According to a story in the New York Times, church leaders in Alabama stand poised to break state law – intentionally. In June the state of Alabama passed an immigration enforcement law which the Times reports as being called “the toughest in the country by critics and supporters alike,” noting that “the opposition has been vocal and unceasing.”

On August 1, according to the Times,

An Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and a Roman Catholic archbishop, all based in Alabama, sued on the basis that the new statute violated their right to free exercise of religion, arguing that it would “make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans.”

Many church leaders are arguing that “the law essentially criminalizes basic parts of Christian ministry,” since it “makes it a crime to transport, harbor or rent property to people who are known to be in the country illegally,” thus making it illegal for churches to give illegal immigrants rides, issue invitations to worship services, or perform marriages and baptisms for them.

While laws such as this have popular support, it raises the question as to whether it is right for leaders in the Church to oppose the law of the land. After all, the Apostle Paul admonished his readers in the epistle to the Romans to obey governing authorities:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13:1-6 NRSV)

Christians seeking to do the right thing, however, may find a tension between this and God’s repeated admonitions to treat the alien among His people with fairness and equality.

“there shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.” (Exodus 12:49)

“The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so  you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

“You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance.” Numbers 15:16

Politics aside, is it possible that church leaders who are vocally opposing Alabama’s law are seeking to follow the will of God before the will of Man? Perhaps they are remembering Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)

In the Church of the Nazarene, the issue of immigration has been under discussion for some time. The 2009 General Assembly resolved that that the Church of the Nazarene was on record as affirming that our denomination should

• Provide pastoral care and crisis intervention to immigrants and to build bridges with the immigrant community, regardless of their legal status.

• Provide technical and financial assistance to local churches in compassionate ministry with undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers.

• Become more informed and active citizens, using our voices and votes to speak for the voiceless, to defend the poor and the vulnerable, and to advance the common good.

• Encourage our leaders to show their support for congregations composed of or working with immigrants who may or may not have documents.

What do you think the Church’s response should be towards illegal immigrants?