave aside the continued use of “undocumented aliens” as this is already a politically charged term. “Undocumented” still equals illegal, or is it merely a misdemeanor to violate immigration laws? Does not James teach us differently? Does not Lutheran theology confess that there are no venial sins as opposed to mortal sins?

      Secondly, where is love for the neighbor when many of these illegal immigrants end up in virtual slavery? Who are the slave merchants here? Phoenix is the number one kidnap capital of the United States. Who is being kidnapped and by whom? What should be done for these victims, these neighbors? Perhaps the best thing is that they are apprehended by our law enforcement so that they might receive protection from the human traffickers. The law also protects the helpless.

      Thirdly, is it racism if an Hispanic police officer arrests an illegal Hispanic? Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that more than 60% of United States Border Patrol agents are Hispanic. Are they racists for enforcing the law against Hispanics?

      Fourthly, Hispanics are not the only illegals crossing the Southern border. There are also Asians who cross, coming in through Mexico. Would it be merely an Hispanic profiling that we are concerned about?

      The law is the only fairness we have as it treats all alike. Romans 13.

  21. Rev. Roger D. Sterle Avatar
    Rev. Roger D. Sterle

    Thank you for your article. While I can sense the deep frustration of deciding who is my neighbor have we really covered the whole spectrum? The process of becoming an immigrant into the US is well spelled out in many different parts of the Federal laws. I am not in favor of a total open immigration policy and don’t believe that the US has had one since if I remember civics correctly we have always had some kind of quota on the numbers of those who can enter at any given time. The one item that we seem to often miss is the cost to our neighbors in Arizona and other border states who bear this cost, sometimes by themselves as citizens of a particular state.

    And maybe we should also look at other countries’ laws about a citizen of the US becoming one of their citizens. I am not at all familiar with any other country’s laws but are they easier than ours? i.e. can a US citizen go to Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Russia etc. and simply start to live there without some kind of permission.

    One has to also wonder if many who have commented about the law–including the president have even read the law that was passed–I know I have not, but then again this is probably the first and only comment I will make. What I have heard is several different bites on radio and TV from law officers in the state who insist that this law will not make open season on those already in Arizona, whether legal or not. What they will get to do, upon stopping somone for another infraction of the law, is if the questions do not get the right answers, they will check with ICE about their status. And even with this, since I have not read the law myself, are they correctly speaking about the new law.

    Is it God pleasing to break one law because one feels a need to take the Gospel to some? I would not be able to do so and I am not too sure that it sets the correct example for others.

    Again, that you for your article but I would certainly hope that the LCMS will not be asking its members to become “safe houses” for those of any ethnic group who are not in the US legally.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks, Rev. Sterle, for your thoughts.

      You raise an important question: “Is it God-pleasing to break one law because one feels a need to take the Gospel to some?” The answer is not simply “yes” or “no.” More helpful, it seems to me, is the Lutheran distinction between the two realms or kingdoms, and then the teaching on vocation as it relates to the two realms. Let me explain.

      In the first place, the distinction asks you both to obey the law in the temporal realm and to preach the Gospel in the spiritual realm. You are not allowed to break the law, and your response tells me that you know this quite well and are willing to follow the law. However, just to give you a sense of how tough the Lutheran teaching is, you are also never allowed not to feel the need to take the Gospel to some. Just the opposite, you have no choice but to take the Gospel to some, to all within earshot–as it were. Sorry brother. According to the distinction, the proclamation of the Gospel to some does not trump obedience to the law (a point you understand well), but it is also true that obedience to the law does not trump the need to proclaim the Gospel to some.

      Secondly, the Lutheran teaching on this point warns against confusing the two realms or kingdoms. When might such confusion happen? One possibility would be for the church to become the government. More concretely, if a Lutheran congregation wants to systematically establish its own law to live by in accordance with the Gospel (say, to use your example, by becoming a “safe house” where sinners, on the basis of Christ’s forgiveness, go to avoid prosecution from civil authorities), the church then sets itself up as a temporal government. Here the church must understand that her spiritual role and duty is to proclaim Christ’s forgiveness to all, for all are sinners in need of Christ’s mercy, but not to create, establish, and enforce her own law to deal with illegal immigrants in place of the laws established by the appointed civil authorities. One must not confuse God’s love in Christ for the immigrant regardless of his or her legal status in the spiritual realm with the need to deal with the illegality of the immigrant according to the civil law in the temporal realm.

