James Dobson Visits the Border and Shows His Nativism

Detention

Court evangelical James Dobson, the evangelical who is most associated with the idea of “family values,” visited the Mexican border and wrote a letter to his supporters.  I have published it here:

Dear Friends,

Several weeks ago, I was invited by White House staff to visit our southern border at McAllen, Texas, where federal agents are struggling to deal with a massive influx of poor and destitute human beings. They come in never-ending waves. Please believe me when I tell you that the media and leftist politicians have not been truthful about what is going on there. It is a human tragedy. 

I promised the exhausted U.S. Custom and Border Patrol agents that I would go home and tell as many people as possible what I had seen “up close and personal.” Today, I am attempting to fulfill that commitment.

Approximately 5,500 people show up every day in districts organized along our southern U.S. border. McAllen is the site of only one of them, but it is the busiest and most besieged. The “refugees” arrive exhausted and ragged from walking hundreds of miles. Among them are large numbers of children, many of whom are unaccompanied by a caring adult. Last year, 382,000 aliens were apprehended for illegally crossing into this country and almost 100,000 of them were minors. Some of the kids have been abused along the way. Many of them carry lice, scabies or other diseases. Currently, the facility I visited is experiencing a flu epidemic, and there are no additional beds on which to lie. Some of the women have been raped. More than 70 people of all ages are sent to local hospitals daily along the southern border. Doctors and medical staff are overwhelmed by their patient load. Remember that word, “overwhelmed.” It describes every aspect of the effort to deal with the situation there.

The most heart-wrenching experience occurred during our tour of the holding area. It is a huge gym-like building consisting of dozens of fenced-in areas. Each one is crowded with detainees standing or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on benches. They stared out at us with plaintive eyes.

I noticed that almost none of them were talking to each other. The children looked traumatized and frightened. Tears flooded my eyes as I stood before them. They had no toys or dolls, except for a few items bought by compassionate border patrol agents. One tiny little girl clutched something that resembled a doll bought for her by an agent. There are few provisions made to accommodate the children. The week before we were there, a delegation of agents went to meet with members of Congress, and begged them for additional money to buy Pampers, toothbrushes, and other necessities. They were turned down flat. These meager supplies have to be purchased with the border patrol budget, which is stretched to the limit. 

I then walked up to a fenced area holding many skinny young men. An agent standing beside me asked if I would like to speak to them. He offered to translate for me, to which I replied, “Please tell them that God loves them.” Then I said, “Now tell them that I love them, too.” They smiled and waved timidly. 

My heart aches for these poor people. Lest I be misunderstood, let me make clear that I am among the majority of Americans who want the border to be closed to those who attempt to enter illegally. There has to be a better solution than this. I have wondered, with you, why the authorities don’t just deny these refugees access to this nation. Can’t we just send them back to their places of origin? The answer I received was “No,” for reasons I will explain.

Only 10 percent of the detainees are Mexicans. This year alone, people have come to our southern border from 127 countries, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, India, China, Palestine, Albania, San Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and other nations around the world. They speak their native tongues, which means they can’t be understood by each other or the staff. What are we to do with them? The Mexican government will not take them back, and there is no place to send them. Our current laws do not permit us to repatriate them to their country of origin. This is a disaster with no solution or projected conclusion. 

Let me tell you how these desperate people come to be our responsibility. They are the lowest rung of many societies. They sell their shanties and any other possessions to scrape together $3,500 to $10,000 to pay “coyotes” to guide them. I don’t know what happens to those who can’t meet this demand. Apparently, most manage to pay the fee, and arrive penniless and profoundly needy. I was told that some of the vulnerable children are “recycled” repeatedly to help men gain entry to this country. An unknown number of these men are hardened criminals and drug runners, and they are difficult to identify. Most make their way across the border.

Here’s something else you should know. I have been under the impression that these would-be immigrants try to cross the Rio Grande River and outrun or evade the agents. That is not true of most. They come in large groups, from 100 to 400 people at a time. As I write this letter, a record 1,200 people arrived together at El Paso. The refugees quickly give themselves up to agents. That is why they have made this journey. They know they will be fed, medicated, and treated humanely, even if they are in holding areas while they are in our custody. Then they will be released on American soil. This is the system set up by a liberal Congress and judges. It is a well-known fact that President Obama’s administration established many of these unworkable policies, and Congress is steadfastly unwilling to change them. Every effort at reform has been overridden or ignored. It is set in stone. Democrats want massive numbers of immigrants who will someday become voters. Some Republicans support the policies because they want cheap labor for agricultural purposes. The border could be fixed, but there are very few in authority who seem to care. 

Getting back to my story, our group of national faith leaders and humanitarian organizations was taken to a grassy park underneath the international bridges where the “coyotes” bring the refugees. We stood 50 feet away from them and watched as about 200 people sat on the ground. Then buses arrived to transport them to Border Control. Agents have to work fast because another group will be showing up soon, and then another and another. The would-be immigrants are taken to the center and given cursory medical exams. Then they are segregated by sex and age and placed in the fenced-in areas to be held for the next 20 days until they are processed and given a Notice to Appear. If that sounds inhumane, what would you or I do? There is simply no other place to “house” them. 

