Immigration Part 2: Sojourners in a Foreign Land

In Part 1 of the #CulturalValues post about Immigration, Joey pointed out that fundamentally, Christians should think about this issue through the lens of Jesus’ teaching about the “least of these.” Our primary concern about this issue should be for people, not fences. It’s important to remember that neither of us are advocating for a specific policy position. Our #CulturalValue has nothing to do with the specifics of legislation; it’s about how we as a church should think about he individuals involved.

Joey’s contention was actually just that – as Christians, our primary concern in regards to the issue of immigration should be one of compassion, rather than specific policy concerns. My contention goes one step further: as Christians, not only should we prioritize compassion for the weak and the needy rather than specific policies for certain nameless and faceless social groups, but that it should be easy for us to identify with immigrants and refugees.

A couple of weeks ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a fantastic and thought-provoking piece for The Atlantic entitled “The Case for Reparations,” arguing that African-Americans are owed some level of reparations because of the USA’s history of slavery and discriminatory governmental racial policies. Predictably, the response was varied, but overwhelmingly critical from the viewpoint of conservatives (which often includes evangelicals.) One response from someone who is ostensibly evangelical and conservative that was decidedly not critical was from Dr. Alan Noble, who wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition entitled “Is There a Case for Racial Reparations?” He doesn’t ultimately definitely provide an answer, but he does argue that at the very least Christians, more than anyone else, should understand the notion and idea that payment for the sins of our forefathers is just, fair and even necessary. In other words, Noble argued that more than perhaps any other group, Christians are uniquely situated to be sympathetic to the idea because of our theology, not because of our morality.

I believe that the same principle applies to issues of immigration, illegal or otherwise, and especially the recent case of refugee children. Why? Because surely Christians are uniquely situated to understand what it means to be sojourners in a faraway land, a land that is not our home. We should know what it means to be constricted by artificial boundaries created by those who are both more powerful than we would like and less sympathetic than we would hope. Luckily, God gave us the basic framework for how to think through this issue. In Leviticus 19:33-34, God said, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”

Is there a direct connection to the “strangers” in the U.S.A.? Perhaps not. That’s why this blog post is not a policy position. There are other issues at play; issues of national sovereignty, the USA’s place in the world, and those who are already within our borders and are also suffering, poor and needy. But God’s word is unchanging, and what is clear is God certainly thought that the Israelites shared history as sojourners and aliens in a land not their own uniquely positioned them to be compassionate and kind to the aliens in their own midst.

Not only as the people of God do we still share that history, we are presently sojourners and aliens in a land not our own, and Jesus is constructing our real home, and our own land, even as we speak (well, write/read). The immigrants and refugees in our midst share that experience. Our morality should allow us to sympathize with children to walk and travel, sometimes for years, for the slim chance that opportunity awaits them in the U.S.A. But sympathy is not enough. It is our theology that should allow us to “love as ourselves” the sojourner looking for hope in a faraway land, an alien that is not content making mudpies in a slum because they dare to imagine what it means to have a holiday at the sea.

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