On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 7 (Tying It All Together)

walls-of-jerusalem

Tentative conclusions

  • So is it right for the federal government to make certain that immigrants — even refugees — have no criminal history or otherwise pose no threat to the safety of the US?

Absolutely. It would be a failure of the government to protect its own people to be so naive or foolish as to assume that merely because someone is seeking asylum or immigration status that they are not criminals or otherwise dangerous. The government today sits in gates of the city, as it were, to judge such things. It’s what governments are supposed to do.

  • So should we have open borders that allow millions to enter the country without any sort of clearing process?

Should Jerusalem have had no walls at all? Walls are good. Some way to police the borders is essential. (It doesn’t have to be a literal wall.) But this truth does not mean we should oppose immigration in general or be unwilling to be hospitable to those who come into our country.

But could the nation, consistent with scripture, come up with a rational system for allowing some immigrants in and keeping some out? Of course.

PS — There is presently no practical legal way for most Latin Americans to legally enter the US and work. Obtaining a visa and green card is no easy matter, and the reason so many enter illegally is we’ve given them no meaningful legal option. What the law ought to be is not an easy question to answer, but it’s frivolous to argue, “They should come in legally.” They can’t. You can argue, “They should not come in at all,” but then you have to face the moral weight of the brute fact that we have jobs that Americans won’t take (not everywhere, but many places) and no legal way for foreigners to enter to take these jobs, even though they live in desperate poverty and very much want to enter to work (not necessarily to gain citizenship). Yes, our immigration laws are that messed up.

  • Should we be open to immigration?

Yes. Just as the Jews were once sojourners, we are all descended from immigrants. But just as the Torah imposed some requirements on the sojourners as a condition to living among the Israelites, we are right to require immigrants to live by our laws and to adopt certain key values.

But when they arrive as sojourners, we are obligated to show them hospitality — and to treat them as neighbors.

Sojourners in Israel had to honor the Sabbath (or else they’d have an unfair advantage in trade and would not enjoy the blessings of a nation that required periodic rest as a humane matter). It would seem reasonable to require that employers of immigrant labor honor US labor laws. No one should be taken advantage of because he’s not a citizen. (In fact, the labor laws apply to immigrants, legal or not, but illegal immigrants generally can’t complain to the government of inhumane treatment for fear of deportation. Many businesses take advantage of them for this reason. Nothing could be less Christian.)

Sojourners were required to honor the Torah’s standards regarding sexuality and the eating of blood that applied to Israelites. Again, if you wish to live in a country, you should honor its values.

Sojourners were allowed to participate in gleaning the fields, an ancient form of welfare. Farmers were required to leave some of the harvest in the field so that the poor and sojourners could harvest the crop for themselves — because they had no land of their own. But they had to do their own harvesting, threshing, grinding, and cooking. They weren’t given handouts. They had to work for their food.

Sojourners were not required to worship YHWH, but they could not blaspheme. They had to be respectful of the beliefs of their hosts. It seems only reasonable that the Jews’ toleration of differing religions be reciprocated by the sojourners. In modern terms, Muslim immigrants must be tolerant of Christianity — even if Muslims become a majority in a given community.

The same law applied to sojourners as to Israelites, in general. Again, there’s no reason to except immigrants from the law of the land. Just so, Muslims should not enter the US and then demand that they be governed by sharia law. If you want to immigrate to our country, you live by our laws. The Torah did not give sojourners the option to opt out of Torah obedience — and anything else would lead to chaos.

In short, sometimes Moses seems to be a Republican. He makes the sojourners work for their food. He requires them to treat the Israelite religion with respect. They have to live under Israelite law and values, but they aren’t required to adopt the Israelite religion.

Other times, he seems more like a Democrat. He requires that the sojourners receive welfare, if they are poor and cannot support themselves. Joshua didn’t kick out even those who entered by fraud — but they had to live under Torah. And God, through Moses, strongly encouraged the presence of sojourners in the Promised Land.

