The welfare of our cities
Trump’s rhetoric fuels a distorted focus on refugees and immigrants
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There’s a tension to many aspects of the Christian life. One is the tension between our earthly sojourn as strangers and exiles and our obligation to care for the places where we live.
Welcoming and serving the stranger is one of the most repeated commands in Scripture. And we remember Jesus lived an exile’s life, having “no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Even so, we are to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7).
In our present context, then, how are we to welcome refugees and at the same time protect our cities? How are Christians to think about taking in asylum seekers from countries where radical Islam has erupted in terrorism and violence?
If America has something worth protecting, it must also have something worth sharing.
It should be telling to voters and especially Christians that political leaders in the United States did not make refugees an issue until late 2015, even though the global refugee crisis—fed largely by Syria’s civil war and the rise of ISIS—clearly spiked in 2013. Prior to Donald Trump’s inflamed rhetoric taking center stage, Republicans accused the Obama administration of not taking in enough Syrian refugees.
Trump has brought to the fore an important subject—yet charged it with false and damaging discourse. His blanket denunciations threaten to coarsen and derail an issue squarely in the wheelhouse of America’s Christian community.
Refugee resettlement in the United States has long been a partnership between the government and faith-based agencies—Lutherans, Catholics, and the evangelical World Relief constituting the largest of them. Thanks to Donald Trump, those voluntary agencies are now on the defensive, and at a time when they are most needed.
As he did in his Aug. 15 speech about radical Islam, Trump repeatedly conflates refugees with immigrants, though each are processed using separate laws and government oversight, recognizing the special category of those applying for asylum. Yes, the leading threat is radical Islam, but the United States doesn’t need a refugee or immigrant wave to grow terrorists. San Bernardino and Orlando demonstrate American soil can grow its own terrorists just fine.
Trump talks of “refugee sending nations,” when the vast majority of refugees make their decisions to flee on a moment’s notice, alone, leaving behind all they know in fear for their lives. We can strengthen our ability to rightly determine legitimate refugees without turning our backs on all of them.
Trump’s themes serve always to demonize refugees and to overgeneralize, when America through its history has welcomed genuine refugees because our country was, and is, built on them.
The current Arab-American community in the United States, for example, is overwhelmingly Christian—63 percent Christian, 24 percent Muslim, and 13 percent another or no religion. I have seen firsthand in Europe how its Arab Christian communities are discipling new arrivals, including disenchanted Muslims, and making profound contributions.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the deformed rhetoric of Trump is that he seems to propose managing U.S. immigration with what we see failing in Europe—top-down, big-government measures that emasculate local authorities and ghettoize ethnic immigrant communities. He wants to disengage the United States from the displaced populations of the world at a time when the world most needs American engagement. After all, if America has something worth protecting, it must also have something worth sharing.
Above all, what you will not hear from either presidential candidate is a legitimate lament about the real problems feeding the rise of radical Islam attacking European cities and perhaps threatening our own—rampant secularism and the failure of global governance. The blatant reality no U.S. presidential candidate seems serious enough to address is that the UN-led systems set up after World War II, having devolved into bloated bureaucracies and nonsectarian nuttiness, have left vacuums for the worst kinds of extremism.
America will be safer if our political leaders take seriously engaging its enemies abroad. And if its leaders grant space for church communities—with their ready-made volunteer networks and commitment to seeking the welfare of their cities—to continue welcoming and assimilating strangers and exiles.
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