Reflecting on Immigration
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33,34)
The elephant in America’s living room has finally begun to stir, and he isn’t happy. The status and plight of illegal aliens and the future of immigration have suddenly erupted into the public square, and politicians are scrambling to construct a policy that, even if it doesn’t please everyone, will at least provide a finger in the dike for the time being.
This is a problem of our own making. Americans long took pride in their country as a land of opportunity and a refuge for the “tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” from among the destitute peoples of Northern Europe. We boasted of being the world’s “melting pot” and told with evident satisfaction and pride the success stories of immigrants and their descendants. Our boasts and celebrations were heard far and wide, creating an influx of new immigrants, no longer from places like Ireland and Germany, but now from Eastern and Southern Europe, India, the Middle and Far East, and Latin America.
These new immigrants clung to their native ways and tongues with such tenacity that, before long, we were in danger of becoming a “disunited” nation, to use Arthur Schlesinger’s phrase. What’s more, the new immigrants had the peculiar bad taste either of excelling in certain technical professions or being willing to work long hours at low pay in the most menial tasks, thereby displacing American workers across the economic spectrum. Their industry and prosperity created a growing resentment on the part of many Americans, and, at the same time, encouraged even more immigration to the United States.
As a result, immigration quotas were tightened; however, this has done little to staunch the inflow of new immigrants, especially from Latin America, whose illegal presence here is abetted by greedy employers who turn a blind eye to the law in order to pad their bottom lines, and pragmatic politicians seeking every means to shore up their power bases.
Now we are engaged in a fierce debate to untangle the mess and establish a just immigration policy. So far the debate has generated more heat than light, while the cauldron of illegal immigrants, their families, and their former countrymen—now citizens of these disunited states—continues to boil.
Does the Christian community have anything to contribute to this debate? Can Christians afford to sit out this major public policy issue? Our calling as the salt of the earth and the light of the world requires that we proclaim truth into this and every issue of policy that affects the nation, that we might make our contribution to the commonweal (Jeremiah 29:7). So while we may not have all the answers to the immigration conundrum, nor even anything like an outline for a policy, nevertheless, faithfulness to the Scriptures requires that we represent the teaching of God’s Word concerning the question of how to treat the “strangers” in our midst.
A perusal of Scripture on this subject reveals three presuppositions and what we might call three “talking points” toward a fairer and more agreeable immigration policy.
Three presuppositions undergird the teaching of Scripture concerning the matter of immigrants—“strangers and sojourners,” to use Biblical terminology.
First, it is a measure of the blessing of God on a nation that people will leave their native land and culture to find a new life in a strange land (cf. Deuteronomy 4:5-9; Micah 4:1-5). When a nation is faithful to God and pursues its affairs according to the teaching of His Law, that nation can expect to know the blessing of God and will, as a result, attract people from other nations who hope to share in the goodness of the Lord. The American experiment, while forged out of many influences, including secular and economic, nevertheless had a firm anchor in Biblical law for its social and cultural moorings. We see this, for example, in the many colonial laws that were copied verbatim from the case laws of the Old Testament. We also see it in the overall shape and character of the Constitution, which was modeled, in large part, after the Massachusetts Constitution, written by one man, John Adams, a devout Christian. We also see the broad outlines of a Biblical worldview in the way the Constitution works both to protect individual rights and liberties and to guard against human tendencies to self-interest, as Forrest MacDonald has argued (Novus Ordo Seclorum).
That America prospered from the beginning should not surprise us; the blessing of God was upon this nation from the outset and has continued upon her in many ways to the present day, in spite of our evident drift from Him and His Law. We should expect, therefore, that people will be drawn to these shores from all over the world, to share in the blessings that God pours out upon us.
Second, while immigrants should thus be expected, they must abide by the laws and customs of the nation to which they have come. Scripture is clear that there is to be one law for the native as for the stranger in the land. Those who came to Israel, whether permanently or merely for a season, were expected to abide by the laws of the land and to respect the customs and traditions of the people whose faithfulness had incurred the blessings the strangers would have come to Israel to enjoy. At the same time, they would have realized all the protection those laws provided for the people of Israel.
