In good news for people who like to see presidential administrations bringing Americans together, President Donald Trump has, in recent weeks, managed to make huge inroads in uniting American faith leaders of all stripes.
Unfortunately for the White House, they’ve unified under the banner of opposition to its cruel treatment of migrants and asylum seekers.
In early May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the government planned to ramp up the prosecutions of those making illegal border crossings — even in cases of those who do so in order to seek asylum.
A key component of what has been dubbed the “zero tolerance” policy includes the practice of separating children of migrants from their parents, and detaining them separately. This week, MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff visited one such detention facility in a repurposed WalMart in Brownsville, Texas. There, nearly 1,500 boys between the ages of 10 and 17 are housed five-to-a-room, awaiting word of when they might be reunited with their families.
One final thing that stuck out: this former WalMart is 250,000 square feet.
The boys have under *40* square feet of living space each.
Lights go out in there at 9PM every night.
Thanks for sharing this story.
— Jacob Soboroff (@jacobsoboroff) June 14, 2018
Additionally, on Monday, Sessions announced that those seeking a refuge in the United States from domestic violence or gang-related criminality would no longer be eligible for asylum.
A diverse array of religious leaders have condemned these practices as a moral atrocity.
In early June, a score of interfaith leaders issued a statement urging the administration to change course, which read in part:
We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support human community and understand the household as an estate blessed by God. The security of the family provides critical mental, physical and emotional support to the development and wellbeing of children. Our congregations and agencies serve many migrant families that have recently arrived in the United States. Leaving their communities is often the only option they have to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm. Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children.
As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families.
The statement’s signatories hailed from a diverse array of faith traditions, including Episcopalian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Reform Judaism, and Islamic organizations. A similarly diverse collection of faith leaders, united as “Women of Faith,” offered a similar sentiment, demanding that the Department of Homeland Security “keep families together.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a firm denunciation of the Trump administration’s current immigration policies at the start of their spring meeting. As Jack Jenkins reported for the Religion News Service:
“At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life,” DiNardo said, reading from the statement. “The Attorney General’s recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection.
“This decision negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence,” DiNardo continued. “We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.”
Jenkins went on to report that many “bishops followed by urging protests, including ‘canonical penalties’ for those who carry out the administration’s” policies.
And while evangelical Christians have shown a noteworthy fealty to President Trump, these immigration policies have fomented a parting of the ways.
On Wednesday, Franklin Graham, a massively influential figure in the evangelical movement, rebuked the policy of separating children from their parents. “It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Graham, who was heretofore a staunch ally of the Trump administration, is one of many religious figures who have stepped out against the administration’s immigration and asylum policies after having shown broad favor to the president. As the New York Times reported this week, while many faith leaders, such as Jews, Muslims, and Mainline Protestants have voice a consistent disapproval of Trump’s immigration policies in general, these recent decisions have sparked a shift among those who have been more firmly allied with the White House.
A coalition of evangelical groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, sent a letter to President Trump on June 1 pleading with him to protect the unity of families and not to close off all avenues to asylum for immigrants and refugees fleeing danger.
The Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative evangelical denomination that is the nation’s largest Protestant church, passed a resolution on Tuesday at its meeting in Dallas calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity.” The measure called for both securing the nation’s borders, and providing a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants living in the country. It passed on a near unanimous vote of the thousands of delegates in the room.
Sessions, stung by such rebukes, made a game attempt to place his own draconian ideas into some sort of Biblical context, telling an law enforcement group on Thursday, “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”
“Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful,” he added.
There is something of a rich tradition of citing Romans 13 in the furtherance of political ideas. However, as the Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum noted on Twitter, the verse is typically deployed in this fashion by blackguards and despots, such as slavery apologists, defenders of apartheid, and Nazis.
It was, in fact, the go-to Biblical verse for loyalists to the British Crown who opposed American independence. As the Washington Post’s James Hohmann noted, “Historically, whenever a politician has cited Romans 13 to justify public policy, they have lost the debate.”
And indeed, Sessions attempt at Bible study landed with a damp, wet sound among religious leaders. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Sarah Smith reported, numerous Christians objected to Sessions’ “misuse of Scripture.” As one Southern Baptist pastor, Wes Faulk, told the paper, “Any government that uses Romans 13 to silence ethical objections has already realized it does not stand on Scriptural or moral high grounds.”
The Trump administration continues to suggest that they have no choice but to maintain the practice of separating migrant children from their parents. As White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Thursday, “The separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade and the president is simply enforcing them.”
This is an example of what those inculcated in the parlance of Judeo-Christian traditions would call “bearing false witness.” Or, to use the more secular term, “lying.”