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I Understand
Volume 6.1 / Thus Saith the Lord? Biblical Restraint against Dogmatism in Immigration Debates


Thus Saith the Lord? Biblical Restraint against Dogmatism in Immigration Debates

John A. Wind
As an expression of our responsibility to "do good to all people as we have opportunity" (Gal 6:10), many Christians in varying cultural contexts rightly seek to do good to immigrants and refugees. Some Christians extend their efforts into the promotion of particular immigration policies in the public square, with the most prominent evangelical voices in the U.S. typically promoting more openness and generosity in immigration and refugee policy. Does the Bible offer support for such policies? Does the Bible offer any support for policies of less openness and more restriction? This article examines these questions, ultimately arguing that the Bible appears to validate some of the concerns of both sides of the policy debate, therefore cautioning Christians against dogmatically defining any particular immigration policy as the exclusively biblical one.

1.    Thus Saith the Lord? Biblical Restraint against Dogmatism in Immigration Debates

Dr. Amy Wax is a Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania. Before her academic life, she was an Assistant to the Solicitor General at the United States Department of Justice in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during which time she argued fifteen cases before the Supreme Court. In addition, Wax also has her medical degree, having practiced neurology in the 1980s. By almost any measure, Wax speaks as a voice of respected professional and cultural authority. Yet, when Wax presented a talk on July 15, 2019, entitled “American Greatness and Immigration: The Case for Low and Slow,” she was quickly condemned. According to Vox.com, Wax gave “an outright argument for white supremacy.”[1] Wax’s own law school dean asserted that her remarks, “At best…espouse a bigoted theory of white cultural and ethnic supremacy; at worst, they are racist.”[2] A more charitable reading of Wax is that her real concern is about culture, not race. According to Wax, “American immigration should be structure(d) to support a constructive American national identity,” including “reducing and slowing our current levels of immigration.”[3] She called this the “cultural case for [immigration] restriction.”[4] This article opens with Amy Wax not to defend everything she said, but rather to ask, “Is there any biblical or theological warrant which supports a ‘cultural case’ for immigration restriction?” Wax acknowledged in her talk that anyone making a cultural case for immigration restriction can expect to be “accused of racism, white supremacy, [and] xenophobia” – which of course, she herself immediately was.[5] But is a cultural case for immigration restriction, for lower levels of immigration, necessarily racist, or does biblical wisdom give any support to these cultural concerns? Put more broadly, is the Christian perspective on immigration policy within nation-states today (particularly within those nations having a more participative form of government which allows Christian citizens a political voice) always in the direction of increased openness or is it ever in the direction of increased restriction?

Before offering an answer to these questions, a more fundamental question must be considered: Should Christians even appeal to Scripture when formulating public policy positions? After all, the ethics and regulations of Old Testament Israel were specific to a unique, theocratic covenant community within which institutional religion and civil government were fused (as some have said, fusing “cult” and “culture”). Likewise, the New Testament church is a covenant community – though in contrast to Old Testament Israel, a community now distinct from any particular civil government and instead properly finding its place contextualized within each human society or nation-state. Should the ethical standards and practices of these two unique covenant communities be so readily transferred into matters of public policy within the secular and religiously-mixed civil societies of today? In the area of immigration policy, Christians have often appealed to the covenant responsibilities of Old Testament Israel for “sojourners” or “resident aliens” within the borders of the covenant land in order to argue that Christians in the United States (or elsewhere) ought to favor more open immigration policies. But can these Old Covenant responsibilities be transplanted from their original context and audience into the dramatically different context and audience of a contemporary society and still maintain their authoritative force?

