Syrian refugee families rest at a camp where STEP Croatia students helped distribute supplies

Response: critical questions that need to be asked about the migration crisis in Europe

Chawkat Moucarry

The issue of migration has turned into an intractable crisis that threatens the European Union’s very existence. It has already seriously undermined the Schengen Treaty as several EU countries resumed border controls. People in Europe (including Christians) are divided over this ‘hot-potato’. Some show welcome and support for migrants while others are deeply hostile to this covert Islamic ‘invasion’.

Heimburger’s paper ‘Migration through the eyes of faith: God’s people, national lands, and universities’ has the merit of addressing this issue from a biblical perspective. It looks at two key texts the author rightfully puts in parallel; that is, Deuteronomy 10 (vv. 12–22) and 1 Peter (1:1, 17; 2:4–5, 9–11). Just as God’s Old Testament people are depicted as a migrant people, so are God’s New Testament people (i.e. the Church). To the extent that God has promised to be with them during their exodus from Egypt to Canaan (Deut. 1:31–33), God himself is described also as ‘a migrant God’. The divine presence with immigrants finds its fulfilment in Jesus who identifies with them to the point of saying: ‘I was a stranger and you invited me in’ (Mat. 25:35).

The people of Israel were called to love the non-Jews living among them for three main reasons: theological — God loves the immigrants; historic — the Israelites were themselves immigrants in Egypt; and moral — strangers are among the most vulnerable inhabitants of the land. All this is wonderfully captured in Deuteronomy 10: ‘He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt’ (vv. 18–19). The Israelites are expected to love the strangers in practical ways for it is through them that God provides them with ‘food and clothing’. Loving migrants also means, among other things, respecting their rights, applying the same laws to them as to the Israelites, and inviting them to share in their religious festivals.* God’s requirements to care for the strangers and to treat them justly are such that his judgment against the Israelites is motivated by their exploitation of the weakest members of society. He will himself testify ‘against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice’ (Mal. 3:5).

The paper does not go as far as to suggest that God accompanies today’s migrants, most of whom are Muslims. But just as God’s love for the migrants has nothing to do with their ethnic or religious identity, it is safe to believe that God loves nowadays migrants to the point of being present with them on their often life-threatening journey. Israel’s exodus from Egypt, though unique in its character, did not mean God let down other peoples: ‘Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?’ declares the Lord. ‘Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?’ (Amos 9:7).

We need to ask the question about what God might have on his agenda through this unprecedented wave of Muslim peaceful migration to largely secular and historically Christian-rooted Europe. Does he intend to shake European traditions, cultures and politics? Has he started a spiritual revolution in ‘the House of Islam’? Is he challenging the Church to implement the command about loving our neighbour as ourselves, wonderfully illustrated by Jesus in his parable about the Good Samaritan? Rather than avoiding the religious question behind today’s migration, it is critical that Europeans in general and Christians in particular address this issue head-on and take a fresh (and biblical) approach to Islam and Muslims. This is likely going to be a strenuous endeavour as Islam is often associated with terrorism in the mind of many ignorant and often prejudiced people. This misperception of Islam is understandable, as it reflects the media legitimate focus on exceptional and dramatic events such as the violent actions of the so-called Islamic State and other terrorist groups. However, this distorted image of the world’s second largest religion does not take on board its mainstream teaching or the vast majority of its followers.

The migration crisis raises other controversial and sensitive issues. Should illegal migrants be returned to their home countries unless they are genuine refugees? And what about economic migrants: should they be deported even if they come from the world’s poorest countries? Is it fair for host countries to define their migration policy on the basis of their selfish needs for skilful workers and successful businessmen, or worse on the ground of people’s ethnic and religious background? Do Europe and the US have any responsibility in this crisis due to their foolish foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond (especially in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Syria)? Should they be held accountable because of their predominant role in the unjust world economic order that cripples the poorest countries in the majority world?

