Immigrants: What is the Christian Response?

When the Lawyer wishing to justify himself asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor,” Jesus answers him with a story about a “certain man” who was beaten and left for dead.  But who is he?  He is naked so his clothes don’t give away his identity.  He is unconscious-can’t speak, so his dialect, language, and accent are not discernible.   We don’t know why he was on the road and there is no one around him to tell us anything about him.  All we know is that he needs help.

You know the story!  You know that the religious men don’t help him.  Why?  Many theories have been posited as to why the Levite and the priest don’t help.  It may be that their rules about touching the dead or the unclean prohibited them from helping.  It may be they were afraid the robbers were still nearby.  Or it may be that they were too prideful and they considered it beneath their dignity.  However, it doesn’t matter to the story or Jesus would have told us. 

What matters is that the “Good Samaritan” helped.  He bound up his wounds, took him to the inn to stay and rest, and paid for it all.  At the end of the story, the conclusion was that the Good Samaritan was the man who behaved with love for his neighbor.  And the lawyer was commanded by Jesus to go and do the same.

Does loving my neighbor mean loving the immigrant, and even the undocumented?

Before we find the answer and see how Jesus is directing our behavior, let’s make those qualifying rules that we must make before we can discover what Jesus is saying.  First, we are not looking for the   Democrat or Republican or liberal or conservative or any other political answer.  Jesus did not belong to a political party.  We cannot apply politics if we are seeking the truth.  Second, we are not forwarding a political agenda, nor are we offering a political solution.  At this time, we cannot offer a solution if we don’t know how God wants us to approach the subject.  Let’s apply the Bible first and foremost.

How does the Bible look at foreigners, sojourners, strangers and aliens?

There are many scriptures that address foreigners in Israel to treat them fairly, with mercy and compassion.  Exodus 23:9, “You shall not oppress a sojourner.  You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”  Deuteronomy 24: 17  “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take widow’s garment in pledge,…” And these are strong words, “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”  Deut. 27:19. 

In Leviticus 19 God commands harvesters not to reap their fields to the edge, neither to pick up fallen grapes, but to leave some behind for the poor and the sojourner. “You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner:  I am the Lord your God.”  19:10. The Lord continues with other commands not to steal, rob, do injustice, hate, or take vengeance.  It is interesting to note that he finishes with “You shall love your neighbor as yourself:  I am the Lord.” V. 18.

All of the above Old Testament verses are from the ESV.  In each instance, the word “sojourner” comes from the Hebrew word Gêr  (גֵּר־) translated as sojourner, stranger, aliens, and foreigner.  Dr. James Hoffmeier, professor of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, says that the Hebrew Gêr is more properly translated as a sojourner or stranger with legal status and equivalent to an immigrant with a green card [1].  However, the Bible makes no such distinction between legal and illegal sojourners, nor does the phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Returning to the story of the Good Samaritan, the “certain man” is unidentifiable.  The parable specifically illustrates that the quality, character and background of this man is unknowable at the moment of encounter.   It cannot be known if he is a thief, robber, drug addict, Gentile, good man or bad man, or an immigrant with or without a green card.  In fact, if he would have had a green card, the thieves would have stolen it.  The point of the parable is not to be able to distinguish who is worthy of aid, the point is that your neighbor is the one in need, the one you can touch, the one you may be able to rescue.

Welcome the stranger

Consider the parable of the sheep and the goats.  Jesus says when he comes, before him all the nations will be gathered together.  Then, Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats, and to the sheep he will say come into my kingdom for “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you game 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 25:35, 36.  Stranger comes from the Greek, xenos (ξένος)and means foreigner.  Let’s clarify:  Jesus is NOT talking about a person that you don’t know and that is a stranger to you.  He is talking specifically about foreigners in the land-the immigrant.  (This article does not have the space to go further with this word study, but if you are in doubt, please feel free to research it.)  When he says “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” he referred to himself as an immigrant and there was nothing that distinguishes whether he had a green card or didn’t. 

To the goats, those who did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick or those in prison, to those who did not welcome the stranger, Jesus is very specific.  He says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” V. 41.   This is a clear warning with dire consequences that cannot be taken lightly.

There can be no other view.  To turn away from the immigrant, documented or undocumented, is to turn away from Jesus.  “As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  Mt. 25:45.

