Why is immigration a Christian issue?

October 24th, 2016

Nothing illustrates the inner conflicts Christians might experience, and the brutal truth that we live in a fallen world better, than the question of immigration. On the one hand, we are law and order people; we believe laws are to be obeyed — so all illegal immigrants, on Christian principles, should be sent home immediately, right? “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1).

But then we are hospitality people, too; throughout the Bible we find warm sentiments toward the stranger, the foreigner, the sojourner, the needy — so immigrants, illegal or not, on Christian principles, should be welcomed and cared for, right? “The alien who lives near you shall be to you as the native born; you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). Or think of the way Jesus described the way those who will be saved treat aliens: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). After all, Mary and Joseph, with the child Jesus in tow, were refugees themselves.

What would the “default” Christian posture on immigration be? I suspect it is to steer clear of hostile or suspicious attitudes, and if possible to err on the side of hospitality. But why? Because modern America has something in common with ancient Israel that seems pertinent. Repeatedly, God told the Israelites, “The stranger shall be to you as the native; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers once” (Leviticus 19:34). “Love the sojourner, for you once were sojourners” (Deuteronomy 10:19); “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you were strangers once” (Exodus 22:21). Israel entered the Promised Land as immigrants from another place, so God urges them to be kind and welcoming to immigrants.

America, too, is a nation of immigrants. Way back we all came from somewhere. The records from Ellis Island are free online; I’ve found quite a few Howells there. While there has always been nagging prejudice against the Irish or Italians or Middle Eastern people and now Hispanics or Arabs, we never evade the eloquence of the poem Emma Lazarus composed for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, which so many immigrants passed as they arrived on our shores: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” These thoughts are not only kin to the Bible; back in those days, American thought on many issues was still shaped by the Bible!

This default mood doesn’t settle policy. Security certainly matters. Ancient Israel must have had the occasional immigrant who proved to be a criminal. But the baseline way we look at them, feel about them, and treat them is to be Christlike. Churches all over the country are engaging in significant ministries of welcome and aid — something that pleases the heart of God. Conservative evangelicals and mainline progressives are increasingly united in their determination to welcome refugees and press for immigration reform.

A consistent Christian ethic that is pro-life will surprise and overturn classic political party alignments. Could it be that pro-life, pro-immigration, anti-death penalty and anti-guns might fit together more neatly than we could have imagined?

Read Rev. Howell's previous 'Tis the Season articles covering the 2016 election here. This article originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission.

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