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This is not a blog about immigration policy.  This is not a blog that will necessarily even inform or speak into deliberations on U.S. border protection and legal processes.  And let me also state up front whilst I am clearing out some caveats that every nation has a right to and a need for having firm laws on immigration even as I acknowledge that our current situation is chaotic and no one seems quite to know what to do.  I surely do not.  Not fully anyway.

But this is a blog about some wider attitudes regarding all this and maybe some thoughts on how we as Christians ought to frame such matters.  About fifteen or sixteen years ago I served on a CRCNA synodical study committee on “The Migration of Workers.”  You can read the report here as it was adopted by Synod 2010.  In the process of our study and work, I ended up being tasked with writing up the biblical and theological summary part of the report.  I spent a good bit of the summer of 2009 researching this, principally in terms of relevant Bible passages and wider biblical themes or motifs.

We recognize, of course, that the United States or any other modern nation is not the equivalent of the theocracy that was Ancient Israel.  And thus the laws that governed Israel and the practices of a people who were called to be a Holy People before their God Yahweh are not in and of themselves the blueprint for modern governments and their attendant laws and regulations.  But there are still principles and basic worldview stands one can tease out of the Old Testament context of Israel, particularly perspectives that so clearly carry over into the Gospels and the New Testament generally.

The one thing that jumped out at me from the Pentateuch and particularly books like Leviticus is how consistently Yahweh insisted that Israel extend hospitality to the alien within their gates.  To the stranger.  To the other.  To those today we’d call the immigrant.  What is also striking is that when God commands Israel to do this and thus forbids the people to abuse immigrants the way the Egyptians once abused the Israelites, God often grounds that commandment with the Hebrew phrase ani Yahweh, “I am the LORD.”  God threw all the almighty majesty and power of his very Being into those commands, evoking an authority greater than which none can be conceived.  Something of God’s very character and nature is caught up in having a charitable and hospitable viewpoint on strangers and aliens and immigrants.  Thus all of this is supposed to be part of the mindset of those who bear the divine image and, in ancient Israel, for those who were to be holy as God is holy.

In the Biblical-Theological part of that report, it was noted that God’s people were in a sense an immigrant people almost from the get-go.  The very first thing God tells Abram in Genesis 12 is, “Go.  Leave.  Hit the road.”  Ultimately Abraham and Sarah, having left their home in Ur, never settled down again.  The only piece of the Promised Land Abraham ever purchased was a small plot of ground just large enough to hold the body of his dearly departed wife Sarah in Genesis 23.

After Abraham’s descendants got liberated from Egypt and as they prepared to settle into Canaan, this core experience of remembering what it is like to be an immigrant becomes a refrain.  From Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”  Deuteronomy 10:17-20: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.  And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him.”  (There are more such passages in the synodical report as well as following this motif into especially the Minor Prophets.  Israel’s failures in caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants were the source of the harshest judgments pronounced by people like Amos and Micah.)

This is also a motif that carries over into the New Testament and is a major thematic component in especially the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus and goes out of his way to include the names of four foreign-born women who are among the ancestors of Jesus.  Next up is the introduction of the Magi as outsiders whom God draws in.  Or Matthew 25 and the “I was a stranger and you welcomed me line” as well as the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 that was Jesus’s answer to the question “And who is my neighbor?”  Answer: most anyone you see in need.  We can think of also John 1 where John presents the Word of God as the ultimate stranger in our midst who left his home in heaven to sojourn in this world.  That Word made flesh knows the experience of feeling like an immigrant from the inside.  He knows what it feels like to come even to his own people only to discover that his own “did not receive him.”

As I stated at the outset, none of this is per se suggestive of what comprehensive immigration reform would look like in the U.S. or anywhere else.  But it is suggestive of how our God views all people and the special place in the divine heart occupied by those who are outsiders, strangers, immigrants for whatever the reason.  It goes without saying that Christians cannot and must not (though many do) line up behind anyone who refers to these people whom God loves as vermin, animals, and those who poison the blood of a people.

