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HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS VIEW ILLEGAL ALIENS?


With the recent Supreme Court decision about the controversial Arizona Immigration law and the political furor around the entire illegal-immigration issue, it is past time for Christians to give serious thought to just how we are to view illegal aliens. In the Old Testament, God was very explicit in instructing Israel about the “stranger [i.e., ‘alien’] within your midst.”

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34, ESV)

“And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the LORD, that man shall be cut off from his people. “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. (Leviticus 17:8-10, ESV)

Notice two principles contained in these Levitical Laws:

  1. Israel was to “love” the stranger as they loved themselves. The reason for this was their own national experience. They had been “strangers” in Egypt where they were oppressed slaves – but God had set them free. For this reason, they were to act toward the strangers among them in the same way that the Lord had acted toward them when they were in distress.
  2. The stranger was to be subject to the same law that governed Israel. They were not to bring the worship of idols into Israel. That is the significance of “eating of blood” in Leviticus 17:10 above. Nor were they to remove their sacrifices from the place where the Lord made His presence known among His people. These laws were for Israel, but also governed the stranger within their gates.

Is it legitimate for us to apply these principles to our socio-political situation today? I believe that it is.

As individual Christians, Jesus has taught us that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is certainly in line with Leviticus 19:33-34 above, and is a direct quotation from Leviticus 19:18. While Leviticus 19 has laws of many kinds (some of which seem very “foreign” to our way of thinking, colored as that is by our Western Culture + the gospel), there are some basic principles in these laws. Among these are the holiness of God, the sovereignty of God, and God’s desire that His people be like Him. God loves the alien; hence, we should as well. That the alien is to be subject to the same laws as the host country should be a no-brainer – then and now. When in Rome, you obey Rome’s laws. When in America, you should obey America’s laws. People who chose to be a law to themselves in a foreign country should not be surprised when they get bit by those laws. In one sense, this is in tension with the first principle stated above – that we are to treat the alien as we treat our brothers. What it does is lay some responsibility on the alien to adapt to the host country.

One of the problems I am seeing in our immigration mess is that neither the American citizen population nor the alien (uninvited) “guests” are willing to do what Moses taught Israel to do. American citizens are outraged at the “invasion” of aliens (hence laws such as the Arizona law that received mixed results in the Supreme Court). But, on the other hand, the aliens are, in many instances, insisting on remaining “alien” – and yet demand to be treated as honored guests.

What is the solution? A political solution will be extremely difficult. Emotions are high on all sides of the issue.

One thing a Christian can do is to attempt to fulfill Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In coming to this command, we need to remember that when the Pharisee asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan, of course, was an uninvited foreigner traveling a Judean road when he met the man who had fallen among thieves and befriended him.

Another thing we can do is to attempt to lower the emotional temperature by mentally putting ourselves in the place of the person who illegally crossed the border to find a way of feeding his family. What would you do if your family were hungry – and there was wealth beyond your experience or imagination just a few miles away across an unguarded border?

If we will do these things ourselves – and encourage others to do the same – eventually we may be able to turn the rhetoric down enough to find a sensible solution. That solution is not likely to be a mass deportation of millions of people – many of whom have been in this country for a long, long time.

This, by the way, is one reason I have no desire to be president or even a congressman. I do not have the wisdom of Solomon that would make it possible to “solve” the issue with a simple solution pulled out of a hat. All I can do is try my best to follow the principles of Jesus in applying them to the circumstances in which I find myself.

Will you join me?

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7 Responses

  1. “The Samaritan, of course, was an uninvited foreigner traveling a Judean road” – No where is it stated that he was “uninvited” – in fact, it would appear that he was doing business… There were also Samaritans in Jerusalem – again, no where is it stated that they were “uninvited” or “illegal”.

    • Of course, the entire point of the parable was that this Samaritan was NOT of Israel. Jews would go around Samaria to keep from coming into contact with Samaritans. You assume that he was doing business in Judea? I can just as easily assume that he was doing business elsewhere and just “passing through” the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Certainly the man to whom Jesus told the parable would have viewed the Samaritan as an intruder. Jesus’ own view of the Samaritans was quite different.