University students have many opportunities to engage with and befriend fellow students from all over the world. Students are assumed to be less suspicious of foreigners, less fearful of the unknown and more open to critical thinking. Will Christian students, because they fellow Christ and his teaching, take the lead in turning the migration crisis (with all its implications) into new opportunities for reaching out to international students who live at their doorstep? Will they demonstrate that God’s love is for everyone, including foreigners, ‘for God does not show favouritism’ (Rom. 2:11)?

All Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®) copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. © IFES 2016. Published under a Creative Commons (Attributions — No Derivatives) licence.


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Discussion questions

God and God’s people 

Reading:  Deuteronomy 10:12-22; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2:4-12 

  1. Do you consider yourself a migrant? Are you descended from migrants?  
  2. Do you know migrants personally? 
  3. How do people around you talk about migrants? 
  4. How does worshipping a God who loves a migrant people influence your perspective on migration? 
  5. What does it mean to seek justice for migrants? 
  6. What does it mean to love migrants? 
  7. Does your local church include migrants or relate to migrants in any way? Are there are opportunities for your church to seek justice for migrants and to love migrants? 

Migrants and national land 

Reading:  Deuteronomy 2:1-25 

  1. Do you think that before God, nations are right to govern immigration?  
  2. How can those in authority show that they are under Christ as king as they govern immigration? 

Migrants and the university 

Readings:  A brief history of your university or statistics on the origins of its students; Nigel Biggar, “What Are Universities For?,” Standpoint, August 2010 

  1. Where do people come from to study and work at your university? Do they come from other parts of the city, region, or country, or from other countries? 
  2. What opportunities do you have as you encounter people from different places in the university? 
  3. Does your Christian student movement include people from other places and countries? How might your movement love those of you who are migrants and seek justice for them? 

Further reading

Works on migration written for a general audience by scholars in the evangelical tradition include the following. The authors vary in their conclusions 

  • Carroll R., M. Daniel. Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2013. 
  • Hoffmeier, James K. The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009. 
  • Immigration and Justice: How Local Churches Can Change the Debate on Immigration in Britain. Cambridge: Jubilee Centre, 2015. 
  • Moucarry, Chawkat. From Exclusion to Embrace: Bible Studies in Interfaith Engagement. World Vision, 2016. 
  • National Association of Evangelicals (U.S.A.). “Immigration: A Policy Resolution,” 2009. 
  • On the Road: A Journey through the Bible for Migrants. United Bible Societies, 2008. Available in many languages. 
  • Park, Nick. Ministry to Migrants and Asylum Seekers: A Guide for Evangelical ChurchesDublin: Evangelical Alliance Ireland, 2015. 
  • Soerens, Matthew, and Jenny Hwang Yang. Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2009. 
  • Spencer, Nick. Asylum and Immigration: A Christian Perspective on a Polarized Debate. Bletchley, Bucks.: Paternoster, 2004. 

Other works on migration and theology, from the evangelical tradition and other Christian traditions, whether popular or academic, include: 

