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Friday, June 11, 2010

Immigration and the Bible (2)

In my last post I listed Old Testament Scriptures in two categories.  The first category had to do with how the Israelis were supposed to treat immigrants who lived among them.  The second had to do with how the law applied to those immigrants.  Those two lists can be summarized by these two Scriptures, respectively:
When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him.  The immigrant who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.  I am the LORD your God (Lev. 19:33-34).

There will be one regulation for you, whether an immigrant or a native citizen, for I am the LORD your God (Lev. 24:22).
First—just an aside—who says Leviticus isn't relevant, right?  But back to the topic at hand, note what these two representative Scriptures have in common.  Both assert that the immigrant is to be regarded exactly the same as the native-born.  Despite their different ethnicities, languages, heritages, economic standings (Israeli clans had permanent claims to land in Canaan, and non-Israelis in Israel never would, no matter how many generations they lived there) and lengths of residency, they were to be valued and treated exactly the same.

This radical equality between Israeli and immigrant in God's sight has two corollaries represented by the two Scriptures above.  First, each Israeli was to love the immigrant as his own kin, even as he loved himself.  Their lack of language skills, friends in power, and economic standing made them vulnerable, and the Israelis were never to take advantage of that.  To the contrary, as the Scriptures I listed yesterday showed, they were to go out of their way to be charitable to them as to Israeli widows and orphans, allowing them to glean their fields and even giving their tithe to them every third year.

The second corollary of the equality between Israeli and immigrant is that they were both bound by the same law.  Though most of the laws listed in the second category in my last post had to do with ritual worship, many had to do with moral statutes and personal relations as well.  In short, immigrants to Israel who wanted the benefits of living among the people of God were required to live as the people of God.  Idolatry was every bit as punishable by death for the immigrant as for the native-born.

I believe that the general principle of justice toward immigrants that God laid out for Israel is still applicable today: treat the native-born and the immigrant the same.  And I think the two radical corollaries are still applicable too.  We are to love every person who wants to live here as we love ourselves, in fact as if they are truly one of us already, as our neighbors, not our enemies.  We are also to expect them to adopt the same respect and submission to our law, values, and cultural standards that we have.  I realize that each of these statements are fighting words to different people.  They are also a long way from practical implementation, but I'll flesh them out a bit in future posts.

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