‘Do I need to turn her in?’ — something has gone very, very wrong

‘Do I need to turn her in?’ — something has gone very, very wrong November 21, 2014

How bad is the politicization of white evangelical religion? How thoroughly has every trace of the gospel been replaced by partisan political sloganeering? It’s this bad:

After speaking to a Sunday school class about immigration, a woman asked if she could talk to me. She pulled me aside and whispered, “I think there’s a girl in my daughter’s class this year who is, umm, not legal. What should I do?”

She explained that her daughter had befriended a new girl. When they talked, the student was evasive and said she wasn’t allowed to say where she lived for fear someone would take her mother away and send her back to Mexico. The woman asked me, “What should I do? Do I need to turn her in?”

I assured the woman that she had no reason to report the girl or her mother and suggested she encourage her daughter to invite the girl over instead. “But couldn’t we get into trouble if she’s not here legally?” the woman asked.

I often hear these kinds of concerns when I speak about immigration.

That’s Dale Hanson Bourke writing at Christianity Today. What she means there when she says “I often hear these kinds of concerns when I speak about immigration” is that she often hears these kinds of concerns when she speaks about immigration to white evangelicals.

Because they’ve completely lost the map.

Nice white Christian ladies welcome the stranger in Jesus’ name. (Dallas Morning News photo by Ron Baselice)

What does this show us? It shows us a people whose “concerns” — whose response to the actual stranger in their midst — is not primarily shaped by the gospel, by their “relationship with Jesus,” by “the authority of scripture,” the Bible, or any of the other stuff they’re always on about. Their response is not shaped by those things at all.

It is shaped by Fox News. And AM talk radio. And the National Religious Broadcasters. It’s shaped by the explicit right-wing partisanship of Charismanews and by the the implicit right-wing partisanship of Christianity Today.

It has been reduced to a shrinky-dink caricature of Christianity, one in which that phrase — “the stranger in your midst” — is not even recognized as a massive biblical motif, except perhaps maybe out of context, in reference to a fetus, because that is the primary and almost the only meaning that “Jesus” and “the Bible” have anymore, as a shorthand for criminalizing abortion.

Just consider how many utterly wrong turns one has to take to arrive at the position in which a little girl comes to your Sunday school class and your first thought is “Do I need to turn her in?” That’s sick.

Sure, it’s good to see Christianity Today pushing back, ever so slightly, against some of the ramifications of this sickness. Hanson Bourke offers a helpful explanation for CT’s readers to correct some of the more ludicrous lies they’ve apparently ingested wholesale from Fox and “Christian” radio. But here again, the goodness of what’s being said is overshadowed by the fact that it needed to be said at all.

Here’s the final point in Hanson Bourke’s article. Just consider what it means that a group of Christians needed to be told this:

5. It is not against the law to welcome a family into your home or help them, even if they are undocumented.

Including new children in the classroom in your family events is a wonderful way to help them feel accepted. Showing hospitality to a child or a family whose immigration status is questionable does not create legal problems for citizens.

New children in any classroom often feel lonely and need a friend. Children whose families are from a different country or culture can feel even more alone. As I assured the woman at church, reaching out to such a child is not only legal; it is a special act of kindness that will benefit not only that other child, but her child as well.

OK, so now these Christians know that there is no legal barrier to stop them from helping undocumented children. Against such there is no law.

But consider the deplorable modesty of the argument Hanson Bourke has to make for her evangelical audience. She’s not reassuring them that they won’t get in trouble for all the help they’ve been providing to immigrant families, because their Fox-addled Republicanism has barred them from providing any such help up until now.

Actually, helping these families is an idea introduced by Hanson Bourke. The “concern” she’s heard from evangelicals wasn’t about whether or not they would get in trouble for helping other people. Their concern was, again, “Do I need to turn her in?”

Jesus Christ. By which I mean, listen to Jesus Christ: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” Therefore you “are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Do I need to turn her in? Holy motherloving hell.

A century ago, American churches were busily expanding their “home mission societies” to minister to immigrants arriving in America. They cooked meals, helped provide housing and clothing. They taught English lessons and helped immigrants find work. That early-20th-century home mission work was also harmfully entangled in all sorts of colonial attitudes, problematic ideas about assimilation and Anglicization, etc. But even if their acts of mercy were, in part, due to imperfect motivations, those Christians were still responding to the arrival of new immigrants with acts of mercy because that’s what Christians do.

They knew this. They did not have to be argued into it or persuaded and cajoled into accepting the idea. White evangelicals today apparently do not know this. Such acts of mercy are not a part of their identity. Particularly not when it comes to the Others they hear demonized in their daily devotionals from Fox News and Christian hate radio.

Something has gone very, very wrong.


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