The Illegal Immigration Crisis and Christian Mission

Alex Kocman

Policing the Borders of Our Missiology

Christians, as servants of the God of the nations, cannot be indifferent to the affairs of nations. In 2023, the United States Customs and Border Protection reported over 3.2 million encounters with illegal aliens. As reported by The Blaze, out of these encounters, a mere 4½ percent were deported, and among those, half had criminal histories, averaging 3.8 convictions per individual, including charges of homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault, assault, robbery, burglaries, and weapon offenses. And according to the Immigration Accountability Project, “Almost eight million illegal aliens have been encountered at the border” since President Biden took office.

The border issue has been increasingly hard to ignore throughout the last decade—and especially as of late, due to the heinous murder of 22-year-old Laken Riley, a nursing student at Augusta University in Georgia. Riley was killed by a 26-year-old illegal migrant from Venezuela who entered the country in 2022 and had already been arrested in New York for “acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17.” To this, President Biden responded boldly by apologizing for using the word “illegal” in reference to the savage killer during the recent State of the Union address. Horrifically, on April 16, 2024, it was reported and confirmed that Riley’s illegal alien murderer was released back into the United States due to a lack of “holding space.”

But the U.S.-Mexico border is not the only line that has been blurred in the minds of many. For years, evangelicals have suffered our own crisis of category confusion regarding immigration and the status of the nations before God.

Consider, for instance, Russell Moore, the former president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who posited in a 2011 column: “[Immigration] is a gospel issue. . . . our Lord Jesus himself was a so-called ‘illegal immigrant.’” Moore’s rhetoric in the article follows a classic motte-and-bailey pattern, with Moore later conceding that undocumented immigration is, in fact, illegal, and contending instead that his argument is simply that migrants are made in the imago Dei—a fact in dispute by no serious Christian.

He concludes by conflating the responsibilities of church and state, or the civic and spiritual realms, with a peculiar invocation of Revelation 22:17 from the King James Version: “Our message to [immigrants], in every tongue and to each individual, should be ‘Whosoever will may come.’” With regard to the gospel and evangelism, this is, of course, gloriously true—but it falls far short of a sustainable (much less biblical) public policy stance.

Settings aside the dubious claim that Jesus violated the civil law of his day as a temporary asylum-seeker in Egypt, and refraining from delineating what constitutes a “gospel issue” these days—though it seems that everything from Taylor Swift and plastic straws to Oxford commas all qualifies as of late—what remains is precisely what we have come to anticipate from a particular faction of progressive-adjacent evangelical leaders. Such left-leaning evangelicals, on the issue of immigration, immanentize the eschaton by conflating spiritual ideals with earthly politics, using Scripture’s promises concerning the eternal state of the Kingdom of God to subvert (in a manner that is often counter-biblical) the right exercise of prudence in the civil sphere today.

The argument in syllogistic form goes something like this:

Premise 1: The Bible depicts all nations around heaven’s throne (Revelation 5:9).
Premise 2: [???]
Conclusion: Ergo, open borders.

But sound hermeneutics do not allow us to reason so simplistically. Isaiah foretells a time when the wolf and the lamb will coexist peacefully (Isaiah 11:6), yet we would rightly hesitate before proposing legislation to integrate federal wolf sanctuaries with cattle pastures based on this prophecy. Similarly, Isaiah speaks of triple-digit life spans under Messiah’s reign (Isaiah 65:20), but we should treat with suspicion any resultant legislative attempt to increase the elementary school age cap to 65.

It appears that the categories we think in as evangelicals are as porous as our border. Because of this, many evangelicals fail to rightly distinguish between their missiology and their political theology.

Yet distinguish we must.

Intrinsic and Relative Goods

First, we must discern between intrinsic and relative goods. Intrinsic goods possess inherent value—such as the time I spend with my wife and children. In contrast, relative goods depend on context, as in the case of a friend of mine who recently averted a direct collision by steering into a utility pole—a preferable outcome, given the circumstances.