      Third, a confusion between the two kingdoms also happens when the civil authorities in the temporal realm create laws that either directly or indirectly attempt to regulate or become an obstacle to the church’s work of Gospel proclamation and pastoral or diaconal care in the spiritual realm. Here the government attempts to become the church. More concretely, if the government decides that it wants to penalize church workers who, in the context of Gospel proclamation and pastoral or diaconal care, are called to work on an everyday basis with illegal immigrants, then, we have a case where the civil law in the temporal realm gets in the way of God’s work in the spiritual realm. And so to get to the other side of your question: Is it God-pleasing to stop proclaiming the Gospel to some in the spiritual realm because one feels the need to obey the law (whatever that law is)? Well, in this case, the Lutheran warning about the confusion of the two realms challenges us with the possibility that, in some cases, the state might actually interfere with the work of the church in the spiritual kingdom. When it does so, the church must obey God rather than men, even if this means suffering for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel to some.

      Finally, there is also an issue of vocation in defining how I should conduct myself in God’s two realms. Here two questions are very important. First, what are my actual God-given vocations? Second, in what vocational context of mine is my neighbor approaching me with his needs? These are questions that really go to the heart of Christian ethics. Let’s take the first question of vocational identity. For example, as a concerned citizen in the temporal realm, I might be able to offer my vocal opposition to illegal immigration and call for the deportation of all illegal immigrants. However, as a pastor in the spiritual realm, my work is not to enforce this or that immigration law, or call for this or that immigration law from the pulpit, but rather to proclaim the Gospel and provide pastoral care to all–including immigrants regardless of their legal status.

      Let’s make this even more interesting: What if you are a pastor called to serve in an increasingly Latino neighborhood? (Not a rare occurrence nowadays) In such a context, even though you are free in your vocation as a citizen to argue vocally and publicly against illegal immigration, you probably will not do so openly simply because such vocal opposition will most likely become an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel among Latinos in your neighborhood. Latinos will be afraid to come to your church! So there are times when, in the context of your pastoral vocation in the spiritual realm, you might have to refrain from doing what you are otherwise free to do as a citizen in the temporal realm, for the sake of fulfilling your God-given call as pastor and reaching many with the Gospel. This case scenario gets to the second question above concerning the vocational context in which the neighbor actually approaches you. If an illegal immigrant comes to you for pastoral care, that defines how you will deal with him or her–namely, as a pastor. This does not mean, of course, that, if you know he or she is here illegally, you will not do everything in your power to help them achieve proper legal counsel. But you cannot betray his or her trust in you as a pastor by playing the conscientious law-abiding citizen card and calling for his or her deportation. Rather, it seems to me, basic Christian charity would compel us to help a needy neighbor by putting him or her in contact with someone whose vocation is to actually deal with the law (say, an immigration lawyer). In the scenario I have presented, you are bound to the neighbor within the context of your vocation as pastor when that neighbor comes to you precisely in that vocational context. I hope I have given you some more to think about, especially as you reflect more on how your specific vocation as pastor (and as citizen) might fit in the broader picture of the Lutheran teaching on the distinction and confusion of the two realms.

  22. Dave Reynolds Avatar
    Dave Reynolds

    I am troubled by this essay. This is not “theology,” because we have already been told what is expected of us regarding civil authority.

    This is politics, pure and simple.

    And I am especially troubled when the author uses the phrase, “…past treatment of Mexicans in this country we call the U.S.A.” What an awkward phrasing. Question is, “Why?”

    Not knowing when a “cigar is just a cigar,” I wonder if, “theologically” we ought not consider Matthew 22:21 (and like passages in Luke and Mark) more explicitly as we consider this subject.

    As a last point, I offer this link [*below*] The subject matter, obviously, differs. But the underlying societal criticism is significant.


    Admin Comment: Caution – Link contains popups & lots of ads.