On the other hand, sojourners could not become “citizens.” The Torah made no provision for sojourners to become Jews. The ability to become proselytes — meaning a change not only of religion but of nationality — came about much later, but it came about in response to the attitude toward sojourners found in the Torah. However, it remained controversial among the rabbis for centuries, even during apostolic times. It was not automatic or easy.

Some would argue that Rahab and Ruth were proselytes, as they were allowed to marry Jews. But marriage was not forbidden as to all foreigners at all times, especially marriage to foreign women. (It’s a complex bit of history.)

Although the duties and rights of proselytes were in some respects more limited than those of born Jews, in essentials proselytes were probably regarded by the rabbis as of equal status with born Jews and many rabbinic texts evince a positive attitude towards proselytes. However, some rabbis viewed proselytes unfavourably. In deprecating the admission of proselytes to Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud likens them to a sore on the skin of Israel (b. Yebamoth 109b) and one rabbi argued that proselytes delayed the coming of the Messiah, and so were presumably, therefore, not to be actively sought (b. Niddah 13b).

P. Trebilco and R. A. Stewart, New Bible Dictionary, 1996, 976.

The traditional path to US citizenship requires learning about American history and our values — our framing stories — the metanarratives that define us as a people. That made sense when it became the law, and it still makes sense — and it’s very consistent with Torah.

In short, we Christians don’t get to play politics with the immigration question. Our duties are to God, not our political parties. The Torah calls us to common sense — to a recognition that not all foreigners wish to do us good and that we have values and laws worth preserving. Immigration can be accomplished in ways that preserve our essential values, and it’s only right that we endeavor to do so.

Those values include compassion for those less fortunate — just as we’re glad our forebears had opportunities here. But nothing requires us to open our borders to all comers. Indeed, there’s a place in God’s order for walls. And a place in his heart for sojourners. And we can honor both principles — thoughtfully and lovingly in light of scriptural principles.

I forget where, but I’ve heard Rick Atchley quoted as saying that we failed to send missionaries to Latin America as we should have, and so God is now bringing them to us to be taught about Jesus. You see, the world looks very different when you think in terms of God’s mission, rather than which position provides power to your political party.

I don’t see the argument for unrestrained immigration without limit based on the Bible. It’s just not there. But neither is the attitude that we’ll be unwelcoming and protect what’s ours at any cost to the poor who surround us. Rather, hospitality includes generosity, especially to those who are least able to reciprocate. But the commands are to the church, not the federal government. The goal isn’t merely to pass kind and compassionate laws; it’s for Christians to treat sojourners as God wishes, because God loves the sojourner. So must we.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 7 (Tying It All Together)

  1. Eric Thomas says:

    Amen! Great post. I hope that people can come here feeling welcomed if they come here with good intentions. It’s safer for them and us and less divisive. It’s the act of responsible governing. It’s also more compassionate to only allow someone in that has legal standing. They can be protected without fear.

  2. Gary says:

    Jay, thank you for an excellent summing up of a difficult subject. I agree almost entirely with this post. I do have a concern about sojourners/immigrants being required to accept American values. Yes that’s good in principle but, as always, the devil is in the details. I’m afraid many Americans would project irrational requirements onto immigrants. For example, many Americans take offense when they hear people from other countries speaking in a language other than English. Some immigrants/resident aliens have even been attacked in these situations. When I hear of these episodes I always think of our constitution’s protection of free speech. There is no rational basis at all to expect everyone to always speak English in public. It really is no one else’s business what language people choose to speak in.

    I’m thankful to have grown up in an ethnically diverse Mississippi Delta city. In addition to Blacks and Whites of western European descent we had large communities of Italians, Lebanese, Syrians, Chinese and Jews who were mainly of Russian and eastern European descent. Our Jewish community was the largest in the state. The first neighborhood grocery my family used was owned by a Lebanese couple whom I still remember fondly. I mowed their yard starting in the fourth grade. They would pay me and then I bought comic books and soda with my pay! When supermarkets began we went to one owned by a Chinese family who seemed to always be bringing over more relatives from Asia. When you checked out the employees would be chattering back and forth to each other in Chinese. We had no idea what they were saying but it is a warm memory.