  2. Hi Jerry,

    Thanks for pointing me to this post. I agree with much, though am puzzled by your statement “aliens are, in many instances, insisting on remaining “alien”’ — I know of few aliens that choose to remain alien. The path to legal residence, let alone citizenship, is close to most of them. Their status is not maintained by choice.

    Or is there something in your statement that I’m not getting?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim

    • Tim, thanks for your comment and also your comments on your blog.

      What I meant was the attitude that some (not nearly all) of the undocumented immigrants have of segregating themselves and not learning the language of our country, while demanding the rights of citizens – even demanding that children be taught in Spanish in the schools. No, I do not believe all fall into this category – but enough do that the perception many have (a stylized mis-perception, to be sure) is that all immigrants are that way.

      In some ways, this is little different from the great immigrations of the 19th century when many Irish, Italians, and Germans came into this country. Those immigrants, however, fairly quickly assimilated. I’m not so sure that our current flood of immigrants are as eager to assimilate – though that may be more a matter of perception than reality. I do know that some activist groups claim that much of our nation, by right, belongs to Mexico. As a history major, I know a case can be made for that point of view – but trying to renegotiate the treaties by which the USA got certain pieces of land does nothing to solve the current immigration issue. It tends to raise the emotional level (of nearly everyone concerned) without reaching any solutions. The conservative, tea-party type response is equally non-productive. The immigrant activists and the Sean-Hannity-types on the right are, in my estimation, both contributing more to the problem than to a solution.

      However, with your experience with the Hispanic population being much greater than mine, I appreciate your input. I live among many Hispanics in my neighborhood. I have had no problems with them. However, they are a people to themselves (aliens?). At least that’s the way it looks to one who does not speak Spanish. Until this perception can be overcome, as a Christian I still try to lower the emotional temperature and treat everyone as creatures in the image of God as they are.

      • Jerry,

        I see. You didn’t mean “alien” in terms of legal status but in terms of cultural assimilation.

        There was assimilation in the previous waves of immigration, yet there was also much separation. Look at the ethnic neighborhoods (Little Italy, etc.) in so many of our towns. We also have to face the fact that times were very different. Travel and communication with the old country were very slow and very difficult.

        As for who is to blame for existing separation, that’s hard to say. Xenophobia runs high. The current state of immigration debate only makes things worse. If you’re here illegally, there is the constant fear of deportation. (Which is WAY up since Obama took office, something I find ironic) If you’re here legally, you face the constant questioning of your legal status, even if your family has lived here for generations.

        I find it frustrating at church. We have a bilingual service (everything done in Spanish and English). I have made several pleas for members from our larger service to visit the bilingual service, pointing out that bilingual means things will also be done in English. Yet not even 5% have visited even once.

        If church members won’t make an effort to make Hispanics feel a part, what can we expect from society in general?

  3. Tim, that is why I suggested the two things we can do as Christians.

    First, we can individually and as congregations make every effort to “receive one another as Christ has received us,” to paraphrase Paul. This means socially and in every other way.

    Second, we can also attempt to tone down the rhetoric and its emotional, irrational xenophobia that has absolutely seized many of our brethren and large swaths of society. Until the emotional outcries are somewhat subdued, the loudest and shrillest will have their way. We really need to shame those who are the loudest into being more rational in their approach.

    But, the church can lead the way if only we will. I do see some signs of that happening, but too many of us are still caught up in the political maelstrom. On the personal level of interaction, we do fairly well; it is in public policy (political) that we tend to go overboard.

  4. Yes i agree, this is a tough one. I live in England,and has you know compared to the size of the USA we are just a small island.
    You have raised the issue`s between religion and politics. I have no issue about the religious part. The political part is the problem. You mentioned when in Rome do has the Romans do. This does not happen when the alien gets preferential treatment over an English person.
    This happens a lot,and i suppose it happens a lot in the USA,but i am unsure of that. One thing for sure we both have had a civil war over it.
    I have my own idea`s about this. One would be to have a common ground on this,but already i am stuck after this one.
    Yes it`s a very difficult problem.

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