    1. Will Schumacher Avatar
      Will Schumacher

      Not theology?! We have not only been told what is expected of us regarding civil authority, but we have also been taught what is expected of us regarding our neighbor — including even the weakest, including even our enemies.
      It is not theologically obvious that our obligation to submit to civil authorities must automatically trump our obligation to treat our weak & vulnerable neighbors with kindness, mercy, and care, and to refrain from passing judgment on them unless it is our office to do so (see Luther’s Large Catechism on the Eighth Commandment).
      These considerations require thoughtful, prayerful reflection on the word of God. Sounds like theology to me.

  23. Carl G Avatar
    Carl G

    This article does a good job of talking about the role of vocation in this complicated political issue; it also tackles the even more politically charged issue of who is our neighbor. Governor Brewer had to deal with both of these problems in her recent decision; it is her (unenviable) vocation to do so. Dr. Sanchez claims she exercises her vocation well in her decision to sign this bill into law, and I agree with him. Governor Brewer had to take her neighbor, as she sees it, into account and make a decision. She has exercised her vocation as governor well.
    There will be others around this issue who will exercise their vocation well. Lobbyists, advocates and activists are already boycotting and protesting this decision based on their view of who their neighbor is. That is commendable as well; as Lutheran theologians, I think we should encourage people to carry out their vocations, even when it is unpopular. But we must do the same. We need to have the courage to carry out our vocation, the one given to us by Christ. As ministers of the Gospel, we are called by Christ to love our neighbor and care for those in need. I think that when we love our neighbor, just as when we love anyone, we will ultimately have to love like a parent. That means that some of our neighbors (the drug dealers and gangsters) will need tough love—theologically speaking, the law—and some (the honest migrant workers and the needy) will need a more tender love—the Gospel. Truly loving our neighbor means loving each in the way they need to be loved.
    So what does this mean for us as we look at this issue? Ultimately, immigration is definitely a left hand kingdom issue. The government is in charge of setting the laws and enforcing them; that is not the job of the church. However, the church is called to take care of our neighbor and meet their needs. I think we need to have the courage to follow our vocation to take care of our neighbors and the needy wherever we find them and let the government officials follow their vocation to carry out the laws of this country.

  24. Dave Reynolds Avatar
    Dave Reynolds

    “Judgement” is an interesting word in your last paragraph. To observe that a person has crossed into your sovereign territory, then to properly discern that a law has been broken, and then to insist upon the proper application of civil law to that situation is not “passing judgement.”

    And that insistence is related to several civil offices: Citizen, peace officer, magistrate, judge, mayor, etc.

    And, that is why it is not “theologically obvious.”

    The more important question, to me, would be, “Why would God grant civil office in the temporal sphere and then expect the office holder not to wisely wield that authority?”

    Our discussion should be about whether this law is wise, or not. I believe–please note the word–it is wise. I believe the general population is frustrated with illegal immigration. I believe the federal government has not fulfilled its sovereign responsibilities, leaving individual states to enact a patchwork of inconsistent laws and protections (which ultimately serve nobody). This is not the belief which is part and parcel of Faith. However, I can’t say “know” because I am both too dull and too lazy to speak with any authority.

    Obviously, Dr Sanchez presents his concerns well. However, there is a broad, temporal, societal issue which must be addressed more with common sense. That was the point of my reference to Dr. Sowell’s article.


  25. Carl Deardoff Avatar
    Carl Deardoff

    I think the best part of this article is in the last paragraph when Leo says “I would love to see them take the Lord’s body and blood together at the same altar. That should be no problem: Disagreements on the law should not get in the way of our unity in Christ which the Gospel creates and sustains.” I love that it is Christ that unifies us, not our political stances or beliefs. I’m not trying to undermine Leo’s article and central theme of vocation and the signing of BS1070. I am just saying it is a breath of fresh air on the internet, to visit a website that discusses a controversial topic and seeing it handled with decency and respect in both the author’s and commentor’s words. This is a rarity. Don’t believe me? Watch a Christian music video on youtube and read the comment’s below it. I remember reading a comment that said, “Jesus rocks, you suck.” (That is a fairly mild statement). The real fireworks fly on the commenting sections of political news and opinion websites. People tend to ride their high horses while completely crushing their opponents with insults and derogatory statements. (Christians are equally guilty in this cyber-bullying as well).

