President Trump’s Executive Order and the Moral Confusion of the Immigration Debate

The following are a few thoughts on President Trump’s recent executive order and the response to it.

1.

We should never forget that the president is a reality TV star. Television and, more recently, the Internet are the media that define contemporary politics. President Trump is at home with and driven by these media to a degree that few other politicians are. We shouldn’t forget how focused Trump is on things such as ratings, applause, opinion polls, positive press, and audience numbers.

Rather than fixating on how Trump is doing law and regular politics badly, we should consider the possibility that Trump is approaching politics as reality television and the nation as the audience of his political theatre. To the extent that our politics is increasingly hostage to the media of TV and the Internet, Trump may be a lot better at working the audience of the nation than a regular politician. However, in many respects we are now seeing the profound tension that exists between the spectacle of politics in the mass and social media age and the substance of prudent political governance. Trump’s brilliance at the former is not unconnected with his catastrophic unsuitability for the latter.

We should also stop trying to find something behind the spectacle when it comes to Trump, whether that be some dark fascist vision or Scott Adams’ style nimble navigation of a master negotiator. For Trump, the spectacle is not a mask, but the thing that really matters. This does not mean that Trump isn’t able to play the games of specious media exceedingly well, or that there aren’t others around him taking advantage of the spectacle that he creates.

Extending this point, our fixation on television and social media as citizens or subjects is also a reason for the volatile character of modern democracy, on both sides of the aisle. Just as the narcissistic President Trump is focused upon his image in the water of social media and television, so we increasingly carry out our politics as self-preoccupied identity-signalling.

 

2.

Taking such a perspective, I wonder how much of the supposed clumsiness of President Trump’s executive order is actually intended to serve as political theatre. It makes Trump look tough to his base. It attacks a liberal sacred cow, provoking many hysterical reactions that make the left look stupid. It heightens the sorts of tensions that brought Trump to power in the first place. It acts as a demonstration to certain immigrant groups and their communities that the gloves are off and, if they don’t get in line, the system won’t be nice and reasonable with them. Whatever the actual content of the order, the spectacle is clearly calculated to make Muslims feel unwelcome, which is a powerful signal to a base that is disgusted with Europe’s and American liberals’ blinkered Islamophilia. It is an ugly order and it was intended to be ugly. It is very poorly calculated to tackle the actual problem of radical Islamists and the difficulties of integration. However, it delivers the desired spectacle, which was always more important than the substance.

Trump is already thinking ahead to 2020. Campaigning for the presidency comes far more naturally to him than actually executing the office. I suspect that the next few years will involve Trump acting more as a wrestling ‘heel’ than as a conventional president: maximizing spectacle and the confusion that accompanies it, breaking the rules, playing to a highly partisan base by attacking the unpopular ‘babyface’ of the progressive left, while complaining that things are rigged against him. It will be great television, widely appreciated by the masses, and generally terrible for the country.

 

3.

The public, the media, and other politicians understandably reacted to the spectacle created by President Trump’s order, in large measure with spectacles of their own. For instance, Justin Trudeau, another politician naturally suited for a spectacle-fixated age, tweeted:

 

Of course, appearances matter, especially when it comes to such things as the face that we present to the world as a nation. However, in the age of television and social media, our politics has become so absorbed with surfaces and appearances that the substance of actual policies is neglected.

When one looks at the actual substance of the executive order, a lot of the spectacle that has been created around it, both by Trump and by his opponents on the left and right, seems to operate according to misconception and ignorance. For instance, the list of the seven countries in question wasn’t selected by Trump himself, but comes from policy established under President Obama’s administration (note the absence of the names of the countries in President Trump’s order). Yet there were no shortage of people arguing that the list of countries was determined by Trump’s own business interests.

On the other side of the issue, both Canada under Trudeau’s government and President Obama administration have placed significant restrictions upon Syrian refugees in the past, even when they have welcomed many. For instance, Trudeau’s government has prevented unaccompanied Syrian men from entering Canada. In the four years of 2011 to 2014, the US only admitted 201 refugees from Syria. 2016 represented a very significant increase, but Trump is hardly (temporarily) turning off a fire hose. The huge conflicts at the level of spectacle often mask fairly minimal differences at the level of substance.

