Letting Scripture Guide: Some Thoughts on Immigration

C. John Weborg is professor emeritus of theology at North Park Theological Seminary.

Oscar Handlin set out to write a history of immigration to the United States. His research forced him to rephrase his plan, and he argued that the history of the United States is the history of immigration.

When immigrants settle in a place and produce generations of descendants, immigrant status gives way to nativism. Nativism grows and is deceptive. It is the victim of long- or short-term memory loss depending on the length of time the descendants have been Americans. But are we really natives? No, we’re immigrant stock. Let’s not forget it. Which brings me to the Bible.

My purpose is to offer a perspective on the current immigration debate, especially in its acrimonious form. Efforts toward swift legal action in many states beg the question of humane care and attention to a myriad of family issues that justice demands we address. The Bible has more than 100 texts on the treatment of the aliens and foreigners—some very prescriptive, some more in the order of perspective. Can we be taught to think hard as biblical people? To do so begins with memory, including our own. Leviticus 19:34 instructs Israel that the alien must be treated as a native among them. Why? Because Israel spent more than 400 years as aliens and slaves in Egypt before being set free. Memory loss and the compromise of morals go hand in hand.

The evangelical Old Testament scholar M. Daniel Carroll R. in Christians at the Border has written a careful study of the pertinent biblical texts as well as a history of the issue. Some examples follow. Since aliens were without kin, the law (Deuteronomy 24:14, and 1 Chronicles 22:2) assures them of adequate provision for employment. Those at risk had equal rights with Israelites to glean the fields (Leviticus 19:10; 23:32). They were guaranteed fair treatment in legal cases (Deuteronomy 1:16-17). The prophets spoke with equal zeal about this population (Malachi 3:5 and Zechariah 7:9-10). Even if the prescriptive provisions do not exactly t the American situation, they offer an uncompromising perspective: God expects justice. Forgetting one’s history endangers one’s morals.

States are increasingly seeking a legal, one-sided solution in which individuals have virtually no recourse. I have on my desk a 2012 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center filled with accounts that square with nothing formed in Scripture. When an eighteen-year-old Latina provided the proper proof of residency as she tried to enroll in high school in Durham, North Carolina, a school official demanded a passport and immigration visa, insisting, “she must be an illegal.” A middle-school teacher in the same district told the students to stand, then seated them one by one, leaving the Latino students standing, whereupon he videotaped them with his cell phone. According to the SPLC, it is a criminal offense in South Carolina to give a person without the proper papers a ride to church—imagine, in the U.S. – or, I suppose, to give aid. If this is true, one violates the law to obey Jesus to “go and do likewise.” What would you do?

U.S. citizens in Alabama have received notes saying, “Go back to Mexico.” Isabel, an undocumented woman, bought a car and never missed a payment. A tow truck hauled off the car, explaining that dealers would lose their business license if they sold to illegals, which is not true under Alabama law. The dealer would not return the $3,000 she already paid because he feared no prosecution. Where is basic humanity? Where is truth? What if the alien were as a native among you? Would not God be glori ed, our memory be restored, and our morals be much more in order?

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