    Getting back to my original point, we belong to a Synod with republicans, democrats, conservatives, moderates and liberals. I pray that disagreements on the law or political viewpoints don’t get in the way of our unity in Christ. Otherwise, our political laws are tools for the devil to break us apart. At the end of our political debates we should still be able to take the Lord’s Supper as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  26. Eloy González Avatar
    Eloy González

    Dear Dr. Sánchez,

    Thank you, brother, for the article and for the stimulating conversation that has evolved as a result of same.

    Life is interesting. Our relationship with our neighbors to the south has taken several interesting turns. During the great depression, Mexican Americans were kicked out of the United States. One presumes that the hard times here suddenly made these people less desirable.

    Then World War II ensued. With our men engaged in two military theaters of operation – suddenly the United States experienced a shortage of laborers. Through both diplomatic efforts and legislation a legal guest worker program, what was then called the Brazero Program, permitted workers from Mexico to legally come to work in the United States for agricultural and railroad jobs.

    I was raised along the U.S. – Mexico border (1950’s and early 1960’s). I remember my father, who had a taxicab business, make countless trips between the port of entry at the U.S. – Mexico border to the various agribusiness sites in South Texas. Workers moved between Mexico and the U.S. rather liberally. The relationship between the legal guest workers and the agribusinesses on the U.S. side was symbiotic. Both economies benefitted from the agreement and relationship.

    When the Brazero Program was eliminated (early 1960’s) I remember that my dad lost his business – not an isolated problem for the people who lived along the Frontera during those years. More than that, efforts to plug the porous borders that permitted free-flow of people and commerce for – literally decades (and in reality, centuries) began to materialize. From that point forward, the situation was continually exacerbated by the demand for economical labor on the U.S. side and the need for gainful employment for the relatively young population of Mexico where there was less opportunity for both skilled and unskilled laborers. The elimination of a legal mechanism to permit what was the defacto way of life is a significant contributor to the dilemma of illegal immigration that afflicts both countries.

    That’s history. I’m not advocating ‘illegal immigration’. Who would? The world has changed. There are people in the world who want to do serious harm to the people of the United States. There are drug cartels waging war on the people who live along the Frontera communities – mostly in Mexico, but it bleeds over to the U.S. So what to do?

    First – I think that we must recognize that God established government to maintain good order. The sword is given to government to both deter evil and to punish the evildoer. But how should we exercise that sword with justice – – in a way that truly cares for the neighbor?

    Second – Perhaps we are ready for another legalized guest worker program. We cannot deny that there is a huge demand for this. Just look at who cooks in restaurants, who cleans the rooms in the hotels, who harvests the crops that we eat.

    If we – as happened when there was a need during WWII and before – make for a legal way for those looking for gainful employment to enter the country, then the borders can more easily be protected. We know that if those who are properly coming into the country to work are coming through the “front door” – then those trying to come illegally across the border can be pursued relentlessly.

    Third – I think that we as a church – and as a country – need to recognize that we have sinned against the neighbor. We can point an accusing finger to the undocumented worker all day long. But, as we do so, we also need to recognize that we have, historically, tried to have our cake and eat it too. We demand cheap affordable food and a plentiful supply of construction workers, service workers and agricultural workers. We have used our neighbors to meet these needs. By inviting and disinviting workers from Mexico based purely on our own agenda without considering the affect of the ‘on again’ – ‘off again’ policy on real people – I believe that we share in the responsibility for creating this situation.

    Finally, we tend to look at the immigration dilemma as nameless, faceless masses who are less than people. We are wrong. In the 1980s when the “AIDS scare” was at its zenith – it was easy to accuse the gay person – that is until “AIDS had a face.” I’ve lost a friend to AIDS. This changes the dynamics radically.

    The same is also true for the undocumented alien. These are real people. The situations among them vary so much as to defy broad brush-strokes thinking. For example: I know of people who were brought over from Mexico many years ago as babies or very young children. They have grown up here; educated here; they have more affinity to this country than to Mexico. I know of couples made up of two undocumented parents who have had children here who are American citizens. Yet – under current law – parents can be, and have been deported – and separated from the American born children. Justice? I have a parishioner who was brought over as a small boy from a South American country. He went to school here – graduated here. Lived here. You could not distinguish him from most other young twenty-something men. But during a traffic stop, it was determined that he was undocumented, turned over to the immigration authorities and deported to a country he does not know. Justice? When we can put a face to the undocumented alien – the dynamics change radically.

