Van Ens: Christianity doesn’t fall for anti-immigration head-fake (column)
Anti-immigration advocates use a head-fake that authentic Christianity rejects. A basketball player tilts his head to the right and feigns a right-side drive to the bucket. After pivoting to the left, however, he easily dunks the basketball.
Immigrants work in gangs, steal blue-color jobs, drive down wages and form clans that don’t speak English, claim some conservatives. Christianity doesn’t endorse this rhetoric because it’s a phony verbal head-fake about crime and terrorism.
Christian faith welcomes immigrants, who the Bible identifies as “strangers” and “sojourners.” A core biblical teaching is: “Assemble the people, men, women and little ones, and the sojourner (immigrant) within your towns …” (Deuteronomy 31:12). Don’t shun newcomers.
By shrilly denouncing immigrants who have crossed our borders illegally, some Christians spread a toxic perversion of Christianity. Jesus did not mean dealing only with whites when he instructed Christians to care for the stranger (immigrant) (Matthew 25: 31-46).
In addition to current anti-immigration railing, white pride has convulsed our nation with hate in four past periods. Each time, conservative Christians erected walls to protect their white Protestant Empire from immigrants.
H.L. Mencken, a 1920s critic of Christian fundamentalism and the GOP, told why the anti-immigrant head-fake works. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary,” he wrote.
Imaginary … and scary.
During the 1790s, Protestants in the Alexander Hamilton-led Federalist Party felt threatened by Roman Catholic immigrants fleeing the French Revolution. Federalists feared these newcomers would unleash anarchy, destroying the Republic.
Thomas Jefferson tore down immigration walls. The 1798 Alien and Sedition Act’s residency requirements barred the French U.S. citizenship by hiking the waiting period from two years in the original 1790 Naturalization Act to 14 years.
In the 1840s, telegraph inventor Samuel Morse headed the Know Nothing Party, which banned Irish immigration. These nativist American Party members accused Irish refugees of drunken rapist binges that corrupted America’s values and ideals.
During the 1880s, “head-fakers” raged against the “Yellow Peril.” They vilified Chinese railroad workers. An 1881 cartoon depicted Lady Liberty as a Chinese coolie clutching an opium pipe.
In 1924, an anti-immigrant backlash erupted against “lower breeds,” particularly Italians and Eastern European Jews. After signing an anti-immigration bill, GOP President Calvin Coolidge insisted, “America must remain American.” Have Lady Liberty open her arms only to new citizens who looked like white, Protestant President Coolidge.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson is embarrassed by conservatives, then and now, who spew anti-immigration hate. “It just appalls me. I cannot imagine what these people are thinking,” she laments.
Robinson is disgusted by racist conservative Christians who are duped by anti-immigration head-fakes. “I mean, honestly, every day you read in the paper — what is going to happen to the DACA people? They have been roasting over a slow fire for months, for no reason. Deadlines changing, threats floating, all this sort of thing,” declares exasperated Robinson.
“If there’s one thing the Bible insists on, it is that you are kind to strangers (immigrants), that you are generous to strangers. They’re not even strangers — they’re us, with a little technical difficulty. How anyone who claims to know anything about the Bible could endure this spectacle, I cannot begin to imagine” (Time magazine, “Marilynne Robinson promotes reason in unreasonable times,” March 12, 2018, p. 53).
A parishioner raged against her pastor after he preached about welcoming the “stranger.” “So what if biblical prophets taught it and Jesus advocated it,” she fumed. “My preacher doesn’t have to say it.”
Sadly, many conservative Christians go for her head-fake.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.