Let’s get it straight: Jesus was not a ‘refugee’ and illegal immigration is not okay

Jesus: A refugee?

Scene from “The Life of Jesus Christ.” (Image: Screen Capture).

Reports making the rounds throughout the media stake the case that the Son of God was a “refugee” whose family fled from King Herod to the Land of Egypt.

After all, if Jesus was a refugee, how can one question the unlimited flow of migrants into the U.S.? The answer to the question has direct bearing on the morality of restricting immigration.

Scene from “The Nativity.” (Image: Screen Capture).

The claim is based on the New Testament passage that describes Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus fleeing into Egypt to avoid King Herod’s mass infanticide.

“And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

“And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

“When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.”

(Matthew: 2:12-14)

The first thing often neglected in this argument is that both Judea and Egypt were part of the Roman Empire, which afforded its subjects considerable freedom of movement.

Scene from “Mary of Nazareth.” (Photo: Screen Capture).

Jesus and his family were free to travel to Egypt or other possessions of the Roman Empire, not unlike how Puerto Ricans can freely travel to the mainland U.S.

While Jesus wasn’t a Roman citizen, he didn’t have to petition a government to receive refugee or asylum status prior to going to Egypt. He and his family weren’t relocated by the government or supported with public money. And they wouldn’t have been breaking the law by simply entering the country. It also means he wasn’t an “illegal alien.”

Are Californians refugees if they decide to move to Texas? That’s the more correct re-imagination of the plight Mary and Joseph found themselves in when they moved to the Land of the Pharaohs.

Scene from “The Life of Jesus Christ.” (Image: Screen Capture).

Moreover, “refugee” is a legal status of modern origin. It didn’t exist in Jesus’ day. He could no more have been a refugee than a legal permanent resident or a seasonal worker. These are contemporary creations. The people of that era had vastly different ways of understanding government and politics.

In a word: There was no modern “nation-state.” That is a concept that developed out of numerous wars between empires, the evolution of the rule of law in the West, and the Treaty of Westphalia.

That’s why things quickly get so confusing–and polarizing–when people try using the Bible to justify their preferred policies. It’s not easy to make apples to apples comparisons, even if one wants to go back to the Garden of Eden.

The Gospel addresses human nature, which never changes; not human political systems, which change all the time. It’s why Christ himself didn’t promote specific laws or governments.

Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). His teachings are universal; they’re applicable anywhere, anytime.

Scene from “Ben-Hur.” (Image: Screen Capture).

Politics is completely different. What might be good policy in this country today might not be good policy for another country 50 years from now.

If you want to debate the admission of refugees into the U.S., use evidence to demonstrate why it is or is not in the interest of Americans.

Leave Jesus out of it.

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