How should Christians approach the issue of immigration?

Thomas Turton looks to Christianity to figure out just what the Christian position on immigration is


Well if I had been hoping for a monthly topic that was non-controversial to discuss in terms of Christianity,  immigration certainly wouldn’t have been the topic of choice! The conversation around immigration tends to be extremely toxic, often with both sides, that is those who want open borders compared with those who want controls, declaring each other to be unchristian. Here I hope to demonstrate, through the Bible, how both sides get it completely wrong. For the sake of brevity, I will call them the “Controlled borders” and “Open borders” sides, even though I respect that there are a range of views on this spectrum. The Bible, as always has a Godly solution for a Christian to think about Immigration.

What the “Controlled borders” argument sometimes gets wrong

This is in many ways an easier part of the article to write. The concept of Habeas Corpus for all people is written into the Levitical law of the Old Testament: “You shall have the same law for the stranger and for the one from your country; for I am the Lord your God” (Lev 24:22, see also Deuteronomy 16:14 and Exodus 20:10) . Further still, we are commanded explicitly by God in Exodus “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” (Exod 22:21) . These laws are part of the Moral law of Christianity, meaning their spirit has not changed and Christians are still commanded to obey it. There is no room for racism, or partiality in treatment purely on the basis of being foreign in terms of the law. People who mistreat foreigners must be punished, foreigners must be treated with the dignity due to their status as an image of God. It also shows a sign post in the Old Testament for the eventual inclusion of the whole of humanity in covenant with Christ. The Moral law of Christianity applies to everyone, as we are all citizens of God’s world, much like UK law must apply to everyone in the country equally.


Further still, we can point to Jesus’ commands to “Love your neighbour” Mark 12:31 to show that we must, by Christian necessity, take those in who are genuinely needy. (See Luke 14, Luke 10, and many other Gospel examples for more). It is right to be charitable as a nation, and those calling for no refugees to be allowed into the country for example are not behaving in a Christian fashion. I have long lived in a country that takes in refugees, and I hope that Britain’s proud tradition based upon Christ commands continues. Thus, those of us who advocate a controlled border need to assess our motivations behind wishing for limits. It should not be based purely on a wish to keep foreigners out, nor can it be based upon hoarding our comparative wealth as a nation away from the needy in other countries. We should remember that our own God, Christ was forced to flee places on pain of death, including the place where he called home because of his claims.  However, there are legitimate reasons for having limits. Which I will address now.

What the ‘Open Borders’ argument sometimes gets wrong

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It is stated very emphatically in 1 Timothy 5:8 “If anyone fails to provide for his own, and especially for his own household he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” So in context, this means Christians have a priority towards other Christians, and towards our own families. Put plainly, if we help those in need in other countries before we help those in poverty in our own country, then we are not more righteous because of it. It also shows that those who advocate prioritising, for example, Syrian Christians for refugee quotas are not showing unchristian partiality but in fact are obeying a command from God. Yes, we should take care of refugees, no this should not come at the expense of the essential needs of our own families or our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Further still, immigrants expecting special treatment (for example the unspoken Blasphemy law surrounding Islam) should not be humoured. We are to have the same law for the sojourner and for the one from our country, thus what is not compatible with Christianity (Sharia Law and their corresponding Courts for example) is not to be imported into this country. Much the same as before, we are to have the same law for the stranger as we do for the one for our own country (Lev 24:22). Further still, deportation of foreign individuals who commit crimes in the UK is fully compatible with the Christian faith. Immigrants must respect the laws of our country, and likewise, we must respect the laws of those countries we enter, provided they do not cause us to go against God’s law. This means for example, it is not a denial of the faith for a Christian woman to cover her hair in an Islamic country, and she should comply with it should that be the law. However, if  she is asked to recite the Shahada by the authorities, she must not do it. As Jesus states to us “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and render to God what is God’s” (Matthew 12:21)

We also see several examples of what we are to do when people are not willing to work for themselves and prioritisation of needs in the Bible. Aside from what we see about the need to look after “one’s own” (referring to the Church and most importantly one’s own family) . In Thessalonians, Paul makes things very clear: “For when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” , this is specifically so “that we might not be a burden to anyone” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 8) . In the same way, for those unwilling to work in this country, rather than simply being unable to work (which is a different context), we as Christians have no obligation to help. The Bible actually goes further , saying that “if anyone does not obey the words in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, and let him be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother” (ibid 3:15). So, we are to encourage those who come to our country to follow our rules and seek work, and have no duty from a Christian perspective to actively care for those who refuse to work and are able to do so.

Similar prioritisation is done by Jesus to Judas, who complained that the gold that was being put at his feet could be used to help the poor, Jesus responded “The poor you will have with you always, but me you do not have always” (John 12:8) . Simply put, if a church can’t function because it is giving so much to the poor that it can’t afford to pay its minister or for its building, it is not using its wealth wisely. In a similar fashion, if we accept so many immigrant dependants that we cannot function, we are not being generous but reckless. It is also noteworthy that many of our services do rely on foreign workers in this country, and this should be a concern for us as Christians, not merely for the sake of our own people, whose training is neglected, but for the brain-drain we cause in other countries. It is indeed possible for an act of charity to actually be done for boastful or selfish reasons, much like Judas does in John 12. In these cases the act of charity is not necessarily a virtuous one. A more modern example can be seen in Pope Francis’ denunciation of Trump’s policy towards Mexican immigrants (which was in some ways justified, as Trump did fuel his campaign to some degree on anti-Hispanic prejudice) that “anyone who talks about building walls wherever they may be,  and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Clearly no-one told God in his commands to Nehemiah to build a wall! (See Nehemiah 3 and 4)   Francis was extremely silent on Hilary’s social policies as well, which said a lot. Simply put, virtue signalling and calling for others to do charity in the name of God without considering the consequences is not Christian.

In short, there is no biblical mandate to have open borders, and in fact the Bible does not count it as righteous if we are charitable and fail to look after our own families as a result. We should recognise the limitations on our own resources and bring in those who are willing to obey the law, as well as numbers of people that are being persecuted in other countries in manageable numbers. Further still, those seeking to come to the UK should follow the legitimate pathways, showing respect to the authorities that is due to their God-given duty.   However, there is a caution in the Bible as to how we are to treat foreigners. Our current government often does not treat refugees who come here with the dignity they deserve. When organisations with known track records of treating refugees poorly such as G4S are given control over our detention centres, and people are treated as criminals simply for travelling to the UK under DTF laws, Christians have a duty to speak out against the oppression of foreigners, as God commands us to do in Exodus. Thus, the Bible gives us a strong answer to those who tell us to be either reckless or racist with our immigration policy: that oppression treats our status as an image of God with contempt, but recklessness treats our God-given wealth with contempt as well. As such, Christians should take a suspicious approach to any politician who says that it is a Christian mandate to be recklessly charitable in our immigration policy, but must firmly reject racism and anti-immigrant prejudice with the same vigour and love.

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