Bishop's Message

How we should treat aliens

“As Christians, we should welcome aliens and invite them to integrate into the life of the community, treat them with justice and compassion, and reach out to them with the blessings that are in Jesus our Lord.”

THERE IS A WORD in the New International Version of the Bible that may sound rather odd to non-American readers. It is the word “aliens”, a word that conjures up images of visitors from outer space. But the word is not as dramatic as that; it refers to those in our midst who are termed “foreigners”.

Both words carry connotations of persons who are quite different from us. Their “otherness” is emphasised. Because they are considered quite different from us, they are kept at an arm’s distance, or worse, locals may react with different degrees of hostility. Or they may be treated as less than human.

The Bible recognises all these possibilities and addresses them in some detail. These are lessons that still have fresh relevance for us today. The population of Singapore has grown significantly in the past few years. Most of this is due not to biological growth (which is at a record low level, even after several attempts by the Government to help increase it – most of which have been largely frustrated), but by the influx of migrants. Today, the population of Singapore is more than 5 million, of which 3.2 million are citizens, 500,000 are permanent residents, and the rest are foreign expatriates and migrant workers.

This significant influx of foreigners is clearly noticeable and tangible – in shared public spaces. Churches have also felt this in significant ways. Almost in every church there are new worshippers from foreign lands; some of them have chosen to worship together in their own groups – Koreans, Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, and even Russians. Churches have also initiated ministries among migrant workers – from China, South Asia, and other regions. Some of these have grown into significant ministries.

On the ground, debates go on about whether the large influx of foreigners in our midst is a good thing or not. On the one hand, there are arguments for welcoming them as it would widen our talent pool. After all, many of our own parents or grandparents were migrants themselves. On the other hand, there are arguments that such a large influx is destabilising Singaporean society – a society that has been carefully shaped in recent decades through policies and campaigns. ere must be a clear and significant difference between citizens and those who are not, the argument goes.

In the midst of such debates, the question for Christians is how they should respond to the influx of foreigners both in the general society and in churches. Scripture teaches some key principles.

The Bible records that God loves the alien (Dt. 10:18). Perhaps God understands the experience; when Jesus came to earth, He was often treated like an outsider, a stranger. The world did not recognise Him; neither did His own people receive Him (Jn. 1:10-11). God also called Abraham to live as an alien in Canaan (Gen. 17:8). He responded with His mighty power to rescue Abraham’s descendents who were suffering in Egypt under the yoke of slavery (Ex. 2:23-25; 22:21).

God expects us to be hospitable to aliens and to treat them fairly. ere is to be no oppression of aliens in the land. There are numerous passages in the Law or Torah (the first five books in the Bible) and in the Prophets along these lines. In His commands to the people of Israel, God warns them not to mistreat or oppress the aliens (Lev. 19:33). is is echoed by the prophets when they envision a just and compassionate society based on the laws of God.

Aliens face particular problems – especially those who are poor and without much support. In the ancient biblical community, aliens were to be treated and accepted with love. “ The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 19:34). They were to be treated with justice. The same laws that protect the rights of the native-born should also apply to the aliens (Lev. 24:22). “You and the alien shall be the same before the LORD: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.” (Num. 15:15-16). is also meant that aliens too were expected to abide by the laws of the land (Num. 9:14) and to integrate themselves with the community.

IN BIBLICAL TIMES, many aliens were poor and life was tough, a situation we are not unfamiliar with even today. e Israelites were expected to show kindness to such aliens – leaving portions from their harvesting for hungry aliens (Lev. 23:22). In their Spirit-inspired vision of our great future in God, the biblical prophets

saw how aliens would be welcomed into God’s land and kingdom. Isaiah prophesied, “Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.” (Is. 61:5). Ezekiel revealed God’s intentions: ‘“You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD” (Ezek. 47:21-23).

Paul saw this being fulfilled when God incorporated Gentiles into the church. They were “no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household”. (Eph. 2:19).

God’s hospitality to the alien was depicted in Caleb’s life. He is celebrated as the man, together with Joshua who had tremendous faith in God, unlike his fellow spies who were sent to survey Canaan. Caleb was an alien. Caleb is identified as the son of Jephunneh (Num. 14:6) who was a Kennizite (Num. 32:12), a descendent of Kenaz, a grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:11). At what point Caleb joined the Israelites and was welcomed and integrated into the tribe of Judah is not known, but he became one of them and an important figure in the Exodus.

As Christians, we should welcome aliens and invite them to integrate into the life of the community, treat them with justice and compassion, and reach out to them with the blessings that are in Jesus our Lord.