Mismanagement of the border has a long history. A federal judge years ago issued a ruling called the Flores Settlement Agreement. It is still the source of many problems. It requires that any unaccompanied alien child must be released within 72 hours. This is now the law of the land, and poor people around the world know it. A single male typically seeks to find a child and a woman to help him “game the system.” Clearly, many of these are “fake families,” but there is no documentation in Pakistani or Bangladesh to challenge their claims. Lawyers at home have told them to claim that they are fleeing from oppression or seeking asylum. They are allowed to plead their cases to judges, but there are too few of them to keep up with the volume. These people are given a court case and released. The vast majority are never seen again. Most then become “anchor babies” who are citizens with rights to bring members of their families. Others are given transportation to an American city where they disappear into the culture. 

In addition to this influx of people from places around the world steeped in poverty and despair, Senator Chuck Schumer authored and helped pass a “lottery” system, whereby winners are brought to the United States. They become permanent residents, who then begin bringing their families to our shores. Thank you, Senator.

Ten years ago, 90 percent of illegals apprehended at the border were single males, mainly from Mexico. Now, more than 50 percent show up with babies and children, and 90 percent of them are from countries other than Mexico with 64 percent being family units or unaccompanied alien children. Together, they claim to be “families” and within three weeks, they will be home free in America. Is there any doubt why there have been more than half a million illegal immigrants this year alone?

Before I conclude, I must tell you about the agents who have to deal with this chaos. They are compassionate men and women, sworn to uphold federal law and protect our borders.

They obviously care about the detainees, and I respect them highly. They work tirelessly feeding people three times a day and providing clean clothing. They must also maintain the portable toilets in the cells. It is a never-ending task. There are only two large showers in the facility, one for males, the other for females. Their capacity is for only 20 people at a time, which is insufficient.

The border patrol agents administer this program, but most of them didn’t sign up to be caregivers. Agents were trained to patrol the border and apprehend drug runners, traffickers, smugglers, murderers, and every kind of lawbreaker. This is very dangerous work. But, please understand this: the border patrol agents are so busy caring for refugees seeking entry to the United States that they have very little time to police the borders. It is so porous that huge quantities of contraband, including all kinds of narcotics, flow into this country every day. Then it is transported northward to America’s cities to be consumed by adolescents and millennials. Lawless gangs, such as MS-13, are also pouring into the culture, making violence for inner cities a way of life. 

There is one more aspect to the work of the agents that you should know. They are openly hated by citizens who resent the work they do. They are routinely vilified and mocked and demonized. Their families are also subjected to ridicule. These agents need our appreciation and prayers. They have one of the most thankless jobs in America. 

The situation I have described is the reason President Donald Trump’s border wall is so urgently needed. He seems to be the only leader in America who comprehends this tragedy and is willing to address it. Those who oppose him do everything they can to impede his effort. That is why I went to the border to see the situation for myself. I came away with an array of intense emotions. First, I was profoundly grieved over the misery of thousands of people. Second, I felt a deep appreciation for those who are doing their best to help in an impossible circumstance. Third, and frankly, I was angry at the political fat cats who have deliberately allowed this chaos to occur for political or financial gain. They, and their friends in the fake media, have told the American people that there is no crisis at the border! Shame on them all.

What I’ve told you is only a glimpse of what is occurring on the nation’s border. I don’t know what it will take to change the circumstances. I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. Some are violent criminals. Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. America has been a wonderfully generous and caring country since its founding. That is our Christian nature. But in this instance, we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don’t deal with it. And it won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.

Thanks for letting me set the record straight.

Here are some thoughts:

1. James Dobson saw what is happening at the border and he believes that what he saw was immoral.  This separates Dobson from some other court evangelicals and “family values” advocates who think that there is no crisis of human dignity at the border.

2. When Dobson says “thank you” to Chuck Schumer for his lottery system I can’t tell if he is being serious or sarcastic.

3. Essentially, Dobson says that we must treat these refugees with Christian love.  He even told a group of detained men that Jesus loves them.  Then, several paragraphs later, he concludes that the building of Trump’s wall is the only way to solve this crisis.  I must admit, the early paragraphs of Dobson’s letter surprised me.  He seems to show real Christian compassion.  But then I got to the end of the letter only to find that his Christian compassion got hijacked by his nationalism.  We love you.  God loves you.  But you can’t come into our country.  Sorry.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a humanitarian crisis at the border. But Trump and the politicians have failed to offer creative solutions for how to fix it.  Instead, they just blame their political opponents.  I am no expert, but there must be a way to balance compassion and security.

4. At the end of the letter, Dobson takes a really ugly turns toward nativism.  He says that these refugees and immigrants are unskilled, illiterate, unhealthy, and violent.  He adds that they will soon “overwhelm the culture  as we have known it.”  He makes an appeal to history: the United States has always been a generous, caring, and Christian country, but in this instance (italics mine) we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down….”

I italicized the words “in this instance” because Dobson makes it sounds as if Americans have been warm and fuzzy toward newcomers in the past, but this instance is different.  These immigrants, he suggests, are a serious threat to American culture.  Dobson shows his ignorance of American history here. Historically, this kind of nativism arises whenever people fear immigrants and they demographic change they bring to the country.  I have offered a few examples of this below.  Read these quotes carefully and notice how the rhetoric is nearly identical to the language Dobson uses in his letter.

In a May 9, 1753 letter to Peter Collinson, Benjamin Franklin described German immigrants as “the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation.”  He did not believe that they could assimilate to our political culture, saying that since they are “not…used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it.”  He worried that these Germans were coming to America “in droves.” (Notice Dobson’s use of the word “flooding” to describe refugees).  Franklin concludes: “in short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies…they will soon so out number us , that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our [English] language, and even our Government will become precarious.”

In Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751) he writes: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”‘

In his 1835 speech, “A Plea for the West,” evangelical preacher and reformer Lyman Beecher warned against the “danger from the uneducated mind [that] is augmenting daily by the rapid influx of foreign emigrants, unacquainted with our institutions, unaccustomed to self-government, inaccessible to education, and easily accessible to prepossession, and inveterate credulity, and intrigue, and easily embodied and wielded by sinister design.” He added, “In the beginning this eruption of revolutionary Europe was not anticipated, and we opened our doors wide to the influx and naturalization of foreigners.  But it is become a terrific inundation; it has increased upon our native population from five to thirty-seven percent, and is every year advancing….”  Notice Beecher’s argument here.  We have always welcomed immigrants, but this instance (the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants) is different.

Here is nativist Frederick Saunders in 1856:  “The foreign voters, who are proved to be ignorant and in every incompetent, are admitted to the enjoyment of the electoral franchise.  We, who never knew what a blind and passive obedience to law is, can form no adequate idea of the recklessness and delirium which seize hold of so many foreign immigrants the moment they put foot upon our shores.  We admit that some of them are men of intellectual culture, while it will not be denied that too many are persons of the most degraded character, and destitute even of the most meager attainments….”  When I read this quote about Irish immigrants I thought about Dobson’s remarks about these immigrants voting for Democrats and their lack of education.

Here is Texas congressman John Box in 1928: “The admission of large and increasing number of Mexican peons to engage in all kinds of work is at variance with the American purpose to protect the wages of its working people and maintain their standard of living.  Mexican labor is not free; it is not well paid; its standard of living is low….To keep out the illiterate and the diseased is another essential part of the Nation’s immigration policy.  The Mexican peons are illiterate and ignorant.  Because of their unsanitary habits and living conditions and their vices they are especially subject to smallpox, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, and other dangerous contagions.”

Of course my own people (on my father’s side), the Italian immigrants who arrived to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, were also considered unclean, smelly, illiterate, unskilled, and violent.

There is nothing new about Dobson’s words here.  He is not only echoing his president, but he is also echoing some of the darker moments of American history.

The Author’s Corner with Amy Taylor

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Amy Taylor is an Associate Professor of History along with Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Kentucky. This interview is based on her new book, Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (The University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Embattled Freedom?

AT: For a number of years, while working on other projects, I kept coming across references to the hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children who fled slavery during the Civil War and forged new lives for themselves behind the lines of the Union army. But these were only fleeting references—a few sentences in a book, or a widely circulated Harper’s Weekly image, for example. So eventually I wondered: why don’t I know more? How could a mass migration of people that effectively destroyed slavery have taken place during this (abundantly studied) Civil War, and we still don’t know much about it?

The answer, of course, had to do with deliberate neglect — and the failure of white Americans, in particular, to reckon with the Civil War’s slavery history for so long. It should be noted that some black scholars, most notably W.E.B. DuBois in Black Reconstruction, did write about this history decades ago and tried to turn more attention to the story. But it has only been recently, in the last decade, that the subject is finally getting its due — in addition to my book, there are important books and articles by Thavolia Glymph, Jim Downs, Leslie Schwalm, and Chandra Manning as well. All of this work is in sync with present-day politics, as we begin 2019 with Confederate monuments coming down and new commemorations of slavery and black Civil War history going up.

I also wrote this book because of a more general and abiding interest in telling the stories of people who have not had their stories told. I am a social historian at heart and believe that everyone has a story that can tell us something about the world in which they lived. I am also an aspiring detective. So I was drawn to the challenge of digging up even the smallest scraps of information about individual refugees from slavery, and then piecing together their movements to try to understand their perspectives on the momentous events that shook the nation in the 1860s.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Embattled Freedom?

AT: My book rests on the premise that the Civil War represented a distinctly militarized period in the decades-long process of destroying slavery in the United States (the “long Emancipation,” as some have called it). Embattled Freedom zeroes in on that period and argues that the way in which freedom-seeking people navigated—and survived—the culture, bureaucracy, and dangers of military life was an elemental part of the story of slavery’s destruction in the United States.

JF: Why do we need to read Embattled Freedom?

AT: Because Embattled Freedom is deeply resonant with so much of what is going on in our lives today. First, it uncovers a key piece of the deeply buried slavery past with which we are only now beginning to reckon. As more and more Americans are tearing down romanticized myths and monuments and talking more honestly about this history, I believe it is the historian’s role to provide ample research that can make an open and constructive dialogue possible. My hope is that Embattled Freedom will help inform that conversation.

Second, the book also tells the story of one of the United States’ earliest refugee crises. As we consider our obligations to displaced people throughout the world—as Americans debate the meaning of its borders and how “open” the country should be—I think it behooves us to consider the longer history of how Americans have defined citizenship and belonging throughout the nation’s history. The parallels between what happened in the Civil War and what is happening today are striking and sometimes surprising: how many people know, for example, that northern politicians tried to build a metaphoric “wall” across the United States during the Civil War, when they refused the migration of refugees from slavery into northern states? That is just one example of how my book sheds light on the deep history of our present-day lives.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

AT: I graduated from college thinking I would pursue a career in politics. So I went to Capitol Hill within months of obtaining my history degree and began working for a congressman. But I soon found myself sneaking into the Library of Congress during the workday to browse around and flip through the card catalog (which tells you how long ago that was). I was looking for materials related to the senior honors thesis on Confederate women that I had just completed before graduating. And I soon admitted to myself that I would rather hunt down leads on an already-completed history project than brush up on NASA policy and draft talking points for my boss (though I liked and respected him).

