Could a More 'Modern' Bible Translation Help Steer the Nation's Policies on the 'Immigrant?'

A new translation of the Bible now includes the word "immigrant," taking the place of "alien" and "stranger," further supporting moral debate concerning Alabama's controversial immigration law, otherwise known as the "Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act."

Unlike the new Common English Bible (CEB), both the King James Version and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible use the term "stranger," while the New American Standard Bible uses the term "alien," according to a review by Robert Parham of Ethics Daily.

The new translation found in the CEB could prove to be a moving argument in current moral debates regarding Alabama's HB 56 Immigration Bill, signed by Gov. Robert Bentley in June.

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The bill, widely regarded as the strictest anti-immigration law in the U.S., allows the police to question and arrest suspected illegal immigrants. It also requires those seeking certain business transactions, such as buying a car, to provide state identification.

Alabama's immigration law has been classified as "the nation's most merciless anti-immigration legislation" by leaders of the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and United Methodist communities, representing 338,000 of the state's faithful. The coalition of religious leaders filed a lawsuit in August in an attempt to block the legislation.

The leaders expressed concern that Christians would be prevented from following "God's mandate that the faithful are humbly bound to welcome and care for all people."

"The pastors are failing, within the evangelical movement, in contextualizing the message to their members to call the elected officials at the local and federal level, and encourage an immigration reform that is not amnesty, but is not Alabama either. We have to find something in the middle that has a biblical balance," the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the California-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told CNN earlier this month.

Queue the new CEB translation?

Although the new "immigrant" translation choice does not change the way humans inherently view strangers, it does provide a more contemporary tone on how to treat strangers.

"[God] enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt," reads Deuteronomy 10:18-19.

As associate publisher Paul Franklyn contended on the Common English Bible, humans are naturally fearful of the unknown. This new translation could help Christians on how to handle this inherent fear.

"[…] we have not eliminated the fear that permeates our society when new waves of immigrants compete for resources with old waves of immigrants," Franklyn said in a 2010 statement.

"Love a neighbor as yourself. Love an immigrant as yourself. It's a relevant translation," contends Franklyn.

As Archbishop Rodi of the Diocese of Mobile, Ala., said in a statement in early August: "Throughout our history we have been a nation of immigrants. The words of Moses to the Hebrew people should resonate in our own hearts: 'You shall not oppress or afflict the alien among you, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.' "

A recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey reveals that over 45 percent of Alabama's population define themselves as Evangelical. This new Bible translation could potentially prove to be a powerful argument capable of swaying Alabama's community against the state's HB 56 Law.

As Parham argues on Ethics Daily, using the word "immigrant" in the Bible is faithful to the ancient texts, and does not manipulate the Bible in an effort to fit an ideological agenda.

"Being faithful to the Bible will shape the church's mission and vision, which in turn ought to affect the nation's political agenda," Parham concludes.

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