Christians love Scriptural commands; it makes things easy. We weigh in on an issue by citing a verse (or five) and we’re done—ding! Next problem?
So it is with immigration. We surf through our New Testament and then pause, sighing thankfully that there is a verse that seems to deal with illegal aliens, or at least strangers: “The stranger that you invited inside, fed, and clothed his nudity…it was me, Jesus. When you rejected that stranger and left him imprisoned; you rejected me, Jesus1.”
Well, we blush; it’s not as good as an explicit command. The passage is totally about interaction at the personal level and it doesn’t offer anything in the way of “thou shall”—especially not on the national level.
Ignoring the other post-worthy problems up above, I think there’s a proper goal in finding what Scripture says in regard to immigration. Surely, not for the purpose of finding a new law (wrongheaded, that), but for the purpose of discovering operating principles.
For that, we need to construct a thought model.
A thought model is a device that allows us to examine ideas. First you build the thing based on what you know, and then you see what makes it work. When you understand how it works you might be able to understand your driving force in another area. The material for our thought model will come primarily from the Old Testament
First, what couldn’t immigrants in Israel do? These are actually unsurprising. They couldn’t be kings2 (duh); they couldn’t take the Passover3 (unless they became part of the Covenant community and thus nationals4); they couldn’t blaspheme (but neither could a native born national5); they couldn’t eat blood (and neither could the native born national6); and they were free from certain restrictions in the Jewish Law (like in Deut. 14:21 where they could eat an animal that dies on its own; something the Jews couldn’t do) though not all of them (like they had to keep the Sabbath7 and they were barred from eating the “holy food”8)
Next, we’d have to look at what Jews could do with aliens which they couldn’t do with their fellow nationals. Jews couldn’t exact interest on a loan to their kinsmen; the restriction was waived in regard to aliens9. Jewish slaves would be released during the year of Jubilee; an alien slave was permanent property10.
Now, to look at the foreigner’s benefits in Israel. They were to be loved11 and not hated12 even when those aliens came from their worst enemies. They were afforded equal protection (with the Jew) by the cities of refuge13 and at one point they even had rights to Israel’s inheritance14. They weren’t to be mistreated; people were to be kind to them15; not to be wronged; not to be oppressed; justice on their part was not to be perverted; and they were to be treated with fairness and justice16. Indeed, one benefit was derived as a consequence to Israel being cursed for disobedience—foreigners would increase in the Land and overpower the Israelites (Deut 28:43–44)!
With our thought-model in place, we can now try to examine the operating principles.
Certain things jump to the fore. The foreigner was important to God, even in the context of slavery. Most of these efforts were focused on ensuring that the foreigner was afforded protection, help, kindness, mercy and justice. We notice that the point of welcoming the foreign national was to eventually integrate him into the theocratic nation with the hope of making them fellow nationals and thus partakers in the national benefits. Of course, this would mean that they would then bear responsibility in an Israelite tax burden, but they would effectively be Israelites.
Stepping back from it, we can say that the Israelite situation was very different from our own. After all, they were a theocratic nation awaiting the culmination of the promises of God; America is democratic awaiting no such thing.
And yet, we see this spirit of kindness to our fellow men inherent in such documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This spirit of kindness is explicated in our thought-model reflecting a care for the foreigner that is concerned for his or her oppression, rights, justice and situation. This surely derives, not on account of the person being a foreigner but, on account of the foreigner being a human person made in the image of God.
Applying it to our own situation, Christians should be especially concerned for the oppression, victimization and the lack of rights towards the foreigner. Christians should be concerned with their own fellow nationals as well, true, but they should care with more than material concerns. It is in the treatment of strangers, the unknown and unloved, where the true heart of a person, indeed a nation, is most clearly seen.
Christ’s words in the New Testament wind up shedding even more light on our thought-model. Christ didn’t come as the king of heaven, openly declaring his lineage and divinity; he came as a humble servant and as a stranger. If it were otherwise, the rulers during his day wouldn’t have crucified him; but they did crucify him and thus exposed their blackened hearts for what they were (1 Cor 2:8).
Enter the alien/stranger. Christ stands in his place awaiting mercy, righteousness, justice and kindness. Every person reflects the image of God (Gen 1:26) so treating that image poorly speaks, ultimately, about our attitude toward God. Love people, especially those strangers, because it is when you love the apparent unlovable that you reflect the love of God.
As a national policy in a democratic society this would be difficult to pass as law (and even more difficult to enforce) but I think it does help me understand how a Christian is to look at the immigration issue—looking at the people through Scriptural principles; not solely the apparent problem.
1 Matt. 25:35, 38, 43.
2 Deut. 17:15
3 Ex. 12:45
4 Ex. 12:48, 49; Num. 9:14; 15:14, 15
5 Lev. 24:16
6 Lev. 17:10
7 Ex. 20:10; 23:12
8 Lev. 22:10, 12, 25
9 Deut. 15:3; 23:20
10 Lev. 25:44, 45
11 Deut. 10:18, 19.
12 Deut. 23:7
13 Num. 35:15; Josh. 20:9
14Ezek. 47:22, 23
15Lev. 19:33, 34. Deuteronomy 23:7
16 Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33, 34; Deut. 1:16; 10:19; 24:14, 17; 27:19; Jer. 7:6; 22:3; Ezek. 22:29; Mal. 3:5