What our faith says about caring for immigrants and refugees

An interview about The Stranger at our Shore

October 18, 2022

The theme of care for immigrants and sojourners is one of Scripture’s repeated commands for the people of God. From God’s reminder to the people of Israel to care for the sojourner for they were once sojourners in Egypt, to the story of Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape the murderous intentions of King Herod in the gospels, the command ot care for those who are without a home is repeated and affirmed. For Christians in the West, immigration has sometimes been a topic which has evoked thoughts more along political lines than those of faith. That is why Joshua Sherif’s recent book, The Stranger at Our Shore: How Immigrants and Refugees Strengthen the Church (Moody, 2022), is such a helpful addition to the conversation of immigrants, refugees, and the call of Christians to care for them. An immigrant himself as a child, Sherif’s story and pastoral wisdom is a guide for Christians seeking to share the love of Christ with those coming to the shores of the United States and through the doors of our churches. He recently joined us to answer a few questions about his life story and book. 

1. A lot of this book is about your personal testimony and life story. Can you just briefly share about your life and how it relates to this topic of immigration?

I am an immigrant from Egypt. I came as a boy with my Mother and sister. Together we walked through the hardships and joys of life in a new country. From legal issues to cultural issues we faced what many immigrants and refugees see every day as they build their new life in a new land.  

2. What are some of the challenges/opportunities that you see for the church regarding

immigration and refugees?

This issue is at our doorstep. In our global world, this topic is more relevant now than ever before. Church leaders don’t need a book that shames them, but rather equips, emboldens, and encourages them. The book tackles this topic in a sensitive but engaging way that helps individuals and churches to take practical next steps. The mix of compelling storytelling and empowering biblical teaching is set up for both individual reading and small group engagement, with reflection questions included at the end of each chapter. 

The church is already equipped in many ways—and my personal story is a testimony that the Church has done things well! What made the difference to me is that the church became a family to us and welcomed us into relationship with Christ—and I’m hoping to call people to that same biblical mandate and repeat the process. This is not an issue for the “experts,” theologians, missionaries, or the politicians to deal with—this is an issue for every single person in the church. If average Christian people can be equipped to reach out to immigrants and refugees, people groups who are so different from them, then who can’t they reach for Christ?

3. Through a classmate who is married to someone navigating the immigration system, I’ve gotten a picture into the challenges of what that looks like, from the paperwork and bureaucracy to even just the long time it can take, all of which I had no idea about. So, can you share some of those pieces that might not be front of mind.

Every sojourner’s story is unique, and their needs and challenges are different. However, we all face one system and a painstaking legal process in this country. One of the challenges that people don’t often think of is corruption even in our own system that takes advantage of the powerless. I remember our family saved $1,000 to pay a lawyer to sort paperwork for us. That lawyer ended up stealing our money and doing nothing. It left us feeling powerless, scared, and discouraged. This is just one example among many. Though the legal system is necessary for protection, immigrants and refugees deal with so many organizations and cold, bureaucratic processes—the church can be different by being a real family, a humanizing force in a very dehumanizing world.

4. For churches and individuals, what places in Scripture would you point us to for how to think about the topic of immigration and refugees? Are there ways that you see the theme of refugees and serving the vulnerable in the storyline of Scripture?

Scripture drives the theme home from the Old Testament to the New that we are a sojourning people. The people of God lived in temporary places, and God took them on a long journey home so that they would eventually know where their home is—only in God and with God.

David says in 1 Chronicles 29:15-16: “We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.”

The author of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 11:13-16 in regards to the heroes of the faith: 

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

When we see ourselves as foreigners and strangers too on this Earth it becomes easier to have compassion on immigrants and refugees and come together to collectively long for the great City ahead of us and celebrate first and foremost our citizenship in heaven.

5. The book gives three obstacles that the church must overcome in order to be effective missionaries. What are those three, and why are they particularly important for addressing?

Inadequacy, ignorance, and indignation are the three obstacles of our own hearts that need to be addressed first. Fear is a major theme in the book and the primary thing we must discard/change in the Western church. A large part of the book deals with fear—not just fear of “the stranger” but our own feelings of inadequacy or ignorance when it comes to reaching out to anyone different from us. The book provides several practical pathways out of fear in order to help the church feel empowered to engage the immigrants, refugees, and other strangers in their communities.

6. What does it mean to serve refugees, and practically what could churches start to do that they may not be thinking about right now?

Every single day, by God’s miraculous rescue, people land on our shores hoping to build a life and a new family. The church in the West has a choice to embrace these brothers and sisters as our own, to ignore them, or worse. The theme of the table and family are key as we serve those God has brought to our shores. The table is a great equalizer, a common interest we have as all human beings to gather around food. We need a shift in understanding—we were all strangers and aliens and enemies of God—and yet, Jesus invited us all to the table. It becomes easier to bridge the gap when we see ourselves in the same story, in the same place. We are not wealthy people providing charity. We were welcomed into the family of God. Who are we to NOT welcome others into the family? When we move from charity to the greater vision of family, we see that in the end the church has just as much to receive as it does to give from our future family in Christ. 

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24