Reclaiming The Immigration Discussion: Why Jesus Followers Need To Side With The Stranger

The immigration discussion is happening all around us on almost a daily basis.

For years we’ve been in desperate need of immigration reform, yet politicians on both sides of the isle have failed to make it a priority, work together, and come up with a compassionate solution. As a result, a battle for the narrative surrounding issues of immigration is occurring in coffee shops, corner stores, and Facebook news feeds.

When it comes to this battle of the narrative, it is all to often the immigrant who is losing. With conversations being ripe with toxicity, ethnocentrism, greed and ignorance, we’re seeing a growing culture that is frighteningly anti-immigrant.

I was just reminded of this truth yesterday while reading two articles from my local paper on Facebook regarding the immigrant and refugee community, as well as asylum seekers. The first article was beautiful– about a Congolese minister who planted a church in my local community specifically to serve a community of asylum seekers who cannot safely return to their home countries. The pastor takes no pay, and is devoting his life to helping the stranger among us. The second article was from the local mayor, accusing asylees of essentially being in the US “fraudulently” (which is factually untrue)– part of a long line of anti immigrant sentiments that have flowed from city leaders over the years.

As I read the comments beneath these articles it became clear that compassion is losing control of the narrative on immigration. Out of all the comments I read on FB, only one encouraged compassion towards our local immigrants– the others simply perpetuated mis-truths, stereotypes, and outright hatred.

We saw the same response on a national level following the Coke commercial in the Super Bowl that had immigrants singing “America the Beautiful” in their native tongues.

With such vitriol it is apparent that the spirit of Jesus is conspicuously absent from our immigration discussions. Sadly, like it was previously true for myself, many of our Christian brothers and sisters have had their attitudes and opinions toward immigration formed more by Fox News than by the Holy Scriptures. While Christians often control a large chunk of the immigration discussion (because we control a large chunk of conservative politics), we’ve chosen to take it in a Fox direction rather than a Jesus direction– often putting politics before our own faith. Sadly, this often occurs without people even knowing it.

If we are to have any hope that reason and compassion will win the day, sincere Jesus followers must reclaim the immigration discussion and no longer allow it to be driven by greed, hatred, racism, and misinformation.

When the people of Jesus reclaim the immigration discussion, we discover that immigrants should be able to move to any culture in the world and know that when they arrive, they’ll find guaranteed allies in the Christian community.

All throughout the Hebrew scriptures, we see God consistently reminding his people that caring for the immigrant (often referred to as the “stranger”) is on God’s short list of what it means to follow him. In the past decade, American Christian culture has actually done a great job at reclaiming an identity as people who care for “widows and orphans” but yet we have overlooked something crucial. Immigrants are also part of the special group of people God calls us to care for. In fact, the ethical teachings from scripture in regard to treatment of immigrants are not only crystal clear but are given with such forceful language that it ought make us a bit uncomfortable when we read them.

Multiple times in the Old Testament we see God issue an edict to “do no harm” to immigrants (Lev 19:33, Ex 22:21). While “do no harm” is relatively simple, God also pushes the concept further to state that immigrants must be treated as “native born” (Ez 47:22, Lev 19:34), and that we are not to treat an immigrant any less than a native-born neighbor, including giving them access to our resources.

And, it seems that God is quite serious about this. In Jeremiah 7:5-7 God lists caring for immigrants as one of the preconditions to him blessing Israel, Deut 27:19 says that anyone who perverts justice due to immigrants is “cursed”, and in Malachi 3:5 God promises that he will judge those who ignore the plight of immigrants– putting these people in the same category as people who practice witchcraft, liars and adulterers.

Sure, maybe you’re a Christian who doesn’t participate in witchcraft or sorcery– but if you’re harboring racist, anti-immigrant attitudes and failing to be an ally to the immigrant community, God says you’re placing yourself in the same exact judgement category as the former.