One scholar who has long argued that Old Testament ethics can be brought authoritatively to bear on contemporary life in this manner is Christopher J. H. Wright. Through his “paradigmatic method” for Old Testament ethics, Wright believes that “what God did with Israel in their land functions for us as a model or paradigm from which we draw principles and objectives for our socio-ethical endeavor in secular society.”[6] Wright’s method means that Christians today should use the Old Testament to guide us authoritatively as we engage in “specific policy and action in our world” with “much more sharply articulated objectives” in matters of “ethical decisions and social policies.”[7] For example, Wright asserts that the “land economics of Israel” provide Christians with “a greater degree of practical specificity and sharpness” in discerning authoritative biblical answers to “economic and environmental ethics in our day.”[8] In contrast to Wright’s readiness to transfer Old Covenant requirements into today’s secular societies, this author has published articles and a book-length treatment calling for more caution.[9] And yet others, such as Old Testament scholar M. Daniel Carroll, follow Wright’s lead, with Carroll arguing that Old Covenant laws should be applied to modern immigration policy, an argument Carroll bases explicitly on the use of Wright’s paradigmatic method for Old Testament ethics.[10]

Rather than further examining the question of whether (and to what extent) the Old Testament can be applied to modern public policy questions like immigration, this article will, for the sake of argument, grant the premise that Old Testament legislation is applicable (at least in some sense) to these public policy matters. Given this premise, this article will argue that the Old Testament “paradigm” (using Wright’s term) must be applied comprehensively and not selectively. That is, one cannot highlight Old Covenant regulations which are arguably supportive of a less restricted immigration policy (such as “resident alien” laws) while simultaneously neglecting Old Covenant regulations that might be used to support a more restricted immigration policy. If the Old Testament properly speaks into modern immigration policy, we must let the whole Old Testament speak.

To return to our original question: Is there Old (and New) Testament support for a “cultural case” in favor of lower levels of immigration? This article will argue that Scripture does give support for limiting immigration because of concerns over social cohesion and cultural integrity. This support is alongside the more commonly recognized biblical support for expanding immigration because of concerns for human dignity and compassion for the vulnerable. To help navigate this diversity of biblical material, this article will employ two interpretive paradigms from the field of international relations, cosmopolitanism and communitarianism, as used by Wheaton College Professor of Political Science, Mark Amstutz, in his 2017 book, Just Immigration: American Policy in Christian Perspective. First, this article will describe the cosmopolitan view and how it relates to the question of immigration, followed by a discussion of some of the possible biblical support for cosmopolitan principles. Second, this article will describe the communitarian view and how it relates to the question of immigration, including identification of some of the possible biblical support for communitarian tenets. Ultimately, in recognizing some biblical rationale for limiting immigration out of concern for cultural integrity and social cohesion (and not just the biblical rationale for expanding immigration), this article cautions Christians against a biblically unwarranted dogmatism in immigration debates.

2.    Cosmopolitanism

Amstutz justifies the use of theories of international relations in Christian thinking since “Scripture alone is insufficient to develop a comprehensive Christian approach to domestic and international political ethics.”[11] In fact, all people, Christians included, approach these issues with “underlying assumptions about the world,” whether those assumptions are conscious or unconscious, well-formed or ill-formed.[12] In the service of clear Christian thinking, better to bring these underlying assumptions to the surface through the help of these secular theories. According to Amstutz, the cosmopolitan view of international relations “views the world as a coherent global society united by the simple fact of our common humanity, and often regards the nation-state as an impediment to international justice.”[13] For the cosmopolitan, human flourishing will best be achieved in “a more integrated and open global society that advances human rights on a uniform basis”[14] across national boundaries because of the full “equality of [all] persons and universality of human dignity.”[15] For the cosmopolitan, this higher cause of “international morality requires the subordination of state boundaries to human dignity,”[16] including a general suspicion toward immigration restrictions, since the “long-term aim should be to eliminate borders and allow for the free migration of all people.”[17]

