From DBTS blog. Used with permission.
Donald Trump’s stay on admitting certain immigrants has brought out a raft of evangelical critics, especially those who see everything as an immediate gospel issue. Arguing from the facts that (1) God says nice things about foreigners in the Bible (e.g., Lev 19:33–34) and that (2) we have to be nice to foreigners or we’ll never have an audience with them to share the gospel, these express astonishment that a Christian could ever support an immigration ban of any sort. How, we might ask, can the gospel be forwarded if we anger or injure those to whom we are sent with the gospel?
It’s a redirection of the selfsame arguments that pacifists have been using for centuries to oppose war—and just as misguided. The following are a few thoughts in response:
- The Bible’s testimony about foreigners is far from uniform. Foreigners were often exempted from the legal protections that extended to fellow-Israelites (esp. in instances of war and its aftermath). Indeed, foreigners are the subject of a substantial majority of the judgments and imprecations of the Hebrew Scriptures (which we should expect in view of Genesis 12 & 15).
- Old Testament rules for the treatment of sojourners govern contributing members of society who had assimilated to Israelite society and sometimes can even be seen seeking explicit permission for their “sojourning.” The privileges and protections afforded sojourners (i.e., legal immigrants) did not apply to just any foreigner at all. Oh, and by the way, since we’re on the topic of equivocation, the biblical idea of “sanctuary cities” has absolutely nothing in common with the modern concept. Equivocation and selective proof-texting may win arguments, but that doesn’t make them good arguments.
- Having said all this, we also observe that the Old Testament is scarcely the right place to go for this topic anyway. We’re dealing there with a theocratic state consisting of a kingdom of priests for the nations. God actually expected the nations to stream to Israel as their principal means of national blessing and as a place of prayer. This is scarcely the case today. The expectation today is for believers to go with the gospel to every nation, not to wait for them to arrive here. That’s not to say, of course, that we can’t share the gospel with those who come to our doorstep, but this situation is actually anomalous to the church’s ordinary mission.
- Finally, foreign policy is not an ecclesiastical/gospel concern. Unlike the Neokuyperian approach that sees the church as dabbling in every sphere of life as part of its mission, the NT Scriptures are silent about church involvement in nationalist concerns and matters of foreign policy. We simply adapt to what is there. Nor, in fact, should governments be influenced by gospel concerns. At all. Governments are to be concerned with the sword-bearing punishment of evildoers and promotion of those who do well for the purpose of facilitating a tranquil and quiet life (Rom 13:4 and 1 Peter 2:14 with 1 Tim 2:2).
Now I will insert here the requisite caveat that, as believers and dual citizens with membership both in civil society and in ecclesiastical communities, we often find ourselves in a paradox of what at times seem to be conflicting concerns. Surely, believers should remove from their arguments all racial generalizations, venom, and vitriol no matter which side of the debate we are on; further, we should be doing good to all men and maximizing the reach of the Christian gospel in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. But it is not the church’s mission to direct the course of human governments to the single end of gospel success as though that is the only end for which God created the universe.
Mark Snoeberger is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and has served as Director of Library Services since 1997. He received his M.Div. and Th.M. from DBTS and earned a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, PA. Prior to joining the DBTS staff, he served for three years as an assistant pastor.