In a survey conducted a month ago, the Pew Research Center found that white evangelical Protestants were the group most likely to disagree with the statement that the United States has the responsibility to accept refugees.
Overall, 51% of those surveyed stated that the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees. Frankly, this statistic alone—that only half of the nation believes we have a responsibility to welcome the refugee—is deeply troubling. Every nation ought to have a responsibility to open its doors to refugees—to those fleeing their country, with nowhere to go—because we are all human.
But Pew also found that only 25% of white evangelical Protestants—one in four—agree that the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees. That is a lower percentage than of any other group Pew surveyed. In Pew’s survey, a full 68% of white evangelical Protestants stated outright that the U.S. did not have a responsibility to accept refugees—again, the most extreme statement of any group surveyed.
What makes this response baffling is white evangelicals’ claim to be following the Bible as their guide in life. While its record is not perfect, the Bible is not exactly silent on refugees. But even beyond direct references to refugees, evangelicals like to portray themselves as compassionate and loving. They like to claim that that is what they are—and that any public image to the contrary is the result of anti-Chrsitian sentiment. They, in their own imagining, are the people of love, of compassion.
I grew up in an evangelical home. One frequently quoted biblical passage—one that still sticks out to me today—was “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” We believed we stood out in the love we showed others, in a way that was recognizable and would lead to others asking what made us different, and ultimately to opportunities to evangelize.
Another common concept was that of “fruit”—you will know them by their fruits. See this passage in Matthew 7, for instance:
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
You could know a believer, in other words, by their fruits. And what were these fruits? This passage from Matthew 7 was frequently combined with a passage from Galatians 5:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
In other words, a person who is a believer will show fruits—love, joy, patience (as non-KJV translations typically put it), gentleness, goodness, etc. It’s interesting to note that this is not a specific proscription of policy positions—instead, it is a statement that policy positions should be made from a starting point of these things. For a believer, love, gentleness, goodness, these things should shape and guide one’s life actions—including their response to things like refugees.
In terms of more specific prescriptions, there is also this longer passage from Matthew 25, in which Jesus ties how one treats the stranger to one’s rightness with God (the word ξένος, translated “stranger” in this passage, actually connotes “foreigner”):
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
And yet despite all of these passages, evangelicals would close the door to refugees. The United States, they say, does not have a responsibility to accept refugees. In 2016, 4 in 5 white evangelicals voted for Trump. Trump who ran on an anti-immigrant, anti-refugee platform. Trump, who gloried in showing no compassion, in being coarse and brash in his language toward those in need.
These same white evangelicals claim that they are just following the Bible, but I have yet to see them make a case specifically biblical against refugees. While I’m sure one could find some way to gin up such a case, on a fundamental level this isn’t about the Bible. It isn’t about Christian belief. It’s about white evangelicals having a greater allegiance to xenophobic beliefs than to biblical teachings about the stranger, or about love, or about compassion. It’s about those teachings being blotted out in the intensity of something else.
In the intensity of claims that immigrants will steal their jobs.
In the intensity of fear that refugees will be terrorists.
In the intensity of ideas about what constitutes the “real” America.
These things drown out compassion. They drown out biblical passages about feeding the foreigner. They drown out biblical calls to let others know them by their love. And then evangelics wonder why they get a bad rap.
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