‘Amnesty’ and amnesia on immigration from Sooners and Southern Baptists

‘Amnesty’ and amnesia on immigration from Sooners and Southern Baptists November 29, 2014

Mark Silk makes several good catches in a recent Religion News Service column, “Southern Baptist running away from immigration reform.”

Let’s start with the last one first, in which Silk finds Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn complaining about President Obama’s recent reprioritizing of immigration enforcement, which Coburn frets creates a poor perception having something to do with “the rule of law,” which he says is “really concerning a lot of people where I come from.” Silk notes that where  Coburn comes from is the Sooner state — a place that proudly identifies itself as the home of people who ignored “the rule of law” and illegally migrated there. As I wrote here a few years ago:

Sooners are not permitted to brag about being Sooners and then to complain about others crossing borders illegally. Sooners are not permitted to brag about being Sooners and then to complain about migrants unable to produce the proper paperwork.

Sooners are not permitted to brag about being Sooners and then to pretend that they don’t know what that word means or where it comes from.

Oklahoma was settled by illegal immigrants — by illegal immigrants who managed to break immigration law at a time when immigration law barely even existed. In 1889, pretty much the only immigration law on the books in the United States was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — which was just as explicitly racist as it sounds. It wasn’t easy for non-Chinese white people to break the law, but the Sooners managed to do it — claiming land in the territory of Oklahoma “sooner” than the law allowed.

So, no. Sen. Tom Coburn is not allowed to lecture anyone about “illegal” immigration. And Sooners are, by definition, pompous hypocrites whenever they decide to bloviate about “the rule of law.” It’s simply ridiculous and merits only ridicule in response. Sen. Coburn is either woefully ignorant about “where he comes from” or else his talk of “the rule of law” is something he believes only applies to other people. Either way, he is a silly, silly man, even by congressional standards.

Mark Silk’s other great catch involves another piece of pompous hypocrisy — one involving a much faster paced flip-flop. This has to do with a sanctimoniously partisan op-ed column written by Southern Baptist “apologetics” professor Mark Coppenger (Is that even a thing? It shouldn’t be — “apologetics” is a shtick, not an academic discipline.) Silk summarizes:

The pièce de evangelical résistance, however, comes from Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics at Southern, writing on this very site yesterday. He takes President Obama to task for associating his executive action with Exodus 23:9. (“Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”)

The president, declares Coppenger, “ran roughshod over context.”

Silk contrasts this alleged abuse of “context” with the citation of the very same biblical motif in a host of Bible verses quoted in the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2011 resolution”On Immigration and the Gospel.” That resolution called for exactly the kinds of reforms President Obama’s executive order will be implementing, supported by the very same biblical values Obama cited. In 2011, Coppenger thought that was just peachy keen, but when a black Democrat says the same thing three years later, he clutches his pearls and collapses on his fainting couch.

The Republican Party has a branch office in Louisville, Ky.
The Republican Party has a branch office in Louisville, Kentucky.

I suppose Coppenger — an employee of Southern Baptist archbishop Al Mohler — was wagering that no one would remember all the way back to the hazy forgotten era of 2011. That was back when Republicans like Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Al Mohler were still thinking that “comprehensive immigration reform” might be the way to sway Hispanic voters into supporting the GOP. The SBC rushed out its resolution to empower denominational lobbyists to support this Republican strategy. But then dozen or so Republican presidential debates showed that such talk was toxic with the aggrieved white teavangelical base of the party and the GOP reversed course — emphatically.

Looking back at Republican statements on immigration reform from 2011 does, indeed, seem like a view of the distant past, like looking back at another world. Unfortunately for Coppenger, though, Mark Silk and others are somehow able to remember what the SBC was saying just three years ago — and thus are able to recognize Coppenger’s shamelessly unprincipled hypocrisy for what it is. The pious sheen he paints it with just makes that hypocrisy look worse.

That’s the larger point in Silk’s column — the transparent scramble to get in line with their party’s dogma that shapes everything we’re now hearing from Southern Baptist spokespeople about immigration. It’s not easy to pretend to be horrified when Obama agrees with what they asked for in 2011, and it’s not possible to appear honest when pretending that. But the SBC has its priorities — party first. And when the GOP issues a new official position, the court prophets of the SBC rush to prophesy whatever their king wants to hear.



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