  27. Bart Rall Avatar
    Bart Rall

    How do we as Christians find a common ground on this issue? As the governor has stated, she wants to protect the citizens of Arizona from the thieves, drug runners, etc. Yet this law will most certainly lead to more racial profiling. While we should want to help our neighbor, by protecting them, we are making it uncomfortable to others. I don’t know the specifics on the law, but it seems like this law isn’t really doing anything but enforcing a law already on the books. I know this will sound insensitive, but if racial profiling does happen then is it really that big of a deal? If you are not doing anything wrong, then do you really have anything to worry about? If this is helping curb violence in the community then isn’t it good?

    At the same time, how can we be good neighbors and share the Gospel with the people who are criminals? i.e. the drug runners, etc. Don’t they have as much a right to hear the Gospel, maybe even need to hear it more than the upstanding citizens?

  28. Eloy González Avatar
    Eloy González

    Dr. Sánchez,

    I must admit that when dealing with the issue of the undocumented alien in our midst, the “neighbor language” – that is, beginning our theological consideration of the issue by speaking to the question of ‘what neighbor am I serving’ – it leaves me a tad bit uneasy. Please allow me to explain.

    It seems to me that when one couches certain classes of issues in “neighbor language,” it needs to be issues where the scriptures are unclear or where the scriptures haven’t spoken to the matter. In such cases – the second table – i.e. “neighbor language” – provides solid guidance.

    But where the Scriptures speak clearly – we often don’t resort to the “neighbor language” to make the case. For example, when dealing with the issue of same-sex marriage, we don’t use “neighbor language”. We make the argument against same-sex marriage by relying on the scriptures that speak clearly to the Word that says: ‘male and female’ He created them. The same is true for the pro-life argument that militates against the practice of abortion. There are many other issues of this nature – including some very well established (doctrinal) practices in the Church that don’t rely on “neighbor language” to make the case.

    But as the argument is framed for the undocumented alien, “neighbor language” is used. The problem that I see with this is that “neighbor language” seems to be useful only for justifying a position, decision or action taken. This type of theological approach can be used equally by those who vehemently argue for arresting and deporting the undocumented worker, as well as by those who favor mercy and consideration for these people. In both cases, by using “neighbor language” to frame the argument, we receive no clarity from scripture apart from feeling good about what position that we hold. It isn’t sophistry – but certainly this makes it possible frame the theological argument in such a way as to come to diametrically opposite views.

    I favor mercy for the alien in our midst because I believe that the scriptures argue this case. This isn’t “neighbor language” as I’ve described above. In fact, I believe that “neighbor language” mitigates a compassionate response to the alien in our midst. I believe that if we can argue against laws that are not just in the case of abortion, same-sex marriage – to name two high profile issues – we can argue against laws that dehumanize people.

    The following words are quoted from the position paper jointly promulgated from both the LCMS President’s Office and the Executive Director of Human Care and World Relief:

    “Millions of undocumented persons have come to the United States for many and various reasons. They have come to flee oppression of many sorts, including extreme poverty and hunger. They have come in order to make provision for their loved ones. They have come in order to end separation from loved ones. They have come illegally because they have deemed that the legal route is nearly impossible to maneuver. They have come because they can work, and they find dignity in labor. We recognize also that a small percentage have come for malevolent reasons.

    Christians equally committed to God’s Word may reasonably arrive at different conclusions on specific aspects of these issues and their resolution. However, this much is certain: God, in His Word, consistently shows His loving concern for “the stranger in our midst” and directs His people to do the same. The Children of Israel were told, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).”

    I believe these words more clearly compel us to make a just, scripturally-based choice: Pursue relentlessly those who enter for malevolent reasons – but also make the case for mercy to the “stranger in our midst” who is here for more humane reasons.

    It makes me feel uneasy to take a stand against the position espoused by our government. But I do exactly this in the case of abortion and same-sex marriage laws because I believe that they are unjust and go contrary to “thus saith the Lord”. We are compelled to obey God rather than man.

