Commentary
By Matthew Soerens 12-21-2018

God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” —Genesis 1:27 NIV

But we have too often used language that denies the truth that each immigrant — regardless of their country of origin, legal status, ethnicity, religion, or any other qualifier — is a person made in your image, with inherent dignity and potential.

“The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.” —Exodus 12:49 NIV

But we have often benefitted from unequal laws that give us opportunities and rights merely based on the location of our birth, without seeking to extend those rights to those born beyond our borders.

“Don’t oppress an immigrant. You know what it’s like to be an immigrant, because you were immigrants …” —Exodus 23:9 CEB

But we have often forgotten the hardships faced by our ancestors who came here from other lands, rather than allowing our family histories to inform how we treat those who come to our land today in search of the freedoms and opportunities that generations of immigrants past have sought here.

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.” —Exodus 23:12 ESV

But while we have enjoyed the weekend, we have benefitted from the labor of immigrants who work seven days each week without a day off, laboring tirelessly to provide for their families, all the while maligning immigrants for taking Americans’ jobs.

“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.” —Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV

But we have too often done wrong to those who come as sojourners to our land: separating children from parents and husbands from wives, limiting opportunities for work and education for young people brought to this country as children and not loving these neighbors as ourselves.

“[God] enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants …” —Deuteronomy 10:18-19 CEB

But we have too often forgotten or avoided those who are vulnerable, distancing ourselves from their physical needs and from the opportunity for relationship.

“When you have finished paying the entire tenth part of your produce on the third year—that is the year for paying the tenth-part—you will give it to the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so they can eat in your cities until they are full.” —Deuteronomy 26:12 CEB

But we have too often resisted initiatives that would help immigrants meet their basic needs when we did not perceive them to be in our own economic interests, valuing our comfort above their sustenance.

“The Lord proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow.” —Jeremiah 22:3 CEB

But we have allowed for refugees to be banned, idolizing our own misinformed sense of security at the expense of their protection. We have turned our back on persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ who sought safety and religious freedom in our land but are now shut out. We have harmed the witness of the global church among persecuted people of other faiths by endorsing policies that imply an ambivalence to their wellbeing and that of their families.

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 7:10 ESV

But we have mistreated and disregarded those who came as immigrants to our land, benefitting from their labor while failing to recognize their full humanity or speaking up for their rights.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” —Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

But rather than recognizing your sovereign purposes in the dispersion of people across borders, enabling your people to make disciples of all nations without ever leaving our own, we have too often seen the arrival of immigrants as a threat to our culture and values. Rather than teaching all that the scriptures command regarding the treatment of immigrants, we have too often had a biblical blind spot, failing to submit our opinions about immigrants to the authority of God’s word.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” —Hebrew 13:2 NIV

But rather showing love for strangers, mindful that they could be sent by God as blessings, we have too often feared them, even maligning them with rumors they could be criminals, terrorists, rapists or carriers of disease.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” —Revelation 7:9 NIV

But rather than preparing for this multicultural, polyglot future by embracing the gift of cultural diversity that immigrants bring as they revitalize the church in the United States, we have too often resented the sense that our culture and our churches were changing, resisting any modification to our ways of worship and life.

“Cursed is anyone who obstructs the legal rights of immigrants, orphans, or widows.” —Deuteronomy 27:19 CEB

Lord, have mercy on us and forgive us.

“‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Lord Almighty.” —Malachi 3:5 NIV

Lord, have mercy on us and forgive us.

“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me… Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” —Matthew 25:42-43; 45 ESV

Lord, have mercy on us and forgive us.

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” —Ephesians 2:4-10, 13-19 ESV

Matthew Soerens is the U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief and is the coauthor of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2018).

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