Bible Implores Us To Welcome Foreigners, Refugees
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Around the country, millions of Christians gathered to pray this morning. They listened to homilies, sang hymns, read devotional texts, and prayed for the health and safety of our leaders and our world. Countless pastors and preachers undoubtedly spoke from the pulpit on the necessity of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries.
They likely praised Trump’s action because the order prioritizes members of “minority religions” from those places and grants them special privileges that other refugees don’t enjoy. In practice, the executive order places a higher priority on Christian refugees. Sure, there are adherents to other minority religions who will be affected, but the primary focus is Christians.
I’m not now nor have I ever been a Christian. I’m pretty sure I’ve said more than a few times here that I’m an observant Jew and I often approach the world from that perspective. I have a master’s degree in Jewish education from one of the best programs at one of the best universities in the world. I’m most definitely not new to religion, scripture, and theology, and even though I’m not Christian I’ve devoted a bit of time to studying it in order to learn more about my friends and neighbors.
Considering how much I’ve studied scripture and theology, I’m absolutely racking my brain trying to figure out how someone who calls themseves a Christian can support a ban on refugees. I don’t understand how anyone can say that the Bible is the word of God while simultaneously saying they’re commanded to deny sanctuary to vulnerable refugees.
Exodus 22:20 says, “Do not persecute and do not oppress the foreigner, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” It doesn’t get more explicit than a blatant prohibition on persecution and oppression directed at refugees.
Numbers 15:15 tells us that strangers and residents should be treated equally before the law and before God. If we take a step back into the larger context, there are four (four!) different commands that make it clear that the law should be exactly the same for foreigners and residents found in Numbers 15:14-16.
Exodus 12:49 makes it even more explicit: “There shall be one law for the citizen and for the foreigner who resides among you.” That's a direct translation.
Exodus 23:9 commands believers not to oppress the foreigner because we know the feelings — literally, because we “know the soul” — of the foreigner, because we were also foreigners (refugees) in the land of Egypt.
What Christians call the Old Testament — and what us Jews just call the Bible — is absolutely filled with references to foreigners. Abraham was explicitly called a refugee. The Israelites were refugees from their homeland as they left and went down to Egypt, and in no uncertain terms, Leviticus 19:18 commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
When discussing Christian theology, many are quick to point out that Jesus negated much of the law contained in the Jewish Bible, and they’re right. It’s why Christians don’t observe the dietary laws or many of the other customs that observant Jews follow.
Because of this disparity between Jewish theology and Christian theology, I decided to go a bit farther in my research and look at some of what’s written in what Chrisians call the New Testament. Here’s what I found:
In Mark 12:31 Jesus directly quotes Leviticus 19:18 saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater.” That’s pretty clear, huh?
Matthew 25:35-46 warns very explicitly that people who do not feed those who are hungry, clothe the naked, or welcome the stranger will “go away into eternal punishment.” (Can you get more clear than the threat of eternal damnation for not welcoming the stranger? I don’t think you can.)
In Romans 12:13, Paul declares that the mark of a true Christian is shown in one who is quick to “extend hospitality to strangers.” A few verses earlier he warns those listening not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect. (12:2) He continues, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (15:7)
Hebrews 13:1-2 begs to “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angles without knowing it.” Who knows what potential we’re denying by refusing to extend a welcome to the vulnerable.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of all Biblical sources from either the Hebrew or Christian Bibles that show how strongly believers are commanded to welcome the refugee who is in need. According to the scripture, it is not just a duty but a moral imperative to welcome the stranger.
I’ll certainly be the first to say that religious beliefs should never mix with government policy. Specifically as an religiously observant person, I want the government to stay far, far away from my religious practices and theology. But I’d also be naive to say there aren’t many, many people who believe their religious positions deserve a place of superiority both within our law and within our government. Many of these folks are consulting and advising President Trump and specifically recommended this executive order. They’re also the same people who have made a living by being professional Christians in the Evangelical and other fundamentalist churches have often said that one cannot claim to be a true Christian if they willingly ignore what’s in Scripture.
So I return to my original question: How can anyone who claims to believe the Bible is the direct word of God support President Trump’s executive order banning refugees? How can you call yourself a Christian and so blatantly ignore these verses? I honestly don’t understand.
Robbie Medwed is an Atlanta-based LGBTQ activist, educator, and writer. He’s absolutely sick of people using their religion as an excuse to persecute and harm those they dislike. Follow him on Twitter: @rjmedwed