Within some religious communities, as well as outside houses of worship, a question often being asked is: How can we turn away people from our borders in light of the Bible’s statement “Thou shall not afflict the Stranger”? Former President Obama, in concert with many liberal leaders, are in speeches across the country quoting this very passage to justify a lax, almost open-borders policy. The truth is that the Bible is speaking of individual sojourners and not thousands marching at one time, whose sheer numbers and concentration could immediately harm society.
America is not afflicting strangers within our country. Those in the caravan outside our borders could have spared themselves their discomfort along the way if they would have followed the common and lawful practice we’ve created for making application at our embassies back in their home countries.
In times past, the Bible would have seen the amassing of 7,000 on its borders, with still more threatening to come and charge the gates, as something worrisome and something quite political, which is precisely what some of the caravan sponsors and marchers – who are against the concept of a nation-state – have in mind.
The sojourner stranger of whom Scripture speaks was a harmless individual. This cannot entirely be said regarding the immigration phenomenon of the last few years. Among the caravan activists are former criminals, gang members, mules for drug lords, people carrying contagious diseases, and ANTIFA-types who pose a grave threat to the American population. Undoubtedly, the Bible would not demand a scenario where a host population and its families face their own form of potential affliction. The Bible, as the Constitution, is not a suicide pact and would not stand in the way of a vetting process that for safety and national security reasons takes place outside our borders.
Furthermore, not afflicting a newcomer living among us is a universal application of decency, but does not matriculate automatically into a right for citizenship in a particular country. Neither is there a biblical right to enter a country and thereby be supplied open-ended and across-the-board subsidies burdensomely placed on the backs of a tax-paying citizenry that itself does not receive such largess.
Self-defense is a primary theme in the Old Testament, and defending the country, as our Founders saw it, is the first duty of an American president. In the caravan and particularly among certain Middle-Eastern and North African countries, there is a worrisome proportion with tendencies and outlook which can result in certain forms of jihadism or extreme Shariaism. Here again, this is not the innocuous stranger and newcomer of which the Bible speaks. Statistics reveal that once migrants physically enter our borders, they often elude us forever, as was the case with the 9-11 hijackers; thus, our need for meticulous and comprehensive vetting off-shore.
The other question often posed in certain religious and secular communities is how a universal God, who is the father of all humanity, could allow a country to shut its doors to the needy trying to get in? While many to various degrees are needy, some of those trying today to enter our country pose a real threat to us, and even a universal God tells us of the need to protect ourselves from those among His creation who can harm us.
Among the most profound convictions of the Bible is that of personal responsibility. We are responsible to take care of and protect those we have freely chosen to live with: first our family, then our community and nation – in that order. One cannot shirk and displace this priority, this personal responsibility in the name of universalism or mankind.
Turning a blind eye to danger to those who directly depend on you, be it a head of a household or a president to his citizens, in the name of universalism is not moral. Morality is not what makes us feel good about ourselves or looks good to others, rather that which we ought to do, doing that for which we are personally responsible.
One of the gems of biblical understanding is that while God is universal and many of his laws and prescriptions universal, the incubation, implementation, and success of its ethos depends on what is done within the particular – the particular family, community and nation. It is within particular constructs that the Judeo-Christian paradigm is honed and flowers, and from inward is released outwardly. The universal is born and depends on what happens in the particular, i.e., subsidiarity.
Borders, distinct and sovereign nations are vital. No wonder when speaking to ancient Israel the universal God proffers the people with the following blessing: “And I shall protect your borders so that strangers and enemies not fill your camp and become a thorn in your side.” As with protecting one's home and family residents inside (Exodus: 22), so too the God of humanity prioritizes the legitimate need for protective borders and its citizens inside.
While we cannot absorb all who wish to come here, we can as humanitarians export our American prescription for a workable and productive life to those who wish to accept and import it. Absent that, our first responsibility is to protect this nation from harm, be it economic, social or physical. Defending our nation and families is a noble part of who we are.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero is author of Push Back: Reclaiming our American Judeo-Christian Spirit; spokesman for the National Conference of Jewish affairs; and president of Caucus for America.