And, if that’s not strong enough language, we find Jesus in Matthew 25 listing the failure to welcome and care for immigrants as something that actually keeps people out of heaven.

That passage should actually create some tension for us when we read it. I know we often explain it away as being some lofty ideal Jesus had, but what if he actually meant it? If we’re going to insist that a passage like Genesis 1 be taken as literally as possible, shouldn’t we take Jesus as literally as possible when he lists radical immigrant love as a precondition of heaven?

I don’t know how things could get much clearer: immigrants (documented and undocumented) are some of God’s favorite people. If we’re not radically caring for, feeding and clothing them, Jesus says we’re not really on God’s side at all.

Such is what’s actually dangerous about Fox News– I believe it will actually keep some people out of heaven.

We must reclaim this national discussion. God have mercy on us if we sit back and allow the discussion be dominated by our well meaning but horribly deceived brothers and sisters– we must reclaim a Christianity that has a radical caring for immigrants as a central aspect of our identity. We must educate other Christians on what scripture and Jesus actually teach on this matter– which is abundantly clear to even the average reader. Finally, we must work on eradicating the fear factor which is what I believe keeps most Christians from following Jesus in this area. We’ve allowed Fox theology to drive us into a fear that immigrants will destroy us, instead of allowing biblical theology to remind us that caring for the immigrant is part of following Jesus 101– and actually a key to God’s blessing.

Receiving immigrants with love and generosity is how we choose to be “blessed” and ignoring/oppressing immigrants is how we choose to be “cursed” and under God’s judgement. Not something you’re likely to hear on Fox, but it’s what the Bible teaches.

We must steer the discussion away from fear and greed, and bring the discussion back to becoming the people of God who radically love immigrants of all kinds.

 Please join me in no longer abdicating our roles in this national discussion and allowing it to be dominated by those who for one reason or another, have completely missed this part of scripture. We must embrace our God assigned roles to the immigrant community by not only physically welcoming and caring for them, but by being their vocal defender in fear-driven, often hateful national discourse.

It is time to put our faith before our politics and to finally become the people God has long desired, even commanded, us to be: guaranteed allies to the immigrant, refugee, and asylee communities.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Michael Newman

    Benjamin,

    We see eye to eye on a multitude of the things you write about. As an immigrant I have a question. What is the response you give to people who state that there are two diffrent sets of imigration, the legal and the illegal? That the case of compassion should be shared with all, but that there are legal rammifications if one is in this, or other countries illegally.

    The issue of immigration is a worldwide issue and the USA is not the only onenin this boat. I agree with you wholeheartedly that love, and compassion shoulld be the basis of our fist actions.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    I would say that the state has a responsibility to govern matters of immigration but that Jesus followers should not distinguish between legal and illegal when welcoming and supporting the stranger. It is a complex issue- many are coming here because we (Americans) have been greedy with resources which drives a need to come here and access those resources. Certainly, there must be immigration reform but it must be done compassionately so to not split families with deportation, avoids sending people back to deeper poverty, and moves towards sharing our resources instead of building barriers to them.

  • $27334126

    It’s not America’s fault other countries are poor.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Yes– very good point. It’s not like we hoard the world’s resources or anything.

  • $27334126

    We aren’t wealthy because we “hoard” resources, and other countries are not poor because we are wealthy.

  • Anna Troy

    I noticed you’re not a fan of hospitality towards your neighbor. I would encourage you to get your facts straight, however, because there are many instances where it IS the USA’s fault that countries have not been allowed to prosper and become independent. Case in point: Haiti. Take a good look at their history, going back a couple hundred years up to today. As “Americans,” we are shockingly ignorant of our actions in the world.

  • $27334126

    The US has given hundreds of millions of dollars in Haiti. Average IQ in Haiti is around 70 so it’s not reasonable to expect it to resemble an advanced country.

  • Michael Newman

    Ok, that is what I thought, and as such we are in complete agreement. One thing to add, again this is a worldwide issue not merely a USA issue. Take a look at what is going on in Australia, Europe (especially around the Med).

