GOP and Right-Wing Evangelicals Face Off Against Jesus over Syrian Refugees
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Nov 25, 2015 at 11:22:12 AM EST
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed more than 120 people and wounded hundreds of others, a number of major conservative Christian evangelical groups have joined 27-+ governors, and Republican Party presidential hopefuls, in demanding that President Obama shut the borders to refugees from Syria, the majority of which are women and children. While Donald Trump's anti-immigrant sound bites are feeding the frenzy against the refugees, and Senator Ted Cruz and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush have called for allowing only Christian refugees into the country, conservative evangelical Christians are finding themselves doing battle with some mainstream Christian organizations supporting the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
In September, President Obama announced that the U.S. would begin taking in refugees from the fighting in Syria, setting the number at about 10,000.

Franklin Graham, the son of the Rev. Billy Graham, and the head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse wrote on his Facebook page shortly after the Paris attacks: "We must reform our immigration policies in the United States. We cannot allow Muslim immigrants to come across our borders unchecked while we are fighting this war on terror."

Graham, who has advocated for an end to Muslim immigration in America, added: "If we continue to allow Muslim immigration, we'll see much more of what happened in Paris--it's on our doorstep. France and Europe are being overrun by young Muslim men from the Middle East, and they do not know their backgrounds or their motives and intentions."

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council issued a statement saying: "Of course, the White House's foolhardy plan should come as no surprise to anyone following this administration's clearly failed foreign policy. Let's not forget: a day before the Paris attacks, the president insisted ISIS had been `contained.' Now, after the bodies of more than 129 innocent people have proven him wrong, he's trying to give radical Islam exactly what it wants: a free path to the United States."

Perkins closed with: "Our nation can be caring and benevolent without unnecessarily endangering our own people. What many forget is that in Scripture, loving the stranger is just one component. God also commands these foreigners to assimilate and keep the laws of the land. As Exodus 12:49 makes clear: `There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.' The United States' goal should be a safe haven for everyone. And that means protecting the refugees' shelter abroad without sacrificing ours at home."

Gary Dull, the Executive Director of the American Pastors Network (APN), recently stated that "It is a serious matter that [Pennsylvania] Gov. [Tom] Wolf is welcoming Syrian refugees into our state with open arms. Yes, as Christians, we are to clothe, feed and care for the poor and the lost, as Jesus commanded. But when it comes to allowing potentially dangerous people with possible evil intentions into our own home, we must think, act and react in a manner that is safest for our nation. Many other governors have already said their states will not be opening their doors to refugees because there is simply no way to know who truly needs asylum and who is evil. There is too much at risk."

Many Christian, who have for years worked tirelessly on issues involving refugees profoundly disagree with Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Gary Dull and others.

Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief, told Christianity Today that, "Jesus was a refugee himself." Soerens added: "The journey Jesus took when fleeing to Egypt as a boy looks a lot like what little Syrian boys and girls have done in the past five years."

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, vigorously defended the president's refugee initiative: "Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let's not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS." Anderson pointed out that "Our system is designed to keep terrorists out and to help desperate families with little children. We want to help the victims of terrorism in the Middle East, not punish them."

"I'm not surprised to see a rift like this. Groups like the National Association of Evangelicals have always been more moderate on issues like refugee status and our country's interactions with Muslim nations," Rob Boston, Director of Communications for
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told me in an email. "While I disagree with some of the stands taken by the NAE, I've always thought that organization was closer to the principles of Christianity than people like Franklin Graham and Religious Right groups that preach hate and division."

According to Christianity Today's Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, "The US has resettled 2,184 Syrian refugees since March 2011, when Syria's civil war began. Of those, seven percent have been men between the ages of 21 and 30. The largest age group: children under 14 (43%). Overall, nearly all (96%) have been Muslims (mostly Sunnis), with the 53 Syrian Christians resettled composing only 3 percent."

The Washington Post recently reported that, "Data show Christians are very divided on how to respond to the refugee crisis. A Pew Research Center poll this fall asked Americans' views on the U.S. decision to accept more refugees. It showed 42 percent of Protestants approved while 54 percent disapproved. Fifty-nine percent of Catholics approved while 38 percent disapproved."

When looked at, the numbers of Syrian refugees accepted into this country pales against the number of refugees displaced from their homes, heading towards Europe or stranded in refugee camps outside Syria.

"From what I've seen so far, most Religious Right groups are simply mouthing the latest taking points from the Republican National Committee," Boston added. "There's no nuance or attempt to explain a complex situation. Their statements have all the subtlety of a stick in your eye, which is to be expected since they are designed for partisan ends. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council issued a statement that could have been written by Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Perkins' rant is studded with the ignorance and mob mentality that has swept far-right circles in recent days. It may please a peck of GOP governors and tea partiers, but I suspect the founder of the faith Perkins claims to follow, who was something of a refugee after all, might have a different point of view."

The current debate over whether to accept a very small number of Syrian refugees into this country is eerily reminiscent of the ugly tone during the Ebola crisis. One of the first responses conservatives mustered was that the borders of this country should be closed.

As Dana Milbank pointed out in a recent op-ed, "This growing cry to turn away people fleeing for their lives brings to mind the SS St. Louis, the ship of Jewish refugees turned away from Florida in 1939. It's perhaps the ugliest moment in a primary fight that has been sullied by bigotry from the start. It's no exaggeration to call this un-American."

It is difficult to know at this point, whether the rift between various Christian organizations will metastasize even further. I don't see hard-right conservative evangelical organizations - especially those closely aligned with their GOP allies -- pulling back from their positions any time soon.

As we speak it is likely that there are public relations teams and advertising agencies feverishly working to prepare the most cynical and sadistic advertising spots against accepting Syrian refugees. Lies and disinformation will dominate the debate. There will be blood on our screens; headlines will bellow on about the threat of terrorism. The effort will be costly in many ways, but probably most importantly, it will be a serious body blow to decency and morality.

The obvious response is to show a photo of a Syrian toddler refugee, captioned "(name of politician or evangelist) is afraid of me." Mockery, in other words - as in, get a grip already. If one stops to think, the hard-liners start sounding like silly cowards.

by NancyP on Wed Nov 25, 2015 at 11:06:36 PM EST

This is all part of the anti-Immigrant bigotry that has infected the right for generations... and because of the fanning done by the militant Christian preachers, it's getting hotter and hotter.

I've done studies on the attitudes towards certain groups of immigrants, and this sort of thing has been going on for over a century.  It used to be those horrible Mexicans and Jews and Roman Catholics (and Irish and Chinese and...), and while the Irish are now generally accepted (and the Chinese somewhat so), the dark-skinned Latinos (always assumed to be Mexican if you question close enough) still faced it throughout the last 50 plus years.  The language even back a few decades wasn't too pleasant regarding them.  Even today, if a Jew were to "dress funny" in a way that suggests being Jewish to the bigots, they're likely to experience discrimination and persecution.  The "Jew-hate" is still there, just not fanned up quite as much.

The hostility is especially hot to those who don't assimilate, even if their culture only adds to the reality that is America.

The fact is, America has always been a nation of racists and bigots.  Not all Americans, of course... but it goes back to the time of the Jamestown settlement (classism especially), and the Pilgrims (this has been demonstrated).  I firmly hold that the solution is education - directly shaped to resist and counter bigoted thinking.  I know there are programs today that are very effective in combating racism and bigotry of  all types, H. Roy Kaplan writes of one effective program in his book "Failing Grades".  Racism and bigotry are curable!  We just need to overpower the voices that fan the flames and show that they're not what they claim to be.

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