Friday, June 30, 2017

Since When is the Exclusion of Immigrants a "Christian Dream"?

Recently, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and leader in the Religious Right, went on Fox News and proclaimed that The Toupee Who Shall Not Be Named is a “dream president for Evangelicals.”

Let that sink in for a minute. That a person who exemplifies the exact opposite of every Christian virtue - greed, arrogance, self-aggrandizement, bragging about sexual exploits, cheating people with less power in his business dealings, and on and on - is now a “dream president for Evangelicals” is astonishing to me.

I could just let that sit, and end this post. Because it says a lot.

But there is more. First of all, while there has been some condemnation of this statement from progressive Christians, there has been a deafening silence from Evangelicalism itself. I guess since Russell Moore, probably the lone voice of opposition to Trumpism within the Evangelical Industrial Complex, was effectively silenced, nobody is willing to speak up.

But wait, there’s more!

In identifying exactly why Trump is a “dream president,” Falwell went well beyond the usual suspects. Sure, he mentioned getting a Supreme Court justice, and fearmongered about ISIS. (And pretty much any GOP president would have given Evangelicals those things.) But he also said some other interesting things, most notably this:

That Trump is a dream president for Evangelicals because...wait for it...he’s going to build a border wall and crack down on cities who don't make the deportation of immigrants a law enforcement priority. That is what distinguishes him from the average Republican.

But this is just astounding to me.

Falwell just stated that excluding Latin American immigrants (most of whom are Christian) from the United States is a dream for Evangelicals.

As Wallis points out, this is only a dream for WHITE evangelicals. And the fact that it is is deeply troubling to me.

In fact, let me just be clear about this: the deafening silence of Evangelicals about obvious, open racism in this election is one of the reasons I have left Evangelicalism and will not be going back. I can no longer believe the Evangelical system is a morally appropriate place to raise my children.

I’m not saying that every Evangelical is racist (although many are in deep denial about their racist attitudes). Rather, there are plenty who openly say racist things and this doesn’t bother the others, as far as I can tell. In particular, immigration has been one area that attracted a lot of white Evangelicals I know to Trump. And not just in the usual coded language of “I’m fine with the legal ones…” but in the outright sense of “we have too many Mexicans already.” (It’s beyond the scope of this post, but a lot of people do not actually have any clue what our immigration laws actually say. If you are not educated, wealthy, or have immediate family here, there is NO legal path to enter the US from Latin America - or south Asia. Impoverished people seeking a better life - like my ancestors - have no legal way to come here.) Even those who claim to be open to immigration turn out not to be when you suggest we should relax our laws so that those who wish to come here seeking a better life can come legally. Then you hear “we have too many already.”

And then there is the argument that they are moochers off the welfare state - as if people who work long, hard hours at low paying jobs are sponging off others by expecting to be able to feed,  clothe, educate, and obtain health care for their children like the rest of us. I would really love to see those people making the moocher argument have to spend 60 hours a week doing field work - and then be told that their children shouldn't get medical care because they are lazy.  

The worst of all was the argument - which more than one person made - that Latinos are like the Amalekites and thus we are justified in building walls to keep them out. Of course, this assumes that (white) America is the new Israel (which is an actual White Identity belief…) and that Latinos are pagans intent on conquering us. But it also assumes that White American = Christian and Brown Latino = non-Christian in some way, which is ludicrous if you think about it. This also assumes that people seeking a better life for themselves and their children are somehow invading hoards. Unlike our own white ancestors, of course. It was fine that we came, but nobody else should get to, right? We got ours, too damn bad for you...

This is particularly bizarre in light of the fact that the immigrants that white Evangelicals seem so eager to exclude are overwhelmingly Christian. But apparently not the right kind of Christian.

It isn’t hard to see where this came from, though. As Mark Noll noted in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, it has been a long time since Evangelicalism actually had a coherent - and truly Christian way of looking at the world. Instead, it has focused on the pursuit of political power and exclusion of others. It is no surprise, therefore, that the vacuum of actual Christian values on the issue of immigration would be filled by another source of philosophy.

First, I should just note that neither Scripture nor historical Christian thought has supported the exclusion of immigrants on a racial or political basis. Christ himself said that our eternal destiny would rest in significant part on whether we accept and embrace immigrants and refugees. Ezekiel noted that Sodom was destroyed, not for its sex, but for its poor treatment of the poor and immigrants.

But it is pretty clear that there has been a tradition that considered White Supremacy and exclusion of immigrants to be a “Christian” value. That would be the Ku Klux Klan. The massive wave of immigration that brought my own ancestors to the United States in the 1880s resulted in a backlash from, um, earlier immigrants who didn’t like the newcomers. The 1920s KKK political platform differs from the Trump platform only in that Islam, not Catholicism, is the bogeyman. And now it is the Mexicans, not the Irish, that are feared.  

By the way, the KKK has always considered itself to be a defender of Christianity. But their religion has less to do with the teachings of Christ, and more to do with “Christian Identity,” which includes a belief in the superiority of the white race.