The biblical teaching that all humanity is made in the image of God and that God’s kingdom is universal fits well with the cosmopolitan emphasis on human unity, dignity, equality, and rights. Likewise, a willingness to help needy people, no matter their country of origin, resonates with the consistent biblical call of compassion for the vulnerable. All people share a basic human dignity as image bearers that must be respected. Many also see the commands to Old Testament Israel to “love the resident alien [or sojourner]” among them (Lev 19:34; Deut 10:19) as having direct application to how nation-states today should treat immigrants. M. Daniel Carroll, in his book Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible, states that “God’s enduring ethical ideals continue to be valid and should be made concrete in the contemporary world. Care for the sojourner is one of those ideals. . . . The imperative of caring for the sojourner is also binding today on every nation.”[18] Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang, in their book Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate, agree with Carroll that the Old Testament command to welcome immigrants is binding today, meaning that “Christians seeking to influence national immigration policy should push for laws that are welcoming to and specially concerned with immigrants, just as God decreed for the nation of Israel.”[19] According to Soerens and Yang, this required care and welcome for immigrants does not require full open borders advocacy, though Christians “ought to have a strong bias toward generosity” in immigration policy.[20] Dana Wilbanks, in his book Re-Creating America: The Ethics of U.S. Immigration and Refugee Policy in a Christian Perspective, likewise affirms that “the Christian perspective is toward greater inclusiveness” in immigration policy.[21] Wilbanks explicitly states that the “normative vision” for American life (and presumably for other societies as well) which Christians should affirm and advocate for is a “cosmopolitan” one.[22] Like Carroll and like Soerens and Yang, Wilbanks does not think Christianity requires open borders, but he does think that “a Christian perspective on migration policy leads more readily to open borders than to closed borders,”[23] and that “the presumption in Christian ethics would seem to be an open-borders policy,” while “it is more difficult, ethically, to justify restrictions on immigration.”[24] All four of these Christian authors clearly resonate with the cosmopolitan vision of an open, integrated global society in which immigration restrictions are the exception rather than the rule, and borders are more open than not. Amstutz observes that this “cosmopolitan outlook dominates declarations and documents on U.S. immigration policy issued by Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Evangelicals.”[25] Cosmopolitanism is clearly the prevailing “paradigm structuring assessment of migration”[26] by Christians in the United States today.

3.    Communitarianism

The Communitarian view of international relations, according to Amstutz, also pursues the larger goal of global human flourishing, believing it will best be achieved through strong nation-states as “the primary institution for protecting human rights,” since “advancing basic rights, including freedom and equality, is only feasible within a strong state, where the rule of law is institutionalized.”[27] As Jeremy Rabkin argues, this kind of “constitutional government requires sovereign states.”[28] Such states necessitate “civic trust and cooperation,” that is, a level of “solidarity” between members of the society, leading communitarians to emphasize “the [shared] bonds that people have to their nations” as a crucial ingredient for human flourishing.[29] Since for the communitarian, the well-being of a nation depends upon maintaining this social solidarity, “community membership must be regulated.”[30] This regulation is necessary because “admission policies, like immigration laws, are a significant feature of communal life . . . contribut[ing] to the maintenance of cohesion and a sense of shared purpose.”[31] Whereas cosmopolitans are transnationalist, communitarians are nationalists. Whereas cosmopolitans favor more open immigration policies, communitarians favor more restricted immigration policies. Each view sees itself as an honest attempt to best promote human flourishing and to uphold human dignity.

But does the Bible give support to communitarian concerns over national identity, cultural integrity, and social cohesion? While Carroll acknowledges the concerns some people have about the impact of immigration on national identity, he sees them as misguided concerns and gives them little attention.[32] As well, according to Carroll, the model of Old Testament Israel does not, in fact, support communitarian concerns since “the arrival and presence of sojourners were not a threat to Israel’s national identity” but instead were only an opportunity for Israelites to live out their true identity in loving the strangers.[33] Soerens and Yang go farther in asserting that the concern that “large-scale immigration is destroying the homogeneity of our culture” is not a concern “found in the Bible,” and that any limitation on immigration for this reason has “no scriptural justification.”[34] While Soerens and Yang acknowledge that God commanded Old Testament Israel “not to intermix with their neighboring cultures,” they suggest that this no longer applies since “in the New Testament, all barriers on ethnicity or culture were broken down.”[35] Instead, they say, Christians should value “cultural diversity” and embrace the influence of immigrants upon our culture.[36] Wilbanks agrees that Christians should affirm and advocate for a “multicultural national vision” for the United States (or presumably, other cultures as well), a vision in which we embrace the transformation of our culture by immigrants as a moral good.[37]

