In the World, But Not of the World

Exodus 22:21: You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 23:9: You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.


If we are not to be "of the world", how do we live "in the world"? This is a question I'm sure many of us have wrestled with time and time again, if we have seriously thought about how to live out our faith in the world.  

Alabama's new immigration law is called by proponents and opponents as the toughest in the country; and after looking at the law myself, undoubtedly it is. It calls for employers to verify the immigration status of potential employees, schools to check on the immigration status of children enrolling, allows law enforcement agencies to inquire about the immigration status of individuals without warrant (only suspicion), and makes it illegal for citizens to give car-rides to illegal immigrants.

Before I go any further, let me say this: as Christians we are called to rise above the typical political and vitriolic debate and prayerfully seek to find our place as faithful individuals living in the United States. Many who support this law are well-meaning, faithful individuals who are seeking to find the state's best interest at heart: they are small business owners who are worried about employment in this fragile economy, school administrators who are trying to keep costs down, and others.

After looking at this law, keeping it in my prayers and discussing it with others, I must confess that this law does not maintain our values as a Christian community, much less as United Methodists. 

After the passage of this law, we are presented with this strange irony: many in America want to forcefully draw attention to many well-meaning individuals seeking oppression from drug-related violence, and lack of work--yet we in America, in our origins, are immigrants seeking refuge from oppression as well. Their story is our story.

We are presented with the question: are we called to be Americans first, or Christians first? Are we called to claim our heritage as our coincidental place of birth, or our Christian heritage that transcends political and continental borders?

Our Judeo-Christian experience reminds us that we know what it is like to be immigrants: foreigners in another land looking for freedom from oppression in Egypt, and faithful people which are in this world, but not of this world.

Can we really vilify other persons who are products of their own coincidental place of birth who are victims of little work, little resources to care for their own families, and constant violence? If we profess Christ, we share in that heritage--this is our story as well, because we are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

I, for one, will break this law as it stands, and urge others to do the same. I will continue to greet, share with, and (yes) even give rides to those who I know are in this country illegally whom I interact with. Why? We are called to remember the Good Samaritan, who was an immigrant to society but still helped his neighbor in need. Christ calls us to place truth with power, even if that means looking to those in power, like those who tried to break Christ's will with the use of the law, and with the witness of Christ, telling them we will not be a part. I will also love my sisters and brothers who accept and agree with this law, as I know they are faithful members in our Christian family, as we seek to find our place in this world as Christians.  

My Christian conviction forces me to speak out against any law which welcomes the potential persecution of another human being.

Myself and other clergy will be signing a letter voicing our opposition to this new law.  In the coming months, we will also call for open dialogue concerning this law, our faith, and it's implications. For information on these opportunities, please check the conference website soon. For clergy to add their signature to the letter, please email Rev. RG Lyons at with your name and church affiliation.  