  • Ahn, Ilsup. Religious Ethics and Migration: Doing Justice to Undocumented Workers. New York: Routledge, 2014. 
  • Azaransky, Sarah, ed. Religion and Politics in America’s Borderlands. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2013. 
  • Bretherton, Luke. Hospitality as Holiness: Christian Witness amid Moral Diversity. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006. 
  • Bretherton, Luke. “National: Christian Cosmopolitanism, Refugees, and the Politics of Proximity.” In Christianity and Contemporary Politics: The Conditions and Possibilities of Faithful Witness, 126–74. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 
  • Burnside, Jonathan P. The Status and Welfare of Immigrants: The Place of the Foreigner in Biblical Law and Its Relevance to Contemporary Society. Cambridge: Jubilee Centre, 2001. 
  • Carmona, Victor. “Theologizing Immigration.” In The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Latino/a Theology, edited by Orlando O. Espín, 365–85. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. 
  • Carroll R., M. Daniel, and Leopoldo A. Sánchez M., eds. Immigrant Neighbours Among Us: Immigration Across Theological Traditions. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick, 2015. 
  • Corbett, Jim. The Sanctuary Church. Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill Publications, 1986. 
  • Cruz, Gemma Tulud. An Intercultural Theology of Migration: Pilgrims in the Wilderness. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 
  • ———. Toward a Theology of Migration: Social Justice and Religious Experience. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 
  • Cuéllar, Gregory Lee. Voices of Marginality: Exile and Return in Second Isaiah 40-55 and the Mexican Immigrant Experience. 2nd ed. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. 
  • Daniel, Ben. Neighbour: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 
  • Edwards, Jr., James R. “A Biblical Perspective on Immigration Policy.” In Debating Immigration, edited by Carol M. Swain, 46–62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 
  • Groody, Daniel G. Border of Death, Valley of Life: An Immigrant Journey of Heart and Spirit. Celebrating Faith. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. 
  • Groody, Daniel G., and Gioacchino Campese, eds. A Promised Land, a Perilous Journey: Theological Perspectives on Migration. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. 
  • Hanciles, Jehu. Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2008.  
  • Heyer, Kristin E. Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2012. 
  • Houston, Fleur S. You Shall Love the Stranger as Yourself: The Bible, Refugees and Asylum. London: Routledge, 2015. 
  • Moucarry, Georges Chawkat. “The Alien According to the Torah.” Translated by Joye Smith. Themelios 14 (1988): 17–20. 
  • Moucarry, Chawkat. “Love the Immigrant as Yourself.” In Faith to Faith: Christianity & Islam in Dialogue, 283–89. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2001. 
  • Also published as: The Prophet & the Messiah: An Arab Christian’s Perspective on Islam & Christianity. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002. 
  • Myers, Ched, and Matthew Colwell. Our God Is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2012. 
  • Nanko-Fernández, Carmen. “Beyond Hospitality: Implications of (Im)migration for Teología y Pastoral de Conjunto.” In Theologizing En Espanglish: Context, Community, and Ministry, 110–19. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010.  
  • ———. “Corpus Verum: Toward a Borderland Ecclesiology.” In Building Bridges, Doing Justice: Constructing a Latino/a Ecumenical Theology, edited by Orlando O. Espín, 167–84. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2009. 
  • Nguyen, vanThanh, and John M. Prior, eds. God’s People on the Move: Biblical and Global Perspectives on Migration and Mission. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick Publications, 2014. 
  • Padilla, Elaine, and Peter C. Phan, eds. Contemporary Issues of Migration and Theology. Christianities of the World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 
  • ———. Theology of Migration in the Abrahamic Religions. Christianities of the World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 
  • Pantoja, Jr., Luis, Sadiri Joy B. Tira, and Enoch Wan. Scattered: The Filipino Global Presence. Manila: Lifechange Publishing, 2004. 
  • Pohl, Christine D. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999. 
  • Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi: The Love of Christ Towards Migrants. London: Catholic Truth Society, 2004. 
  • Rose, Ananda. Showdown in the Sonoran Desert: Religion, Law, and the Immigration Controversy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 
  • Ruiz, Jean-Pierre. Readings from the Edges: The Bible and People on the Move. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2011. 
  • Sarat, Leah. Fire in the Canyon: Religion, Migration, and the Mexican Dream. New York: New York University Press, 2013. 
  • Snyder, Susanna. Asylum-Seeking, Migration, and Church. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2012. 
  • Spina, Frank Anthony. “Israelites as Gērîm, ‘Sojourners,’ in Social and Historical Context.” In The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honour of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of His Sixtieth Birthday, edited by Carol L. Meyers and Michael Patrick O’Connor, 321–35. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1983. 
  • De La Torre, Miguel A. Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2009. 
  • Wilbanks, Dana W. Re-Creating America: The Ethics of U.S. Immigration and Refugee Policy in a Christian Perspective. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. 
  • Woods, Paul. Theologising Migration: Otherness and Liminality in East Asia. Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2015. 


[1] See “Love the Immigrant as Yourself.” In Faith to Faith: Christianity & Islam in Dialogue, 283–89. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2001.

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