Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hospitality To Illegal Immigrants - A Contrarian View

This is one those posts that will not be popular with some, but I would hope to receive a fair hearing in any case. Immigration, that is, illegal immigration, is a hot button issue in our country and some church leaders have had something to say about what is to be done.

There are two separate though interrelated issues regarding illegal immigration. On one side of the political spectrum the focus is on securing the border; the other side focuses on those who have already crossed into the US and are living here now. The latter has gotten the attention of some in the church who are genuinely concerned about the plight of the "alien and the stranger".

And the Bible does speak about how we treat strangers in our own land. "You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 22:21) That's clear enough. We should not oppress the stranger which would be easy to do. Is expecting them to obey our immigration laws a form of oppression? How about deportation - is that oppression?

Let's look at some more scripture regarding 'the stranger'. "One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.’” (Numbers 15:15-16) You will notice in reading through the scriptures that deal with the stranger that over and over again the stranger was to fall under the same laws as the Israelites.

Does that not include immigration laws? We are a nation of immigrants - legal immigrants. We used to have no restrictions as to who could immigrate here. Now, we do. Is it right that we have immigration laws and enforce them? I think it is. Some might object and say that we should not deport people because it might be a hardship to them, but there are negative consequences when one breaks a law.

Some imply that we should have open borders - no restrictions on immigration. After all, aren't we supposed to show hospitality to all? I will say 'no' to that and here is a Bible example: Ezra, in the book that bears his name, forced the Israelites to divorce the pagan wives that they had married and to send the children of those marriages out with their mothers. That does not seem so hospitable to me. (Ezra 10) It seems that 'hospitality' had it limits. Strangers were expected to integrate into Israel and obey Israel's God and His laws. Strangers, like Ruth, joined Israel and were welcomed. Others, like these pagan women, were not permitted to stay. They were sent back home.

Does our government not have the right, and responsibility, to do the same? Can we not judge who may enter and stay, and who may not? Our laws say that immigrants who marry a citizen automatically are permitted to stay. Under the Law of Moses, there was no such right.

How should the church treat the stranger? The same way that we are to treat others. We are to help the poor and feed the hungry and clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. But we are not to shield them from the consequences of disobeying the law. We all have to obey the law.

Additionally, some have confused the role of the church and the role of government. I like what Martin Luther said along this line. The church is to preach the gospel (among other things) and the government is to enforce the law and keep order. We often mix up the two. The church is called to turn the other cheek when persecuted. The government cannot do that if the country is attacked. The government has a responsibility to defend its citizens. We cannot take the rules that Jesus gave his followers and apply them to the government. We can, though, insist that government officials use moderation when enforcing the law.

Unfortunately, some in the church have accused the government of injustice when dealing with illegal immigrants. I even heard one person imply that we were starving children who came to our borders. The evidence is just the opposite. We feed them and house them, then, hopefully, send them back.

This seems cruel to some. But think about this. Suppose that I am very rich and live far from poor people. I have taken many people in, but must limit how many I take in or I would be overwhelmed. Poor families send their kids to me so that I will take care of them. What should I do? I could take them in, but I might not wish to take so many. What I would do is put them up temporarily, feed them, tend their wounds if they have any, find out where they are from, and send them home. That seems like a compassionate way of handling things. They might be going back to a less than ideal situation, but they, as I, must make their way in life.

Others would make another argument - about fairness. Some are born in rich countries, like ours, and others are born in poor ones. Why should our children have such an advantage over others? Do the children in poor countries not have the same rights as the children of rich countries? Should we not take them in on that basis alone?

Think about what is implies. There are billions of children in the world and I would guess that most of them are disadvantaged. Is it even possible for us to take in every poor child? Some come here because they happen to live near our border. Those who live far away have almost no chance of getting here. Is that fair? It is the circumstance in which we are born. Except for one's siblings, no two people are born into the same circumstances. Are we supposed to even it our for everyone if that were even possible?

At this point, someone will accuse me of being coldly rational, or just plain cold-hearted. I have only written the truth, however. To make the world "fair", if it's even possible to do so, would, no doubt, mean that we would have to take the rights of some to benefit others. In other words, "fairness" would be the result of oppression, which is the most unfair thing of all. There will be no "fairness" until Jesus returns. (This does not mean, however, that we should toss out any idea of fairness. We should always try to make this world a better place. We want to be a blessing to others. We may, however, set the terms by which we will show compassion.)

In conclusion I would say that we, as a country, have a choice. We can either open our borders to all who wish to come, or we can enforce the law as it is. Of course, we can change the law as well, but we need to enforce the law. Non-enforcement of the law encourages disrespect for the law and that is never a good thing.


  1. Thanks. Tough issue to blog on. I have heard both sides of the argument. I have seen churches that reach out to illegals (not in the sense that they go around seeking them but simply to help people) while I have seen others helping but also calling them to repent and obey the law as God would ask us to. It is tough issue but one in which we must view all things through the lenses of the Word of God.

  2. Thanks, Seeking Disciple. It was very hard to write this post. There is no contradiction between showing compassion and upholding the law of the land (unless that law is unjust)>