Who Is My Stranger
© 4.8.05 By D. Eric Williams
Alien America is a hot topic these days and I can’t say that I’ve seen much from Christian writers on the issue (perhaps I’m just looking in the wrong place). This isn’t to say that the Bible is silent on the matter. For instance, Exodus 23:9 records God’s instructions to the Israelites concerning treatment of “strangers” or foreigners. There we read, “…you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The Hebrew word here is ger meaning sojourner. Basically a sojourner or stranger is anyone who does not live among his own people (narrowly defined as his own blood relatives). Thus the Israelites were strangers in Egypt for the entire 200 plus years they were there; indeed they were strangers in “greater Egypt” from the time of Abraham and remained as much until God brought them into the promise land under the leadership of Joshua.
Basically the command found in Exodus 23:9 (cf. Deut. 10:18-19) says that the laws of the commonwealth should apply equally to the home born and the foreign born – even if the foreigner is not a citizen1. The difference between the Exodus citation and the one found in Deuteronomy is that the first deals (primarily), with civil law while the second touches on the “merely moral” aspects of the law2 and enjoins the people of Israel to be charitable toward the stranger (along with the fatherless and widow).
Obviously as Christians we cannot separate “merely moral” and civic law. What I’m getting at is that while it is right to recognize the foreigner as a special interest group (?), in need of specific protection under the law it is wrong to mandate charity toward the foreigner. In other words it is wrong for our government to tax its citizens in order to provide charity (welfare), to the “less fortunate” foreign or otherwise. And by the way, the stranger is not necessarily “less fortunate” as in down and out. As I mentioned above, Abraham was a stranger and a sojourner in Canaan even though he was a very wealthy man. The point is, specific protection under the law should be extended to the foreigner no matter what his financial status. Thus our convictions concerning proper treatment of foreigners is informed by all of the Bible; we seek to enact law that views the foreigner as one who needs protection. Nevertheless, we stop well short of attempting to bring the Kingdom to pass through the power of the State.
Now, what do I mean by enacting laws to extend specific (or special), protection to a foreigner? That means that we should enact laws that make it a criminal offence to treat foreigners any differently than we treat citizens. You might think that’s redundant. Apparently God didn’t think so, because He made it a point to deliver a specific command concerning strangers in the midst of providing guidelines for a just court system.
So, what does this have to do with immigration? Well, think of it this way; as a citizen should there be any restrictions on your entering and leaving this country? The answer is no (unless you’re a law-breaker attempting to escape, or whatever). Therefore, there should be no restrictions on the (law abiding), foreigner who wants to enter (or leave), this country. Some of you will immediately begin to scream about the criminals and terrorists that would flood our nation if we had open borders. But that’s just a smoke screen. I’m saying that there should be no restrictions on the law abiding stranger who wants to enter our country. Obviously a criminal or any person who is connected to terrorist organizations would be kept out (not that the criminal or terrorist is currently being kept out).
I know that affording equal justice to a stranger does not necessarily preclude enacting laws that discriminate on the basis of citizenship. For instance, citizens are allowed to vote while non-citizens are not (therefore, foreigners should not be required to pay taxes – no taxation without representation). Yet voting privileges are not akin to freedom of movement. It would be unjust to restrict the cross-border movement of a citizen who is not registered to vote, and it is unjust to restrict the cross-border movement of a law abiding foreigner.
Yet, wouldn’t open borders harm the nation by flooding the job market with workers willing to accept skimpy wages? And, isn’t it the responsibility of the civil government to protect its citizens? No and yes. This article isn’t about the economic impact of open borders – that’s a topic for another essay. But, in a nut shell, history shows us that a free nation (in case you’re wondering, this isn’t one – it’s easier to start a new business in China than in the good old USA), with open borders will thrive economically to the benefit of all3. That being the case, a government that restricts the immigration of law abiding foreigners is actually hurting its citizens.
To conclude: the stranger is supposed to be protected - by law - from oppression. I contend that restricting the entry of law abiding strangers into this country is oppressive.