I decided I wanted to think for myself, rather than for my boss, and that I needed to pick up the intellectual work that I had left behind with my history degree. So I began applying to graduate programs and landed at the University of Virginia for my MA and PhD degrees. Why exactly I was drawn to history is something I do not fully understand yet—maybe with age I’ll gain more perspective. But I think it has something to do with my nagging interest in comprehending human behavior, which is why I sometimes say that if not a historian, I would be a journalist, a detective, or a psychologist.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: I have two. The first is a short book that will tell the story of the last effort by the federal government to colonize people of African descent beyond the nation’s borders. In 1863, just months after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln approved and supported the migration of over 400 people from the coast of Virginia to Île a Vàche (Haiti). The people, already suffering in refugee camps in and around Fort Monroe, were willing to listen to big promises of employment, housing, and stable new lives that would greet them in Haiti. The expedition failed to live up to those promises, however, and amid disease, death, and unpaid wages, the group petitioned Lincoln to bring them back to the United States—which he did.

My other project explores the U.S. government’s effort to count newly freed people in the 1860s. During the Civil War, in particular, federal agents made numerous attempts to conduct a census of the formerly enslaved population. All of these attempts proved incomplete and haphazard; all, however, were advancements on the decennial federal census, which had long counted this population but never by name or by any other identifying information except for gender, “color,” and age. That changed during the war, as federal agents identified the people by name, family relationships, military service, and more. My interest is in exploring the meaning of this data-gathering in the context of Emancipation: what was behind the federal government’s impulse to count, sort, and classify this population, and what role did it play in imagining and building a postwar racial order?

JF: Thanks, Amy!

Why are White Evangelicals Ambivalent About Refugees and Migrants?

immigrants

Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton tackles this issue.  She wonders why so many evangelical leaders reject anti-immigration rhetoric and so many of their followers embrace it.

Here is a taste:

From his dismissal of “shithole countries” to his attempts to institute a “Muslim travel ban,” from his incendiary rhetoric about Mexican immigrants being rapists and criminals, to his latest attempts to prevent the Honduran migrants to seeking asylum, Trump’s approach to borders has been one of nativism and insularity by protecting (his idea of white) America at the expense of everyone else. And, by and large, white evangelicals on the ground have followed suit — even when some in evangelical leadership is advocating for more nuanced policy positions.

The reasons for this discrepancy are complicated. They include a white evangelical population that gets its moral sense as much from conservative media as it does from scripture. There’s also a more general conflation of white evangelicalism with the GOP party agenda, which has been intensifying since the days of the Moral Majority in the 1980s.

As Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy and policy for World Relief, the humanitarian wing of the National Association for Evangelicals, told Vox, white evangelicals’ views on immigration are more likely to be shaped “not from their local church or their pastor, but actually from the news media. … This has become an issue of the church being discipled by the media more than the Bible or the local pastor in terms of their views on immigration.”

Ed Stetzer, a Christian author and commentator who leads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, agreed. “White evangelicals are more shaped on this issue by Republican views,” he told Vox. “They’re being discipled by their cable news network of choice and by their social media feeds.” He pointed out that, while white evangelicals are more likely than other religious voting blocs to express conservative views on immigration, they don’t necessarily do so at greater rates than nonwhite evangelical Republicans.

In other words, the political views of white evangelicals may say far more about their party affiliation than it does about their theological identity. In the Trump era, in particular, white evangelical Christianity and nativist political isolation have become particularly intertwined. Trump, his administration, and its allies have used the language of Christian nationalism to shore up their political base.

Read the entire piece here.  Sadly, it appears that Fox News-style fear-mongering easily sways many white evangelicals.  Or at least this is what I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

The Bible and Refugees

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Roman Catholic theologian and College of the Holy Cross professor Mathew Schmalz reflects on what the Bible says about immigration and refugees.  The Conversation published this piece in January, but it has more relevance than ever right now.

A taste:

Of course, in Christianity the strong admonitions toward treating the stranger with dignity have coexisted with actions that would seem to indicate an opposite attitude: pogroms against Jews, slavery, imperialism and colonialism have been sanctioned by Christians who nonetheless would have affirmed biblical principles regarding caring for those who seem “other” or “alien.”

Indeed, when it comes to the specific questions concerning building a wall on America’s border with Mexico or welcoming immigrants and refugees, some Christians would argue that doing so does not violate any biblical precepts concerning hospitality to the stranger, since the issue is one of legality and, of course, a good number of Christians did indeed support Donald Trump’s candidacy for the presidency.

Other Christians have taken a diametrically different position, and have called for cities and educational institutions to be set apart as “safe zones” for undocumented immigrants.

It is true that the application of biblical principles to contemporary matters of policy is less than clear to the many Christians who have taken opposing sides regarding how the United States should deal with immigrants, undocumented workers and refugees.

However, in my reading of the Bible, the principles regarding welcoming the stranger are broad-reaching and unambiguous.

Read the entire piece here.

