Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

If People Excluded “Illegal Immigrants”, We Wouldn’t Have Jesus

We only have Jesus because someone decided to show love and mercy towards an illegal immigrant.

Sometimes I end up being controversial even when I’m not intentionally being controversial. The other day when I wrote a piece on why Jesus followers need to reclaim the immigration discussion and insert pro-immigrant Jesus values into the discussion, I actually wasn’t trying kick the hornet’s nest (this time).

But, I should have remembered: nothing pisses some people off like suggesting we should love immigrants.

Think we should bomb the crap out of Iran to protect Israel? You’ll get high-fives all day long.

Suggest we should love immigrants? Well, you’ll get a long list of excuses and push-back.

I’ve always thought it silly that some folks will go to the mat and condemn folks over issues that Jesus never once discussed (such as abortion or gay marriage) but yet will completely ignore some of the stuff he actually does say– such as that uncomfortable story in Matthew 25. The story’s about two groups of people– one that goes to heaven, and one that is eternally condemned. To the group that is condemned by Jesus, one of the reasons he gives is:

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons… For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.”

While I don’t believe in the “eternal conscious torment” aspect of hell– a topic I hope to cover next week– this is a story of condemnation no matter which way you cut it. Now, the way folks try to get out of this and justify not actively loving immigrants is by one of two ways. First, they argue the word “stranger” isn’t referring to an immigrant. Secondly, when they lose the language part of the debate, they skip to: “well, he wasn’t talking about illegals“.

So, let’s dismantle this one at a time: the word Jesus uses for “stranger” is  ξένος, and it actually means foreigner– aka, an immigrant. Pronounced “xenos”, it actually makes the root of the word xenophobia, a fear strangers/foreigners. It also makes for half of the Greek word for hospitality (meaning to love strangers like a brother), which you can read more about here.

Since that argument doesn’t work, one’s only hope is to claim that we’re not under a Christian obligation to love “illegal” immigrants… but that argument doesn’t work either.

You see, there actually is a story about an “illegal immigrant” in the Bible. (I use the term “illegal” for context, though I believe it’s actually sinful to call undocumented immigrants “illegal”). Aaron Taylor tells the story in it’s entirety here, but the example is that of Ruth in the Old Testament. Ruth (a Moabite) could have been considered an “illegal” immigrant based on the Law of Moses. As Aaron states:

“…Deuteronomy 23:3 is clear, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever.” If you’re still not convinced that descendants of Moab were ordered to be excluded from the congregation of Israel, take a look at verse 6, which says, “You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever.”

Under God’s law, Ruth was an “illegal” and to be excluded– but thankfully, she was not. A man named Boaz comes along and becomes the hero of the story by ignoring a law that was ultimately unloving. Boaz marries Ruth, and they have a family.

Like Jesus demonstrated by healing on the Sabbath, Boaz realized that it’s better to love than to obey the law.

And, it’s a good thing he did– because had Ruth been excluded, we wouldn’t have Jesus himself. You see, Ruth– the “illegal immigrant”– had a grandson who’s name was King David. And who’s the most famous descendant of King David?

Yup, that would be Jesus.

In fact, in the New Testament we see the genealogy condensed to the point that Jesus is simply called: “Jesus, son of David”.

Or, we could also say, “Jesus, son of David, great-grandson of an illegal immigrant”.

The next time you hear someone demonize an immigrant for being “illegal”, or suggesting that Jesus followers are not under any obligation to radically love immigrants of any type? Just remind them that if folks had always thought that way, we never would have welcomed Jesus into the world.

We only have Jesus because someone loved an “illegal” immigrant.

Yes, secular governments have the right to control immigration policies. However, as Jesus followers (a term I use separate from the term “Christian”), we are simply called to love and serve– even when we think the object of our love or service is somehow less than deserving.

…Because we all are when you get down to it.


Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

It's not the end of the world, but it's pretty #@&% close. Trump's America & Franklin Graham's Christianity must be resisted.

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9 Responses

  1. I am currently writing a paper that is very related to your content. I read your article and I have some questions. I would like to ask you. Can you answer me? I’ll keep an eye out for your reply. 20bet

  2. Thank you very much for sharing. Your article was very helpful for me to build a paper on After reading your article, I think the idea is very good and the creative techniques are also very innovative. However, I have some different opinions, and I will continue to follow your reply.

