Theology of Migration
Migration is a phenomenon as old as time, and one that is deeply rooted in the history of Christianity and the Bible itself. To discern how God calls us to engage issues of migration and caring for people on the move or living in diaspora, we must first study what the Bible says about related issues.
Made in the image of God
The imago Dei (image of God) is a fundamental, unchangeable, irreversible aspect of human existence, regardless of race, ethnicity, citizenship, language, or migration status.
We believe people of all nations and tribes are made in the image of God.
People do not forfeit their image bearer status when they are on the move, or when they have moved from one land to the next, nor do they forfeit their image bearer status if they cross a land or water border without permission of the presiding government.
Migration in the Bible
The Bible is filled with stories of migration, from the very beginning to the very end.
From Genesis 1 when God creates humankind and tells them to populate the earth, to Revelation where John is in exile on the Isle of Patmos, we see story after story of human migration.
Adam and Eve. Noah. Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah). Lot. Noah. Hagar and Ishmael. Isaac. Joseph. The Israelites. The Levites. Moses. Ezekiel. Isaiah. Naomi and Ruth. The Holy Family. Jesus and his disciples. And beyond.
Sometimes migration in the Bible occurs because God instructs the people to migrate, or because they are in search of God’s blessing or providence. (Genesis 12, Genesis 47, Hebrews 11)
Elsewhere in the Bible people are forced to migrate due to war, famine, persecution, being sold into slavery, or as a result of their unfaithfulness to God. However, it is clear that God does not abandon them during these difficult times. (Genesis 3, Genesis 7 and 8, Genesis 12, Genesis 19, Genesis 46, Exodus)
Migration is a key issue of our Christian faith, in part because our ancestors in the faith were people on the move and needed protection and refuge while on the move or in diaspora.
The holy family and migration
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were a family on the move.
Joseph’s ancestors moved from Bethlehem to Nazareth, and Joseph returned to Nazareth with a pregnant Mary for the census. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the Holy Family fled from Bethlehem to Egypt due to King Herod’s persecution and pursuit of the death of the one prophesied to be the king of the Jews. After King Herod’s death, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph left Egypt and moved to Nazareth. Some of Jesus’ most formative years on earth were spent on the move or living in diaspora. (Luke 2, Matthew 2)
We live in a world where citizenship dictates where we are permitted to travel or reside, and what rights, responsibilities, and resources are afforded to us due to our citizenship.
As Christians, we believe we are granted citizenship in Heaven, where we are citizens with the saints and other members of the household of God. This citizenship takes priority over any citizenship we have here on Earth. (Philippians 3, Ephesians 2).
We were strangers
The Bible calls us repeatedly to love and care for the stranger, because we, too, were once strangers. (Exodus 22, Leviticus 19, Leviticus 24, Deuteronomy 6, Deuteronomy 10, Psalm 105)
Remembering that we were once strangers invites us into a deeper sense of empathy and understanding of what it means to “do to others as you would have them do to you”, including loving the stranger, the foreigner, and the sojourner. (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31)
Do not oppress the foreigner
Do not “oppress,” “detest,” or “pervert” the justice due to the foreigner or sojourner are words repeated throughout the Bible, demonstrating unequivocally that God loves people on the move and wants them to be protected and treated with dignity and respect. The Bible also makes it clear that those who do oppress, detest, or pervert justice due to the foreigner or sojourner are to be cursed. (Exodus 22, Exodus 23, Deuteronomy 23, Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah 22, Zechariah 7, Ezekiel 22, Psalm 146, Malachi 3, Deuteronomy 27, Matthew 25)
The Bible goes further by stating that the foreigner should be treated the same as citizens of the land (Exodus 12, Leviticus 24, Numbers 9, Numbers 15, Ezekiel 47), and that foreigners in need should be taken care of, whether they need a place of refuge (Numbers 35, Joshua 20) or food and other provisions to survive (Leviticus 19, Leviticus 23, Deuteronomy 14, Deuteronomy 24, Deuteronomy 26).
Abiding by laws
We believe that the Bible calls us to be subject to ruling authorities and to follow the laws of the land (Romans 13, Titus 3, 1 Peter 2). This is true for obeying local, national, and international laws and policies related to migration as well.
And yet, issues surrounding migration often highlight a lack of clarity, justice, mercy, and grace, both in the hearts and minds of those in authority and in the laws and policies that govern our lands.
Therefore, God’s call to care for the stranger, the foreigner, the sojourner, the orphan, the widow, the slave, the poor, and those who are persecuted must prevail in the hearts and minds of Christians and must be reflected in both the laws that rule our nations, as well as how we enforce such laws.
Welcoming the stranger
The Bible gives us several stories of people being blessed by showing hospitality to the stranger.
The Lord appeared to Abraham and Sarah as three strangers, and they were blessed for their hospitality. (Genesis 18)
Manoah and his wife were brought good news by an angel disguised as a man who visited them twice and they were blessed for their offering of hospitality to this stranger. (Judges 13)
Lot provided hospitality to two angels disguised as men, but other members of the community who came to harm the strangers were struck with blindness. (Genesis 19)
In the words of Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Matthew 25 instructs us both that the kingdom of God will be inherited by those who cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the prisoner, and the stranger, for “truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,” and that those who do not care for the hungry, thirsty, naked, prisoner and the stranger will reap eternal punishment.