While Wilbanks, Soerens/Yang, and Carroll all appear generally unsympathetic to communitarian claims or to any biblical support for them, they do all recognize the biblical validity of at least one communitarian concern: the establishment and maintenance of national borders. Carroll acknowledges that “an awareness of boundaries . . . permeates the Old Testament,” and that nations in the Ancient Near East “could protect their borders with patrols and forts to monitor incursions, peaceful or otherwise.”[38] Soerens and Yang affirm that “there is an appropriate role for the government in monitoring and controlling those who enter the country,”[39] and Wilbanks admits that borders “may serve valid purposes” since “a world in which genuinely diverse communities can flourish requires also some legitimate sense of boundaries.”[40] For the communitarian though, the concern for establishing and maintaining territorial boundaries is part of a much larger claim that human flourishing is best achieved through an ordered system of equal justice under legal codes which are enforced impartially throughout the territory of the nation. As a possible illustration of this kind of concern, Old Testament Israel is given a clearly marked-out land within which they are to uphold the covenant codes of the Mosaic Law without partiality. The Lord tells Israel that if they “diligently keep” the covenant, they will flourish in the land (Deut 6:17–19; 7:12–24).[41] While Old Testament Israel was a uniquely theocratic nation, cautioning us against any simplistic transfer of the Mosaic Law into other settings, the general picture of God’s design for Israel (and by implication, for human society broadly – if one follows Wright’s “paradigmatic method” for Old Testament ethics) seems consistent with the communitarian concern for the rule of law as maintained by sovereign nation-states. If the command for Israel to love the resident alien points toward the cosmopolitan impulse for openness across borders, then it seems equally legitimate to argue that the command for Israel to maintain God-given borders and to impartially uphold the Mosaic Law within those borders points toward the communitarian ideal of strong nation-states with border enforcement and the rule of law. In order to maintain such societies in service of the human flourishing they produce, the communitarian is willing to restrict immigration as needed. This is one aspect of a “cultural case” for restricting immigration, a position with which the Old Testament appears to have some sympathy.

Another communitarian concern which appears also to be taught in Scripture is the principle of “moral proximity.” This principle states that “our responsibilities are greatest to those who are closest to us,” with “proximity determined by relationships rather than geography”[42] (e.g., one still has a special responsibility to care for one’s family members even if they live a long distance away). The communitarian does not deny an individual’s broad responsibility for other humans in general but recognizes that people have a particular responsibility for those with whom they are in a closer relationship of “moral proximity.” We see this same principle expressed by the Apostle Paul when he commands Christians to “do good to everyone” but “especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10), and when he declares that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner describes this order of priority in Pauline literature in terms of “circles of responsibility” in which members of the New Covenant should “first support their own family members and fellow believers’ and second, “if funds permit . . . should support others.”[43] Since humans live in a world of scarce resources, charity necessarily begins at home. As Timothy Keller argues, “The Christian’s first responsibility for mercy is to other believers, to those with whom he or she is in closest covenant.”[44] For the communitarian, this principle of moral proximity when applied to nation-states means that it is right to give priority to the flourishing of fellow citizens over the flourishing of those outside that nation-state. In an ideal world, no choice would have to be made between citizens and non-citizens, but in the real world, such hard choices are unavoidable. The practical application of this principle means that a communitarian will restrict immigration if necessary in order to prioritize and not to harm the flourishing of those who are already fellow citizens of the nation.