  3. I must respectfully disagree with you. First and foremost your premise is invalid. Another way to put it id your premise is flawed. You state than anyone who doesn’t want individuals just coming into our country without going through proper processes and therefore do not pay into our social systems or pay income and other taxes but then require all of the same benefits citizens have does not love immigrants. That is a false, invalid statement. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves and goes on to explain that everyone is our neighbor. We, as followers of Christ (also the meaning of the word Christian) gladly take on that commandment. We do so as it is part of our very nature. No where do we see Christ ask us to engage in, endorse, or protect those who are actively violating the rules outlined by the civil authorities. Again, we have Jesus as a example who shows his love and mercy to those who are actively violating civil law. He heals the and tells them to go and sin no more. He does not heal them and tell them to go back and continue to violate the law.

    Having lived in Florida for a third of my life I see the economic and criminal impacts of having a large undocumented population. Again, that does not mean I do not love or serve the individuals that are part of the undocumented population… I do. And I also work for justice for all. The undocumented people have violated civil law and we know both from Jesus’ actions and words he supports civil law. He does not support ignoring it and doing whatever we want.

    Usually the details in stories in the Old Testament are left out so we don’t know all of the steps that might have been taken to “legalize” Ruth’s entrance to Bethlehem. However there is no indication that Ruth’s going to Bethlehem with her Mother In Law, the Israelite Naomi, was illegal in any way, or that it violated any civil or theocratic law. You ignore in your analysis of the fact that Ruth had already been granted admittance into the Jewish community and life by having previously been married to Naomi’s son. She believed in the God of Israel and worshiped God as the Israelites worshiped God. In accompanying Naomi back to Bethlehem, Ruth made a solemn vow to Naomi before God binding herself to the people of Israel and to God. Was Ruth from a foreign land? Yes. Was she illegal? Not so much.

    You also ignore the fact that the law at that time makes it clear that caring for foreigners is, indeed, a requirement of the law. Landowners were required by law to leave the corners of their fields unharvisted and leave the gleanings so that the poor, foreigners, and widows could gather the left over and be able to eat. So Boaz was actually FOLLOWING the law, not ignoring it.

    Ruth was actually related to Boaz through marriage and under the law at that time, when a husband died, there was a list of relatives who were then to marry the widow to ensure she was taken care of. Both Naomi and Ruth were well aware of the law. When Ruth presented herself to Boaz and asked him to marry her, he responded, knowing the she was there legally, by telling her there was an impediment to his marrying her: Another relative who had the responsibility of marring her under the law. See Ruth 3:13. Again, this whole process was LEGAL.

    Ruth 4, the first several verses again speak to the legality of the situation – especially verse 4. Boaz in verse 4 acknowledges not just the legality of marrying Ruth, but the legal REQUIREMENT for someone in his family to marry Ruth. Ruth 4:8 discusses the legal tradition at the time and again, Ruth 4:9 we see Boaz proclaiming the legality of the situation to the leadership and all witnesses holding the sandal of his relative as proof of the legal transaction. The other relative gave up his right to redeem Naomi’s property and to marry Ruth. Boaz happily took on that responsibility and redeem Naomi’s property and Ruth – he paid the prince. Exactly what Christ did for all of us on the cross.

    The bottom line is that to equate the situation with Ruth to the situation in the United States with undocumented, (and definitely an absolutely correct term under the existing law in the United States) Illegal aliens is a false, invalid premise. Jesus was not born of a lineage of illegal aliens. He was born of a lineage where a good and righteous man desired to take on the legal responsibility of another one of his relatives and paid the price required by the law. But more that that, though the redemption – the fulfilling of the law – was important, Boaz and Ruth loved each other.

    Ruth and Boaz both followed the law. Desiring individuals to follow the law to enter the United States to become a citizen as is outlined in our law, to fully take on all of the responsibilities of a citizen, then reap the benefits is neither un-Christ like, unchristian, inhumane, or unloving. I know this is the unpopular position, but the United States does not have unlimited resources nor bottomless pockets. The solution to dealing with the atrocities of human trafficking, hunger, poverty, abuse, sex slavery, etc. that we see around the world is NOT to tell everyone to move to the United States.

    HOW we deal with individuals who are here illegally is a huge issue. But the law has been violated. Calling people xenophobic, simply because they believe in law and order meets the definition of the logical fallacy of name calling. It’s also a red herring, trying to take the focus off those who broke the law and focusing it elsewhere.

    Asking people do their due diligence to become a citizen and contribute to our society is not inhumane nor is it unloving. Holding people accountable for their actions that violate the law of the land is not inhumane nor is it unloving. Those processes are in place to assist individuals and make them stronger citizens. And if you were to research those who have immigrated to the USA legally versus those who have violated the law to get here, you will find an amazing network of support for the legal immigrants that assist them to succeed. And they do succeed.

