8 Biblical Reasons Why Christians Should Support Closing the Camps
Governments around the world are caging migrants and refugees in what many people describe as concentration camps. Self-identified conservative Christians approve of this as a way to limit migration by frightening people into not migrating.
Popular Evangelical leaders who typically pride themselves as Biblical literalists have apparently set aside their Christian beliefs in order to promote a policy that runs contrary to the literal teachings of the Christian scriptures.
Catholic leaders have demonstrated mixed views. Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso has been a leader in standing up for migrants. He has advocated for migrants, prayed with them, and even walked with some across the U.S.-Mexico border. Other bishops have been more lukewarm in their stance.
The New Testament points to the fact that separating children from their parents and housing them in prison camps stands opposed to the life of Jesus, his teachings, and the experience of the early church. Here are eight reasons why today’s Christians should support closing migrant prison camps and create a policy of welcome.
1. The Holy Family were Migrants, Matthew 2
Upon learning that Herod desired to kill the infant Jesus, Joseph and Mary fled with the holy child to Egypt where they sought refuge. What a nightmare. Imagine running to a different country because of the violence in your homeland. This is precisely what is happening in Central America today. People from places such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua look to escape the upheaval in their countries. To put them in prison camps is tantamount to imprisoning the Holy Family.
2. Mary Worried About Jesus, Luke 3
After returning to Nazareth, the Holy Family went to Jerusalem for a religious celebration. Joseph and Mary returned home, but Jesus got separated. It took three days for Mary and Joseph to find the boy. You can hear the shock in Mary’s voice when she says, “Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety!” Migrant parents today feel that same fear when their children are taken from them and put into camps, and we witness this in the emotional videos of the few families that have been reunited. Christians should be about their Father’s business of bringing families together.
3. Jesus Came to Free Captives, Luke 4
When Jesus began teaching in his hometown synagogue, he opened a scroll from the prophet Isaiah and read…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This is the cornerstone of his teachings and life’s work. Jesus liberates; he never imprisons. Supporting a policy that incarcerates children seeking freedom runs counter to the heart of the Gospel. Christians should be in the forefront of working to free migrants and welcome refugees.
4. The Final Judgment, Matthew 25.
Christians believe that Jesus will judge the living and the dead. Prior to his own false arrest and crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples the criteria upon which they would be judged.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Consider the people Jesus identifies himself with. Those who have nothing to eat and drink, strangers looking for refuge, the sick and imprisoned. Christians have a sacred duty to treat migrants in the desert and refugees in prison camps as they would treat Jesus. When you look at the images of refugees in camps, can you see Jesus?
5. The Apostles were Imprisoned, Acts 5:17–41
The leaders of the earliest church found themselves in jail. Miraculously, and angel opened the door and liberated them. Many refugees are Christians. Today’s church should empathize with all people who are in camps, especially because the prisoners are their brothers and sisters. Christians have a duty to identify with prisoners and work to open doors instead of locking people up.
6. The Church Prayed for Prisoners, Acts 12
Herod arrested James (one of the early Christian leaders) and had him killed by the sword. Meanwhile, he arrested Peter and intended to have a public show trial. Verse 5 says, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” In an answer to their prayer, an angel freed Peter. When he met with the church, Peter attested, “The Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches.” Today’s church should follow the model of the early church by praying for the release of prisoners from Herod’s clutches instead of supporting their detention. And instead of waiting for a miraculous release, free Christians should be the answer to that prayer. They ought to be the messenger from God opening the prison doors and embracing those who have been freed.
7. The Jailer Cared for Paul, Acts 16
Throughout the book of The Acts of the Apostles we read about the apostle Paul being imprisoned on trumped up charges. In Acts 16, Paul helped to free a girl who was enslaved as a fortuneteller. Annoyed that their moneymaking scheme was ended, they put Paul in jail. The apostle and his companions sang and prayed until an earthquake struck the prison. The captain of the guard took Paul into his own house and became a believer. When the jailer came to faith in Christ, he cared for the prisoners with compassion rather than harming them. This serves as a model for Christians today, especially those who work as captors and guards. Instead of abusing, mistreating, and ridiculing migrants and refugee prisoners, the New Testament teaches Christians to care for those who need help.
8. Philoxenia, Hebrews 13
Christians find a startling command in the Epistle to the Hebrews 13:1–2. “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The Greek word translated as “show hospitality to strangers’ is philoxenia. It literally means, “love of strangers.” Migrants qualify as strangers, so Christians have a duty to love and care for them. In so doing, they echo their father inn faith, Abraham, who welcome the divine strangers in the book of Genesis. This text makes and even more shocking command in verse 3. “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” Christians must show solidarity with migrants who are in camps rather than supporting policies that lock them up.
We could continue looking at specific teachings and examples in the New Testament to argue for closing the migrant prison camps, reuniting families, and welcoming people into a new home. Jesus taught his followers to love one another, to pray for their friends and enemies, and to welcome children. He prayed that all would be one as he and the Father are one.
The entire ethos of the New Testament compels Christians to work and pray for liberation, hospitality, and reconciliation. Nothing in the Christian scriptures and tradition supports locking people seeking asylum in prison camps.
How can Christians retain their integrity while opting for a political agenda that sets aside the essence of the teachings of Christ and the apostles, especially when that agenda includes jailing their fellow Christians?
Grace, forgiveness, and union with God and one another comprise the essence of the gospel. Working for humane treatment of migrants may have a cost, but the gospel always comes with the cross.
Christians can celebrate their nationality, but the New Testament teaches that Christians have a higher allegiance. In Philippians 3, St. Paul wrote, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Christians’ spiritual identity must inform and shape the way we live out our daily responsibilities to “the least of these who are members of my family” (Matthew 25:40).