Secure Borders in a Christian Contest

Image taken from here.

Jesus commanded us to “love one another.” A lot of Christians today talk about having “secure borders” in response to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Loving one another and having secure borders are not necessarily opposites—but they can be.

Most Christian schools of theology affirm that people have the right to private property. Along with this right comes the notion of having secure borders—whether those are the walls of your private home or the borders of the nation.

However, we can fall into the trap of assuming that the command to love one another and having secure borders are somehow opposites held in tension. It’s like we instinctively know that anything that forcefully separates us from our neighbors with locks and armed guards is antithetical to the command to love. But that’s only because we don’t properly understand “secure borders” in light of the Gospel. They don’t have to be opposites when done properly.

Most Christian theology affirms that the right to private property comes with strings attached. It’s not open-ended. You have the right to private property so that you can use it for the common good. For example, you can buy a piece of land so you can chop down the trees to make lumber to build a shelter for refugees. Without the right to make decisions about that property, you may not have the agency to fully live out your Christian vocation to “welcome the stranger” (Matthew 25:31-46), for example.

God may respect your freedom to do nothing with that land and lumber while refugees suffer outside in the cold. However, that may be a sin. You certainly have the freedom to sin, but that doesn’t make it right.

[I highly recommend Pope John Paul II’s Laborum Exercens for a riveting and detailed look at the dignity of work.]

Americans like to celebrate the notion of freedom. However, Christian freedom is not simply the absence of oppression and restraints. It is the freedom for living out our Christian vocation. In other words, it’s not just freedom from a problem, it’s the freedom for doing something good. It is in this way that all rights bestowed on us by by Creator are dovetailed with responsibilities. God wants us to have the right to freedom so that we can exercise our responsibility to live out God’s commands.

We can have “secure borders” so that we can love one another, offer mercy to refugees and make peace in the world. If the borders do not accomplish that, then they are not of God.

Therefore, all this talk of “secure borders” must be in service to the Greatest Commandment to love one another which Jesus directly tells us should be our chief concern. We can have secure borders not to keep out and abuse vulnerable people but rather to protect people who need to enter for safety. In other words, the purpose of the border is to create a space to allocate resources to help them, not to exclude them. In extreme circumstances the border may be necessary not to exclude refugees but to keep out the ones persecuting them.

Because of the commandment to love, it is our duty to make room for those who are seeking refuge from a long season of running for their lives. Since love if our chief responsibility, the only times we should be talking about exclusions are in very dire, desperate situations. Those may include times when there is simply no room or resources left and when the threat to everyone else is extreme. Obviously we are nowhere near the position to make that claim in the United States:

  •     We are the richest nation in the history of human civilization.
  •     We have plenty of open, available land.
  •     We have several decades of experience with undocumented immigrants living in our nation with virtually no national security risk to speak of. Despite the hype, they commit far less violent crime than even native-born citizens.

As you can see from the above list, it is hard (if not downright impossible) for a Christian to justify exclusion at this point in history based on Gospel values.

Besides, a “secure border” does not mean we keep everyone out. It means we reform our immigration system so that people can smoothly come in and out as they need without interference from the government. Part of the reason our border now is insecure is because our current immigration system is too rigid and hostile and fails to respond to current economic and human needs.

But what happens if our secure borders interfere with our ability to love one another and care for the common good? If loving one another and having secure borders ever become opposites, then the Christian responsibility to follow Jesus’s Greatest Commandment must come first, as it has a significantly greater standing than the right to have borders. Yes, the Christian tradition affirms the right secure borders, but that right is never absolute and is always secondary to the dignity of the human person, the common good and our exercise of Jesus’s Greatest Commandment to love one another.

So what do we do?

Let them in! Offer a warm welcome. And help them get starting building and rebuilding their lives here in the U.S.

Visit Frank Lesko’s website here.

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