A Biblical Versus a Multi-Cultural Perspective on Illegal Immigration, Part 3

Posted on November 14, 2013 by


Part III*

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)

In a previous installment, we examined what God’s Word has to say regarding the treatment of immigrants in general, as well as the biblical prescription for government as “ministers of God.”  Now, in this final installment, we will scrutinize the pragmatic and multicultural arguments largely undergirding the evangelical case for amnesty.

The State: Agent of Social Justice?

Advocates for illegal immigration implicitly, if not explicitly, question the moral validity of immigration laws in general, alleging that such statutes lack compassion and are unbiblical.  Citing Russell Moore as an illustration of this perspective,

       It is easy to lash out at undocumented immigrants as “law-breakers,” and to cite Romans 13 as reason to simply call for deportation and retribution. But this issue is far more complicated than that. Yes, undocumented immigrants are violating the law, but, first of all, most of them are doing so in order to provide a future for their families in flight from awful situations back home. Many of them are children (as our Lord Jesus was at the time of his immigration).

However, given the biblical requirements imposed on rulers via Mosaic Law, namely to distinguish covenant citizens from resident aliens, such laws regulating residential status, contra Moore, are inherently just and appropriate.  What we find explicitly stated in God’s law is that covenant privileges in Israel did not apply to the non-citizen.  For example, interest-bearing loans were forbidden within Israel among “brothers” (fellow citizens), yet members of the Hebrew Commonwealth could lawfully charge interest on loans to a “foreigner” living among them (Deut. 23:19-20).  Whereas all citizens who borrowed money were to be released from their debt after seven years (the sabbatical year), the “foreigner” was not entitled to any such debt-forgiveness: “Of a foreigner you may exact it” (Deut. 15:1-3).  Further evidence of this covenantal distinction can be found in the prohibition against eating unclean food: “You may not eat anything that has died naturally.  You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner.  For you are a people holy to the Lord your God” (Deut. 14:21).  God’s law also prohibited Israel from enslaving her own people yet Israelites were nevertheless permitted to “buy male and female slaves from among the nations” – even from among “the strangers who sojourn” in Israel (Lev. 25:39-46).  That the Mosaic Law highlights those privileges unique to the citizens of the Hebrew Commonwealth is sufficient biblical sanction for governments in our day to adjudicate the legal status of any persons legally (or illegally) residing within their borders.

 A Little Slice of Heaven (on Earth)

Another rationale offered by pro-amnesty evangelicals is the missional opportunity that has been presented to the Church, not only in potentially evangelizing 12 million undocumented residents in this country, but also in diversifying its predominantly white evangelical base (the so-called “1970s Bible Belt”) so that – in the words of Russell Moore – “we will reflect . . . the kingdom of God which is made up of those from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language (Rev. 7:9).”  As he further exhorts,

 Our commitment to a multinational kingdom of God’s reconciliation in Christ must be evident in the verbal witness of our gospel and in the visible makeup of our congregations. . . . Immigration isn’t just an issue.  It’s an opportunity to see that, as important as the United States of America is, there will be a day when the United States of America will no longer exist. And on that day, the sons and daughters of God will stand before the throne of a former undocumented immigrant.

Indeed, according to Moore, “we’re all immigrants to the kingdom of God.”

First, it must be noted that Gentile believers are invited guests – not interlopers – having been legally adopted as true descendants of Abraham, thereby entitled to enjoy the eternal blessings of God’s covenant with him  (see Gal. 3).  Second, is it really our biblical duty to diversify (or multi-culturalize) the visible Church so that it will racially mirror the invisible (heavenly) Kingdom?  Isn’t that God’s prerogative?  After all, we are informed that it is the Good Shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them . . . and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”  Furthermore, according to Christ, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:4-5, 16).  So while it is, indeed, true that many tribes and tongues will be added to God’s flock, nevertheless the only role for the Church to play in the increase of God’s kingdom is for her to preach the Word faithfully with conviction and love, obediently abiding in it.  That biblical message and testimony, we are told, will resonate with those who – regardless of race or gender – willingly have ears to hear and respond to it.  There simply is no scriptural injunction to seek, via human artifice, a racially diverse family of God; that desired outcome will only happen by a divine outpouring of God’s grace – not through social activism or statist intervention.

Admittedly, it is tempting to find ways to hasten God’s execution of his decrees.  However, we must be mindful of the fact that God’s timing is not necessarily our own.  Just as Abraham’s and Sarah’s foolish attempt to fulfill divine promise through human initiative resulted in lasting strife (i.e. Ishmael) – not covenantal blessings – so ought today’s evangelicals heed their bad example, being wary lest we too act out of weakness of faith, thus offsetting our good intentions with fallible reasoning.  For whenever we deviate from the command to “live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3), we cease to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  Instead, we become harmful to ourselves and others through the misguided counsel and misplaced affections of our darkened understanding.  When that happens, our rationally autonomous attempt to achieve social justice through legal or de facto amnesty will surely miss the desired mark; the result will inevitably be unbiblical and unjust.

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

Posted in: Immigration