What does the Bible have to say about Immigrants and Refugees?

This post is part of our new social theologies series

On January 27, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that set in motion a controversial travel ban. This, coupled with President Trump’s campaign talk on immigration (e.g., building a wall along the southern border, caricatures about Latino immigrants), has prompted many people to consider what the Bible really says about immigration and refugees. Granted, there have been biblical scholars who have weighed in on this before. But the recent events have forced many churches to consider these issues afresh, especially because of the political confusion among evangelical Christians. More can be said on this alone. But for now, we feel it important to bring the topic of immigration to theological discourse. For Christians, this is where the conversation begins. And since the Bible nowhere prescribes an immigration/refugee policy for nation states, we must construct a theology of immigration from the Scriptures. What follows is our theological framework as it relates to immigration. There may be points that you would highlight that we have not – and if so, we hope you share them in the comment box below. But we believe that the following points are the most relevant to beginning a theology of immigration. Now, while we have an eye towards immigration, the following points can also be used towards refugees.

1. Nations and Governments are Ordained by God to Preserve and Protect the Common Good (Romans 13:1-7)

What is perhaps surprising to many is the fact that the Bible has a high view of government. By that, we mean governments are appointed by God to preserve and protect the common good of its people. This is not to say that this always happens. Of course not! But, in general, that is the purpose of government: to preserve and protect its people. One manifestation of this is the flow and movement of people into its country (or kingdom). Each country has the sovereign right to determine who is allowed entry into its country. This is one way governments can preserve and protect its people. This is not to suggest that governments may construct a policy that discriminates. Nevertheless, governments have that right. Immigration policy must be viewed as part of government’s God-given role to preserve and protect the common good of its people.

2. Human Beings Must Be Treated with Dignity and Respect (Genesis 1:26-28)

While governments determine who is allowed entry into their country, this does not mean that said government and people of that nation can treat immigrants however they wish. On the contrary, the theological category of the Imago Dei demands that every human being be treated with dignity and respect. This is because every human is made in the image of God. Citizens and immigrants alike are all image bearers of God. No one is intrinsically superior or inferior to another. We all have the same inherent value. Therefore, governments and people must treat immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, as they would their own citizens. They must not be looked down upon, ridiculed, abused, or treated poorly. If a government chooses to remove an immigrant from its country, they must do so lawfully and respectfully.

3. Christians Must Love Everybody (Luke 10:25-37; Mark 12:28-31)

This point should go without saying. Our Lord Jesus both taught and exemplified love for all people. This extends to document and undocumented immigrants. Christians in every nation must love such people. And they love them by building relationships with them, whenever possible; by genuinely caring for their well-being. It even means doing everything possible to help undocumented immigrants obtain legal, documented status. Perhaps, this means helping said person find an immigration lawyer who can walk them through the necessary processes. The bottom line is that Christians must love immigrants and their families, helping them process what it means for them to be made in the image of God and helping them navigate life as an immigrant.

Romans 13:1

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

1 Peter 2:10

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

4. Christians Are Sojourners on Earth (1 Peter 2:10-11)

There are two massive points that can be made from the above Scripture. First, Christians are primarily citizens of heaven. We are secondarily citizens of our country. As a result, we are sojourners in our home countries. In other words, Christians are immigrants on earth; we are not home. Because of this reality, we, as Christians, should be much more empathetic towards earthly immigrants. For we know (at least we should) what it is like to be in a land not our own. This should lead us to care for immigrants and serving them in whatever way we can.

Second, because we are fundamentally citizens of heaven, our primary allegiance is not to a political party, but rather to Christ. As a result, we must be willing to say and do things that the broader culture does not agree with. This means that we must distance ourselves from partisan identity. We mention this because no political party is perfect and infallible. Every political party does not stand up to the ethics of Christ’s kingdom. Christians who are tied to a political party, whether they know it or not, are also tied to the party’s platform. The problem lies in that they may be unaware of how their party is actually going against biblical justice or compassion. Neither political parties are entirely good nor entirely bad. By shedding partisan identity, Christians will be better positioned to vote and act in a manner that is consistent with holistic care and justice.

5. In a Democratic Republic, Christians Should Proactively Reform Laws (Romans 13:1)

While we have already touched on this passage, we must also mention how we, as Christians who live in a democratic republic, play an important role in the making and shaping of laws. In God’s sovereignty, He has granted the United States, and many countries like it, to have governments where citizens set the agenda. For U.S. citizens, they have a role to play. This comes through via the election process and other forms of voicing consent or dissent. As such, Christians must voice their opinion and vote for candidates who align with their convictions. In other words, Christians cannot be silent when they feel laws are in place that are not in line with true justice and compassion. Christians, no doubt, would agree to this when it comes to abortion. Are there other areas in which Christians must be louder and proactive? Admittedly, this requires a lot of introspection and analysis in order to deduce what laws need to be reformed.

6. Outside Disciplines Must Be Consulted (Gen 1:26-28; Acts 14:17)

Since God has made every person in the image of God, humanity has great capacity for intelligence. From this, humans are able to grow in knowledge and insight, ranging from the natural world to science and to human behavior. A result of the collective intelligences of humanity is that humans are able to learn a lot about themselves and their world. Scripture is clear to teach that all of these good things come from God and that God even gives great insight to people for the benefit of others. This is called Common Grace. Therefore, when it comes to the topic of immigration, we should consult outside analyses (e.g., economics, history, geopolitics). By doing so, we will have greater insight into the complex topic of immigration.

Conclusion

While there is more than can be said, we hope this helps you work towards a theology of immigration (and refugee care). Certainly, this topic is a complex one. It is also a sensitive one because we are dealing with real people. Real people are affected by these laws. Based off what we have presented, it is our opinion that certain parts of our immigration laws should be upheld, while others must be reformed. It is our opinion that the process of entering and obtaining documentation in the United States should be made simpler while also maintain the necessary structures that ensure public safety. Ease and safety are not mutually exclusive. We hope that balance is found quickly.

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