Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

31 Jan 2017

Christians and the Immigration Crisis: A Few Thoughts


Donald Trump’s stay on admitting certain immigrants has brought out a raft of evangelical critics, especially those who see everything as an immediate gospel issue. Arguing from the facts that (1) God says nice things about foreigners in the Bible (e.g., Lev 19:33–34) and that (2) we have to be nice to foreigners or we’ll never have an audience with them to share the gospel, these express astonishment that a Christian could ever support an immigration ban of any sort. How, we might ask, can the Gospel be forwarded if we anger or injure those to whom we are sent with the Gospel?

It’s a redirection of the selfsame arguments that pacifists have been using for centuries to oppose war—and just as misguided. The following are a few thoughts in response:

  • The Bible’s testimony about foreigners is far from uniform. Foreigners were often exempted from the legal protections that extended to fellow-Israelites (esp. in instances of war and its aftermath). Indeed, foreigners are the subject of a substantial majority of the judgments and imprecations of the Hebrew Scriptures (which we should expect in view of Genesis 12 & 15).
  • Old Testament rules for the treatment of sojourners govern contributing members of society who had assimilated to Israelite society and sometimes can even be seen seeking explicit permission for their “sojourning.” The privileges and protections afforded sojourners (i.e., legal immigrants) did not apply to just any foreigner at all. Oh, and by the way, since we’re on the topic of equivocation, the biblical idea of “sanctuary cities” has absolutely nothing in common with the modern concept. Equivocation and selective proof-texting may win arguments, but that doesn’t make them good arguments.
  • Having said all this, we also observe that the Old Testament is scarcely the right place to go for this topic anyway. We’re dealing there with a theocratic state consisting of a kingdom of priests for the nations. God actually expected the nations to stream to Israel as their principal means of national blessing and as a place of prayer. This is scarcely the case today. The expectation today is for believers to go with the Gospel to every nation, not to wait for them to arrive here. That’s not to say, of course, that we can’t share the gospel with those who come to our doorstep, but this situation is actually anomalous to the church’s ordinary mission.
  • Finally, foreign policy is not an ecclesiastical/gospel concern. Unlike the Neokuyperian approach that sees the church as dabbling in every sphere of life as part of its mission, the NT Scriptures are silent about church involvement in nationalist concerns and matters of foreign policy. We simply adapt to what is there. Nor, in fact, should governments be influenced by Gospel concerns. At all. Governments are to be concerned with the sword-bearing punishment of evildoers and promotion of those who do well for the purpose of facilitating a tranquil and quiet life (Rom 13:4 and 1 Peter 2:14 with 1 Tim 2:2).

Now I will insert here the requisite caveat that, as believers and dual citizens with membership both in civil society and in ecclesiastical communities, we often find ourselves in a paradox of what at times seem to be conflicting concerns. Surely, believers should remove from their arguments all racial generalizations, venom, and vitriol no matter which side of the debate we are on; further, we should be doing good to all men and maximizing the reach of the Christian Gospel in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. But it is not the church’s mission to direct the course of human governments to the single end of Gospel success as though that is the only end for which God created the universe.

7 Responses

  1. Mark Snoeberger

    Dan, yours does not seem to be a serious comment born of an thoughtful attempt to bring the full weight of Scripture upon every aspect of life, and I doubt you are really looking for an answer, but since you asked…

    These are very, very different issues and only the most simplistic ethic could equate them. Baking a cake for a gay marriage is a decision by an individual Christian that stems from a careful attempt to balance being in the world against being of it. Romans 14:22–23 comes to mind as a useful guide here, where a believer’s conscience is to direct him in instances where it is difficult to discern whether or not one might be participating in sin by his actions. I’m not prepared to say that there is one “right” answer to this issue (i.e., I haven’t said baking the cake is “bad”; in fact, I haven’t even brought it up).

    The immigration question is a question of state that weighs questions of foreign and fiscal policy, national defense, and state welfare, all of which come legitimately to bear on the question in complex and disparate ways. Believers surely may formulate opinions here, but the decision is not an ecclesiastical or even a Christian issue. It’s a civil matter.

    The idea that seems to emanate from your post, viz., that all Christians have some vague responsibility to be naively and generically “nice” to everybody because they’re Christians, simply does not meet the complex demands of the situations in view or the rich detail of the biblical record. Perhaps I’ve missed your point, as it was stated in somewhat clipped and sardonic terms, so feel free to push back if I have missed your point.

  2. Les

    I appreciate your post, Dr. S! Much of what I see from the evangelical community about the immigration ban is not based on sound theological thinking.

  3. Rick Yokel

    Dr. Snoeberger,

    I am puzzled by your post. Are you arguing that the Gospel has no place in secular government or public policy? That would mean that the God-designed humanitarian call to love your neighbor as yourself would be excluded from public policy. Compassion is not incompatible with competent governance. Is the government off-limits to Gospel-influenced reasoning? If it is, on what basis and in what venue do we oppose Roe v. Wade? Are we to passively “adapt to what is there” or should we be actively seeking to improve what is there? You derisively equate Trump’s evangelical critics to “pacifists”. But doesn’t your laissez-faire, non-interventionist position encourage Christian silence as to what is happening in the halls of power? Weren’t Christians silent in Germany in 1933? Your last sentence is the most puzzling of all. If redemptive love isn’t the chief goal of God’s comprehensive plan for humanity (including human government), then what is? Was Daniel wrong to try to persuade Nebuchadnezzar to repent in his national policies (Daniel 4:27)? We must be vigilant with our security, but we must also be generous with our prosperity (1 John 3:17). Although I know better, someone could misconstrue your post to be stridently arguing that we are Americans before we are Christians.

  4. Mark Snoeberger

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think we’re getting somewhere with these kinds of questions. In arguing that the Bible has as its mitte more than simple redemption, I am adopting a model that Luther called the “Two Kingdoms” and Calvin the “Two Governments” of God. The idea here is that the centerpiece of all God’s activity is not “redemptive love” alone (else he would simply redeem everyone), but also the development of a civil kingdom that operates on the basis of common grace and natural law.

    The believer is a member of both “kingdoms” (ecclesiastical and civil) and must live out both memberships in integrity, rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. So in response to your very last comment, I would argue (hopefully not stridently) that we must be equally (1) members of God’s church forwarding the Great Commission, and (2) members of civil society forwarding the Great Commandment, with neither mission serving the other, per se, but as a twofold mission of God.

    This being the case, I argue for the Presbyterian (and early dispensational) idea of the “spirituality of the church,” in which the institutional church has no formal role in influencing human government, though its members do have a role as individual citizens to ply whatever political stewardship is theirs to pray/work for a scenario that makes ecclesiastical goals achievable (so 1 Tim 2). So, no, I would definitely not encourage a laissez-faire approach to human government. But at the end, the believer must realize that government does not exist for the church in the “one-kingdom” model of Neokuyperian evangelicalism. Government exists for the defense of its people, the promotion of good and punishment of evil, and the establishment of a stable society in which every sphere of life (including religion) can advance.

    To summarize, the government’s sphere of concern and the church’s sphere of concern are very different, and it is the misguided attempt to merge them that fuels my blog post. There are good arguments that the government might muster for limiting immigration and good arguments for its controlled expansion (just as there are good reasons for war and good reasons for peace, hence my comparison). But the advance of the gospel is not one of them, nor should it be.

  5. Rick Yokel

    Dr. Snoeberger,

    Thank you for your thorough, explanatory response. I understand your position more clearly through your fuller statement. I appreciate your thought provoking comments on this issue. Thank you.