A Call for Christians To Love Immigrants

A Call for Christians To Love Immigrants

The conversation around immigration in America has long been fraught, but it has been especially so in recent months. 

From the crisis at the border and the breakdown of a bipartisan congressional bill to the horrific murder of 22-year-old Laken Riley and the crass politicking that has followed, the problems of current immigration policy loom large and Americans are divided about the solutions it should pursue. 

I’m not a policy expert. So I wouldn’t presume to tell other Christians how they should vote, what policies they should support, or which solutions they should pursue as the “Christian” option. I don’t know that there is a Christian policy stance on immigration policy. 

But I do know this: There is a fundamental orientation that Christians ought to have toward immigrants, regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented. 

Throughout the Old Testament, God commands his people to order their society justly—to provide equal justice and care for everyone who lives among them, particularly groups of people who are marginalized and disenfranchised. 

Most often, God speaks of three specific groups: orphans, widows, and immigrants (usually rendered in English Bible translations as “sojourners” or “foreigners”). 

Here are several instances in which the three groups are mentioned alongside one another, starting with a law that required Israel to provide for them using a portion of the nation’s tithes, which were akin to modern-day taxes.

When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, “I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. (Deuteronomy 26:12-13)

You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:21-24)

And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:10)

For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7)

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)

While we don’t order our society and around Mosaic law (and shouldn’t), these passages and more give us insight into God’s special concern for orphans, widows, and immigrants. He repeats it often. It’s important, central even, to his vision for a just society.

Jesus echoes these same values in his own teaching about “the least of these.”

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)

Another way to translate “stranger” in this text is “foreigner” or “guest”—an immigrant. 

What we find throughout the canon of Scripture is a clear and consistent call to love immigrants. To welcome them. To value them. To give them justice. To care for their needs. To have compassion on them when no one else in the world will. 

We must not lose our grip on this value, regardless of how broken our current immigration legislation is.

American evangelicals, by and large, do a fantastic job of caring for orphans. Historically, evangelicals have been twice as likely to adopt children than any other group in America. We’re also known for our efforts to care for the widows in our midst. Evangelical churches are known for having benevolence funds and even volunteer teams who regularly perform house and yard work for older women who live alone.

In many places, evangelicals are also actually quite generous toward migrants, regardless of their documentation status.

One of my favorite news stories this year has been that of a Denver church converting its gymnasium into an emergency shelter for Venezuelan migrants who were displaced and unhoused. With a daily operational cost of $500 plus volunteer labor, the church welcomed 29 nightly guests, who otherwise would have been sleeping in literal freezing temperatures. They sacrificed greatly to serve the sojourner.

Nevertheless, I have grown deeply troubled by the fact that I have heard and seen evangelicals echo partisan rhetoric that demonizes immigrants. This has often been the case through the years, but during this election cycle, the intensity of hatred and fear has been nothing short of fever pitch. 

Racism, whether it is thinly veiled by talk of documents or unabashedly put on display through slurs and negative stereotypes, has no place in God’s kingdom. 

Comprehensive immigration reform is not a simple undertaking. Anyone who suggests that it is hasn’t done much research. What makes matters worse is our hyper-partisan moment, in which compromise and cooperation across party lines kill the reelection campaigns of even the most beloved legislators. 

There are no easy solutions. But the very least we can do is not to contribute to the problems of racism and xenophobia. We are far less likely to extend friendship or support to people we fear, much less routinely demonize. 

And when we do that, we set ourselves on a trajectory toward rejecting Jesus and his kingdom by refusing to serve the least of these.