- Matt

Rev. Matt Lacey, Director of Mission and Advocacy, North Alabama Conference


By: Matt Lacey On 6/12/2011
Topics: Missions and Advocacy


1. Sally Fulton wrote on 6/12/2011 4:20:15 PM
I cringe every time we do more and more to exclude others. It seems that every act must be extreme - and so often the BIBLE is used to degrade others. I have no answers but feel sad at our direction. Today in Sunday School, the person teaching listed NAMES of people who profess to be Christians but don't act like it - according to this teacher's views. Yes, they had made mistakes, but are we now declaring ANYONE unforgivable???How desperate have we become to make ourselves feel superior? Excuse the rambling. Thanks.
2. Lillian Eddleman wrote on 6/12/2011 7:48:21 PM
I stand with you, Matt. Your comments are thoughtful, heartful, and well-placed. Humankind is able to make any law it likes and history has shown that such laws do not stand. God's law of love never changes and is no respecter of persons. As Peter said when told to stop preaching the gospel or else, "We must obey God rather than any human authority." Employers verifying employment status - that is already federal law, which many unscrupulous (or struggling) employers ignore intentionally to exploit vulnerable aliens and keep their own costs down (this is done with many legal workers as well), which costs our country untold $ in potential payroll (Social Security)and income tax. It is my understanding that schools are not required to admit illegal aliens but do for whatever reason; humanitarian, expediency, whatever. Many communities recognize that while there is cost up front, the long-term benefit is incalculable. Every child enrolling in public school has to present a birth certificate now - nothing new. And the fact is that many, many children are US citizens by virtue of their birth - just as all of us are unless naturalized. The business of police stopping to check status is already taking place under the "authority" of laws that require drivers to be licensed and have insurance. Also nothing new. We are citizens of a civil society. To codify and criminalize (if that is what this bill is suggesting) actions such as giving car rides... well, if nothing else, I would be surprised if that could pass Constitutional muster. Such a bill invites further criminal activity (not on the part of illegals, but in further exploitation of them) in the now-thriving market for phony documents and all that flows from that. Such bills have been presented in other states - and none have stood the test of time, have not stood in the face of enormous strain on law enforcement and similiar resources, have not stood in the face of common sense, and moreover, have not stood against the inherent good, the image of God, that resides in humankind. That I believe with all my heart. As the wise Pharisee Gamiliel said about Peter and John's civil/criminal disobedience, "Keep away from these men; if this plan is of human origin, it will fail, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them - you may even be found fighting against God!" I pray for our legislators, that they will hear these words, see the economic and practical fallicy of this proposed action. As for me and my house (and my cars), we will serve the Lord.
3. JAMILLA KAY PAYNE wrote on 6/12/2011 8:53:47 PM
4. Melanie Lankford wrote on 6/12/2011 9:24:18 PM
I stand with you Matt. It is the right thing to do. Let me know how I can help.
5. Ian Butler wrote on 6/12/2011 9:50:02 PM
Matt, I agree with you. This is one of those instances where the law of the land clearly opposes the Gospel.
6. John Alexander wrote on 6/12/2011 11:22:16 PM
Hebrews 13 1 Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. I will not allow human law to prevent me from showing the love of Jesus! I will continue to endeavor to love as Jesus loved.
7. Betty Likis wrote on 6/12/2011 11:55:33 PM
Thank you, Matt, for having the compassion and courage to speak out on this issue. You have reminded us that the scripture we profess to believe tells us to welcome the alien and the stranger.
8. Sam Frazier wrote on 6/13/2011 12:51:26 AM
I stand with you Matt. This law is ensalving and I believe unconstitutional. Whatever I can do to help, I will.
9. Tom Duley wrote on 6/13/2011 2:42:09 PM
Well done Matt. I couldn't agree more!
10. Matt Lacey wrote on 6/13/2011 4:09:35 PM
Jamilla, Thanks for your comments and thoughts on this issue. I agree with you, in that we can both be faithful Christians who are trying to find how we live like Jesus in this world, and still disagree. However my remarks are seeking to find how Christ would feel about this issue as a religious one, not a political or economic one. Thanks again for your remarks.
11. Rev.Robert Hurst wrote on 6/13/2011 7:34:18 PM
Thank you Matt for saying what many of us feel. My dad use to tell us children that if a man doesn't take a stand on what he truly believes in, then he will fall for anything that he doesn't believe in.
12. Robert Lancaster wrote on 6/14/2011 3:48:51 PM
