In some ways, the Bible is a chronicle of immigrants.
This is true from Adam to Abram, Moses to Mary, Jacob to Jesus.
The Scriptures record the sojourns of vulnerable families who set out from their native land in search of safety and provision.
This reality is even enshrined in a “creed” that the Israelites were to recite upon taking possession of the Promised Land.
When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance… Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders… (Deut. 26.1, 5—8).
MY FATHER WAS A WANDERING IMMIGRANT
One reason for the recitation was to remind the people of their “rootless roots.”
They were not always planted in positions of security and dominance.
Their forefather (Jacob) had been a wandering immigrant in search of food and safety. And his own son (Joseph) had been trafficked to a foreign land.
Thus there was a call to treat later foreigners with hospitality.
“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exod. 22.21).
“There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.” (Exod. 12.49; Lev. 24.22).
“You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and the alien” (Lev. 19.9–10; 23.22).
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19.33–34; 24.22).
But what implications might this have for us today?
Spoiler alert: I don’t think it means that borders are meaningless and that all illegal immigration is okay.
As we know, immigration (both legal and illegal) remains a controversial subject.
Indeed, words like Trump, Syria, and “Brexit” now bear witness to this. (Incidentally, I have it on good authority that for every pun invented to describe an EU exit—a kitten dies. “Brussels pouts” killed untold thousands.)
But back to the topic.
Immigration issues are complex: national security, economic stability, fairness, race, religion, social services, the rule of law, and many more. And as always, both sides have sometimes oversimplified the conversation. With that in mind, there is no way that a brief blog post can do justice to the topic.
Given that, my goal is merely to set out three broad ideas that the American church must keep in mind amid the controversy.
- Commands to show hospitality to immigrants still apply to Christians.
While America is not ancient Israel, the Bible is clear that God wants his people to reach out in love and service to the immigrant and the foreigner. This much is non-negotiable. Jesus even says that to welcome the “stranger” is to welcome him. Thus a lack of love for the other may be a lack of love for Christ (Mt. 25).
- Care for immigrants does not mean endorsing all illegal immigration.
In addition to welcoming the foreigner, the Bible also calls Christians to respect the rule of law (e.g., Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2). Thankfully, there are many legal ways to show love for immigrants, even if some are undocumented. Many churches lead citizenship classes, offer low-cost legal services, and host foreign language gatherings (see here).
As The Wesleyan Church states:
Immigration is an issue, but immigrants are people, and Christ’s love compels [us] to act as agents of Spirit-filled outreach and hospitality to all.
- Christians should embrace wise reform over (racist) rhetoric.
One thing that everyone admits is that U.S. immigration policy is broken. Change is needed. Yet wise reform is often impeded (on both sides) by rhetoric that is meant to score political points rather than address a complex issue.
In fairness, not all who call for a wall are being overtly racist. And it isn’t fair to say that those wanting to secure the border do so out of bigotry. Love and law need not be antithetical.
Still, there is often a not-so-subtle current of prejudice behind calls to “take back our country.” (Ironically, a phrase not usually uttered by Native Americans.) I know for a fact that my friends of other nationalities hear it this way.
For believers, the right attitude is that “our [true] citizenship is in heaven” (Php. 2) and that we ourselves are resident aliens (1 Pet. 1).
As Paul illustrates, “Christian racism” is a contradiction, an oxy-moron, and a failure to believe the gospel (e.g., Gal. 2.14). And when directed at immigrants, of whatever kind, it is a failure to remember one of the first “creeds” recited by God’s people:
“My father was a wandering Aramean…” (Deut. 26.5).
While these three points are too broad to offer specific solutions to many immigration issues, they may help Christians orient their hearts. And as Proverbs teaches, from the heart “flow springs of life” (Prov. 4.23).