No thinking person can fail to be moved by the stories and pictures describing the plight of refugees. Millions seek asylum from war and hunger, from human trafficking, and gang violence. Millions of our fellow human beings are making their way into Europe, America, and refugee camps in the Middle East.
The American Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson states the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” especially the right to life and freedom.
This understanding of human dignity is rooted in the teachings of the Bible. Holy Scripture affirms a fundamental truth: “God created mankind in His own image.” Human rights are based on the fact that human beings bear the image of God. This is what it means to be human. This means that human rights, human dignity, and human equality are bestowed by our maker, not by any government.
If we carry this assumption forward into our thinking about world affairs, it will influence our opinions about U.S. foreign policy, criminal justice reform, the rights of the unborn, economic policy, and the political platforms of presidential candidates in an election year.
I think this should also influence our thinking about immigration policy. Those of us who wish to think biblically about immigration should meditate on the following scriptures when we think about our neighbors who have arrived from Central America, Mexico, and elsewhere. We should consider these biblical principles when we hear about the refugees flooding Central and Western Europe.
- Exodus 22:21 – Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
- Exodus 23:9 – Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
- Leviticus 19:10 – Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
- Leviticus 19:33-34 – When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
- Numbers 9:14 – A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.
- Numbers 15:15-16 – The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you. (cf. vv.26,29,30)
- Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
- Deuteronomy 24:17 – Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. (cf. vv.19-21)
- Deuteronomy 26:11-12 – Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
- Deuteronomy 27:19a – Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.
- Deuteronomy 31:12 – Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.
- Psalm 146:9 – The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
I recognize that these verses, and many others like them, refer to the Hebrew people and to “foreigners” living in the land of Israel under the civil and religious laws mediated through Moses. But we also must recognize that the larger principles they embody, like the rest of the moral law of God, are reaffirmed in the Christian scriptures. Consider the following.
- Matthew 22:37-40 – Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
- Matthew 25:35-36 – (Then the King will say), “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
- Romans 15:2 – Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.
- Galatians 5:14 – For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- James 2:8 – If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18 when He told us to love our neighbors. So obviously the moral law provides the foundation and architecture for Christian ethics.
Rooted in the ancient wisdom of the Hebrew scriptures, and reaffirmed in the teachings of Christ, we find a way of thinking and acting that guides our attitudes toward and relationships with the foreigners living among us, no matter where they came from or how they arrived. They have value and dignity in the sight of God. They have the same human rights as the rest of us who were born here. God “shows no partiality” (Deuteronomy 10:17). Whatever conclusions we come to about immigration policy should begin here.