Refugee Jesus & Paula White

on July 11, 2018

Maybe there should be a moratorium on Protestants quoting or citing the Bible when discussing border policy or immigration. Whether conservative or liberal, the end result is typically unpleasant.

Recently Florida pastor Paula White, often cited as a Trump spiritual advisor and a health and wealth preacher, weighed in, per The Christian Post:

I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this, to say stuff like, ‘Well, Jesus was a refugee,'” White responded. “Yes, He did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years. But it was not illegal. If He had broken the law then He would have been sinful and He would not have been our Messiah.

Of course Jesus was only a toddler when His parents took Him to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. So He wasn’t morally culpable for their actions. Did Joseph and Mary break the law when fleeing to Egypt? It’s often fashionable to describe the Holy Family as perhaps the first illegal immigrants.

They were refugees but there’s no evidence Joseph and Mary broke any laws when entering Egypt, which also was part of the Roman Empire. As biblical scholar James Hoffmeier points out in his bookThe Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible, their likely route to Egypt included many Roman forts, and likely they proceeded openly and legally. Probably they lived among Egypt’s large Jewish community before returning home after Herod’s death.

Claiming Jesus was an illegal immigrant is just one of many trite pseudo biblical political points common in religious advocacy on immigration. Other talking points focus on Old Testament calls for hospitality towards sojourners as supposedly definitive commands for the U.S. to install more permissive immigration policies.

Most of the recent Christian conversation about border policies has been shrill, reflexive and often reliant on weaponizing Bible verses for contemporary political advantage. America isn’t ancient Israel. And as Hoffmeier explains, ancient Israel didn’t practice open borders or anything close to it.

On the conservative side, evangelical scholar Wayne Grudem recently argued that a border wall with Mexico was supported by the many God-ordained walls in Scripture, such as the rebuilt wall that Nehemiah prophesied for Jerusalem. Grudem was widely mocked, but many of his critics have exploited scripture in the same way for opposing stricter border security.

Some denunciations of Paula White’s comments have insisted Jesus was indeed a law breaker, for which He was ultimately crucified. This claim misses the point about Jesus, who was Himself the very fulfillment and perfection of the law. His enemies distorted the law with their own self serving pharisaic interpretations, which He repeatedly admonished.

We Protestants in our politics often want to think we have direct guidance from Him on public policy issues, as proven by a few select Bible verses we learned in Sunday school. But the Bible almost never gives us such detailed counsel for contemporary statecraft. Instead we have Scripture, the church and Christian tradition offering broad principles about human dignity and divine justice that should inform our debate and decision making.

None of us can claim infallible authority in our political preferences. And we should be reluctant to deploy Bible verses as political debating points. Paula White’s misuse of scripture to support current border policies instead of provoking ridicule should instead inspire reflection on why we Protestants, conservative and liberal, repeatedly make her mistake.

  1. Comment by Stephanie on July 11, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Scripture is clear about how citizens and immigrants are to respect government, as it is God who gives governments their authority. This applies to the laws of the governments and the expectation of civility in behavior toward government officials and honoring of the law.
    Romans 13:1-7 ~ Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. forr he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
    Romans 13:8-10 lays out for us how we are to treat other people, whether citizen or immigrant:
    Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    Sometimes love is a combination of provision and accountability. We feed and house immigrants as their application or case is processed. Government fulfills the law of the land and government is God’s authority through people He has permitted to govern over us.

  2. Comment by Erich on August 29, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    hmmm. I am sure Hitler should’ve been obeyed at all costs too with this logic…

  3. Comment by Ambrose L. Kahnke on July 11, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    Just attempting to be sure that I understand what “her mistake” (Paula White) was…
    She made the mistake of forgetting that Jesus could Not have broken any laws while under the age of responsibility?
    I would agree with that.
    However, I also need to double-check that you agree with Paula White about avoiding the problem of taking scriptures out of context… and that most of your post here is agreeing with her… Am I reading this correctly?

  4. Comment by Earl Schroeder on July 11, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    I think Trump needs a new spiritual advisor.

  5. Comment by Philip Brooks on July 11, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Does it really matter whether Joseph and Mary could legally “flee” to Egypt? The point is Herod wanted to kill their son and tragically as their king had the power to do it “legally”. We know from Josephus he did a lot of other horror things legally as king. The family was fleeing for their lives. What they had no legal means to escape? Would that have made them criminals for doing so anyway and if so, is a world whose laws we should be defending?

  6. Comment by Scott Amos on July 14, 2018 at 9:03 am

    Very good column, Mark. And the last paragraph in the column is absolute gold. Truer words were never spoken. Thank you, sir.

  7. Comment by John Smith on July 16, 2018 at 7:11 am

    Politicians and others, to include Pastors, love to quote the Bible because of the large number of people who reverence or at least respect it while having no understanding of it or often even knowledge of it contents. While the action of the politicians is understandable you would think the Pastors and Bible teachers would be ashamed that those under their care are in such a condition. OTOH it makes life easier for the Council of Bishops.

  8. Comment by Stephanie on December 9, 2020 at 9:55 pm

    Sorry, there are many occasions in both the old and new Testament where God asks his followers to stand against immoral laws (in other words, to be willing to break them when they are unjust). Jesus frequently became frustrated with the Jewish religious leaders for following the laws to a point they missed the heart of God, in the process. aka, doing what’s right. Do we honestly believe God didn’t want German citizens to fight against Nazi law, in order to do the right thing? Absolutely not. It’s not ‘fashionable’ to consider Mary and Joseph the first illegal or undocumented immigrants, it’s biblical.

  9. Comment by Stephanie on December 9, 2020 at 10:09 pm

    I would like to add (from my last comment) that regardless of the legality of their refugee status, the Bible is very clear about how we are to treat those from foreign lands, and immigrants. It’s not a politic issue that we are to not concern ourselves with, it’s moral and humanitarian issue that matters to God, and thus must be important to us too.

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