When it comes to dealing with difficult social and political issues many times we are seemingly helpless to find workable solutions because of our own strongholds or long held beliefs. Our forefathers were able to come up with many solutions to problems which seemed to be impossible by looking at examples from the Old and New Testaments.
Currently we are overwhelmed with problems, many of which appear to have no solution. One, which is of grave concern, is immigration into the United States and the problems which are amassing almost daily. The church has a calling to be salt and light in every situation, and this issue is calling to us to participate in offering solutions. To begin with, I believe it is helpful that we look to the scriptures for solutions and look at the way the people of God have addressed similar situations in the past with the help of the Divine Ruler.
Often when addressing this issue I’ll hear the biblical mandate toward traveler, sojourners and aliens applied. In reality, no nation has been more open to sojourners from other nations than the United States. We still remain the largest recipient of legal immigration among all of the nations on the earth. One reason we are thought of as a welcoming destination for sojourners is the fact that we have embraced the biblical mandate to treat everyone with the same social justice regardless of nationality or origin.
Deuteronomy 10:17 – 19: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
No other nation has embraced this mandate like the USA. However, we in the church also have not been able to offer viable solutions to the problems we face. In part this is due to the “one size fits all” approach we have taken to the immigration problem. To say that we need to be gracious to the traveler, stranger or sojourner does not take into account the other categories of non-citizens which the Bible gives direction for management and remedy of issues. The fact that His people referred to in this verse were invited into Egypt legally is often ignored when applying this verse to all categories of non-citizens.
First, it must be made clear that this, and other similar, mandates are addressing how to deal with grace toward those who are traveling through your land or who may be there on legitimate business. This does not include all categories of people who might come into a nation, and, when it is used as a blanket principle for all non-citizens, it should not surprise us when we have problems rather than answers. For those who are traveling through, sojourning and visiting with legitimate purpose, we as a nation have almost always been hospitable and we should have every expectation that we will continue in this. Recently I was talking with family over lunch and the subject came up of a man we know who lives in our town. He was brought here as a prisoner of war during World War II. When he was released after the war, he did not want to return to his home country but was required to. However, he returned legally and has remained here all these years adopting our country as his and our ways as his own. How many American POWs were treated so well while interned that they would elect to remain in the nation where they had been interned? None that I can think of.
But we must also look at the other categories of alien or non-citizen categorized in scripture. First there is the category of refugee. Joshua chapter 9 contains the example of the Gibeonites who came to Joshua, presenting themselves as a needy people from a far place willing to do menial tasks in order to receive help and protection. Joshua was compassionate to them without first checking their history to validate what they were saying. His actions demonstrate the compassion which may be extended to those who for one reason or another may require asylum. Likewise we should recognize from this record the need to verify the back ground and legitimacy of claims requesting asylum, but there must be a legitimate understanding of the category of refugee. Most non-citizens are not in this category, but some are, and it is important that we recognize this as a legitimate category for some aliens and do not place these people into another category. Likewise it is important that once having verified a legitimate need for clemency it is also important to recognize the burden placed upon the government to set certain standards and requirements to be expected of the expatriate. We have policies for helping folks in need of asylum. We have helped individuals, and, at times, whole people groups who have needed asylum, such as the Hmong people. However, to apply this category to a traveling businessman, or vacationer, would not be biblical, and clearly no one is asking for that.
Next would be an immigrant. This is someone who legitimately wants to come to our nation and become part of our national family. Certainly there are some who originally came for other reasons, such as business or for refuge, and in time come to desire citizenship. There should be, and are, means by which this can be completed. Certainly we have a grave need in this nation to correct and simplify this process, but this will become a simpler task once we clarify what the citizens of this nation desire of those who wish to immigrate. Once again the bible gives us a standard which leads to clarity and accord when followed.
I think the best example in scripture of a clear and honest heart for an immigrant is found in the book of Ruth. Ruth was a citizen of the nation of Moab. The nation of Israel, and that of Moab, were so spiritually opposed that the Lord even placed extra restrictions upon a citizen of this nation becoming a citizen of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:3). Yet Ruth expressed her desire to immigrate and become part of the nation of Israel. I think her words best describe what we should, as a nation, expect from those who wish to immigrate to our shores.
“But Ruth said: ‘Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God.’” (Ruth 1:16)
This is perhaps the best biblical example of an expression to assimilate that the Bible contains. In fact, this is one of the most important aspects of immigration that was an accepted fact in the past, which has been almost wholly removed from the current discourse in the church concerning immigration. It is legitimate, in fact necessary, that an immigrant assimilate into the host nation. It is to be expected that they would accept our ways, our language, our God, our heritage and our systems. While it may be debated about the extent to which government should legislate these things, I am primarily speaking to the standards which the church should expect to attain and help others achieve. Some of these may be expected culturally, and some legally, but it is important for the church to understand that this is to be expected on the part of one immigrating every bit as much as it is expected that we be gracious in our treatment of sojourners, refugees and immigrants.
There is a fourth category which we must recognize if we will honestly deal with the difficult issues we currently face. That is the category of intruder. An intruder is an invader or a trespasser and is not coming with good intention, and is not coming by invitation. He may come secretly, like a spy or a thief, or may come with force, but he comes to dominate in some fashion and take what is not legitimately his or destroy what legitimately belongs to another, intentionally or unintentionally.
