If you want to disrupt a beautifully harmonious dinner party, all you have to do is bring up the radioactive issue of immigration. There might not be a more heated political topic in contemporary American life.

And yet pastors, by virtue of the changing diversity of their congregations and their role as community leaders, can’t afford to avoid the subject if we are to be faithful ministers of the gospel. Not only are we inundated with opinions from our parishioners, we’re forced to wrestle with real-world implications of immigration policy, whether our churches are located in Arizona or Alaska.

A sampling of political opinion, on all sides of the issue, reflects a failure on the part of many evangelicals to articulate a gospel-centered approach both to immigration policy and to immigrants themselves. A recent survey from the Pew Forum on Faith and Public Life suggests that just 12 percent of white evangelicals see this issue primarily through the lens of their faith. We think this presents a golden opportunity for pastors to reframe the debate from a missiological standpoint.

Pastors’ wariness to discuss the issue may stem from the politically charged nature of the national dialogue on immigration, or from the fear that by addressing the issue they will inevitably offend some in their congregation, putting attendance, tithes, and offerings at risk. We suspect that others avoid the issue, though, because—in a U.S. context where nearly a third of immigrants are present unlawfully—they see a paradox between the repeated biblical commands to welcome and love immigrants and the equally biblical commands to be subject to the governing authorities. Unsure of how to reconcile these seemingly conflicting commands, some pastors just avoid the issue altogether.

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