I feel compelled at the outset to explain the title of this post. In the growing political tempest surrounding the issue of illegal immigration, I am convinced that it must be remembered that we are talking about the fate of some 12 million people. This class of people is referred to by many title; illegal immigrants, aliens, undocumented workers, ect. But the fact remains that no matter what title is given to this group of people, they still remain exactly that- flesh and blood, human beings. They are a people of diverse nationalities, ambitions and goals. They share in common the principle that life is better in America than where they came from and that by being here they can have a better life for themselves and their families.
Their presence here in the U.S. is causing quite a controversy and resolutions to problems being raised by the growing rancor are hard to formulate. But one thing is certain, that this is an issue that will not be quietly put away or solved soon. Another thing that is undeniable is that certain elements within the immigrant community are engaged in illegal activity apart from their illegal presence in this country. This adds complexity to an issue that raises nationalistic patriotism as well as fear that these people are eroding the American way of life. Yet it cannot be forgotten that caught between an increasingly irate U.S. citizenry responding to an relatively fringe element of criminality in the immigrant population are millions of individuals seeking nothing more than the betterment of their life through working in the U.S,
Amid the din, Christians are challenged to find a response to the present social crisis. On the one hand no person naturally wants to be thought of as unpatriotic and going against the popular grain can be difficult. We may find ourselves agreeing with right-wing pundits who raise popular fears by announcing that our boarders are over run by gun toting, drug packing, bomb wearing illegal aliens; and cheap workers who are robbing Americans of their jobs. Yet we who name Christ, above all people must protect ourselves from emotionally jumping on the popular band wagon because our concern must be much more than simple politics or national fidelity. This is not to say that Christians are to be non-patriotic, rather it is to say that our patriotism must be subjugated to greater priorities as delineated by scripture.
These priorities are significant because they bear the weight of Scriptural authority but even more than that, the societal and ethical priorities of Scripture are of tantamount concern because they reflect the very heart of God himself. The Bible contains the God ordained revelation, complete in every aspect according to what God has determined to reveal about himself. One of the over arching themes of the entire bible is God’s concern for the poor, the outcast, the unrepresented in society.
People often blame the fall of Old Testament Israel on the Jews unfaithfulness to God. Ask any bible toting person about this and the word idolatry inevitable is cited as the reason for the failure of the Israelites. Idolatry was the reason why God is angry with Israel and idolatry was what led the hearts of the people astray. Yet, a survey of Old Testament Scripture produces another, if not even more compelling reason for the failure of Israel.
Leviticus 23:22 states that the Israelites, at the time of harvest were to leave a bit of the produce behind for the benefit of the needy and the alien (see also Deut. 24:17-22). Deuteronomy 1:16 guaranteed that justice be provided for both the native Israelite and for the alien who lived among them. Deuteronomy 14:29 goes a step further by saying that the Israelites, at three year intervals were to bring an offering of their produce to be deposited in their town of residence. This offering of produce was in turn to be used to support the Levites and to provide for the well fare of the alien population living among the Jews. In fact, God promised the Jews that if they were to do this they would indeed be blessed by Him! The Israelites were commanded by God to share of their bounty because God had so blessed His people that they would have a prosperity and abundance that would meet and exceed all of their needs. The sharing of this abundance was to result in the rejoicing of the Levite and the alien for the good which God had brought to the house of Israel. Jewish generosity was to provide blessing for them and satisfaction for the alien.
Why though did God command such sacrificial giving from Jews? Deuteronomy 10:18 gives us an explicit insight into the heart of God. The Jews were to be a compassionate and generous people because,
“…the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:18)”
God is a God of love and compassion and He called his people to reflect this in their attitudes towards the underclass citizens in their land. But how did Israel fare in this obligation?
“…I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me," says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:5).
These must have been chilling words for the scripturally astute Hebrew to read since God places the uncompassionate oppressor in the same category as adulterers and sorcerers!
What is the point of all of this? The point is that Israel was to demonstrate compassion for the person within her geographical and political boarders but outside of Israelite custom and society. The Hebrews were to be compassionate because by being compassionate they would be directly demonstrating the very heart of God. It cannot be mistaken, the Biblical God is a God of compassion for the alien, the orphan, namely for those who are unrepresented and at threat of being taken advantage of or mistreated. Read Deuteronomy 10:18,
“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”
In the relation to Israel, God commanded that His people be unlike any other people on earth by not taking advantage of the non native residents among them. Rather than this, God knowing the evil propensity of the human heart to wield power over and against those who are powerless, God directed that the most vulnerable be protected by mercy, kindness and compassion. This was to be because this is who God is.
Tragically, history has born out that Israel fell far short of being obedient to this command and history bears the stamp of severe judgment against this covenant unfaithfulness. Israel today still does not enjoy the blessings promised to her in large part because she failed to be merciful and compassionate to the strangers in her lands. What are the implications for this in today’s charged climate of immigration reform? What role ought the church to take in the discussion surround the fate of millions of people? That will be looked at in the next article.