To put all of this in some perspective, in Syria alone there are over 12 million people who have either become refugees or been internally displaced.

 

4.

Since America would only be taking in a fraction of a percent of the population that needs to be helped, why has all of this provoked so much outrage? Why are we talking so much about the tiny trickles of refugees that will make it to America and so little about the vast rivers of displaced persons needing help in the affected regions?

I fear that the issue has become grossly distorted precisely by the way that it plays into the politics of spectacle. Unfortunately, the urgent question of how Western nations are to help refugees in regions that they played a large role in destabilizing in the first place has become entangled in the domestic psychodramas of the American right and left.

In a sort of misguided virtue ethics, the narcissistic focus on what sort of—exceptional, naturally—nation America ought to be tends to eclipse the real practical questions that face us. Western and American exceptionalism is in large measure the cause of problems we are now addressing—sentimental humanitarianism and military interventionism are two sides of the same coin. The danger of a narcissistic virtue ethics is that of a preoccupation with our own identities obscuring our view of our actual moral responsibilities, which typically require rather a lot of humility, repentance, and self-forgetfulness of us.

In both sentimental humanitarianism and military interventionism, our self-obsessed fixation with Western identity prevents us from perceiving the rest of the world aright. The rest of the world can become a source of foils, props, and screens for the projection and expression of our own identities. For instance, the left has adopted Islam as a favoured ‘far group’, an anti-colonialist, anti-Western, movement of the oppressed to serve as the prop in its psychodrama, the manic pixie dream religion by which it will be delivered from its orientalism. Its perception of reality so distorted by its self-preoccupation, the Arab-Israeli conflict becomes an obsessive fixation for the imagination of the Left, a projection of its own neuroses. The right’s common tendency to identify America with the cause of God, truth, liberty, and justice is, if anything, even more dysfunctional.

A fitting response to the actual challenges we face, however, won’t really be found in specious gestures designed to shore up America or the West’s sense of itself, but will primarily be addressed by concentrated relief efforts in affected regions.

 

5.

Within such a fevered context, it is exceedingly difficult to construct a prudent immigration policy. Whether it is by Trump’s wall or the welcoming lamp of Lady Liberty, the slightest glimmer of sensible policy can easily be overwhelmed by the symbolism and spectacle of America’s current identity crisis (played out, naturally, through our self-projections onto the screens of social media). The spectacle of immigration policy has become the battleground upon which the new war for America’s identity is being fought: will America be a proud and great, yet distinct nation before all other nations or the post-national liberal utopia, where all difference has ceased to make a difference? Indeed, in the age of social media, America’s identity crisis is closely bound up with the myriad individual identity crises possessed by its people.

It wasn’t always this way on the left. Back in the 1990s, Bill Clinton could make very strong statements about border security, without provoking outrage. However, although politicians on both sides still tend to have more sense in their policies than they do in their rhetoric, immigration policy has now assumed a deep significance for both sides, demanding extreme rhetorical posturing and symbolic gestures to affirm the sacred values appropriate to the world views of the respective sides.

Immigration is definitely an important part of the American psyche, much like the Frontier. However, just like the Frontier, there are great dangers in allowing such symbols, myths, and principles to metastasize in a way that can end up proving destructive. The mindset produced by the Frontier has encouraged unhealthy forms of American expansionism, much as an unhealthy form of British identity was once forged upon the anvil of the Empire (and we are still boisterously singing about ruling the waves, even though we are teetering on the brink of ceasing to be a blue-water navy). Sometimes we need radically to reassess such things and move into new stages of national life.

Getting over the myths of historical immigration—and like the Frontier, American immigration has no shortage of self-aggrandizing myths—is a necessary part of maturation as a nation, of shedding certain of the pretensions of American exceptionalism. Emma Lazarus’s poetry is just another brand of flattering American exceptionalist fiction—the mother of an eschatological people, standing at the ‘sunset gates’ of the ‘golden door’, over against all of the ‘ancient lands’, laden down with their history. Much like the fiction that drove the Western expansion of the nation, it was never really strictly true and still isn’t. Any exploration of the history of America’s immigration and naturalization policies and its chequered record of assimilating and integrating people groups should make this amply apparent, but it does make a certain type of American feel proud.

