Surprised by Hope: God’s Justice and Illegal Immigration, Part 1

I’ve been trying to think of a good example of the difference between the Christian perspective and the political perspective for class. I think illegal immigration likely shows the difference as well as anything.

Imagine that you’re a U.S. Senator. What are the political considerations that impact a decision on what to do about illegal immigration?

Here are a few possibilities —

* My party’s political line. If my party wants to push for secure borders, then I need to support my side.

* My constituents’ concerns. And in most parts of the country, my constituents are concerned about the governmental cost of illegal immigrants and their impact on crime and wages.

* My long-term political needs. If immigrants were to one day win citizenship and the right to vote, I don’t want to appear to have been opposed to their interests as then they’d then never vote for me.

* The financial impact of illegal immigration on tax revenues, Social Security, Medicaid, and the like.

* The fact that illegal immigration is, well, illegal. How will the government insist on the rule of law when so many — even our own citizens and governments — are refusing to honor the law of the land?

These are pretty typical political considerations — how to get re-elected and stay in power, how to manage the country, etc.

Now, from a Christian perspective, what would be the primary considerations? This is a harder question, right? I mean, we just aren’t used to putting our politics through a Christian filter. Rather, we usually think of political questions in the terms presented to us by our politicians and the news media — which generally means in terms of self-interest. And it’s pretty easy to think of immigration in terms of self-interest.

But Christians don’t quite have that luxury, do they? So let me offer an approach.

God judges the law

First, we have to set aside the question of what the law is. God is above all powers. He judges laws. Laws don’t judge him. Therefore, if a law is contrary to God’s will, we don’t honor the law. Hence, the first question cannot be: what’s legal? Rather, the first question is: what’s right according to God?

Scriptures decide, not the law of the land

Second, “what’s right according to God” has little to do with the laws of the land. It’s all about what God considers best. Therefore, we next turn to the scriptures, not the lawyers or sociologists or politicians or pundits. Right? I mean, don’t come to me quoting Jefferson. Quote Moses or Jesus or Paul.

The scriptures teach that we treat aliens the same as natives

There are actually quite a few passages on aliens and strangers. We begin in the Law of Moses —

(Exo 23:9) “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”

(Lev 19:9-10) “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.”

(Lev 19:33-34) “‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. 34 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.”

(Lev 24:22) “You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.'”

(Lev 25:35-37) “‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.”

(Deu 1:16) And I charged your judges at that time: Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien.

(Deu 10:17-19) For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.

(Deu 14:28-29) At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

(Deu 23:7) Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as an alien in his country.

(Deu 24:14) Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.

(Deu 27:19) “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

(Jer 7:5-7) If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.

(Ezek 22:29) The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice.

(Mat 25:35) For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger [Greek xenos = alien] and you invited me in,

When I first read these passages, I was astonished. After all, God went to some trouble in the Law of Moses to insist on racial purity, and he commanded the Israelites to drive the Canaanites from the land. And yet God was also quite clear that they were to treat aliens living among them with hospitality and respect.

In fact, aliens participated in the welfare system — being allowed to glean the fields and to receive a portion of the third-year tithes set aside for the poor.

Ultimately, God says to the Israelites — you were once aliens in Egypt and should remember how that felt. Therefore, do not oppress the aliens who live among you. Rather, they should receive the same justice as native-born Israelites.

Now, Moses wasn’t wrestling with the question of illegal immigration, and I don’t see these verses as giving the ultimate answer. However, they do give us a frame of reference. It’s really quite simple — we can’t love Americans more than non-Americans. Mexicans, Hondurans, and Haitians are God’s children, too.

Politicians answer only to the electorate and have no reason to be concerned with aliens — unless the voters care, which is why it’s so important that the church think about this from a Christian perspective.


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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3 Responses to Surprised by Hope: God’s Justice and Illegal Immigration, Part 1

  1. Alan says:

    First, we have to set aside the question of what the law is.

    I'm sympathetic to the overall direction of the post, but I don't think I can go with you on the above comment. We cannot merely set aside the law of the government. As a Christian I certainly need to treat an immigrant kindly. But that doesn't automatically give Christians the right to violate the law regarding illegal immigrants.

    As Americans, we do not live in a theocracy. Our relationship to the government is more along the lines of the first century church's relationship to Rome. Our responsibility as Christians is to condut our own lives under the authority of scripture. That includes obeying the governmental law insofar as it does not cause us personally to violate scripture.

  2. andy says:

    I know it's belated, but I'd like to defend Jay's interpretation here. I don't think he is saying that Christians, in practice, should forget about the law. I think what he is saying, is that when we think about what "should" happen with illegal immigrants, it isn't enough to simply say "the law says…."

    God's law is unchanging, but human laws can be changed. Thus, we should first determine God's law and then strive to influence the law so that it doesn't hamper us from fulfilling our charge.

  3. Franl says:

    When obeying the governmental law brakes God's law we nee stand up and speak up against it. Law made by human hand is just a human percepcion of interests. God's law is perfect. You need to open your heart to the holy spirit and love in the way that God loved us and accepted us, remember there is not jewish or greek before God's eyes.

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