Week 10, Day 4: Immigrants & Refugees
In many ways, the world of the Bible is not the world we live in today. The empires that were around thousands of years ago are now crumbled; and there are new empires in their place. The politics of the Bible were different too: kings and queens and emperors could make decisions on a whim about life and death; here in the United States, we live in a democratic republic, where our voices and votes are supposed to play a part in how our politics operate. Numerous other differences also exist, which means a careful and responsible practice of kingdom values often requires more than just quoting Scripture.
Nevertheless, it is possible to glean biblical principles for how we approach topics such as immigration. As Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang write in their book Welcoming the Stranger, “We do not believe there is one Christian prescription to solve the immigration issue (though there may be decidedly un-Christian ways to view the issue).”
Some Christians may shy away from what they view as ‘political’ issues, perhaps seeing politics as opposed to or mutually exclusive of spirituality; they may look at Jesus’ declaration that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) as proof that it is the world to come that matters. But to do so would miss the fact that, when paired with the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, it seems clear that Jesus is referring to the origin of the kingdom not the location of the kingdom. We are called to ask God that we might see more of the kingdom of heaven on earth, that the rule and reign of God might be more evidently seen here and now, that God’s life might be seen in every life and every sphere of life.
Moreover, as we have been learning, the gospel is inherently political — in other words, it affects the way we conduct ourselves with others. (Politics comes from the Greek polis, or ‘city’; so politics is about ‘the affairs of the city’ or how we relate as people.) It is political — ‘kingdom’ is political language, ‘Son of God’ was political language, ‘Savior’ was political language — but it is not partisan. No modern political party has a monopoly on morality.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said fifty years ago, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” As such, the reason I care about politics is, to paraphrase my friend Eugene Cho, because politics impacts policies, which impact people. And I care about people. We are called to care about people.
We can disagree about particular policies regarding immigrants and refugees; we can talk about how we maintain our security while welcoming those in need. But what we cannot do is disregard Scripture’s injunctions to love our neighbors, which Jesus defines as anyone in need — or the implication that how we love our neighbors is how we love God (Matthew 22:39). What we cannot do is turn our backs on them or treat them cruelly.
God has a particular place in his heart for foreigners, as we see over and over in his repeated reminders to the people of Israel: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21, NIV); “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 23:9, NIV); “When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). And, of course, there’s the congregational response from Deuteronomy 27:19 (The Message):
GOD’S curse on anyone who interferes with justice due the foreigner, orphan, or widow.
All respond: Yes. Absolutely.
READ: MATTHEW 25:31-46
We can talk until the cows come home about how American policy and foreign intervention (and non-intervention) contributes—or doesn’t—to immigration levels, to the influx of refugees and asylum seekers, or how to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants (the majority of whom overstayed visas rather than illegally crossing a border). We can disagree about legal immigration levels or how to best integrate migrants. What we cannot deny are the words of Christ himself, which we just read: he is found in the stranger who comes to us; how we welcome them or how we fail to welcome them is how we treat our Lord.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: Do you or your family have a migration story in your history (either between countries or within one)? How does it help you empathize with those who are seeking a better life now?
Heart: Have you ever moved to a new place? What was hard about that transition? What made it less hard?
Hands: Read and meditate on the words of The Immigrants’ Creed, a profession of faith through the lens of an immigrant.
Lift up all those seeking a better life for themselves and their families; and ask God to give our policy-makers and decision-makers wisdom, discernment, and compassion, that they might enact justice (what love looks like in public) for them.
The gospel is political
but it is not partisan.