  • jetwideawake

    Great post, Ben. Here are some Myths and corresponding facts from the US Chamber of Commerce: https://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/legacy/reports/Immigration_MythsFacts.pdf

    1. MYTH: Every job filled by an immigrant is a job that could be filled by an unemployed American.
    FACT: Immigrants typically do not compete for jobs with native- born workers and immigrants create jobs as entrepreneurs, consumers, and taxpayers.

    2. MYTH: Immigrants drive down the wages of American workers.
    FACT: Immigrants give a slight boost to the average wages of Americans by increasing their productivity and stimulating investment.

    3. MYTH: The sluggish U.S. economy doesn’t need more immigrant workers.
    FACT: Immigrants will replenish the U.S. labor force as millions of Baby Boomers retire.

    4. MYTH: At a time of high unemployment, the U.S. economy does not need temporary foreign workers.
    FACT: Temporary workers from abroad fill specialized needs in specific sectors of the U.S. economy.

    5. MYTH: There is no shortfall of native- born Americans for open positions in the natural sciences, engineering, and computer science and thus no need for foreign-born high-tech workers.
    FACTS: Job openings are expanding at educational levels where demographic data show too few native-born students, so we can expect these shortfalls to persist in the future. Moreover, relative to other economic indicators, wages are increasing in STEM jobs requiring higher education.

    6. MYTH: Immigrants hurt communities that are struggling economically.
    FACT: Immigrants have economically revitalized many communities throughout the country.

    7. MYTH: Undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes.
    FACT: Undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year.

    8. MYTH: Immigrants come to the United States for welfare benefits.
    FACT: Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal public benefit programs, and even legal immigrants face stringent eligibility restrictions.

    9. MYTH: Today’s immigrants are not assimilating into U.S. society.
    FACT: Today’s immigrants are buying homes, becoming U.S. citizens, and learning English.

    10. MYTH: Immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.
    FACT: Immigration does not cause crime rates to rise, and immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than native-born Americans.

    11. MYTH: Reforming the legal immigration system will not help secure the border.
    FACT: Immigration reform is an integral part of any effective border security strategy.

  • Scott_In_OH

    I’m with you in your call for compassion, Ben. It was verses like the ones you quote and ideas like the ones you promote that for most of my life gave me goose bumps and tears of joy. What a loving God we serve! What a beautiful calling He has for us!

    But why do so many people interpret God’s will differently? Why doesn’t God make His will known to all seekers?

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    It’s idolatry, plain and simple. I don’t know of an alternate way to interpret scriptures in this regard– having an anti-immigrant stance actually requires that you plain old ignore scripture. I believe God has made his will known and its up to us if we listen.

  • $27334126

    “Stranger” does not mean illegal immigrant.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Of course not, “illegal immigrant” is a sinful term because it’s horribly dishonest.

  • $27334126

    You’re right, I should have said illegal alien.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Right- like the early American settlers.

  • $27334126

    They weren’t illegal.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    They were just butchers, slavers, and thieves.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Man-stealers, rapists, murderers… we could make a list all night.

  • $27334126

    Should they have been welcomed or excluded by the natives?

  • $27334126

    They were strangers, according to the Bible the Indians were obliged to welcome them.

  • CroneEver

    The Native Americans did welcome the early American settlers on the east coast – they fed them, helped them, taught them to plant corn, etc. And the Puritans bit the hand that fed them, and then often chopped it off.

  • $27334126

    No kidding.

  • $27334126

    Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Ah, yes– I suppose Jesus was talking about immigration with that one. I’d suggest reading about the rich man and Lazarus… doesn’t work out so well for the rich man.

  • $27334126

    You should read about the Tower of Babel.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    Is that the one where god cursed everyone with sinful, non-American languages?