An additional communitarian principle that also has scriptural resonance is the claim that human flourishing is best achieved by maintaining a certain level of social solidarity and shared identity within a particular society, including the establishment and preservation of cultural boundaries. As mentioned above, both Wilbanks and Soerens/Yang promote “cultural diversity” and “multiculturalism” as true Christian values, in contrast to any ideas of “cultural unity” or “social solidarity.” According to Soerens and Yang, concern for cultural unity is “not found in the Bible” and has “no Scriptural justification.” But if the Old and New Testament are allowed to speak into the modern debates over immigration, then at least a general concern for social solidarity and shared identify can be identified in Scripture. From the beginning of the covenant with Abraham, God’s Old Testament people were required to maintain a level of separation from surrounding tribes and nations in order to retain their special covenant identity. When Israel was living among the nations both before the conquest of the land and after the exile from the land, they were obligated to preserve their covenant identity by resisting assimilation with those nations among whom they lived. When Israel was living in and controlling the land, they were bound to maintain their covenant identity by requiring assimilation from resident aliens or by removing all other foreigners. Soerens and Yang dismiss the Old Testament prohibitions against mixing with neighboring cultures as being canceled out by New Testament fulfillment, even though this general concern for unity and solidarity within the covenant community actually continues into the New Testament church – with the caveat that, unlike Old Covenant Israel, the New Covenant community no longer maintains civil authority within a defined national territory. For example, church discipline is one of the New Testament mechanisms for maintaining the unity and solidarity of the New Covenant community. Within the Old Testament, even those resident aliens who are welcomed into Israel’s territory are required to observe the Sabbath (Deut 5:14) and the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29), along with having the option of observing circumcision (Exod 12:48), the Passover (Num 9:14), and other sacrificial offerings (Lev 17:8–9; Num 15:14). By contrast, if resident aliens instead practice the idolatrous “abominations” of the Canaanites (Lev 18:26), they must suffer the same fate as the Canaanites: death (Lev 20:2). All of this makes clear that although resident aliens retained their original status as foreigners, they were nonetheless required to live in basic harmony with Israel’s covenant identity, assimilating to Israel’s cultural boundaries when living within Israel’s territorial boundaries. In contrast to Carroll’s claim that “the arrival and presence of sojourners was not a threat to Israel’s national identity,” the requirement for resident aliens to assimilate actually indicates an underlying recognition that the presence of unassimilated foreigners within Israel was a serious problem that had to be remedied. In Asylum and Immigration: A Christian Perspective on a Polarized Debate, Nick Spencer states that Israel’s reception of resident aliens did not “permit Israel’s own ethnic, religious or cultural identity to be diluted or adulterated.”[45] The covenant identity of Israel meant that “nationhood was a matter of belonging to and participating in a ‘narrative community,’” with resident aliens required to join in this same narrative community.[46] To capture this combination of both openness and restriction toward outsiders, Spencer states that “Israel’s borders were permeable to people but not . . . to values.”[47] Maintaining the shared identity and social solidarity of the covenant community was necessary, even while allowing for a certain level of diversity within society. In order to be designated a “resident alien,” one had to be willing to “accept Israel’s God, laws, and understanding of history” or one could “not become a part of the Israelite nation.”[48] Contrary to Soerens and Yang’s one-sided embrace of “cultural diversity” and their celebration of the transformative impact of immigrants upon culture, and contrary to Wilbanks’ explicit promotion of a “multicultural national vision,” the Bible, in fact, appears sympathetic, at least in a general sense, to the communitarian concerns for “cultural unity” and the assimilation of immigrants to a shared national identity, as well as concerns about the real danger of losing social cohesion and solidarity when these elements are lacking. Because the communitarian believes that human flourishing is best achieved when a certain level of social solidarity and shared identity is maintained within a culture, restrictions on immigration may be warranted in order to achieve this important goal.