    If you want to talk about their inhumane treatment of undocumented aliens, start in Florida, follow the migrant workers as they move through Georgia and the Carolinas, go up through Virginia and into Ohio then back to Florida. You wouldn’t believe that things like that go on in the United States. If you want to see abuse of workers – citizen, documented and undocumented immigrants, Go to your local Walmart! Watch how the manager communicates with and treats his workers are treated (yes I am being gender-specific because usually women cannot become a manager at Walmart.) Watch how they work their back-sides off and are refused health insurance, are refused full-time work and a living wage (while the Walton family alone makes 17 BILLION a year on the backs of their workers.) Watch the classes that Walmart gives to its employees on how to acquire public assistance by lying about their current situation and not getting caught.

    Once we realize that Ruth was admitted previously to Israeli legally via marriage and was also redeemed legally by Boaz, the concept of Jesus as the descendent of an illegal immigrant falls because it isdn not even a prima facie statement.

    I have to say if one wants to twist what the Bible says to use it for their own purpose, you might as well go to Bob Jones University, join up with its Chancellor in calling for the stoning of all LGBTQI+ people. Please, do not get swept up by Bob Jones University! I was there for 23 years beginning in infancy. Reading this post took me right back to the times I was listening to Bob Junior and Bob III who castigated people by picking just a segment of scripture rather than the whole to make scripture say what they wanted.

    From wheat I can tell of you, you are above that, more intelligent than that. Don’t do it!

    I apologize if I am coming of rude. With what is going on at Bob Jones these days, things that remind me of the place and its abuse set me off. I do thank you for taking me back to Ruth. I Havre lost a lot of my religious fervor because of Bob Jones. But Ruth had always been one of my favorite books. Rereading it today reminded me why and I have tears streaming down my face as I remember what Christ did for me. And I am also wondering if I will ever find that person who looks at me as Boas looked at Ruth and as Ruth looked at Boaz.

    May the Peace of Our Lord be Always with you.

    1. “You state than anyone who doesn’t want individuals just coming into our
      country without going through proper processes and therefore do not pay
      into our social systems or pay income and other taxes but then require
      all of the same benefits citizens have does not love immigrants”

      — I never said that. With all due respect, it is a straw man– you put forward a statement I didn’t make, and then explained why it is wrong.

      Also, as I said below, these people are not “actively” violating the law, as you stated. Being undocumented is not an ongoing, illegal act (see my previous piece on the term ‘illegal immigrant’)

      -Also, I separate “Christan” from “Jesus follower” since not all Christians are Jesus followers, i.e, some Christians endorse the use the use of violence, etc.

      “Calling people xenophobic, simply because they believe in law” — I didn’t say that either.

      Appreciate your thoughts, but most of them are responding to things I never said. The issue of immigration is a big issue, and I affirmed in the article that the government has the right to regulated it. I’ve never actually taken a public position on any specific policy, just called Jesus-followers to fulfill their command to feed and clothe the stranger.

    2. ” You state than anyone who doesn’t want individuals just coming into our country without going through proper processes and therefore do not pay into our social systems or pay income and other taxes but then require all of the same benefits citizens have does not love immigrants.”

      Perhaps you’re not aware of this, but this part of your statement is untrue. Undocumented people do pay taxes. Unless they are employed under-the-table, (not common) taxes are withheld from their paychecks just like any other employee. They can’t, however, file as a a tax-payer, so any refund owed isn’t refunded. They pay into Social-Security and Medicare, but (with a few exceptions) haven’t been able to file for these benefits. They pay sales taxes with their purchases. They pay property-taxes if they own property or (more commonly) they pay them as most renters do, incorporated into their rents and paid to the landlord, who then remits them to the government. They are also generally ineligible for most state-sponsored benefits such as ADFC or Medicaid.

      Where did you get your information, if I may ask?

    1. No one is here illegally, that’s the point. It is not an ongoing, illegal act. Crossing the border without getting your passport stamped is a misdemeanor, and not an ongoing illegal activity. A person’s presence in the country is not illegal, even without prior authorization.

  4. Great post. Since I am from Teas, and people take subs into our coast since the borders have gotten harder, I always always taught to resist illegals. My piano teacher in middle school, however, told me she liked the illegal immigrants. She and her husband had been missionaries in a Spanish speaking country for 40 years. So she loved them, and said Jesus did too. I had trouble believing that she was not right.

    Then I was an immigrant, and had to wait in 6 hour lines every few months to get my visa renewed. And then I started visiting the refugee camps (legal refugee camps, but the refugees have some of the worst land because it’s steeped on the high mountains and not good for crops) . . . and had to sneak out a kid (at the refugees and family request) because he could not walk and need medical attention. In other words, I had to help someone get illegally into the city, which we did, and he has returned to his family in the camps and now able to walk.

    Anyway, my perspective has changed. Sometimes it’s a matter of life and death.

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