July 4, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

‘Christians’ against Poor Migrant Kids

"Astonishing" that white evangelicals like Trump's policies? Nope.

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Editor’s note

Happy Independence Day!

Today’s edition goes out to everyone.

If you missed an issue, please subscribe!

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Many thanks. —JS

On this Independence Day, prominent voices in our political culture are asking themselves how people with a professed faith in the teachings of Jesus Christ can approve the government’s criminal and inhumane treatment of immigrant children. 

Christianity, the thinking goes, is at its root the religion of human rights. How, some are asking, can these self-identified Christians believe the meek shall inherit the earth while cheering the government’s prosecution of the meek just for being meek? (Let’s get out of the way the ambiguities of race; I am talking about white evangelicals.)

The answer is simple.

They don’t believe any such thing. 

ABC News’ Matthew Dowd:


Screenwriter David Simon:

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough:

Vox’s Sean Illing:

Sean’s comment is the most accurate. It’s understandable, however, that others are still “astonished” by the sight of self-identified Christians nodding to the confiscation of children as a deterrent to parent’s crossing the border. Sean is right in saying that this isn’t all that astonishing when you think about it. The problem is thinking about it.

You think about it only if you have a good reason to believe these so-called Christians are acting in bad faith. Only if you have a good reason do you stop giving them the benefit of the doubt. And most people most of the time do not have a good reason. (Some atheists see malign intent everywhere, but I’m not talking about them.)

Morality is first and last a matter of obedience.

So I don’t think it’s a matter of being naive about these “Christians.” I think it’s about one’s ability to see through the lies and one’s authority to cast doubt on others’ faith. Most people most of the time are not equipped to do that. Some, however, are.

There is a tiny class of Americans who grew up in churches, assemblies and gospel halls of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, but moved away as adults. They learned that the Bible is the literal Word of God; that He sent his only begotten Son so that Man can be saved from an eternity of damnation (picture a Lake of Fire), and that salvation from sin comes only through the profession of Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior. This is a tiny class of Americans, as I said, because most people who grow up under such conditions do not leave. They can’t get away, or they won’t.

Those who left have gone through, just by leading more or less normal lives, an extraordinary process of “deprogramming,” to use the old Cold War expression, by which they slough off some or all of the things they grew up believing were absolutely true about pretty much everything, but especially authority. Morality, they were taught to believe unwittingly, was not just a matter of doing the right thing, though morality included doing the right thing. Morality was first and last a matter of obedience.

Obedience to whom? God, to be sure, but it’s more than that.

A quickie Bible story! Abraham wanted a son but couldn’t. One day God said he would and voila! Then God wanted Abraham to prove his devotion to Him by killing his son as a sacrifice. Abraham prepared to do what he was told but just as he was raising a dagger to stab his son to death, God stayed his hand. Moral of the story: Obedience to God is more important than doing the right thing, like not murdering your children.

Most people most of the time would note, at the very least, that choosing between one’s God and one’s child is unfair. Others might say God sabotaged Abraham. Others might question Abraham’s mental health. But to the “Christians” we’re talking about, this is not a dilemma. The answer is simple and clear. God is the ultimate authority. No questioning. No negotiating. If you’re wondering, yes, the Almighty here is a fascist and in every way the diametric opposite of the loving merciful God of the Gospels. The “Christians” we’re talking about do not look on the faces of migrant children and see undue harm and suffering. They see people getting what they had coming to them.

Imagine how this dynamic plays out as these “Christians” raise their own children. If Man must obey God, then kids must obey Man (well, mom and dad), and if obedience to God is supreme then obedience to mom and dad is supreme, and with parenting being so hard and with humans being so fallible, you can imagine how from this context all manner of misconduct, abuse and outright criminality that can emerge.

The tiny class of Americans that has gone from there to here don’t have to imagine it. They lived it. And they are qualified to cast doubt on others’ Christian faith. They know in their bones that these “Christians” don’t really believe the meek shall inherit the Earth, unless by “meek,” we mean them, which is not at all what Jesus meant.

Jesus, a Jew, sparked a revolt against entrenched structures of power. (Roman political power, too, but mostly Jewish religious power.) He did not devise a system by which structures were rationalized, justified and otherwise protected. These “Christians” don’t believe in human rights. They believe, as Donald Trump does, in power. Theirs.

This tiny class of Americans understands, and I hope it gets louder. Too many people of good faith can’t see through the lies. These people can. Let’s hope the rest listen.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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