Matt, I do understand what you are saying and this is an issue with no easy answers. Yes my family came as immigrants. However, they came in through the legal path, followed the laws of the land, and learned the language. They did not demand nor file for any entitlement programs. They did not march for rights in the U.S. while waving the flag of their formal country of origin. They did not demand in courts that the government change the language in forms to better fit them. They paid taxes to help cover the cost of them being here and their children in school. They did not demand or even expect stores to start writing everything in several languages because they did not know English. I have no problem with immigration. I have a problem with immigrants who demand we change things for their benefit while refusing to make changes in their own life, language or habits. I stand as a servant to Christ and my stance on immigration does not change nor lessen that. I am also a citizen of the U.S. and still believe it is an exceptional country.
13. Johnny Arant wrote on 6/15/2011 11:36:23 AM
It is sad that when representatives of Citizens of this Republic seek the best for the majority of it's Legal Citizens by passing a law, that pastors impute the will of God against such laws. The truth is that this is a law to control people that have not nor will not go through the proper channels to become "Legal Citizens". They want a "freebie" giving to them by the bleeding hearts. Jesus one time was told, "Your mother wants to see you". His reply was "these are my mother and my brothers also" pointing to the crowd. Was he cruel to his mother? No, he was seeking the best for the majority.
14. Ian Butler wrote on 6/15/2011 11:58:29 AM
Mr. Arant, I do believe your logic can be found in the Bible, but you are looking to the wrong place. The passage you are quoting doesn't fit with what you are trying to say. That passage could just as easily be used to say the illegal immigrants are our true family because they are also believers. I'd like to suggest a different passage. A person who supports your point of view in the Bible can be found in John 11: 49-50, but I'm pretty sure you don't want to be associated with him on the day of Judgement.
15. Matt Lacey wrote on 6/15/2011 11:59:35 AM
Robert and Johnny, Thanks for your thoughts on this matter. As a citizen of the USA, am I concerned about people breaking laws, such as illegal immigrants? Absolutely. Do I think we need laws to address the problem? Yes, of course. However, my conviction as a Christian forces me to speak out against this particular law. It will, inevitably, lead to racial profiling, and would put many of our churches at risk from people who are seeking to worship God. So again, I am for enforcement of the law, however this type of enforcement is too brutal and too harsh. I do believe lawmakers can find less-brutal and creative alternatives which could address immigration, such as many parts of a law that Utah introduced several months ago. Thanks again.
16. William Perry wrote on 6/15/2011 1:02:38 PM
Matt & All You amen folks - You are forgetting a most important item. These are illegal immigrants and you can't cloak yourself with, "Oh, my goodness, Jesus will be disappointed" and I don't believe in your hearts that you want your country taken over by someone who contributes nothing, but takes plenty. Christianity is not a wishy washy religion. I say stand up for Jesus, but also stand up for your country and don't surrender to anyone who comes here illegally and expects us to make them family mem- bers just because they are here.
17. Kay S Twilley wrote on 6/15/2011 1:06:25 PM
This is one of the most ridiculous and embarrasing laws the governor of Alabama has set forth. I agree that almost all of us can trace our roots back to family members who immigrated to this country for a better life. Get a life and face some important issues Gov. DR Robert Bently
18. Lauren wrote on 6/15/2011 1:48:25 PM
After reading some of the comments on here, I'm reminded of the commandment to not bear false witness against our neighbors. Arguments in favor of this law based on the assumption that undocumented immigrants "contribute nothing", are "freeloaders" and refuse to learn our customs, language, etc. are inherently xenophobic and willfully ignorant of the conditions that lead people to migrate within the system or outside of it. Many of these "illegals" escaped horrifying conditions to come here to try to find a better life. Instead of complaining about their presence, maybe we should be concerned about the conditions that led them to make that decision and seek justice on their behalf? Matt, et al. made this statement based on the moral and ethical imperatives of our faith- to tell the truth about our neighbors and to love them as ourselves and I applaud them for it. I'm not a clergyperson, but I'd happily sign something from the laity.
19. Robert Lancaster wrote on 6/15/2011 4:01:34 PM