We cannot serve the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and approve of such sentiments or stay silent in the face of such sentiments and the raw, ugly, and finally dangerous worldview and outlook they represent.  We cannot view or describe immigrants that way as Christians.  God told us we cannot.  And he follows up that injunction with the words “I am the Lord your God.”

That makes all of this rather serious.

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Very important, and thank you. I understand the risk in going from the Bible to civil immigration policy. But civil immigration policy starts, no matter what, from deep convictions and values. Worldviews, if you will. Many formerly ethnically-defined democracies ( like Germany) have based their civil policies and make admission distinctions on convictions that make moral sense to them. Civil immigration policy builds out of something deeper, and doesn’t that have everything to do with deep moral beliefs and convictions? If not scriptural, then just as much on some other beliefs.

  • Pete says:

    Good stuff. A much needed reminder and written humbly. When speaking the 10 commandments in worship, “…the alien within your gates”, always made me pause and gulp. Thanks Scott.

  • RZ says:

    I would like to consider and understand the moral logic behind the immigration blockade. True, we cannot admit everyone and democracy must respect the will of its population. But this paralysis is so insulting.
    What seems most insulting is a policy that allows people to walk across the border legally only to be detained, delayed, and degraded, then blamed for some inadequacy and deported. If the end goal is disqualification, this is a very expensive way to accomplish it. There is no logic here whatsoever, moral or immoral. In fact, rhe underlying theme seems to be, “We got here ‘first’, we do not want to share our prosperity with others, so go away.”
    The hot political commodity recently is the “crisis at the border.” Crisis? We have a major inconvenience, a major enbarrassment, a major expense. But a CRISIS is defined by Ukranians, Gazans, terrorist victims in Israel or Iran, even Russian mothers and widows. Crisis is what so many are running FROM. How many Texans are being bombed, slaughtered or starved?
    Most of our churches can rally around some heartwarming resettlement stories. But we are so gullible when it comes to immigration narratives. Perhaps a consortium of churches should draft an immigration policy and demand that their partisan legislators sign it or come up with something better.

  • Ed Starkenburg says:

    Amen. Thank you.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    Another key principle in the OT was that the resident aliens were included in the religious ceremonies and national celebrations because, after a few generations, those born in Israel were part of the LORD’s assembly. They were no longer regarded as foreigners but as citizens with the full right to join the assembly. In the NT, Gentiles were welcomed into the early church, and those chosen as the first deacons all had Greek names. For the RCA the Belhar Confession is another standard that gives us all reasons to be open & hospitable today.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Hi Scott,

    I appreciate your reflections in this piece, and think your strongest contributions here tend to be your theological commentary. I wonder if you’d clarify or expand on something for me. You said: “It goes without saying that Christians cannot and must not (though many do) line up behind anyone…”. This sounds very similar to pronunciations we hear today that go something like this: You can’t vote for (fill in the blank of your least favorite politician) and be a Christian. I tend to find such pronunciations less than helpful, as they bind the conscience of others in ways that I don’t think we have broad authority to do, and they ignore broader political realities.

    In that light, I wonder if you’d be willing to clarify if you were meaning “line up behind” to include general support and voting for or more specifically active supportive of the particular rhetoric referenced.

    I would also note generally that “we must not stay silent” is a sword that cuts many ways and also tends to bind consciences beyond our authority to do so. There is any and all manner of wickedness, dishonesty, and corruption in national-level politics. That we would presume to instruct our brothers and sisters in the what, how, when, and to what degree we must denounce the evils most visible and pressing to our consciences is a fraught proposition. In the end there is no shortage of evil to denounce and none of it pleases God – neither the boorish and crude evil nor the smooth, genteel, and placating evil. It indeed is a tall order for any of us to demand certain denunciations in the timing, manner, frequency, and fervor that we prefer. Thanks for any willingness to ponder further together.

