Texas Baptist Voices

Jeff Johnson: Loving neighbors includes loving immigrants

This week, like most Americans, I will pause to celebrate Independence Day. I really attempt not to flaunt my freedom before the whole world, but it always somehow seems to look that way.

jeff johnson130Jeff JohnsonThomas Jefferson’s bold assertion that each individual has an “inalienable right” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” still sounds sweet to my freedom-loving ears. Despite the imperfections and foibles of our political system, I still enjoy tremendous economic, political, religious and personal freedom.

But I have to watch myself and be careful that I don’t define the freedoms I enjoy so much solely as “freedom from”—forgetting the real test of freedom’s value is how I use my “freedom to.” Liberty vs. license.

The political and personal freedoms I celebrate every Independence Day always remind me that with freedom comes responsibility. Despite his long list of fleshly “works” versus spiritual “fruits,” the Apostle Paul takes care to preface these with a single reminder: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).

Do you remember the man who attempted to justify himself by asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan. It seems they had forgotten the principles in the proclamation of Deuteronomy 10:18-19: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

This brings me to a “neighborly” topic that may define our generation—immigration. Jesús Romero is Texas Baptists’ director of the Immigration Service and Aid Center, ISAAC. It provides unbiased immigration information from a Christian perspective. ISAAC will sponsor a five-day training institute Sept. 8-12 in a joint effort with World Relief in Dallas.

“The five-day training is our Fall Institute of Basic Immigration Law, and it is designed for churches that are interested in offering legal services as ministry to their immigrant communities,” he explained. “Although some of our participants come to the training just for their education about immigration processes, they are only a few, and this is not truly an event for that purpose.

texas baptist voices right120“Our prayer and vision is to have at least 20 ministry centers open in Texas out of Texas Baptist churches. The five-day training is the first of several steps churches have to take to accomplish this.”

Do you or your church need help in “separating the wheat from the chaff” on a broad range of immigration issues and topics? Might your church be among the 20? Contact Jesús Romero

I am not so sure loving myself was the ultimate goal Jesus had in mind for me. I have that freedom but not that license. I am pretty sure it included all my neighbors, and that includes immigrants. I can’t hold out a hand to my neighbor when my arms are wrapped around myself.

Jeff Johnson is president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and pastor of First Baptist Church in Commerce.

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