Christian Nationalism Slams Door on Those Seeking Refuge

Sue Smith
August 9, 2019

Christian nationalism is on the rise.

Proponents would have us believe that our faith tradition is threatened by religious and cultural diversity, and that a stronger tie between church and state is necessary to save our nation from ruin.

But this dangerous way of thinking is based on fear, paranoia and a desire for conformity that only serves to polarize our nation.

Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, which results in a distortion of both the Christian faith and constitutional democracy in the United States.

It’s more concerned with political power, control and influence than with any desire to impart or practice Christian values, as some would have you think.

Consider the issue of migration. Christian nationalism suggests that anyone who is different from “us” is not welcome. Immigrants and refugees are not welcome, nor are different languages, cultures or religions.

With an emphasis on the rule of law and the criminalization of unauthorized entry into the United States, we have convinced folks that people who wish to enter our country are criminals: rapists, murderers, drug dealers and human traffickers.

We’re threatened when we hear others speaking in another language because “they might be talking about me.”

And it’s unthinkable to engage in the idea that God could be working outside the Christian faith.

This is not the model of Jesus.

Jesus’ parents were members of an ethnic and religious minority that was a threat to those in power.

The word was that one of those Jewish babies was going to grow up to be King of the Jews, and the rulers really couldn’t allow that to happen.

The family fled, living as refugees in a neighboring country until it was safe to return home.

A desire for power corrupts religious practice. In the end, it was a small group of religious leaders who took advantage of political power systems that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. He was simply too controversial, and he needed to be eliminated.

In today’s toxic religious and political environment, Christian nationalism aligns more closely with those who opposed Jesus, not those who followed him.

Christian nationalism is consistent with those who used political power to silence a prophetic voice that ran counter to their own orthodoxy.

Jesus is present today through the migrant and refugee experience. While many Christians are horrified at the current treatment of migrants and cry out for justice and mercy, Christian nationalism seeks to close the doors.

But the Jesus I follow rode the train through Mexico with José and his toddler son, Jeycob, Hondurans who were fleeing for their lives after the entire family received death threats.

Jesus was there on the day Jeycob saw his father handcuffed and taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents during a routine check-in for asylum-seekers, and when social workers took Jeycob to foster care.

Jesus sat, hungry and uncomfortable, in the bus station for two days in Ciudad Juárez with Claudia and her 4-year-old daughter as they waited for a friend, another young indigenous mom from Guatemala, who never returned from a trip to the restroom. They fear she was abducted. Claudia is seeking asylum.

Jesus was in ICE detention with Beatriz, a Mexican mother of two who spent two weeks in solitary confinement because she couldn’t stop crying hysterically; Beatriz had been raped by traffickers and police just before crossing the border.

Jesus was with Hector, 14, an unaccompanied minor from Honduras who attempted suicide while in ICE custody awaiting release to his mom.

The anniversary of the murder of his father and death of his grandparents who had raised him triggered a deep depression. No mental health services were available to help him with feelings of grief and loss.

Jesus was with Juan, an indigenous young man from Guatemala who is a victim of labor trafficking. Juan worked for five years without pay in Virginia before he was able to leave and obtain a legitimate job and legal assistance.

When we think of the story of Jesus and his encounter with the woman at the well, Scripture tells us that Jesus “had to” go through Samaria on his journey from Judea to Galilee (John 4:4).

It was “necessary,” but why? There were other, more traditional routes that were safer, better traveled and more comfortable.

Jesus’ route through Samaria serves as a model for us. Jesus intentionally chose a path that took him and his followers to a place that required interaction with people of a different race, ethnicity, culture and religion.

He consistently modeled concern for those who society saw as less valuable – women, children, persons in poverty and with disabilities. He spoke against the systems that oppressed and devalued them.

Jesus stayed away from those who sought rigid religiosity and political power. What should that tell us about Christian nationalism today?

This article was originally published at as part of a series focused on Christians opposing Christian nationalism. It is published in conjunction with the launch of the BJC-led initiative The articles in the series are available here.

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