Our government's recent immigration ban sent shockwaves across the globe and it has polarized an already divided nation. As a result, many people are citing Scripture on how we should treat refugees. The reality is, we need to be more careful when we try to use the Bible to support our contemporary political stances. The politics of Ancient Israel and those of the Greco Roman world, bear little resemblance to our American Republic.
Without understanding the historical and political context of any passage of Scripture, we risk misrepresenting the original idea of the text. Here’s where it gets dicey, especially since it’s nearly impossible to use logic and reason when dealing with emotional circumstances. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, wasn’t penned in a democratic culture. The Old Testament was delivered during a Theocracy, and the New Testament was written under the rule of emperors.
It’s a poor student of the Word who views ancient passages through the filter of their contemporary culture, we are called to do just the opposite. We must filter our modern day life through the lens of the Scriptures. Bridging the two worlds together is possible, but it comes with more than a little effort.
Another problem, perhaps even a greater issues, is the way some people cherry pick passages of the Bible to support their views on any given stance. So, for example, when people quote from the book of Leviticus to support the idea that we should offer all refugees a special treatment, it’s an interpretive mistake to not also realize two important facts. There was a specific context that made sense to the Israelites, a personal experience which they understood, since they once were refugees, and secondly, their borders weren’t fully established yet. They would be expanding their borders, the Israelites were entering the process of acquiring more land while forcefully expelling six particular nations, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Why would God command the Israelites to remove these six nations from the soon to be inherited Promised Land? Those six nations were ruthless, violent, dangerous, and pagan people who would harm the Israelites in many ways. Destroy those seven nations and love the sojourner were commands that were given simultaneously to the ancient nation of Israel, like a two-sided coin. It’s disingenuous to only polish one half of that coin.
Back to Leviticus, especially Lev 19:33-34. “33 When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” This is pretty cut and dry. Be kind to the people passing through your country, love those who are displaced or relocating. But just a few verses before this passage in Lev 19:28, the Israelites are prohibited from getting tattoos. And in the next chapter, Lev 20:10, people who commit adultery are to be put to death. Why would we, culturally, pick one part over the others to obey?
Something else to consider. The New Testament, which was written under the reign of dictators and emperors, has specific guidelines for believers when it comes to submitting to their government, see the first part of Romans chap 13 for example. Our government has well established laws on establishing citizenship. There are real established borders. We need to respect these laws, and we should probably expect people who want to join us to respect these principles as well. But are our laws fair?
The Bible isn’t merely filled with warm fuzzy affirmations of do-gooding, it’s complex and it’s easily used to justify any stance we want to take, when we don’t take the time and exert the effort to understand it. Nearly 100% of the Old Testament commands on how to treat refugees are tied to the principle, “You know what it felt like.” Read them and see if each of the passages also remind the Israelites of their painful past.
But what about the general command to love our neighbors as ourselves? I can't argue with that. But what is America’s track record of showing compassion for indigenous tribes, of taking care of our elderly, of housing our homeless, and protecting abused peoples already?
By this point, you might be wondering about my views on the current refugee crisis. It doesn’t matter what I think about how we should treat refugees if I cherry pick which subcultures I want to defend. I think it’s a huge mistake, attempting to apply the doctrine of Love only when it’s popular, defiant, or hip, while we continually neglect tons of people who are already in need.
If that didn't make sense, watch this and maybe you'll get the point: