It befuddles me when people who publicly proclaim their Christian identity can also exhibit open hostility toward immigrants. I know I should be used to it, but it always leaves me scratching my head. Such is the status of my social media feeds following the one-two punch of the Syrian refugee crisis and the terror attacks on Paris.
The purpose of this post is to encourage my fellow believers to recalibrate our moral compass so that our gut reaction to words like “immigrant,” “alien,” and “refugee” is to not to ask, “How can we keep them out?” but to ask, “How can we help them?”
I realize that as a matter of national political policy, immigration is complicated. This is especially true now, when many folks fear that peddlers of violence are trying to smuggle destruction and terror across national borders. Questions of amnesty, building border fences, and deportation are matters of perennial national debate. I have a pretty good grasp of the immigration laws as they stand, but I don’t know exactly how those laws are implemented by the federal government in the trenches. Nor do I know the best way to reform the rather Byzantine immigration system America now possesses. Striking a proper balance between protecting citizens and welcoming aliens is beyond my ken.
Although I may not be a policy analyst, I am a biblical theologian. I can say with confidence that, no matter what any country’s immigration policy might be, a Christ-follower’s default position ought to be tenderness and compassion toward immigrants. Hospitality is our moral baseline. Concern and affection for aliens/immigrants/refugees is our default position—our starting point whenever we Christians are called to consider immigration policy matters.
The Bible says quite a bit about how to treat foreigners or “aliens,” but I don’t remember ever hearing these passages preached from a pulpit. The authors of the Hebrew Bible frequently group foreigners along with widows and orphans as categories of people toward whom God shows special care. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 24:17-22).< Consider Leviticus 19. I treasure Leviticus 19 because of how Jesus used it. When a lawyer asked Jesus to give the greatest commandment in the Torah, Jesus rightly replied that it was the Shema—the command to love the Lord with everything you are. But Jesus also volunteered a second, crucial layer of Christian love. He said, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39; Mk. 12:31; Lk. 10:27). Jesus was quoting Leviticus 19:18. The very same language is echoed in the command to love the alien in Leviticus 19:33-34:
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
This concern for foreigners bled into Israel’s tax policy. Recall that God commanded the ancient Jews to collect every third year’s tithe (or 10% tax) into community storehouses for the purpose of supplying the needs of the Levites, aliens, orphans, and widows (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:11-13).
In yet another key passage, Moses reminds the Israelites that:
the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You also shall love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God” (Deut. 10:17-20).
As a final example, among the twelve curses Moses speaks to his people before they enter the promised land is that: “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice” (Deut. 27:19). Examples of this sort of language could be multiplied ad nauseum. Hospitality toward foreigners is a biblical big deal.
Is hospitality risky?
Heck, yeah. People are messed up, and we often can’t be trusted. Being hospitable makes you vulnerable. The Bible acknowledges this reality, but suggests that hospitality is worth the risk:
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured… [W]e can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (Heb. 13:1-6).
In any event, hospitality imitates God. Furthermore, Christians ought not make decisions based on vague fears of what bad things people might do to us. Jesus counsels: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more” (Lk 12:4).
And Jesus’s dear friend reminds us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 Jn. 4:18).
As carriers of God’s Spirit, we operate from a position of confidence and fearlessness. As the psalmist explains, we put our trust in God. We are not afraid. What can humans do to us? (Ps. 56:4; 118:6; Heb. 13:6).
I also believe in the power of prayer and in angelic protection for people who are doing God’s work. If I have good reason to fear people who are coming into my community, I should invoke protection in the name of Jesus. In other words, consider this spiritual-warfare strategy: instead of shunning outsiders we aren’t sure we can trust, we can welcome them into our own spaces while guarding ourselves through prayer. For example:
Lord, I am not sure if I can trust these people I am welcoming into my community. But I know you taught us to show hospitality and promised to take care of your servants who seek first your kingdom. Guard my home and family and community with your angels. Fill this space with your presence, and work wonders in the hearts of the people I fear. May my fear give way to love, and may that love in Christ melt whatever evil might lurk in the hearts of the people I mistrust.
Again, I am not saying I have the answers to the immigration debate or the question-of-the-day regarding Syrian refugees. I only modestly propose that, for people who follow the altruistic, self-sacrificing Christ, the default position should be concern for immigrants, who are brothers and sisters made in God’s image.
Our knee-jerk reaction should be love.
Perhaps economic concerns and safety concerns should shape the way our country regulates its borders. But Christ-followers should need a compelling reason not to instinctively extend hospitality to foreigners. Our gut reaction is always to imitate our Lord, who loves the strangers and gives them food and clothing (Deut, 20:17-19). “Love the alien as you love yourself,” should be a command grafted into our very DNA. If it isn’t, please pray for God to give you that love.