Migrants exist under darkening clouds of suspicion in Western countries today. Media reports the arrival of asylum-seekers in “waves” that threaten to “swamp” our shores—in fact, the arrival of vulnerable migrants described in terms of a threatening natural disaster have become common. A biblical response to asylum-seeking is a pressing need. Old Testament Israel hosted large numbers of refugees—what attitude did Hebrew scripture
require of Israel? Debate over asylum-seekers today is red hot and appeals to Scripture bring little clarity—vastly differing agendas equally claim scripture as their guide. One writer appeals to the Bible to bolster an exclusivist agenda. A blog claims support for inclusion. With some, the Old Testament has a reputation for exclusivism and violence. I
t is derided by sceptics and is an embarrassment for many Christian advocates and academics.
Lacking direction from the Bible, Christian opinion on immigration and refugees often reflects national sentiment tending towards exclusivism and self-preservation. As Ralph Premdas has demonstrated, “The inter-communal antipathies present in the society at large are reflected in the attitudes of churches and their adherents.”
To date, dialogue on ethnicity and inclusion has focused on Israel’s laws, with little discussion of Israel’s view of life, the world, and God. Abstracting laws from the worldview in which they are embedded has led to readings that are uncontrolled and therefore variegated. Proper ethical investigation must begin with Israel’s view of the world as a whole. As Chris Wright writes, “What we have to try to do is to put ourselves in Israel’s position and understand how Israel perceived and experienced their relationship with God and how that experience affected their ethical ideals and practical living as a community.” A search for ethics in Scripture that ignores the worldview of Israel will inadvertently result in a collapse of the reader’s worldview with the text’s worldview.
This three part dynamic is central to Israel’s worldview:
- God has givengenerously
- His people respond with thanksgiving
- Thanksgiving results in generosity, justice, and inclusion
Where this dynamic is observed in scripture it is impossible to glean an ethic of exclusivism, parochialism or stinginess. It is my opinion that this dynamic is at the heart of the Old Testament. You might like to read for example Deuteronomy Chapter 15 or 26:1-11. The message of these passages is clear: those who have received much must respond with thankfulness and generosity. Anything less is idolatry.