Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Bible, nations & migration

Scott Greer makes a good point in this tweet:

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."

From Catholicism.org:
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.


  1. Great post Mark.
    I thought your pointing out of the definition of “storge”, its scriptural uses and implications was particularly enlightening.
    It is very important that we do this sort of thing – reclaim the faith from the liberals/progressives. The kids (the boys in particular) are starting to rebel/react to the left and it’s only going to accelerate. We need to be there to show them that the faith is not the source of leftism.

    1. Thank you. The issue of concepts like "storge" and "agape" is critically important. You can use the New Testament to come up with a variety of positions, some of which are ultimately undermining to nations & some supportive. There are some churches which accept "storge" but want to abstract it from real, existing kinship relations and make it universal - that's their take from the NT. It's not an impossible reading, but it's not easily made consistent with the Bible taken as a whole. It's certainly incompatible with traditionalism, but I expect these churches would answer "so what?"

      The official Catholic position is mostly in harmony with traditionalism, with one exception. Catholicism accepts a very longstanding tradition in the West, in which justice is defined as giving our due to those who are responsible for forming us, for our existence. Hence, to God, to our parents, to our ancestors and to our fatherland. The ancient virtue of piety was understood this way; the religious man was the man who venerated, and gave what was due, to parents, to fatherland and to God. The official doctrine of Catholicism still follows this very traditional understanding of justice and piety.

      The Catholic Church has also continued to uphold a traditional, pre-liberal, understanding of the role of government and of rights. This was to uphold the common good - hence the catechism ceding the right of the state to limit immigration if this undermined the common good.

      Also, the Catholic Church, in its understanding of "charity" (of agape love), has held that this is correctly ordered to give priority to those nearest to us, and with the most direct claims on us, which is defined as family, extended family, local community, region, nation etc., i.e. as broadening concentric circles. It doesn't stop at those we are kindred with - it extends all the way to the stranger, but it begins at home. Any Christian church which accepts this is perfectly compatible with a traditionalist politics.

      My one question mark regarding Catholic Church teaching is that the relationship between storge and agape seems too oppositional to me. Storge is thought of as being "merely" natural solidarity, which needs to cede way to agape love. The reality is more complex in my opinion. If you take away the "storge" you don't get an increase in the "agape" but rather an alienated soul that is less open to both. In a living soul, one that has not been "alienated from the humanising relationships of life" both are likely to burn brighter, and the storge love is likely to inspire agape - as, for instance, often happens to men who become fathers and husbands. The storge love for wife and children, in a functional family, will often lead to that "love that is settled in the will" that works for the good of others that is agape love. In other words, storge love is inspired and inspiring and tends usually to blend into agape love. I'm not sure that it's even only agape love that leads us to feeling some sense of benevolence towards strangers - there is at least some natural fellow feeling toward the stranger, in terms of our common humanity.

    2. I would assume that the Orthodox have a similar understanding even if it isn’t formalized in a catechism and is based on tradition more than magisterium (I don’t know if the Orthodox have an equivalent to magisterium).

      Lawrence always made the point that Catholicism and Orthodoxy were more compatible with actual existing nations.

  2. When people start quoting the Bible as a justification for open borders I often wonder to what extent these same people follow other biblical injunctions. For example, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Do they insist that we take this literally? Should Christians today go back to burning witches? What about the biblical prohibitions on homosexuality? Surely they're every bit as important?

    1. I often wonder to what extent these same people follow other biblical injunctions.

      You are right to wonder. You should check out Lura Groen's Twitter feed. She supports homosexuality & transsexualism among other things.

      Again, the issue of how we understand "love" matters a great deal here. She and her followers seem to believe that universal love is the only moral law. It's the "love is love" mantra, a dissolving, abstract, cure all love.

    2. Again, the issue of how we understand "love" matters a great deal here. She and her followers seem to believe that universal love is the only moral law. It's the "love is love" mantra, a dissolving, abstract, cure all love.

      So she's not a Christian. Believing in group hugs and nice feelings and having vague spiritual longings does not make you a Christian. It might make you a pantheist, which is kinda like being an atheist but with more of a warm inner glow.

      Christianity would have been better off had the Churches done the right (and sensible) thing and expelled such heretics.

  3. The position of that pastor exemplifies a point I've made a number of times. Once you accept a universalist morality there is no end point. You can't say I'm going to be this moral and no more. (Of course people get around this all the time with unprincipled exceptions.) Leftist morality is ultimately self annihilating.

  4. Lawrence used to call these liberal, open-borders Christians "Nation-crushers for Christ."

    Saint Thomas Aquinas opposed open borders:


  5. I would also like to point out that the Cathecism of the Catholic Church considers nationalism "cosmic, social and religious". It is unfortunate that so many Catholics in leadership positions misrepresent Catholic teaching.

    "After the unity of the human race was shattered by sin God at once sought to save humanity part by part. The covenant with Noah after the flood gives expression to the principle of the divine economy toward the "nations", in other words, towards men grouped "in their lands, each with [its] own language, by their families, in their nations".

    This state of division into many nations is at once cosmic, social and religious. It is intended to limit the pride of fallen humanity united only in its perverse ambition to forge its own unity as at Babel. But, because of sin, both polytheism and the idolatry of the nation and of its rulers constantly threaten this provisional economy with the perversion of paganism.

    The covenant with Noah remains in force during the times of the Gentiles, until the universal proclamation of the Gospel. The Bible venerates several great figures among the Gentiles: Abel the just, the king-priest Melchisedek - a figure of Christ - and the upright "Noah, Daniel, and Job". Scripture thus expresses the heights of sanctity that can be reached by those who live according to the covenant of Noah, waiting for Christ to "gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad"


  6. I will just note that the Good Samaritain had the stranger cared for where he was - he didn’t transport the stranger to the Samaritain’s village and demand that his neighbors assume responsibility for him.

    The stranger, presumably, eventually went home.