But what about the law and Christian obedience to it?

There is a well made argument that Christians are supposed to obey the law, and by helping the immigrant we are subverting it.   See Romans 13:1-7.  Let’s examine the implications.  First, how do we know when we see a Latin American person that he is documented or undocumented?  Is it right to approach all Latinos with an assumption that they are undocumented?  Of course not. 

Secondly, let’s not assume things and ask the question, “Is the law prohibiting us from helping the undocumented?”  Now that is a big question.  Immigration law provides that those who are fleeing for safety, for their life, may apply for asylum.  In one sense, the church can help an undocumented person apply for that asylum, but that is very technical and outside the normal scope of the church unless they have lawyers.  However, we should take note that the most recent influx of immigration is due to people fleeing for their lives from an out of control drug cartel.  (Do you really want to send those folks back?)  So, in answer to the question, it may be that an undocumented person at your door or the door of your church is not illegal and has a means of coming to the United States quite legally.

Third, what is the Christian to do if there is an unjust law in place?  This is outside the scope of this article, but look for future articles to address it.  But let’s go so far as to define a law as unjust if it subverts the words of Jesus.  As clearly indicated above, a law to turn away from the undocumented immigrant that is in need is unjust because it subverts the word of Jesus in Matthew 25:31ff at the very least. 

So…Where do we go from here?

Christians can differ on how to approach and how we are to proceed with immigration, its policies and the process of reform, but we cannot differ in our view of loving the immigrant as we love ourselves.  That’s just the word of Jesus.

But let’s stop for a moment and weigh the facts.  I can go on and on about the tax paying of the immigrants that the government actually benefits from because most undocumented immigrants do not file for refunds, and I can go on and on about the prices of your chicken in the store being low because the undocumented immigrant takes a job making far less than an American will which translates into saving you money at the grocery store (chicken is just one of the items that we may reap benefits from undocumented workers), but to be sure there will be many who can also tell of negative effects as well.  So, let’s just talk about a Christian response.

First, let’s not call all immigrants undocumented and lump them into one pile. 

Second, let’s not call all undocumented “illegals,” because they may have a justifiable reason under the law, for being here.

Third, let’s stop attacking the undocumented simply because “they are breaking the law.”  Most immigrants, documented and undocumented, are here because they found no other way to support their family, children were hungry, and lives were threatened.  Please, they have been attacked enough.  AND let me just say, most everyone reading this article thinks a law allowing abortion is unjust—don’t you advocate to change that law?  (If you think abortion laws are fine just as they are, you can skip this part).  It should be a Christian’s stand to make sure there are just laws in place that protect our country and its borders from attack while making ways for those who are starving or in jeopardy of losing their life and their family to have access to our help.

AND fourth, and maybe the most important, let’s treat the immigrant, documented and undocumented like Jesus because he says to do so.

This will continue in the next article: Part 2 on helping the immigrant, helping Jesus with a discussion on ways to do so.  Please feel free to comment.