Joseph Mitchell, who lived through the 1920s in a place where the KKK was active, once described their platform as:

“The Ku Klux Klan stands on a platform of 100-per-cent Americanism, white supremacy in the South, deportation of aliens, purity of womanhood, and eradication of the chain store.”

The more you read about the KKK - particularly in that era when it attempted to go mainstream - the more familiar it looks.

So where did this come from? Well, a good theory is that because white Evangelicals identify strongly with the Republican party and with right wing politics, they have simply followed the changing trends within those groups.

Here is an example. As recently as the Ronald Reagan years, the GOP was pro immigration. And even in the recent past - say, 2007 - that was still the case within the mainstream of the party. People like my parents, raised overseas, and under no illusion that Christianity and America were the same thing, were pretty typical in the Evangelical circles were ran in. And I sure don’t remember hearing a whole lot of overtly racist stuff - except from my grandparents’ generation. Good god, they were and are bad. But it wasn’t a position that was considered particularly central to Christianity.

But something did definitely change in the last few years. Between Fox News, the Tea Party movement, the rise of Breitbart and the Alt Right, and so on, the focus and identity of the Right shifted dramatically. Even 10 years ago, I cannot imagine that any of the Evangelicals I knew would have been touting Milo Yiannopoulos. But here we are. Because Evangelicals were not used to actually thinking in a Christian way about immigration, the vacuum was filled by White Nationalism.

Another possibility is that this is primarily about politics. White Evangelicals overwhelmingly vote Republican, regardless of the candidate. (And that is why Bill Clinton was evil while Trump is good…) Non-whites tend to vote for, um, the other side. So it is crucial to keep non-Whites out of the country so that the “right” party can prevail.

Folks, that isn’t Christianity. That’s Republicanity. Political power of one party trumps (sorry) the needs and well being of impoverished Christians from other countries. I’m embarrassed.

The point here isn’t that all Evangelicals hold these values. I don’t believe that to be the case. And I know not everyone who voted for Trump did so because of his racism - many held their nose because they disliked Hillary more.

The point is that someone like Falwell can stand up and claim that an appeal to xenophobia - and Nativist policies - makes someone a dream president for Evangelicals - and Falwell knows he will not be challenged or suffer any consequences for doing so. (Quite a contrast from what would happen if he, for example, broke ranks on the nature of hell…) In fact, in light of the Russell Moore situation, Falwell knows that anyone who challenges him on the grounds that racism and xenophobia is incompatible with Christianity will be silenced.

And now, here we are. A significant Evangelical leader can say that exclusion of brown skinned immigrants is an “Evangelical Dream” - and he is, I am sadly coming to realize, probably correct.


Actually, the answer to my question is “at least since the founding of the Religious Right.” Falwell Sr., Bob Jones Sr., and Phyllis Schlafly were all pro-segregation and anti-immigration from the beginning, and as Paul Weyrich stated in his book on the founding of the RR, segregation in “Christian” education was THE reason why it was founded in the first place. Racism and xenophobia were part of the movement from the beginning. But at least in my experience, that part of the platform went underground for a few decades, until the rise of the Alt Right and Trump made White Supremacy socially acceptable again.


Falwell has been kissing Trump’s ass since the primary, by the way. And he will now be rewarded for his loyalty with a political position


I linked it above, but really, read Jim Wallis’ piece.


On an island in New York Harbor stands a beautiful statue, a symbol of freedom - and welcome to the poor and downtrodden. In the adjoining museum is a plaque - formerly housed in the base - bearing the words of poet Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Once upon a time, most conservatives I knew said they believed this. Once upon a time, those who claimed to follow Christ acknowledged that He is the god of the outcast, of the refugee, of the immigrant (as the children of Israel were in Egypt…), of the poor and powerless. 


  1. For the last few years I have described myself as a theologically progressive evangelical. Since the election--not so much.

    1. I'm with you. It gets tiring to have to explain that no, I am a Christian but not THAT kind of Christian.

  2. Perhaps some of this racism was underground...but not deep underground.

    & the sexism has always been out in full force. Women not allowed in leadership or in any position where they might have "authority over men" is brazen. A church would probably hesitate to outright say that people of color were not allowed to have leadership positions, for instance...although in most cases that would be true. I'm rambling...but honestly I just don't understand how anything has changed, b/c all my experiences with Evangelicalism have been chock full of polite, middle class racism, if you know what I mean.

    Another way to see how I feel about this: I was taught in Sunday school that Bathsheba tempted David, even though the story we were reading was clearly a rape story & Bathsheba was compared to an innocent lamb (kinda like Christ...), so I don't understand the surprise that these people don't take issue with Trump bragging on tape about sexually assaulting women he has power over (hmmm...exactly what David did). & to make this clear: I have never attended a conservative Evangelical church. I've attended two Vineyard churches & they were more of the same in a lot of ways, too.