Evangelicals and Immigration: 4 Views

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I have talked to several reporters about Donald Trump’s zero tolerance immigrant policy that has separated children from their parents at the Mexican border.  After Franklin Graham called the policy “disgraceful,” reporters wondered if immigration might be the issue that finally prompted a significant amount of pro-Trump evangelicals to break with the president.

I answered these questions with a firm no.

Evangelicals I talk to are against the separation of children from their parents, but this is not enough to pull them away from Trump or reject his border policy. When it comes to social and cultural issues, conservative evangelicals have a hierarchical system of morality.  Abortion and gay marriage are the most important.  The separation of children from their parents at the border might be morally problematic for some evangelicals, but not enough to end their support for Trump.

The only thing that will pull the 81% away from Trump is if he supports a liberal Supreme Court justice, takes pro-choice position on abortion, or refuses to defend the religious liberty of evangelicals in a post Obergefell age.

As I see it, there are four ways in which American evangelicals have responded to the current immigration crisis:

  • Group 1 opposes the separation of children from their parents at the border and opposes the Trump presidency generally  (Russell Moore, Peter Wehner, Michael Gerson, and everyone on the so-called “evangelical left”).
  • Group 2 openly opposes the separation of children at the border, but support Trump generally and will probably vote for him again in 2020.  (Samuel Rodriguez, Franklin Graham).
  • Group 3 thinks the separation of children at the border is a problem, but they will not speak out against it.  Some of them even support Jeff Sessions’s use of Romans 13 to justify the policy.  (This is most of the court evangelicals, including First Baptist Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress).
  • Group 4 does not see the separation of children at the border as a moral problem because these immigrants are illegal and should have never tried to cross the border with their kids in the first place.  They are staunch Trump supporters.  (This group includes many of the rank-and-file evangelicals who voted for Trump.  I have spoken to many of them).

Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton explores the evangelical response to Trump’s immigration policies in a piece titled “Polls suggest white evangelicals will still back Trump after family separation controversy“:

White evangelical leaders did something remarkable earlier this month: They criticized President Donald Trump for his administration’s immigration policy.

From the words of Franklin Graham — a long-time Trump ally and son of iconic preacher Billy Graham — to the wider resolution passed by the Southern Baptist Convention at its annual meeting, white evangelicals have been more and more willing to challenge Trump on issues of immigration and family separation, departing from white evangelicalism’s historic association with Republican Party politics.

But recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that these denouncements were not part of a broader break between white evangelicals and Trump. Ultimately white evangelicals will still support Trump — and his wider immigration stance — despite their measured reservations about the policy of family separation.

The Public Religion Research Institute poll shows that support for the family separation policy among white evangelicals was low: Thirty-six percent of white evangelicals support the policy, while 51 percent are opposed to it. Given that white evangelicals are generally supportive of Trump’s policies more broadly, the relative lack of support for family separation is, at first glance, striking.

However, it’s important to recognize that white evangelical support for family separation is higher than those of any other religious group cited in the poll. Sixty percent of white mainline Protestants, 74 percent of Catholics, 82 percent of the religiously unaffiliated, and 87 percent of nonwhite Protestants are opposed to family separation.

Read the rest here.

It’s Trump Adviser Stephen Miller, Not the Democrats, Who Want Family Separation at the Mexican Border

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This story is just breaking.

I have no doubt that Miller wrote the press release I blogged about earlier.  How does this square with Trump’s claim that he has nothing to do with the policy of separation families at the border?

And where are most of the court evangelicals?  Why aren’t they speaking out about this with a sense of outrage?  Where is their moral courage?

Trump’s Immigration Policy at the Border is Little More Than an Application of His Favorite Bible Verse (and it’s not Romans 13)

immigrants

Am I reading this correctly?

Below is yesterday’s White House Press Release on the administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border.  It seems like Trump is justifying separating families at the border because some crimes by illegal immigrants led to the “permanent” separation of families through murders.

I am starting to see why “eye for an eye” is Trump’s favorite Bible verse.  This seems like what one pastor friend recently described to me in an e-mail as “misguided revenge.”

CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS’ FAMILY SEPARATION POLICY: Too many American families have been permanently separated from loved ones lost to illegal alien crime.

