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Border Crisis Tests Religious Faith—and Some Fail Badly
Posted on Jul 18, 2014
By Joe Conason
Flamboyant piety has long been fashionable on the political right, where activists, commentators and elected officials never hesitate to hector us about their great moral and theological rectitude. Wielding the Scriptures like a weapon, these righteous right-wingers are always eager to condemn the alleged sins of others but reluctant to examine their own. They seem to spend far more time in posturing and preening than spiritual reflection. Rarely does anyone call them out on their failures to fulfill their proclaimed devotion, because, in this country, that is considered rude.
But occasionally something happens that separates the people of faith from the sanctimonious fakers. With thousands of defenseless children now gathered on America’s southern border, seeking asylum from deprivation and deadly violence, something like that is happening right now.
Nobody in the House of Representatives is more vociferous about her reverence for God’s word than Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.—the tea party queen bee who often has said she believes that America is a “Christian nation.” When Bachmann opened her mouth on television about those hungry and fearful children, she demonized them as “invaders” and incipient criminals who could be expected to rape American women and break American laws.
Then there is Bachmann’s colleague Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, whose religious zeal is so overpowering that he cannot restrain himself, even during House proceedings—like that committee hearing last month when he proclaimed his belief that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus is destined for hell. But when the subject is the innocent kids at the border of his home state, most of whom are girls under 13 years of age, Gohmert speaks of “invasion” and urges the governor of Texas to unilaterally initiate a state of war. Like many of his fellow far-rightists, he stokes rumors that these children are harbingers of disease and gangsterism.
So does Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., a medical doctor who went so far as to accuse the young migrants of bringing the Ebola virus—seen only in Africa—with them from Central America. And so does Sandy Rios, the religious right talk show host who speaks of the “hope” that the Lord bestowed on her but warns that we should treat the border children like “lepers.” And so does Ann Coulter, the church lady who suspects that all those kids, no matter how small, probably belong to the murderous MS-13 narcotics syndicate.
Now among the theological ideas shared by many of these figures is a fondness for the Old Testament, which they routinely quote to justify cruel strictures against gays, women and anybody else they wish to suppress. At the moment, however, these biblical literalists ought to be studying the very plain instructions of Leviticus:
“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
More recently, Pope Francis laid down a clear edict on the border crisis that springs from his own biblical understanding, urging Americans to “welcome and protect” the children arriving on our border. (He didn’t mention anything about immediate deportations.) The Holy Father expressed deep concern for the “tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence ... in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain.
“Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically; many of their rights are violated; they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes,” he said. He went on to say that only development and security in their own countries would ever stem the flow of migrants heading northward—and that in the meantime, the rest of us should abandon “attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization.” Attitudes like those displayed by goons waving flags and guns and “Go Home” signs, who don’t care whether these little strangers live or die.
Where are the real Christians? Where are the true people of faith? They may be found in houses of worship near the border and around the country, where people of all political persuasions realize that they are called to feed, clothe, shelter and heal God’s children, even when they arrive on a bus without papers. If there is a kingdom of heaven, it is these generous souls who will be admitted when they reach its border. The hypocrites will be sent somewhere else.
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