 

6.

The poverty of Christian reasoning in response to President Trump’s executive order has been shocking, if not unsurprising. For one, there has been a profound failure to distinguish between the ‘good’ of helping refugees and the ‘right’ of sensible policies for doing so. Careful reflection and deliberation upon the actual shape of the refugee problem and the sort of responses that might make a difference has been largely absent. Instead, we have witnessed a conflation of the good with the right, and the widespread assumption that the latter is self-evident from an appreciation of the former.

Many liberals who would never otherwise reference the Old Testament have (in a welcome move) exhibited a considerable concern that we apply its teaching to refugees. Many Christians have joined them in pious, yet deeply unconsidered, pronouncements, presuming that such things as the Parables of the Good Samaritan or the Sheep and the Goats, the fact that Jesus was a refugee, or various Old Testament statements on the foreigner or resident alien clearly and straightforwardly dictate the sort of approach we should take to Syrian refugees, with little regard for the more complex moral and practical reasoning demanded by the issue.

Once again, the inherent self-reflexivity of social media has encouraged the devolution of this discussion into virtue-signalling, when actual virtue would better have been served by pushing questions of our identities to the periphery of the field of moral deliberation. When identities are so entangled in the discussion, it is difficult to make headway. Rather than kneejerk, identity-signalling responses, I would love to see Christians exhibit deep acquaintance with the facts and parameters of the situation facing us, clear awareness of the sort of complex interweaving of the good of welcoming the stranger and the concrete policies of immigration exhibited in the Old Testament, caution in dealing with the tensions between symbol and substance, patient and perceptive deliberation in loosening the knotty challenge of shrewd and just immigration policy, wariness of the privileging of symbolic gestures over substantial actions, greater suspicion of the motives of people on both the left and right, and more careful negotiation of the febrile environment of social media as a realm of moral discourse.

 

7.

Even when America did start to admit significant numbers Syrian refugees last year, the absence of Christians among them was striking:

The United States has accepted 10,801 Syrian refugees, of whom 56 are Christian. Not 56 percent; 56 total, out of 10,801. That is to say, one-half of 1 percent.

The BBC says that 10 percent of all Syrians are Christian, which would mean 2.2 million Christians. It is quite obvious, and President Barack Obama and Secretary John Kerry have acknowledged it, that Middle Eastern Christians are an especially persecuted group.

So how is it that one-half of 1 percent of the Syrian refugees we’ve admitted are Christian, or 56, instead of about 1,000 out of 10,801—or far more, given that they certainly meet the legal definition?

It is striking, when compared to the outrage among many Christians about this executive order, how few Christians made an issue about this at the time. Some of us did, but relatively few.

This seemingly marked unconcern for Christians, when viewed alongside the radical concern for Muslims, is significant. In part it results from the failure of many in America and the West to recognize that, although (nominal) Christians may be a majority in our lands, they are brutally persecuted minorities elsewhere in the world, often suffering even more as refugees as they are attacked by Muslims in refugee camps. For liberals, such Christian refugees cannot serve the same ends in their ideological imagination and may indeed unsettle them.

Beyond this, however, many Christians seem to have adopted a radical altruism that seemingly privileges members of other religious communities over Christians. Yet, Scripture is consistently clear on the fact that we should take an especial and particular concern for the wellbeing of other Christians. The fact that Christian communities that date back almost two millennia in the Middle East have been ravaged or even driven to the point of extinction over the last decade should be a matter of extreme concern to us. This isn’t just because they are ‘minorities’, but because they are our brothers and sisters and also because they bring the light of God’s truth to spiritually dark parts of the world that are in desperate need of it. Unpopular though this sentiment might be in the context of liberal society, we believe that the fate of these people should be a matter of particular concern, and not just for the Church, but for any righteous government.

 

8.

When using the Old Testament in this context, it is important to bear in mind the framework within which refuge would be given and the differences between foreigners whose stay was temporary and resident aliens (James Hoffmeier has some helpful thoughts on this, for instance). The resident alien was like a protected guest, treated as a member of the ‘family’ of Israel, but the guest/host distinction meant that they did not have the same status in key respects.