Certainly we have experienced this in a tragic fashion with the attacks which we have received by terrorists. The Old Testament likewise gives examples of nations invading Israel to dominate them in one fashion or another. The book of Judges gives the examples of invasions occurring at times of moral decay and being repulsed when the people turned back to God. There are examples of military invasion, but there are also examples which were intended mainly for economic gain. When the Midianites descended upon the people of Israel, they came to steal their harvest. This is some of what we see today with the invasion of so many who come here for the economic benefits, but not for the benefit of our nation itself.
It has been said that “many who have come here illegally have come for economic benefits, but it could be worse, because many of these people are hardworking, pro-life, and pro-family. And while we have been flooded with folks from these categories, Europe is mostly being flooded by Islam, containing many extreme elements that pose a grave danger.” While this may contain some truth, it must also be remembered that, “There were two trees in the garden.” The first was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the second was the tree of life. This tree contained death and destruction. It is important to remember that the “good” part of this tree is just as deadly as the “evil” portion. It is important that we search for solutions which are rooted in the tree of life.
Certainly it is better to be invaded by good people, but it can destroy our nation just as surely as being invaded by evil people. We are experiencing a good example of this in my home state of Montana where we do not have a large illegal immigration problem at this time. Yet the problem with illegal aliens has affected us greatly and our liberty.
Our forefathers established a republic. Our constitution contains a set of balanced rules including how to choose representatives and the number of representatives to be included in the House of Representatives and the Senate. In deciding how to choose the number of representatives from the people they never foresaw a time when we would have so many non-citizens, and therefore they determined that the number of representatives for congress would be based on the population of the people, not thinking to count only citizens. This is an important inconsistency based upon the fact that they concluded that people who immigrated here would want to become part of the country, assimilating into our ways and supporting our system. We currently count all people, citizen and non-citizen alike, in order to calculate the number of representatives for the House of Representatives. Montana is a state with a very high proportion of US citizens, yet we lost half of our representation in the US House of Representatives because of the increasing population of non-voting, non-citizens in other states counted in the US Census. This is like taking an ax to the root of our form of government and our liberty tree. Our state is currently the most populated US House District in the nation, a million people with only one US Representative. Another way to view this situation is to say that we are the most under-represented people in the nation. We are having our birthright taken from us just as readily as if the Babylonians had descended upon us and taken away our right to participate in our own government.
It also has been said that those who are coming here illegally are only taking jobs that Americans do not want. This is inflammatory and derogatory towards those Americans who would love to compete for these jobs. This statement correlates to saying that the Midianites were only taking the harvest that Israel hadn’t eaten yet.
While there may be some truth in it, it is missing the point wholly. Many legitimate American businesses have had to close or alter their business practices because they cannot compete with those doing business illegally, using illegal and undocumented workers. The legitimate business must comply with all laws and taxes; local, state and national. This includes payroll taxes, insurance, workers compensation, social security and a host of other additional costs placed upon legitimate businesses. In many cases it is impossible to compete with those who are not submitting to the rules or “submitting to the higher authorities”, if you will. This is not to say that we can no expand our guest worker program to include more non-citizens who have knowledge abilities or are willing to fill positions which are vacant. But a legal system also fulfills all the requirements for taxes, laws, insurance etc.
In many cases local and state leaders are making it much more difficult for businesses that use illegal workers to do business. This trend is most likely only going to increase as the citizens put more pressure on their governments to solve these difficult economic issues. This is making it more difficult in some locations for undocumented workers to continue to work illegally. In many cases they have been doing so for years, hopefully this is changing. In one case I know of a pastor who looked to the scripture for a biblical solution for someone in this situation. The family had been in the USA illegally for many years, two of the children were born here and are therefore citizens, yet they are finding it very difficult to find work with the passage of more and more local and state laws which restrict illegal activity. He looked to the apostle Paul for an answer.
He found the case of Onesimus, someone who had left his previous place and circumstances to find a better life, and met Paul in Rome. It seems that Onesimus had left what we would consider, perhaps, the worst of all circumstances, that of being a slave. Yet Paul introduced him to the Lord Jesus, the author of Liberty. But Paul went so far as to send Onesimus back to his former place as an ambassador, although his economic, and perhaps political circumstances, would not be what we would desire for ourselves. Onesimus broke the law by running away. In the case just mentioned, the Pastor recommended to this family that they may need to put things right and go back to their country of origin as circumstances continue to change. God went with Onesimus, and he will likewise be with those who find themselves in this situation today.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “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.” If the church will not seek the Lord for biblical solutions to the difficult problems we face, we will have no one else to blame when the problems go unsolved and are replaced with worse and worse circumstances. On the other hand, if we will seek the Lord and look to scripture and to our Judeo-Christian heritage for answers, we should not be surprised if we find some.
It is not my purpose to get into the details of the politics involved in this issue in this article. It is my purpose to define what is scripturally expressed. There has been so much wrong information about what the scripture actually says about non-citizens, and how to relate to them, by both uninformed church leaders and politicians. If the church would look honestly and clearly at the scriptures, and not misapply what the scripture requires depending upon the various categories of non-citizen, the sojourner, the refugee, the immigrant and the intruder. I think we could at least remove much of the confusion surrounding this issue so that we may pray and act accordingly.