When I first began to consider comprehensive immigration reform and what my perspective and resulting action as a follower of Jesus Christ should be, I discovered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. I was most interested in the concept of just and unjust laws which Dr. King addressed in this letter. I recognized then, and now even more so, the obvious and clear application and parallels of his letter and response compared to our current immigration system and situation in the United States.
This morning, I tuned into a radio discussion regarding the Manhattan Declaration, a statement signed by some 150 Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Leaders, which addresses the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. As stated in the official press release found on the Manhattan Declaration website, “The 4,700-word declaration issues a clarion call to Christians to adhere to their convictions and informs civil authorities that the signers will not – under any circumstance- abandon their Christian consciences.”
The declaration boldly communicates that it is to, “affirm (Christians’) right – and, more importantly, to embrace (Christians’) obligation – to speak and act in defense of these truths.” I was intrigued by this public, bold, and without a doubt, political display. At first opportunity, I read the statement in its entirety.
Reading the declaration fully, I was surprised to find such clearly communicated support for civil disobedience in the case of unjust laws that do not serve the common good and degrade human beings. It was confirmed that Christianity, through its Scriptures and history, “has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required.” The example of Martin Luther King, Jr. was then highlighted with direct references to his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The authors of the declaration state that Dr. King’s letter is the most “eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience.” The summary is then made that “King’s willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.”
The Manhattan Declaration clearly communicates that its signors are prepared to actively resist instances of legal injustice. Put simply, faced with the choice to either comply with the governing authorities and obey their laws or defy the authorities and break their laws secondary to its conflict with their Christian conscience, they will choose the later. One must therefore conclude, just because something is legal, does not mean it’s just. Conversely, just because something is illegal, does not mean it is unjust. How and when do we make this determination and distinction?
Through agreement with and reference to Augustine, Aquinas, and King, the authors of the declaration write that “just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself.” God has placed his moral law in our hearts and has communicated his own heart through his Word. Any law established by the governing authorities must not be thoughtlessly accepted and obeyed with a naïve sense of trust. Rather, we must filter and test the edicts of our governing authorities through our Christian conscience and the instruction of the Scriptures. Laws that fail these two tests can clearly be distinguished as a legal injustice.
I would argue that the current U.S. immigration system and its laws is such an example. Rather than comply with this legal injustice under the complacent disguise of righteousness and lawfulness, we must follow the example of the Manhattan Declaration and “pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.” We must respond to our Christian conscience and fully implement the instruction of God’s Word by working tirelessly to establish reasonable and just laws for the immigrant in the U.S. – thus, preserving order while serving justice and the common good.