Commentary: Preaching on immigration (even if you don’t feel qualified)


As a pastor, you don’t have to know everything about the immigration issue, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid preaching on the topic.

Immigration is a political hot potato. There are not many issues surrounded by such intense debate. But no matter how much of a hot a topic it is politically, the bigger question for the follower of Jesus is: “What does God’s word say about immigration?”

Sadly, most people in the pews develop their views of immigration within the echo chamber of their favorite news tribe. But 76% of evangelicals say they would value hearing a sermon that teaches biblical principles and examples that can be applied to immigration in the U.S.

Christians are to have a Biblical view on any issue and to seek to live by what God’s Word teaches. Pastors have that high calling of delivering God’s Word to His people. We are to preach and teach followers of Christ what to believe and how to live. Yes, immigration is a controversial topic. But people in the pews are desperately longing for their pastors to address hot potato topics, biblically.

As a pastor, you don’t have to know everything there is to know about immigration, policies, and current issues. So, if you know you should preach on immigration but don’t feel qualified and don’t know where to start, here are a few things to keep in mind and communicate to your congregation.

Immigration 101

There are many layers to consider when thinking about immigration:

  1. Immigration laws are different in every nation.

  2. There is illegal and legal immigration.

  3. Legal immigration involves refugees and those seeking asylum who have been legally vetted and allowed to enter our nation legally.

  4. Temporary status and long-term status allow certain qualified immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

The biggest controversy lies with illegal immigration. It’s estimated there are more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the USA today. And their numbers continue to grow dramatically through our porous southern border. Almost half (48%) are from Mexico and many more are from other Central American nations. There are major concerns about undocumented illegal immigrants. Some of these include:

  1. National security – The southern border is an easy entry point for those who want to do harm to our citizens.

  2. Employment concerns – Although there is the perception they will take jobs Americans need to have, in reality, they’re often willing laborers in jobs most Americans don’t want.

  3. Taxing the system – It puts a drain on taxpayers for services when illegal immigrants have access to health care and other social services.

  4. The rule of law – Open borders are not the criteria for being a nation. A nation without clear, protected borders is not a nation—just open real estate.

Because our nation’s leaders have been unwilling to address immigration reform, we have a broken system that desperately needs fixing. As Richard Land writes, “We have sent at best a mixed message to undocumented workers for more than two decades. At the border, we have had two signs posted: ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Help Wanted.’” Most illegal immigrants looking for a better life have been willing to take the risk for the latter. In America, this leads to two competing views: deportation versus amnesty. One is impossible. One rewards illegal immigrants for breaking the law. Thus, the practical dilemma.

The church’s role

Yet, as believers in the U.S., we need to understand the government and church hold different roles in immigration. It is the government’s role to establish and uphold the laws. It is the church’s role to love our neighbor. That’s anyone—especially anyone in need (Luke 10:25-37). And we know the issue of immigration is important to God because we read about God’s heart for immigrants in Scripture. Here are passages to consider sharing with your congregation to help them understand God’s heart for immigrants and what that means for them today.

What does the Old Testament say about immigration? 

When the Old Testament speaks of care for the alien or stranger, that language could be translated as immigrant, foreigner, or refugee today. There are five key passages in the Old Testament that address this moral imperative.

  • Exodus 22:21-23 
  • Leviticus 19:9-10 
  • Leviticus 19:33-34 
  • Deuteronomy 24:14-15 
  • Deuteronomy 24:19-21 
We’ll look specifically at Deuteronomy 24:19-21 (CSB):

“When you reap the harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it. It is to be left for the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you knock down the fruit from your olive tree, do not go over the branches again. What remains will be for the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left. What remains will be for the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow.”

This is the topic of gleaning. Time and again in His Word, God teaches the concept of gleaning. Leave the harvest on the edges of the fields for people in need. It shows God’s heart for the poor, the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan. So often, foreigners (immigrants) are listed along with widows and orphans. God wants Israel to never forget that they were once immigrants in Egypt in a time of famine and eventually were enslaved there. God promises to bless them when they remember what it was like to be an immigrant.

What does the New Testament say about immigration? 

We learn about the role of government in Romans 13:1-7. The government has the following key roles:

  • Encourage good behavior of the citizens

  • Protect citizens from within and without (law enforcement and military)

  • Uphold justice

  • Punish evil

In the New Testament, Jesus’s own family serves as an example of immigrants: “After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-14, CSB)

This passage is the preeminent passage on immigration in Scripture. Jesus and His earthly family are the most famous immigrants in all of history. Because of an evil ruler (Herod) seeking to murder all baby boys under two years old in Bethlehem, they had to flee. Through the visit of the wise men, Herod felt there may be a young boy born there that would become a threat to his throne. Joseph and Mary with baby Jesus had to flee to Egypt in the middle of the night.

They were like so many refugees in today’s world, fleeing an evil ruler or evil powers. Jesus learned from Joseph and Mary what it was like to be a refugee—an immigrant. He understands. In His famous parable of the good Samaritan, it was the immigrant (the Samaritan) who showed love for the injured man. And Jesus calls believers to love our neighbor like that. 

The church’s calling

Because of the broken immigration system in America that our Congress has been unwilling or incapable of addressing, immigration will continue to be a political hot potato in America. Yet for the Christian, we are to pray for our government leaders to do what is right in this issue. God calls us to love and care for the immigrant like we would love and care for Jesus.

After all, Jesus teaches in His parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46 that how we treat strangers (immigrants) and others in need is how we treat Jesus. Let us pray for our government leaders when it comes to immigration—its laws, guidelines, and enforcement. And let us treat Jesus well when it comes to how we care for immigrants and refugees.



Bryant Wright is the president of Send Relief. He served in Southern Baptist life as both a pastor and SBC president before joining Send Relief in 2020.