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Van Ens: How to treat Jesus, the refugee

Some people puff their racial identity by putting other nationalities on lower rungs. They depict these immigrants as perpetrators or abettors of crime, cheats on welfare, and mentally inferior rabble.

Part of the Christmas story that does not draw headlines sketches Jesus’ refugee family. Escaping King Herod’s murderous rampage, Mary and Joseph with their newborn flee to Egypt. Herod ordered Jewish boys 2 years and younger slaughtered. He wanted to block Jesus from becoming a competitor to Herod’s royal prestige and power (Matthew 2:13-18).

American history records how immigrant groups have ranked themselves higher than other refugees seeking U.S. citizenship. Historian Thomas Andrews describes nationalities stepping over each other to reach higher social rungs. “The Welsh and Scots despised the Irish, the French bore a grudge against the Germans, and the Germans claimed superiority over the Poles, who could not forgive the Austrians, who despised African Americans, who distrusted Yankees, who saw Hispanos as dirty and primitive” (Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008).



Biblical teachings dismantle this social ladder. Scripture treats immigrants respectfully, which riles some Christians. The Bible’s insistence on accepting people from diverse backgrounds and nations sounds to some conservative believers like an over-the-top open southern border policy writ large.

“For the Lord your God … shows no partiality. … He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the immigrant residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18.



“Do not mistreat or oppress an immigrant, for you [ancient Hebrews] were immigrants in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

“God protects the immigrants who live in our land” (Psalm 146:9).

“Remember to welcome immigrants in your homes” (Hebrews 13:2).

“Don’t take advantage of the poor or needy workers, whether they are fellow Israelites or immigrants who live in your land and your cities” (Deuteronomy 24:15).

“The Lord Almighty says, ‘I will appear among you to judge, and I will testify against those … who take advantage of widows, orphans, and immigrants—against all who do not respect me” (Malachi 5:5).

“When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love immigrants as yourself because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt… (Leviticus 19: 33-34).

“The Lord gave this message to the prophet Zechariah: ‘You must see that justice is done and must show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans and immigrants who live among you, or anyone in need” (Zechariah 7:9-10).

“When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field; and don’t gather up every remaining bit of your harvest…. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant…” (Leviticus 9: 9-10).

“Stop taking advantage of immigrants, orphans and widows” (Jeremiah 7:6).

“’Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or an immigrant or naked or sick or in prison and did not serve you?’ Then the Lord will answer them, ‘As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me’” (Matthew 25:44-45).

Treating immigrants fairly and with respect is a prominent biblical theme.

Some evangelical Christians, the largest bloc of supporters for President Donald Trump’s border security policies, blunt the force of scriptural teachings about immigrants in a variety of ways.

Some get peeved such teachings are in the Bible and whittle down God’s Word to passages that rubberstamp their political preferences.

Others refer to the Bible as “ancient scripture,” as if it says nothing pertinent to today’s southern border controversy.

Still more treat the Bible as a bevy of ideals lacking practical application to current immigrant policy.

Others claim all biblical references to “immigrants” refer to the law-abiding refugees who leave their kids south of the border, like to live in cages, aren’t asylum seekers, heed a broken system of immigration laws and willingly wait decades to have their cases adjudicated in a U.S. courts.

Thomas Jefferson took a different approach to immigrants. Most evenings, he tucked himself in bed and read the New Testament scriptures in the original Greek. He also recognized some Hebraic phrases in the Jewish Torah.

In his first State of the Union message written to Congress in 1801, Jefferson inquired, “…shall we refuse to the unhappy fugitives from distress [immigrants] that hospitality which the … [Native Americans] of the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this land? Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?”

Many Christians describe their key trait as “People of the Book [the Bible].” They identify as “Bible-believing Christians.”

If so, practice kindness, respect, and compassion for immigrants, including Jesus and his Holy Family.

The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries, (www.thelivinghistory.com) which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations that make God’s history come alive.


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