A Biblical Versus a Multi-Cultural Perspective on Illegal Immigration, Part 2

Posted on November 13, 2013 by

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Part II*

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16)

Having already dealt with the Matthew 25 passage in the first installment, this installment addresses other scriptural passages referenced by evangelicals in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants.  We will also examine the biblically-defined role of the secular magistrate regarding the enforcement of laws in general, and immigration law, in particular.

“I was a Stranger…”

Christian advocates for undocumented immigration such as the G92 organization have put together a list of Old and New Testament verses, which they believe biblically makes the case for some sort of legal waiver for the 12 million or so in this country (see, for example, Deut. 10:18-19).  Yet when one reads them carefully – that is, within their historical context – one finds that all of these passages in their totality merely enjoin humane treatment of the “sojourner” or “stranger” living within the nation of Israel.  For instance, according to these texts, private citizens of Israel could no more mistreat an alien living among them than they could mistreat their fellow citizen; non-citizens in Israel, therefore, were entitled to the same legal protections afforded to Abraham’s biological descendants.  Thus, in applying these scriptural passages to our own day, one must conclude that private American citizens, according to Old Testament law, have no moral or legal right to abuse or cruelly take advantage of illegal immigrants simply because the latter are not citizens of this country.  On this score, we should all fully agree.

And yet, when taken in their proper context, the multitude of Old Testament verses on this subject bear no relevance to our current national dialogue over amnesty for illegal immigrants.  For starters, these biblical citations presume that the foreigner in Israel had lawfully entered that country and was, therefore, compliant with the laws of Israel; there simply is no indication in any of these texts that foreigners, strangers, or sojourners illegally entered and continued to remain illegally in the Hebrew Commonwealth.  This is an important consideration to be mindful of since pro-amnesty groups eagerly identify as immigrants or political refugees important characters from the Bible (Abraham, Rebekah, Moses, Joseph, Ruth, Daniel, Paul) in order to bolster their conviction that the incarceration of those caught in illegal border crossings today is manifestly unjust.  For example, take note of Russell Moore’s attempt equate Christ’s experiences with those of undocumented immigrants in general: “[O]ur Lord Jesus himself was a so-called ‘illegal immigrant.’ Fleeing, like many of those in our country right now, a brutal political situation, our Lord’s parents sojourned with him in Egypt (Matt. 2:13-23).”  However, what these arguments fail to take into account is there is no evidence that any of these biblical personages violated the immigration laws of the land in which they sojourned.  Quite the contrary, what we often find in the biblical record is that such persons interacted – though not always under pleasant circumstances – with the proper governing authorities of pagan communities (consider Sarah’s and Rebekah’s immigration experience with the foreign rulers they encountered in the book of Genesis!).  All the extensive sojourns in foreign locales by the heroes of our faith were apparently done so legally by virtue of the fact that nothing in the biblical text indicates otherwise.

Furthermore, these same scriptural citations shed no light on the proper role of the state vis-à-vis illegal immigration.  Certainly at an intra-personal level, individuals must love their neighbor – including the immigrant (legal or otherwise) – as they would themselves.  Moreover, we know from Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” that individuals may not seek personal vengeance but must, instead, “turn the other cheek” or go the extra mile (Matt. 5: 38-42) in their private encounters.  And yet, the magistrate, unlike the private citizen, is duty bound in its pursuit of divine justice to seek God’s vengeance on behalf of all victims of crime, since our Lord established government for the sole purpose of  restraining sin in the civil realm via the prosecution of criminals for the public good.  In other words, the state cannot fulfill its divine mandate – that is, to be a “terror” to those who engage in unlawful activities – if it too must “turn the other cheek” or be a “Good Samaritan,” for all governments have a biblical injunction to indict those who wantonly flaunt the just laws of the land.  According to Paul, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment . . . for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:2, 4).

To discharge their God-given duty, the secular authorities, unlike the Church, must pursue “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21) so that the magistrate’s public performance will conform to that biblical criterion of blind and equitable justice required of all political authorities (e.g. Acts 25:11).  Therefore, every government has a moral obligation to enforce its laws, including its immigration law.  And it is only because our nation’s government has failed to do so in this regard, that there are presently millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

In the final installment of this article, we will look at the multi-cultural aspects of the evangelical case for amnesty.

*Editor’s Note: Dr. Richard Tison is guest blogging for us on the issue of immigration, and this is Part II of a three-part series. Part I is here and part III will be posted tomorrow. Dr. Tison is an assistant professor of history at Cedarville University.

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