The Bible on Immigration: Jeff Sessions Has It Wrong

Immigration is often in the news, but over the last several weeks, it has been discussed at a higher frequency than usual when information about the Trump administration’s policies on immigration to the United States (especially from Mexico and Central America) came to light.

Many of the policies embraced by the Trump administration are not unique to current administration. The Obama administration deported many foreign nationals and migrants, and they were following precedents set by the Bush administration. In addition, the first significant jump in deportations took place under the administration of Bill Clinton, while Hillary Clinton went so far as to support a double-layered border fence (in addition to other increased border security measures). Over the last 20 years, they have progressively become standard US policy on illegal immigration from Latin American nations. However, a recent story shows that this can also affect people from Canada who cross the border outside of a legal port of entry.

What makes this issue particularly relevant for Christians — and those of us at Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice — is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the Bible in defense of these sorts of policies. Sessions is correct that most Biblical scholars understand Romans 13:1-7 to be discussing submission to governing authorities. Christians, who are supposed to love our enemies (Romans 12:17-19, 13:8-10), are supposed to love the state that persecutes them (as would have been the case in Paul’s context). This passage is not about blind allegiance to governmental policies that may be unfair, unjust, or unholy. 

However, the Bible does have a lot to say about immigration. Unfortunately for President Trump, Attorney General Sessions, and other US political leaders, what the Bible does say about the issue is not supportive of their policies.

First of all, the LORD God reveals this through a Psalm:

The Lord watches over the strangers;
He relieves the fatherless and widow;
But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.

– Psalm 146:9

The Lord is a friend and supporter of strangers (which is another Biblical term for aliens, foreigners, sojourners, migrants, and so on). The God of the Bible does not delight in nations who treat migrants with hostility instead of hospitality. This was clearly seen in the laws given to ancient Israel:

You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. – Exodus 22:21

Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. – Exodus 23:9

And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:10

And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born 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

If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. – Leviticus 25:35

[J]udge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. – Deuteronomy 1:16

He [the LORD] administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:18-19

You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you. – Deuteronomy 24:14-15

You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. – Deuteronomy 24:17

‘Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’– Deuteronomy 27:19

I don’t mean to simply throw a lot of Bible verses at the readers of this article, but it is important that we see just how consistent the Torah is on this matter. Foreigners are to be treated as you would want to be treated. Period.

This is a sentiment that carries on throughout the revealed word of God. Here are a few from the prophets:

Thus says the Lord: Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:3

The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. – Ezekiel 22:29

And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien—Because they do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:5

In addition, we have the words of Jesus Christ himself, who said:

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ – Matthew 25:34-36

And finally, we have the words of the apostles of Christ:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. – Romans 12:9-13

Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. – Hebrews 13:1-3

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. – 1 Peter 4:8-9

Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth. – 3 John 5-8

To put it simply, Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are wrong (as are many other leaders, both Democrat and Republican). The Bible teaches hospitality towards those foreign to us. One cannot simply invoke Romans 13 to justify a policy that is clearly against what the greater picture of Scripture shows.

Now, to be fair, the United States is not a Christian state. It is a secular one. It should not necessarily follow the principles of any one religion or holy text. However, in this case, our national leaders are directly invoking the word of God to justify their actions, and they are wrong to do so.

Rev. Kevin R. Daugherty is a contributing editor for PCPJ and a mission developer/pastor for Unfailing Love (a mission of The Anthem Network) in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. He can be contacted at kevin@pcpj.org.

ska%cc%88rmavbild-2017-01-06-kl-21-17-02Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please join our Facebook forum, and sign up for our newsletter!

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