Est. May 2008

07 February, 2013

The Bible And Illegal Immigration

Over at WaPo, Lisa Miller quotes Daniel Carroll Rodas in her article, The biblical case for immigration reform:
“The key to this conversation is not to begin with the legal issue,” said Daniel Carroll Rodas, distinguished professor of the Old Testament at Denver Seminary. “You need to get there. You don’t start there. You start with these immigrants as people.”

Genesis, Carroll Rodas explains, says that all people are created in God’s image; laws must be built to recognize and harness that human potential. Good immigration policy is not a matter of following laws, he argues. It’s a matter of building laws that reflect what he calls “America’s soul.”
Up to a point I agree with this statement: the laws God gave to Moses definitely reflected the soul of Israel – or, at least, the soul God wanted Israel to have.  And the bulk of Mosaic Law (see Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) is geared toward forming that soul by separating Israel from those nations which would eventually surround her via behavioral and religious beliefs.

God understood that His people would need laws in order to maintain that separate-ness from others; He gave them the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law at Sinai for this purpose.  The Law covered every aspect of their lives – from interpersonal relationships to their relationship with their Creator; God expected – nay, demanded – them to follow the Law he gave to Moses.  And when they broke His laws, He gave them a sacrificial system with which to cover their sins.

In order to worship properly – that is, in order to sacrifice properly – the people had to be ceremonially clean.  They could do this because God had specified His expectations in the Mosaic Law.  Failure to follow Mosaic Law – especially when it came to ceremonial cleanliness – meant being ‘cut off’ from the people: you were no longer considered an Israelite.

Obviously, aliens and sojourners were not Israelites – that’s why they’re called aliens and sojourners.  But God gave laws for them, as well, especially if they wished to partake of Israelite society.  But in order to partake of Israelite society, aliens and sojourners had to follow the same laws as the Israelites (see Numbers 15:14-16; Leviticus 18:26; and Numbers 9:14).  That means that the aliens and sojourners, in order to worship and sacrifice at the tabernacle, had to, in essence, become Israelites in thought, word, and deed.  This meant obeying the dietary restrictions, the cleansing rituals, the sabbath prohibitions – the whole works.

It also likely meant they needed to follow the covenant of circumcision, established with Abraham in Genesis 17.  Note that not only Abraham, but every male member of his household, including servants born to the household and purchased for the household, had to be circumcised.  This covenant was so important that God tried to kill Moses for not circumcising his own sons (Exodus 4:24-26), Passover – the first and (arguably, at the time) most important festival of the new nation – was restricted to the circumcised (Exodus 12:43-49), and before they began the conquest of Canaan Joshua commanded the circumcision of every male of every tribe of Israel (Joshua 5:1-7).  So it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that aliens and sojourners would also have had to submit to circumcision in order to enter Israelite society.

Circumcision and Mosaic Law – two laws upon which hinged citizenship in the nation of Israel.

We’ve established that God expected non-Israelites to obey His laws if they wished to enter Israelite society.  Two verses – Deuteronomy 14:21 and Leviticus 25:45 – seem odd at first glance.  The first allows Israelites to sell or give meat which was unacceptable for sacrifice or consumption (we would call it non-kosher) to aliens and sojourners; the second allows Israelites to enslave aliens and sojourners.  Why would these two things be allowed, after God had said that aliens and sojourners could worship and sacrifice, and when God said Israelites couldn’t enslave fellow Israelites?  Look back at Numbers 15:16: these specific aliens and sojourners were not bound by the same laws as the Israelites, therefore they were not considered part of the community.

They were not considered citizens, as it were, of Israel.

Now let’s jump forward to the New Testament.  Both Paul (Romans 13:1-7) and Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17) admonish their readers to obey the laws of whatever nations they find themselves living in.  How does one obey the law?  There’s the obvious way – by not breaking it.  The other way is to not aid and abet or encourage anyone else in breaking the law.  By turning a blind eye to the law-breaking done by anyone (in this case, illegal aliens) you are, in fact, breaking the law yourself.

A good reminder of how to deal with a lawbreaker is to remember the story of Onesimus the runaway slave.  Paul didn’t pat Onesimus on the head and tell him, ‘You were right to run away; you hide here in Rome; I won’t tell your master where you are’; Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon to face whatever punishment Philemon deemed proper; he also appealed to Philemon’s mercy and offered to pay restitution for whatever the slave had set Philemon back.  Was slavery a horrible thing?  Of course.  Did Paul understand that?  Of course.  But Paul also understood the importance of following the rules.

And that, as Christians, is something we need to do.  There are rules for becoming a citizen of this country – they may be convoluted and the wheels of government may grind exceeding slow, but that’s no excuse for bypassing them entirely.  Certainly there are ways to reform immigrations laws – but encouraging anyone to ignore them is certainly not ‘biblical’.  And that’s what anyone who endorses amnesty is doing – encouraging lawbreaking.  Rather, encourage law-abidance (if that’s a word; my spell-check didn’t underline it) and encourage realistic reforms in the laws.

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