Ex. 23:9 Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the
Damian Thompson, writing in the Daily Telegraph, has challenged the Church to come up with a new theology of immigration. The mainstream churches, he says, 'still naïvely believe that "Gospel values" demand virtually open borders'.
It is true that many church leaders see no difference between those taking advantage and genuine refugees. We should, I hope, have an instinctive compassion for a Christian refugee from
who is in fear of his life, but should that compassion be extended to the Albanian criminal trafficking women in to enforced prostitution? I saw a sign on a church in Herne Hill recently which said 'A refugee is someone who cannot go home'. Well, sometimes he is someone who will not go home, despite his responsibility to his own country.
Thompson takes Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor to task, rightly in my view, for joingin a campaign to give all illegal immigrants amnesties. He suggests furthermore that objecting to immigration and open borders is part of a mindset which sees 'nationalism', national sovereignty and national borders as outmoded concepts which inhibit global socialism.
Indeed, we have some of those open-border internationalists in the church. Their Bibles are apparently missing Genesis 11 and Acts 17. I have even heard one evangelical, part of a prominent husband and wife team, bemoaning the evils of 'nationalism' which, he seems to believe, is the cause of every war in the history of mankind. The idea that one could wave a magic wand and take away all national boundaries and tribal identities, abolishing war in the process, is as ludicrous as it is unbiblical, but that doesn't stop churches where this nonsense is preached being packed to the rafters.
Thompson's key paragraph is this:
'What makes this situation so frustrating is the pressing need for fresh Christian thinking about immigration. "Gospel values" do indeed demand a response to persecution and racism: that has not changed. What has changed is the ability of vast numbers of people to move at will across international borders, to the point where the host societies can no longer absorb them without creating fresh misery.'
Going on, Thompson asks, 'Where is the Christian leader willing to grapple with this conundrum?' Well, I am sure I am not exactly the kind of 'Christian leader' he had in mind, but, as usual, I am brash enough to have a go. And from what I see in Scripture, just saying that 'all are welcome in this place' is not quite enough.
So where do we begin? Despite my opening quote from Exodus, any consideration of this subject inevitably starts with our Lord's own comments about strangers. Twice in Luke's Gospel a foreigner is credited with more moral fibre than a Jew. The examples, of course, are the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33) and the Lepers (Luke 17:11‑19). But let us set that on side; that was just our Lord making a point.
No, the proof text on this subject is from the parable of the sheep and the goats. To the righteous: 'I was a stranger, and ye took me in', (Matt. 25:35) and to the wicked: 'I was a stranger, and ye took me not in' (Matt. 25:43). And then whatever they did, or did not do, to the destitute stranger, they did to the Lord Himself.
We gather from that passage that hospitality is a good thing. We extend that principle to the corporate body, to our nation in this case, and we say
must offer hospitality to the stranger.
But that is not the only proof text. We need to look back into the Old Testament to discover what characterises 'a stranger', how he was to be treated, what his responsibilities were and what sort of a nation Israel was like at that time to put it all into context.
A NATION WITH A NATION
The first point, from the opening scripture, is that the people of
had been strangers in
. They had been invited in, so they were not illegal immigrants, and they were invited as a courtesy to Joseph. The fact that he was Prime Minster of Egypt at the time did not hurt their cause. However, they were told (Gen 46:34) not to give offence to the host country, and indeed, they kept themselves separate, providing for themselves and ruling themselves, as a nation within a nation, doing nothing that might harm Egypt in any way.
Later, they suffered oppression, and it is this experience which the Lord draws on time and again through the books of the law to impress upon them that if a stranger joins himself to them, he must not be oppressed as they were in Egypt. 'You know what it is like to be a stranger and to be oppressed,' God seems to be saying in Ex 22:21, Lev 19:33-34 and Deut 10:18-19, 'So do not oppress strangers yourselves.'
THE STRANGER IN THE COURTS
It seems that strangers were not well-off, as they are consistently lumped in with the poor:
And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God. (Lev. 23:22, see also Lev 19:9-10 and Deut 26:11-13)
Nor were they high up the social ladder, so Israel constantly had to be reminded to extend proper justice to them:
Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen. (Deut. 27:19, see also Deut 24:17-21)
Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place. (Jer. 22:3)
However, even though justice was to be done to the stranger, he was not as of right a full citizen of Israel. A stranger could be lent money with interest (Deut 23:20) which an Israelite could not, he could be given meat from animals which died of themselves (Deut 14:21) and which might be unhealthy, which an Israelite could not, he was not allowed to offer sacrifices (Lev 22:25) and neither he nor his wife, even if she was an Israelite priest's daughter, could eat them (Ex 29:33, Lev 22:12).
UNDER THE COVENANT
The second point is that a stranger could join in with the religious life of Israel if he were circumcised, putting himself under the covenant:
Ex. 12:48 And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.
49 One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.
In that case, it seems from Numbers 15:13-16 that the stranger was then allowed to offer sacrifices and Numbers 15:25-29 shows how important it was that the stranger should have his sin atoned for by the sacrifices. And those passages both conclude by saying that all are under the same law:
Num. 15:16 One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.
Indeed, strangers had to keep all the judicial law, even if they were not part of the congregation. They were not allowed to eat blood (Lev 17:12), nor desecrate the sabbath (Ex 31:14-15, Deut 5:14).
EVERYONE IS UNDER THE SAME LAW
So the third point, and this is crucial, is that the stranger was obliged to respect not just the laws of Israel, but the lawgiver of Israel. It is beyond doubt that no stranger would be allowed to practice any false religion in Israel:
Ex. 22:20 He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.
