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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