American Evangelicals are the “Least Likely” to Think the U.S. Should Accept Refugees

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Philip Bump reports at The Washington Post:

In February 2017, as debate raged nationally over President Trump’s decision to curtail immigration to the United States, the conservative Christian Broadcasting Network dipped into the Bible to share what that sacred text said about refugees.

“Treat refugees the way you want to be treated,” it said, quoting Leviticus. “Invite the stranger in” (Matthew) and “Open your door to the traveler” (Job).

The first comment in reply to the article captures the tone of the rest of the feedback the site received: “Shame on CBN for this very poorly written article full of political rhetoric. This is not a Biblical issue.”

At the time, polling from Pew Research Center showed that about 56 percent of Americans believed that the United States had a responsibility to welcome refugees into the country. In the year since, that figure has dropped and is now at a bare majority, 51 percent.

But Pew’s new research includes a fascinating detail: No group agrees less with the idea that the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees than white evangelical Protestants.

Only 25 percent of evangelicals told Pew that they believed the United States has such a responsibility, half the percentage of Catholics who said the same thing and substantially lower than the religiously unaffiliated. In statistical terms, the percentage of evangelicals holding that view was about equal to the percentage of Republicans, 26 percent, given margins of error.

Read the entire article here, including graphs and charts.

Nothing about evangelicals surprises me any more.  Nothing.

Episode 33: The Power of Sport

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As we wrap up the Winter Olympic season, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling return to a favorite subject, the power of sport. In this episode, John discusses the social good to be found in the history of athletic competition. They are joined by Emmy-winner Amy Bass (@bassab1), the author of the new book One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together, which explores the power of a high school soccer team made up of predominately Somali refugees as they quest for a Maine state championship.

Evangelicals Urge Congress and Trump to Act on Immigration

Immigration

Evangelical leaders took out an ad in tomorrow’s Washington Post urging Congress and Trump to allow more refugees into the United States and keep the DACA program.  The letter was signed by Max Lucado, Beth Moore, and Jen Hatmaker, among others.  According to the Washington Post‘s Sarah Pulliam Bailey, none of the court evangelicals signed the ad.

Here is a taste of Bailey’s piece about the ad:

A diverse group of evangelical leaders have put their names on a full-page advertisement in Wednesday’s Washington Post urging President Trump and Congress to act on immigration and refugee policy, issues that have become especially divisive among conservative evangelicals.

Last year, a similar group took out an ad denouncing Trump’s attempt to ban certain refugees, a controversial executive order that has been caught up in legal battles during the past year. This year’s ad also includes controversial immigration issues that have been tied up in recent congressional battles.

It has some of the same signatures, including popular authors like Max Lucado and Ann Voskamp,  who have long focused on the welcoming part of immigration. However, it also adds some interesting names, including Bible teacher Beth Moore and popular author Jen Hatmaker, two women who have become increasingly vocal in the Trump era. Some of these leaders focus mostly on the Bible and spirituality and don’t typically get too involved in political issues.

Read the entire piece here.

Fewer Christian Refugees in America Under Trump


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On Tuesday, the Court Evangelicals met with the President to pray for him and discuss policy.  According to Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s report at The Washington Post, one of the things discussed was “international religious freedom.”  She writes:

[Liberty University’s Johnnie] Moore described Trump as “strong and focused as I’ve ever seen him.” Monday’s meeting came as Trump has been embroiled in reports about his family’s ties to Russia.

“He was in ll was well. He was happy and joking.”

He said many of the leaders there are hoping the White House will appoint someone to become an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, a position that was held by Rabbi David Saperstein until Trump took office.

I am trying to reconcile the Court Evangelical’s desire for an “ambassador-at-large” for “international religious freedom” with their support for Trump’s travel ban on refugees.

This became clear to me when I read Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s recent piece at Christianity Today titled “It’s Official: Fewer Persecuted Christians Find Refuge in America Under Trump.”

Here is a taste of her piece:

Approximately 14,000 fewer Christian refugees will arrive in the United States this fiscal year, as President Donald Trump’s policies lead to the fewest resettlements in a decade.

Today, resettlement agencies hit Trump’s new ceiling of 50,000 refugees, three months before the end of the federal government’s fiscal year on September 30. And as CT predicted, Christians fell far short of last year’s intake.

“At this point, World Relief expects that the only additional arriving cases after today will be individuals who have a close family member already in the US,” Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization for the National Association of Evangelicals’ humanitarian arm, told CT. (“Close family” means a parent, parent-in-law, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son- or daughter-in-law, or sibling, according to State Department guidelines.)

A total of 22,637 Christians have been resettled in the US in fiscal 2017, compared to 36,822 in fiscal 2016, according to State Department data.

Read the rest here.

The “Ellis Island of the South”

Clarkston_City_Annex,_2016

Clarkston, Georgia, with a population of 13,000, has received over 40,000 refugees over the past twenty-five years.  Katy Long of The Guardian tells the story of this extraordinary town.

Here is a taste:

How does this happen? How does a dusty, working-class city in the south not only manage to house 1,500 refugees per year, but make their welcome integral to the town’s sense of identity?…

What made Clarkston work for refugees, Bollinger says, are the opportunities afforded by its high-density apartment complexes and good transport links. It’s easy to catch a vanpool to the chicken factories one hour north, where many of the refugees first find low-wage employment. This was why Clarkston was identified in the early 1990s as a good resettlement hub, and now these same attractions – low-cost housing and proximity to the interstate – are part of what’s helping to attract young American professionals priced out of Atlanta.

