Key Scripture Passage
The passage to be assessed will be Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV) as it may well be one of the most frequently cited.
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
I have already confirmed both the relevance and authority of this passage as a guide for Christian understanding of immigration and refugee issues. And yet, I intend to show that the application is not as perfectly tailored to support of the Progressive Leftist political current day positions as is assumed by far too many.
A first issue is use of unwarranted selectivity. Sometimes pastors and laity are more than happy to cite Leviticus 19:33-34 to those with a differing perspective. However, I can’t help but notice how verse 15 from the same chapter is not so commonly used.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
I’m well aware of the Bible’s overall teaching about the poor. However, I wonder how some of our fellow Christians would react were someone to pluck verse 15 out of Leviticus and quote it every time the poor are considered?
The second issue that must be examined is what is meant by the word “sojourner.” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible explains this word as follows.
A person living in mutually responsible association with a community, or in a place, not inherently his own. … In the basic meaning of the term, a sojourner is a person who occupies a position between that of the native-born and the foreigner. He has come among a people distinct from him and thus lacks the protection and benefits ordinarily provided by kin and birthplace. His status and privileges derive from the bond of hospitality, in which the guest is inviolable. … Placing himself under the protection of a particular clan or chieftain, or a person, the sojourner in turn assumes responsibilities.
Based on this information I conclude that a “sojourner” is something very different from the formulation of the Rev. Parsons, that being someone “who find themselves within our borders.” That is, a sojourner is someone who has entered into an explicit and bi-directional relationship with a community “not inherently his own.” Thus, someone who illegally sneaked into a community and attempted to reside without any mutual agreement on the nature of their relationship would not be considered to be a “sojourner,” but rather an interloper.
So too, the leader of a clan or community would have to agree to the creation and continuation of this relationship. Were a sojourner to violate the terms of agreement, the community would no longer be bound by them either. And, that community/clan leader would be expected to use their best judgment prior to entering into such an arrangement with foreigners. For example, if a dozen military aged Philistines showed up on the border claiming to be “sojourners,” who but the most biblically/historically illiterate would imagine that an ancient Israeli leader would be predisposed to enter into such a relationship?
Finally let’s consider the issues associated with historic and social context. The NIV Study Bible (© 1985) estimates that the Book of Leviticus was written by Moses between c. 1446 and c. 1406 B.C. Taking the midpoint of this period, that is 3,443 years ago from 2017. I point this out not to attenuate the Book’s authority as Holy Scripture, but rather to suggest that it may be quite a stretch to simply conclude that any verse can be directly and thoughtlessly applied to problems facing us today. Yes, it most definitely does speak to us and our problems today, but a responsible interpreter will carefully identify differences between c. 1426 B.C. and 2017 A.D. that could result in misapplication of God’s Word.
Nathaniel Micklem in The Interpreter’s Bible makes this point with great wisdom in his exposition on Leviticus 19:9,10 (NIV).
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
Are we to say in the light of vss. 9-10 that the storekeeper must always throw in a little extra when he is serving a poor customer, that the market gardener must be quite unconcerned if a poor man helps himself to a little pickings from his fields? It is obviously impossible to apply the rules of a simple agricultural society to the complicated conditions of modern economic society.
Such rules as these must be translated into another idiom. But the principle remains, I am the Lord your God. Therefore, you shall not be grasping, you shall not make every cent you can for yourself and your family; you shall share with the needy that measure of prosperity which God in his mercy may have granted you.
We must therefore ask just what are the primary societal parameters that have changed since c. 1426 B.C.? Is it that human beings are no longer capable of ill will and/or deceit? Is it that leaders no longer have responsibility to provide protection to their communities? Is it that human beings no longer bleed and die? No, no and no.
The primary thing that has changed is that the immigration/refugee issue is today debated in the United States within context of a nation of 320 million people spread over almost four-million square miles. Thus, whereas a community/clan member in ancient Israel would have to look into the eyes (living or dead) of the victims of their poor decisions, citizens of the United States who demand no vetting of immigrants/refugees and open borders can do so safe in the knowledge that the likelihood of this outcome is vanishingly small.
Many, many people who follow the Progressive Leftist line on immigration and refugee policy do so without having carefully thought through all of the issues and implications. However, there are the most serious of moral issues at play. Were some of these well intentioned people to stop and really focus on these issues they might modify their words and actions.