For one, God’s vision for Israel was robustly opposed to religious pluralism. It allowed for assimilation of outsiders into the Israelite people, but firmly opposed a sort of multicultural intermarriage. It restricted key civil rights to Israelites. Foreigners had to abide by the Sabbath law and other such things. The Law also restricted their rights of land ownership, meaning that they would typically be restricted to day labour, artisanal work, trade, etc. It restricted the possibility of entrance into fuller civil rights for a number of generations, and more in the case of certain people groups (Deuteronomy 23:3-8). It denied them certain of the protections enjoyed by Hebrew slaves and certain of the rights enjoyed by Hebrew slave-owners. The nation also retained an ethnic core to its identity.

The welcome (and occasional assimilation) of the stranger, then, was a crucial value, but the relationship was typically that of guest/host, with the limits typical of such a relationship applying. This is not the same thing as we are dealing with in the current situation.

 

9.

It is imperative as Christians that we consider the way that immigration functions within liberalism. I have argued in the past (see my remarks in the comments here, for instance), that mass immigration from culturally alien nations is one of the means by which liberalism extends its power and one of the means by which the expulsion of Christian values and practices from public life is effected and justified. It is one of the means by which a people is rendered more controllable by the forces of capital and government.

Mass immigration, in the form it is practiced in the liberal West, is a profoundly socially destructive force, antagonistic to historic modes of life. It fractures the foundations of society upon which our liberal institutions and freedoms are built, as I argued in my recent post. It is less a matter of welcoming the stranger into our society as a guest and much more typically a matter of a host people being steadily dispossessed of their land by a liberal polity to which all are slowly subjected as an ever more atomized and amorphous mass of people. Without becoming an inhospitable people, we need to be a lot more resistant to such developments.

Likewise, we need to be on our guard against the rising liberal ideology of immigration, with its focus upon the universal, deracinated subject, its discourse of rights as opposed to distributed goods, resistance to borders, hostility to the assertion of particularity, its assertion of the supposed duty of self-effacing altruism and indiscriminate welcome, the undermining of the difference between host and guest, the messianism of its sentimental humanitarianism, its erasure of history, etc. Just as Satan may come as an angel of light, so dangerous error can masquerade as Christian virtue. As I have argued when examining this issue in the past, being wise as serpents yet harmless as doves may never have been more important for us.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Ethics, In the News, Politics, Society, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to President Trump’s Executive Order and the Moral Confusion of the Immigration Debate

  1. Ian Miller says:

    Is it possible to execute concentrated relief efforts, particularly to Christian and other non-Muslim refugee populations, without some kind of significant military/PMC force to safeguard the relief workers? If so, are we just trying to take those who are willing to die in this mission? If not, should we raise funds to hire PMCs to defend relief efforts in addition to raising funds for the efforts themselves?

    • Most of the contexts where refugees are being helped are outside of the immediate warzone and the UN is also present. There are also many international relief agencies working in the region, including a number of Christian ones.

  2. cal says:

    I don’t think Trump is pure spectacle and pure vanity politician in the way you’re portraying it. A lot of what he does with his almost bizarre public fixation on his media presentation coincides with really radical fractures he is causing in the American deep-state. Perhaps the Muslim ban as an effectual way to keep Terrorists out is the wrong way to look at it. Rather, perhaps its a geopolitical reposturing, an attempted reboot of the American image and mythos, which your comments reflect as steps nations take.

    Being a good campaigner and a good reader of public sentiments went way beyond what he was able to accomplish in this election cycle. Trump was not merely Obama or Trudeau, it was a level of strategizing that harkens back to Nixon’s Southern Strategy. This set the stage not just for a political map reconfiguration, but the transformation of political positions. Trump has the potential to redefine Conservatism, towards Protectionism and the nation-state and away from global corporate Capitalism and Neo-Liberalism. And I say all of this as someone who would consider himself on the economic Left.

