The politics of immigration: 5 Biblical proposals
There’s no denying that the global refugee crisis has been a topic of passionate debate since it began. Governments – as well as individuals – continue to wrestle with balancing care for refugees torn from their homelands against practical concerns of the countries to which they’ve fled.
However, the shifting developments around immigration law, especially in the United States, have fuelled those passions to a fever pitch. It’s almost impossible to read the news or go on social media without seeing angry diatribes from each side of the discussion. Careful investigation and balanced reasoning are often jettisoned in favour of simplistic arguments and personal attacks. The ideological lines have been drawn, and many people seem willing to die on the hill they’ve chosen, at least online if not in the real world.
Although followers of Christ aren’t immune to these tendencies, we’re called to a different standard. With that in mind, here are five proposals to aid faithful, Biblical engagement with the issue of immigration.
Respond with heart and mind
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
A thorny political issue such as immigration is bound to stir up strong feelings. And that’s to be expected. After all, God has wired us as emotional beings. The plight of the suffering should fill us with compassion, while potential risks to our land and loved ones will necessarily give us pause for concern.
But God has also designed us as intellectual beings. He expects us to engage both our hearts and minds, not just in our response to Him, but also to the concerns of our times. This means carefully weighing information and arguments. It means listening to voices outside our camp without caricature or quick dismissal. And it means showing grace to everyone who may disagree, especially fellow believers. A political opinion isn’t a litmus test of spiritual status. It’s merely a political opinion.
Distinguish between church and state
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2)
The modern democratic ideal of separation between church and state is not without strong Scriptural warrant. Both the church and human government have been instituted by God, but for markedly different purposes. The government is tasked with maintaining law and justice, and ensuring the safety of its citizens. The church, on the other hand, is called to glorify Christ and promote His Kingdom through preaching the Gospel and by doing works of kindness and mercy.
When these roles are kept distinct, much of the consternation surrounding the immigration question disappears. The government is fulfilling its mandate when it focuses on matters of national security. Likewise the church is obeying its calling when it reaches out and seeks to help orphans, widows and strangers, indeed all those who are truly in need.
Remember your true citizenship
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But My kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)
Much like the line between church and state, the distinction between earthly and heavenly kingdoms can at times become muddled. This is a particular danger in societies where Christianity has been a dominant cultural force. Believers in these societies begin to focus on things below rather than things above. They come to view their nation’s well-being and political destiny as somehow inseparable from God’s unfolding plans for the world.
Nevertheless, the Scriptures insist that believers are strangers and exiles in this present world. Their affection and primary loyalty is to a different, better country that they see afar off, by faith. Every earthly kingdom is temporary; each of them will eventually perish – even our own. Only the kingdom of heaven, with its redeemed people and divine King, will endure into eternity.
Trust the Ruler of the nations
For kingship belongs to the LORD, and He rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:28)
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will. (Proverbs 21:1)
I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18)
And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. (Acts 17:26)
A degree of trepidation is natural, even prudent, in the face of turbulent world events like the refugee crisis. This is true for Christians as well as non-Christians. But believers need to bolster their hearts with the assurance that God is Master of the nations, and of history itself. Literally nothing happens outside His watch and will. He raises and removes presidents and kings. He ordains world events, both good and bad, for His perfect ends.
Such knowledge frees us to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. We are free to apply all reasonable discernment to address the potential dangers to our society and ourselves. But at the same time, we’re also free to open our hearts and our homes to those in desperate need of our help. We’re free to be instruments of God’s grace to the individuals and families that He may bring into our sphere.
Be like your Father in Heaven
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36)
One of the most persistent themes of the Scriptures is the expression of God’s tender heart toward the poor, the friendless and the foreigner far from home. Throughout the Old Testament, God instructs His people to adopt a similar attitude, partly because they know what it’s like to be strangers in a strange land from their experience in Egypt. This has echoes for believers in all ages, since we also are exiles and foreigners in this world.
But beyond that, God commands love for strangers because it’s a reflection of His own character. I am the LORD your God, He concludes. I love them so you must love them. Be holy because I am holy.
This priority is only heightened in the New Testament. By teaching and example, Jesus enjoins love for the disenfranchised who can never pay us back – even if they might be a potential enemy, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He calls for kindness and mercy as evidence that we’re children of our Father in heaven. He goes so far as to make our treatment of strangers a true litmus test of our spiritual status, a reflection of our attitude toward Him.
In light of all this, we still may not find simple answers to difficult political questions. We’ll still need to keep engaging our hearts and our minds as we seek to follow our Father’s example. The issues may be complex, but our call remains straightforward:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus Insights.