In Parts 1 and 2 we looked at a number of biblical passages that require God’s people to display a spirit of hospitality to citizens of all nations. I encourage you to peruse, if not carefully study, those as a backdrop to this final post.
But all these “illegals” are breaking the law, right? So what about Romans 13?
Regrettably, Bill Maher was right when he said, “You Christians have been lawyering the Bible for 2000 years!” The most common way to get the Bible to speak for our self-centered benefit is to lift select passages from their context and make them say what we want them to say. That’s how popes and emperors justified the crusades and Bible thumping bigots supported slavery.
Though I’m no pundit of politics, I do know a little bit about the Bible, and I offer these few principles to contest the notion that Romans 13:1-7 demands that we refuse hospitality to immigrants.
The preponderance of passages that require us to be hospitable to outsiders…
I’ve listed above a small sample of passages that indicate the general tenor of God’s heart for the stranger. It fascinates me how we can so readily ignore the vast material in both Testaments concerning immigrants and reduce the argument simply to an issue of legality.
“If one begins with a biblical orientation that includes the centrality of the importance of the immigrant as made in the image of God, if one can appreciate how pervasive migration experiences are to the history and faith of the people of God, if Old Testament law projects an ethics of compassion, and if the thrust of Jesus’s ministry and the New Testament as a whole is to love the outsider and be hospitable, then the inclination is to be charitable to the immigrant in the name of God and Christ.” Daniel Carroll
How we respond to unjust laws…
Yes, undocumented immigrants have broken the laws of the United States to either sneak inside our borders or overstay their visa. But has the U.S. itself broken God’s higher laws by exploiting those immigrants, denying them their rights, and refusing to help them in their need?
It’s ironic that some of the same people who interpret Romans 13 in a very legalistic way when it comes to immigration take a very different stance when it comes to the government’s ruling on abortion, for example. Don’t you find it a little hypocritical that some of the same people who appeal to Romans 13 on the Christian’s duty to honor the “rule of law” in regard to immigration and then do the opposite when a person, based on their religious convictions, refuses to issue a wedding license to a gay couple?
As people of faith, we hold that we have not only the right but also the duty to struggle against laws that we find to be unjust, whether the Jim Crow laws of 50 years ago or what some have dubbed the “Juan Crow” laws of today.
When the apostles were ordered to stop preaching the Gospel they pushed back with, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Acts 5:29
One of the best things about living in our nation is that we’re afforded the right to disagree with our government and its current policies. We do this all the time at the ballot box; through publications; by organizing educational, legal, and civic organizations that would defend other points of view; by participating in peaceful protests for a host of causes. Rosa Parks broke the law when she refused to move to the back of the bus. I’m glad she did.
Our application of Scripture is always influenced by the law of love…
By far the most familiar biblical interpretive principle is the “law of context.” It’s an old saying that “A text without a context is a pretext.” So, let’s look at the before and after contexts of Romans 13:1-7.
Leading up to chapter 13 Paul wrote:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality…
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position…
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Julian, the Roman Emperor was angered by the advance of Christianity and wrote one of his pagan priests, “Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstition of these Christians as their charity to strangers. These impious Galileans provide not only for their own poor but for ours as well!” The Jews of the empire took care of the Jewish poor. The Romans took care of their own. But those crazy Christians took care of everybody!
To our shame we often don’t even exhibit this kind of love and hospitality to the people next door, let alone to those on the other side of national borders! The very least we can do is treat our “enemies” with food and drink.
And here’s what immediately follows Romans 13:1-7:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10
The law of the land (Rom 13:1-7) doesn’t exempt us from the law of love (Rom 13:8-10). We submit to authorities and their laws in so far as they do not violate the great commandments to love God and our neighbor.
Love is the summation of all God’s requirements. All that he wants from us and for us is love. If we love him and love others, everything else sort of takes care of itself. So then how can we get away with anything other than loving treatment of needy people at our border?
He said, “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” At the most fundamental level, loving our neighbor means to do him/her no harm. You don’t harm people that that you love, at least not intentionally. The applications to this are innumerable, but how are we not harming our neighbors from the other side of the border when we block them from passage to our side in search of survival, if not a better life?
“Yeah, but I’m supposed to love and provide for my own children first. These intruders’ needs aren’t as important to me as those of my own kids!”
