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

Reclaiming The Immigration Discussion: Why Jesus Followers Need To Side With The Stranger February 11, 2014

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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