    The potential radical shifts Trump may ripple into the next decades are to be seen and determined. However, it’s far too early to say what exactly he is. This is the same mistake many made with Obama in 2009. I’d caution prudence Alastair. I mean, the man was coached early on by one of the most savvy and devious political operators, Roy Cohn. This is not to highlight anything particularly sinister, but merely that it’s way too early to tell if he’s merely a celebrity or not.

    cal

    • I’d be surprised to be proved wrong, but it definitely wouldn’t be the first time. And Trump has confounded so many people’s expectations by now. I’ve no doubt that Trump will change a great many things about the political landscape. However, I don’t believe that Trump himself has some clear political vision, although a number of those around him do.

  3. Rubati says:

    I am not quite sure though how you would reconcile your critique of the obsession for identity by both the left and right:

    The danger of a narcissistic virtue ethics is that of a preoccupation with our own identities obscuring our view of our actual moral responsibilities, which typically require rather a lot of humility, repentance, and self-forgetfulness of us.

    with your own reflections on Evangelical identity and concern about how that label makes us appear to the public.

    I am reminded of an essay by Rowan Williams where he explained that a hypocrite of the Pharisaical sort isn’t someone whose inner thoughts are necessarily at variance with their outer actions but rather a hypocrite is, as the Greek word suggests, an actor, someone whose performances are done for the benefit of the praise of man, their “audience”, rather than for their heavenly Father who watches in secret and who alone shall reward us for our good deeds. This is why Jesus begins his long tirade against the Pharisees with: “Beware of doing your works of righteousness to be seen by man…”

    It seems that the obsession with “identities” whether left, right, or “Evangelical” and its Trumpian taint, seems to be the obsession of the Pharisees about how these identities make them appear before man as righteous or nasty or immoral, etc. The modern Christian’s concern over identification before man parallels the Pharisee’s preening obsession with social appearances and they pick and discard their “labels” like clothes to be paraded about with the intent of displaying their moral superiority or lack of “moral rot” before man.

    Perhaps the the antidote to a shopping addiction for self-identifying labels remains the good ‘ole Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone without the works of the law. This of course is what happens when one attempts to justify oneself by one’s works (and not very good ones anyway) instead of finding our justification by faith alone in Christ alone, who alone shall justify us, not only before man, but ultimately before God himself. If good works are to be done, let it be for the benefit of our neighbour alone and not as a means to justify ourselves before man. I believe however that in your essay you did allude to this point that it is better to discuss the actual practical effect of policies rather than them as symbols of identities. However I can’t quite square this entirely valid point, in my opinion, with your previous discussions on Evangelical “identity”.

    • Thanks for the bit from Williams. However, there’s other places in Scripture where a concern for others’ perceptions is legitimate: “And you like the lamp must shed light among your fellow men, that they may see the good you do and give glory to your Father in heaven,” (Mt 5; paraphrased from memory); “Sexual immorality should not even be named among you,” (Eph. 5; ditto). It’s wrong to perform for other people in order to win their praise and a fleeting glory. It’s OK to be concerned about how others perceive you out of a concern for their good, insofar as it fits with one’s overriding love for the Lord. You might describe the latter as being concerned with offering a winsome invitation to the Lord himself.

      Alastair, I think your reflections are really helpful. Thank you for them. I especially appreciate the bit about sentimental humanitarianism and military interventionism being two sides of the same coin. Contrary to Cal’s comment above, I take it that the lynchpin of your argument that these debates really belong to the realm of spectacle is the fact that the actual proposals are relatively insubstantial and not really geared to solving problems on the ground. Seems sound to me.

      Godspeed.

      • Thanks, Stephen!

        Yes, that is precisely right. Had Trump wanted to deal effectively with the influx of extremists and the threat of radicalization in the US, there were far, far more effective ways of doing so. As David Frum argues, the order was stupid and counterproductive. It seems to me that Trump’s preoccupation with political theatre over prudent policy helps to explain this.

      • cal says:

        My comment was an addendum to Alastair’s general point, not sheer contrast. Yes, ok, politics as spectacle, especially now in the age of social media, memes, etc. But if we’re not thinking about the ‘why’ in a performance, we’ll miss the fact that there is possibly something substantive going on than deducing politics has been reduced to sheer surface and interplay. It’s the latter point that ought to be considered ‘in addition’ to Alastair’s main point. If we don’t, we’ll wake up one day and realize things changed under our noses. Again, people are talking about Trump’s obsession with poll numbers and his provocative Muslim ban. But he’s at war with certain elements of the Security apparatus too, which has received much less coverage.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      As I said in the post above, ‘appearances matter, especially when it comes to such things as the face that we present to the world.’ This applies to evangelicals too. However, my deeper concerns with evangelical identity have tended to lie elsewhere and tie in with a number of the points that I make in this post.

