Vichy Christian Paula White is a faith-healing, prosperity TV preacher who serves on Donald Trump’s advisory panel of obsequious court prophets. Her job is to bless and baptize the president’s policies, declaring them holy and good and ordained by White Jesus, and therefore deserving the support of all followers of White Jesus.
Paula White is not very good at this job.
She possesses the main quality it requires — a willingness to say and to do anything, no matter how absurd or loathesome — but she lacks the grasp of basic Christianity and biblical literacy that would allow her to offer any kind of plausible-sounding religious respectability for, say, building internment camps for toddlers.
And that is a real thing that we are talking about now, a thing that is happening, today, in America, a country that builds and operates internment camps for toddlers.
Vichy Christian David Brody of CBN is far slicker and more fluent-sounding in religious talk, and he tries his darnedest to help White make a go of it, accompanying the televangelist on a show-tour of a Virginia facility “housing”* several children taken from their parents at the border. White, of course, praised the facility and the policy of detaining children there as the best of all good things and reaffirming that “We have to have stricter border security and laws” and to grant the president extraordinary, unchecked powers to do whatever he wants to prevent more non-white people from coming to America.
White also did her best to conflate all forms of immigration — portraying refugees and asylum seekers as indistinct from some supposedly nefarious illegal immigrants. She also used the word “trafficking” as much as possible, exploiting the current revival of white slavery panic to try to link unaccompanied minor migrants with sex slaves. (As usual with white evangelical discussions of “trafficking,” her argument seems to be that trafficking is the worst possible thing and therefore the victims of trafficking must be punished and imprisoned.)
That’s all horrible, of course. Paul White is a vile person taking her place in a long line of vile people who have always volunteered — wherever governments build camps — to tour those facilities and gush about how wonderfully the detained children are being treated. On that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom, etc.
Where Paula White really beclowns herself, though, is in her attempt to make some kind of “biblical” argument for Trump’s zero-tolerance, separate-and-detain-the-children policy. She seems vaguely aware that there’s some kind of religious argument being made against it, and she’s worried that some of the few actual Christians she’s duped into following her might find that argument persuasive. So she attempts to respond.
This does not go well.
“I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this, to say stuff like, ‘Well, Jesus was a refugee,'” White [said]. “Yes, he did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years. But it was not illegal. If he had broken the law then he would have been sinful and he would not have been our Messiah.”
“If [Jesus] had broken the law, then he would have been sinful,” White says, as sincerely as she is capable of saying anything. She really seems to think this is how it works. Breaking the law is always a sin; complying with the law is equivalent to being sinless.
Even more astonishing, White says this specifically about Egyptian laws regarding migration. As it happens, such Egyptian laws are kind of a major theme in the Bible. There’s a whole book — called “Exodus” — about all of God’s people disobeying that law, with God’s help. “You were slaves in Egypt” is a refrain repeated throughout the books of Moses and the rest of the Bible. (This is why Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus fleeing to Egypt, of all places, as a refugee, and then returning.)White’s ideology suggests that Moses and Aaron and all of the people of Israel were being “sinful” by fleeing Egypt.
Worse than that, White’s ideology suggests that everyone who ever breaks a law is being “sinful.” Corrie Ten Boom. Anne Frank. Rosa Parks. John Lewis. Harriet Tubman. Frederick Douglass. Irena Sendler. Andre Trocme. Mary Dyer. Samuel Sharpe. Benjamin Franklin. Arnold Abbot. Shiphrah and Puah. According to Paula White, these are all sinful, sinful people full of law-breaking sin.
This shows that White also does not understand — because of her religious-ish ideology and because of her Trump-worship — that it is often the case that obeying the law would be sinful.
This, again, is kind of a major theme in the Bible. It’s why, for example, a big chunk of the New Testament is made up of prison epistles.**
And that biblical principle — “the Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath;” “We must obey God rather than men” — seems increasingly urgent and relevant for Christians in a post-Trump America.
White’s flagrantly anti-biblical ideology is a consequence of her compulsion to argue that breaking U.S. immigration law is immoral — that every instance of “illegal” immigration is sinful. It is not. The secular regulations regarding the boundaries and borders of secular nation states are, at best, morally neutral. They are laws establishing order, not laws enforcing moral principles.
But while such laws cannot be instruments of morality, they quite often become instruments of immorality. The Berlin Wall, for example. Or the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
In those cases, the law itself is sinful. Enforcing such laws is sinful — whether as a police officer, a judge, or merely as a citizen accepting and complying with the actions of judges and police. Morality demands — or, in sectarian terms, God commands — that we resist and reject such immoral laws.
Obeying such laws is sinful. Passively accepting the existence of such laws is sinful. And actively championing such laws — attempting to bless them as holy and just, as Paula White is doing — is mortally sinful and grievously damnable.
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* This term — “housing” — is being widely, and incorrectly, used in most reporting on these facilities. We are being told, for example, that the U.S. military is preparing to assist the Trump administration with “housing” more than 25,000 children the administration plans to separate from their immigrant parents. Will these children be free to come and go, free to leave this “housing”? No? Then it ain’t “housing.”
These children are not being “housed.” They are being detained. Jailed. Interned. Children.
** This is true even for stodgy, hidebound, spirit-quenching traditionalists who refuse to acknowledge the Letter from Birmingham Jail as a part of their canonical New Testament. As all right-thinking people do and should. It was inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in justice, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. It’s scripture. It’s canon.