For those Christians living within the United States, the just-cited biblical data in general support of communitarian principles is further supplemented by recognizing a long American tradition of promoting cultural unity and cultivating social solidarity. In his Farewell Address to the nation, George Washington highlighted the importance of this cultural unity when he exhorted Americans to focus on their shared “religion, manners, habits, and political principles,” along with their common experience of fighting for and winning independence from England.[49] Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, later argued that “the safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of the citizens from a foreign bias, and prejudice; and on that love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education, and family.”[50] For immigrants to the United States, this meant that a process of “Americanization” was required. According to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in 1915, Americanization results in the immigrant’s “interests and affections . . . becom[ing] deeply rooted [in America],” as the immigrant is “brought into complete harmony with our ideals and aspirations and cooperate[s] with us for their attainment. Only when this has been done, will [the immigrant] possess the national consciousness of an American.”[51] During that same time period, Theodore Roosevelt insisted that “the immigrant who comes here in good faith” must “become an American and assimilate himself to us.”[52] Concerning his views on immigration, Roosevelt declared, “I am insisting on Nationalism against Internationalism,”[53] clearly associating himself with the view in this article labeled “Communitarianism.” Pulitzer Prize winning JFK historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in 1992 published The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. In it, Schlesinger argues that “the future of immigration policy depends on the capacity of the assimilation process to continue to do what it has done so well in the past: to lead newcomers to an acceptance of the language, the institutions, and the political ideals that hold the nation together.”[54] According to Schlesinger, “Unless a common purpose binds [a nation] together, tribal antagonisms will drive them apart.”[55] The bipartisan report to Congress by the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform in 1997 agreed with Schlesinger that immigrants must be “Americanized,” with the need for “the principles of Americanization [to] be made more explicit.”[56] These examples illustrate that when considering issues of immigration, a focus on national unity, cultural identity, social solidarity and assimilation has been a mainstream position throughout most of American history.

While once common in America, during recent decades these communitarian concerns in immigration policy are now increasingly branded as inherently “racist,” “white supremacist,” “ethnocentric,” “nativist,” “xenophobic,” and “bigoted.” Samuel Huntington, a Harvard professor of political science, identified the too-ready assertion of such harsh labels as rooted in an ideology of “multiculturalism.” According to Huntington, American multiculturalists “reject their country’s cultural heritage” and instead aim “to create a country of many civilizations, which is to say a country not belonging to any civilization and lacking a cultural core.” Huntington goes on to observe that “history shows that no country so constituted can long endure as a coherent society.”[57] At the same time Huntington was making these observations in the mid-1990s, liberal political philosopher Richard Rorty was making similar comments about the growth of a mindset within the academic world which “refuses to rejoice in the country it inhabits” and “repudiates the idea of a national identity and the emotion of national pride.”[58] Mike Gonzalez, reporting for the Heritage Foundation, concurs that “over the past few decades . . . America has drifted away from assimilating immigrants. Elites – in the government, the culture, and the academy – have led a push toward multiculturalism, which [instead] emphasizes group differences.”[59]  

In recent years, various voices have responded to “multiculturalism” (and its characteristically cosmopolitan concerns) by arguing in favor of “nationalism” (and its characteristically communitarian concerns). In his 2018 book The Virtue of Nationalism, Israeli philosopher and political theorist Yoram Hazony argues that the world is “governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference,”[60] and that “the best form of political order is an order of independent national states.”[61] Hazony proposes that “the health and prosperity of every human collective is measured in much the same way as that of the family,” with the flourishing of the family evaluated in terms of “its material prosperity, its internal integrity, and the strength and quality of the cultural inheritance that it passes on from one generation to the next.”[62] By extension, Hazony contends that healthy nation-states can therefore be identified in part by their social solidarity and by the robustness of the cultural inheritance they bequeath to subsequent generations. In true communitarian fashion, Hazony argues that “strong bonds of mutual loyalty” such as these are necessary “as the foundation for the free state.”[63] For Hazony, those interested in maintaining societies of ordered liberty which promote human flourishing must make their “first concern … the cohesiveness of the nation,” since “mutual loyalty . . . derived from genuine commonalities of language or religion, and from a past history of uniting in wartime, is the first foundation on which everything else depends.”[64]

