Tag Archives: Christianity

“I Was a Stranger and You Took Me In…”

That Christian churches have been a force for change at many times in history, no one can deny. Concerning how often and how important, there is a huge range of opinion. Probably the most ardent Christian social reformers would be the first to admit that Christian churches have usually been deplorably, tragically tardy in pushing for social reforms that in retrospect are obvious. On immigration, I would like to see the churches take a much stronger role than they have. On the other hand, it seems to me that to the extent that churches do take stands on these issues they are consistently on the liberal (in the best sense) and humane side of the spectrum, relative to America’s political center of gravity. The below article is a case in point.

New York Times: Evangelical Groups Call for New Stance on Illegal Immigration

Some of the nation’s most influential evangelical groups urged a solution to illegal immigration on Tuesday that defies the harsh rhetoric of the Republican primary race, which continues to undermine Mitt Romney’s appeal to Hispanic voters.

The call by the groups represents a recognition that in one bedrock element of the conservative movement — evangelical Christians — the demography of their followers is changing, becoming more Hispanic, and that Republican leaders risk being out of step with their hawkish talk of border fences and immigration crackdowns like those in Arizona.

Tom Minnery, the senior vice president of policy for one evangelical group, Focus on the Family, said many of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants should be free to “come out of the shadows” and “begin the process of restitution” leading to attaining legal residency.

Mr. Minnery spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference called to announce that more than 150 Christian evangelical leaders, including from the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals, were endorsing an overhaul of immigration policy.

The evangelical leaders expressed opposition to such notions as “self-deportation,” which Mr. Romney favored in a Republican debate and which urges strict enforcement of laws to encourage illegal immigrant workers to leave the country.

A pro-reform movement has been percolating among evangelical groups for the past two to three years, with organizations and churches that align with Republicans on issues like abortion and gay marriage supporting President Obama on immigration reform.

The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 40 denominations, passed a resolution calling for a comprehensive immigration overhaul in 2009. The Southern Baptist Convention did so last year.

It called for “just, fair immigration reform,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists’ ethics commission, who also attended Tuesday’s news conference.

“It passed with at least an 80 percent vote,” he said, “and four of five Southern Baptists is about as good as you’re going to get on any given day on anything.”

But Focus on the Family, the radio ministry based in Colorado, was a newcomer to the cause of an immigration overhaul.

The Old Testament on Immigration

It goes without saying that a passport regime such as we have today is unbiblical, in the sense that nothing like it is endorsed by either the Old or the New Testaments. Comprehensive control of entry and exit was not something states typically aspired to or even, I think, conceived of, before the 20th century. Such things weren’t around to endorse, or for that matter, to denounce. I would like to know the precise history of passport regimes and border controls better than I do, but I think I know it well enough to say that at least as far as controlling all points of entry is concerned, the migration policies of America in the 19th century (when no attempt at comprehensive control was made) were roughly typical, whereas 20th-century passport control (unfortunately universal today, at least as an aspiration of sovereign governments) is anomalous. In that lame sense, it would hardly be necessary to read the Bible to deduce that it supports open borders.

Critics would be right to find this argument unpersuasive. While past societies did not have comprehensive passport controls, they also lacked the fluid, prosperous economies, social tolerance, legal respect for rights, and general nonviolence that prevails in the democracies of the contemporary West. So while immigrants might enter a Greek polis or the Persian or Egyptian or Roman Empires without being prevented by the state, once there, they would be less safe from private violence, and might have trouble making a living, or integrating socially with the host society. There were no, or at most few, borders in the modern sense of invisible lines slicing up the world’s land which it was illegal for humans qua humans to cross without permission. But one’s rights and physical safety usually depended on being embedded in a physical kin-group or city-state, on having people who, so to speak, “got your back.” Migration wasn’t illegal, but it wasn’t safe either.

It is in this context which the Biblical texts on this topic in Deuteronomy must be read. We could deduce that foreigners could come and reside in Israel physically, as a side-effect of the lack of a passport regime before modern times, but this is also amply confirmed by the Biblical texts, which routinely refer to “resident foreigners” and explain how they should be treated. But the Law of Moses also insists that resident foreigners be treated justly and fairly. Minutemen, e-Verify, and deportations are practices clearly forbidden by the Law of Moses. A textual study may start with verses like these:

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 22:21)

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. (Leviticus 19:33)

Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow. (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless   of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. (Deuteronomy 24:17) Continue reading “The Old Testament on Immigration” »