Christians, aliens, foreigners, and strangers


Today the United States Supreme Court heard arguments over whether Arizona (which borders Mexico) exceeded its authority when it passed Senate Bill 1070, which requires state and local law enforcement, among other things, to verify the citizenship status of anyone stopped, detained, or arrested if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the United States illegally and makes it a state crime for illegal aliens to work or seek work. (See Emily Belz's Web Extra report from Washington.)

The Obama administration claims Arizona is overstepping its authority, while Arizona contends SB 1070 mirrors federal law and assists the federal government with enforcement. States pass such laws because the federal government refuses to act, and citizens and legal aliens have to deal with the negative consequences. Hopefully, the nation's highest court will rule in favor of the law-abiding.

How should Christians respond in the so-called illegal immigration debate? Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, opposes laws like SB 1070. In fact, he favors immigration reform, a euphemism for amnesty. "Hospitality is not at the margins of Scripture," he said earlier this year at the G92 South Immigration Conference at Samford University. "Jesus wasn't kidding around when He said, 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'"

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Scripture misapplication notwithstanding, Christians certainly are called to be compassionate, but are we called to welcome lawbreakers? In light of such questions, Professor James K. Hoffmeier, author of The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible (Crossway, 2009), investigated what the Bible has to say about foreigners/strangers/visitors in a host country. The relevant terms he found are ger, zar, and nekhar. Zar and nekhar refer to people passing through, but only ger refers to foreigners who live in the land with the host's permission.

"The law is clear that ger is not to be oppressed," Hoffmeier wrote in an email interview with the Gospel Coalition, "but to receive equal justice, and have access to the social support system of ancient Israel. And there was a provision for religious inclusion, but they were also obligated to live in accordance with the laws just like the Israelites."

Does the same apply to aliens who don't have the host country's permission? Hoffmeier says no: "From this I conclude that ger was viewed as a legal alien. The mistake of some well-meaning Christians is to apply the biblical laws for the ger to illegal aliens in America even though they do not fit the biblical legal and social definition." Illegal aliens, by definition, are not obeying the host country's laws.

That Christians are to treat illegal aliens humanely is beyond dispute. That Christians should support immigration reform or oppose deportation is very much in dispute. Rewarding unlawful behavior for some, while others are waiting in line to go through proper channels to remain in and become citizens of this great country, is indefensible.

To Christ-professing illegal aliens who might be reading this column, I pose a question: How do you reconcile your presence in the United States with your faith generally and Romans 13 specifically?

La Shawn Barber
La Shawn Barber

La Shawn writes about culture, faith, and politics. Her work has appeared in the Christian Research Journal, Christianity Today, the Washington Examiner, and other publications


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