NASHVILLE (BP) – Billings, Mont., is not what you would consider to be the front lines of the national debate over immigration. But that doesn’t mean the topic isn’t important to all Southern Baptists.
Stacy Gaylord, pastor of LifeWay Church in Billings, served on the SBC’s 2023 Committee on Resolutions and presented the resolution On Wisely Engaging Immigration. He’s reasonably informed on the subject even if he isn’t confronting its impact daily, unlike those on the southern border or elsewhere.
But he recognizes the need for diligence and accountability when it comes to the matter, a stance Southern Baptists have maintained for the last 17 years.
“This is something that has been capturing people’s attention for a while,” he said, “and it’s getting worse out of neglect.”
Southern Baptists have addressed the issues of immigration and refugees since 1944. The most recent resolution builds on a central theme similar to others adopted in 2006, 2011 and 2018 – regardless of the political party in the White House, the federal government must step up to its responsibilities.
Julio Arriola co-wrote the resolution alongside Gaylord and others on the Resolutions Committee. As the director for Send Network SBTC, a church planting partnership between the North American Mission Board and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, immigration is a topic that affects Arriola on a personal as well as professional level.
“I immigrated to this wonderful country over 20 years ago and proudly became a U.S. citizen 12 years later,” he told Baptist Press. “During my early days, gracious fellow Americans, especially the Southern Baptists, warmly welcomed me. They offered me opportunities to serve as a minister of the Gospel, a kindness I’ll always cherish.”
Talk over the resolution developed before the committee gathered in New Orleans. Arriola and Gaylord initiated several Zoom meetings before presenting a draft to the committee at that time.
The resolution cites how Southern Baptists and other Christians have “long sought to care for the vulnerable” as well as biblical support for affirming “the inherent dignity and value of immigrants and refugees.”
It also implores government leaders “to provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers regarding border policies, legal entry into this country, and work opportunities.”
“The persistent border immigration crisis remains unsolved, regardless of which political party governs from D.C.,” Arriola said.
“God ordained the government to work for good,” Gaylord said, “and the government is struggling to establish good policies right now.”
A well-functioning government is important for a host of reasons. A specific, Gospel-adjacent reason exists when it comes to immigration, he added.
“You want your nation to function well, because that contributes to human flourishing. 1 Timothy 2 tells us to pray for our leaders.”
The implication, he said, is that flourishing leads to fertile soil for the Gospel. Regardless of location, that is something all Christians should care about.
“Someone in Brownsville or El Paso is going to have a different experience than me, but I should still care about their experience,” Gaylord said.
Immigration is largely affected, of course, by the flow of refugees. The need for refugee ministry has grown significantly, said Josh Benton, vice president of North American Ministry for Send Relief.
It’s a mix of community ministry such as mass feedings in addition to supporting and equipping local churches involved in those efforts. Send Relief has 20 ministry centers, six of them focused on refugees.
“In all of those areas we meet people’s basic needs and welcome them with the Gospel, which is most important,” Benton said.
He has observed Southern Baptists welcoming immigrants and refugees with a Gospel intention.
“We have always been a people concerned about taking the Gospel to hard-to-reach places. Now, those places are coming to us,” Benton said. Churches interested in developing a compassion ministry can find resources through Send Relief.
For many immigrants, meeting basic needs opens a door to addressing much greater needs.
“Many future U.S. citizens, like my former self, are eager to serve the Lord here,” Arriola said. “The pressing need, however, is for Southern Baptists to welcome immigrants with Christian love. Equally, we immigrants must appreciate the dedication of our border patrol officers who tirelessly safeguard our nation. In Texas, half of the unreached population is Hispanic, many being first-generation.
“Everyone needs the life-giving message of the Gospel of Jesus, immigrants included.”