Provider of Bible studies and counsel to members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet Ralph Drollinger doesn’t like to be called a dominionist or a Christian nationalist. Loosely, these terms refer to people who believe the laws of the United States should reflect and be based on the teachings of Christianity. Any other influence is false and will lead to bad government.
In a recent newsletter Drollinger uses (misuses) Hebrew words for foreigners to inform legislators about what he believes U.S. immigration policy should be. In essence, he concludes “May God grant you, our lawmakers, wisdom in crafting this last point into a policy that is pleasing to God. I pray for you in this regard.”
The heart of Drollinger’s message is a rigid classification of non-natives based on different Hebrew words. He apparently hasn’t done the study himself; he based his classification on the work of James Hoffmeier. Hoffmeier’s work on these words has been criticized as overly rigid attempts to apply modern legal concepts of citizenship to the ancient Hebrews (see this article).
I am not going to repeat Bojidar Marinov’s article but what stood out to me was Marinov’s research into the use of the words for foreigner in the Old Testament and the lack of legal structure matching our own. The words aren’t always clearly differentiated. Furthermore, the words don’t correspond to categories which make sense in modern America. Marinov wrote:
In this specific case, to know if Hoffmeier’s interpretation of the terms is correct, we need to look not to our modern legal concepts but to the Bible. Does the Bible contain any practical example of the legal difference between ger and nekhar? Does it have an example of an illegal alien arrested and deported back to his land? Does it have any legal stipulation in the Law of God declaring “illegal immigration” to be a crime? Does it contain the specific penalties for such a crime? Does it mention an institution charged with issuing visas or permits? Does it mention a legal procedure that grants a ger status to foreigners? Simply sticking our modern concepts on top of those terms is poor scholarship; we need to be consistent with the Bible, not with our modern times, to know if a hermeneutic is correct.
The Bible has nothing like this. There is no such crime mentioned, no penalties, no institution charged with enforcement, no permits, no visas, no deportations. The very concept of immigration control is missing; it’s nowhere to be seen. If Hoffmeier is correct in his interpretation of the terms, where would the Hebrews take all these definitions he is proposing? Suck them out of thin air? Go to Edom or Egypt? But even Edom and Egypt didn’t have specific laws nor legal definitions of these concepts; all they had is the whim of a ruler. How would a Hebrew know all the specific details Hoffmeier claims were present in the terms? And how would the Hebrew society know how to enforce them?
Drollinger wants his politician followers to enact his anti-immigrant interpretation of biblical words into law without regard for the fact that Christian interpreters differ about the meaning and significance of the words. He claims he has the correct Bible teaching and that it is wrong to craft policy on any other basis. How can this not be evangelical Christian nationalism?
Even if we use these words as guides, there isn’t evidence that those people referred to by Drollinger as “illegal” were not allowed into Israel. Word studies demonstrate that so-called “illegals” were allowed to cross the borders into Israel lawfully and in fact were drawn to the nation in a positive manner. For instance, I Kings 8:41-43 says:
As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.
Where is the Hebrew version of ICE? Foreigners were treated differently and had different requirements, especially respecting religious ceremonies but they were allowed to be in the country. This is a far cry from what Drollinger is advising Trump’s cabinet.
While America is not Israel and we are not a covenant nation, we are attractive to those who long for freedom. Ronald Reagan put this in religious terms with his “shining city on a hill” motif. Today’s evangelical Republicans have twisted their Christianity to make it exclusionary to match the political mood, not the biblical text.