Question: "What does the Bible say about xenophobia?"
Answer: Xenophobia is fear or hatred of anything strange or foreign, particularly as it relates to people. A xenophobe often has a severe dislike of those from other cultures. Accusations of xenophobia sometimes come up in debates about illegal immigration or how a country should respond to refugee crises. People may also be charged with xenophobia in discussions of racism and discrimination or if a person refuses to interact with those of another culture, even when traveling to a foreign land. The Bible has much to say about our interactions with other people.
Xenophobia is wrong for a Christian. Genesis makes it evident that God is the creator of all people and that each of us is made in His image (Genesis 1:27). He instructed Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28) and gave the same instruction to Noah after the flood (Genesis 9:1). It was God who scattered the people after the Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11), effectively creating a situation in which there will always be those who are foreign to us. Clearly, sin has damaged humanity, but the Bible nowhere indicates that one nationality or ethnic group is superior to another. In fact, “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22–23), so we are all in need of the Savior. Revelation 5:9–10 and 7:9–12 indicate that heaven will include people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”
Paul and Silas ran into xenophobia in Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia. After preaching for several days, the missionaries were arrested. The accusation they faced before the magistrates was full of xenophobia: “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20–21). Of course, it was all a lie, and Paul and Silas were, unbeknownst to their accusers, Roman citizens themselves (verse 37).
In the Old Testament, God gives explicit instructions regarding the Israelites’ relationship with various foreigners. Many of the commands involve Israel’s being separate from other cultures, but that largely had to do with maintaining a spiritual purity. The Israelites were God’s chosen people and were meant to be distinct among the nations. Most specifically, they were not to be involved with the idol worship of the nations around them. God had prohibited the Israelites from intermarrying with the Canaanites in whose land they were to dwell (Deuteronomy 7:3), but this had nothing to do with xenophobia. It had everything to do with spiritual boundaries and preserving the spiritual purity of Israel (Exodus 34:16). And even this command had exceptions. Salmon married Rahab, a Canaanite from Jericho (Matthew 1:5). We are to “hate” the things that are not of God, such as false gods and sin. It’s not about hating or fearing foreigners or strangers; it’s about disliking that which is “foreign” to God’s truth.
In fact, when it comes to individual foreigners, the Old Testament has instructions to care for the foreigner and alien among the people. Leviticus 19:34 could not be clearer: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.” Exodus 12:48–49 opens up the Passover celebration to foreigners. If a non-Israelite living among the Israelites wanted to observe the feast, he could—provided he was circumcised first. God’s stipulation that no uncircumcised male could partake of the Passover applied equally to the native-born and foreign-born. It was the law of the land. When Moses appointed judges for the people, he instructed them, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike” (Deuteronomy 1:16–17). Jeremiah 22:3 says, “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” God often reminded the Israelites that they, too, were once sojourners in a foreign land, and He called them to have compassion on the alien living among them (Deuteronomy 10:19; 23:7).
The Old Testament teaches that God is not partial and that His plan of salvation is for all people (Psalm 146:8; Acts 10:34–35). Yes, He chose the Jews and brought about His plan of salvation through them, but He by no means neglects foreigners. Ruth and Rahab and her family are prime examples. The New Testament makes God’s saving of the Gentiles patently obvious. Jesus came because “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Galatians 3:28 says to believers, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” This is certainly not a God who calls His people to hate or fear people from other cultures. In fact, Jesus told His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Nothing counters xenophobia better than the Great Commission.
With Christ in our lives, we have no room for xenophobia. Hating or fearing people who are foreign to us is not biblical.