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      Thanks for the engagement, Eric. If you noticed, I did not broach voting in the blog even as I made it clear I was not advocating for any particular policy. When DJT derides immigrants as animals and vermin at his rallies, people stand up and cheer. That, as much as anything, is what I meant by lining up behind him. He is unleashing some of the very worst in human nature and if Christians at those rallies participate in this, I find it to be a complete moral failure. Nothing could be less Christ-like than the rhetoric that is being employed. If someone decries this but still decides to vote for the person responsible for this, so be it. I am not binding anyone’s conscience but neither can we ignore this, stay silent about it, or condone it. And while we’re at it: I cannot think of anyone who ever aspired to much less held the highest office in the land who ever has engaged in this kind of talk. It is unprecedented.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Hi Scott,

        Thanks for the clarification. You’ll notice below that Mark also seemed to interpret your comment as speaking more broadly to general electoral support. To bring up Presidential electoral politics does bring up voting, at least tangentially or by implication. I guess we may disagree on the unprecedented nature of Trump’s characterizations and the nature of them as unexceedable in opposition to Christ. I think there is some recency bias at play there and also an absolutizing of your chosen moral category as the epitome of moral categories. Again, others will pick a different category, proclaim it the worst, and fault you for not speaking out in the manner which they prefer. I’m not sure where that gets us.

        It’s not a large leap in rhetoric from saying that people are like animals to saying they are animals. The rhetorical aim and impact are quite similar. If you look around the digital pages of this publication you can find a recent example of the former. The political loyalties of the (majority of) authors and readers here seem to dictate that certain associations with or likening to animals will be tolerated (perhaps celebrated?) while others will be beyond the pale. Thanks again for interacting.

        • Rodney Haveman says:

          I’m late to the conversation, but I’m willing to dip my toe in the water. I think anyone telling folks, “you can’t be … and be a Christian” is a rather tough road to go down, particularly if you are Reformed (you know that whole Total Depravity thing). There is no “pure” party, no “pure” dollar, no “pure” candidate or policy. We are, as it is, stuck in a fallen and broken world, so we must make the best of bad choices or find the light of each person with a bit of grace and humility.
          As a heartbreaking memory, when I was younger, I had half of my family tell me you couldn’t be a Christian and a Republican, and the other half, you can’t be a Christian and a Democrat. Alas, I learned something, as I’m an Independent, but in truth, I lean rather left of center (the Democrats are FAR to conservative for me … to my family’s chagrin).
          Anyway, I think the most we can say is someone who speaks of the stranger or alien/foreigner in our midst as a vermin or animal or somehow poisoning the blood of our country is not echoing a core tenant of Scripture. What’s the most important law? Love God with everything you’ve got, Love Others (all others), Love Yourself (in summary). We should be careful of such a dehumanizing voice, lest it tickle our ears. I fear many Christian ears have been tickled, as has happened throughout our history (see the treatment of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century and Japanese and Mexican immigrants in the 20th century, as hinted below the treatment of Irish, Italian, and Germany immigrants in our history). The list goes on. And I know everyone’s voice can tickle the ear with a form of hatred for God, others or ourselves. I suppose all the more reason to be careful, maybe find a community that can help you listen well with more than your own ears.
          At any rate, I’m not sure it helps to say, you can’t be or you can’t vote or you can’t believe. I don’t know how much that helps, but I do hear Scott saying: Here’s what God said and how Jesus lived and taught around this issue, and if they matter to you, then maybe we should come back together around the text and talk about it. You know us crazy liberals and conservatives and Christians and Jews and Muslims and Atheists and everyone else come together and talk, because that’s a democracy and the only way forward for us, and each one I listed was at one point an immigrant, so there you go.
          I’m being a bit wordy. Thanks for the chance to reflect.

          • Eric Van Dyken says:

            Hi Rodney,

            I appreciate your perspective and believe we are staking out similar positions. I did begin with appreciation for Scott’s overall theological reflection, and so I track with you there. I might have some different emphases or perspectives, but I don’t differ in basic posture toward immigrants (legal or otherwise) and understanding of the love command as it relates to how we speak about and act toward others. We also seem to be in agreement that applying voting litmus tests to each other is some combination of impractical, unwise, and likely unloving. I appreciate the chance to reflect further with you.

