What do think Jesus would have to say about the stuff goin’ down at the border? Check it out…
“Anybody who would turn away a busload of children is ‘not human.’” “This is a humanitarian crisis!” “Keep the kids, deport the bigots!”
Besides hurling accusations like the statements above, and quoting a Bible verse about welcoming strangers, illegal immigration activists like to pose the question, “Who would Jesus deport?”
All this makes Christians defensive, and often confuses the issue and cuts off the conversation. The raging debate over the thousands of unaccompanied minors crashing our nation’s southern border has left many good folks tied up in knots.
On one hand, our hearts go out to the kids, most of whom are teenage boys aged 14 and above. Yet we know there is something fundamentally wrong with simply letting these minors loose in our cities. (And that’s what happens in most cases, because 90% of them don’t ever appear for their immigration hearings.)
We need a clear biblical worldview to sort things out. The answer to the problem is not as simple as throwing out a single Bible verse in isolation to the whole counsel of God.
So what’s the right thing to do?
The immigration issue brings up the critical matter of jurisdiction. Here is where many people are not thinking clearly. We must respect the fact that God has established order in His world. We must do what is right in various areas of responsibility as an individual—and in the family, in the church and in knowing what governments are supposed to do. Keeping these distinct responsibilities in mind, let’s look at this issue through the lens of the Bible.
THE INDIVIDUAL, THE CHURCH AND THE STRANGER
“… I was a stranger and you took me in…”
Some appeal to these words of Christ in Matthew 25:35 to insist we have an absolute obligation to help every immigrant. Then they extrapolate that our national laws ought to reflect this ethic. Is this sound? No, and I will show why.
The admonition to take in a stranger is part of a larger passage that includes a list of other kinds of people to whom Christians have a moral obligation—the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned. The stranger in this case refers to an alien who is by implication a guest.
Jesus is appealing to the Old Testament. There are four Hebrew words in the Old Testament that refer to the immigrant. Unfortunately, they are inconsistently translated as “stranger,” “sojourner,” “settler,” etc…. The distinctions between immigrants are lost unless you go back to the original Hebrew text. There you find two distinct classes of immigrants: those who assimilate and those who don’t. Different biblical laws apply for each class of immigrant.
In Matthew 25:35 Jesus uses the Greek word that refers to those who came into to Israel and refused to assimilate. They were characteristically deceitful. In the Book of Proverbs the feminine form of the word is used as a technical term for harlot. They were considered a threat to the nation of Israel.
Jesus could have used other terms that refer to the more benign class of immigrants who assimilated into Israel, but he doesn’t. Christ consciously raises the bar and takes our moral obligation to what seems like an extreme. Jesus does this in other places, too. We are taught to love our enemies and to forgive not just once or twice, but 70 times 70. When insulted we are called to turn the other cheek. When imposed upon to walk a mile, we are to willingly walk the second mile. In the same way Jesus calls us to show hospitality to those who seem least deserving.
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