Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A response to the “Immigration ban”



As a Christian there are aspects of President Trump’s so-called immigration ban that are on the surface troubling. Some have thus stated their opposition to the ban based on theological concerns. Many of these are planning a boycott, or organized resistance as a way to mark their disapproval.   Generally, however I am opposed to these efforts, for I believe that they are largely ineffective and even counter-productive. So, given that there are some concerns with the ban, or more precisely with the language and implementation of the ban, while also recognizing a reticence with the use of political activism, how then should a thoughtful Christian respond?

There are perhaps many options. However, these are my thoughts on this subject. I claim no moral high-ground, nor demand a fealty to my conclusions; as they are mere suggestions, since I believe all Christians have the freedom of conscience to follow God as they see fit.

First I agree that among our Christian duties is the call to stand-up for the disenfranchised and needy. The refugees in the Middle East and northern Africa are among the most in need of support. Images of them suffering are seen regularly on the television. It is heartbreaking.

Yet I also recognize that this part is world—partially because it is troubled—has become a hotbed for terror groups who are at war with Western Civilization. To deny this is to deny reality. Almost weekly a successful plot has been pulled off in Europe or in the Middle East. Hotels airports and other places where Westerners have gathered are being targeted. For this reason, the President instated this ban. It is meant to be temporary. It is meant as a stop-gap to allow for a necessary review and overhaul of our nation’s intelligence and security apparatus.

I am not privy to this intelligence therefore; I must trust that those in authority—who have the ability to look and analyze this information—will make the proper decisions, for the good of the nation. To speak out against something based on limited—and often—incorrect information is, I believe, wrong. It connotes a type of arrogance; that we are able to better understand the complexities of a situation than those who are actually in power. It also appears to manifest as cynicism in our government—a cynical belief that our leaders are not working in the nation’s best interest. This cynicism often leads to distrust and antipathy, which can have a deleterious effect on peace.

It is true that we are to be critical of the government. Our faith does not call for blind allegiance, but neither does it call for an overly antagonist approach. We should be circumspect; not jumping to conclusions, but recognizing our own biases and hostilities, approach the topic with patience and humility, giving it both the time and the space—free from animosity—to work.

Second I think we need to recognize that this ban is, like most things, subject to change. Most people seem in agreement that the executive order was not well-crafted. This created confusion and hostility. People were caught in the maelstrom that followed. Some of these stories have become plastered in the news by those who are opposed to the decision. I hope that these people do not become mere pawns for political propaganda. To avoid this, those in the faith community should be reluctant to base objections on these heart-tugging stories, as it is difficult to know for sure whether there are other factors at play in these specific cases. We also do not know what happened behind the scenes. It is thus very easy to believe these stories of suffering without further investigating their veracity.  Rather we should strive to become as educated as possible. This will help to temper the often unsubstantiated claims that run rampant in social media.

Thirdly we need to use the right words in describing the situation, and thereby avoiding “bearing false witness”. One of the problems with most discussions of this ban is the mis-use of the phrase “banning Muslims”.  This executive order, as written, does not mention Muslims or any other religious group by name. Leaving questions of intent aside, it would seem prudent to at least let the order speak for itself, and thus critique on its own merits—as a geographical ban—than on a supposed ethno-religious ban. Words are often loaded in today’s political climate. Yet, our goal as Christians  should be  in clarifying and in  promoting  peace and comity.

Likewise in our attempt to be as honest and forthright as possible, we need to also admit that this ban, even if largely affecting Muslims from the Middle East and northern Africa, does not purport to mean all Muslims worldwide. It is easy to use the term “Muslim” as a shorthand way of describing the ban, but the effect of using this word, is that it is often conflated to me all followers of Islam. If that was the intent or practice of such a ban, then it would be unconstitutional and rightly criticized for this is not a nation of only one faith tradition. However, this is not its purpose. We should be clear on that point, even if we have concerns about its implementation.

Objections to this ban are valid. We should not demonize those who are opposed to this ban, and who feel that it is a sad indictment of the president’s views. But neither should we demonize those who are in favor of it, and who feel that this is a necessary and temporary order so that our nation’s intelligence and security can be thoroughly overhauled. Those on both sides of this issue are motivated by their Christian ideals. We need to respect those who disagree, even vehemently with us.

Finally what we can do? We can pray. We can, and should pray for those who are fleeing persecution and terror, and for all of those groups like the Red Cross that are helping re-locate those at need. We should also pray for our military, president and others who are likewise concerned with our nation’s security. Lastly we can pray for our nation, that we will not let this ban become a shibboleth, dividing us into polarized camps. Rather we should pray for understanding and peace, recognizing that regardless of our position “we see only in part” (1st Corinthians 13:12). Humility, temperance and honesty are as important Christian virtues as compassion and empathy. Our overriding goal should be to live in peace with each other.