68 percent of white evangelicals say America has no responsibility to house refugees.
“Who’s organizing the massive caravan on track to hit the US Border, just in time for the Election?”
That was just one headline last week on the website of the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Pat Robertson-founded evangelical media powerhouse that has become, in recent years, a de factomouthpiece for the Trump administration.
Most national media outlets, including Vox, have reported on the caravan, an approximately 4,000-strong group of migrants, mostly from Honduras, who have chosen to collectively flee to the United States to escape gang violence and political instability. But CBN’s reporting — including the implication that “leftists,” including the billionaire philanthropist George Soros, were secretly funding the caravan in order to destabilize American democracy in time for the midterms — is not substantiated by reporting by any mainstream media outlet.
Yet CBN consistently stoked fears in several articles that “radical leftists” were behind the caravan, and that it was full of “felons” and “exotics” — one of its sources’ terms for migrants of Middle Eastern or African origin. Little attention, if any, was paid to migrants’ reasons for leaving their homes behind, or the social and political instability in Honduras that is attracting the travelers to the United States. (CBN has not responded to an emailed request for comment.)
The nativist rhetoric spouted by outlets like the Christian Broadcasting Network and plenty others has proved toxic. Elsewhere, intimations of Soros-related conspiracy theories have proven fatal. A Pittsburgh man is suspected of fatally shooting 11 people at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Saturday. He frequently posted nativist sentiments and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the caravan and other political issues on the far-right social networking site Gab. In one post, he apparently blamed Jews for aiding and abetting “invaders” — meaning the Honduras migrant caravan.
In the wake of that violence, it’s worth asking a wider point: How did white evangelicals come to so fully embrace the Trumpian rhetoric on immigration? How did a religious group whose foundational sacred text explicitly mandates care for the poor, the sick, and the stranger become a reliable anti-refugee, anti-immigrant voting bloc?
White evangelicals have consistently upheld Trump’s policies on immigration and refugees
In January, a Washington Post/ABC poll found that a staggering 75 percent of white evangelicals in the US described “the federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants” as a positive thing, compared to just 46 percent of Americans overall. And according to a Pew Research Center poll in May, 68 percent of white evangelicals say that America has no responsibility to house refugees, a full 25 points over the national average.
White evangelicals are the only Christian group to express this level of hostility toward refugees. While just 25 percent of them say they think Americans should house refugees, white mainline Protestants, black Protestants, and Catholics all express support for refugees by between 43 and 65 points. Meanwhile, according to another July poll by the Public Religion Research Initiative (PRRI), more than half of white evangelicals report feeling concerned about America’s declining white population.
The Bible contains numerous passages that seem to straightforwardly exhort care for the poor, immigrants, and refugees. Isaiah 10, for example, sees God excoriating those who “turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right.” In Matthew 25 (which a Methodist pastor quoted to Jeff Sessions Monday while protesting his speech), Jesus warns his followers that those who withhold care from the poor or the refugee — “the least of these” — are seen as having done it to Jesus himself. Plenty of other verses — Leviticus 19:33–34, Jeremiah 7:5–7, Ezekiel 47:22, Zechariah 7:9–10 — express similar sentiments.