Lauren before you start making assumptions about people and their stances you owe it to them to at least know who you are calling xenophobic and willfully ignorant. I am offended by your comments and slander of our character and stance. Your assumptions are false and have no base. Because of my position and places I have served I know many foreigners very well. I have worked with some of them and ministered with them as well. Many of them refuse to assimilate into our culture and our language. That is not an assumption; it is based on personal knowledge. You will not find in my post where I made any assumptions about others posting against the law. I did not call them names nor accuse them of being unfaithful, ignorant of those they were defending or slander them in any way. I think those of us who favor parts, or all, of the new law are owed that same courtesy. Paul called for us to be of one mind, this is one of those issues where everyone is not going to be of one mind. However that does not mean that we have to be uncivil, call names or preach condemnation to those whom we disagree with. Ian I would caution you as well about your comment to Mr. Arant and accusing him of being of the same mind as Caiaphas. If Christians cannot have a civil discussion without making assumptions about one another, name calling, insulting, and degrading each other then what hope does our Country have of working out problems in a Christian way!
20. Lauren wrote on 6/15/2011 4:23:11 PM
Robert, I do owe you an apology and a clarification. You are right when you say that we can't have a real dialogue if we make untrue assumptions about each other and the point of my post was actually to point out that those comments can carry with them elements of fear, distrust and oftentimes, an unwillingness to know the truth about people that we deem to be different. I intentionally did not reference or direct my comments to you or anyone personally, but rather highlighted those phrases that are commonplace in this discussion that I think are hurtful and unhelpful. I realize now that my comments appear harsh and counterproductive to the discussion and I apologize.
21. Robert Lancaster wrote on 6/15/2011 5:05:28 PM
Thank you Lauren, appology accepted and clarification noted and appreciated.
22. Ian Butler wrote on 6/15/2011 6:21:56 PM
Robert, I considered your caution, and even prayed over it. After doing so, I don't have regrets for what I wrote. I still believe that the argument made was much closer to what Caiaphas said in John 11 than anything Jesus has ever done or said. The scripture Mr. Arant used was more appropriate to argue the exact opposite of what he said. Jesus was willing to let many go without his presence for the sake of the disciples; we shouldn't be so quick to believe we are on the right side of that door because we have a worldly citizenship. I also wanted to point out that being civil or nice isn't always the most loving thing to do. Sometimes people need to hear that they are are in danger of straying away from Jesus. If I said something that made you or he angry, I don't apologize, because it was done in love. I will also say, in love, that I haven't yet heard a coherent, much less convincing, argument from scripture for this law. Here are a few scriptures that I think are especially relevant to our discussion. Luke 16:19-31 comes to mind. Jesus, not me, gives the most dire warning against letting people starve at our gates--that scripture suggests heaven and hell are at stake. You also talked about your personal experience with those who are unwilling to assimilate to our culture, so I will share a personal experience of mine. It involves a couple that left Guatemala's horrible circumstances for a better life. They walked here from there, over the course of three months, almost dying in the process. They were actually kidnapped, and escaped, on their way here. While they were here, everything that could could be done was done to make them citizens of the United States (with their willing cooperation). It didn't happen. If you've had some success in your experience with foreigners, I would sincerely love to hear about how. In light of both of our personal experiences, I would like to bring up another scripture that I believe is relevant. Matthew 13:24-30 tells the story about the wheat and the tares. The workers are urged not to pull up the tares for the damage they might do to wheat. How much worse is it to just cut down the good with the bad? And Robert, I assure you I love and respect you, but I can't stay quiet about this and remain sane, or in a right relationship with God.
23. Robert Lancaster wrote on 6/16/2011 4:53:55 PM
Ian, I agree with you that the example he used is not the one I would have chosen. However, insinuating he is aligned with a Pharisee, because you don't agree with his stance on this issue, I still think is wrong and does not promote a civil dialogue. Unlike you my experience with most immigrants has been when they are on the receiving side of goodwill and charity. I have given shelter to illegals in times of hurricanes. I have provided transportation for them to and from shelters. I have fed them when they were hungry. I am not xenophobic, willfully ignorant, cold hearted or a Pharisee. Yet I do still agree with most of this law. I am first and foremost a Christian, second a law abiding citizen of the U.S. and I think others should obey the law as well. I have also seen illegal’s who turn to crime because they have no job and no money here. I have seen those who are alcoholics, drug addicts and gang members because they get here and the conditions are not what they expected. I think it is wrong to let