With Mayor Pete Buttigieg blasting the “hypocrisy” of Trump-supporting evangelicals, coupled with news that Donald Trump wants to reinstate the child separation policy at the border, I’ve concluded that Mayor Pete has a point.
That’s not to say the “religious left”—who must grapple with their own hypocrisy on hot-button issues like the Right to Life—have cornered the market on virtue. But it is to say that it’s hard for me to see how conservative Christians in the Trump era can square their theology with their politics.
One need look no further than biblical scripture to find guidance that is relevant to the border policy. Exodus 23:9 says, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
And when it comes to separating children, I’m reminded of the book of Matthew, where Jesus says, “[W]hoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” and “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
To make sure I’m not too far out in left field, I asked my friend Daniel Darling, who is Vice President for Communications of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, for his take. “Policies that unnecessarily separate mothers and fathers from their children go against what social conservatives believe about the importance of the institution of the family,” Darling told me.
“Evangelicals, because we believe every human being is created in the image of God and possesses worth and dignity, should use our power and voice to urge a more humane policy that balances both security and compassion,” he continued.
This sounds right to me. There’s nothing wrong with having a secure border. In fact, that strikes me as a fundamental responsibility of a nation. But there is something terribly wrong about being uncompassionate about it. In this regard, Trump’s reported desire to reinstate the child separation policy isn’t just a departure from Christian conservative beliefs, it’s a departure from modern conservative thinking.
When Darling and I were both coming of age, being a Christian conservative wasn’t an oxymoron—at least, certainly not when it came to refugees and immigration. I remember hearing a sermon in the 1980s that condemned Franklin Roosevelt for turning away almost a thousand refugees aboard the St. Louis ocean liner in 1939, many of whom would go on to die in the Holocaust.
Around the same time I heard that sermon, Ronald Reagan was welcoming hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” to our shores. This wasn’t something he was trying to hide from his base, either. During his farewell address in 1989, the Gipper said he had been reflecting on his eight years in office, and “the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one—a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor.”
He went on to tell the story of a U.S. sailor aboard the Midway who was patrolling the South China Sea, who spotted “a leaky little boat.” And “crammed insider were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America.” Upon being rescued, one refugee called out to him, “Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.'' Reagan said he couldn’t get this out of his mind, because “…that's what it was to be an American in the 1980s. We stood, again, for freedom.”
This ethos continued into the 21st century, when George W. Bush won the presidency declaring that “family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River.” But then 9-11 and the Great Recession happened. And an abundance mentality based in faith was replaced by a scarcity mentality conceived in fear. And then, Republicans lost two consecutive presidential elections to Barack Obama.
And then, you end up with Donald Trump, a president who launched his campaign by warning about Mexican rapists, who focused his inaugural address on an image of “American carnage,” and who is currently calling U.S. asylum policy a “scam” while cutting aid to the Central American countries that refugees are desperately fleeing.
Separating parents from their children is a moral disaster. Judges or no judges, there’s no way to justify supporting this.
By failing to condemn Trump’s border policies, evangelicals on the right are turning a blind eye to the lessons of the Bible and Ronald Reagan.
Is nothing sacred?