Those who make illegal entry to a country and who violate its laws—for example, by taking wages “under the table,” as it were—as well as those who have but scant regard for the language, customs, and traditions of their adopted land, cannot expect to share in the blessings of that land while they flout the very things that have made such blessings flow.
Immigrants must be schooled in the ways of the land; they must be prepared for full and proper citizenship, lest they become a blight rather than a blessing to the nation to which they have come.
Third, we must understand that God defends strangers (Exodus 22:21-24). He has compassion for those who have left all and risked all to find new lives in a strange country. God’s attitude toward strangers and sojourners is welcoming, caring, and protective; that nation which, having known the blessings of God because of its obedience to His Law—however faulty, reluctant, or unacknowledged that obedience—may not expect those blessings to continue when their attitude toward the strangers and sojourners in their midst fails to reflect that of God Himself.
We do not expect all who are engaged in this debate to accept these presuppositions. At the same time, we who know the Lord, and who trust in His Word, must keep them in mind at all times, and while we may not cite chapter and verse as we enter the public square to debate this issue, yet we will, being wise as serpents and harmless as doves, want to make sure these presuppositions receive due consideration.
THREE TALKING POINTS
These three presuppositions lead to three “talking points,” points we will want to make over and over in this debate, and which we will want to press as grounds for public policy.
First, God calls us to love and care for strangers (Leviticus 19:33,34; Leviticus 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 14:28,29). Selfishness, greed, and racial and ethnic prejudice can keep us from showing love for immigrants. We must recognize these when they occur and denounce them for what they are. We must call our fellow citizens to consider the Golden Rule and to set aside their immediate fears and concerns in order to work together for just and loving policies. In all that we propose in dealing with immigrants and immigration, we must ask ourselves whether the programs we are about to enact will express love for our neighbors as for ourselves. At the very least, all parties in the debate will be compelled to deal with the issue of love—whether for strangers or for ourselves—and to reflect on the extent to which their own attitudes and proposals are either self-serving or compassionate.
Second, at all times it is our duty to seek justice for strangers (Deuteronomy 24:17,18; Exodus 23:9). It is not just to jeopardize the dreams and hopes of immigrants by receiving them contrary to existing laws, or by encouraging them to live apart from the law of the land. At the same time, it is unjust to maintain laws and policies that make immigration difficult, if not impossible, for many. Nor is it just to take advantage of immigrants because they do not fully understand the laws of the land or how to take advantage of the protection those laws afford. Here we must insist that immigrants be properly educated in the laws, customs, and traditions that have been, in no small part, the source of America’s prosperity; and, while immigrants may cherish their native ways and strive to maintain their ethnic culture and history, they must be made to understand that coming to America means becoming an American, first and foremost.
Finally, we must make sure to maintain economic opportunity for strangers (Deuteronomy 24:14,15,19-22; Leviticus19:9,10; 23:22). This means we must treat them fairly with respect to wages, and we must be willing to give them access to all aspects of the field of labor, even if doing so means that we may suffer some economic setback. Job training programs, scholarships, apprenticeships, and licenses of all kinds must be made available for immigrants as for native-born Americans, without discrimination of any form. Those most qualified, most willing to work, and most fruitful in their labors must be allowed to pursue their vocations without unjust obstacles caused by fear, prejudice, or mere self-interest.
Certainly these presuppositions and talking points do not constitute a policy for immigrants. Nor do they exhaust the teaching of Scripture on the subject. But, at the very least, they should serve to show that Christians do have a stake in this matter of public policy, and that they have something positive to contribute in helping to solve this issue which presently threatens the social fabric of the nation.
Who is your representative in Congress? How might you help him or her to begin factoring these presuppositions and talking points into the debate over immigrants and immigration? What do these require of you in loving the strangers in our midst?
T. M. Moore is a fellow of the Wilberforce Forum. He serves as pastor of teaching ministries and director of the Center for Christian Studies at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tenn. Readers can visit his blog at www.cedarspringsccs.com. T. M. is the editor of the series, Jonathan Edwards for Today’s Reader (P & R), the latest volume of which is Pursuing Holiness in the Lord. His latest books are Consider the Lilies: A Plea for Creational Theology (P & R) and God’s Prayer Program: Passionately Using the Psalms in Prayer (Christian Focus). He and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, Tenn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (Crossway).
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