This past week I preached on what the Bible has to say about immigration. I won’t post the sermon to this website because I thought it fell a little flat. (Unless you're curious: http://www.rooftop.org/sermons/)
Regardless of the sermon, I did learn an awful lot about the issue. While Scripture doesn’t talk about many of our contemporary political issues, it does speak to immigration. A LOT. You cannot read the Bible without coming face to face with God’s concern for the immigrant, who is called many things in Scripture: “foreigner,” “strangers,” “exile,” sojourner.” (As one of many examples, “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow” -Ps. 146:9.) The reality is that God’s people are themselves immigrants in both a literal and spiritual sense. Abraham, Moses, Israel, Joseph, Daniel, Esther, Ruth, and many other of our Biblical heroes were immigrants in foreign countries. God was constantly reminding them of this when it came to their own personal and national dealings with immigrants in their land. (From Exodus: “Do not mistreat a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” -Exod. 22:21.) And the New Testament is quite clear that Christians should live out our time “here as foreigners,” while we wait for our arrival to “a better country, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). (For a much more thorough summary of what the Bible says about immigration, check out Daniel Carroll's book, "Christians at the Border." It's excellent.)
Yes, the Bible encourages the obedience of laws (Rom. 13:1-2), and even the Old Testament has requirements for immigrants living in Israel. They were to obey the law, as all Israelites were (Deut. 31:12). There's no way to avoid the fact that many undocumented workers are here illegally. Balancing God’s love for the immigrant with our obligation to respect governing authorities is a tricky thing. But it does not remove from us our obligation to love and serve the immigrants in our midst. If we really identify as followers of Christ, WE HAVE NO OPTION but to care for, love and serve the immigrant, as God loves and cares for us.
Most American Christians don’t get this. A surprisingly high number of American Christians are opposed to immigration reform and want the border shut down completely. Opposition to immigration reform is part of what it means to be a member of the “Christian right”—which I call myself a part of, at least with respect to some issues. But the Bible clearly advocates a different approach. Why do members of the Christian right ignore the Bible’s teaching on immigration? This is just my opinion, but I believe it’s because many of us look at the issue of immigration as Americans first, and Christians second. As Americans, we want to protect the American way of life and the American economy. And from a contemporary political perspective, those are understandable concerns. (Although I’m increasingly less excited about protecting the so-called American way of life.) But we’re not Americans before we’re Christians. We’re Christians before we’re Americans. And as Christians, we cannot ignore the Bible’s teaching on loving and serving immigrants.
I know that does not solve the political situation. That does not address the issue of the DREAM act. That does not address the matter of what should be done with immigration reform, and the 12+ million undocumented workers here in this country, living in the shadows. It does not tell us how to vote.
But it does reveal God’s heart on the matter. The God of the Bible is very, very pro-immigrant. God’s people have always been immigrants—including modern-day followers of Christ. America is not our home. Heaven is. We are citizens of that country. Not by anything we’ve done, but by the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. We show God that we get that when we reach out to strangers. We show God that we understand his generosity towards us when we open up our hearts to foreigners, when we treat them with kindness at the grocery store, when we adopt them into our homes, when we refuse to profile or stereotype them. To do otherwise is hypocrisy of the greatest degree, given our own spiritual immigrant status. And God will judge us for it. As he warns through his prophet Malachi, “I will be quick to testify against those who deprive the foreigners among you…” (Mal. 3:5).
Hopefully he doesn’t mean us.