      First, I have argued that evangelical identity, in practice, tends to be rather specious. People try to insist upon some substance to it, to give it some prescriptive content to determine who is in and who is out, yet they are requiring far too much of what is a rather shallow identity in practice. I have argued for the need to emphasize thicker creedal and confessional identities, identities that are more substantial in their character and truer to the reality of our faith. This needn’t mean turning our backs on evangelicalism, just putting less weight on it.

      Second, I have argued that a fixation on the superficial dimension of labels can blind us to substance. It can prevent us from seeing how close our ‘opponents’ might be to us and breaking our differences down to size. It can also prevent us from challenging deep error on our own side, simply because people accept the correct labels. I’ve suggested playing a sort of game of ‘taboo’ can help here. The fact that a number of ‘evangelicals’ have bought into President Trump hook, line, and sinker, should cause us to ask difficult questions of ourselves and of the errors that can be harboured under the roof of our tribal identity.

      Appearances are not unimportant at all. They do, however, need to be brought into line with and the service of truth.

  4. Tony Reinke says:

    Alastair, as usual your article is incisive and instructive, thank you. Here’s a follow-up question I would love to hear you address in the future. In the age of politics as ephemeral spectacle custom-crafted for social media (Trump), how does this phenomenon, now at the highest level of American politics, push aside, mute, use/abuse, or use as fuel, the historic spectacle of national regality? I understand spectacle is substantiated by what’s behind it, but what are your thoughts when the elegance of the state (The White House) becomes simply a backdrop to make the ephemeral spectacle more spectacular. What’s lost?

    • Important question, Tony. I just wrote a detailed response and lost it. Oh well.

      In short, the character of political spectacle is inseparable from the character of our media. What we lose and gain is closely related to what we lose and gain with new media.

      Some suggestions of what we lose: 1. A sense of office being greater than personality; 2. A healthy sense of time, and ourselves in proportion within it; 3. A sense of gravity and seriousness, and the humility and responsibility that accompany this; 4. A sense of beauty and of its claims upon us; 5. Strength against the forces of distraction; 6. A sense of the public and our peoplehood, as opposed to the mass of individuals; 7. A sense of depth over superficiality.

  5. katie says:

    Alastsair, I agree that Trump has always had and probably will always have something of “America’s Next Top President” about him. But what makes it so clear to you that the world of spectacle and media is shaping his presidency more than the world of business? I would think he’d try to run the country like he’d run a company, never for a moment forgetting the spectacle but with a more concrete goal of “success” in mind. Does this not seem probable?

    • Good question, Katie.

      A couple of things. First, even though he is a businessman, Trump’s personality is that of a showman and that is what he is far more renowned for.

      Second, Trump’s business is an extension of his showmanship. Trump’s fixation has always been upon ‘the deal’, not upon the day-to-day running of a business. The ‘deal’ is about showmanship, appearance, massaging of people’s impressions with well-chosen words, etc.

  6. p duggie says:

    While the president is a reality TV star, he isn’t necessarily the best or most competent reality TV star (though a top 10 list of those would be an interesting exercise. I guess Simon Cowell ranks higher)

    This has some interesting points to make

    https://lawfareblog.com/malevolence-tempered-incompetence-trumps-horrifying-executive-order-refugees-and-visas

  7. Alex Thomson says:

    Thanks very much for these timely thoughts, Alastair. You are one of too few commentators on this Executive Order to have picked up on the fact that the legal basis for it pre-dates this new Administration.

  8. Little Sheep says:

    The immigration topic has to be addressed & treated separate from the refugee issue in my opinion.

