President Donald Trump signed a new version of his original immigration order on Monday, and critics are still calling it a “Muslim Ban.” According to a February poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), every religious group opposes a “temporary ban on Muslims,” except white evangelical Protestants. Many have called evangelical supporters of the immigration order hypocrites.
Tom Krattenmaker at Religion News Service sought to explain “evangelicals’ upside-down support for the travel ban.” He cited the PRRI poll, noting that those “who identify themselves as people who take Jesus and the Bible most seriously” are most likely to support a policy he considered at odds with Jesus’ command to love everyone. He explained evangelicals’ support for the “Muslim Ban” as a factor of “cultural identity, a.k.a. tribalism” in supporting Donald Trump.
Similarly, Joel Baden, professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School, argued that when evangelist Franklin Graham said immigration is “not a Bible issue,” he “could not be more wrong.” Writing in The Washington Post, Baden quoted scripture at length:
Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are clear and consistent when it comes to how we are to treat the stranger. Across the books of both testaments, in narrative, law, prophecy, poetry and parable, the Bible consistently spells out that it is the responsibility of the citizen to ensure that the immigrant, the stranger, the refugee, is respected, welcomed and cared for. It is what God wants us to do, but it also recognizes that we too were immigrants — and immigrants we remain. “Like my forebears, I am an alien, resident with you,” says Psalm 39.
Baden and Krattenmaker are not wrong about the Bible’s ethic — God clearly cares for the “least of these,” and that emphatically includes refugees, strangers, and immigrants. But there is a difference between caring for immigrant neighbors and setting immigration policy. There is also a biblical justification for safeguarding a country against external threats, and immigration policy is a matter of prudence in balancing conflicting goals.
“I think these are prudential questions and am skeptical when people pretend that immigration policy can be decided by quoting isolated scripture verses,” Jay Richards, a Christian author who serves as assistant research professor at the Catholic University of America, told PJ Media. “Obviously, the idea of boundaries and borders exists in Scripture. Otherwise, there would never have been an Israel.”
Richards argued that “there’s far too much virtue signaling from Christians on this issue,” and that Christian charity does not require “that a country be willing to let anyone enter it who wants to.” He added, “The idea that Christianity requires that we ignore the genuine dangers of Muslim immigration, and overlook the Christian minorities in the Middle East, strikes me as unserious.”
Bawai Soro, bishop with St. Peter Chaldean (Iraqi Orthodox Christian) Catholic Church in El Cajon, Calif., defended Trump’s immigration ban, despite his own history as a refugee from Iraq, a country included in Trump’s original order but not in the most recent version. Soro wrote from personal experience, saying refugees have always faced delays, and such delays are worth it. He wrote in The San Diego Union-Tribune:
If America needs to build a wall and vet refugees, then it must be so. If a simple house is to be secured, doesn’t the owner of the house lock the doors at night? What happens if thieves know the door is unlocked? Open borders and easygoing immigration policies are what could inflict the U.S. with the fire that has been burning in the Middle East for centuries. American politicians cannot play with such fire because the losers will be the American people everywhere. Even Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, said recently that there definitely are terrorists who sneak into asylum countries from Syria pretending to be refugees. Securing the U.S. border and vetting refugees brings no damage to Americans in any sense of the word. Today’s Europe is a good lesson to America.
Soro also blasted the “Muslim Ban” mischaracterization, writing, “This executive order is applied to refugees coming from those seven countries, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew. This is not a Muslim ban; especially because 90 percent of the world’s Muslims are not included.”
As for specific biblical references to support the idea of borders and restricting immigration, there are actually many passages Christians can cite. Some would say that Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles applies (Jeremiah 29), and that Christians should “seek the peace of the city” they are in. In this case, that would justify bolstering America’s defense from potential threats abroad.
Another approach could be referencing Donald Trump’s favorite prophet, Nehemiah. Nehemiah also built a wall — around Jerusalem — and he got the Persians to pay for it! As this prophet declares, “Come, let us rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision” (Nehemiah 2:17). With much fasting and prayer, this Judean cupbearer received the approval of the king of the Persian empire, to go and rebuild those walls.
God speaks throughout the Old Testament about strengthening the walls of cities in the face of foreign invaders (Psalm 147:13, 2 Samuel 8:14, 1 Chronicles 18:6, Nahum 2:1). God Himself is ultimately the best fortress for the believer (Psalm 18:2), but defense against potential terrorists arguably falls within this biblical tradition of wise preparation for foreign threats.
Ultimately, when it comes to political matters like immigration, prudence is most important. Indeed, a Christian governor should accept refugees and immigrants, under the value of charity. But a Christian governor should also preserve the peace of the city, and defend the citizens who are under his charge. President Trump was elected on a platform of increased vetting for immigrants, and he has a duty to protect the American people.
Finally, a word about polling regarding the immigration order. The PRRI poll asked respondents if they favor “temporarily banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S.” As Bishop Sworo noted, this is a deceptive question. The immigration order in question bans everyone from those particular Muslim-majority countries, no matter their religious affiliation.
Even with this deceptive question, 61 percent of white evangelical Protestants favored the idea, while only 44 percent of white Catholics, 39 percent of white mainline Protestants, 27 percent of non-white Protestants, and 21 percent of the unaffiliated did so. Overall, only 35 percent of Americans supports a Muslim ban.
But a Quinnipiac University poll from January showed American voters supported “suspending immigration from ‘terror prone’ regions, even if it means turning away refugees from those regions.” Even so, the split was close, with 48 percent supporting this order and 42 percent opposing it.
Interestingly, another Quinnipiac poll from February found Americans opposed Trump’s order (51 percent to 46 percent). This shift made sense, after the botched rollout of Trump’s original order, the confusion about whether it applied to green card holders, and the constant negative press about it being a “Muslim Ban.”
Finally, the much-maligned Franklin Graham’s response was very reasonable. First, the evangelist insisted that “a thorough vetting process really needs to apply to people coming into the U.S. from all countries,” to make sure “that the philosophies of those entering our country are compatible with our Constitution.”
He also insisted, rightly, that “the president’s job is not the same job as the church.” Graham, president and CEO of the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse, noted that his organization has been working in the Middle East for over 30 years. “We just opened a 54-bed field trauma hospital in northern Iraq where we’re treating Muslims who are being wounded by other Muslims in the fight over Mosul.”
Graham cited the parable of the Good Samaritan, explaining that “our job is to show God’s love and compassion.” But he added that the best way to do so “is to reach out and help these people in their own countries,” and see if it is possible to keep them from becoming refugees in the first place. “We need to pray for political solutions that would bring peace and allow them to return to their homes as they desire.”
Contrary to the “virtue signaling” of many Christians, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of American security, the well-being of refugees, and the suffering of Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, and others in terror-stricken lands across the Middle East. America cannot — and should not — just encourage unlimited immigration into the country.
There is no hypocrisy involved in a Christian supporting a temporary pause on immigration from countries of terror concern and an increase in vetting for immigrants. Immigration is a matter of prudence, and Christians can support many different solutions to it.