    It was no coincidence that our county was the most progressive in Mississippi on race relations. The Ku Klux Klan never gained a foothold there. School integration was accomplished without violence or protests. Civil rights workers in the 60’s knew that they would be protected by the police in our city rather than be harassed as they often were in other Southern cities.

    My point is that there is great value in diversity if we embrace it rather than fear it. Nativism is contrary to the spirit of Jesus’ teachings and, frankly, it is based on ignorance. The most prosperous areas of our nation today are overwhelmingly racially, religiously and ethnically diverse. On the other hand, the whitest areas of our nation where foreigners are viewed with suspicion or worse, are increasingly becoming poorer. Their population is ageing and, in many cases, decreasing. They are not places where young adults want to live. Without a large influx of immigrants their future is only one of decline. To double down on nativism and fantasies of America First and Make America Great/White Again only hastens their decline.

  3. I agree with almost everything you wrote. As a Christian, I think we also have to factor in the culpability of the United States in creating much of the poverty in Latin America. (As a non-Christian, you can be much more callous about such and say, “So our forefathers were smarter than yours. Tough!)

    I agree that open borders would be chaos and closed borders only slightly less so. The United States needs comprehensive immigration reform, from top to bottom. Not just walls and travel bans. Rework the whole thing.

    I’m skeptical of that happening given the politicization of the whole topic.

  4. Dwight says:

    I think it would be hard to compare the US with Israel in terms of national responsibility. As individuals we have Christian responsibilities to be hospitable to strangers (all people), but a nation can have and does have different rules in regards to levels of entry and citizenship. It is amazing, but those nations that often complain that we don’t take enough people themselves have stricter guidelines for entry than we do. Mexico is fine with people leaving or coming through, but staying is a different matter from South America and many times it is easier to get in from the US, then it is to get out if money if a bribe is involved.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    I tried to speak in terms of principle just to keep the length of the post manageable. Here in Tuscaloosa I well remember my youngest son’s birthday party when he was in the 8th grade. Sitting around the kitchen table for a spend-the-night LAN (local area network) party was a kid from Germany, China, Venezuela, and Egypt as well as an American black kid. Tuscaloosa is surprisingly cosmopolitan for a town of its size and location. So I asked them what they had against Australians. They had no idea why that was supposed to be funny.

    Nothing was done for the sake of diversity. They were just kids who were friends, unaware of identity politics and such like, who enjoyed playing video games over a high speed LAN and staying up late.

    The next generation of elders — the guys who are presently in their 30s and 40s and too young for now — are going to see things very differently from us Baby Boomers.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Tim,

    Our immigration law is foolish beyond words, and the press covers it poorly because they only react to the political news of the day. The politicians see Latin immigration mainly in terms of who gets to take credit for granting them citizenship, although my impression is that few come to the US to become citizens. Rather, their goal is to work and send money home to support their families or, better yet, to bring their families here where even our poor people often live much better than they do back home in Mexico.

    Therefore, conservatives tend to argue, “Just make them come over legally,” but they can’t. There is no process for bringing Hispanic manual labor over here without breaking the law. Heck, it can cost thousands of dollars to bring a doctor or professor to the US and get them a green card. And it can take years. But no Washington politician wants to fix the system because the stupidity of the system attracts campaign contributions and even the conservatives can’t agree on what they want. Big business often pushes for “reform” that would be counter-productive.

    Not many years ago, a bipartisan group of COngressmen put together a deal that would allow worker permits but the employers would have to provide health insurance — since the US taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize the costs of immigrants being brought in to the country. I pay for health insurance for my employees. Most businesses do. But the Chamber of Commerce killed the bill. The big businesses wanted to bring in cheap labor and stick the taxpayers with the carrying costs!

    When I speak to a Senator or Congressman, I can’t get them to speak in any terms other than a path to citizenship because, to them, it’s all about which party gains power. The good of the nation is quite beside the point. Hence, you have Trump. Love him or hate him, at least he’s not as useless as Congress has been on this issue. Both parties have demonstrated beyond all doubt their inability to govern in this area due to their conflict of interest — a desire to buy votes from illegal immigrants with little regard for the impact on the country.

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