If my child and another were drowning and I can’t save them both, I admit that I’d rescue my own child first. And then do all I could to save the other. But generally speaking it’s not our children at risk of mortal danger, as is often the case with immigrants, many of them children, who are fleeing from murderous cartels, warlords, or civil wars in their homelands. If we share our wealth (relatively speaking) with the world’s children, our own children might have to suffer the disgrace of being the only kids on the block deprived of the latest iPhone. The stakes are not quite the same.
Room in the inn…
I conclude with the words of Welcoming the Stranger, by Matthew Soerens
“We respect borders, but we claim there would always be room at the inn for those strangers who travel among us, even if we have to help pay the way, like the Good Samaritan did for his unnamed guest. Hospitality is never cheap, but neither is inhospitality, especially when we remember the words of Christ: ‘I was a stranger (xenos) and you invited me in’ (Matthew 25:35).”
If you have a different view of these passages and what the Bible says overall about this subject, I’d love to hear it. Blessings.
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Another of my books is called Reaching Rahab: Joining God In His Quest For Friends. It’s about sharing your Best Friend with your other friends. Half of the profits of it go to YWAM San Francisco.
11 Replies to “Christians at the Border (Part 3 of 3)”
I think there are 2 different issues in regards to the border. Our national security and our response to individuals in need. I personally support strong borders and building a wall. We have all heard it said that a country without borders is not a country. I agree with this statement. Are you saying that we should not have any borders to our country and anyone that wants to come in is free to do so? Are you proposing that we should do away with illegal entry into our country?
I’m not proposing any particular approach to immigration. I’m proposing that however smarter people than me proceed, I believe we should hold them to a biblically-based spirit of love and hospitality. I don’t know the context of the statement attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “A country without borders is not a country.” But it’s probably a good thing for us that the Native Americans didn’t have enough adobe to build a wall around their country before his parents came onto their land from England. I’m just saying that what we call “ours” is not actually ours, and that walls and barriers to prohibit people from escaping life-threatening situations is not what Jesus would do. How to manage the enormity of the migration problems around the world is up for grabs, but as Christians, I believe we should be governed by generosity rather than fear.
Augustine insisted that we’re citizens of two places, the City of God and the City of Man. The values of the former have to influence the values of the latter, not the other way around.
The 2nd issue is our attitude towards the individual. I agree that at this level we are obligated to God to help any person in need with the resources God has provided. As stated previously, I support a strong border however when I meet someone in need I do not ask them for their green card or make sure they are legal before helping them.
However, just as a means of illustration, if someone breaks into my house illegally to take what is in my house I would be less inclined to help them.
I haven’t had anyone break into my house lately and I don’t know if there’s an apt parallel between that and immigration. But building a wall around my neighborhood would certainly cut down on any sort of thought process about how I would have to deal with hungry people breaking in to find food. Walls to prevent the possibility of break-ins keep people far enough away so we don’t have to actually look them in the eye. Maybe if we were better at seeing that people in less advantaged neighborhoods had enough to eat we wouldn’t have as much of a problem with break-ins.
This isn’t just about “issues” but about humans that God loves. Are some of these humans a danger to you and me, no doubt. But where does the wall stop? It won’t just keep out the bad people but also the hungry ones.
C.S. Lewis described hell as the place where people go and build their house, but since they can’t get along with their neighbors, they move to another neighborhood, where they can’t get along with them, so they move again and again for eternity. It’s a place where we’re always moving away from each other. Walls and barbed wire fences keep us apart and don’t seem to reflect heaven’s values.
I have commented previously my views and am honestly one of those fence riders on several of the issues concerning this. As an American born individual, I believe too many of us keep ourselves blinded to the fact that these are real live breathing human beings. Mommas with little babies fighting for their lives, many dying in the vast ocean, and can we seriously say, “Let them die!” Nope, not me.
I saw where someone stated, “Give them 15 minutes to turn around or sink their boat.” Are we seriously that sick of a society that it’s ok for an American to be walking our streets with THAT attitude?
We also forget about the immigrants that “look” like us. Canadians are everywhere yet since they “look” like us we tend to leave them alone.
Christ died on the cross for everyone….Not just Americans. What an opportunity to share with them eternal life.
It’s a good thing they didn’t sink our great-great grandparents’ boat in the New York harbor! You bring up an enormous point about the opportunity we have for sharing the gospel with people who show up here. They may be uninvited but could very well be sent by God to see and here the good news. How to manage it all, I don’t know. But if we’re half as compassionate as we think we are intelligent, we should be looking for a solution – one that doesn’t include walls or tracking microchips under the skin! Thanks for your comment.
