November 19, 2020 | by Rev. Dr. Joel Hortiales
“Where love lives, is a place where the stranger is welcomed.” Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño.
In the Western Jurisdiction, we see the Bible as an authority when it comes to forming our views toward immigrants and immigration. While the Scriptures do not prescribe a specific immigration policy, they are filled with Old Testament stories of immigrants with specific instructions from God about how to treat foreigners. Also, there are principles for how followers of Jesus the Christ interact with immigrants in the New Testament.
Let’s start with the Biblical figures who migrate for different reasons: Abraham and his family leave Canaan (their homeland) at God’s instruction; later he and his family crossed borders again on multiple occasions in search of food during times of famine. Isaac and Jacob move because of famine as well. Naomi and her family were motivated by hunger to migrate from the land of Judah, then eventually reports of adequate food led Naomi to return, now accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth who was an immigrant in the eyes of the people of Judah.
Others were forced to migrate, for example, Joseph who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. David fled because the violence of King Saul to seek asylum among the Philistines. Daniel and his friends were exiled from their homeland and ended up serving a foreign government. Even Mary, Joseph and Jesus himself, as a small child, was forced to flee. They were escaping to Egypt as refugees when Herod’s jealousy threatened the lives of all baby boys in Bethlehem.
In addition to various stories of refugees and migrants, the Old Testament also tells us about the character of God toward immigrants and others who are vulnerable. Three specific vulnerable groups of people are highlighted in the same passages on multiple occasions as objects of God’s particular concern: the foreigner, the fatherless and the widows. These Scriptures collectively affirm: “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” (Deuteronomy 27:19). The Psalmist laments the wicked who “They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless.” (Psalm 94:6). And in Psalm 146:9 says “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”
Now, when it comes to God’s commands with respect the treatment of immigrants, a justification is offered in Leviticus 19:33-34: “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” The Israelites were told to love immigrants as themselves, because they knew firsthand what it is like to dwell in a land that was not their own.
Later, books of prophets such as Jeremiah says “Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place” (22:3) and Zechariah 7:10 “Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other”. Also Malachi 3:5 announces God’s judgement against those “who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice.” These remind members of the Western Jurisdiction of their obligation to protect the vulnerable and welcome the foreigner.
Finally, in Mathew 25: 34-36 Jesus´ parable explains the principles of the kingdom of God that the members of the Western Jurisdiction aspire to live “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”
Note: Bible quotes come from the New International Version