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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The question of undocumented immigrants

From a Lutheran faith perspective, answers differ

Undocumented immigrants. Illegal aliens. Unauthorized residents. The sometimes politically charged monikers are often the only public names given to the estimated 12 million people living in the U.S. against federal immigration laws. In the shadows, yet equal to about 4 percent of our population, they’re the focus of a considerable amount of energy—both positive and negative—in border states and the interior, in presidential debates and town meetings, in think tanks and living rooms, on airwaves and city streets.

To USAAnd in Lutheran churches? The position of the ELCA, related organizations like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and many ELCA members is one of advocacy for undocumented immigrants. But opinions on the issue do vary (somewhat as a reflection of the rest of the country) among ELCA members—from clergy to elected public officials to lay people to academics.

Ultimately, many people want the same goal: to fix a broken federal immigration system while respecting humanity.

The ELCA Message on Immigration states: “Newcomers without legal documents … are among the most vulnerable. Congregations are called to welcome all people, regardless of their legal status.” This resource for congregational deliberation—rather than moral imperative—derives its tenets from the Bible, such as Romans 15:7: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Latham
, R-Iowa, a member of Nazareth Lutheran Church, Coulter, Iowa, said: “I have great empathy for people trying to better their lives and take care of their families. But as someone sworn to uphold the Constitution, we can’t ignore the fact that people are breaking national laws by coming into the country without documents.”

Such a dichotomy has been part of Lutheran thinking for centuries. “The notion of caring for people without any discrimination as to their origins, that’s part of the Christian tradition,” said Jean Bethke Elshtain, an ELCA member who is professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago and Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.


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