What The Bible Says
I checked, and you can too. We have a problem.
What the Bible says about how we must treat travelers and refugees in distress does not change by an iota from Leviticus to Luke. The Old Testament and Jesus are perfectly eye-to-eye. The Bible’s position is very simple: cruelty to travelers, immigrants, or strangers is categorically forbidden. Not just cruelty, but indifference as well; both Testaments specifically require believers to actively show refugees and travelers kindness, feed them, take them in, etc., even at one’s own personal expense and inconvenience.
There are really two Christian issues going on with immigration today. The first is how the Bible says Christians must treat refugees, and the second is how the Christian obligation to obey civil laws applies.
The first question couldn’t be easier. Malachi 3:5, (see below) sums it up succinctly. The Lord of Hosts emphatically lumps in people who turn their backs on refugees in need with the lowest of the low. If you don’t speak 17th C. poetical English, in modern terms, the verse is God talking. He is poking His people in the chest with a giant index finger and telling them to be warned, that on Judgement Day, if you’ve been evil to immigrants and refugees, he is going to make it his personal business to be a witness for the prosecution. In that context, you hardly need a specific rule against making an example of refugee families who are applying for asylum by seizing their children and imprisoning the parents without trial; it literally goes without saying. The prophet Malachi presumes the reader is not a complete idiot.
Quotes with chapter and verse are below. You can look them up and check for yourself whether I’m cherry-picking or taking this stuff out of context, but I can tell you now that you won’t find much wiggle room. Jesus takes a similar position to that of the Old Testament, except that He doesn’t threaten to show up personally on Judgment Day to accuse you. Presumably, Jesus doesn’t have to, what with being the appointed judge and all.
All the above is core Christian belief for every denomination I’ve ever heard of. A given Christian may or may not comply, but the Bible’s position on this is so unambiguous that there isn’t much to talk about. It’s like adultery in that respect, one of those “what part of thou shalt not did you not understand?” things.
Not everything in the Bible is so simple. For instance, you can legitimately argue about whether “Thou shalt not kill” literally means kill at all, or whether it means something more like “murder” because there is killing in the Bible that seems to be approved of. Be that as it may, there’s nothing ambiguous regarding refugees, no counter-example, no gray areas, no seemingly implicit exceptions; it is crystal clear. (It’s actually not so much Christian or Jewish as Abrahamic because it’s pretty much the same in Islam and the minor Abrahamic faiths you might not have heard of.)
The other point I keep hearing brought up is more interesting.
Sara Sanders and others have told the administration’s Christian supporters that they should feel OK about this policy because, although it’s unfortunate, the laws that allow this are on the books and the Bible requires obedience to civil law. She’s not wrong about the obeying civil law part. In Matthew 22:21, Jesus says “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are Gods.” There are similar passages in Romans, First Peter, and elsewhere. It’s pretty clear.
But while Sanders is correct that the Bible says that, it’s not the whole story. There is a glaring fallacy in her position.
You have to consider who is talking and to whom they are referring. These passages addressed the Jewish citizens of a captive province of The Roman Empire. In a normal all-Jewish context, the issue wouldn’t come up because the Jewish civil and religious laws were not distinct. The issue arises in the New Testament because, after the conquest of Judea by the Romans in 63BC, the Jews were being ruled by non-Jews and were being killed in droves because they refused to obey Roman laws that were inconsistent with their religion. (I say Jews and not Christians because almost all Christians were still Jews at that time.)
So, yes, the Bible does say that if the lawful government makes a demand of a Christian, then he or she must comply. Note, however, that it doesn’t say that simply because a Christian must perform action X if the authorities demand it, the Christian is therefore licensed to perform action X of his or her own volition.
The distinction is critical because, in Biblical-speak, Donald Trump is not Caesar. His position is more analogous to that of Pontius Pilate. Trump is powerful, but he reports to Caesar. The United States is a democracy, so in Biblical terms, the Caesar in question is actually us and nowhere does the Bible say, suggest, or even hint, that Caesar gets a pass.
The current administration could not have been elected without the support of the Evangelical community, and indeed, could not even function day-to-day without the vociferous support of its “base”, of which Evangelicals are the most powerful and cohesive group. In fact, the degree to which the current administration plays to its base is unprecedented in American political life. Therefore, while it may be possible to argue (although I believe it would be incorrect) that a particular Christian must submit to the orders of a particular ICE agent, Christians as a group aren’t excused for supporting their president in this matter because he’s not the boss—we are!
Unlike the situation in ancient Judea, in our time, the Christian community has the power to compel Pontius Pilate to walk away from this policy merely by speaking out against what is being done in our name.
Caesar urgently needs to see Malachi 3:5 or Luke 10:29-37. We are all going to have plenty to explain on Judgement Day without this stuff getting brought up.
Chapter and Verse
The following excerpts are by no means exhaustive but certainly gives the essence of what the Bible has to say about refugees and the traveling poor. These are from the King James Version, but you won’t find any significant differences in other translations.
33 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Translation: You must not hassle immigrants and refugees within your borders. Treat them like your own family. You were refugees in Egypt once. Do I need to remind you who is talking to you?
10 And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the Lord your God.
Translation: You must not take every last thing you are legally entitled to. Leave something for the poor and those passing through. This is not a suggestion—I am telling you this as your God.
18 He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.
19 Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt
Translation: He does for orphans, widows, and refugees what their own father would have. You must be like this and love the refugee—after all, you were refugees yourself once, in Egypt.
9 Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Translation: You must not hassle immigrants or refugees. You should feel some sympathy, given that you used to be one yourself in Egypt.
5 And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.
Translation: God is saying to his people, if you are a witch, or an adulterer, if you swear falsely against people in court, if you rip off widows and orphans or turn your back on refugees or deny them what should be theirs, or if you don’t fear me (i.e., believe in me) I will make it my personal mission to tell it all on Judgment Day.
Using the title The Lord of Hosts is significant. It’s the Biblical equivalent of underlining who is talking with a red Sharpie.
32 The stranger did not lodge in the street: but I opened my doors to the traveler.
Translation: In earlier verses, Job tells how hard he has tried to always be the man God wanted him to be, but God nevertheless continues to punish him. When Job, the best man in the Old Testament, tries to come up with something that might redeem him in the eyes of God, having been decent to refugees as one of a handful of things that he thinks might be in the ballpark.
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Translation: I was hungry, thirsty and a refugee, and you took me in and fed me. You gave me clothes when had none, and visited me when I was sick and when I was in prison.
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Translation: You obey all the laws of the Torah when you love your neighbor as you love yourself. (The author of Galatians knows the broad definition of “neighbor” specifically given by Jesus in the context of a traveler. It means everyone. See next item.)
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.