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It seems to me that you are advocating that anyone who wants to come here is welcome. If they make the hard journey to cross our borders in any way possible then we need to meet them with open doors. How are you walking this principle out in your own life? Do you leave your front door wide open and anyone who wants to come in is free to do so because that is what you are saying about our national borders. Are you advocating that we welcome the Syrian refugees to the US knowing full well that ISIS plans to enter our country, per our defense analysts, this way. I personally think this is a little too simplistic of a response to this issue.
We may sound compassionate by stating “what an opportunity to share with them eternal life” but are you? Are you walking out what you state you believe? If so, that is awesome but i think we tend to sound more compassionate then we live out. Yes, Christ died for all but did Jesus form a committee to right the wrongs of the Roman society or challenge the newly birthed church to do the same? NOPE. He challenges us to be a part of changing the hearts of men and that will change society.
You’re last statement reflects what I’m advocating, that “changed hearts change society.” As I’ve said, a number of times here that though there’s no simplistic political solution to this, we have to begin with changed hearts – ours first. Like I said, as Christians our politics should be determined by biblical values, rather than by cultural or economic priorities.
In regard to self-preservation, terrorism has won when we let our fears overrule our compassion. Does that mean we don’t do anything to avert terrorist attack? Of course not. It means though that we refuse to construct walls – made of mortar or meanness – to protect “our way of life” at the cost of others losing their lives altogether in civil wars and drug-lord-dominated regions.
It begins with a larger idea of our connection to all of humanity as image bearers, not just the people who live in a geopolitically defined region. As I’ve said, how we go about showing hospitality in our modern world, I’m not smart enough to know. But it begins with a reduction of fear about all the negative possibilities of allowing others in and an increase of care about people who suffer in other countries for no fault of their own.
We can’t compare leaving our front doors open with finding a humane approach to immigration. The likelihood is close to nil that a starving person or someone running from danger would enter my house at night for just the food in my refrigerator or for shelter from being murdered.
Maybe it’s more like finding someone sleeping in our backyard some morning. We approach him cautiously (maybe with bat in hand?) to find out that he was starving and too exhausted to take another step, so he got a drink and washed himself from the hose, ate a few peaches off my tree, and crawled up in the shrubs to sleep. He didn’t break in the house, steal anything, or harm my family. He was just trying to survive.
The question then is, do I invite him to stay in the yard interminably, eat as many peaches and drink as much of my water as he wants? Well, that’s going to be a more difficult decision, one that each person would have to make from their own conscience. Some more generous than I would invite him to stay with them in the house until he gets on his feet. Others would give him a few bucks, send him on his way, or point him toward work or social services. And then some would get him arrested for trespassing. There’s no doubt that it is conceivable that the next guy I find in the yard is there for the express purpose of harming me and my family, but building a 20-foot wall around my house so that I don’t have to deal with people as actual people doesn’t seem to me the Christian thing to do.
I propose no simple pathway to world peace or economic fairness. I just think we Christians should think and speak and act and vote more Christianly. Yes, changed hearts change society. So let’s change our hearts…
I hear you Barney and your analogy above gives a really good picture of the situation. There are no easy answers to the national situation but at the individual level there is. Well, not easy but simple. If he is hungry feed him, if he is thirsty give him something drink, if he needs shelter let him in.
I am glad this issue is not easy for Christians. I have a neighbor. He is an “illegal” from Mexico. He has 2 kids, a wife, and lives in a converted garage. He drives an old car with only three fenders to work every day! It would change the course of debate for everyone if they could get to know who they are talking about. On Sunday afternoons my neighbor has family over for fiesta. They turn up their car stereo. They laugh together. Their children run around and happily scream. It’s all music. I have too many Christian brothers who have never even thought to venture outside their suburb to a neighborhood where they would hear this kind of music. Yet, these same brothers are convinced the nation needs a wall to keep out illegals. Sadly, they really don’t know who any of these “illegals” are. I think my Christian brothers have good but frustrated hearts. We’ve had discussions on the immigration issue. They honestly struggle to reconcile Christian ideals with strict immigration. Personally, my walk as a disciple made I a lot more sense when I stopped trying.
It’s too easy to claim to love the world when we don’t care anything about individual people in it. I hear a lot of talk about “those people” as though there’s some sort of monolithic mentality of everyone from that country or that socioeconomic background or that political party… We’d be better off getting acquainted with “this person”… this individual who bears God’s stamp, who has a purpose in this world, and who has the capability of contributing to my life if I’ll let him/her…