A friend sent me a link to an online article that proposed to instruct us as to how we as “Christians should treat immigrants, refugees and those in need of help.” The author of the article, Jesse Carey, referred to immigration as a “politically polarizing” issue for Americans, and admitted that the “issue of immigration reform is nuanced, and policies are often legislatively complex.” He then cherry-picked a dozen passages of Scripture that I’m sure he believed proved his point about how to treat immigrants and refugees.
The hand-picked verses for the most part are admonitions concerning foreigners or aliens, to not oppress them, to be charitable towards them and to treat them as we ourselves would like to be treated. He also threw in a few verses about being a neighbor/loving your neighbor and helping the poor. Carey’s article got some basic things right but a lot of things wrong.
One passage was totally unrelated to the discussion of immigration and refugees. Carey referenced 1 Corinthians 12:12-14. I guess he thought the reference in verse 13 to “Jews or Gentiles, slave or free” served to prove his point. However, that passage talks about believers, whether “Jews or Gentiles, slave or free.” It says nothing about so-called refugees or illegal immigrants.
As for the passages quoted about helping the poor and the treatment of fellow human beings as neighbors, I agree. Helping the poor is Biblical, although it is a separate (albeit relevant) issue from political policies on immigration. And the “good neighbor” and “golden rule” principles are basic to the Christian faith. I don’t believe any Bible believer would disagree with those principles.
The remaining seven of the twelve passages were quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures: Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:9-10, 33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 1 Kings 8:41-44; Job 31:32; Malachi 3:5.
Now let me remind you that Carey’s application of these passages is to the treatment of immigrants and refugees in the context of the current American political circumstance. But applying these Bible verses to the current politically motivated influx of Mohammedan so-called “refugees” and to illegal immigrants is not a fair comparison. If Carey wants to bind these Old Testament verses on Christians today as standards for dealing with refugees and immigrants, then all of the Mosaic laws addressing them apply.
In Carey’s article, and again, in the current political discussion, the terms “immigrants” and “refugees” are used. In the seven Old Testament passages quoted in this article, two Hebrew terms are used. Let’s look at these two Hebrew terms to see how the foreigners and sojourners of the Old Testament compare to the refugees and immigrants referenced in the political debate today.
In one passage, Solomon’s prayer of dedication recorded in 1 Kings 8:41-43, the Hebrew adjective nākerī [נָכְרִי], is used. It has the basic meaning of “foreign,” and is used here as a noun, i.e., “foreigner.” This meaning of “foreigner” is further clarified by the following phrases “not of Your people Israel, but having come from a distant land” (verse 41). In Modern Hebrew, the term nākerī can be used as a synonym for goy [גוי], “Gentile.” So that identifies this foreigner as a Gentile living or staying (for an undetermined amount of time) among the Israelites.
Now, in the six remaining passages quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Hebrew word used is the noun gēr [גּר]. In many English Bible versions, this is rendered “stranger.” However, in some versions (Young’s Literal Translation, ASV, RSV, ESV), it is translated “sojourner.” This may be a somewhat archaic term, but it is a more accurate translation. Various Hebrew lexicons define gēr as a sojourner, alien, temporary dweller, etc. It indicates a “new-comer” to a land with no inherited rights.
An interesting point is that in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, gēr is translated as prosēlutos [προσήλυτος], which is where the English term “proselyte” comes from. Prosēlutos originally meant one that has arrived at a place, a sojourner. By the time of the New Testament and in post-Biblical/Talmudic Judaism, it came to have the sense of a convert to Judaism.
So there we have the two terms used to describe the individuals mentioned in the verses Carey cited in his article: nākerī and gēr. Both refer to a non-Israelite person, though one term emphasizes their foreignness while the other focuses on the travel/resident alien concept. And while the Mosaic law both protects and even stipulates some provision for them, there are other aspects of the law that apply to these foreigners in Israel. I won’t go into detail on these points, because that would make this article of mine quite lengthy.
(If you would like to research this matter more, I’m sure there are many references to it to be found on the Internet. I would recommend that you read the articles on Proselyte, Sojourner, Stranger, etc. in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. The older versions of the ISBE (1915 and 1939) are available online, I think. The revised edition of 1989 is excellent. I have both the ’39 and ’89 editions, but prefer the latter.)
Suffice it to say that there were legal requirements of these foreigners and resident aliens. He was required to be present for the solemn reading of the Law (Deuteronomy 31:12), required to observe the Sabbath laws (Exodus 20:10; 23:12), as well as laws pertaining to sexual immorality (Leviticus 18), to sacrifices to a foreign god (Leviticus 17), etc.
So once again, Jesse Carey’s citation of laws pertaining to foreigners and resident aliens are selective, and do not present the whole picture. Applying these laws to our nation does not work, because we have a different culture with different laws. But the principles of those Old Testament laws do apply, and they cut both ways. There are rights and privileges afforded to refugees and immigrants, but also laws to be obeyed by them. As I used to tell my children, with every privilege comes a responsibility.
And that is the breakdown in much of the debate today. The refugees that are already here and the many more that want to come…the illegal aliens crossing over into our country…none of these are the modern-day counterparts of the “foreigners” and “resident aliens” spoken of in Scripture.
Today we have a massive influx of illegal aliens crossing over our southern borders, with millions upon millions of them living illegally in our country. They are portrayed by certain politically motivated groups and the media as passive, non-threatening immigrants just seeking a better life. This is deceptive. They are by the very nature of the illegal entrance into this country lawbreakers, people who take from this country but don’t give back. And there are plenty among them that are dangerous, a criminal element beyond just the fact of their illegal entry. Plenty of incidents of theft and life threatening encounters have occurred along the border.
We also see reports of people claiming to be political refugees who are predominantly Mohammedans. Video footage shows them flooding into cities and wreaking havoc. They have an entitlement attitude, and they want provisions while at the same time rejecting the laws of the land and the laws of decency. They insist on Sharia law, and in the name of their so-called “morality” and “decency” they assault and even rape women.
The very threat our soldiers are fighting overseas are in many cases being admitted into this country. Turning a blind eye to the lawless and threatening nature of the illegal alien problem is not a wise, “Christian” thing to do. Neither is the taking in of lawless and violent “refugees” a Biblically sanctioned concept. Jesse Carey’s article was no doubt well intentioned, but misguided. The principles found in those Scripture citations do not apply to the current situation, because of the lawless nature of these illegal aliens and the political “refugees.”
To sum up, I agree with the concepts of helping the poor, and I am in favor of legal immigration. But I am against the open border and so-called “sanctuary” city concepts that Hollywood, the mainstream media and the Democratic Party and other socialistic political entities are advocating. We should secure our borders, and vet political refugees very carefully. Enforcing the laws of our nation is neither racist nor xenophobic; it is not equal to oppressing the alien. And taking such a stance is neither “un-Christian” nor in violation of the principles of the Scriptures.