Although immigration is not an issue that we research and write about regularly at the NC Family Policy Council, recognizing the dignity and value of every human person is. Immigration policy can be very complex, and reasonable people can come down on different sides of certain aspects of the issue. We see this on display every day in the nightly news, in political campaign ads, and in discussions around the dinner table. One thing that makes immigration such a challenging topic is that at the end of the day, the subjects at the center of the debate are human beings made in the image and likeness of God.
Having spent a week in Guatemala in five of the last seven years as part of a short-term mission team with my church has definitely informed my perspective on the matter and has instilled in me a heightened level of sensitivity to the incredibly challenging circumstances surrounding this issue and those involved.
So, as Christians, how are we to approach immigration?
In a recent edition of Family Research Council’s The Washington Stand, senior writer Joshua Arnold tackles this question with grace and truth. His article 4 Biblical Principles to Inform Immigration Policy, which is included in its entirety below, doesn’t attempt to answer every question or give a clear “Yes” or “No” to every possible policy proposal. It does, however, lay a solid baseline perspective from which followers of the Way, can and, I believe, should approach this complex matter with care and compassion. As with every issue we address at NC Family, it is critically important that we start from a Biblical worldview.
I hope you find Joshua’s article as helpful and thought-provoking as I did…
By Joshua Arnold
The ongoing crisis at the southern border remains a top concern for voters in the 2024 election and on Capitol Hill. Recent disagreements over the Senate’s border deal and the House impeachment of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas underscore the range of opinions — good, bad, and ugly — on securing the border and demonstrate how even likeminded legislators can disagree about the best approach.
God’s Word instructs Christians to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” In part, this means that a Christian’s thoughts about every issue should be shaped and informed by a biblical worldview. Christians will not necessarily agree on issues that call for the application of wisdom, or to which Scripture does not speak clearly. However, applying biblical principles can at least enable us to rule out patently unbiblical ideas and approach much closer to a prudent outcome.
Immigration policy is just such a wisdom issue. While the Bible has a lot to say on the subject, it doesn’t clearly define what is a “moral” immigration policy. However, it does provide clear principles that can help to inform our approach to immigration policy. In pursuit of biblical wisdom on immigration, here are four applicable biblical principles.
Scripture teaches that “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). Bearing God’s image endows every human being with inherent dignity, which cannot be taken away through economic hardship, social isolation, moral corruption, or anything else.
God himself applies this foundational truth as an argument against murder in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Where human justice fails, God himself will exact justice on those who wickedly destroy the precious life of a fellow image-bearer. He warned, “from his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man” (Genesis 9:5).
Due to the self-centered corruption of human nature, human justice most often fails in cases where the victim is vulnerable, whether through physical weakness, economic poverty, or social isolation. God most especially promises to look out for those who have no one else to look out for them. In the agricultural economy of ancient Israel, that included orphans, widows, and sojourners. Thus, we read that God not only “watches over” and “upholds” the vulnerable (Psalm 146:9), but also that “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).
In response to God’s concern for the vulnerable, the Mosaic covenant instructed Israel to care for them, but most of the applications were personal rather than corporate. The Mosaic law’s only government-oriented directive concerning sojourners, in particular, is, “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner” (Deuteronomy 24:17, see Deuteronomy 27:19). Of course, perverting justice is always wrong.
In lieu of a state-run welfare system, individual Israelites were instructed not to reap the gleanings of their grape and grain harvests, but “leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22, see Deuteronomy 24:19-21). It was assumed that sojourners would be welcomed into their homes (Leviticus 25:6, see Job 31:32), share in their feasts (Deuteronomy 16:14), and benefit from their tithes, “that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do” (Deuteronomy 14:29).
Again, these directives did not stipulate a national immigration policy, but rather instructed individual Israelites to treat individual immigrants who dwelt near them as human beings, ensuring that care was taken for their basic needs. While the details might look different in a different society, organized around a different type of economy, the underlying principle, rooted as it is in a recognition of human dignity as image-bearers, carries forward to our day more or less intact.
However, the Bible gives no indication how much of this principle applies to governments. Thus, likeminded Christians will likely disagree, for instance, on how much responsibility the U.S. government bears for caring for the humanitarian needs of migrants who appear at the southern border in the middle of a vast desert.
God paired commands to “love the sojourner,” “not wrong a sojourner,” and “not oppress a sojourner” with a reminder to the Israelites that, “you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Deuteronomy 10:19). The principle behind the argument appears to be this: you should have compassion on the sojourner because you know what it’s like to be one. Obviously, most of us have never been sojourners in Egypt, so there isn’t a direct correlation.
