On Immigrants and Man’s Law

A number of churches and faith communities across the country are following the footsteps of the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, wherein they provide asylum and safe haven for undocumented immigrants and refugees. A network in Los Angeles is trying to imitate the Underground Railroad, and similar movements are picking up steam in Chicago and near Boston. Reasonable people can disagree over whether deportation of undocumented immigrants is a social justice issue, and whether or not the church has an obligation to treat the immigrants as refugees in need of sanctuary, or criminals in need of justice.

However, Mississippi  Governor Phil Bryant’s (R) response to this is astoundingly evil. In response to a reporter’s question about whether churches in Mississippi should offer sanctuary, Bryant said, “I don’t believe so. I think if you are a faith leader or anyone else you have to look also at the nation’s law. There’s God’s law and then there’s man’s law, and man’s law says that you have to go by certain rules and standards to become a citizen of the United States or you come here illegally – illegally means it’s against the law…And I hope people of faith will understand that part of the responsibility of your faithfulness is to also understand what man’s law is.”

His comments have been rightly understood as telling churches and faith communities that they need to defer to man’s law versus what they believe are God’s moral requirements upon them. It is one thing to suggest that these churches do not understand God’s law, it is another to tell them to break God’s law in order to follow man’s law. The effect of comments like Bryant’s is at best unpersuasive, and more likely will convince Christians that immigration is a social justice issue, with God on the side of the immigrants and the government on the side of oppression. And it is hard to see how Bryant, with his emphasis on man’s law, would be able to dismiss those criticisms. Christians believe along with the Apostle Peter that we must “obey God rather than man”; if we must choose between following God’s law or man’s law, the choice is clear.