“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” —Lev 19:33-34
I spent a large portion of my life as a member of mostly white evangelical churches. I went on mission trips to Latin America and Mexico and was generally taught that it was our duty as Christians to help those in need, regardless of where they lived, what race they were, what language they spoke. In fact, the Bible stresses its followers’ responsibility to help the poor: the foreigner in your land, those in prison, orphans, widows, anyone without the resources to help themselves.
There are about two dozen verses saying essentially the same thing in regards to foreigners in your land: Welcome them with open arms. Feed them. Clothe them. Shelter them. Remember that your people were refugees too, who fled famine and relied on the kindness of strangers.
So while I’m not shocked to learn that white evangelicals are the group most likely to say that the U.S. has no responsibility for refugees, according to a new poll from Pew, I’m having a hard time understanding how they reconcile that with their sacred text.
I have evangelical friends who have dedicated their lives to supporting refugee communities, like the one in Clarkston, Ga., just a few miles from the Paste office. But I also see people like one of my old youth pastors posting anti-immigrant scare-tactic videos from Fox News on Facebook. Sadly, Pew’s survey would suggest that my friends in Clarkston are in the minority in today’s evangelical church.
So why do 68% of white evangelicals think we have no responsibility to accept refugees? Same question for the 50% of white mainline Protestants, 28% of black Protestants and 45% of Catholics—evangelicals aren’t the only American Christians choosing to interpret those particular commands of God with an asterisk. (Though it’s worth noting that the African Methodist Episcopalian Church has been very vocal in their opposition to President Trump’s policies).
The answer I mostly get from people is that, “The law is the law and undocumented immigrants have broken the law.” Never mind that these same people tend to have no problem when Christian missionaries travel to other countries without missionary visas, as Twitter user Danny Cortez pointed out yesterday.
Cortez says he used to smuggle Bibles into closed countries, falsifying his visa application to hide his missionary activities.
But the question posed by Pew was about refugees, not undocumented immigrants. That a majority of white evangelicals and 50% of white mainline Protestants would say the U.S. has no responsibility for refugees speaks to a deeper anti-immigration sentiment than we’ve experienced in this country in a long time. It’s part of our country’s growing partisan divide, and just as evangelicals have tended to throw in their lot with the Republican party on seemingly non-religious questions like taxation and gun rights, they’ve shifted to the right on immigration, as well. We no longer see Republican leaders talking about increasing legal immigration as we did just a few years ago. It’s all about securing our borders.
I’m no longer part of an evangelical church, so I can’t speak from within that community. But I will always have a soft spot for a religion that taught me to stand up for the oppressed. So as an outsider, I’ll just do what I was taught to do and quote Scripture:
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say “Amen!” – Deut 27:19