Seeing Immigration Through Biblical Spectacles

By Rich Nathan 10-20-2008

About 20 years ago, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon wrote a book provocatively titled Resident Aliens. Resident Aliens had to do with the way that we Christians understand our fundamental identity and our calling in contemporary America. The idea behind this title came from a quote from the Apostle Paul: "But our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20-21). In other words, our primary identity is not as Ohioans or Americans. We Christians are, first and foremost, citizens of the kingdom of God.

Hauerwas and Willimon argue that we must regain our vision of being a distinct community with a calling to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. Christians need to be different than people around us and have a distinctive way of looking at issues that affect our society.

My concern as a Christian pastor is to disciple our church to begin with the Bible in all of our thinking. Let me apply this to one real world issue, illegal immigration. Recently the Columbus Dispatch ran a series of articles on illegal immigration. Their secular analysis focused exclusively upon security concerns for Americans, economics (Do immigrants take jobs away from Americans or simply take jobs that Americans would not take? Are illegal immigrants a burden on the American taxpayer, or do they pay back more in tax money and in unclaimed Social Security than they put in?), and issues of crime (Are illegal immigrants more or less dangerous than American citizens?). Arguments for and against these secular concerns were marshaled.

While these issues are not unimportant, I would hope that Christians would first put on biblical spectacles when approaching the issue of illegal immigration. The biblical Christian would:

1. Begin with the conviction that illegal immigrants are persons made in God's image and are, therefore, worthy of respect and dignity (Genesis 1:26,28).

2. Appreciate the fact that many of our spiritual ancestors were themselves economic refugees. Thus Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob moved from the Promised Land on several occasions in search of food (Genesis 12:10; 26:1; 41:57; 42:6; 43:1-7). The story of Ruth is the story of an immigrant who continually crossed national borders in search of food. Other spiritual ancestors of ours were pushed out of their homeland because of war or persecution (Joseph, Daniel, Moses, David, and the baby Jesus). So immigration because of economics, war, and asylum-seeking is not far from every Christian's own heritage.

3. Specifically apply the Second Commandment to illegal immigrants: "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" (Leviticus 19:34).

4. Care for immigrants since they had a central place in the laws and practices of ancient Israel. Israel was commanded to love immigrants because God loves immigrants. "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).

5. Be hospitable according to New Testament teaching which literally means to "love the stranger" or the alien (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). Jesus commanded his followers to welcome people who had no social standing, such as the poor, the sick, and the outsider (Luke 14:12-14).

Now none of these Bible passages answer the question about whether we should build a wall covering the whole length of the border between the United States and Mexico, or whether we ought to educate the children of illegal immigrants here in the United States in our public schools. But these biblical considerations, in my mind at least, do shape a Christian's heart so that we are more inclined to be tolerant, welcoming, and inclusive of immigrants who come to America seeking work or asylum.

My bottom line appeal to you, who read this letter, is this: We Christians must look at issues facing America differently than does the rest of society. We should not be motivated primarily by partisan rhetoric, economic expediency, or ingrained voting preferences. Rather, we Christians are to look at the world through the spectacles that God has provided for us

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