Guy Brandon
Immigration through a biblical lens

By guest contributor Guy Brandon of the Jubilee Centre
Immigration is always in the news. With the rise of UKIP and the coming General Election, we can expect to hear more and more heated debate in the coming weeks and months – much of it scaremongering or simply ill-informed. How should Christians seek to understand this subject better?
As a nation, we typically look at this issue economically. We are consumeristic – we want to be able to choose ‘the brightest and the best’, who will boost our economy, but not those who are going to take our jobs or be a burden on our health service. We miss the irony that we claim these people are looking for something for nothing, when our national narrative around immigration is all about what works for us.
The Bible takes a very different approach to immigration. In the Old Testament, a major principle was whether migrants were prepared to integrate fully with Israelite religion and culture. The needs and circumstances of the migrant are also key in how they were viewed.
The Old Testament has different words for different types of immigrant. The ger was typically poor, vulnerable and on the margins of society. They are often mentioned alongside other vulnerable groups such as orphans and widows: those without families and land to support them. If they were prepared to integrate with Israelite life, they were to be treated like any other native. Regardless, they were afforded protections under Israelite law.
The nokri was economically independent and not interested in becoming a part of Israelite society. They were more likely to be mercenaries and traders who kept their own national identities and loyalties. They were treated with far more caution, because they represented a serious threat to Israelite faith (most notably in the case of Solomon’s hundreds of foreign wives).
One of the challenges for Christians – dual citizens ourselves, of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Peter 2:11) – is mapping these insights onto our present-day situation. Who are the gerim? Who are the nokrim? In the former category we could certainly include asylum seekers and refugees, perhaps also those who come to the UK to undertake low-paid work because there are no jobs in their home countries.
In the latter category we can include those for whom immigration is simply a commercial transaction and who have no loyalty to their host country. As well as short-term and highly-paid migrants, we might add those who give themselves nokri status by domiciling themselves elsewhere for tax purposes. Multinational corporations that operate here but that are based elsewhere for financial reasons can be viewed the same way.
The language around immigration (and most other public policy) is about fairness. The Bible also cares about fairness and justice, but these are always applied within the context of love – God’s love for his people, our love for him, love of neighbour and, of course, our love for the migrant (Leviticus 19:18, 34).
These principles do not give us all the answers when it comes to understanding the difficult issue of immigration, but they might give a new perspective on it.
To explore a biblical approach to immigration in more detail, book in for the Jubilee Centre seminar on immigration at our Faith + Justice conference here.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by guest contributors are those of the author. Although broadly in keeping with the objectives of Jubilee+, the views and opinions of the guest do not necessarily represent those of the Jubilee+ team and directors and/or other contributors to this site.