Article by John Pavlovitz is a minister and writer in Raleigh, N.C. This column first appeared on his blog. Website: johnpavlovitz.com
There are times when you realize how far humanity has drifted, days when you see how sick we’ve become, moments when you notice how badly Christians have lost the plot. It often comes when you see strange alliances form; agreement where there should not be agreement, affinity that should not exist.Recently, while reflecting on the disheartening Evangelical Christian support for Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, I tweeted out these words: Equality means believing that a child living 5,000 miles away is as precious as the one sleeping in your nursery right now.The Tweet was shared by renowned metrosexual hipster Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, whose black boot-licking fan boys swiftly ascended from their parent’s basements to hurl all sorts of online vulgarity at me from behind the safe anonymity of fake Twitter handles with photos of German stormtroopers and fatalistic Nietzsche quotes.
They marched lock-step to call me vile and evil and to let me know that my “Jewishness” was showing. (Never mind that I’m not Jewish.) They began to inundate me with all sorts of hypothetical situations where my son and some imaginary Muslim boy were both hanging from a ledge and I could only save one of them — illustrating in their minds the inherent flaws of my position. (These are the kinds of things people say to try and justify their contempt for entire people groups, and I’m used to it.)
The responses weren’t a surprise coming from these wannabe Fourth Reichers, who view everything and everyone through the lens of their perceived (and unearned) superiority. The more revelatory and concerning feedback came from people like Amy, a conservative white Christian mom who replied to the same Tweet: “If you have children, I feel sorry for them.”
Her words joined a similar outpouring from professed Bible-believing, God-fearing Jesus folk, punctuated by lots of venom, familiar FoxNews cut-and-paste criticisms of Islam, and lots of references to making America great. They too rushed to join the pseudo-Fascists in disputing the idea that a child in Syria was as important as their children, seemingly oblivious to the red flag that such agreement should raise.
This is a symptom of the heart sickness American evangelicals have inherited, one revealed in a growing Christian nationalism as well as a highly selective pro-life position, where apparently life isn’t just more valuable inside the womb than outside of it, but inside America than outside of it as well.
At the core of this inconsistency is a deeply embedded, subconscious belief that a child is worth more if the trip through the birth canal happens to deposit him or her within our borders. This is especially true if the child looks like them, is likely to worship and believe and vote like them, if it will replicate them.
Amy’s response and the responses of many white Christians to my Tweet were telling. They imagine that my capacity for compassion is so minuscule that it can only accommodate my own children. They assume that love for one must come at the expense of another. They reflect a fearful religion that instills in them fear that they are perpetually in danger. They reveal a faith rooted in superiority and self-preservation; one that breeds hostility to those it sees as outsiders.
Far too much of American evangelicalism has become this, and it’s a problem.
It’s a problem because the lineage of our Christian tradition leads back to Moses being saved from Pharaoh’s ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people.
It’s a problem because the story of the Israelites is one of continual escape from violent oppression as marginalized, despised foreigners.
It’s a problem because Jesus was born to refugees desperately fleeing genocide.
It’s a problem because the core of this Jesus’ teaching was the command to love your neighbor as yourself, and that designation of neighbor had nothing to do with geography but with shared Humanity.
It’s a problem because the evangelical Christian’s go-to Bible drop quote, John 3:16, begins with the words, “For God so loved the world.”
To claim the Christian faith is to practice the most radical kind of hospitality and the most counterintuitive compassion for the other. Jesus was a homeless, dark-skinned immigrant who modeled sacrificial love and who welcomed to his table both beggar and soldier, both priest and prostitute, both Jew and Samaritan. It’s almost impossible to simultaneously emulate this Jesus and champion exclusion, superiority or even protection, for that matter.
And that’s the heart of this for Americans who profess a Christian faith: eventually you have to choose.
You cannot be both “For God so loved the world” and America First.
You cannot preach the gospel while despising refugees and foreigners and immigrants.
You can’t claim that all lives matter while protecting only your own kind.
You cannot be fully pro-life and uphold your supremacy based on color, geography or religion.
You either believe all people are made fully in the image of God, or you don’t.
You either aspire to a benevolence without conditions or caveats or border or color codes, or you don’t.
You can’t pledge complete allegiance to both Jesus and America simultaneously. At some point one will have to yield to the other, and when your religious position on foreigners begins to align with a malevolent Fascist extremist, it may be time to reconsider your interpretation of the gospel. It may be time to see if you’ve made God in your own caucasian image.
I don’t imagine Amy or the Christians like her would say they have anything in common with a blatantly racist Neo-Nazi like Richard Spencer, but there is a disturbing congruence in their shared hostility toward non-White, non-Christian, non-Americans. The aggressive territorialism they have in common is alarming, as is their explicit or implied assertion that life is somehow worth more, the closer to you it is — either in placement or pigmentation.
There is nothing of Jesus in this (who by the way was Jewish, Teutonic fanboys.)