Theological and Biblical Critique of Alabama HB 56

Posted: June 28, 2011 by Todd in Culture, Justice, Theology
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I recently had a chance to be a part of putting together a theological and biblical critique of HB 56, which is a tough anti-immigration bill already passed into law by the Alabama legislature and signed by the governor.  The opening pages of the bill list the intentions of the bill followed by a bunch of legal definitions, so my critique focused on the first part.  You can access the bill here: /321074.pdf

Here it is:

Theological and Biblical Critique of Pages 1-10 of Alabama HB 56

“Welcoming the Stranger” as Biblical Theme

The idea of welcoming the stranger or alien is a Biblical theme throughout the Old and New Testaments.  Numerous passages abound illustrating this theme.  For example:

Deuteronomy 10:19, “You shall also love the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”


In addition to these and other verses not listed, Israel’s experience of captivity in places not their home, particularly Egypt, gave rise to a moral imperative that they would act differently to aliens than the way they were treated. For example, Israel and the Early Church continued to remember how they were treated in Egyptian captivity, as in Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, “And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and maltreat them for four hundred years.  ‘ But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God.”

A prominent law, following quickly on the heels of the Ten Commandments states, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21).”  The notion that Israel itself had once been foreigners in a strange land shaped its identity and hospitality to those not from the same place.

Did Scripture Exclude “Illegal” Immigrants in the Welcoming the Alien Theme?

It may be argued that a distinction should be made between aliens who are present legally and those who are present illegally.  Some might argue that the examples above are not persons residing in a foreign land in opposition to any law.  Yet various Jewish groups did in fact have laws preventing and regulating contact with foreigners.  Jewish laws and customs at the time of Jesus restricted contact with Gentiles (see John 4:9, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans”).  And many of the prophets indicated the impurity of having aliens preside over the temple, especially Ezekiel.  Jesus, however, did not seem to hold such purity laws in high regard, but rather practiced radical hospitality in spite of these laws, boldly speaking with a Samaritan woman.

Our Citizenship is Not of This World

Furthermore, we must be mindful, as Christians, that this world is not our home and that all of us are resident aliens.  Some ancient laws reflected this theme, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers (Leviticus 25:23).”

Hypocrisy of American Illegal Immigration Laws and Attitudes

In addition to all these things, a Christian is compelled to raise the issue of hypocrisy when it comes to illegal immigration in America.  Perhaps more than any other human flaw, Jesus condemned the sin of hypocrisy, which he found so evident in the scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees.  The land of America was populated by various native populations, prior to its European colonization. Many of these native peoples ultimately died through war and disease when settlers from Europe came to this land.  While formal laws prohibiting such invasions may not have existed, morality and Scriptural mandates prohibiting such practices certainly did.  Our heritage is a nation of immigrants, and not just immigrants, but in many cases, immoral immigrants, taking from others what belonged to someone else.  Comedian Stephen Colbert illustrated this hypocrisy beautifully when he said, “my great-grandfather didn’t travel 4,000 miles across the ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants.”

For all the reasons above, the goals stated in the introduction of Alabama HB 56 cause moral, theological, and Biblical problems for Christians and other people of conscience.  Specifically:

Page 1, lines 9-11 state that this bill will attempt “to prohibit an alien unlawfully present in the United States from receiving any state or local benefits.”  This is a violation of our Christian mandate to welcome the stranger.  How could we welcome someone, while at the same time restricting all public benefits to them?  It would be akin to inviting a dinner guest to your house for dinner and asking them to bring their own food.

Page 1, lines 11-13 state that this bill will attempt “to prohibit a person not lawfully present from being eligible on the basis of residence for education benefits.”  Likewise, how could we be considered to be welcoming the stranger by removing the thing most critical to a person’s own self-advancement, an education?  Given that most undocumented residents come to our state out of impoverished areas to seek better economic opportunity, forcing them to homeschool or seek private instruction would not be viable.

Additionally, the goals stated in page 3, lines 4-6 “to require public schools to determine the citizenship and immigration status of students enrolling” could make schools a place of fear for legal residents worried about always having the proper documentation.

Page 1, lines 13-15 state that this bill will attempt “to require business entities or employers seeking economic incentives to verify the employment eligibility of their employees and to provide penalties,” lines 17-19 state that it will attempt “to prohibit an unauthorized alien from seeking employment in this state and to provide penalties,” and Page 2, lines 1-3 state that it will attempt “to prohibit a business entity, employer, or public employer from knowingly employing an unauthorized alien and to provide penalties.”

These goals of HB 56 would undoubtedly restrict an undocumented resident’s ability to earn an income and provide for his or her family, which often is the primary goal of their relocation to our area.  Again, how could this be part of “welcoming the stranger”?  Furthermore, given that a “business entity” can be a self-employed individual (see Page 5, Section 2.(2).a, line 17) or a non-profit group (perhaps a church?; see Page 5, Section 2.(2), line 15) even if someone was attempting to welcome the stranger by a good faith economic transaction, laypersons are not generally trained or equipped to ask and verify one’s immigration status.

Likewise, goals stated on Page 3, lines 3-4, “to prohibit the enforcement of certain contracts under certain conditions,” could undermine economic security and even set up undocumented persons to be taken advantage of, violating the Biblical principle of not oppressing the alien.

Page 1, Lines 21-24 state that this bill will attempt “to criminalize certain behavior relating to concealing, harboring, shielding, or attempting to conceal, harbor, or shield unauthorized aliens and to provide penalties.”  If a church had a homeless ministry where they provided sleeping arrangements for individuals who claimed to need such services out of an effort to be faithful to the Biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger,” churches who intentionally or perhaps unintentionally “harbored” undocumented persons in such a ministry could be subject to prosecution.  Many undocumented persons would not want to put churches in this position and thus this provision would not only restrict publicly funded services, but also privately funded services to undocumented persons.

Page 3, lines 16-18 state the goal “to prohibit a landlord from knowingly entering into a rental agreement to harbor an illegal alien and provide penalties” also could undermine the Christian’s ability to welcome the stranger by eliminating available housing options, forcing undocumented persons to live in the shadows, overpopulate housing units rented/owned by legal residents, or live without housing altogether.  Furthermore, it would restrict a well-meaning landlord from welcoming a stranger who might wish to use his or her property to support those sending money to their families in foreign countries by offering a fair, reduced, or free lodging situation.

Lastly, the very name of this act, “Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act” (Page 4, lines 2-3) violates the Christian vocation that we are to take on risk and suffering of others for the benefit of others.

A Christian cannot accept protection “of me and mine” that includes the oppression of others. Cumulatively, the effect of many provisions of HB 56 is to tell the stranger in our land, “Go elsewhere.”  This law will make the church’s job more difficult and pit civic law against Biblical mandate.


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