Many Clarkston residents point out the town was not always so hospitable to refugees: their arrival was initially resented by many locals. But older opponents of refugees have moved on or passed away, and have been replaced by younger liberals. Bollinger calls Mayor Terry, who was elected in 2013 at the age of 31, “the physical embodiment of that change of perspective”.

Those older locals who have remained seem content to live in parallel with their refugee neighbors. Betty Cardell, 93, who has lived in Clarkston since she arrived as a war bride from California in 1950, is philosophical: “Well, they’re here. So what you going to do? They’re people like we are. I’ve never had trouble.” She has no interest in leaving. “I like Clarkston: it’s still a small town.”

This small-town feel is both part of the reason Clarkston works – and a limiting factor. For refugees, Clarkston is a starter city. Success means moving on, leaving its apartment complexes behind.

Read the entire piece here.

Are We Ready for a World Without Reason?

sweden

Columnist Anne Applebaum uses Donald Trump’s recent comments about Sweden to reflect on the importance of reason and the Enlightenment to Western Civilization.

Here is a taste of her column “Sweden, Immigrants, and Trump’s Post-Enlightenment World.”

And so: A faked film inspired the president to cite an imaginary crisis, the existence of which was confirmed by a fake expert — and which now inspired another television team to try to create a real crisis using real people (in a neighborhood crawling with both real and fake journalists) to make it all seem true.

All of this leaves viewers, and voters, in a difficult place. Sooner or later there will be actual violence in response to an imaginary crisis. Sooner or later, a Swedish suburb or an American city will erupt because someone needs it to erupt to justify a demagogue’s speech. But will it be “real” violence or fake? Sooner or later, we won’t know the difference at all.

Read the entire piece here.  It is definitely worth your time.

More Reader Response on Evangelicals, Fear and Anti-Intellectualism

Read the original piece here:

A reader from Tennessee (a history professor) writes:

As the essay notes, the 76% of evangelicals supporting the EO closely correlates to the 81% who voted for Trump. I won’t pretend to be a sociologist, but with most social movements that’s pretty close to speaking with “one voice.” Which raises these questions about these leaders: do they have followers? And are they themselves meaningfully evangelical by anything other than a narrow theological definition?

Do these evangelical leaders have followers?  Of course they do. And their following is very large.  But if I have learned anything from scholars who study popular religion in America, there is not necessarily a one-to-one correlation between what a religious leader says on a given issue and the way followers appropriate the message.  If history is a guide, the most ardent follower of a popular religious leader does not necessary follow him/her on EVERYTHING.

Evangelical Leaders Oppose Trump’s Refugee Ban

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I was recently on the phone with a religion reporter for a national outlet who is very good at her/his job.  The reporter was trying to get a sense of the diverse nature of white evangelicalism.  For example, we talked a lot about Betsy DeVos.  I tried to explain (although she/he already knew this) that just because Betsy DeVos went to Calvin College, is Dutch Reformed, or believes in advancing the “Kingdom of God,” does not mean that everyone affiliated with Calvin College, the Christian Reformed Church, or advancing the Kingdom of God view political matters in the same way or supported DeVos’s nomination for Secretary of Education.

I thought about this phone conversation again when I read Jeremy Weber’s recent piece in Christianity Today on the evangelical leaders who signed a letter opposing Donald Trump’s recent ban on refugees from Muslim countries.  Many in the media like to appeal to the 81% of voting evangelicals who pulled the lever for Donald Trump.  This is true.  But for every Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell Jr. there is also a Tim Keller, Richard Mouw, and Max Lucado.

The evangelical leaders who oppose Trump’s ban include (in addition to Keller Mouw, and Lucado):  Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church), Leith Anderson (President of the National Association of Evangelicals), John Perkins (Christian Community Development Association and evangelical Civil Rights activist), Daniel Akin (President of Southeastern Theological Seminary), Stuart and Jill Briscoe (former pastors of Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin), Joel Hunter (pastor of Northland Church in Florida and former spiritual adviser to Barack Obama), Shirley Hoogstra (Director of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities), and. Richard Waybright (pastor of Lake Avenue Church in California and former president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).

It is worth noting that most of these signers are not the usual suspects.  In other words, they are not the left-leaning evangelicals of the Jim Wallis or Ron Sider political camp.

It strikes me from reading Weber’s article that the evangelical support for Trump’s ban comes from the grassroots, not evangelical leaders.  While I am sure that there are many evangelicals who support Trump’s ban, there may be more who oppose it, regardless of how they voted in November.

Was Frederick Douglass a Refugee?

Some of you may remember Donald Trump’s reference to Frederick Douglass during last week’s remarks about Black History Month.

In case you missed it:

These comments from Trump and later his press secretary Sean Spicer have prompted many historians to wonder if they realize that Douglass passed away in 1895.

I am not sure if Trump was correct when he said that Douglass is “being recognized more and more.”  Historians can debate that point.  But I am reasonably certain that since he referenced Douglass the reputation of this former-slave and abolitionist has skyrocketed.

On the day Trump made his statement about Douglass I started the #douglassfortrump hashtag and began to tweet Douglass quotes for the purpose of educating the POTUS about the great abolitionist’s ideas.

