Defining the Borders of Human Rights

Cameron.jpg Cameron Ventura, Immigration Activist

Two days ago I was laying in bed, about to fall asleep, when I heard a noise. We have one of the loudest refrigerators in the world, so this happens pretty often – nothing to think twice about. But then my one-year-old Miniature Dachshund jumped up and started freaking out. This was more rare. Not the barking – she does that fairly often – – but when she is asleep, it takes quite a lot to get her up. So then I’m faced with the decision of whether I ignore the noise, attributing it to some “normal” house noise, or do I get up out of the comfortable bed and do a perimeter check.

The obvious next stop on the mind journey is, “what happens if I find someone out there?”. I’m pretty confident that most thieves would flee when confronted – but still, if my house is vandalized, things stolen, damage done – that becomes a headache of tasks to accomplish very quickly. (And yes, this whole mind-conversation is happening while still laying in bed).

So after I either confront this thieving jerk (or scare him away) – I obviously have to call 911 and alert the authorities. This will lead to paperwork, interviews, investigations, pursuit of clues, insurance claims, reimbursements (hopefully), trips to multiple stores, perhaps a trip to “the station” to identify a perp, courtrooms, and for sure – a guillotine (pretty sure half of these things are wrong). (Still in bed? Of course).

This led me to consider what this same experience would be like if instead of 21st century America, I was in Russia or Mumbai or Haiti. I quickly tossed a “thank you Jesus” prayer up just for the comfort that comes from being here, at this time, with these laws and institutions whose jobs are to ensure justice. No – the bad guy doesn’t always get caught – but we all experience a level of justice that has been unmet in the history of humanity – and I sure don’t think about that often enough.

The idea of “rights” or “protections” existing for a people who share the same nationality or citizenship isn’t a new concept. We’ve heard of the benefits of being a Roman citizen back in the days of Jesus. We know that Paul used his citizenship to get him out of at least one precarious situation. Citizenship is a good thing, providing a level of protection and an assurance of justice that feels intrinsic for most of us. To apply it to the story above – I never once had concern that the Police force would plant evidence to make it look like I staged the break-in, I never questioned whether the thief had rights to be in my home uninvited, I never questioned whether I would be cuffed and have my home ransacked by the officers.

This concept of citizenship and the benefits that flow from it is vibrant throughout Scripture too. But what strikes me as I investigate this concept (especially in the Old Testament), is the emphasis placed on those who aren’t citizens. If you search Scripture for this idea you will come to the Hebrew word “Ger”. This word can mean stranger, alien, or sojourner and is used 92 times in the Old Testament. Intrinsic in this word is the idea of one who doesn’t have rights. Take a second to think about that. Living in the United States, all of us have bred into us the belief that all humans have intrinsic rights. These are things which no man or government can take away from us. The suppression of these rights has led to revolution and protest, murder and war.

What would life look like if all of our rights were removed – if we took on the identity of “one with no rights”?

In America, most of us would agree that even if not a citizen, every person is due certain rights. We may not believe that they are due all of the rights of our country, but as humankind, they are endowed with certain rights. But what rights are those? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Just life? Justice? Health care? This has become one of the most divisive questions in our modern culture – relating to both citizens and non-citizens alike. If you’ve never thought through this question for yourself before – I encourage you to stop reading and dwell on it for a few minutes. We mustn’t take this practice likely – because how we answer this question has profound implications.

Let’s take a step back and evaluate what Scripture says about these “right-less people”. In the B.C. era injustice was rampant. Humanity was much more de-centralized than today and the strong were almost unfettered when it came to demonstrating their strength. Having wealth and power enabled you to do whatever you wished, as long as no one with greater wealth or power had a different opinion. This led to rampant slavery, frequent wars, and maybe harshest of all – no real authority fighting for justice upon which one could appeal to for help. Though we’ve always had governments and taxes to pay, without cell phones and vehicles, much of the world lived in essential anarchy.

One thing I love about the Kingdom of God is how, from the very beginning, anywhere it is present it is a bastion for justice. God’s very nature is such that He requires things to be right. All throughout the Old Testament His ears are open for those, both His people and those who don’t yet know him, who are crying out for justice (seriously – look at Nineveh. These were bad people, no presence of the Kingdom of God. Yet God hears the cry of the recipients of injustice and he acts on this by sending Jonah. He has a soft spot for those being treated as though they had no rights).

If you’re wondering why the Old Testament would use “Ger” (stranger, sojourner, alien – immigrant, refugee) so many times – perhaps it’s starting to make sense. Not only does God have a heart for those with “no rights” – but often HIS people are the ones being displaced. Abraham, Moses, David, Joseph – the list is endless. On top of that, it’s important to note that the very act of leaving your home, your people, your country is dangerous. Relocating creates need. Relocating makes you vulnerable. God loves the vulnerable.

So often when Scripture references the Ger, he is expressing how he wants his people to protect them, to advocate for them, and to take them in as family. I encourage you to intentionally place yourself in the midst of the sojourners in your context. Eat out, shop at Walmart, go to the DMV. But also go a step further. Learn where the strangers in your community are being taken advantage of. Be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. Advocate on behalf of those with no rights. Love the stranger.

In parting – I encourage you to spend time in prayer for the right-less among you. Spend a few minutes today meditating on what life would look like if you were in their shoes. Consider how you can speak on their behalf to your local government and law enforcement to help protect them from injustice. Injustice – however small – is anti-Kingdom of God. Will you join me in fighting for justice on behalf of those who are most vulnerable in our community?

Grace and peace.


Memphis immigration Project exists to engage issues of Immigration from a biblical perspective.

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