Christians at the Border (Part 2 of 3)

immigration 2

“You go online and at any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. Yet we let people come into this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them. We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in and then when your time is up. However long your visa is, then we go get you and tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Excuse me, it’s time to go.'” Candidate for president, Chris Christie

In Part 1 I said:

We should peer through the lens of Scripture and develop biblically informed consciences rather than parroting the politics of shock jocks and evocative propagandizers. As we do we’ll notice that while God’s Word doesn’t provide detailed guidelines on each sociopolitical problem, it does give us a backdrop for how we’re to live together in God’s world. And though I propose no simple solutions to the “border crisis” I do offer a reminder about how God tells us repeatedly to love our neighbor and care for immigrants along with widows, orphans, and the poor. So, the question is how do we shape our attitudes and opinions about immigrants – or anything else for that matter – by God or by greed?

I encourage us to put aside our predispositions we might have about immigration and just look at what the Bible says about how we’re supposed to treat our neighbors from outside of our borders. So, let’s do some of that now…

Beginning at the beginning…

“Let us make people in our image, after our likeness…” Genesis 1:26

As Christians we are called to view all other human beings, not through the lens of national allegiances or ethnic origins, but through our allegiance to our Creator (and theirs). What makes us neighbors is his image that he installed in all of us in the Garden. The neighbors that Jesus told us to love not only include the ones on our side of the border or the ones with our same skin color or whose language and culture match ours.

Each member of the human family has worth and unique potential to contribute to the common good. This is where discussion on immigration has to start for us. Appreciating divine image newcomers would eliminate the heated rhetoric and insolent labeling. At least it should among us.

This debate is about people – people made in the image of God, with all the inherent worth and standing that this lofty designation entails. Policy debates, statistics, spreadsheets don’t tell the whole story. The rhetoric is about humans that God cares about. They have names and families and needs like you and me.

Remember that the Word’s actual first words are, “In the beginning God.” It isn’t, “In the beginning, me (or you)!” This world, along with the humans that God placed here to manage it began with him and orbits around him. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness of it.” So when we say, “Yeah, but those foreigners come here and take our jobs, syphon our resources, crowd our schools, commit crime, and dilute our American way of life!” in addition to the inaccuracy of it, the operative term is “our.” David prayed, “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.  We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors” (1 Chronicles 29:12-15). Evidently, we’re all “foreigners” here. Nothing is actually “ours,” so when we share it’s only a matter of sharing the wealth that God puts in our hands to share.

“I work hard for my money. Why would I want to give it to people I don’t even know?”

“He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” Ephesians 4:28

That’s why.

Exiles, strangers and foreigners in the Old Testament

Throughout most of their history the Jews were not at all oriented to neighborliness toward people of other countries. God had made them special by singling them out as recipients of his Word and the privilege of giving birth to the Messiah. He’d told them to stay morally and spiritually separate from the ways of other nations and so they had every right to secure their borders from the evil peoples around them, right? Well, not so…

At the same time God commanded them to refuse to take on their neighbors’ ways, he told them repeatedly to take care of those same neighbors, be benevolent toward them. They weren’t supposed to keep them out of their country or their coffers. On the contrary, they were supposed to have an open door as well as an open heart policy with people coming from other countries and cultures.

 In the Old Testament the “foreigner” is often referred to in the same breath as the “fatherless, the widow, and the poor,” all of which make up a sort of quartette of the most vulnerable in any society, those about whom God shows special concern and commands his kids to follow suit.

Exodus 23:9 “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Deuteronomy 24:14-15 Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.

Deuteronomy 24:17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.

Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Leviticus 19:34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Ezekiel 22:29 The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.

Malachi 3:5 “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.

How about that last one where the prophet linked oppressing foreigners to such evils as sorcery, adultery, and perjury!

“Yeah, that’s all old covenant! We don’t have to keep all those laws today! Right?”

No, that’s not exactly right. Without digressing into a treatise on the topic, I’ll refer you to my essay: The Lord, His Law, and Those Who Love Him (The Place of the Law in the Life of the New Testament Believer)

I will make one point though, based on Deuteronomy 10:17-18: “The LORD your God . . . defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” Notice that he’s describing how God is. It’s the way he is in relation to the fatherless, widows, and aliens. He defends them, loves them, and provides for them. If this is true of God, even if we now live in a new stage in redemption history, we who say we want to be like him have to find some way of expressing it our own practices, priorities, and policies. Tim Keller wrote, “We should be wary of simply saying, ‘These things don’t apply anymore,’ because the Mosaic laws of social justice are grounded in God’s character, and that never changes.”**

Exiles, strangers and foreigners in the New Testament

1 Peter 1:1 To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,

1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.

Hebrews 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

If you were asked to list all the titles we Christians are given in the Bible, “exiles, foreigners, and strangers” probably usually make it in the top five or ten – or more. For most of us, “sons and daughters of God, elect, predestined, beloved, believers, chosen ones, saints…” would all come to mind way before “strangers.” Jesus told us that we’re in the world but not of the world and that the world (the dominant culture) would hate us if we followed him. This world is not our home. Our passport is stamped with the seal of another place and we’re just passing through place on the way there, so we’re not surprised to be treated as strangers in a foreign land. We of all people should be familiar with the rejection that comes from being different, as well as the vulnerability that we experience in our home away from home.

In an attempt to escape any actual responsibility to love people he didn’t want to have to love, a “Bible expert” asked Jesus how far his neighborhood extended. In essence he said:

“Who is my neighbor? Cuz’ I don’t want to love anyone more than I have to. My neighborhood only extends to… I don’t have to love people on the other side of the border, do I? They aren’t like us. They’re not the same shade as us, their houses are run down, and I can’t understand them when they talk. I’ve worked all my life to be able to live in my neighborhood, it’s just not natural to have friends over there.”

The man had an enormous list of the kind of people that he didn’t want to love. He wanted to know whom he was required to love so he could love as few people as necessary. At the top of his “People I Don’t Have To Love List” were Samaritans.

So not-so-subtle Jesus went and made a hated Samaritan the protagonist of a parable. When faced with a destitute person the half-breed, foreigner Samaritan in the story didn’t stand there and review his list of neighbors. He saw a need and he met it, which made him the bleeding guy’s neighbor. That the loathed person acted neighborly showed that “Who is my neighbor?” was definitely the wrong question. The question should be, “Who do I get to treat in a neighborly way? How can I be the best possible neighbor to people from other neighborhoods?”

immigrant“Sadly, it is not uncommon for Christians to not feel like “strangers in a strange land”; their place of residence has lost its strangeness, and now they join others in wanting to keep strangers out.”* Daniel Carroll

As I said in Part 1, “For the believer, politics follows theology, not the other way around. As difficult as it may be, I try to adjust my social conscience to match the Word of God rather than bend the Bible to suit my notions about the way the world ought to work.” 

So, on the basis of Scripture do you see something I don’t see? I welcome your pushback. 

2 Replies to “Christians at the Border (Part 2 of 3)”

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