Is xenophobia ever Christlike?

temptation xenophobiaThe theme of this month’s synchroblog is “CHRISTIANS AND THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE – As Congress debates how to handle illegal immigrants already within U.S. borders and how to more effectively handle hopeful immigrants in the future, Christians will need to consider what it means to love these new neighbors in our midst.”

This immigration theme is of interest to me, not out of any interest in US domestic politics, nor out of any entrenched support for increasing immigration, but out of concern for the way immigration debates are often hijacked by xenophobic sentiment.

So, in a way, the important issue for me is not what decision we arrive at, but how we arrive at it. This is where our recent experience in Australia has left me less than impressed. No, let’s be honest, at times I’ve been outright disgusted.

I think it’s time we recover a forgotten truth. That the Christian practice of hospitality, that we are all called to, is the opposite of xenophobia. Literally. For the ancient Greek word for hospitality was philoxenos. Philos, φίλος (friend)+xenos, ξένος (stranger, foreigner). The one who shows friendship to strangers. Not fear.

With this in mind, let’s consider some of the New Testament teachings on what it means to be a Christian leader:

1 Timothy 3:2 – Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable (philoxenos), able to teach,

Titus 1:8 – Rather he must be hospitable (philoxenos), one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.

1 Peter 4:9 – Offer hospitality (philoxenos) to one another without grumbling.

So, whatever we decide on immigration, let our conversations be salted with philoxenos, not xenophobia. If we argue for restrictions, let us first rid ourselves of faithless fear.

Other synchrobloggers are:

Jonathan Brink – Immigration Synchroblog

Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – Being the Flag

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Together We Can Make Dreams Come True

Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – Immigration Stories

Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Is Xenophobia Ever Christlike?

Kathy Escobar at the carnival in my head – it’s a lot easier to be against immigration when you have papers

Steve Hayes at Khanya – Christians and the Immigration Issue

Ellen Haroutunian – Give Me Your Tired

Bethany Stedman – Choosing Love Instead of Fear

Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – Of Rape and Refuge and Eyes Wide Shut

Joshua Seek – Loving Our Immigrant Brother

Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – Christians and Immigration

Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – You’re Absolutely Right

Peter Walker – Immigration Reform

Steven Calascione at Eirenikos – The Jealousy of Migration

George Elerick at The Love Revolution – We’re Not Kings or Gods

Beth Patterson at Virtual Tea House – What we resist not only persists but will eventually become our landlord

K. W. Leslie at The Evening of Kent – On American Immigration

11 thoughts on “Is xenophobia ever Christlike?

  1. Matthew 25:34:40 including; “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”
    I haven’t been able to see how to reconcile following Jesus and obeying his commands with any sort of anti-immigrant rhetoric or behavior.
    The obeying the law argument only goes so far. For one thing we can change unjust laws (and our immigration laws are unjust).
    For another the argument “illegal is illegal” only goes so far in a country founded on resisting legal authority (the American Revolution) and as I see everyday most of our society rather picks and chooses obeying the minor regulations of our society; (a great example is speeding).
    As I see it Jesus is pretty explicit in instructing us to love the stranger and expanded our understanding of who our neighbor is dramatically. His core commands were to love the LORD our GOD and love our neighbor as ourselves. God gave me the incredible blessing of living in a country and in a place so richly blessed with great resources. It’s not my job to hoard them but to share what I have with those around me in need. (Making it impossible for anyone in need to be around me doesn’t count!)


  2. I think a legitimate case can be made for setting boundaries. After all, we have locks on the doors of our homes to discourage unwanted guests. Nevertheless, when a neighbour is in need, what do we do?
    Here are two stories to get people thinking, only from this week. Firstly, a women whom we’ve helped from time to time rocks up after the service on Sunday with the sixteen year old friend of her daughter. This sixteen year old been kicked out of home, and though she’d been welcomed to stay in the house of this friend for a short while, their own rental conditions precluded her staying there long term. We would have violated our own boundaries to extend an offer of long term accomodation (for reasons I won’t go into publically) but we still wanted to exercise hospitality as far as we were able. What did we do? My wife helped her to recover her clothes and organize some accomodation in a shelter. In essense, we’d exercised an immigration policy, but we still made sure she was provisioned for. We didn’t turn her away or say, not my problem.
    Second, a young woman from our church recently got married to her sweetheart from America. Applied for a temporary visa so she could return with him. Was knocked back and told to go through the full green card process. It’s knocked their short term plans to pieces. We can understand some of it intellectually (some, not all) but is immigration ever an issue we can approach dispationately and rationally? I suspect not.


  3. I don’t know, I think we have too many boundaries and think of too many things as ours that aren’t really. But yes there can be some common place boundaries put in place. Reviewing for criminal (violent) convictions and terrorism connections seems reasonable.
    I also want the limited space I can provide to be beneficial to those I can offer it to. People have to have an exit plan of where they are going and some understanding of how long things are going to last. They also have to like dogs and cats alot (since I have so many). And they have to get along with hubby since he is my main impediment to having people stay. I am more and more convinced that Jesus does not intend for us to put our trust in material things but to share what we have with those who need it.


  4. Matt – Great post and great point! I am also often disgusted by the actions and words of people in the U.S. when it comes to the immigration issue (and other social and political issues). The way people treat others they disagree with or who are different is often shocking – the lack of civil discourse, hospitality and generosity that so often comes from Christians is not only shocking but heart breaking.


  5. There does have to be a balance. My family once had a woman living with us, along with her kids. Some unpleasantness took place and we had to ask her to leave. But we found a place for her to go to. I believe that the Christian response must be balanced with love and hospitality. If we are to tell these people that they’re not allowed to come in illegally, then we must be willing to help them come in legally.


  6. Thanks for the great post, Matt!
    Reminded me of the work I did with the root word hospes–from which comes hospice, hospitality, etc. while teaching for hospice for 20 years.
    If we cannot welcome the stranger outside, how can we entertain the stranger from within?


  7. hit the nail on the head, matt, with “I think it’s time we recover a forgotten truth. That the Christian practice of hospitality, that we are all called to, is the opposite of xenophobia.” thanks for sharing.


  8. Joshua, the Christian contradictions are particularly acute when some of the refugees coming to Australia are Christian converts fleeing from persecution in Muslim countries. What would we do in their position?


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