The Foreigner Among Us – A biblical approach to immigration

Immigration is currently a political “hot topic” to say the least. Set your television to any news station and you are going to hear a related subject relatively quickly. Before I consider economic, legal, or political elements of the arguments, it is essential for my worldview, to first consider the biblical text. Now, if the Bible has nothing to say on the matter, then I take the broader worldview the Bible shapes for me, and I apply it to these other elements of the argument. But, on the issue of immigration, the Bible gives us much insight and instruction.

The first place to start is by recognizing that immigration is about immigrants. Immigrants are people. God made all people in his own image. I know this is complex logic here, but I hope it makes sense.  If God made all people (even immigrants and foreigners) in his own image, then there is an equality among us, and an interpersonal moral obligation based on our mutual humanity.

From that, we see a basis for the several places in the Old Testament where God mentions the foreigner:

Leviticus 19:33-34 “’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 you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”  God reminds Israel of Egypt’s mistreatment of them and says that they are not to be like the Egyptians in the treatment of foreigners, they are the people of God.

Numbers 15:15 “The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the LORD.” God tells Israel that he views the nations with equity. He declares this equity as a lasting ordinance for generations. I am arguing that the “for generations to come” extends even to our time.

Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” In this passage we read the other side of the coin. There are repercussions for those who do not treat the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow in the way God demands.

Jeremiah 22:3 “This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Here again, God instructs his people to refrain from wronging the foreigner. We see this type of command repeated in James 1:27.

Furthermore, the book of Jonah is about God sending a prophet of Israel, to Israel’s enemy, Assyria, to tell them to repent and turn to God. God shows his limitless compassion for the nations in this story.

The New Testament offers plenty of insight into this issue as well. For starters, much of the New Testament is about spreading the Gospel from among the Jews, to all nations. The Gospel is meant for all ethnicities, classes, languages, etc.  Also, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan that highlights a non-Jew as the hero whom we are to emulate in loving our neighbor. Truly loving our neighbor is to love at great personal expense, inconvenience, and trouble. Yet, is this not how Jesus displays his love for us? Did he not willingly undergo humiliation and suffering so that we, both Jews and Gentiles, could be included in his Kingdom?

Finally, how are we to apply these biblical passages today?  First, in our desire to influence legislation and policy, we must remember that immigration is about people primarily, and then about economics, law, and politics.  Second, if we are to be faithful to God, we must provide for and protect the foreigner among us. We must treat her with equality. We must treat him with respect. Even if they do not speak English, even if they have what we consider to be strange ways of living, we must treat them as bearers of God’s image.  This potentially will cause personal inconvenience, cost, and trouble, but this is what it means to love one’s neighbor. Lastly, for we who follow Jesus, we must extend to them the Gospel.  Foreigners come to America seeking the same life, liberty, and happiness that we believe come only from the blessing of God. We, as Christians, must also believe that true life, liberty, and happiness cannot be found in any country, but only in relationship with Jesus Christ.  So, as the nations come to our doorstep, let us extend to them the true life, true liberty, and true happiness they seek.

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