    Can the case be made for mercy toward the undocumented alien in the same way? Are the laws just? If so – I believe that “neighbor language” allows an easy out for those wanting to simply say that in this case the laws of the land are just. Can the case for mercy be made on a “thus saith the Lord basis?”

    Thank you for considering these comments and this question.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks brother Eloy for your thoughtful responses to our dialogue on immigration, and in particular for putting a human face on this issue. It is indeed easy to debate a specific “issue” such as illegal immigration on purely economic, political, social, and of course legal grounds, without actually thinking of or advocating for a concrete “neighbor.” In my article, I argue that such a move is questionable and problematic because the law of God (second table) is intended to be for the benefit of some neighbor or sets of neighbors.

      It seems to me that every Christian, in the left-hand realm (and especially in a democracy), has some duty to see to it that the civil laws are just, fair, right, moral, and reasonable in how these laws deal with various sets of neighbors. I have argued that there will be a measure of debate in making such decisions because we come at the question with different vocations and thus vocational priorities. But hopefully the well-being of some neighbor will be foremost in our minds as we debate. So I agree with you that some human face, some neighbor’s face, must be put on the table when discussing illegal immigration. My article wants to say to people out there: Don’t talk to me about “the” civil law. Talk to me about some “neighbor” in light of the civil law.

      Part of my argument in the article implies that no decision we take on an issue concerning what the law should be goes without affecting some neighbor, and so we must be sensitive to and responsible for our opinions and passion when it comes to advocating for a particular person or group. There is a sense in which we cannot be completely fair to everyone or make every neighbor satisfied. And yet there is a sense in which we must try our best to do just that, i.e., attend to all neighbors justly, reasonably, and even charitably even if they do not get everything. Comprehensive immigration reform will have to reasonably draw the line somewhere, but it will seek to do so even as it attempts to attend to the well-being of various sets of neighbors who call for various forms of protection and care. Not easy.

      Therefore, I agree that “neighbor” language can be and has been used to leave some other “neighbor” aside. This is partly the case, as I said above, because we come at the neighbor through this or that vocation. And so I cannot attempt to fulfill the law “in abstracto” without some neighbor “in concreto.” At the same time, Luther would say that the law of God is also above this or that vocation. This gets to your concern against some ill-conceived exclusivist approach to vocation. Indeed, I cannot leave a suffering neighbor aside in the name of my God-given vocation to serve a specific neighbor. While I must argue for some concrete neighbor, I cannot used that to justify leaving another one to suffer.

      The governor of Arizona had to attend to those neighbors she has been called to protect first according to her God-given vocation, but my article suggests that in doing so boldly some other neighbors inevitably have fallen through the cracks. This state of affairs is both understandable as far as vocational priorities and focus go, and yet it is still unacceptable to many precisely because some neighbors have been left out. A less than perfect world. Vocation can be practiced in such a way that some are excluded, but the law of God calls us to serve every single neighbor–even our enemies. What a high call! It’s scary God demands so much of us! On the one hand, we must rejoice in our vocations and attend to those neighbors we have been called to serve primarily. On the other hand, we must have the needs of all our neighbors in mind when the opportunity to serve them comes up. We must be ready to do so, and so we cannot use vocation conveniently as an excuse not to do so.

      There is an argument to be made for serving the neediest and most vulnerable neighbors in our midst as we make decisions about which “neighbor” to serve first. And there is no doubt that immigrants are among the most vulnerable and poor neighbors in our midst. The argument for the priority of love towards the neediest has to be seriously considered. And yet I am sure that some will want to argue that other neighbors who are not poor immigrants are also vulnerable and among the neediest when it comes to certain protections that the law must seek to provide for them. In those cases, arguing from some particular vocation and advocating for some particular “neediest” neighbor or set of neighbors must also be done.

      My intention is not to make the neighbor into a convenient category for self-justification. My sincere hope is that we will be able to take concrete neighbors–not exclusively but especially the most needy–seriously in our discussions about the civil law.

  29. Eloy González Avatar
    Eloy González

    Dear Dr. Sánchez,

    Thank you for the response – very helpful. You helped me much by clarifying that neighbor language includes even “love for our enemies”! The bar is set mighty high. Thanks be to God for the Cross.