  • Open border laws and policies are responsible for the permanent separation of too many American families whose loved ones have been lost to illegal alien crime.
  • President Trump has met with family members whose loved ones have fallen victim to illegal alien crime.
    • Juan Pina was permanently separated from his daughter after she was strangled, raped, and murdered by an illegal alien.
    • Laura Wilkerson was permanently separated from her son, who was brutally murdered by an illegal alien classmate.
    • Jamiel Shaw, Sr. was permanently separated from his son, who was tragically murdered by an illegal alien gang member.
  • Congressional Democrats have repeatedly voted against common sense immigration legislation that would help make our communities safer.
    • In 2017, 174 House Democrats voted against legislation that would have helped ensure aliens associated with a gang are not admitted into the United States and would have empowered officials to more effectively remove those already here.
    • In 2017, 166 House Democrats voted against Kate’s Law, named after Kate Steinle who was killed by a previously deported illegal alien with a lengthy criminal history.
    • In February 2018, Senate Democrats blocked legislation that would have cracked down on dangerous sanctuary cities.

OPEN BORDER POLICIES: American communities have suffered from illegal alien crime and illegal drugs flooding our country due to open border policies and immigration enforcement loopholes. 

  • Drugs have flooded across our porous borders, poisoning our communities, and costing American lives.
    • The Southwest border is a major source of illegal drugs entering the United States.
    • Most heroin entering the United States is produced in Mexico, and production levels there continue to rise.
  • A total of 57,820 known or suspected aliens were in Department of Justice custody at the end of the first quarter of fiscal year 2018, 60 percent of whom were aliens with orders of removal.
  • A 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found nearly 3 million criminal arrest offenses tied to incarcerated criminal aliens, including 25,000 homicide offenses.
  • Transnational gangs, such as MS-13, take advantage of our open borders and the loopholes in our immigration system.
    • MS-13 and other gangs have bolstered their ranks by exploiting the influx of Unaccompanied Alien Children entering the United States.

More From *The Washington Post* on Sessions and Romans 13

Bible book

Kyle Swenson has a follow-up piece.  Good to see quotes from the Pietist Schoolman (Chris Gehrz) and Thomas Kidd.

Here is a taste:

Yet the lines have consistently been deployed to check opinions and activity running against the powers that be. As Thomas Kidd wrote on the religion blog Anxious Bench in 2014, Romans 13 was “the most commonly cited biblical text in Revolutionary America.”

The lines were championed by both colonists agitating for rebellion and loyalists. According to Anxious Bench’s Chris Gehrz, a history professor at Bethel University, the latter camp included clergymen such as New York’s Charles Inglis, who cited the scripture as proof that Christians “who really believe in a divine Revelation” should “make no Conscience of dishonouring the King, and rebelling against him” because it would be “knowingly trample on the Law of God.”

Pro-independence advocates, however, often followed the instruction of preacher Jonathan Mayhew, who “insisted that submission was contingent upon a ruler being just,” according to Kidd.

Following the American Revolution, Romans 13 became a frequent topic of sermons as the country debated slavery.

“The second spike you see is in the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong,” John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, told The Post on Thursday. “I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.”

According to Gehrz, the passage largely disappeared from American pulpits after the Civil War. It did, however, make appearances overseas in the darkest moments of the early 20th century. Romans 13 was reportedly favored by Adolf Hitler and pushed by the Nazis to legitimize their authoritarian rule in 1930s Germany.

Read the entire piece here.  Read the original article here.

Nice work all-around!

*The New York Times* on Jeff Sessions and Romans 13

jeff-sessions

It’s been a crazy day.  Last night I was wrapping-up some writing on the Southern Baptist Convention, trying to finish some end-of- the-academic-year paperwork, scheduling some blog posts, and preparing for the Believe Me book tour.

Then Jeff Sessions referenced Romans 13 and The Washington Post asked me for some historical context. I have been answering questions all day.

Here is my contribution to Julia Jacobs’s piece at The New York Times:

Referring to the Bible in political speeches is nothing new, said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush did so liberally, for example. But using Scripture as an enforcement tool for a particular federal policy is more concerning, Dr. Fea said.

“The founding fathers created the criminal justice system to be a largely secular criminal justice system,” he said. “They didn’t have in mind punishing criminals and condemning them using Bible verses.”

And the passage he chose drew considerable criticism. Historians and theologians took to the internet to point out that Romans 13 has been used to defend antiquated or outright contemptible points of view.