  • Demosthenes

    Aaaaand there it is: the real issue is the mixin’ of the races. God put us on separate continents for a reason, and if He’d wanted us to intermingle, then He would have invented airplanes and all that. Standard 1950’s Bob Jones fare. This raises a new question, though: In your worldview, how can the United States be legitimate? God put Europeans in Europe and Native Americans in America. Wasn’t the founding of the American colonies (and colonialism in general) a blatant violation of the biblical role of white people?

  • $27334126

    Obviously God doesn’t object to nations. There is no biblical imperative for the United States to destroy its identity through immigration.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Yes, a great Christian nation such as herself must not be destroyed by sharing with others who are impoverished, lack access to safe drinking water, who live in countries plagued by wars we support in order to have cheap access to resources, etc.

    What’s funny, is that these “illegal immigrants” you can’t stand have been shown to be largely Christians and would save the future of Christianity in America if people here would wake up.

  • $27334126

    Most immigrants are from Mexico. Mexicans are not poor because of “wars we support in order to have cheap access to resources, etc.”. You’re oblivious to the benefits to the entire world that result from the United States being a distinct nation, but then you’re oblivious to a lot of things.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    So true. The unfortunate result of having lived a sheltered life; its left me being oblivious to a lot things.

  • $27334126

    You’re a victim of other people hoarding all the knowledge.

  • irena mangone

    Oh benfits like abortion

  • Demosthenes

    “There is no biblical imperative for the United States to destroy its identity through immigration.”

    That does nothing to answer my question: Where is the biblical justification for European settlers “destroying the identity” of Native American nations through invading, conquering, and pillaging? Do nations only count when they’re founded by white people?

  • $27334126

    You should take that up with someone who is making such an argument.

  • Tlynn

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Fallulah

    You stopped replying to my questions and our discussion :(

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Sorry– not intentional. I do my best to follow the comments and engage readers as much as possible, but admittedly I don’t see all comments and don’t always have a chance to respond– not intentional. My apologies for missing the discussion!

  • irena mangone

    We have the same problem in Australia now he governments wants/is stopping family reunions to people who are genuine refugees and the sad thing is the prime minister and others in his government are Catholic/Christian and will not reimburse them the money they have spent on paperwork. Makes me want to do something like punch noses then that would not be Christian

  • joejmz

    Ah, the “What Would Jesus Do” of illegal immigration. Something interesting to keep in mind. When Jesus was being crucified, there were two others being crucified with Him. The other two were actually criminals. One of them mocked Jesus. The other acknowledged he deserved to die for his crime, but Jesus did not. Jesus basically told this second one that he was now saved and going to heaven. But did you ever notice what Jesus did not do? He did not have the thief suddenly taken off the cross and made whole and healthy. He most certainly could have, since He is God. But He didn’t. Why not? Because the man was still rightfully paying for having committed a crime. Jesus saved him from the eternal consequences of his sins, but not from the just punishment for it. So is it really proper to think Jesus would expect us to reward crime? I don’t think so. Also, given that the United States welcomes more LEGAL immigrants than the rest of the world combined, it’s not like Jesus would consider the US government unjust for enforcing proper laws; especially if He compared them to the immigration laws of Mexico and other countries.

  • http://lotharson.wordpress.com/ Lotharson

    I entirely agree that we have a duty as Christians to love our neighbor as ourselves regardless of her gender, skin color, sexual orientation, psychological makeup, and so on and so forth.

    But being blind to the type of problems that immigration can possibly cause is naive as well.

    In France, massive immigrations is causing a vicious circle of hatred between the ethnic groups.

    Many liberals take me to task for pointing this out, telling me that white people deserves racism against them due to their horrible track record.

    I consider this response as an utterly offensive non-sense.

    Like the prophet Ezechiel, I think that children should never have to pay for the sins of their parents.
    How much more egregious is that if they have to pay for the sins of other people who just happen to have the same skin color.

    Building up a stable and just open society can only be a success if one lets go of the harmful liberal dogma that an oppressor can only be a white male.
    Evil and goodness can be found everywhere.