          • Deb V says:

            Thank you for this. Well said.

          • Deb V says:

            Thank you for this Rodney. Well said.

  • Mark Stephenson says:

    Although I appreciate Erik Van Dyken’s concern with the idea that “You can’t vote for (fill in the blank of your least favorite politician) and be a Christian”, in this case, I would agree with Scott that support by Christians of someone running for political office, and especially the highest office of the US with it’s political and influential power, who characterizes fellow image bearers as “vermin, animals, and those who poison the blood of a people” runs counter to the Christian faith. In fact, that same 2010 report of the CRC synod calls us Christians to work for just the opposite: ” . . . citizenship in the kingdom of God obligates believers to the highest law of love for God and neighbor above all, and the exercise of this love should lead believers to advocate for laws that will mandate the just and humane treatment of immigrant peoples.” Verbal assaults that characterize fellow image bearers as sub-human run sharply against the “highest law of love for God and neighbor.” Words are actions, especially words in the mouth of a person with great national influence. Instead, Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 112 calls us who call ourselves Christians must “guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.”

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for engaging. Let’s go down that road a bit. You’ve ruled out Donald Trump, but you’ve not just ruled him out for yourself, but for any and all Christians. Suppose I follow suit and declare that Joe Biden is off limits because of his support for abortion. Surely the law of love has something to say about protecting the most fragile of life. So, now you’ve declared Trump to be off limits for Christians and I’ve declared Biden to be off limits for Christians. Where does that leave us? Do you suppose that the only faithful response for Christians is to abstain or vote third-party? But then, which third-party candidate is pure? I know of none. And no, this isn’t moral whataboutism, it’s seeking moral consistency.

      It just so happens for me that I indeed have concluded that a third-party vote in this atmosphere is the faithful vote for me. But do I get to force that choice upon others? Am I allowed to bind the conscience in that manner for my brother or sister? Or, more personally, will you allow me to dictate which vote you are allowed to make? I desire no such thing, and I think the road you travel here is not a road that you can consistently travel, which then may reveal your partisan loyalty perhaps more than any other loyalty. Of course, this type of partisan loyalty is exactly that which we would desire to critique in those who blindly or too boldly support Trump.

      • Mark Stephenson says:

        I’m not sure why you are quick to ascribe “partisan loyalty” to me. In fact, over the decades I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans. I cannot bind anyone else nor their conscience. How each person votes is between them and God. I realize that any decision about who to vote for always involves compromises. However, I’m not willing to compromise on casting my ballot for someone who so easily and readily consigns fellow humans to sub-human status. John Piper’s blog ( written in 2020 is even more relevant now. In the blog, Piper sharply condemns Trump’s sinful character. Piper wrote, “When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world. He points his nation to destruction. Destruction of more kinds than we can imagine.” Nowadays, it’s not just Trump’s character in question, but his willingness to destroy fellow humans by calling them “vermin” and “animals”, and inviting his followers to join him in this view. Not only does this run counter to Scripture, but it runs counter to one of the United States’ most venerated documents which says that “all men are created equal, . . . [and] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,”

        • Eric Van Dyken says:

          Hi Mark,

          You’ll notice that I used the words “may” and “perhaps”. This is purposeful, as it is suggestive language, not accusatory language. Any of us can fall into traps of partisan loyalty, and I was suggesting that if you were unwilling to be consistent with the road you began to travel it could indicate an unbalanced partisan loyalty. You began your post by indicating that Christians can’t support a certain candidate based on his moral failings. I challenged that idea.

          You now seem to have backed off that position as you note that you can’t bind the conscience of others and instead have your own personal convictions that you will follow, as will each voter. That I respect, and it was my original point. You don’t have to convince me that speaking in unloving ways about others is not God-honoring. You’ll notice that I began my original comment to Scott by honoring his reflections is the blog post.

