Question for Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration: What Does Indigenous Mean?

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    President Trump’s immigration policies have split the evangelical world. Many called on Trump to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while others applauded the president for rescinding it.  Now that the matter is in the hands of Congress, lobbying for both sides is fierce. Some evangelical groups have promised an intense lobbying campaign to pass legislation favorable to illegal immigrants while others, such as Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration, promote a more exclusionary approach.

    The EBI group recently wrote a letter to President Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to put Americans first. The view of the world espoused by EBI sounds similar to positions espoused by segregationists during the era leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Historian Paul Matzko illustrated this connection by citing a 1960 sermon by segregationist Rev. Bob Jones. Jones said, “[The Apostle] Paul said that God ‘. . . hath made of one blood all nations of men . . . .’ But He also fixed the bounds of their habitation. When nations break out of their boundaries and begin to do things contrary to the purpose of God and the directive will of God, they have trouble.”

    To further illustrate, let’s compare the EBI letter to Caroline County Circuit Judge Leon Bazile’s 1959 rationale for Virginia’s law against biracial marriage in a case which involved Richard and Mildred Loving. That situation ultimately led to the Supreme Court’s 1967 landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia which struck down those prohibitions. First, the EBI letter’s statements about people and nations:

    While some faith groups use selective Bible words for open borders and amnesty, we consider the whole counsel of Scripture. We find that the Bible does not teach open borders, but wise welcome. We are to welcome the lawful foreigner, who, like a convert, comes as a blessing (eg.s Ruth and Rahab). We also find Nehemiah building walls to protect citizens from harm. In Isaiah 1, we see God condemning the destruction of borders and indigenous culture.

    All lives matter. The lives of North, Central and South Americans matter. The lives of Africans, Asians, Europeans and people from the Middle East matter. In Scripture, we learn that God placed us each in a family, a land, an epic story of creation, the fall and redemption. The Bible envisions a world of beautiful and unique nations, not a stateless ‘open society’ run by global oligarchs. Each of us is called to be a blessing where God has placed us in the world. (emphasis in the original)

    Now read Judge Bazile’s rationale for keeping the races separate.

    Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

    The EBI letter is not as nakedly segregationist as Bazile’s claim but contains similar reasoning. According to the Judge and the EBI letter writers, God made the borders and put the people in them. Our job is to smile, stay put, and deal with it.

    What Does Indigenous Mean?

    Without apparent awareness of our own history, the EBI writers say God condemns “the destruction of borders and indigenous culture.” If that is always true, then God must condemn America. The Europeans who came here obviously didn’t stay where God placed them.  Instead they came to this land and destroyed the indigenous culture. Not only did the white European take this land from the native people, the “settlers” forced the native people to leave their lands time and time again, most notably between 1830 and 1840 in what became known as the Trail of Tears. Not only were borders destroyed, but thousands of native men, women, and children died during the march from the Southeast to Oklahoma.

     

    Indian school, Carlisle PA. Public domain

    Indian school, Carlisle PA. Public domain

    They were punished for using their native language, wearing native dress and for any positive reference to their indigenous culture. If the EBI signers really believe that God condemns such destruction, then they should fall to their knees in repentance and fear.

    The EBI letter is a confusing hodgepodge of nativist talking points baptized with references to the Bible used out of their historical context. It is understandable that the Breitbart alt-right crowd likes it.

    There are practical reasons for limiting the number of people coming to the country, but I can see no reason, biblical or otherwise, to limit people by race, religion, or national origin. God as a prop for political xenophobia does not reflect his whole counsel, but rather reflects the worldly counsel of the writers.

     

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