Where Are You on Immigration?

How many times have you moved in your lifetime? Remember how it felt to be new? Ugh.

Our “foremothers” knew how that felt. Eve got sent east of Eden. Sarai followed her husband out of Ur. Hagar was cast out into the desert. And Rachel and Leah eventually moved far from their father, Laban. That’s just in Genesis.

Experts estimate that about one in every thirty-five persons, or three percent of the world’s population, live as immigrants. Imagine it. That’s 192 million people who know how it feels to talk funny or dress funny or in some way feel like an outsider.  For those of us living in North America, unless we have Native American blood, somebody in our gene pool left a homeland to come to the Land of Opportunity. I imagine that, like me, you probably have ancestors who sailed on the Mayflower. Or arrived at Ellis Island. Or drove across a border. Maybe you’re the one who moved. Perhaps you’ve changed locations in the past month.

If you’ve ever wandered to a place where no one speaks your language, you know how scary that is. You hand over money hoping the cashier will give you the right change, because you don’t yet know shekels from rubles from nickels. You try to pronounce a word and hope what you said doesn’t come out as an insult—like my friend who meant to ask how old a child was, but instead asked how many anuses she had.

Throughout the Old Testament we find God’s attitude toward such vulnerable people. Here’s an example from Leviticus: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33–34).

 Less directly, Matthew 25:31–46 suggests that to mistreat the “alien” is to mistreat Christ. He takes it personally when we treat others unkindly. Or ignore them. And He has a special place in his heart for the powerless ones unable to speak for themselves.

I hear many Christians discussing immigration, and often they seem more interested in siding with a political party than in thinking biblically, let alone adding a biblical perspective to the discussion. How misguided can we be?

Yes, eventually Paul in Rome sent the illegally-transplanted Onesimus back to his master in Colossae. But first Paul shared the gospel with him. And discipled him. And covered his expenses with a letter of commendation to Philemon. To reach out is not to condone. But first things first.

Our God ranks the “alien” up there with widows and orphans (see Exo. 22:21–22). Do our attitudes and actions reflect that value system? Will the “outsiders” who come to us encounter His heart through our care? Or will they eventually return home hating us and all we believe?

Lots of people are on the move. International students. Illegal aliens. Small business owners. They come to us from across the world. And as my friend Wayne says, “You don’t have to have a passport to do missions.” Will we show them the door? Or will we show them the Door?

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.


    • Sandra Glahn

      Christians at the Border

      Yes, thanks. Great book. We plan to feature it in the spring 2010 issue of Kindred Spirit magazine. 🙂 I recommend it to anyone wanting to think further on this topic.

  • Anonymous

    People come to the United States from all parts of the world. Nonetheless, when people speak of illegal immigration, they usually mean immigration from Mexico or Central America to the United States. I have no problem with them being here. Someone could no doubt mount a Biblical argument about obeying civil laws and why this necessitates that they stay on their side of the border. One can make Biblical arguments for all kinds of things by cherry-picking verses.

    These immigrants are not freeloaders. They come here to work, and the ones who come to my town in Tennessee work hard and spend a great deal of their meager earnings at our stores, as well as send some home to Mexico or Honduras. Many do work that no one here really wants to do.

    In the end, I see it this way. The United States is the wealthiest nation on Earth with a GDP of about $14.4 trillion, wealth light years beyond the dreams of avarice. The Latinos who come here are among the poorest people on Earth.

    Yes, we can use the civil law and selected scripture to bottle these poor people up at our borders and hold them back like the Iron Curtain. However, we must remember that Lazarus, with his dog-licked sores, was similarly poor and bottled up at the gate of the rich man (Luke 19:31). In Matthew 23, Jesus excoriates the scribes and pharisees for focusing so much on the word of the Old Testament law that they forgot the loving spirit of that law that takes a higher precedence in God’s eyes. Finally, we forget the judicial narrative in Matthew 25, where God declares that he is personally in oneness with poor people, so much so that a failure to help one of them is a direct failure to help him. In all three cases, God makes it crystal clear that the worst of consequences await wealthy people (or by extension nations full of wealthy people)who are cavalier about the needs of the poor on their doorsteps.

    I say let them come. God may have even led them to come here. God is not obligated to obey U.S. immigration laws and neither are the immigrants if his will supercedes those frail human laws. If you look at the history of the United States, even legal immigration has been heatedly opposed by the American people. The “Irish need not apply,” and that goes for the Poles, Russians, Latvians, Transylvanians, and whoever else. In the end, this wretched refuse that would have sucked us dry has always, in the end, given us much more than it has taken away. Amen.

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