What is Our Christian Response to Immigration?


Immigration is a hot topic today. It was a major issue in the recent presidential election, and it remains front and center in the public psyche. The surprise election of Donald Trump is the inertia that keeps the discussion alive.

The public discourse reveals a country emotionally and philosophically divided over the issue of immigration. The public discourse suggests two polarized sides: one side wanting to wall out the world, and the other side wanting to open the flood gates to immigrants of all stripes.

Think about, though: are those really the two sides to this issue? Does one side really want to wall out the world, shutting off the borders to everyone? Does the other side really want to open the borders wide to anyone and everyone without limits?

Those are rhetorical questions of course. Both sides are somewhere to the center of those two positions. As Christians, though, we don’t march to the beat of popular politics. We seek to follow Jesus and aim to usher in the kingdom of God – at least that should be our aim.

Christians have been caught in the switches in this election. Many of us felt caught between a rock and a hard place, having to choose between Clinton, Trump or a throw away vote to a third party candidate. Choosing “the lesser of two evils” put us on one side or the other of the wall dividing the two camps.

The presidential election, and all of the rhetoric and bombast involved, polarized the nation, and even the Church, on the issue of immigration. That polarization, however, creates a false dichotomy.

I presume the majority of the people falling on the one side of the equation would not advocate shutting immigration down to nothing, and the majority on the other side of the equation would not advocate opening our borders with no controls at all. Once the nuclear dust of election turmoil settles, maybe we can have a rational discussion about the issues.

As Christians, we need to be concerned that we are on the “right” side of the equation, and I don’t mean the Republican side. The right side of any argument for those who follow Christ is what God would have us do. Arriving at the right position is easier said than done, of course, and reasonable Christians can (and often do) disagree. But, we should be finding our direction in prayer and with the guidance of Scripture.

I will leave the praying up to the reader, but I can provide some various scriptural references to help us on our way. Some of those references include the following.

“[God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place….” (Acts 17:26)

Remember the Tower of Babel? We can “blame” the diversity of nations on God. According to the story, God “confused” our languages and dispersed us over the face of the earth. We aren’t told expressly why God did that.

One possible answer presumes that the people unified for evil purposes. With all people having one language in common, and if the leaders of those people were prone to evil, they would subvert all people in their evil ways, with nothing to frustrate them.  If the people were unified in opposition to God, He would have a difficult time finding a ready ear to hear His voice.

Another theory flows from God’s instruction to be fruitful and multiply, spreading out over all the earth. Rather than do what He said, the people congregated in one place, and dug in there. To get the people to do as He intended, God confused their languages so they would disperse.

Still, another possible explanation relates to the families and descendants of the sons of Noah who populated the earth after the Flood. Conflicts arose between the family lines, including the line that descended from Shem (including, eventually, Abraham and the Israelites) and the descendants of Ham, including Canaan, the result of Ham’s incestuous relations with his mother, causing God to curse him.

Ham’s descendants unified to build the Tower of Babel and threatened God’s plan to work through the bloodline of Shem, so the theory goes. God confused their language to disperse them and quash the threat to His plans. According to this view, “God is the Master Planner and has His own agenda for the allotted [sic] timescale of the human race.”

This last view ties into Paul’s statement in Acts 17:26, that God determines the times and boundaries of people. From this statement, we can conclude that the boundaries of nations and the times of the various people and people groups are set by God, and they have been set for God’s own purposes.

But that doesn’t settle the issue for us. Far from it.

First of all, we don’t know God’s purposes. His ways are higher than our ways. Specifically, no one knows the times that are to come. So, how does that help us?

The same passage (Matthew 24) gives is a clue.  Jesus told us to be awake and to be doing what the Master told us to do while He is gone.

We have been told that the greatest commandment is to love God; and the second greatest commandment is like it: to love our neighbors. Jesus elaborated further on this when He told His disciples, “What you did to … the least of these…, you did … to me.”

imagesAnd who are these least ones?

The hungry, the thirsty and the stranger (24:35)

The naked, the sick and the prisoner (24:36)

And there you have it.

We don’t know God’s plans, so we don’t know what side of history we might be on when we side with Trump or Clinton, Democrat or Republican, but we can be assured of being on God’s side when we choose to bless the least ones, including strangers.

The Greek word translated “stranger” is ξένος (ksénos) meaning a foreigner, or guest. Paul uses the same word when he describes Moses in the land of Midian, after he fled his home in Egypt. (Acts 7:29) Peter describes followers of Jesus (us!) as “aliens and strangers” in this world. (1 Peter 2:11(using another word meaning sojourner, or foreigner, suggesting a foreigner just temporarily passing through))

More importantly, the entirety of Scripture is filled with God’s attitude and instruction to us about the strangers among us. Most the places in the Old Testament where God’s instruction to the people comes closest to “love your neighbors” include a list of the same types of people as “the least of these”:  orphans, widows and strangers (immigrants).

These are often the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned in our midst. These are our Samaritan neighbors who we dare not pass by, least we imperil our own spiritual health and frustrate the commandment of God.

I think we all ascribe, at least in our thinking, to these things, but how do we translate that thinking into our participation as citizens of a free nation in which we have a right to vote for our leaders? Does it apply differently somehow? That’s where it gets “complicated”.

But is it really complicated?

Or do we make it complicated?

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