David Blight, the author of a forthcoming biography of Douglass, decided to use the recent Douglass craze to make a statement about Trump’s executive order on immigration.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

Frederick Douglass, author, orator, editor, and most important African American leader of the 19th century, was a dangerous illegal immigrant. Well, in 1838 he escaped a thoroughly legal system of enslavement to the tenuous condition of fugitive resident of a northern state that had outlawed slavery, but could only protect his “freedom” outside of the law.  

Douglass’s life and work serve as a striking symbol of one of the first major refugee crises in our history. From the 1830s through the 1850s, the many thousands of runaway slaves, like Douglass, who escaped into the North, into Canada, or Mexico put enormous pressure on those places’ political systems. The presence and contested status of fugitive slaves polarized voters in elections; they were the primary subject of major legislation such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as well as Supreme Court decisions such as Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857. They were at the heart of a politics of fear in the 1850s that led to disunion. Among the many legacies of Douglass’s life and writings alive today, one of the most potent is his role as an illegal migrant and very public abolitionist orator and journalist posing as a free black citizen in slaveholding America.  

Read the entire piece here.

A Tale of Three Protests

protests

This could be the first weekend of the Trump administration in which the country has not experienced a major protest march of one form or another.  As I write this on Saturday morning, the weekend is still young.  But I doubt that we will let our impulse for social reform get in the way of the Super Bowl.  After all, this is the United States. 🙂

All of these protests–the Women’s March, the March for Life, and the spontaneous gatherings in American airports to protest Trump’s immigration ban–all had one thing in common.  They were, in one way or another, defenses of human dignity.  In this sense, they were inextricably linked. A recent post by a immigration lawyers Melbourne team have illustrated this quite well, it’s worth a look.

Protests and marches of this nature have a long history in the United States.  Think about the Stamp Act Riots, the Boston Tea Party, the Whiskey Rebellion, the New York City Draft Riots, women’s suffrage parades and marches, the Bonus Army, the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam Movement, Stonewall, labor protests, the movement to stop globalization, the Million Man March, the present-day Tea Party Movement, and Occupy Wall Street.  (And this list only scratches the surface).  We can debate to what extent these historic protests brought real social change, but we cannot argue with the fact that such activity is part of the American tradition of free speech, freedom of assembly, and the defense of human rights and dignity.

The American protest tradition was at its best on Saturday, January 21, 2017, one day after Trump was inaugurated, when women took to the streets in major and minor cities all over the United States.  On the Monday following the women’s march, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that “a lot of these people were there to protest an issue of concern to them and [were] not against anything.”  I realize that Spicer’s job is to spin events in favor of Donald Trump, but anyone who attended one of these rallies or watched the coverage on television knows that the people present that day were “against” something.  They were against the Trump presidency.  The day was a stunning rebuke to the new administration.

Spicer, however, is correct when he says that women (and some men) came to Washington for a host of different reasons.  As I watched the march unfold on my television screen, it became clear that the movement lacked any focus beyond the fact that everyone opposed Donald Trump.  People were there to unleash their frustrations. Only time will tell if the march translates into real political gain. I have my doubts.

I was saddened to see the organizers of the Women’s March try to separate themselves from women who opposed abortion.  I think it was a missed opportunity to find common ground and show that Trump’s degradation of women transcends the debate over abortion.  I know pro-life women who attended and felt a sense of solidarity.  I also know many who did not attend and who were troubled by this kind of exclusion.

Which leads us to the March for Life on January 28, 2017.

The Pro-Life Movement has a long history in the United States.  As Daniel K. Williams has argued in his excellent book Defenders of the Unborn (you can listen to our podcast interview with him here-Episode 2), the movement was once embedded within the Democratic Party.  Liberals such as Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, Bill Clinton, Paul Simon, Dick Durbin, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Herbert Humphrey,  Joe Biden, Ed Muskie, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Bob Casey, Daniel Berrigan, Jimmy Carter, Thomas Eagleton, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Mario Cuomo were pro-life politicians.  Many of them, as David Swartz notes in his book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, “flipped to a pro-choice position under party pressure.”

The history of this so-called “flip” is complicated and I would recommend reading Williams’s book (or listen to our interview with him) to understand it in context.  But I think it is fair to say that Democrats of a previous generation saw very little tension between their political convictions and their opposition to abortion.  Democrats have always been concerned about protecting the most vulnerable human beings in American society. This is a core tenet of the modern Democratic Party.

Back in September 2015 I turned to the pages of USA Today  to challenge then presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to say something about reducing abortions in America.  I wrote: “aborted fetuses are alive, they are vulnerable and they need protection.”  I did something similar, albeit in a more indirect way, in a piece I published in the Harrisburg Partiot-News about Hillary Clinton’s failure to reach out to evangelicals on the issue of abortion.

Democrats and Republicans, men and women, convened in Washington  to march for life. The march was not as large as the Women’s March the week before, but it was just as powerful. Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr., a bishop in the largest Black denomination in the United States, was perhaps the most inspiring speaker.  As I wrote about last week, his speech connected the pro-life movement to the Black Lives Matter movement. Jesse Jackson could have delivered the same speech in 1977.  In that year, as Williams notes in Defenders of the Unborn (p.171), Jackson wrote an article for Life News linking his opposition to abortion to his defense of social justice, poverty, and black personhood.

My only critique of the event was the way it politicized a great social sin.  The problems with abortion should be addressed in an apolitical way.  The Pro-Life Movement transcends Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, and the Republican Party. Speeches by Conway and Pence gave the march a political flavor that distracted from the day’s message.

