Peter addresses us, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world …” (1 Pet 2:11). He then proceeds to instruct believers how to live in a manner that rejects the world’s values. What is his point? I think it is fair to say that at least Peter is suggesting that our national identity is not as important as our kingdom identity. Being American is of secondary importance to being a believer and living in a manner that honors God (see also, John 17:14-16).
Issues of immigration involve both those who enter the US through legitimate channels and those who enter without proper documentation. For the sake of this article, the focus will largely be on undocumented immigrants.
Any conversation on immigration has to address the estimated 13 million undocumented immigrants purported to already be within the US borders? The debate has been framed as if there are only two options: deportation or amnesty. Others prefer to address the issue by building walls in an attempt to keep illegals out. However, these structures have not proven successful, as those who seek to get in go over, under, around and through them. I believe that Scripture gives us a rough framework for a third option.
I feel that I need to begin a conversation on immigration with an acknowledgement that for some people this debate is only a thinly veiled attempt to promote racial bigotry and prejudice. If that is the mindset or motive behind any person advocating and promoting any position, it is wrong.
Scripture is filled with stories of immigrant, sometimes being unwelcome and fraudulent … Abraham is repeatedly identified as an alien in this sense (Gen 17:8; 19:9; 21:23; 23:4), as is Jacob (Gen 28:4; Psa 105:23), Moses (Exo 2:22), and Ruth, so it should be acknowledged illegal immigration is not a new problem. It dates back to as long as nations have had borders. As we look at what Scripture explicitly states, far more is said about God’s view on issues of immigration than on abortion and homosexuality.
What is interesting in Scripture is the identification of Israel as aliens, and the consistent command for Israel to extend understanding to other aliens because of their plight. “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt” (Exo 23:9). The law then continues to advocate for the immigrant when it says, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for (here it is again) you were aliens in Egypt” (Lev 19:34). Perhaps herein is a point that needs to be remembered by some as they advance their arguments: some of us can trace our own roots to entering this country illegally, including my own wife’s great grandfather. Yet even before that, the European nations did not apply for entrance visas when they entered the New World to displace the existing population.
Yet that is not the most pressing, powerful or peculiar piece of the text. That piece is found repeatedly after referencing how aliens ought to be treated God includes the statement, “I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19:10, 34; 23:22). For some reason, protecting the aliens in their midst was something that God took personally, in such a manner that he calls upon his full authority and identity to frame our conduct toward them.
However, at the same time, God has an expectation that the alien living in our midst should abide by the common rule of law (Lev 20:2; 22:18; 24:22; Num 9:14; 15:14, 29, 30). “You and the alien shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you” (Num 15:15-16).
So let me acknowledge those who have been adversely affected by undocumented aliens who have entered the country with bad intentions. You have a right to be upset about a system that is supposed to protect you, but has failed. If we work from the outside-in in developing a Biblical position on immigration, these verses would open up the alternative of deporting undocumented immigrants that are involved in crime. Those with evil intentions ought to be dealt with justly, however, we need to be careful about advancing a policy that does not regard fairly those who are otherwise abiding by the laws.
In the prophets, God goes on to advocate a position that condemns those who would treat foreigners unjustly just as he does for those who oppress the poor and needy … “The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice” (Eze 22:29, also Jer 22:3, Zech 7:10).
God even goes to the extent of determining a process for aiding those who are on the outside of society, including the alien … “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God” (Lev 23:22; also Lev 19:10). The foreigner Ruth picks up on this practice, as a manner of caring for herself and her mother-in-law.
Here is the rub: The ethics of the immigration debate cannot be disconnected from the reason that linkages are made in Scripture between immigration and poverty. Why are “undocumented” coming to the USA? Usually, it is to escape overwhelming poverty that exists in the land of their birth. They see hope for something other than empty stomachs and dilapidated houses on the other side of the border. Large chunks of their wages are sent back across the border to help alleviate the poverty of members of their extended families. Represented are countries that receive large amounts of aid from the United States, however, that aid is not effectively used in a way that relieves the overwhelming poverty in these neighboring countries through the development of jobs at home.
Further, it is helpful to understand how US immigration policy can have devastating effects on neighboring nations, and contribute to the flow of illegal immigration. The US immigration policy prefers those who because of economics or education have something to offer the US economy. However, while this may advance the US’s global positioning, it intensifies the downward spiral of poverty in the countries of the immigrant’s birth by producing a brain and economic drain on those countries.
Yet, God promised blessing on the Jews for proper conduct … “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place … (Jer 7:5-7).
I think it can be quickly clear to the astute Biblical observer that simply arresting 13 million undocumented immigrants and transporting them back across the border is not only an unrealistic alternative, it is inconsistent with God’s compassion for the immigrant. Beyond that, special considerations should be extended to families that have children who are natural-born citizens. It would not honor God’s priority on the home as the primary institution for relationships and wholeness to have parents ripped from their children and set back across the border, while the children are left here.
This blog is an adaption of a position paper written by Steven Chapman and approved by the FCC Elders as part of the God’s Politics message series in 2012. We believe that Christian voters should approach the casting of their ballots as an act of worship which brings honor to God. The goal of these position papers was to present a reasoned and Biblical statement on critical political issues of the day that will let us consider how we may best honor God with our votes.