As an example, when an American Catholic priest, Fr Frank Pavone, announced his support for border protection he was roundly condemned by people who assumed that this was unChristian:
It seems to me that there is an important issue to be resolved here when it comes to Christianity. I'm going to try to explain what the issue is and how it might be resolved, but I want to make it clear at the outset that I do so without claiming theological expertise, so I am very much open to listening to other points of view.
The issue is that there seem, at least on the surface, to be two principles in the Bible that run against each other. Those who think that the Bible is supportive of open borders can point to some passages in the New Testament. The most powerful one is Matthew 25:31. In this passage, Matthew writes of the second coming of Jesus and of Judgement Day. He writes that Jesus says "I was a stranger and you took me in" as one criterion of who will be judged righteous.
Another is the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke. In this parable, the "good neighbour" is a Samaritan who has mercy for an Israelite, despite the two groups being in opposition. The field of mercy, benevolence and compassion is here defined as extending even to our enemies (which fits with the "love thy enemy" principle).
Unsurprisingly, there are liberal Christians who, on the basis of such passages, argue for open borders or for large scale refugee programs. An example:
The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office bases its support for immigration and refugee programs on the ground that:
In the Gospel, Jesus compels us to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35)
Is it, then, an open and shut case? Does Christianity compel us to accept a borderless, nationless, one world philosophy?
Well, no. There are other passages in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, which clearly indicate that it is part of God's design for people to live in nations. The aim is not to dissolve such distinctions.
Even the Matthew quote, about the second coming, begins with the natural division of mankind into distinct communities: "All the nations will be gathered before him." This suggests that Matthew himself thought that the "take in the stranger" message was not to be understood in a way that would undermine the existence of unique nations of people.
From Paul (Acts 17:26) "From one man he made every nation of humanity to live all over the earth, fixing the seasons of the year and the national boundaries within which they live."
From Deuteronomy 32:8 - "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples."
Remember, too, the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). This describes humanity attempting to defy God's plan for people to live in separate nations, with different languages, which then displeases God. God punishes those who seek to erase national distinctions.
There is more, which I will try to explain shortly. But I'd like to return to Matthew. How can you reconcile the principle of hospitality that Matthew sets out ("I was a stranger and you took me in") with the Biblical principle of a humanity divided into distinct nations with borders established by God?
I think it helps to consider how hospitality might have been understood within the existing Hebraic tradition and culture. Here is how one professor describes the background to New Testament hospitality:
The terrain surrounding Jerusalem is rugged and unforgiving: rocky hills with little water to the west, forbidding desert to the east, scorching temperatures most of the year. Travel could be dangerous, so hospitality to the traveller was an ongoing need and a sacred duty. The New Testament is full of images and stories of guests received, both those already known as friends and those strangers who are taken in and transformed into guests. Among nomadic tribes, the guest comes under the protection of the host, who guarantees inviolable safety. The important elements of hospitality include the opportunity for cleansing dusty feet, scented oil to soften dried skin and mask odors of the road, food, shelter, security, and companionship.
It should be noted too that there had been, historically, a custom of nomadic pastoralism among the Jews:
A nomadic camp consisted of about 25 to 50 members. Any less and it would be difficult to protect the family and any more would be difficult to feed. Usually the oldest member of the family was the head, or chief, of the tribe. The remainder of the clan would consist of his brothers, sons, nephews and grandsons as well as their wives and children. Each clan was an independent entity with the chief as judge and ruler. He had the ultimate authority in all manners including where they go, discipline, management of the flocks and herds and the daily tasks of the camp.
When a clan became too large to support, it was divided and separated with all of the clans belonging to one tribe. The name of the tribe was generally that of the original family patriarch and each clan of the tribe carried the name of its original patriarch.
...One of the major responsibilities of the clan is to provide hospitality to anyone who comes to them. This may be a member of a related clan or even an enemy of another tribe. In both cases it was the responsibility of the clan to provide food, shelter and protection as long as they were within their camp.
You can see from this:
1. Hospitality is especially important when conditions of travel are difficult. You have to imagine a time before modern transport and communications systems.
2. There was already a well-developed culture of hospitality existing at that time, in which protection was to be afforded the traveller.
You can see why Matthew would not have thought it a contradiction to accept hospitality as a test of benevolence whilst at the same time accepting nations as a divinely ordained plan for humanity.
