For Evangelical Christians, our final and binding authority on all areas of faith and practice, whether it be moral, civil, political, or social is the Bible. It is not the court system. It is not the president of the United States. It is not conservative or liberal radio and cable news programs. It is not the political pundits with an agenda to advance. It is not any social media platform. It is not a Republican, Democratic, or any other mainstream, extremist, or left-leaning political party.
Too often, Christians do not look to the Scriptures to inform their views, opinions, and convictions on day-to-day matters such as relationships, finances, forgiveness, human worth, and the family unit. Immigration too is a subject that suffers from the lack of biblical scrutiny and understanding. In a recent survey conducted by a Lifeway Research poll commissioned by the Evangelical Immigration Table and World Relief 1, 1000 evangelicals answered this question, “Which one of the following has influenced your thinking the most on immigration?” The results:
- 17% – Immigrants you have interacted with
- 16% – Friends and family
- 16% – The media
- 12% – The Bible
- 11% – Immigrants you have observed
- 5% – Position of an elected official
- 2% – Your local church
- 1% – Your teachers and professors
- <1% – National Christian leaders
- 21% – Not sure
Two areas of concern emerge from the results. First, when it comes to the source of influence regarding immigration, more evangelical look to the media, their local church, and national Christian leaders combined than they do the Bible. Second, more than 20% are unsure – meaning it is likely a subject to which they give little thought (my conclusion). I found the results shocking and disturbing. Why would the Bible rank so low as a source of information for evangelicals? I have two possible reasons.
First, perhaps the Bible says what we do not want it to say because it does not align with other already-formed opinions. Second, maybe we believe the Bible is silent about this issue. Yes and no. If you approach the Bible in search of a narrow, specific one-size-fits-all, hard-and-fast, all-questions-answered, not-too-messy immigration policy easily applied to our nation, then yes, the Bible is silent. However, if you approach the Bible allowing the canon of Scripture – the Old Testament principles, commandments, instructions, and nuances, along with the New Testament imperatives, doctrines, and from-the-mouth words of Jesus Christ to provide a comprehensive view on how to treat immigrants and view immigration in its entirety, the Bible is certainly not silent.
Scripture is rich with stories of real people with clear instructions as to how the Israelites were to treat foreigners who would live within their borders. In his book, Christians at the Border; Immigration, the Church, and the Bible, evangelical Old Testament scholar David Carroll asserts that many of the most prominent characters of the Bible were themselves, at one point or another, immigrants, crossing borders to reside in another land.
Reasons for the migrations of people throughout Scripture strike a similar chord to the migrations of people today. The movement was, at times, hunger driven by famine. Such was the case with Abraham (Gen. 12:10), Isaac (Gen. 26:1), Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:1). Others moved against their will: Joseph, the Northern and Southern kingdoms into exile, and Daniel. Some migrated due to God’s providential calling, specifically Abraham and the Israelites out of Egypt. In many ways, the reasons that forced people of the Old Testament to migrate to other lands are similar to the factors that move people from country to country today: displacement by war, famine, opportunities for work, a better way of life and livelihood, and the reunification of families, to name a few.
In addition to the real stories of real people moving between nations, the Old Testament paints an unambiguous picture of the character of God toward the vulnerable. Immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers are vulnerable today. In their native land, they are vulnerable. Political corruption, crime, hunger, human trafficking, genocide, and poverty reduce family stability and increase the likelihood of suffering, family separation, and death. In this country, they are vulnerable as well. Immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers face unsafe working conditions, inhumane living conditions, family separations, exploitation by unscrupulous business owners, mock and scorn by the native-born, and politicians who use their plight to bolster poll numbers and fuel fear and hatred. Scripture is clear on God’s view of the vulnerable. During harvest season, Israel was only allowed to glean the fields once to leave the remains for, “the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). God’s concern for these groups is repeated many times on the pages of Scripture. The Psalmist writes, “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” (Psalm 146:9).
God’s directive for Israel to show concern and compassion to the immigrant and foreigner comes with a reason. Moses wrote, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). God’s people are told to love immigrants as themselves because they knew firsthand what it was like to dwell in a land that was not their own. While the instructions of the Old Testament are not binding on Christians today and its law are not de facto immigration policy, they do show God’s unchanging character and love for His creation. If the Old Testament can inform our decisions and beliefs on matters such as marriage, sin, evolution, family, government, and worship, it must inform our decisions and beliefs on immigration as well.
The Old Testament instructions to consider the foreigner are in line with the New Testament instruction for Christians to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Jesus interacted with the foreigner and the outsider during His earthly ministry, most commonly the Samaritans. In John 4, He recognized the worth of the Samaritan woman at the well who was one of the first to recognize Him as the Messiah. He recognized it was a foreigner, a Samaritan, who was the only one of ten who returned to give praise and thanks for healing. He was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” by a lawyer and responded with a story whose protagonist was a Samaritan. Jesus’ answer affirmed that a neighbor is anyone with a need. Jesus did not qualify “neighbor status” as the one who looks, speaks, acts, believes, and behaves as we do. Neighbor status is not limited to economic feasibility, absence of risk, or legal determinations.
If the reader gleans only one thing from these articles, I hope this truth resonates — the person trapped in the spider web that is our current immigration system matters. The person who decides to risk everything to provide a better way of life for their family was created in God’s image and should be treated with respect and not caged like an animal or left to die in a canal or detention facility. Rondell Trevino, the founder of The Immigrant Coalition, said it succinctly, “Immigrants are not problems to solve, they are people to love.” The immigration issue facing our country is not black and white; it involves many shades of gray. However, for the Christian, the directive to care for and love all people as fellow image-bearers of God could not be any more black and white.
1 LifeWay Research, “Evangelical Views on Immigration,” February 2015, http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/ uploads/2015/03/Evangelical-Views-on-Immigration-Report.pdf.