Before the nation’s founding, it was frequently used by Loyalists to oppose the American Revolution, Dr. Fea said. And in the 19th century, pro-slavery Southerners often cited the chapter’s opening verses to defend slavery — in particular, adherence to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the seizure and return of runaway slaves.

Read the entire piece here.

Romans 13 and the Patriots

RevisedCheck out Lincoln Mullen‘s recent piece at The Atlantic on the use of Romans 13 in American history.  He correctly notes that Romans 13 was not only used by Loyalists who opposed the American Revolution, but also by patriots who tried to interpret the verse to justify rebellion against George III.

Here is what I wrote on this subject in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction:

The patriots used phrases such as “passive obedience” and “unlimited submission” to describe this Anglican view of the relationship between Christians and civil authority.  They spend hundreds of pages trying to counter it.  The most outspoken defender of such a patriotic interpretation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 was Jonathan Mayhew, the minister of Boston’s West Church.  Mayhew was a liberal Congregationalist and forerunner of the Unitarian movement in New England.  He was committed to interpreting the Bible predominantly through the grid of natural law and reason.  His sermon on Romans 13, “A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers,” was preached in 1750 on the celebration of the one-hundreth anniversary of the execution of Charles I during the English Civil War.  Despite the fact that Mayhew’s sermon was published a quarter-century prior to the outbreak of revolutionary hostility in Boston, John Adams, reflecting on the causes of the Revolution, wrote in 1818: “If the orators on the fourth of July really wish to investigate the principles and feelings which produced the Revolution, they out to study…Dr. Mayhew’s sermon on passive obedience and non-resistance.

Mayhew began his sermon by affirming that Romans 13 required Christians to be obedient to government, regardless of whether the government was a monarchy, republic, or aristocracy.  But the real issue at hand was the extent to which such “subjection to higher powers” should be practiced.  Mayhew concluded that sometimes resistance to civil authority might be justified.  According to Mayhew, Romans 13 could not be advocating unlimited submission to government because such a practice did not conform either to the true meaning of the passage or to the dictates of reason.  Paul’s primary audience in this passage was those in the first-century Roman church who did not show proper respect to civil authority and were of a “licentious opinion and character.”  Moreover, Romans 13 could not conceivably require submission to all rulers, but only to those rulers who were “good.”  Rulers who “attend continually upon the gratification of their own lust and pride and ambition, to the destruction of the public welfare,” were not worthy of a Christian’s submission.  Mayhew argued, “Rulers have no authority from God to do mischief.”  It is “blasphemy,,” he continued, to “call tyrants and oppressors God’s ministers.”  It follows that when a ruler becomes tyrannical, Christians “are bound to throw off our allegiance to him, and to resist; and that according to the tenor of the apostle’s argument in this passage.”  Perhaps the most ironic think about Mayhew’s argument is the way he managed to transform Romans 13 from a verse teaching submission to authority into a verse justifying the execution of Charles I and, for that matter, all rebellion against tyrannical government.  Charles I, he concluded, had failed to respect the “natural and legal rights of the people,” against the unnatural and illegal encroachments of arbitrary power.”  As a result, resistance was absolutely necessary in order to preserve the nation from “slavery, misery, and ruin.”

For Mayhew, it was “obvious” to any rational person exercising common sense that Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 did not teach submission to a government perceived to be tyrannical.  How could God require his people to live under oppression?  God has promised his people freedom.  But such an interpretation required ministers like Mayhew to move beyond a plain reading of these texts.  In order to turn these passages into revolutionary manifestos, Mayhew needed to interpret them with a strong does of the idea of political philosophers such as John Locke. In his famous Two Treatises on Government (1689), a pamphlet designed to explain why the Glorious Revolution (the removal of English monarch James II from the throne) was justified.  Locke taught that individuals had the right to life, liberty, and property.  His justification of resistance to government had a profound influence on the leaders of the American Revolution, but it ran counter to the teachings of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.  This tension did not stop clergy from interpreting these passages through the grid of Locke’s revolutionary teachings.

Let’s be clear.  Romans 13 teaches that Christians should submit to government,  but it does not seem to require unconditional submission.  It is not an easy verse to apply and we must be very careful about applying it universally.

Were high taxes (Stamp, Townsend, etc.), “no taxation without representation,” the Coercive Acts, or British military presence in the  American colonies (“standing armies”) so atrocious that Christians had a legitimate reason to violate Romans 13?   I don’t think so, but others, like Mayhew, disagree.  (Let’s remember that Romans 13 also tells Christians to pay their taxes).