Hospitality was embedded within the culture, to the point that it had rituals that were observed. There was likely to be a single guest who would be temporarily hosted before continuing his travels. The guest might be known already to the clan (lowest level of benevolence) or be a stranger (higher level) or even from a hostile tribe (highest). However, most guests would have been fellow Jews.
Given that a patriarch ruled the clan, that guests were mostly travellers, and that most guests were fellow Jews, it's not the case that the culture of hospitality would have ceded either political power or cultural dominance to a radically different population.
In other words, hospitality as a test of benevolence would not have led to many millions of permanent residents arriving suddenly from a different continent.
The problem is that there are some Christians today who want a form of hospitality that does have this outcome, i.e. one that would lead the host nation to be subsumed under the weight of mass immigration. For instance, the female pastor quoted above claims that there are no limits on immigration allowed by the Bible:
This seems to me to be taking the letter of the law rather than its underlying principle.
Earlier I wrote that there were other reasons for doubting that the Bible compels us to have open borders. One of them is that there are multiple defences of "storge" in the New Testament, the type of love that is generally associated with love of family and nation.
The use of terms like "agape" and "storge" to describe different kinds of love is not always clear cut, but one scholar describes "storge" in the New Testament as denoting "a natural affection, a sentiment innate and peculiar to men as men...Hence of the natural love of kindred, of people and king (the relation being regarded as founded in nature)".
Paul, in Acts 1:31, says of the unrighteous that they are without storge, translated usually as "without natural affection". This is part of a longer text in which Paul states that God reveals himself to man in the creation, but that the unrighteous choose to act nonetheless in a series of naturally disordered ways, one piece of evidence for this is that they lack "storge".
Then there is Paul's second epistle to Timothy, in which he writes "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love [without storge], unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous.
That Paul regarded such natural kinship relations, and the duties flowing from them, as being part of a rightly ordered community is evident from other passages. Paul writes for instance, in 1 Timothy 5:8, that "if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever." Similarly (1 Timothy 5:4) "But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God."
This idea of love of kin and country as a naturally ordered affection survived into the culture of Christian countries. Metternich in 1820 wrote of "one of the sentiments most natural to man, that of nationality." And in 1828 Eliza Fenton, on a sea journey to Australia, was unsettled to find that one of the crew was an Englishman turned Arab. She observed that,
His taste seems to lie in laying bare the unsightly movements of the human heart and crushing its better feelings, or dwelling on them with bitterness and ridicule...Poor fellow! though it always makes me nervous to hear him speak, I pity him too; he may not always have been what he now is; has he been made this [way] by disappointment or alienation from the humanising relationships of life?
The significant point in all this is that the loves that we have for family and people, i.e. the natural affections (and duties) that flow from kinship, are not alien to New Testament thought, and their absence is considered proof of unrighteousness and of the fall of society and social relationships in the end days.
Finally, I'd like to look at some of the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on the question of both patriotism and immigration.
The Catechism (2241) is supportive of secure borders: "The second duty is to secure one's border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good." As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it (in the entry on "justice"): "It is the function of the State to protect its subjects in their rights and to govern the whole body for the common good."
Also from the Catholic Encyclopedia (on "migration"): "The justification [for restriction] is to be found in the right of a nation to control the variations of its own population....Restrictive measures are also justified...on the general ground that a national family has a right to say who shall join it."
Patriotism is a great virtue. To be a patriot is to love one’s fatherland. This means that it is to love the land of the people that sired you. Patriotism is a natural overflow of the virtue of piety — that is, the virtue of the home. As piety would have us rendering what is due in justice to parents and other family members, patriotism would have us render the same to our nation, its government, and our fellow citizens. Both of these are a matter of justice, for the virtues of piety and patriotism are parts of that cardinal virtue. Over and above justice is the theological virtue of charity, which also enters into a consideration of Catholic piety and patriotism. After God, we love our neighbors, that is, those who are “nigh” to us, meaning near us. Those most near to us are our parents and our siblings.
Our charity, as well as the just demands of piety and patriotism, spread out in broadening concentric circles from the family home to the neighborhood, to the town or city, to the state, to the region, to the nation (or empire), of which we are a resident, citizen, or subject. If we see our country as “our people” — something much more possible in homogeneous, non-pluralistic societies — it is much easier to see how piety quite naturally becomes patriotism...Thus patriotism is a rootedness in the land and its people.