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Good Migrations? A Conversation about Emigrating

by Michael Pocock on April 1, 2010 in Profiles

Many countries face immigration challenges. What are some foundational considerations for considering immigration from a biblical perspective?

First, all people are valuable, made in the image of God. They should be treated with dignity even when, out of desperation, they attempt to circumvent laws. Therefore there should be a protective system of advocacy for foreign workers, laws against exploitative use of foreign workers, and against violence—domestic and public. It should involve prosecution of abusive employers, regular and fair payment of workers, and decent and affordable housing (Gen. 1:26–27, 2:3; Matt. 6:25–33; Gal. 6:10).

Second, people everywhere need to earn a living and have enough food, shelter, and safety. And they should be respected by everyone in countries with resources and jobs. This means people should be free to cross borders when desperate. This is clearly established in the rules for alien and poor workers in Scripture, and exemplified in the case of Ruth in the Old Testament. Boaz allows a foreign woman, Ruth, to glean in his fields, and offers her protection from his own male workers, safety, respect, water, and shelter. He is not simply coming on to a nice foreign but vulnerable female worker; he is acting decently and in accord with national laws. (See also Exod.12:49; Lev. 19:9–10; Deut. 24:19–22.)

Third, national governments are basically a unit of governance that are established by God and in a sense serve Him (Matt. 12:17; Rom. 13). They are there for the well-being of the people, even though some slip into violent or self-serving ends. In any case their rule must be respected. Countries have a right and duty to establish policies for the well-being of their people. Those policies must be respected by citizens and foreigners alike. A nation has a duty and right to establish a reasonable (manageable) rate of flow of foreigners who immigrate or migrate for economic and other reasons. 

What immigration policy do you think Jesus would advocate?

It seems the only mandate Jesus gave regarding immigration was that, as His disciples would go into all the world, they would make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19–20)! He sees all Christians on the move as disciple-makers. I’m sure Mary and Joseph told him stories of finding refuge in Egypt when he was a baby following the cruel edicts of Herod the Great. He knew what it meant to be a stranger within His own country, gripped by regionalism in which He was disparaged as a Nazarene and Galilean. He said, “The son of man does not even have a place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20), so He was a man of the road. He knew about marginalization (as Virgilio Elizondo has written in Galilean Journey), and He ministered from the margins.

So Jesus’ policy would reflect solidarity with migrants, understanding, compassion, and respect, while He would also urge due respect and honor to governments. When the Holy Spirit works, He does not work differently from what Jesus would do. The first thing the Holy Spirit did at Pentecost in Acts 2 was to make the blessings of God clear so that people from fourteen nations present at that moment could understand. God is interested in all the peoples of the world. He is a global God, and His Spirit is an international spirit. Christ’s immigration policy would stress ministry to migrants and also the responsibility and privilege of Christian migrants to spread the gospel wherever they are.

Incidentally the U.S. is not the only country to which the world’s 191 million immigrants have gone. Thirty-five percent of immigrants go to Europe. Only about 23 percent come to the United States.

Whether it is hospitality to strangers (Rom. 12:13), or entertaining those who cannot repay us (Luke 14:12–14), doing good to all persons (Gal. 6:10), or considering all people equally no matter their culture or ethnicity (Col. 3:10–11), the Bible speaks to our attitude toward those of other races and cultures. We should be very careful to avoid either conventional or racist thinking. Rather we should love our neighbors as ourselves, not intellectualizing nor spiritualizing, but in concrete expression to whomever is in our community on whatever basis.

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