Is there a Biblical argument against immigration?

In my article about Brexit, I explained that I did not see the key issue as immigration. In fact between you and me, it was one of the things that so easily could have turned me off against the whole referendum.  Ironically even though Brexit focused on immigration, it wasn’t really a debate about it as both sides seemed committed to the view that on the whole immigration was a bad thing.  And were in a zero-sum game to demonstrate who could control it the most. Remember that the then Home Secretary who was responsible for the hostile environment policy was on the remain side and that David Cameron was behind the commitment to reducing immigration to the tens of thousands.

However, supposing there had been an actual debate about immigration, are there are Biblical  factors that would require Christians to be either for or against? Well, here is the key Biblical data that we need to consider:

  • The people of Israel leave Egypt as a mixed group. They are not in fact a pure race nation but are joined by others who come with them (Exodus 12:38). Moses himself marries outside of God’s people (Numbers 12:1)
  • God is described as allocating the nations their inheritance
  • The Israelites are not to intermarry with the nations around them (Deuteronomy 7:3)
  • The “sojourner” in their midst is to be welcomed and included within the provisions of the law both in terms of its requirements and its blessings (Deuteronomy 32:12)

If you are pro-immigration, you are likely to pick up on the treatment of the sojourner/alien in the midst and the mixed crowd of people  that leave Egypt. If you are anti-immigration, then you are likely to pick up on the description of God allocation the nations their inheritance and the ban in intermarriage.

There is however a problem with that.  You see, those passages are talking about Israel, God’s people. The concern for example about intermarriage was not a racial one but a religious one, that the people would be led away from worshipping the one true living God to idolatry.  It is unwise to attempt to apply directly to the UK, Bible passages that were primarily about God’s special people.  The folly of attempting this is seen when we look at the example of the allocation of the nations.  A literal interpretation of that text would require us to recognise that many modern nations are artificial constructs  and the product of migration. People of Anglo-Saxon heritage have no special Biblical claim to Britain, America or Australia.  The point of that text is not to get us debating which nations were allocated which lands and hoe best to enforce borders, rather it is to emphasise the unique status of God’s people.

So, how do we properly apply those texts? Well, first of all, good application requires us to see the Old Testament applied in Christ. There is an exclusiveness and purity to Christ and a welcome. Christ draws all people to himself and in him there is neither Jew nor Greek, that’s the welcome part. At the same time, there is exclusiveness, there is no place for sin and idolatry in him and those things must be renounced if we are to have any part in him. Secondly, if we are to apply these things to God’s people then the focus must surely be on the church. Like Christ, then church offers both exclusiveness, there is only one narrow way in through faith in Christ and inclusiveness, there is a welcome for all. In fact the image is of a diverse people from all backgrounds united in Christ.

I think that it is right to draw out some more general principles but those focus on how to behave and the attitude we should show to people once they are in our midst. There should be welcome, love and inclusion. 

I therefore would argue that whilst the Bible does not explicitly promote open borders and immigration, nor does it forbid it and we would be wise not to become legalistic about something that is not forbidden in Scripture.

Our attitude to immigration therefore is likely to be shaped by perception and experience. Has it had a positive or a negative influence? It will also be dependent on whether we see it as an opportunity or as a threat. 

My take on immigration is that on the whole it has been positive and is an opportunity.  In many ways, our culture is enriched by immigration.  Immigrants far from artificially suppressing wage demand tends to meet capacity demand in key sectors where there is labour shortage or where indigenous workers have no or little interest in filling those roles.  Much of the mass immigration in the middle of the 20th century involved workers coming to man our cotton and wool mills following the war. Many essential roles within the NHS are filled by immigrants.

Furthermore, I firmly believe that immigration has been good for the church, it has brought new life into the UK church as passionate Christians have arrived.  It has provided great opportunities for mission  as God has brought the nations to our door-step.

Above all, our priority when responding to immigration, as with everything else should be to seek God’s glory in our attitude to it.

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