          I’m glad that we can come to greater understanding and agreement regarding matters of conscience in voting. I think we do well to allow for Christian freedom in matters not dictated in Scripture. Thanks for the interaction. May God bless you and keep you.

          • Tom Walcott says:

            You state “we do well to allow for Christian freedom in matters not dictated in scripture.”
            I think Scott makes a strong case that Scripture speaks clearly about much of what is discussed above.

          • Eric Van Dyken says:

            Hi Tom,
            I was not characterizing the question of loving speech as a matter for Christian freedom, but rather the matter of voting and the moral calculus of politics in the face of candidates and parties with varying moral flaws. Those things Scripture does not dictate.

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      Mark, a quick addendum, if I may. The principle that I am getting at is the principle of Matthew 7:2. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Thanks for thinking together.

  • Christopher Poest says:

    Thank you for this helpful piece, Scott.

  • Pam Adams says:

    Scott, I am a former professor at Dordt University in Sioux Center and so was my husband. My three sons went to Dordt as did two of my daughters-in-law. You can tell from my last name that I am not Dutch. After teaching at Sioux Center Christain and Dordt I was told recently that I do not belong. My families were not recent immigrant families but have lived in the United States for years and years. I was told that by a person I am friendly with. I was told this simply because I am Irish and German. I also wonder how one of my sons was really treated. He was adopted and is half Black and half white. I wonder if the TRUE DUTCH can accept anyone who is not Dutch. Take this as evidence of a lack of love for anyone not Dutch. How then do they treat people from Ukraine, Mexico, Haiti, etc?

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      Hi Pam,

      My name tends to give me away as being of Dutch ancestry. I was a contemporary of your son at Dordt and was taught (for one class) by your husband. Neither I nor any of my acquaintances (and I basically knew the entire student body to one degree or another) had any struggle to accept and appreciate either your son or your husband. My wife is part Mexican and also went to Dordt with me. She never had any problems with acceptance or prejudice at Dordt. My memory would not allow me, lo these many years later, to recount all of my friends and acquaintances such as Khamko Baccam, Miles Standish, or others of non-Dutch ancestry who were vital parts of the student body at Dordt. I’m sure there were instances where individuals were ungodly and unloving in their conduct – such is the nature of humankind. But the ethos and tenor of the campus was one of broad celebration of our differences, not fear others or notions of “outsiders”. Hopefully that can be an encouragement to you.

      • Pam Adams says:

        Eric, I too remember Khamko Baccam and his death. I went to his funeral. I am glad that the person’s comment was not typical. However, I have experienced other things that show prejudice both to my son, David, and to me and my husband. The streak of prejudice is strong here and I have personally felt it. My husband looked like a Dutch man as does my son Chuck but David does not. He was greeted by the shotgun when he went to pick up a date and was told in language I will not use to get away from my home. It is pretty easy to express your opinion but to know others is harder especially if you are of the “clan>”

        • Eric Van Dyken says:

          Hi again, Pam. Yes, Khamko’s death was a monumental event in our campus community and the broader community.

          I remember meeting David my freshman year. My most distinct early memory was going into David’s room just down the hall from me on the first floor of North Hall. David had covered his entire wall with masking tape and had a large drawing on the tape – I seem to remember it as cartoon characters of some kind. I remember him being quite gifted artistically. If I may ask, where is David living now, and what does his life look like?

          My words here are intended simply as an encouragement to you, not a dismissal. May God bless you and keep you.

          • Pam Adams says:

            Eric, I asked David if it was true that there was no prejudice at Dordt and he said “NO” there is prejudice everywhere. He is given bad treatment by both Blacks and whites because he is both. Of course this was not his choice in life. We adopted him to give him a secure Christian home but we can not change how people feel about him. I only feel love.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thank you for this. I might add, Jesus was the first refugee in the NT, so there is that when we consider what the incarnational experience of the Word was in the Gospel.

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