There is a lot of fuzzy thinking on the issue of asylum seekers, especially from the religious left. They want to take the high moral ground here, criticising those who say we need to be a bit careful about who we allow into this country, and how.
But religious leftists tend to think that an open border policy, indeed, an open slather policy, is somehow the Christian thing to do, and anyone taking a different stance is somehow un-Christian, and certainly un-Christlike. Any criticism or second thoughts on these issues is seen to be somehow lacking in compassion and Christian love.
Thus it is worth looking more closely at just what Scripture says about issues like immigration, multiculturalism and the like. To begin with, however, a brief analogy may be of use here to clarify our thinking. Like all analogies, it is not perfect, but it helps to set the stage for this debate.
Let’s say you are a Christian home owner, with a young family, paying off a mortgage. Someone knocks on your door one day, poor and dishevelled, pleading for food and shelter. You think it is the Christian and compassionate thing to do, so you let him in.
But the next day two more needy people knock on your door, also pleading for help. Indeed, the family of the first fellow also shows up, asking – indeed, demanding, that you take them in as well. Now it is your home, and you surely have the right to determine who – if any – are allowed to come under your roof.
Even if you decide to take in the whole lot of them – with all the risks of not having the resources to care for everyone properly – one thing you do not have the right to do is demand that your neighbour take in some of these new guests. Each home-owner has to decide for himself what his carrying capacity is, and who shall be allowed in.
If you do take people in, it is of course a gracious gesture on your part. However, you are not obliged to take others in. Indeed, you may not be in a position to do so. But it would be ludicrous of others to start judging you and your faith based on if and when you decide to take some of these folks in.
Nations are really no different. Every nation has the right to protect its own borders, and every nation should have the right to determine who can come in, and under what conditions. These common sense principles are in fact also found in the Bible.
And with any Scriptural issue like this, there is complexity and nuance to be found as well. Things are nowhere near as simple as the religious left – and others – tends to make out. For example, I have had some of these folks trying to tell me that Jesus and his family were asylum seekers, just like those coming in boats to Australia today.
Well, not quite. Jesus and his family did live in Egypt for a few years to avoid persecution back home, but several things can be inferred from this. One, they would have had to get permission to enter Egypt from the proper authorities. Two, they may well have worked there and contributed to the local economy. Three, we have no record that they just rolled up, demanded shelter, and assumed they could be welfare cases the whole time.
But the Bible has much to say on these complex issues, including the gospel accounts of Jesus. One way to get a handle on all the biblical data is to draw upon a great summary of the information as found in an important new book on the issue.
All those concerned to learn about what the Bible really says on these topics should get the new book by James Hoffmeier, The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible (Crossway, 2009). There is a wealth of information in this volume which the Old Testament professor presents to us.
Perhaps just a few summary statements can here be offered, in the hopes that readers will go out and get this vital work. But a few words first. Because the author is from the US, he looks mainly at the American immigration debate in terms of modern application.
And he rightly reminds us that it is always tricky to apply Old Testament laws to contemporary situations. For example, Israel was a theocracy in which political and social realities were also one with religious realities. Thus the alien male living in Israel had to be circumcised and assimilate into the religious life of the community.
Obviously today in modern America or Australia, such clear biblical requirements cannot be directly applied. Sure, the more broad principle of assimilation and integration can be, but this simply points out that we need to recognise that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments, and clear one-to-one application is not always possible, or desirable.
(And just on this note, it is interesting just how often the religious left is dismissive of OT law when it comes to issues like homosexuality, but when it comes to immigration issues, they seem quite happy to take all the OT legislation and apply it holus bolus to our situation today!)
As to the general biblical teachings on this topic, this is how Hoffmeier draws the OT data together. First, “nation states large and small in the biblical world were clearly delineated by borders that were often defended by large forts and military outposts.”
Second, “Countries since biblical times have had the right to clearly establish secure borders that they controlled and were recognized by surrounding governments, travelling tribes, and individuals. Furthermore, nations, including Israel of the Bible, had the right to determine who entered their land and under what circumstances, and they could confer resident or alien status to foreigners should it be mutually beneficial. The same is true today, I maintain.”
Third, “Nations that receive aliens must not at some future time turn against them and mistreat them as the Egyptians did the Israelites.” Other themes clearly come out from the biblical text. For example, the OT clearly distinguishes between legal and illegal immigrants. Even the Hebrew terms employed bear this out. Moreover, “Nowhere in the Old Testament is there any sense that a nation had to accept immigrants, nor was being received as an alien a right.”
Of course he offers far more details and much more biblical material on all this, but his presentation offers a nice balance and corrective to much of the shallow and unbiblical thinking being thrown around on this topic, especially by the religious left.
And as he acknowledges, applying ancient biblical principles and laws to modern secular situations will always be difficult at best. But certainly we need to be clear as to just what those biblical laws and values are first, before we wade into these complex social and political questions of today.
Much more needs to be said on these difficult issues, but this at least provides a bit of fuel for discussion and further debate. And helpfully it clears up a bit of the confusion and shoddy thinking on these quite contentious and hotly debated topics.
By all means let us be compassionate and Christlike in our thinking about these issues, but let us do so rationally and biblically, not just basing our pronouncements on emotions alone, or trendy leftist social policy.