A second distinction lies between civic and spiritual goods. Spiritually, it is indeed a blessing that many newcomers to the United States encounter the gospel for the first time, especially those from regions less accessible to missionaries. But this does not automatically translate into a civic benefit, or a good for the body politic. Biblically, an unruly influx of migrants often signals divine judgment:

“The sojourner who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him. He shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.” (Deuteronomy 28:43-45 ESV)

This principle is not exclusive to Israel; similar divine sanctions apply to all nations (cf. Leviticus 18:26-28). Neither did the New Testament abrogate or reframe this principle; it is neither healthy nor sustainable for any cohesive society to be completely overwhelmed by foreign influence.

But having made such category distinctions, how are we to understand the present movement?

A Bit of Reductio

Consider Rome’s fall to the Visigoths in the early fifth century. Though the Roman Empire had been Christianized, its Christianization had evidently occurred too late or too incompletely to stay the hand of divine judgment. Yet even though the Germanic invading forces devastated Roman stability as they poured over the walls, not all these Germanic peoples were pagans; a good deal of them were already Christian by this time. In the wake of Rome’s fall, the subsequent integration of Roman and Germanic cultures eventually fostered the medieval era’s momentous spiritual and cultural advancements.

In other words, this historical episode resulted in good—not an intrinsic good for the Roman order, but a relative, long-run spiritual good for the world. For Rome, it represented unadulterated divine judgment—the sort with which Augustine would famously wrestle in his City of God.

The action we must not take today, under different yet somewhat analogous circumstances, can be illustrated via reductio ad absurdum. Imagine the consequences had the elites of Rome, standing atop the city walls, received the Visigoths with open arms, celebrating their missionary zeal. Needless to say, that sort of outreach would have been short-lived. Rather, the only fitting response would have been widescale imperial repentance of such a degree as to avert, if it were possible, the hand of justice.

So too, in our present moment, we can acknowledge the wisdom of God in providentially weaving eucatastrophe together with threads of temporal judgment and national crisis. We can praise the Lord for the way in which unreached people groups may now have access to the gospel in the U.S. that they might have otherwise lacked.  We can exult in the sovereignty of God in the rise and fall of nations and, ultimately, the evangelistic faithfulness of the Church animated by the Spirit of God. But we can do all this without celebrating or furthering our own nation’s demise.

With respect to our civil order, our duty is to stand for righteousness in the public sphere, not to wish for more judgment (irrespective of how God may intend such judgments for good, à la Genesis 50:20). To be clear, I don’t believe we need to wait for an outpouring of the Spirit in order to secure our borders or protect American citizens from illegal immigrants. But national repentance is our last remaining hope to avoid divine judgement. And this repentance must not stop short with the sort of virtue-signaling that merely condemns sins of racism or the oppression of the disadvantaged. Our repentance must also be of the kind willing to tear down other, more fashionable golden calves, from our idolatrous reliance upon cheap labor to our infatuation with the superficial multicultural aesthetic—itself a counterfeit of Scripture’s global vision in which all the nations streams to Zion to inquire of the Lord (Isaiah 2:2-3)

This segues to a final point concerning Christian mission.

Coda: Missiology

Christian duty entails genuine love for our neighbor, which necessitates loving concern both for our neighbor’s soul and his safety. If we love our neighbor’s safety but not his soul, then we will invariably neglect our evangelistic duty. Likewise, if we, in the long run, simply seek to evangelize while leaving matters of national safety to “experts” in the state, soon we will find no safe harbor here at all—which means, among other things, no sending base from which to do cross-cultural missions.

However, if the church within the U.S. becomes too burdened by internal turmoil to give due thought to its missionary task, then perhaps Moore’s assertion has merit; maybe immigration is a “gospel issue” after all. As for the Oxford comma, that is a discussion for another time.

  • Alex Kocman

    Alex Kocman is the Director of Communications and Engagement for ABWE and serves as an elder and as worship director at Faith Bible Fellowship Church of York, Pa. He serves as general editor for Message Magazine and co-hosts The Missions Podcast. After earning his M.A. in Communication and B.S. in Biblical Studies, he served as an online apologetics instructor with Liberty University and a youth pastor in Pennsylvania, where he now resides with his wife and three children. You can follow him on X at @ajkocman or by visiting