Finally, protest swirled on Sunday, January 29, 2017 in the wake of Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries.  Americans arrived at airports by the thousands to defend the human rights of immigrants and refugees who were detained by the Trump administration. They also cried out against the targeting of immigrants from a specific religious group.

The constitutionality of Trump’s executive order can be debated.  After doing a little reading it appears that certain parts of the order seem to be OK.  But after reading it a few times there seems to be no way around the fact that this order discriminates based on religion.  We will need to let the courts decide if such discrimination in cases of immigration is indeed unconstitutional.

Section 5b reads:

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.  Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

The order states that “minority religions” in these Muslim countries will get priority.  How can this be read as anything but an attempt by Trump (and probably Steve Bannon) to favor Christians (and other non-Muslim faiths) and discriminate against Muslims?

America has been here before.

In 1835, Samuel F.B. Morse, best known in American history for inventing the telegraph, was one of the nation’s foremost opponents of Catholic immigration.  He saw Catholics as a threat to American democracy and wrote about them as both a political and religious movement. In 1911, the Asiatic Exclusion League, an organization with a mission to deny all Asian immigrants access to the United States, described Asians as a people whose “ways are not as our ways” and whose “gods are not our God, and never will be.”  The members of the League argued that Asian men and women “profane this Christian land by erecting here among us their pagan shrines, set up their idols and practice their shocking heathen religious ceremonies.”

The difference between Donald Trump and Morse, the Asiatic Exclusion League, and other attempts in U.S. history to restrict immigration, is that Donald Trump is the President of the United States.  I am not a scholar of immigration history (although I do occasionally teach a class on the subject), but I cannot think of another case in which a POTUS tried to overtly stop immigrants to the United States based on their religious faith.  Some Presidents may have secretly wanted to do this, but they never acted on it in the way that Donald Trump has done.  The closest thing I can think of is the government’s decision in 1939 to turn away 937 European Jews fleeing the Holocaust, but this decision was not overtly framed in a religious way. (I welcome anyone who can think of an example of a POTUS doing this).

American immigration and refugee policy has always been at its best when it respects the human dignity of all men and women, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.  Those who flooded American airports last Sunday were protesting the failure of the Trump administration to live up to these ideals.

Three protest marches.  Three defenses of human dignity.  Three signs of hope in an imperfect world and an imperfect country.

The Mind of the Evangelical Trump Voter

liberty-trump

Over the last several months I have had some good conversations (and some not so good conversations) with a few dozen of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump. The more I listen to these evangelical Trump supporters the more I realize that they are divided over the new President’s policies regarding trade, job creation, and even Obamacare. While some of them mentioned their support of Trump’s policies on these issues, it was clear that they are secondary.

Here is what unites them:

Abortion:  Trump evangelicals believe that a Trump presidency is their best chance to overturn Roe v. Wade.  So far they are ecstatic about Trump’s support for last Friday’s March for Life and his efforts to end funding for international organizations that perform abortions.  They will no doubt cheer Trump’s forthcoming Supreme Court justice nominee.

These evangelicals limit their understanding of “pro-life” to the issue of abortion.  So, for example, they do not see Trump’s recent executive order banning refugees to be a “life” issue.  Many of them are outraged that protesters are making such a big deal over Trump’s decision to stop the flow of Muslim refugees into the country when thousands and thousands of babies are being killed in the womb each year

Religious Liberty:   Trump evangelicals are thrilled that the President is aware that thousands of Christians being persecuted for their faith around the world. I imagine Christian colleges are, for the most part, breathing a sigh of relief over the fact that they will no longer be discriminated against when it comes to federal and other types of funding.

So far we have heard very little from these evangelicals about extending religious liberties to Muslim refugees. As evangelical  Washington Post columnist and Trump critic Michael Gerson recently wrote, “In the long run, religious liberty is weakened in every case when it is weakened in any case. On this matter, hypocrisy is a form of self-harm.”

Fear:  Evangelicals want their country back.  Trump will not only make America great again, but he will protect them against internal and external threats.  Most Trump evangelicals I talk with love his recent executive order banning refugees from Muslim countries.  Man of them don’t want Muslims in America.  Some of them still think that Barack Obama is a Muslim.  They believe Muslim terrorists pose a threat to their lives, even though they are more likely to be killed by a moving train, flammable clothing, or cows than a Muslim terrorist.

Trump is delivering “big league” for his evangelical voters.  He is keeping his promises. It looks as if the 81% will not be going away anytime soon.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson on Trump’s Muslim Ban: “It’s a Shock Event”

bannon

Heather Cox Richardson of Boston College is one of my favorite historians.  I highly recommend her most recent book To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Today Richardson gave me permission to publish a piece she recently posted to her Facebook page.

Richardson is probably right in assuming that Steve Bannon is behind Trump’s recent Executive Order on Muslim refugees.  She describes what Bannon is doing as a “shock event.” This is an attempt to throw the country into confusion and chaos so that the administration can present itself as the only entity capable of restoring order.

Richardson explains:

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries– is creating what is known as a “shock event.” Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order. When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.

Last night’s Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.

Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like. I don’t know what Bannon is up to– although I have some guesses– but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle– and my friends range pretty widely– who will benefit from whatever it is. If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.richardson

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event. A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union. If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power. Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.