However, in a more general sense, we are all sojourners. Near the end of his life, King David confessed to God, “We are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding” (1 Chronicles 29:15). The span of our lives is brief, compared to eternity — so brief that an elderly David could say he was just passing through (something repeated in Psalms 39:12 and 119:19). The argument held true under the Mosaic law (Leviticus 25:23) and for both patriarchal (Hebrews 11:13-14) and new covenant (1 Peter 2:11) believers.
Admittedly, traveling through this life to eternity is not the same thing as leaving one’s homeland behind to live in another country. Many of us have an established family, home, church, job, community, and reputation; migrants crossing the border have none of those things (unless they brought their family with them).
But surely there are ways in which we can — or should be able to — sympathize with their plight. We, too, are vulnerable to death, disease, unemployment, crime, and injustice, despite our perceived security. So, the application of this principle is less direct, but that doesn’t mean it is no longer operative.
The application of this principle is so similar to the first I was tempted to combine them (but decided to keep them separate because they are based on distinct reasons). In fact, Moses combined them in Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Again, the command to not oppress a sojourner is primarily directed at individuals, as are the condemnation against the wicked who do oppress sojourners (see Psalm 94:6, Jeremiah 7:6, Ezekiel 22:7, Malachi 3:5). How much of it applies to government policy on a border thousands of miles away is a matter of wisdom.
A third biblical principle is that laws apply equally to all people — including sojourners. This is stated clearly in Leviticus 24:22, “You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.” God is just, and justice involves treating like things alike and unlike things differently. The implication of this principle is, when it comes to applications of moral law, all human beings are alike, no matter where they come from.
The immediate context of this statement (Leviticus 24:10-23) concerned punishments for blasphemy, murder, destruction of property, and personal injury. The principle also appeared in prohibitions against sexual immorality (Leviticus 18:26), child sacrifice (Leviticus 20:2), eating blood (Leviticus 17:11-15), and idolatry (Ezekiel 14:7-8). It appeared in the fourth commandment’s command to rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10, Deuteronomy 5:14). It applied to due process rights for involuntary manslaughter (Numbers 35:15, Joshua 20:9), purification rituals (Numbers 19:10), and the curses and blessings of the covenant (Joshua 8:33).
America has different laws than ancient Israel, but there is no reason why the same general principle shouldn’t still hold true: laws should apply to all people, and no one should be exempt from the effects of the law.
Currently, U.S. law only allows people to enter the country with proper paperwork at legal points of entry, with an exception for those who can prove a legitimate claim for asylum. U.S. law further stipulates that those who enter the country illegally must be detained until the outcome of their case is determined. While all U.S. citizens and residents of some other countries can obtain the proper paperwork, the law puts restrictions on how many citizens of other countries may receive authorization to enter the United States.
Christians can have different opinions about whether current U.S. immigration law is just or unjust, prudent or imprudent, acceptable or in desperate need of reform. What they should be able to agree on is that, unless a law is fragrantly immoral, that law ought to be observed and enforced equally on all people until it is amended.
The Bible teaches that the government has a duty to protect its people from those who would attack and harm them. A wicked ruler is “like a roaring lion or a charging bear,” tearing and devouring, consuming for his own benefit. A good ruler acts like a good shepherd, delivering his flock from the lion and bear (1 Samuel 17:34-35). If necessary, he even “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
This duty of protection is a function of all God-given authority, if used well, from a husband and father’s duty to protect his family from destitution, to a pastor’s duty to protect the church from false teachers, to an employer’s duty to protect the well-being of his employees.
The duty of protection is particularly applicable to temporal government, whose rulers “bear the sword” and protect in the most literal sense (Romans 13:4). When God established rulers over his people — first judges and then kings — protecting the people of Israel from foreign enemies was a major part of their job description.
That same duty to protect also applies to governments of modern nations. That is the whole purpose of militaries and police forces. That is also the purpose of patrolling the border and constructing barriers along it. Border Patrol does not exist to help foreigners enter the country; it exists to keep out foreigners who want to harm Americans.
Given the dangerous world we live in, it’s not difficult to imagine people who fall into this category. Cartels traffic deadly opioids across the border, not to mention human beings. Extremist terrorist organizations send agents to kill and injure Americans in mass casualty events. Agents of foreign governments cross into the country, to spy if not to do worse.
These biblical principles are just the tip of the iceberg. They barely begin to address questions like: is immigration good or bad? Does the government have an obligation to consider the hazards run by migrants before they even reach our border? How much assimilation is required?
However, I pray that they provide a starting point to help you, dear reader, inform your outlook on immigration policy with a biblical worldview, instead of just accepting the un-nuanced opinions peddled in the world. I pray that they help you engage others on the issue in a wise and loving way and leave room for differences of opinion on tertiary issues, in favor of unity on the main thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ.