The Old Testament and Immigration

It’s always potentially controversial to mix the Bible and politics, but as Christians, shouldn’t our political views be informed by Scripture? If they are not, isn’t that a problem?

I have written some brief thoughts on the issue of immigration before, but in general, it is surprising and disappointing to me how frequently Christians endorse anti-immigrant political views considering the repeated and consistent witness of the Old Testament.

Consider the following scriptures:
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22.21) 
“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) 
“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10.18) 
“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” (Deuteronomy 27.19) 
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers…” (Jeremiah 7.5-7) 
“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” (Ezekiel 47.22) 
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zechariah 7.9-10) 
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3.5)
A few brief observations based on those verses:

First, someone will probably be quick to say something like, “All of those scriptures are from the Old Testament; Christians live under the New Testament” (because someone is always quick to say something like that). Of course, in a sense, they would be correct—as a Christian, I am not bound by all of the rules and regulations of the Law of Moses. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that consistent ethical principles from the Old Testament aren’t also meant to apply to Christians today (cf. Micah 6.8; Matthew 5.17).

Secondly, someone might point out that, while we are supposed to be kind and welcoming to immigrants (based on the verses above), according to Romans 13.1-7, we are to be subject to the laws of our land which means that we shouldn’t be supportive of illegal immigrants. And that might be true—I’m not really suggesting that Christians should develop an Underground Railroad to smuggle immigrants into the country illegally. However, if the consistent witness of Scripture is to suggest an “Open Arms” policy toward immigrants, then Christians probably do need to use their political influence to make immigration laws more immigrant-friendly (and thereby enable Christians to be subject to the laws of the land and also loving to immigrants).

Third, it should be remembered that these Old Testament directives were given to the Israelites, a people who were, as a general rule, supposed to remain ethnically pure as a means of ensuring faithfulness to Jehovah (when the people would intermarry with the surrounding peoples, it invariably led to the adoption of idolatry). Despite this, the Israelites were still supposed to be welcoming to foreigners. This is important to keep in mind, as a common objection to immigration has been a fear of the mixing of races or the influence of different religious beliefs.

Finally, a practical argument in favor of immigration has been that the United States is, fundamentally, a country of immigrants—how can we (American citizens) reject immigrants when the vast majority of us are here only because of the immigration of our ancestors? Interestingly, this is a repeated rationale of Scripture as well—how can the Israelites mistreat sojourners, when they themselves were sojourners in Egypt?

I have a hard time identifying closely with either major political party because, I believe, they both fail to consistently embrace biblical principles. When it comes to immigration, I think the rhetoric from the Right (and therefore, from a lot of Christians) often fails to live up to the biblical standard.


Jonathan Towell 3/10/12, 10:17 PM  

Immigrant hatred by Christians is indeed vexing. I think another problem is benefits given by the state. People get frustrated by illegals getting welfare or whatever. Thus they feel like their taxes are going to people who don't also participate in taxation.

One solution to this is to stop giving out so many benefits in general. But whether or not that ever happens doesn't change the responsibility of Christians to love their neighbors.

Luke Dockery 3/12/12, 5:56 PM  


Hey buddy, good to hear from you! We need to catch up sometime.

I agree—a lot of resentment stems from illegal immigrants getting benefits that they’re not helping to pay for. A couple of solutions:

(1) As you mentioned, less state-sponsored benefits in general would help solve the problem (and since my political/economic views are likely similar to yours I would have no problem with that).

(2) If the process of becoming a legal immigrant were made easier, you’d end up with more immigrants who were paying into the system (as opposed to doing everything they can to avoid the system as they do now). At that point, these otherwise-illegals would be as entitled to the benefits as anyone else.

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