In today’s political climate, we’re all quite aware of the reality that there are people seeking asylum in the United States because of threatening situations in their home countries. They’re often referred to as aliens, which has negative connotations that make us think of how different they are from us and how uncomfortable they make us feel.
This challenge didn’t begin in our time. America has been built by generations of aliens who have been assimilated into the population and become part of who we are. The Statue of Liberty’s famous inscription says profoundly:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
People from every corner of the world have accepted this invitation and have been embraced as part of America.
The Old Testament tells the story of God’s people, Israel, becoming established in their own homeland. One of the things God warns them about is how they should treat aliens who settle among them:
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
I recently noticed that the word alien is hidden in the familiar wording of our nation’s Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thomas Jefferson seems to be saying that there are certain rights that come with being human. These can’t be separated out, alienated, from who the person is. It’s clear to us today that Jefferson had some blinders on when he said this. It would take nearly a century and a bloody Civil War to abolish slavery and stop alienating African- Americans from the “self-evident” human right to “liberty.” And his reference to “all men” excluded women from the full “pursuit of happiness” through participation as citizens, until they received the right to vote in 1920.
For those of us who base our faith on the Bible, it’s clear that Thomas Jefferson was reflecting the implications of the Genesis Creation account, where the origin of human beings is shown to be unique:
So God created humans in his image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
In the image of God: that’s what makes it self-evident that every human being has certain unalienable rights. That’s what makes every person special. Author C. S. Lewis put it this way:
There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. (from The Weight of Glory)
So, those aliens being detained at our southern border, they have the same unalienable rights as you do. There are no throwaway people, for each one is uniquely made in God’s image.
— Pastor George Van Alstine