Monday, July 23, 2007


The immigration issue is complex, and we as people of faith need to pray for wisdom for our leaders. I want to touch on just one aspect of this debate. I believe Scripture is being misused by a certain segment of the religious community to justify a position on immigration.

In my last posting, I mentioned that the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) talks often about taking care of the stranger and alien in the land. An example of such a passage is the institution of a form of welfare system for the poor and alien as recorded in Leviticus 19:9-10:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. (NRSV) By the way, we see this welfare system in operation in the Book of Ruth, chapter 2, and in Matthew 12.

Another passage along those lines is Leviticus 19:33-34:

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (NRSV)

(Interestingly there are about one million Israeli citizens who are Arabs (or Palestinians). These people have full rights as citizens, even though it is a Jewish state, and these Arabs could be considered “aliens” in the land.)

In my opinion, some people are taking such biblical passages out of context and using them to justify uncontrolled immigration. I believe this is a wrong application of the Scripture. My interpretation of these passages is that any aliens that happen to be in the land, either permanently or passing through, are to be respected and treated well. Looking at the Old Testament as a whole, these passages don’t say that your borders should be completely open, and anybody can come and live in your land. That’s because other passages of the Old Testament indicate that the Israelite society was to be somewhat closed to avoid intermarriage and falling into “detestable” pagan practices.

I know some will disagree with me on this point, but that’s the way I understand these passages within the context of the Hebrew Bible as a whole. Rather than misusing Scripture (in my opinion), there are better arguments with respect to immigration and the status of illegal aliens within our borders.

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