What’s the role of the church?

That eternal question is being put to the test again today, this time by churches in five cities — Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and New York — that have opened themselves up as sanctuaries for illegal aliens.

This “New Sanctuary Movement” is driving INS officials and anti-immigration activists crazy. They accuse church leaders of aiding and abetting lawbreakers and warn they could suffer the legal consequences. But they just don’t understand what faith is all about.

Catholic, Protestant and Jewish sanctuary leaders acknowledge that government’s role is to enforce the law. But they rightfully insist that the church’s job is to care for people — all people, whether they’re here legally or not.

The state has its job. The church has its job. And God forbid we ever live in a country where the church does the job of the state — or where the state interferes with the job of the church. Think Iran.

If there’s any doubt churches are doing the right thing, read the Scriptures. Jesus didn’t hang out with the powerful. He hung out with the powerless.

There’s no doubt about it: If Jesus were alive today, he’d be welcoming illegal immigrants into his own home.