  30. Pete Avatar

    When considering immigration as a theological problem, it might be appropriate to refer to the Two Realms (Kingdoms)- spiritual and political. When dealing in the political realm, framing the question in the form of an ethical dilemma facilitates discussion and keeps us from blurring the line between Kingdoms. As I read through the Blog along with the original article, I think that is what you are doing, but am not sure.

    You seem to pose two questions. First, how should we treat our neighbor? Second, what role does our vocation plays when deciding how to treat our neighbor? Perhaps an ethical framework for the discussion might apply. For example, Practical Imperatives were developed from Kant’s Categorical Imperatives to counter Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism has been accused of justifying exploitation of people already disadvantaged. If a program increases the misery of the disadvantaged but promotes the total social good, then utilitarianism might have to support such a program. The matching Practical Imperative is: always act so as to treat rational nature (i.e., other human beings) as an end, never as a means only.

    Our Lutheran Confessions says, “While the Table of Duties must be proclaimed to all Christians, governments and states as such are accountable to God not through the church but through all who have standing under Rom. 13:1-7, and by way of natural reason and law.” (

    Since Governor Brewer signed Arizona’s immigration law into effect, her approval ratings soared implying that most Arizona constituents agree with the law and the Governor’s actions. Arizona demonstrated a basic principle of the US Constitution; that is States are free to self govern, free to create and enforce their own laws. Such freedoms are exactly what so many of our military fought and died to defend.

  31. Mike Dill Avatar
    Mike Dill

    Dear Professor –

    Nothing in the law says don’t love or give care to the illegal. It simply says that one who is here illegally is to be sent back to his or her country. You may note that during the confinement and transport process, they are fed and given a place to sleep and, generally, are treated with respect.

    It would be wonderful for all of those who are offended by this law, which is merely a law that allows AZ law-enforcement officials to enforce a long-standing Federal law, would find out where these people live in Mexico and provide assistance for them there. After all, Mexico IS our neighbor and we who are followers of Christ are told to provide care to the extent we are able.

    What is so strange is that Hispanic people who are citizens of this state are every bit as excellent as those of other racial origins – many of whom have lost track of all their mixed ancestry – and one would think that they would be in the forefront of the effort to encourage those here illegally to leave. If I were Irish and closely affiliated with the Irish-American citizens, I would want to find those Irish who were here illegally and get them to leave – because their presence would be casting a very dark shadow on the “name” of Irish-Americans.

    But, in this era that celebrates our “rights” rather than duties and self-sacrifice and that encourages the lost to discover that they are victims and to identify and rail against those who are persecuting them, this hubub will not likely end.

    So for those of us who follow Christ, it is a time to hold up His light and realize that God is well aware of what is happening. And light does seem to shine more brightly as the darkness gathers.

    Blessings to you in Christ,


  32. Paul Raabe Avatar
    Paul Raabe

    A great discussion. Some more thoughts.

    Say you are a Lutheran pastor in Arizona of a Lutheran church with a Lutheran school. What ought to be the official policy of church and school?

    I would like to hear from lawyers and law enforcement officers as to what exactly is legal or illegal for a church and church-school, according to current Arizona law.

    My hunch is something like this.

    1) You may preach the gospel and educate all immigrants and their children.
    2) You may incorporate them into the life of your church and school.
    3) You may not shelter them from the law enforcement authorities.
    4) You may not give them employment at the church or school. (Is this true?)
    5) You may help them gain legal citizenship.
    6) You may give them food, clothing, and shelter.
    7) The church/church-school is not required to investigate the legal status of immigrants or to report illegal immigrants to the state authorities. The church is not expected to carry out the government’s job.
    8) You may make good Lutherans of all immigrants, and part of being a good Lutheran is for them to obey the laws of the land as well.
    9) You may assist Lutheran churches south of the border to reach out and care for the people in their area so that their men can find paid work to support their families.

    In short, my hunch is that there is a whole lot that LCMS churches and schools could legally do in this situation.

    A couple more thoughts.

    When the Apostle Paul says in Romans 13 to obey the government, not all of the Roman laws at the time were so great. Paul is not saying to obey only the civilly righteous laws of the land.

