The Christian Cause of Refugee Deaths

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Alexis Record

Feminist, humanist, friendly advocate.

“Today Trump said he signed this action to keep out terrorists and to keep our country and our military safe. He has chosen to do that by barring an accountant, a literature major, and toddler from being reunited with their brothers, sister, parents and grandparents after a 2-year vetting process because of their country of origin and their religion.” Jennifer Koltsano, the family’s co-sponsor

Yesterday I came home from a doctor’s appointment and caught my husband making phone calls to his senators. He urged them not to discriminate against Muslim people and to continue to allow refugees into our country. His motivation, in part, was his Christian faith.

What’s sad is that White Christians have been identified as the group responsible for voting in Donald Trump and his subsequent policies in record high numbers. Sadly this has led to harming refugees, the poor, and the sick–groups many assumed Christians were called to care for.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, ironically and poetically, Donald Trump signed a ban on refugees from Muslim countries, or more specifically, from Muslim countries he was not personally doing business with. Just to be clear, on a day where stories were being shared about Jewish refugees being denied entrance to the US and then subsequently tortured and killed by Nazis, Trump impulsively, incompetently, and without thought to the consequences (and seemingly illegally) banned vetted refugees fleeing torture and death from entering the country.

And history repeats itself.

Recognizing the part Christian voting groups played in allowing these current tragedies to happen allows us to direct our efforts. Today I have a news feed full of appeals to Christians–some from other Christians, some from those outside of Christianity. One Facebook friend tried to appeal to his evangelical friends based on their belief that non-Christians go to Hell: “If refugees do not find a safe asylum, at least some of them will die. So this policy would send people to hell. From a Christian standpoint, wouldn’t it be better to prioritize non-Christian refugees?”

Others have tried quoting Scripture:

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner.” Exodus 22:21
“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself…” Leviticus 19:34

But these attempts are largely in vain. I have fourteen years of Christian education under my belt, and another decade studying the Bible as a lay person. I can tell you that quoting Bible verses to Christians does not tend to work for a few reasons.

Many think of the Christian charter document as one book called the Bible. Instead think of it as a small library of books bound together into what we call the Bible. In this library there are sixty-six books (more depending on the canon) written by different authors. Some of these books were written hundreds of years apart when the language and culture of the authors were radically different. Some of these books were written by authors with extreme differences in opinion or theology. (Consider that people in the New Testament and the Old Testament are practicing two entirely different religions.) Many of the biblical passages are cobbled together from oral traditions, or include multiple authors and editors sharing the same space on the page.

My religious education had the goal of making all those books tell one bowdlerized story. To do this I had to ignore or explain away the thousands upon thousands of contradictions between the sixty-six books, or even internal contradictions between paragraphs inside the same books. So it’s not a stretch to say that Christians can interpret their own Bible to fit their own personal convictions or the convictions of the church that indoctrinated them.

For practically any stance a person could take based on a biblical passage, an opposite position could be taken based on another biblical passage. Looking for one verse, in or out of context, to support a personal view is called proof texting.

Never correct someone who is wrong: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly.” Proverbs 26:4
Totally correct someone who is wrong: “Answer a fool according to his folly.” Proverbs 26:5
No name calling: “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell,” says Jesus in Matthew 5:22.
Totally name call though: “You fool!” says Jesus in Luke 11:40 and again in Luke 24:25.

When I pointed out to a group of Christians that rejecting refugees sends them back to life-threatening danger and is therefore a violent act, I was met with different responses depending on which sacred text a particular believer emphasized.

Pacifist Christians: “Jesus says to put away your sword and turn the other cheek!” (True! Matthew 26:52 and Matthew 5:39)
Violent Christians: “Jesus says to get a sword and use that sword against any threats, even your own family!” (Also true! Luke 22:36 and Matthew 10:34-36)

Jesus never wrote a word of the Bible, and we have no evidence of his actions apart from documents written at least four decades after his supposed existence. This is why the Jesus reflected by some biblical authors is at odds with the Jesus of other biblical authors. Today, Christians who embrace the version of Jesus who is waiting to unleash the four horsemen of the apocalypse to bring death and disease to the earth will be at odds with the Christians who embrace a Jesus who stood up for women, helped the poor, and loved his enemies as well as his neighbors.

Quoting Scripture also often fails to break through cognitive dissonance. If things do not add up in a person’s head they will use motivated reasoning to emphasize the evidence that seems to agree with their preconceived position, and downplay or reject any evidence to the contrary. If someone has a belief that refugees are sent by Satan to perform terrorist attacks, they will reject the statistics that counter that belief.

Everyone has this tendency. This is why we had to come up with an entire scientific method to reduce this bias when doing experiments or gathering data. Cognitive bias makes it very difficult to change our minds, even when confronted with clear facts. It’s not the only time our minds reject things out of hand. Many can become entrenched in their anti-refugee beliefs simply by being presented any evidence, Scriptural or otherwise. I recently saw one anti-refugee Christian become infuriated when told their Savior was himself a refugee in Egypt. The result was this person doubling down on their anti-refugee rhetoric. This is called the backfire effect—the human tendency to strengthen deeply held convictions when challenged by contradictory evidence.

I am not highlighting human tendencies that are unique to Christians; many Christian voters are simply in the driver’s seat of refugee prejudice, or if I may be so bold, their fear is. Consider Republican pollster Daron Shaw: “Research shows fear is the most powerful emotion when it comes to turnout. Hope and anger also cause higher turnout, but fear really gets people to the polls.”

Fear motivates. Fear causes prejudice by evoking reactionary thinking, overcoming our logical reasoning, and causing us to rashly fight (vote) or take flight (apathetically opt-out of the conversation), both of which can hurt refugees.

This brings us back to the actions taken on this past Holocaust Remembrance Day–a day we remember the madman who was responsible for the deaths of millions of people. This madman cited Christianity as his religion (“We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity . . . in fact our movement is Christian”) while inspiring fear of marginalized groups until his followers were foaming at the mouths for their blood. We remember our own fear and cowardice in the face of this evil by rejecting refugees fleeing that situation. We sent them back to be slaughtered.

Yet the Nazi brand of Christianity would be unrecognizable by people like my husband. I truly believe it’s time for the moral Christians of the world to confront their fellow believers. It’s time for believers to join the protests, and continue to circle their arms around their refugee neighbors. It’s time to resist. I’m an ex-Christian, but during the end of my believing years I had to break association with my church after they circulated a morally abhorrent email advocating killing (bombing) women and children to protect US interests. (They used loads of Bible verses to defend this position.) I recognize how hard it can be to stand up for what’s right when it goes against your own group, but it must be done.

It’s past time for all those who claim faith to choose the better parts of their holy texts. Stand up so that hate and fear will no longer be the hallmarks that define Christian voting groups or reflect Christian beliefs.

It’s time for us to catch you calling your senators.