“Dear moderate Christian Republicans, as a Muslim always asked to defend my alleged moderation for the past 16 years, here's a sincere opportunity for you to step up and reclaim the Bible, Jesus and your religion from men and women using it to separate kids from their parents.”
I tweeted this invitation and request upon hearing Attorney General Jeff Sessions cite the Bible, Romans 13, to defend the administration’s zero tolerance, deterrence policy that detains and separates undocumented minors from their parents at the U.S. border. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders supported his biblical justification by saying: “I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law...It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.”
On an ordinary day in America, it would be a great scandal when the nation’s top lawyer and the president’s liaison to the press both seem to be blissfully unaware that the United States is a pluralistic democracy that advocates separation of church and state and is bound by the Constitution which features the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that prohibits the establishment of religion by the government. But in the ever decaying, deepening, moral abyss that is the Trump administration, this is just another forgettable warm up act before the new horror show of the week.
In defense of Jeff Sessions, Romans 13 has been used in the past, but often to justify slavery and apartheid. That it was used to defend a policy of detaining 2,500 children, some of them living in cages and detention centers, shouldn’t surprise anyone. People of self-professed faith often find their way to molding religion around their political objectives.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who is moved by the Christian Holy Spirit, insisted that these children were merely experiencing a “summer camp.” Ann Coulter, another conservative Christian, said we should give these kids Oscars because they’re “child actors.” Not to be outdone, Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, asked America to hold his beer while he mocked an undocumented minor with Down Syndrome who was separated from her mother. This is the same man who once said that Christian “faith played a big part in the [Trump] campaign.”
Trump himself never directly cited the bible to justify his policy. Instead, he blamed Democrats for wanting illegal immigrants to “infest” the United States and claimed his hands were tied to do anything else. On Wednesday afternoon, he finally reversed course and said he would sign an Executive Order ending family separation at the border.
But his new order only shifts the cruelty of his previous policy by seeking to detain undocumented minors and their parents indefinitely in “facilities” which are essentially modern day internment camps. He seeks to undo the Flores settlement, which prohibits minors from being detained more than 20 days. He’s deliberately manufacturing a crisis and conflict with the courts —just to detain and punish migrants and their children.
In Isaiah 61:1, Jesus says God sent him “to bring good to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”
I ask: Will the moderate Christian Republicans please stand up?
I ask because, as a Muslim, I don’t recognize Trump’s Jesus or Christianity. I first encountered the Christian version of Jesus while reading the Bible at my all boys, Catholic high school. To the anguish of Father Allender, my religious studies teacher, I had the highest grade every semester, followed by Kalyan, a Hindu, and Naveed, a non practicing Muslim. I was attracted to the stories and the Jesuit motto of service: “men for others.” To me, the heart of the New Testament is Agape, which refers to God’s unconditional love. This is the love that fueled Jesus’s entire mission and is clearly articulated in Matthew 25:40, where he preached, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
I empathize with the frustration of millions of Christians horrified that their religious values and Holy Book have been hijacked by an extremist minority in power to rationalize bigotry and hateful policies. Ever since the 9-11 terror attacks, I’ve been asked to be a walking Wikipedia entry on all things Islam and Muslim-y and engage in an endless “condemnathon,” apologizing for criminal acts done by radicalized men and women I’ve never met in countries I’ve never visited. All robust condemnations, eloquent refutations, and sincere attempts at education fall on deaf ears to those who keep asking me to prove my alleged moderation. For many Republican politicians, conservative pundits, Christian leaders and their “Values Voters,” the fear persists that somehow Muslims, one percent of America’s population, will take over America, replace the Constitution and put a burqa on the Statue of Liberty.
But what if it’s the Trump administration and its supporters that represent extremism that moderate Christians and Republicans should be pressed to condemn? Perhaps it’s their absolutism that will subvert democratic norms, freedoms and institutions, which to them are merely tools for their divisive and hateful agendas?
We know that the religious minded have flocked to Trump. Nearly 81% of white evangelical christians voted for him in 2016 , along with 60% of white Catholics. This also is the group most likely to be dogmatic about immigration policy. In a January Washington Post-ABC poll, 75% of white evangelical Christians rated the “federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants” as a positive.
What’s the appeal of Donald Trump, a racist, lying adulterer who said he should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for avoiding STDs and never attends church? Well, he promised these “values voters” that under his administration “our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended, like you’ve never seen before.”
But religion under the Trump administration has not been protected and defended. Instead, it has been invoked and unsheathed as a malicious sword against innocent, undocumented children, who have been used as pawns to enact a cruel immigration policy and a border wall. A sword is a fitting weapon for Trump considering he said his favorite Bible verse is “eye for an eye,” featured in Exodus 21. The irony is that Jesus singled out and rejected that old Mosaic law in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus never said the Kingdom of Heaven would include a border wall paid for by the Romans and enforced by beefed up Praetorian Guardsmen who would keep out refugees, immigrants fleeing persecution, children and foreigners.
And yet, everything Trump corrupts is forgiven, because he is a “modern-day Cyrus” according to Evangelical pastors. Cyrus was the ancient, pagan, Persian King who welcomed exiled Jews back to Israel. Like Cyrus, Trump is apparently a flawed instrument with divine legitimacy chosen by God to “navigate in chaos” and fulfill a greater plan. But unlike Cyrus, Trump can’t welcome foreigners — undocumented immigrants and refugees — to America. Alas, nobody’s perfect, especially a flawed king.
Other prominent Christian personalities, such as Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron, absolve Trump by comparing his sexual discretions to King David, who impregnated another man’s wife and then sent him to die in battle. Although King David atoned for his sins and asked forgiveness, Trump has publicly said he doesn’t need to ask God forgiveness.
To his credit, Evangelical pastor Franklin Graham, who according to Trump was “instrumental” in helping him win over evangelical Christians, condemned Trump’s border separation policy as “disgraceful.” But, Graham still believes that God put Trump in the White House. Listening to these religious leaders, I’m reminded of a verse from the Bible, 2 Corinthians 11:13: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”
Will the moderate Christian Republicans please stand up?
Thankfully, several Christian leaders did stand up, and spoke out loudly against Trump’s “zero tolerance policy.” Earlier this week in Washington D.C., ahead of the President’s meeting with House Republicans on immigration, many evangelical leaders asked Congress and the administration to immediately end his policy of family separation. Citing the Bible, Kent Annan, Senior Fellow at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, said, “As evangelical Christians, we’re committed to the Bible as our top authority, and the Scriptures speak clearly and repeatedly about God’s concern for vulnerable foreigners, including refugees...as Christians who believe that all people bear God’s image, as well as people committed to religious liberty for all, this is very troubling.”
I pray leaders in Trump’s administration listen to their fellow Christians who are invoking Jesus, the Bible and Christian morality to denounce their hateful immigration policy. I pray Attorney General Jeff Sessions listens to over 640 members of his own United Methodist church, who condemned his defense of the border policy and are seeking church law charges against him for alleged “child abuse.”
I pray that Vice President Mike Pence, perhaps the most devout member of Trump’s administration, is listening as well. Allegedly, Pence believes Jesus talks to him. I pray Jesus does. I pray he asks him to read Matthew 18: 4-5, where Jesus tells his disciples: “Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” I pray Mike Pence understands the words and the spirit behind them and then counsels President Trump to act accordingly, like a proper Christian.
Mostly, I hope and pray for the moderate Christian Republicans to please stand up and finally denounce this administration and its cruelty.