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6 comments on “Immigrants: What is the Christian Response?
  1. Ron, you clearly have made up your mind as to what the “Christian” response to the current crisis on the U.S. border should be and then proceeded to slap whatever scripture backed up your position.
    Truly studying the issue from a biblical perspective, means taking in the full counsel of scripture, not just the verses that justify your thinking.
    What is wrong with referring to immigrants by their legal or illegal status? Should we not refer to unbelievers as such? Should we not make a distinction between Christians and non-Christians? Not exactly helpful if one is trying avoid being unequally yoked.
    The point of the story of the Good Samaritan, is that the victim of the crime was a Jew and other Jews refused to help him while the Samaritan, the Jews’ enemy, did stop and help.
    Helping someone with an immediate need and holding them accountable for breaking the law are not mutually exclusive. I can give the drunk a meal, but I will NOT give him a drink and I will help him get to an AA meeting, if he is willing.
    I will give the illegal immigrant child immediate care, but I WILL hold his family (in his home country) accountable for his care and send him back, immediately.
    The bodies of young children are being pulled out of the Rio Grande as we debate this. Where did these “extremely poor” families get $5K-8K per person to pay the coyotes?
    The information is too sketchy right now–as the Obama administration won’t let anyone in to get the real information from these people.
    How is a mother with her minor children in the same category as an “unaccompanied minor?” How are boys ages 15-17 helpless?
    You assume that every one of these children is worthy of asylum in our country. We simply do not know this to be the fact.
    Part of a Christians responsibility is to be a good steward. Is it good stewardship to give continual free education, medical care, food and housing to those whose parents are not paying income taxes because they are being paid in cash by other law breakers? And I return to the alcoholic analogy: Enabling! You sound as if you believe in an open and porous border. We cannot afford to be that lax and naive in this age of terrorism. How many of these young men are already gang members and/or drug mules? Does that matter to you? Does Christian charity mean that I forego all thought of my or my families safety and security in order to prove that I am “like Jesus?”
    Laws exist to maintain order.
    And back to the law: If we are going to maintain that these children are now under the protection of U.S. law, then their parents have violated child endangerment laws and have forfeited their right as parents. Therefore, the children should be put into the foster care system and adopted to families as soon as possible. But there simply aren’t enough foster families available, you say. Well, then Christians should step up and become foster and adoptive parents. Or does your “like Jesus” charity include mami, papi, abuelita, abuelito, tia, tio, etc? In other words, where does your charity end and your law abiding begin? You are really advising us to abandon our laws in the name of Christ. When you compare the effort to abolish abortion, you are comparing apples and oranges. One is an effort to change the law, the other is wanton abandonment of the law or anarchy.

    • Amnesty Will Cost U.S. Taxpayers at Least $2.6 Trillion Heritage Foundation | June 6, ’07 | Robert Rector NOTE: Pres Bush has asked the Senate to reconsider S.1348 the Senate amsntey bill that was recently defeated. S.1348 would grant amsntey to nearly all illegal immigrants currently in the United States. Illegal immigrants generally have very low education levels. 61 percent of illegal immigrant adults lack a high school diploma. Illegal immigrants have a poverty level that is roughly twice that of native-born Americans. The Senate’s bill would offer amsntey and a path to citizenship to 12 to 12.5 million illegals currently in the U.S. In addition, its lax evidentiary standards would encourage millions more to apply for amsntey fraudulently. Because there is no numeric limit on the number of amnesties that could be granted under the bill, the actual numbers who would receive amsntey under the bill could be far higher. Eligibility for government benefits means that the former illegal immigrant or his family members obtains the same benefits as a U.S. citizen would have. Children born within the United States to illegal immigrants, including Z visa holders, are potentially eligible for all welfare benefits from the moment of birth through the reat of their lives. In addition, adult Z visa holders and their foreign-born children will be eligible for medical care under the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Program. Z visa holders will be given lawful Social Security numbers which makes them eligible for two refundable tax credits: The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit. These credits provides cash welfare assistance Irrespective of employment history, amsntey recipients will become eligible for 60 different federal welfare programs five years after receiving legal permanent residence. When the amsntey recipients reach retirement age, total benefits received will OUTSTRIP TAXES PAID BY ROUGHLY SEVEN TO ONE. (Excerpt) Read more at heritage.org

  2. I am in full agreement with what you wrote. These immigrants are 3rd world economic refugees, not invaders from the south as so many try to claim. They are made in the image and likeness of the same Almighty God who made the rest of us. Besides, we are a nation of immigrants and we always have been. Which is exactly why there is no such thing as a “illegal” human being. We all have the God-given inalienable right to be here.

    • my mother and grnpenardats were selfish and immoral. After all, whenever a debate starts up about immigration, it’s just a matter of time before someone says, “They need to stay and fix their own countries

  3. Pingback: John Piper; Answering Homosexual Activists; Marriage Thoughts; Immigrant Policy; Dealing with Terrorism « ChosenRebel's Blog

  4. I know Christian brothers who rush to defend America’s borders with a passion and when I remind them that the US Constitution is not scripture, they get mad at me. This tells me that they consider the American citizenship higher than their heavenly citizenship. As a young man I served in the US Navy, but now that I’m in that later half of the chapters in my book of life, I consider myself a citizen of heaven who is merely passing through.

    As another perspective, if you spent a few months living abroad in another country, you would no doubt learn something of their internal politics, but it would’t be a passion. It would only be a passing interest because it’s not your home.

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