How to Not Welcome the Stranger

With a potentially bad election day looming for Donald Trump and Republicans next week, they and their propaganda machine have gone full tilt into promoting the story that a caravan of Honduran migrants is making its way north through Mexico, towards asylum in the United States. Predictably, the news is being used to mine fear among conservative voters and drive turnout in the midterms.

Among the groups most vocally speaking out against the migrants is, of course, white evangelicals, Trump’s most persistent base of support. At Vox, Tara Isabella Burton writes of the theological pretzels evangelical leaders are twisting themselves into to deny the very clear words of Scripture imploring Christians to welcome the stranger and the immigrant. Here is Burton:

This willingness to define seemingly straightforward passages in the Bible along politicized terms — reimagining what it means to be someone’s “neighbor” — speaks to a wider issue within white evangelicalism. The degree to which white evangelical identity is increasingly predicated on politicized whiteness — and on an insular and isolationist vision of community — reveals the extent to which white evangelicalism has become synonymous with Christian nationalism under the Trump administration. And, increasingly, white evangelicals are willing to selectively reinterpret the Bible to justify this.

“We’re seeing literal verses with long histories of interpretation, that favor the poor, that favor outcasts … redeployed in ways that fit now,” Bass said. “They’re inventing a new interpretation, whole hog, to fit the age of Trump.”

One of the most famous verses in the Bible is Galatians 3:28, which highlights how Christianity is supposed to transcend barriers of race, class, wealth, and nationality. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

It’s unclear how white evangelicals will reinterpret that verse now.

For many white evangelicals, the faith they subscribe to no longer credibly resembles Christianity in any traditional sense. Instead, it has become a form of white ethno-nationalism adhered to with religious fervor, fueled by fear and allegiance to Donald Trump.

Scripture is unequivocal: those who claim to be disciples of Christ are called to welcome the stranger and care for the needy, to love our fellow human beings as our neighbors. There is no grey area in this. The words of Christ in Luke 4 and Matthew 25 attest to this.

The migrants approaching our border are fleeing from their homes in Honduras, a nation with the world’s highest murder rate for at least six years running.  They are fleeing a nation that suffered the coup of a democratically elected government five years ago that we failed to counter in any way, and which is being racked by the violence of drug gangs, the result of deliberate US policy choices in Central and South America in the War on Drugs. In short, they are fleeing a problem created in large part by the United States. We owe these people. They are not a Soros-funded plot to destroy America. They are human beings who have heard their whole lives that America is the greatest country on the planet, and they took our marketing seriously. We have an obligation to address their arrival in a humane and logical way, rather than in a way driven by fear mongering and politics.

It is shameful that the loudest Christian voices are speaking words of the Anti-Christ about our suffering neighbors, but it certainly isn’t surprising. This is Trump’s America, and Trump’s church.