Rich Lowry, in his recently published book The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free, seconds Hazony’s motion affirming the nation-state rather than globalism as the best vehicle for human flourishing. Lowry observes, “A functioning democracy requires a demos,” that is, “a people who feel attached to one another,” and among democratic structures available today, “the nation-state is the best way to delineate a people sharing bonds of language, history, culture, and institutions.”[65] While Lowry acknowledges the important role that certain ideas of liberty and natural rights played in the founding of the United States, he goes on to assert that “culture, and the people who embodied . . . it, mattered as much or more. . . . Nations aren’t mere intellectual constructs but accretions of history and culture, usually shaped over the long term by their beginnings.”[66] Such realizations mean that those interested in a long-term trajectory of human flourishing in the world must give priority to “protecting and fostering the cultural nation, as a source of coherence and belonging and the foundation of [a] way of life.”[67]

4.    Conclusion

Even while recognizing the plausibility of a biblical case for some aspects of the communitarian and nationalist vision for human flourishing, this article is not primarily an attempt to take sides in a political fight. In fact, part of the motivation for this article is that the most prominent Christian voices presently engaged in the public conversation over immigration policy in the United States almost always appear to promote a more cosmopolitan and transnationalist vision for human flourishing. Too easily, the Christian perspective on immigration becomes equated with or conflated with the cosmopolitan perspective. This article has attempted to demonstrate that this appears to be a reductionistic reading of Scripture, with the Bible arguably affirming some of the concerns of the communitarian paradigm as well. As Amstutz notes, “A Christian approach to migration should be rooted in both the universal ambitions of cosmopolitanism and the concern for solidarity we find in communitarianism.”[68] Within a public conversation that is already overheated, Christians in the United States (along with other cultural contexts where the underlying principles still apply) must avoid adding fuel to the fire by claiming a “thus-saith-the-Lord” authority in favor of only one side of the immigration debate. Rather, Christians should be recognized as notably sane, balanced, and charitable voices in the public square, those who recognize that the Bible does not speak into these matters simplistically. According to one author, “America owes itself an open, honest debate on multiculturalism and assimilation,”[69] a debate which is difficult to have when charges of racism and bigotry are thrown around too freely. By employing the full resources of Scripture in our thinking, may Christians, in every cultural context, be those who bring additional light rather than mere heat to crucial public conversations.

[1] Jack Beauchamp, "Trump and the Dead End of Conservative Nationalism," Vox, July 17, 2019, https://www.vox.com/2019/7/17/20696543/national-conservatism-conference-2019-trump (Accessed: April 7, 2020).

[2] Colleen Flaherty, "A Professor's 'Repugnant' Views," July 24, 2019, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/07/24/penn-law-condemns-amy-waxs-recent-comments-race-and-immigration-others-call-her (Accessed: April 7, 2020).

[3] The Federalist Editors,"Here's What Amy Wax Really Said About Immigration," July 26, 2019, https://thefederalist.com/2019/07/26/heres-amy-wax-really-said-immigration/ (Accessed: April 7, 2020).

[4] The Federalist Editors, "Here's What Amy Wax Really Said."

[5] The Federalist Editors, "Here's What Amy Wax Really Said."

[6] Christopher J. H. Wright, God’s People in God’s Land: Family, Land, and Property in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 175–76.

[7] Christopher J. H. Wright, “The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament: A Survey of Approaches, Part 2,” Tyndale Bulletin 43, no. 2 (1992), 231.

[8] Christopher J. H. Wright, “Biblical Reflections on Land,” Evangelical Review of Theology 17, no. 2 (1993), 161.