Nor was a stranger exempted from the law against blasphemy or any other law by the fact that he might not know the Lord. The principle is that there is one God and one law deriving from that one God:
Lev. 24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.
17 And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.
18 And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.
19 And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;
20 Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.
21 And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.
22 Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.
So whether or not he became a full citizen, a stranger had to abide by all the laws of Israel and was obliged to honour the God who gave those laws.
ISRAEL WAS BLESSED
The fourth point is that those who voluntary submitted themselves to the laws of Israel did so possibly because they had been displaced (we gain that impression by their poverty and low social standing) but certainly because they saw Israel as a blessed community. After all, a 'mixed multitude' came up out of Egypt with Moses (Ex 12:38) and had ratified the covenant along with Israel. We do not know how many were circumcised and full members of the community, but they saw whose side God was on. We read in Deut 4:5-8 that other people would be looking to Israel as a 'wise and understanding people' because (a) they would see that God was always with them and (b) God's laws were superior to any others.
These sentiments are well expressed in Solomon's prayer:
1 Ki. 8:41 Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name's sake;
42 (For they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm;) when he shall come and pray toward this house;
43 Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO BRITAIN?
There is a partial sense in which that is true of Britain today; people have heard of this country's Christian heritage, and of our generosity to the stranger, and they want to be part of such a nation. But others just hear of the handouts and think we are a soft touch. Part of the problem is that the British welfare system depended upon a growing population putting in to it before they drew from it, or at least people always putting in to it as much as others were taking out. It was never designed for a mass influx of people who would take out without ever having put in. It depended also on people being as willing to work as employers were to create jobs.
It was unheard of in ancient Israel for anyone not to work or for wealthy people not to give the poor employment, even if it was through the bonded labour scheme. But theirs was a vibrant, enthusiastic, self-confident society, which knew who its God was and how He could bless and curse. Britain has been like that but isn't today.
Nevertheless, there are still things which Britain could and should do to bring the values of the whole Gospel into immigration policy. The first is that anyone who comes here should be prepared to undergo a religious test.
Politicians talk of citizenship tests in which immigrants have to know such things as where the Scouse accent is spoken, but citizenship is more than that kind, or any kind, of knowledge. It involves a shared morality and a shared religious outlook in some sense or another. That can be spoken of as a 'shared identity', but when politicians and think-tanks speak of this quality today it boils down to a enthusiasm for 'our democratic way of life', for 'tolerance' and for 'multiculturalism' which gives the game away. The religion they really want immigrants to follow is the pseudo-religion of secularism.
The ideal immigrant for our present generation of politicians would be a secular humanist like them. If they only had the courage to say that, they could frame the tests accordingly. Questions might include: 'Do you do God?' and 'Would you favour gays, lesbians and transgender people' for which the correct answers would be 'No' and 'Yes' respectively. But although that might cut the numbers down, to almost zero possibly, no politician would be honest enough to admit that those are the only people they want. And yet, paradoxically to be consistent to the Biblical witness, if Britain is now a 'secular nation' then only those prepared to acknowledge the god-surrogate behind secularism should be allowed in.
Conversely, and as I am a Christian living in a constitutionally and demographically Christian nation, I should be expected to say this, we should readily extend our hospitality only to those who acknowledge Almighty God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a policy would mean that Christians fleeing persecution in Islamic or atheist lands would find a welcome here, but that others could look for countries closer to their taste.
The 'Gospel values' with which we started dictate that anyone coming to a Christian country should be not merely resigned to living under laws derived from the Bible, but keen to do so, and just as keen to uphold and defend Christianity as the faith of this land. By restricting entrance to Christian immigrants we should be inviting people glad to work and contribute. Their Christian faith would mean they would be inherently law-abiding. Furthermore, they would support our Christian constitution against atheist incursions. Our politicians and civil servants would hate that.
It could be that the EU economic migrants are keen to work, but they are depressing wages, the recent House of Lords report has concluded they are having a negative impact on housing and public services and the police have had to admit they are the source of a crime wave. And that is even without the illegal immigrants, who have put themselves outside the law and have no place here at all.
Lastly, it is a Biblical principle that any government is charged to maintain peace and order and to defend its citizens from external aggression and internal crime and disorder. Romans 13 and 1Timothy 2 show that taxes are raised to enable wrong-doers to be brought to justice and numerous texts in both Testaments speak of collectively defending our loved ones. Out of those principles, there can be no place in a nation for those who seek to destroy it, seek to harm its citizens or seek to take advantage of its hospitality. Those who do should be expelled.
However, it is possible to see rampant immigration from those set on the destruction of our nation as a punishment from God. One of the curses that God brings on a disobedient nation is that strangers suddenly seem in control:
The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low. He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him: he shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail. (Deut. 28:43‑44)
This is exactly what people complain of in Britain today. They say they feel second-class citizens in their own country. They say that the immigrants are taking over. That leads me to view the unrestricted immigration we have today as a judgment of God upon us as much as it is a deliberate policy by our ruling class to rid Britain of its Christian heritage and its identity. As for the latter point, there can be no other explanation for the failure of those who govern us not merely not to prevent unsustainable immigration but not even to plan for it. The tower of Babel was destroyed, but the internationalists and open-border fraternity appear for all the world to be trying to rebuild it as a globalist borderless godless utopia.
So once again, we come back to the need for national repentance. The godless politicians need to be replaced with God-fearing ones who believe Britain should remain a Christian nation. Rules on immigration should reinforce that policy. Damian Thompson asked for a new theology of immigration based on Gospel values. I hope this is a start.