them stay here when they are illegal knowing they will work for minimum wage or lower, knowing they will work in sweat shops for no money, knowing the coyotes who brought them will exploit them and steal from them. It breaks my heart to know there are young women and girls being sold for sex slaves to pay off the coyote that brought them here or to put food on the table. I don’t see where letting them stay here, when we know they will suffer, is doing them any good. People holler to make the criminal the one who hires them and fine the companies who use them. Before we do that we better find a way to get them home or make them legal or none of them will be able to survive here. You said you had not heard a convincing argument from the scriptures for those of us who agree with part, or all, of this law. I am not going to try and use scriptures to give more weight or convince you for what I am saying. My concern here is legal and realistic. This law is an attempt to stop the flood of illegals and to make it less appealing to violate the law to come or stay in the U.S. Call it a copout or a weak argument if you choose but I do agree that it is time to stop this insanity. If laws like this will deter them from selling themselves into slavery then so be it.
24. Frank wrote on 6/17/2011 12:14:23 PM
Interesting Comments. Illegal Aliens (are or are not) illegal. I assume we are talking about Mexican Christians. Would there be a different discussion if we included Illegal Alien Muslims, Radical Muslims, Buddhists, Satan Worshippers, Atheists etc. that left their country for economic reasons or is this blog only for the support of the illegals that we personally come into contact with as United Methodist through the Church doors? Is this discussion an immigration or religious issue? Are we so focused on this small group that we forget to look at the big picture and all the ramifications of opening our borders to the world.
25. Matt Lacey wrote on 6/17/2011 12:21:32 PM
Frank, Thanks for your comments. This law, as I see it, is an affront to the dignity of other children of God, regardless of practice of faith. As I said, I do believe something needs to be done to address illegal immigration, but not by demonizing other children of God. HB 56 is far too harsh, and in my view is incompatible with the Gospel. All that said, this is a religious issue for me. Arguments about economics, patriotism don't matter, because Christ calls us beyond that. Christianity trumps any worldly citizenship we have. Thanks again for your comments.
26. Frank wrote on 6/17/2011 12:36:17 PM
Matt, thanks for your response to my post, however, I was not responding to your post I was throwing out food for thought for everyone on this blog. If we are to address this issue we must address all the issues involved not just a few localized issues.
27. Max wrote on 6/17/2011 2:14:45 PM
Wow! What a discussion! I find it hard to understand why any pastor or church member would ne in favor of a law that criminalizes giving a person a ride to church, the doctor, the E.R. or anywhere else. Guess it's time for the law-abiding Christians of Alabama to shut down any ministries or offers of help with transportation, housing, etc. unless you check everyone's documentation first. Now that sounds just like something Jesus would be in favor of. In Alabama, come September 1st, the parable of The Good Samaritan is dead. (If you choose to be a law-abiding Christian.)
28. Ian Butler wrote on 6/18/2011 12:20:43 AM
Robert, I think there are a few things I think we probably aren't going to agree on. I'll speak my peace, and then I would suggest we meet for lunch or something like that if you think we aren't communicating very well. We disagree that I haven't promoted civility. I think I've been very civil, but more importantly, I've been loving. It is more loving sometimes to point out sin than it is to pretend there's just some sort of misunderstanding. I also don't believe that we are mistreating illegals by not having come up with a law like this one already--I have to give you credit for originality on that argument though. I would also say that it was a copout to not use a biblical argument. You didn't use one because it's not there. You say you aren't being a Pharisee, but I would have to struggle to think of a description that fits a Pharisee better than being 'legal and realistic.' That was all they were in the the Bible. They had no room for Samaritans, Gentiles, or Jesus because they were 'legal and realistic.' They followed the law better than anyone, but they missed the whole point of the Gospel. I think the written word isn't always the best means for communication, I was serious about lunch, so I'm afraid that my tone is not coming across. It is one of warning and love. I do believe you are sincere in what you are saying. I also think things have to change, but I don't believe this law is the answer. If I understand the law properly, it will be illegal to do the kinds of things necessary to lead certain people to Christ. I just have a hard time understanding how someone who has dedicated their life to the Gospel, and I believe you have, can think that a law that makes the Gospel illegal to be given to a certain group of people can be the answer.
