taking the words of Jesus seriously

From the images of Syrian refugees filling our screens to the politicized rhetoric about unauthorized immigration into the US, the direct biblical command to welcome the stranger has never in my life been more relevant.


I am a follower of Jesus who is committed to Scripture, without apology. The words of Scripture have me constantly shaping and reshaping my views about many things, including immigration policy. Here are some ways that my reading of Scripture is influencing my thinking:


  1. In the Old Testament alone, the word for immigrant, ger, appears ninety-two times…yes, 92!
  2. Xenophobia, as you know, is the fear of foreigners and immigrants. Xenophila, on the other hand, is the love of foreigner and immigrants. And, interestingly enough, the word for hospitality, which the New Testament directly commands the Church to practice, is, you guessed it, xenophilia. Some say you can’t be the church without sacraments and preaching. I would agree and add that we can’t be the church without the deliberate welcome of the immigrant. (See Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2)
  3. When the Bible talks about religion that pleases God, there is a triad of persons that shows up over and over as the litmus test for whether or not we are getting it right – the widow, the orphan and the immigrant. (See Dt 27:19)
  4. When the Bible talks about Judgment Day and offers one of the most clear lines being who is saved and who is not, welcoming the immigrant is on the list of delineators. (See Matt 25:35)


After reading all these passages, I am seeing that responding justly to immigrants is no small thing for those who desire to submit to the authority of God’s Word. From the founding of the Torah to the establishment of the Church to the separation on Judgment Day, the just treatment of immigrants is an unquestionable expectation for God’s people.


If, then, immigrants and immigration are such major concerns in the Bible, I have a few questions: Why is there so little talk about this in our churches? Why does immigration policy not factor higher on the list of reasons Christians use to select a candidate to support? Why are the Christians who place the Bible as the top authority for their political views not working harder to create compassionate, just and redemptive policies for immigration in the US?


Even if we have missed this in our reading of the Bible reading, there is one practice that we engage in every single week that should be influencing us more profoundly – Sunday morning worship. What I mean is this…


We Christians gather every week to worship a Refugee. Our prayers are raised up to the One whose parents carried him across borders without permission or documentation. Our music celebrates Him for rescuing us when we had no hope, nowhere else to go. We raise the cup to drink the blood that provides amnesty for our sin. We preach to freely welcome exiles across the borders of a Kingdom they did not build, earn or deserve. We wash people in the waters that tell them that they fully belong – wherever they are from, whatever they have done, no matter what they bring or don’t bring with them, whatever it may cost us to make them a part of the family.


If not our reading of the Bible, then this weekly practice should radically impact every word, thought and action when it comes to immigration and the reception of the displaced peoples of the world. We should be on the leading edge of creating the most compassionate, just, redemptive path. Yet, according to polling trends these days, this appears to not be the case. Isaiah 58 has something to say about worship that does not get enfleshed in just action on behalf of the vulnerable. If there is a moral failure for us to bemoan in our times, it is within our own house.


I am thankful for those apostolic and prophetic voices and organizations who, in the name of Christ, are indeed out ahead of us showing up how to welcome, fight for, advocate or and establish and just and sustainable reform.


About The Author


Dr. Shawn Duncan is the Director of the Lupton Center, the training and consulting division of FCS, a Christian Community Development organization. He and his wife Holly live in Atlanta with their two boys.

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