Is the stripping of children from their families at the Mexican border atrocious enough for Christians to violate Romans 13?  I would say yes.  Of course this entire point is moot because, as far as I understand it, there is no American law requiring ICE officials to take children away from their parents.

Why Luke 18:16?

Suffer

The New York Sun, March 21, 1915.  Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Last night I noted that the most popular Bible verse cited in American newspapers between 1840 and 1920 was Luke 18:16. Read my post here.

“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

Several of you have asked why Luke 18:16 was so popular.   On Twitter I asked Lincoln Mullen, the man behind America’s Public Bible, why Luke 18:16 appears so many times. in newspapers during this period.

Here is his answer:

Here is my section on Sunday Schools in The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society:

Evangelicals concerned with moral reform of American life concentrated much effort on the religious education of children and young people through Sunday Schools.  Some of the earliest Sunday Schools in America were formed in the eighteenth century to provide biblical instruction to the children of the urban poor, many of whom spent their Sundays roaming city streets looking for trouble.  Children would gather in churches to sing hymns, pray, read the Bible, and hear a short sermon.  They were rewarded for regular attendance and their hard work memorizing Biblical passages.  If records of enrollment in Sunday school classes are any indication, the efforts of these schools were successful.  By 1832 there were over 300,000 boys and girls attending Sunday schools in the United States, or about 8 percent of the young people eligible to attend such classes.  The numbers were even higher in urban areas.  For example, in the same year, close to 28 percent of Philadelphia children were attending Sunday Schools.  Because these schools focused on reading and writing, many of them drew large numbers of free blacks–both children and adults.  Starting in 1824 a benevolent organization called the American Sunday School Union was formed to stimulate the movement across denominations and provide literature for Sunday Schools operating around the country.  (See Anne Boylan, Sunday School: The Formation of An American Institution, 1790-1880).

The American Bible Society and the Sunday School Movement shared many of the same activist convictions.  In 1827 the ABS authorized the publication of a “small testament” for Bible Cause CoverSunday Schools with the goal of meeting the spiritual needs of the “thousands of poor children…in our large towns.”  From this point forward, the Society supplied Bibles to any Sunday School organization in need.  For example, in 1831, the ABS provided the American Sunday School Union with 20,000 copies of the New Testament in support of a massive effort to establish schools in the Mississippi Valley.  In the 1830s the ABS distributed over 14,300 Bibles and over 57,700 Testaments around the country, with most of them going to the American Sunday School Union and the Methodist Episcopal Church.  In the 1850s these numbers rose to 27,729 (Bibles) and 134,237 (Testaments).  Rev. Charles McIlvane of Brooklyn, in a message to the annual meeting of the ABS, compared the Society’s education outreach to Cambridge University in England.  The only difference was that “our University is in the business of benevolence.”

Through much of the antebellum period ABS headquarters in New York received constant reports from Sunday Schools in need of Bibles and moving letters from agents about their rapid growth.  One of the more sentimental requests came in 1847, when the ABS received a small tin savings bank filled with $2.17 in change.  It was sent by a small girl requesting three dozen Bibles for her Sunday school class.  The money enclosed in the bank did not cover the cost of the Bibles, but the ABS sent them anyway.  In 1854, H.W. Pierson, the ABS agent in Southern Kentucky ,visited all seven of the “Coloured Sabbath Schools” in Louisville.  He was impressed with slaves and free blacks of all ages attending these schools and noted that a great majority of the teachers were black, but he lamented the general lack of teachers and Bibles.

A couple of images:

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The day book. (Chicago, Ill.), 25 Dec. 1911. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. 

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New-York tribune. (New York [N.Y.]), 07 Sept. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress

You Are Never Going to Believe Which Verse Was Most Quoted in American Newspapers Between 1840 and 1920. (And It Wasn’t Romans 13)

luke-18-16

With all this talk of Romans 13, it is worth noting that the most cited verse in American newspapers between 1840 and 1920 was Luke 18:16:

“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

This verse, which seems to have some relevance to our current immigration mess, was:

  • The third most quoted Bible verse in the 1840
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1850s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1860s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1870s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1880s
  • The second most quoted Bible verse in the 1890s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1900s
  • The third most quoted Bible verse in the 1910s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1920s

Thanks to Lincoln Mullen for creating the tool that enabled me to write this post and make this point.