At the risk of alienating (pun intended) those on my left and right, I have decided to go ahead and tackle this question.
There are those in our church who believe that illegal aliens have no rights and should be deported. Others say that goes against our Christian faith and that we should, instead, offer them citizenship and full partnership in our society. Is there anything in scripture that would help guide us?
The Bible has a lot to say about this throughout the Old and New Testaments. The key word here is hospitality. Hospitality means more than sharing a sandwich or offering someone a spare bed. While ‘sharing’ is a good thing, Romans 12 and other sets of admonitions separate ‘sharing’ and ‘hospitality.’ Hospitality is more than sharing; it is sharing with another — who cannot or will not reciprocate — at personal cost to yourself. The same root word gives us ‘hospital’ and ‘hospice’ conjuring up images of people caring for others who aren’t caring for them.
The most famous example of this is the Good Samaritan. He lost the use of his animal, his wine, time, and money to care for the Jewish man he found by the side of the road. What did he get out of it? Nothing. He couldn’t even brag to his buddies about his good deeds because they would have been appalled that he did good to a Jew, the enemy of the Samaritans.
Notice the teaching of scripture on this: "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt" (Exodus 23:9). The last part of this verse is lost on most of us because we have never been a part of the minority or, if we were, we were part of the powerful minority (such as a white missionary heading a school in Africa). We have a real problem empathizing with aliens because we have never been in their shoes. God uses this call to fellow-feeling again in Leviticus 19:33 and raises the bar considerably on how we are to treat the Others among us: "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."
Wow. We went from "do not oppress" the alien to "love him as yourself." That command should sound very familiar for Jesus referenced it when he told the story of the Good Samaritan and the apostle John repeated it every chance he got. God goes even further in Leviticus 24:22 — "You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God." Notice how God keeps bringing His status and authority into the mix? He leaves no room for exceptions and, yet, I can think of no nation that has the same law for aliens that it does for citizens. It is generally accepted, for instance, that aliens do not have all of the same Constitutional rights that US citizens have. I have never heard an argument that helps me understand that concept for the Founders of this great republic were very plain in their statements that rights accrue from God, not from government, and that they are freely given to all. Regardless, God says that justice must be equally dispensed to both citizen and alien alike: "Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless, or the widow. Then all the people say ‘Amen!’" (Deut. 27:19)
I like that last bit. It is like God is leaning over the table and staring at us from about six inches away, saying "This is where you nod your head and agree with me." Yes sir!!!
God is adamant about this because it is an integral part of His nature. Describing God, Deuteronomy 10:18 says "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." This is demonstrably true, for we constantly see God and Jesus going to those outside the covenant, outside the blood line of the blessed, and offering them love and blessings one might assume were reserved for citizens in His kingdom (Hagar, the woman at the well, the Syro-Phoenician woman, etc.).
The special tithe required of Jews every third year was to be given to the Levites, the alien, the fatherless and widows…not by the temple staff but by the individual whose money it was. After giving the money away — personally — the individual was to go back to God and say "I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you have commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them." (Deuteronomy 26:12,13)
Jesus told us how to ‘do’ hospitality…and we almost always do it wrong! "Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."’ (Luke 14:12-14) On the day of judgment, Jesus will measure us — at least in part — by our hospitality. "I was a stranger, and you took me in." (Matthew 25:34ff)
Paul told Timothy and Titus that only those who were "given to hospitality" (a very strong phrase meaning much more than someone who just regularly practices hospitality. Hospitality must be a huge priority in their lives) could serve as leaders in the church. He admires women who "are known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds."
Of course, there is also that passage in Hebrews 13:2 — "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels unawares." God has things going on that He does not have to tell you about. Some of the messengers — human or supernatural — of those other works may cross your path, giving you an occasion to offer grace and service. Don’t fail Him but walking by, assuming that all God’s people look, talk and sound like you.
What are the political ramifications here? I fear that neither the left nor the right can be comfortable with this teaching, if they want to remain loyal to their party’s platform. The right is often blasted, charged with not caring about the aliens among us (we’re talking about those who illegally entered or who are now here illegally after visas expired). Some have said that we have to send back every illegal alien, all 10-12 million of them, loading them up in boxcars, tearing them away from their children who were born here, taking them away from property they have amassed… and for the life of me I cannot see Jesus in that idea at all. I love my conservative brethren (and, for the most part, I am one of them) and I absolutely understand the fact that these people have broken the law and, as such, must pay a penalty, but rounding up and deporting millions at the point of a gun is just not something I can reconcile with the teachings of scripture.
On the left, I see just as many problems. They created an entitlement society, a welfare state, and then fight to keep the borders porous so that others can come and live off the legally coerced largess of others. Let me be very plain: it is NOT compassion if you are offering to feed, clot
he, give medical treatment, and education to others by using other peoples’ money. That is not compassion, but coercion. Those who do not want to join into the wealth-reallocation party are forced to do so by the full weight of the government (IRS, sheriffs, battering rams, and wage garnishment). I do not see Jesus in that in any way, shape, or form.
Remember this: God is not the property of any political party nor were they founded to advance His will. We do not belong to parties and we cannot offer them our first loyalty. We belong to God and that means that the scripture must be obeyed even if it makes us uncomfortable.
The law of God is that we are — personally, as individuals and as churches — to care for any who we see in need, regardless of their otherness, their legal status, or how repugnant some of their personal habits and choices are to us. Remember, in the Jewish world every single aspect of life — clothing, family organization, food choices, loans — was covered by law. When an alien came in, they would give offense every day of the week, usually without an intention of doing so. God’s response was to have them understand the law they were amenable to (especially the Sabbath laws) but, otherwise, to require His people to show them love, the protection of God’s social justice laws, and to give them alms when they were in need. That job was not given to the government, for governments exist to exercise power and gain more of it. This job — love and care — was given to individuals and any fobbing off of this to government — which is the tendency of the left — is antithetical to scriptural teachings.
God requires us to go to Him with empty hands (Deut. 26:12,13; Matthew 6:19,20). We are to give away rather than live to accumulate. We are to share with others — especially those who are not like us, cannot repay us, and who may offend us — rather than build our own circle of friends. This is an individual duty — not a state duty — so neither right nor left will like it.
But who cares? God has spoken.