Christians and Our Immigrant Neighbors

Early on in their history the Jews were commanded, in the book of Leviticus, to love their neighbors. What is especially significant is that the neighbors they were commanded to love were the immigrants that lived in their cities and towns.

The context of Jesus’ well-known command to love is rooted in what is, even in our “advanced” civilization, a common tribal problem: simply getting along with, let alone loving, “foreigners.” Unfortunately, some Christians don’t see immigrants or aliens as the kind of neighbors Jesus had in mind.

  • They dress differently.
  • I can’t understand them when they talk.
  • They’re clannish.
  • Pretty soon they’ll outnumber us.
  • They’re in America now, they need to learn English!
  • We just can’t trust them.
  • They come up here to have babies and go on welfare.

We all know what James wrote: “If you really keep the Royal Law found in Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing right.” (James 2:8) Paul said that things recorded in the Hebrew scriptures are there as “an example” for us. Let’s look at some of what the Bible said thousands of years ago. Some people say the Bible is too old to be relevant to us today. I must disagree.

Love immigrants as much as you love yourselves.

When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among  you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of  Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Israelites were specifically commanded to treat immigrants the same as the native-born. There was to be no second-class treatment, no oppression or exploitation, equal access to assistance as native-born Israelites.

Love means you have the same laws for immigrants as you have for your native-born.

There is to be  one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you. (Numbers 15:16)

Love means having the same labor laws for immigrants as you do for your native-born. 

Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the immigrant, may be refreshed. (Exodus 23:12)

Love means taking care of immigrants the way you take care of the poor and needy of your own. 

When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 23:22)

Love means guaranteeing justice for immigrants.

And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and  judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him.  (Deuteronomy 1:6)

Love means following God’s example, not siding with politically powerful people against less powerful immigrants, but working for their justice treatment. 

For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.  He executes justice for the orphan and the widow. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

Love means following God’s example by providing for the material needs of immigrants.

For the LORD your God . . . shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.  (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

Genuine love for aliens and immigrants comes from your realization that your own ancestors were once “strangers in a strange land.”

So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

Love means not exploiting anyone less well off than you, including immigrants.

You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your  countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your  towns. (Deuteronomy 24:14)

Love means not taking advantage of anyone who doesn’t know the law, including immigrants.

You shall not pervert the justice due an immigrant or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. (Deuteronomy 24:17)

Love means making the same provisions for immigrants as you make for other people in your society who struggle to survive. 

  • When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
  • When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs  again; it shall be  for the alien, for the  orphan, and for the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:19-20)
  • When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not  go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the  orphan, and for the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:21)

You may give a portion of your tithe directly to immigrants.

You shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion from my house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the  orphan and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me;  I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Your commandments. (Deuteronomy 26:13)

God seriously disapproves of any person who takes advantage of powerless people — immigrants, the poor, or those unable to provide for themselves — who are ignorant of the law.

“Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien,  orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.'” (Deuteronomy 27:19)


So where does that leave us?  When Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, he was telling us to love immigrants as much as we love ourselves.

Love means you have the same laws for immigrants as you have for your native-born. Love means having the same labor laws for immigrants as you do for your native-born. Love means taking care of immigrants the way you take care of your native-born poor and needy. Love means guaranteeing justice for immigrants. Love means following God’s example, not siding with politically powerful people against less powerful immigrants, but working for their justice treatment.  Love means following God’s example by providing for the material needs of immigrants. Genuine love for aliens and immigrants comes from your realization that your own ancestors were once “strangers in a strange land.”  Love means not exploiting anyone less well off than you, including immigrants. Love means not taking advantage of anyone who doesn’t understand the law, including immigrants.  Love means making the same provisions for immigrants as you make for other people in your society who struggle to survive. You may give a portion of your tithe directly to immigrants.

And God seriously disapproves of anyone who takes advantage of immigrants, the poor, or the underprivileged because of their ignorance of the law. That’s what it means to pervert the law.

There are many kinds of aliens and immigrants: legal and illegal (or documented and undocumented), political refugees, economic refugees, etc. I have heard respected Christian leaders try to distinguish between legitimate immigrants and illegitimate immigrants.

I am reminded of the Scribe in Luke 10 who wanted to dither with Jesus about who, exactly, was the kind of neighbor he was expected to love.

It’s a free country. If you are so inclined, feel free to dither with Jesus as you and your friends want. That’s up to you.


About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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3 Responses to Christians and Our Immigrant Neighbors

  1. My senior pastor often mentions the oodles of Biblical references to caring for the widow/orphan/stranger, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bunch of ’em together! Thanks. QUITE the indictment of anti-immigrant nuts … (-:


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Glad to help, Matt.
      A couple of years ago I heard Paul McGuire, a former Christian radio talk show host, spend 5 or 10 minutes explaining “why those passages don’t apply to us today.” When I was a kid, I was taught that only bad Christians said that “those passages don’t apply today.”


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