Love the Stranger
[Lev 19:33-34]

By T. C. Howitt

Jun 30, 2018

In response to an article from Facebook user Lisa Tucker: SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT

This Facebook post I’m sharing here has garnered 7 million shares since it first appeared in 2013. With illegal immigration and the treatment of refugee families now making headlines, it’s popular again.

First of all, judging the fairness of US immigration policy by comparing it to those of North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran ought to strike any reasonable thinker as suspicious and ludicrous, if not self-defeating. One would hope the US treats immigrants vastly better than these other countries.

Secondly, the conclusion of the post – “No wonder we are a country in debt” – holds no water. According to 2016 figures for federal budget outlays, the top annual expenses contributing to US debt are Healthcare ($1.1T), Social Security ($1T) and Defense ($1.1T). Compare that to FAIR’s estimate of a mere $30B net federal impact of “illegal aliens” for 2017, not to mention that liberal California covers over 35% of total state costs across the US of $85B. Lest anyone suspects FAIR of being unfairly liberal in their estimates, let it be known that their conservative credibility is secured by their classification as a hate group by the SPLC.

Third, and most importantly, let’s consider the Bible. The Bible isn’t mentioned in the original post in question, but it has everything to do with truth. That makes it relevant, especially if you take yourself to be a Christian.

A couple weeks ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked Romans 13 to justify the government’s zero-tolerance treatment of illegal immigrant families. The beginning passage of Romans 13, as you may be aware now that it’s reached national news coverage, has the apostle Paul enjoining the Christians in Rome to “be subject unto the higher powers,” with the understanding that “the powers that be are ordained of God” (v. 1).

The good news is, this caused mainstream media outlets to actually quote scripture and consider its meaning. The bad news is, Sessions’ use of Romans 13 follows a long, shameful history of regimes abusing this portion of scripture to justify their unjust laws, from the holocaust to the slave trade and apartheid.

The Roman empire at the time of Paul’s writing of his letter to the Romans (ca. 55-58 AD) was ruled by Nero, a particularly nasty emperor (who had earned the epithet of “the beast” because, according to the Roman historian Suetonius, he “devised a kind of game, in which, covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound to stakes”). Considering the fact that Paul already had a reputation for stirring up controversies and public disturbances as a preacher of Christ, it is no small matter that he basically instructed his fellow Christians in Rome to refrain from staging a rebellion. Because of this, some commentators think Paul was trying to temper the hostile political atmosphere that was posing an existential threat to the church in Rome, but that’s just conjecture that favors a pragmatic explanation over a doctrinal one. Regardless, this hardly means Paul was raising the law of man to the level of the law of God and letting men in power off the hook for their crimes.

That’s the historical context of Romans 13, but we also need to think about its textual context. The chapter and verse divisions of the Bible are not inspired of God but were added by men, unlike the words of scripture which are God-breathed (2Ti 3:16). The chapter divisions can contribute to misunderstandings (to be generous) due to proof-texting outside of context, and that’s the case here. On top of that, Paul’s writing style was defined by its continuous, seamless flow between thoughts – you won’t find many, if any, hard breaks in the dialectical stream of Paul’s letters. For the context of Romans 13, then, we need to back up and read the latter passages of Romans 12, particularly verse 21: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In Romans 12, Paul is reiterating the Christian formula for spiritual victory also described by the apostle Peter and, of course, lived out in the perfect example of Jesus Christ. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom 12:19). And Peter says of Jesus “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1Pe 2:23). And as Jesus bled on the cross, mocked and derided by Roman soldiers, he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34-37). In scope we have the submission to the powers that be in this world, regardless of their failings, with the unfailing faith in the superior power and righteousness that is in God.

Now that’s tolerance. Forget about social justice warriors who fight for the right to commit sin without being burdened by hearing the reproof of holy scripture – this is true righteousness expressed with meekness and humility.

What does this mean for Christians living in the US today, thinking about our policies on illegal immigration and the treatment of refugee families?

It’s important to make the distinction that we live in a representative democracy and not a kingdom, where our collective will theoretically dictates laws and policies. That is to say, at least in theory, that your vote means you are 1/235,248,000th king. You’re not so powerful an influence as a whole king, to be sure, but it does mean that our nation is led by our collective principles (again, in theory). To be clear, this means Christian citizens should think and act in terms of the Bible.

Furthermore, in this democracy, expressing your approval or disapproval of the government is your right and your duty. No amount of peaceful protest, political maneuvering, lobbying or media influence constitutes “resisting the power” in a Romans 13:2 sense. Despite Jeff Sessions’ appeal to your Christian duty to obey government authority, you actually wield a real percentage of that authority in terms of direct action.

Now, to comment more precisely on the subject of how Christians ought to treat refugees, I take you back (very briefly) to the Old Testament.

“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him” (Deut 23:15-16).

This passage speaks of foreign refugees from heathen nations seeking asylum in Israel. The idea here is that God’s people ought not to further oppress the oppressed, but instead extend a full offer of citizenship with all that it entails.

“And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19:33-34).

This passage, and others, gives the reason why God’s children should give shelter and amnesty to foreigners fleeing their homelands: because we all face persecution in this world, and God offers all of us mercy. Of course, God’s mercy toward us is perfected in Jesus Christ, who died to justify the world and give us rest.

Jeff Sessions, like the so-called Christians in 1930s Germany who sympathized with the Nazis, quoted Romans 13 in attempt to argue for unquestioning obedience to government authority, but without regard to the entirety of scripture and especially the gospel of Jesus Christ. Shame on him, and shame on any Christian who would deny asylum and love to the stranger.