What Does the Bible Say About Immigrants and Immigration?



What does the Bible say about immigrants and immigration?  First of all, it says nothing about immigration to the United States.  Whatever we read in the Bible concerning this topic, we’re going to apply it to our lives.  It wasn’t written about us, for us, or to us.  The writer of Deuteronomy didn’t have 2017 America’s immigration battle in mind.

We can, however, learn from the text.  The Bible has much to teach us.  Remember, it’s not the Constitution.  Yet, if we claim to be a nation built on Judeo-Christian values, the Bible might help us sort out the myriad of emotions surrounding this centuries old dilemma.

Here’s what I’m working through:  should our Christianity (and then our lives) be informed by the consensus of what our sacred text teaches?  What if the Bible teaches something totally in conflict with the dominant political ideology of the day?  Who wins, the Bible or the ideology?  I know from my own pulpit experience people hate answering this question.

People, especially the poor, have been crossing international boundaries in search of better opportunities for thousands of years.  The Bible records many such journeys.  In fact, many of the people regarded as the founders of our faith were economic migrants.  Joseph, Abraham, Ruth, Esther, Moses were all economic refugees.  In response to famine, war, or social upheaval, they left one place and crossed a border to start a new life.  Without their stories, the Old Testament would be far shorter.

A second consideration is this: the Old Testament doesn’t use the word immigrant.  The Hebrew word is alien.  In the most basic, original sense of the word an alien is someone who lives in a place and doesn’t have any the rights afforded to the natives of that country.  For example, the Israelites were aliens in the land of Egypt.  Aliens were regarded as a separate class of people residing among the Israelites when they got to the Promised Land.

A third point is:  although they were regarded as a distinct social class, the writers of Torah went to great lengths to ensure that resident aliens were protected.  Between the 15th Chapter of Genesis and 2nd Esdras, there are nearly sixty references to aliens and resident aliens in the Old Testament.  (I’ll also note there’s another Hebrew word for sojourner.  But I argue it has less applicability for our current discussion. A sojourner is more of a nomad.  An alien is trying to make a home in a country on than their own.)  In these verses, you see a clear connection between treating the alien in the same manner one would treat the native Israelite.   The prophet Ezekiel even imagines a time when aliens and sojourners would be granted full citizenship and property rights in Israel.  In Ezekiel 47:22-23 he writes, “You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and have and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you.  They shall be to you as citizens of Israel.”

God is on the side of the dreamers.  God seeks equality. Why?  Then no one can use God’s blessings as a source of political and economic power.  Yes, the resident aliens may not worship the Israelite God.  This doesn’t seem to matter.    They are to be fed, clothed, and cared for despite these differences.  The text is clear.  God is weak on immigration.  Some people would say so.  But as for me, I’m sticking with God.

Now granted, you don’t need the Bible to justify being nice to other people.  But, if you’re looking for some basics, there they are.

What does the Bible say about the countries on the travel ban?

Iran was called Persia at the time.  They were one of the largest regional powers in the area.  It was the Persians who undid a travel ban on the Israelites and let them return home to Israel.

Iraq was part of the old Babylonia/Mesopotamian Empire.  Abraham came from Mesopotamia.  I would hate to have kept Abraham and Sarah out of the Holy Land.

Syria was where the Apostle Paul became a follower of Jesus. I would hate for him to have been stuck in Damascus where they were trying to kill him.  Remember how he had to sneak out in a basket from window?

Yemen has always been part of the southern Arabian Desert wastelands.  Shortly after Paul converted, as he told the Galatians, “I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus”.  Arabia welcomed Paul.

What of Sudan; an African kingdom to Egypt’s south?  Judaism and Christianity thrived in North Africa for centuries.  From about 68 AD until the mid seventh century Libya was home to one of the most vibrant Christian communities in the world.  Libyan Christianity shaped the western Christianity we practice today.