    As citizens in the U.S. Lutherans are free to work for improving the laws of the land.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks for these comments, Paul. You will be happy to know that the latest CTCR document “Immigrants Among Us” does have a list of guidelines that follow quite a bit of your hunches. I think you will find those helpful. The CTCR document, approved Nov. 2012, is now available online. Peace. Leo

  33. Josefa Avatar

    My great grandmother was a native of Mexico and all of her
    children were born in Arizona. As a descendent, I have no fear of
    Arizona’s new law. I am proud to prove I am a citizen. The criminal
    aliens are the ones I fear. I gratefully submit to the
    democratically enacted laws of our duly elected representatives in
    Arizona. God bless the governor. You, sir, should consider
    admonishing the Mexican government to show as much respect for her
    citizens as Arizona does for hers. Have some compassion for the
    victims of the criminal aliens who have been raped, murdered and
    robbed. We all welcome legal immigrants, not criminal aliens. Stop
    slandering the governor. Shame on you. Plenty of honest legal
    immigrants are the ones who are also victimized by criminal aliens.
    How about some compassion on them? As an LCMS member, I am
    embarrassed by your dishonesty in discussing this issue.

  34. Lee Avatar

    I know this comment comes long are you post, but I just now ran across it and I wish to bring up a couple of points.

    I worked in law enforcement for DPS, on the border, for seven years before going to seminary. I also am a third generation Arizonan and grew up in Yuma. The anarchy of our southern border is indeed a severe threat to those on both sides. My problem is with SB1070, however, is three fold:

    1. I can tell you by absolute experience that law enforcement does not have the manpower to enforce these laws as written. With DPS, when I would run across an undocumented immigrant, Border Patrol was often an hour away or more. If local law enforcement now has to arrest and detail every undocumented immigrant, then be prepared to fund many more law enforcement officers.

    2. The law and order argument that is often use: “If you entered this county illegally then you have committed a crime and thus you are a criminal,” is hypocritical. The Federal government has looked the other way for years as corporate farms enticed desperate people to enter the country illegally and employ them illegally. It is not by accident that we have some of the cheapest food prices in the world.

    Now, after 9-11 and after a crashed economy, we are suddenly worried about law and order and about protecting American jobs. Are we going after those who enticed a desperate population of the poorest among us to enter this county illegally as vigilantly? Are we throwing the “criminal” label at them just as arbitrarily? Go look at the fields in Yuma, go look at our jail population, and the answer is obvious.

    And our jails are not disproportionately populated by Hispanics because Hispanics commit more crimes but because they are punished more punitively. I saw it over and over again with my own cases: Kid from rich farming family gets third DUI – charge reduced to a 1st time DUI; poor Hispanic or Native American kid with the same charge – 2 years with the DOC.

    Plus, everyone who speeds is technically a criminal; in fact, you have a better chance being killed by a speeder than you do any undocumented immigrant; yet, somehow, this law is not enforced seriously. The fact that all of the speed cameras were taken out of Phoenix even those traffic accident were significantly reduced is a pretty good indication that we are all pretty fickle about violations of certain laws qualifying someone as a criminal and others as not, and that fickle criteria is not based on public safety.

    3. The violent criminal element that is violating the border is using undocumented immigrants as camouflage for their illegal activity. The most logical step is not to spend manpower locking up otherwise peaceful people, but to take away the camouflage, to allow otherwise peaceful undocumented people to openly be part of society in an orderly and fair manner so that law enforcement can truly tell the good guys from the bad guys.

    Anyway, my 2 cents. God’s peace.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks Lee for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your struggle with the complexity of the issue. You want to speak to the need for border enforcement while showing an appreciation for meeting labor demands in the U.S. Peace. Leo Sanchez

  35. Keeping Synod Task Force on Hispanic Ministry Honest | Center for Hispanic Studies Avatar

    […] a copy of the BRTFHM report (in English), click here. For an interesting discussion on immigration, click here. This entry was posted in Blog by bauerm. Bookmark the […]

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      It is now official! This recommendation of the BRTFHM has come to fruition. The CTCR has published the report “Immigrants Among Us” in English and Spanish, which as the subtitle puts it, presents a Lutheran Framework for Discussing Immigration Issues. Congratulations to the CTCR!

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