An adaptation of Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” is painted in graffiti on the Tijuana-side of the United States-Mexico border wall.

What the Bible says about refugees

By Alan Rudnick

President Donald Trump’s executive order denying refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries entry into the United States has led to widespread outcry across the political and religious spectrum. Despite promises, even Christian refugees have been turned away from the United States. The policy is antithetical to the notion that America — a nation of immigrants — is the land of liberty and freedom. Politically and morally, policies and provisions that exclude a religious group are ethically wrong.

I am the grandson of an immigrant. My family could not have thrived without the open immigration policy of the United States in the early 20th century. My grandfather came as a child from Poland with his mother and brother looking to make a new home. Millions of Americans are here because their parents and grandparents traveled to the United States for a better home and opportunity. How can we, as Christians, deny the same security and open borders that many 20th-century families received?

For Christians, such rejection of refugees and those seeking safety runs counter to what we read in the Bible.

Here’s what we discover in the Bible about refugees, strangers and political aliens:

  • God’s people were aliens and refugees. The story of Exodus is the story of God’s people without a land and without a home. God delivered the Israelites because “he heard their cry.” The Babylonian Exile deported the Israelites from their home. Their culture and place of worship were destroyed. God promised to redeem his people. Even Moses taught the people: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).
  • God compels us to care for strangers. The story of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ way of saying, “Hey, remember that Jews and Samaritans don’t get along? Well, I’m going tell you about a story of how you have to care for people. Even those who you despise.” Samaritans were persona non grata in Jewish circles. The reality is that if we claim to be Christian or that we have a Christian nation, our duty and responsibility is to care for those in need.
  • Jesus called for his followers to care for the least. In Matthew 25, the nations are gathered, and the righteous ask at what time Jesus was sick, imprisoned or a stranger. The reply is: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. … Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Jesus serves as the final authority of how we are to greet and care for the least of these.
  • Women and children are of special concern. In wars, famine and civil conflict, women and children are often the most displaced. James writes to the scattered people: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Christian leaders — including those of World Vision, National Association of Evangelicals, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and World Relief — wrote a letter to Donald Trump, expounding on the biblical call for care of refugees:

“The Bible teaches us that each person — including each refugee, regardless of their country of origin, religious background, or any other qualifier — is made in the Image of God, with inherent dignity and potential. Their lives matter to God, and they matter to us. While the U.S. has in recent years received only a fraction of 1 percent of the world’s refugees annually, we believe the refugee resettlement program provides a lifeline to these uniquely vulnerable individuals and a vital opportunity for our churches to live out the biblical commands to love our neighbors, to make disciples of all nations, and to practice hospitality.”

As thousands of refugees flee countries like Syria, they are a people without a land. They are aliens without a home. Refugees are strangers who have a culture, language and religion different from us. They are the least of these. They are men, women and children who are in need of a new place to call home. This “Christian nation” is called by scripture to care for the oppressed, the alien and the refugee.


An American Baptist minister, Alan Rudnick has written for The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y.; the Times Union, Albany, N.Y.; Christian Ethics; Leading Ideas and Baptist News Global. He is author of “The Work of the Associate Pastor” (Judson Press, 2012) and is a Th.D. student at La Salle University, Philadelphia. He served on the boards of American Baptist Home Mission Societies and American Baptist Churches USA.

The views expressed are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.