Thursday, June 26, 2014

Does The Bible Offer Theological Help on Immigration?

Last night, I showed the Evangelical Immigration Table's film, The Stranger, to just under 100 of our people as a "conversation starter" on the subject of immigration as a concern for Christians. I tried to keep the discussion away from politics, but that is hard given that it is such a politically tinged issue. The practical "take away" issues I hope we all understand are:

  • Immigration is a complex issue going beyond people sneaking into the U.S. from our southern border.
  • There are Christian brothers and sisters who are negatively affected by current immigration policies and practices.
  • Current laws are not securing our borders, provide no real path for citizenship for those who would seek to come or stay legally, and may often contribute to significant harm to families as undocumented parents may be separated from children who are here legally or are citizens by birth.
  • As the Church, ministry to people is more important than determining whether those people are in the U.S. legally or not. 
I appreciated questions asked, and also the frustration some expressed in that answers were not explicitly given. That is part of the challenge of thinking about tough issues--they are tough for a reason.

I have written previously about comprehensive immigration reform on this blog, and you can click on the link to read what I said in 2013. Such an approach tries to address border security, dealing with the up to 14 million here who are undocumented, and future immigration from other countries, all through the establishment of clear and consistent laws that will be enforced and followed by all levels of government. 

The film does not do much to lay out a robust theological framework for concern, beyond the citing of a number of familiar scriptures. One of those scriptures, Matthew 25's "least of these" passage, is one that I believe is taken out of context (you can see my explanation of my objection in another post).

What about the other references? And if I believe that the Church should think biblically about immigration, what scriptures would I appeal to?  Here is a foundation.

  1. "The Golden Rule" passages--"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12, see also Luke 6:31). This is pretty self-explanatory. This would include extending grace, overlooking faults, being compassionate, and so on. Since Jesus goes even further to teach "love your enemies," we know that this is not just promoting reciprocal action for believers (I'll do good to you if you do good to me), but other-focused action (I'll do good to you that I would wish for you to do for me).
  2. The "love your neighbor" passages--Seen in the Great commandment passages as summarizing the horizontal terms of the Law (Luke 10:25-28, and Paul's echo in Galatians 5:14). If we wonder who our neighbor is, we know that Jesus answered that question in Luke 10's parable of the Good Samaritan.
  3. The "Hospitality" passages--Calls to hospitality (the word literally means "love of strangers") are frequent in both the OT and NT. Hebrews 13:2 tells us that by being hospitable, some (possibly referring to Abraham) have entertained angels without realizing who they were. 1 Peter 4:9 says it bluntly, "show hospitality to one another without grumbling." The "one another" here would limit the direct application to believers, but the Hebrews passage was clearly pointing outside one's own circle.
  4. The "Sojourner" passages--Many of these passages in the OT are addressed to Israel and how it should treat foreigners who come and live among them. Leviticus 19:34 captures this body of material well: "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." Now, we know that we are not Israel, and sojourning in the USA is not the same as among God's covenant people. But, if the Church is called to be demonstrative of the heart of God toward those who do not know him, as Israel was called to be, then the Church's view and treatment of strangers should parallel that of Israel. We, too, know what it is to be strangers and aliens in this world, just as Israel learned what it was to be strangers in Egypt. 
There is more, of course, and even Matthew 25's teaching that treating the "least of these, my brothers" with compassion does have an application if we are speaking of believers who are immigrants--legal or otherwise.

What about submission to authority? Christians know that no human government exercises its authority in ways that are wholly consistent with God's morality. We recognize government authority to do many things--inflict punishment, promote laws, collect taxes, receive respect, and be obeyed. However, none of these rights is absolute. Believers have always had to weigh deference to the government against obedience and honor to God. Midwives refused to kill Hebrew babies, lied about it, and were rewarded by God (Exodus 1). Jehoiada the priest overthrew the rule of Queen Athaliah--a wicked queen to be sure (2 Kings 10). When Daniel's friends were told to bow before the king's image, they refused and took their punishment (Daniel 3). Daniel sought to circumvent the king's dietary orders (Daniel 1). When apostles were told not to preach by Jewish authorities, they repeatedly refused (Acts 4, 5). Paul urged submission to authorities (Romans 14), but he clearly was not willing to accede to Roman restrictions on gospel ministry and proclamation--as his martyrdom made abundantly clear. Thus, we wish and strive for situations where laws are established that are just and fair, and we honor authority through obedience where we believe it honors God as well. But we owe no nation or king or system of government absolute allegiance, except for King Jesus. And when nations, including the United States of America, adopt laws that call evil "good," and good "evil," that nation has made clear that it has lost--at least to some significant degree--any linkage between its law making and its proper role in God's economy.

Keep thinking about these matters, and consider how God may be guiding you, and us, toward biblical involvement, concern, and prayer.