29. Bryan wrote on 6/22/2011 2:01:28 PM
Have the people commenting here both for and against the law actually read the law? Based on some of the comments about what the law does or does not do, I am doubtful.
30. Frank wrote on 6/22/2011 2:47:44 PM
Bryan my point also. I have been watching the blog of the open letter that the Bishop is endorsing. You will find it at : I have a copy of the Law and have read it. Frank
31. Lewis Archer wrote on 6/24/2011 10:57:41 AM
I believe that most of the arguments against the law center on its criminalization of association with undocumented neighbors. I have read it and I think that as written, it does make it legally tenuous to minister to an undocumented person. (feeding someone is aiding them and it makes it possible for them to stay in this country without proper authority.) I also am troubled that the enforcement provision of the law rests more heavily on the immigrants than those who are paying them to come here and live. Each time an employer or an individual in need of laborers pays a worker they are contributing to the problem. An individual citizen who hires an undocumented neighbor won't lose a business license or anything of the sort. Isn't it possible for a business hiring undocumented neighbors to simply reincorporate under a new license? If we want to stop illegal immigration we must stop paying people to come here illegally. We also must make it possible for people to come here legally. Poor people cannot legally come to this country. That is not in a law but it is the reality. The process takes years and I am a witness to abusive behavior on the part of some government employees in dealing with even legal workers or students. Another issue I have is that the church did not express itself more clearly before this law passed. Thanks for the dialogue.
32. Steven wrote on 6/27/2011 12:15:48 PM
Does not the Bible teach us to live by the law of the land except it come in conflict with the word of God? Where is the conflict with the word of God with the new law? There is a legal way to enter America and I believe that the new law just outlines the way to become a legal citizen of our great country.
33. Rubén Ruiz de Olano wrote on 6/27/2011 11:49:40 PM
Matt, I applaud your position on the issue, your concerns and hopes. My family and I support you 100 % and we will love to help any way we can. Lillian Eddleman, You are right in almost everything you posted in this ( quite interesting ) blog. If you take a second look at my name, you will suspect I am not precisely a pilgrim descendant, even less living in Elmore Co. Yes ! I am an immigrant and… guess what, Robert Lancaster : I’m the kind of immigrant your family was. And if you can hopefully understand what I am typing by myself, you may even be kind enough to give me credit for my basic English language skills. All of you are at least in part correct about your points of view in the matter, and my family and I can find ourselves in any given line of your postings. Lewis Archer, you are pretty right in some aspects of the Immigration law that most private citizens do not have a clue about ( Why should they, after all ? ). Kay S Twilley : I’m not a citizen, but I endorse your posting 101 %. I can not vote ( and I would love to, believe me ) and I have not political affiliation; however, I cannot agree more with you that Governor Bentley needs to get a life, and let me add : The further from public office, the better. I love it when Frank pointed in his June 19 post that it seems we are talking about Christian Mexicans: Two briefs comments, Frank : 1) You are right about the Mexican part, as Washington and most of the country associate “illegal” with Mexican, which is half true; even many link “immigrant “ with Mexican ( It happens, trust me ). Now, go south of Orlando, Fla.: You won’t find a single Mexican, but you will still see all the issues discussed here. 2) Most Mexican are Christians, given that about 95% are Catholic ( I’m guesstimating the figure ) . So, I would think it twice if you enter in contact with them through the [ Methodist ] church doors. I agree that things need to change for the better of everyone involved. As a Christian, I have to add that this or any other oppressive law is not the answer, simply because it will not work. To me, it is a shame that we pay people to represent us ( yes, I’m a tax payer immigrant ) and things like is what we receive in exchange. I think I’m abusing your time and this space. I could write a book ( Hummm… not such a bad idea ) about my so far 12 years as an immigrant in this country. I’m open to help, discuss, and answer any questions from my perspective. Thanks to you all for your interest in this matter.
34. Bryan wrote on 7/8/2011 10:09:36 AM
I find it interesting that over 2 weeks after I asked if people who disagreed with the law had actually read the entire law BEFORE they commented on it, no one, including Matt Lacey the moderator can answer in the affirmative. I wonder if Willemon read it before he sent his letter to the governor.
35. Matt Lacey wrote on 7/8/2011 10:24:21 AM
Bryan, Thanks for your comments. Actually I have publicly stated several times that I have read the bill over 4 times now.