Immigration has been an issue of concern in the United States and countries around the world for hundreds of years. It relates to economic questions and jobs, national security, and general worries about preserving national culture and heritage. It is an issue with many nuances and complexities relating to our large-scale national policy, but it also has significance for us as Christ followers, both individually and as a church Body. God’s desire to draw all of creation to Himself can be seen from the fall in Genesis1 to the imagery in Revelations2 , so as we consider the implications of immigration in our world it is important to remember this context and reflect on key scriptural principles.
Leviticus 19:34: “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.”
Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
- We are all made in God’s image and are valuable in His sight.
The diversity of humanity is reflective of God’s creativity and His desire to create a multiethnic family. As image bearers, we all have inherent worth and dignity, and His desire from the beginning has been to reconcile a people to Himself through Jesus Christ. 3
- We should all see ourselves as citizens of heaven first and foremost and as immigrants and exiles in a foreign land.
The word sometimes describing believers in scripture is parepidemos – one who comes from a foreign country to reside by the natives. We are reminded that as believers we are ultimately part of God’s kingdom, and we spend our time on earth as exiles or immigrants. 4
- Jesus is our role model for engaging foreigners.
Jesus sets an example for us in the way that He engaged people of non-Jewish cultures. Not only did He reach out to foreigners, but He also did so in an intentional way, once again reflecting God’s desire that all people might know Him and follow Him.5
- We are all subject to the authority of our government.
We live in a nation of law and order, and we must respect the laws relating to immigration. The laws of our country should protect current citizens, as well as fair treatment for immigrants.6 This is an area in the past where the United States has had failings, as immigration laws have been inconsistently applied, often for the gain of corporations and wealthy individuals.
Common Cultural Concerns Surrounding Immigration
While immigration and issues relating to cultural mixing have been sources of conflict and controversy throughout human history, they have become increasingly significant as transportation, technology and our global economy have developed. Often, the most significant barriers for believers reaching out to immigrants are our tendency to focus on ourselves and the fear of the unknown. We need to be reminded that we should not be afraid of connecting with those different from ourselves because ultimately it will mature our understanding of the world around, open up opportunities for us to serve those in need, and help build bridges of peace to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 7
As Christ followers, we must apply scriptural principles as we encounter these concerns and fears.
- Influences from Other Cultures
Concern: Some have concerns or fears regarding the different worldviews of those desiring to immigrate to our country, especially from countries that do not have a strong Christian tradition. These concerns stir up fears that an influx of immigrants may dilute the “Christian Values” of our culture.
Response: Our faith is in Christ alone, not in an idealized view of our country being a “Christian” nation. If we see ourselves as Christ followers first, we should welcome diversity and see it as an opportunity to learn about others and share God’s love.8
- Extreme Views that Threaten our Security
Concern: Some are concerned and fear Islamic traditions because some organizations have taken radicalized views as justification for terrorist acts, especially against Christians and Jews.
Response: The threat of terrorism is real, and our government has a responsibility to protect us as citizens with immigration policies and processes to prevent those seeking to perpetrate attacks on our country from entering. As we make an effort to advocate and hold our leaders accountable, we should not do so from a position of fear, hatred, or desire for revenge for past attacks. Our ultimate desire should be that all come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and rest that God is our ultimate protector and comforter.9
- Negative Impact on our Economy
Concern: Some are concerned that immigrants coming into our country may take away jobs and opportunities from our citizens. There are also fears that immigrants may place a strain on social services that our government provides.
Response: This is no different than a multitude of other concerns about our financial security. We need to trust in the Lord as our ultimate provider10 and as the Body of Christ position ourselves to help serve those in need.11 Many scriptures mention the sojourner in the same list as the widow and orphan, so as we seek to love our neighbor as ourselves we should put the needs of others above our own and engage the immigrant community.12
- Fear of Compromising Our System of Law and Order
Concern: Some are concerned about immigrants who may be in our country illegally and are unsure of how to engage them.
Response: It is not appropriate or the responsibility of Christians or the church to provide sanctuary or to shield those who are in our country illegally from the government, but legal status should not be a condition of our engagement with the immigrant community, especially for those in need. We are called to respect the governing authorities and the laws of our country,13, but as we engage immigrants and those who are in need in our community, we should not seek to do so only if they are here legally. At the same time, if we find that someone does not have legal status, we should help them attain legal status if that is their desire and should advocate for and seek to protect illegal immigrants who are being unjustly victimized and persecuted (by employers, housing, etc.).
- Unfair suspicion and fears of the Immigrant
Concern: Those who have legal status as residents or visiting our country are looked at with suspicion and fear because of past attacks and tensions across the world.
Response: Jesus answered that next to loving God, loving our neighbor is the greatest commandment.14This coupled with numerous commands to love and provide for strangers and the commands to treat foreigners as natives and love him as yourself,15gives us a picture of how we should approach anyone who is an immigrant or visitor to our country. Even in the regards to those who have harmed us, we are told to love them and pray for them.16 Those who are mistreated or with suspicion are likewise called to rise above their circumstances. We are not to harbor bitterness or resentment but are invited to a life of forgiveness and reconciliation.17
- Our immigration process is too hard to navigate
Concern: The process to become an American Citizen or gain legal status is too hard to navigate and takes much too long.
Response: In the face of adversity and trials, we are called to persevere. Difficult processes are not a reason to ignore the law or find ways around them. Whether seeking legal status or in a place to advocate for those who are, we can work to change laws and policies that are burdensome and educate ourselves to effectively navigate the processes within the law and help others to do the same.
We should see immigrants in our communities as a missional opportunity.
Those who live as immigrants in our communities face many challenges, including cultural differences, language barriers, prejudices, and economic limitations. Both individually and as the church, we should view immigrants in our communities as an opportunity to show love, hospitality and community, and ultimately to share the Gospel. Following Christ’s example, not only should we reach out as we encounter immigrants in our daily lives, but we should also intentionally pursue relationships and be open to opportunities to engage immigrants in our community and desire for God to work in their hearts to draw them into His Kingdom.
FOOTNOTES: 1 Genesis 3:15; 2 Revelation 7:9; 3 Genesis 1:27 4 Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Chronicles 29:15, 1 Peter 1:1, 2 Corinthians 5:20 5 John 4:7,9 6 Romans 13:1-2 7 Philippians 2:3, 4:6-7 8 Romans 12:16 9 Psalm 71:3 10 Matthew 6:27-32 11 Matthew 25:35-40 12 Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Zechariah 7:10, Ezekiel 22:7 13 Romans 13:1-7 14 Matthew 22:39 15 Leviticus 19:34, 1 Chronicles 29:15, Matthew 25:35-36 16 Luke 6:27, Romans 12:20, Matthew 5:20 17 James 1:2-4
For further study, see our Position Paper on Biblical View of Race.