American politicians, religious leaders, and lay citizens have offered comment on the connection between biblical teachings and immigration issues.
Many have used their interpretation of the Bible to endorse open borders and amnesty for illegal immigrants in the country. There is just one problem that plagues these claims: The Bible contains numerous passages that do not support amnesty and instead support the rule of law.
The Scriptures clearly indicate that God charges civil authorities with preserving order, protecting citizens, and punishing wrongdoers. A prime passage is Romans 13:1-7: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Neither God nor the Bible ever rewards lawlessness (1 Timothy 1: 8-10).
Consider Leviticus 19:33-34, frequently cited by amnesty advocates: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 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.”
Mass-immigration and amnesty advocates claim that these passages mandate that a society welcome any and all foreigners. But such passages do not mean that foreigners should disregard civil laws to enter illegally or that we should overlook it when they do. The law God laid down for Israel allowed legal distinctions to be drawn between natives and non-natives.
Also, the Hebrew term for “sojourn,” as well as the dictionary definition, means “temporary stay.” A related term used in some scriptural translations is “stranger.” So this passage offers no scriptural sanction for allowing millions of illegal immigrants to remain permanently in the United States. In the New Testament, the word “stranger” denotes one who is simply unknown (The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible), not someone who is a foreigner.
Related to the Leviticus citation is the passage about treatment of “the least of these my brothers” – the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the prisoner. This quote from Matthew 25: 31-46 plainly is based on individual acts of kindness and does not mandate a public policy. A note in the New Interpreter’s Bible says, “… it is the individual human beings, not nations as corporate political structures, that stand before the judgment.”
Finally, Bible passages support borderd (Exodus 19:12), boundaries (Deuteronomy 32:8; Proverbs 22:28), standards (Numbers 2:17), and order (Isaiah 9:7). Borders and boundaries are consistent and important principles throughout the Bible, being mentioned some 200 times in one context or another. This suggests little biblical support for anyone’s claim to have a “right” to live somewhere illegally.
Americans need not apologize for wanting to uphold the rule of law. We have every right to be a sovereign nation. Our nation has a wonderful tradition of welcoming newcomers. Furthermore, we admit more than one million legal immigrants a year, far more than any other country.
There is a difference, though, between those who play by the rules and come in the right way and those who don’t. And the Bible’s commentary on strangers and foreigners makes that clear.
Congressman Smith represents the 21st District of Texas. He serves as chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee and is a former chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee. Rep. Smith founded the Border Security Caucus.