[9] See John A. Wind, Do Good to All People as You Have the Opportunity: A Biblical Theology of the Good Deeds Mission of the New Covenant Community (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2019). John A. Wind, “Not Always Right: Critiquing Christopher Wright’s Paradigmatic Application of the Old Testament to the Socio-economic Realm,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 19, no. 2 (2015). John A. Wind, “Does the Old Testament ‘Authorize’ a Creation Care Mission of the Institutional Church? Examining Christopher Wright’s Claims,” Journal of Global Christianity 1, no. 2 (2015).  

[10] M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible, 2nd ed. (Brazos: Grand Rapids, 2013), 83.

[11] Mark R. Amstutz, Just Immigration: American Policy in Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 164.

[12] Amstutz, Just Immigration, 96.

[13] Mark R. Amstutz, “Two Theories of Immigration,” First Things (December 2015): 39.

[14] Amstutz, "Two Theories," 39.

[15] Amstutz, "Two Theories," 39.

[16] Amstutz, Just Immigration, 84.

[17] Amstutz, “Two Theories,” 39.

[18] Carroll, Christians at the Border, 96.

[19] Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2018), 94.

[20] Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 93.

[21] Dana W. Wilbanks, Re-Creating America: The Ethics of U.S. Immigration and Refugee Policy in a Christian Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 137.

[22] Wilbanks, Re-Creating America, 183.

[23] Wilbanks, Re-Creating America, 143.

[24] Wilbanks, Re-Creating America, 180.

[25] Amstutz, “Two Theories,” 41.

[26] Amstutz, Just Immigration, 104.

[27] Amstutz, Just Immigration, 95.

[28] Jeremy A. Rabkin, Law Without Nations? Why Constitutional Government Requires Sovereign States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

[29] Amstutz, “Two Theories,” 38, 40.

[30] Amstutz, Just Immigration, 91.

[31] Amstutz, Just Immigration, 89.

[32] Carroll, Christians at the Border, 17–26.

[33] Carroll, Christians at the Border, 97.

[34] Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 118, 119.

[35] Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 118, 119.

[36] Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 145–46.

[37] Wilbanks, Re-Creating America, 183.

[38] Carroll, Christians at the Border, 84.

[39] Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 93.

[40] Wilbanks, Re-Creating America, 122.

[41] All Scripture references from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[42] Glenn Sunshine, “Who Are the Poor?” in For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty, ed. Anne Bradley and Art Lindsley (Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press, 2014), 10, 30.

[43] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006), 441.

[44] Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997), 82.

[45] Nick Spencer, Asylum and Immigration: A Christian Perspective on a Polarised Debate (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2004), 80.

[46] Spencer, Asylum and Immigration, 115.

[47] Spencer, Asylum and Immigration, 117.

[48] Yoram Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism (New York: Basic Books, 2018), 20.

[49] Quoted in Rich Lowry, The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free (New York: Broadside Books, 2019), 129.

[50] Quoted in Mike Gonzalez, “Patriotic Assimilation Is an Indispensable Condition in a Land of Immigrants” (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 2016), 7.

[51] Quoted in Gonzalez, “Patriotic Assimilation,” 11.

[52] Quoted in Gonzalez, “Patriotic Assimilation,” 11.

[53] Quoted in Lowry, The Case for Nationalism, 168.

[54] Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), 127.

[55] Schlesinger, The Disuniting of America, 13.

[56] Becoming an American: Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1997 Report to Congress (Washington, DC: U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, 1997), 26–27.

[57] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1996), 306.

[58] Quoted in Lowry, The Case for Nationalism, 191.

[59] Gonzalez, “Patriotic Assimilation,” 1.

[60] Hazony, The Virtue, 3.

[61] Hazony, The Virtue, 61.

[62] Hazony, The Virtue, 73.

[63] Hazony, The Virtue, 89.

[64] Hazony, The Virtue, 140.

[65] Lowry, The Case for Nationalism, 46.

[66] Lowry, The Case for Nationalism, 102.

[67] Lowry, The Case for Nationalism, 219.

[68] Amstutz, “Two Theories,” 41.

[69] Gonzales, “Patriotic Assimilation,” 2.


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