    I was born in the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver, British Columbia. From a young age my province was flooded with immigrants from mainly India & a scattering of Europeans, some German, Greeks, Italians etc. Then later a massive wave of Chinese came & the govt. being greedy received large sums of money from the Chinese to obtain entrance. The Chinese fundamentally transformed the city & now the Indian, Europeans & native Canadians who immigrated there first make up mostly the poor/middle class. Canadians can’t afford to live even in the semi dilapidated East side of the city where my childhood home (once worth $11,000) is now worth $1.3 million. The Chinese own most of the businesses, rental homes, malls etc. The exceptions are few! My family can’t afford a house anymore, the govt. sold out for money & nothing can be done about it.

    The story I heard growing up was that immigration/multiculturalism was positive, was ideal, was the goal & cultures should blend, nationalities & cultures should enrich each other & create a better world. It all sounded good & it’s advertised as such to outsiders.

    Well, that better world never came, the Indians primarily stayed in their neighborhoods which were gang infested, Indian on Indian killing each other month after month to the tune of car vandalisms, home invasions & other felonies. The Chinese had their Asian gangs, more of the same. The Greeks weren’t so bothersome, but they wanted to be around their own people so they pretty much stayed to themselves. The Indians, Germans, Italians & Chinese also built up their own ‘towns’ where they congregated together & interacted with their own people. The bought & sold from their own people, ate at their own restaurants & established small versions of their own countries within ours.

    The mantra was diversity, diversity, diversity! When in fact what we lived was separation, isolation, exclusion.
    Unless one has lived in these experiments, they don’t really know how they work out & diversity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in a fallen world. Each religion & culture believes themselves to be superior so there is no utopia of each seeing others as better than themselves, that my friend is a fairy tale.

    Almost 20 years ago I immigrated to the United States & I really was shocked. Canadians always talked & thought so highly of America, like somehow they were free to be American & not be shamed like us Canadians were told, because we weren’t diverse enough.
    I soon realized the biggest haters of Americans were Americans themselves. Sadly, most Americans have never lived outside of America & most have absolutely no idea how exceptional their country is. How free their country was, that is until the Bush & Obama presidency’s which proved to bring the onset of the old ‘diversity’ game. I’d seen this game before, I’d lived through it already once before. I knew where this was going if this train didn’t stop, it too will eventually go off the track, as most multicultural societies do eventually in one way or another!

    An hour from my home several towns are completely taken over as Muslim communities. The Muslims don’t interact with those around them, their segregated off to themselves. Our state of Michigan has one of the highest populations of Muslims so we especially can see how things are going. A Muslim couple moved in down the street from me & I tried to reach out to them. Invited them for a meal. Won’t answer or return my messages after the husband found out we were Christians. Their own people come & go but no neighbors.

    What Christians never seem to discuss regarding immigration is this; God already made us diverse. The Dutch people have their own unique culture/language, the Swiss have theirs, the Germans, the Swedes, the Russians & on & on it goes. Why has it become such a crime to let each nation retain it’s own flavor as God designed it & not impose a complete blending of every nationality & religion as the only definition of diversity.

    What most push as diversity today is actually a push to remove any kind of uniqueness. Remove the very things that make us different. Sprinkle in a mix of everything so that no one thing can stand out because if one thing stands out, it’s too proud, therefore evil. That’s what diversity has come to mean.

    As a Canadian by birth, there’s very little left of traditional “Canadian” today because every other race & religion that arrived at our shores told us theirs was equal or better than ours, so Canadians have pretty much lost their identity or any sense of national pride altogether.

    If I visit Holland, I want to see the wind mills, the tulips, the clogs, all the wonderful things Holland is famous for. If the Muslims continue to infiltrate Europe, all the unique things of Holland that made it Holland will eventually be gone & the entire country will look just like Yemen or Iraq or some other Middle Eastern, Muslim country.

    Anyway, I am no fan of the modern understanding of diversity, & quite frankly I don’t see it supported in scripture.

    The refugee issue is a completely different problem. America is creating the refugees by interfering in the middle east. If they’re going to continue to do that, they ought to be prepared financially to take care of those displaced by their war mongering. Bringing them to America is not necessarily the best thing for the refugees, since the US is a totally different world so unlike anything they’ve known. The language, cultural & religious barriers are significant. People need to stop pretending these things aren’t significant factors.

    Ultimately the refugee solution is for the US to stop it’s war mongering. If Donald Trump can stop that alone, America can tolerate some silly theatrics in exchange, for that would be a small price to pay in order to save thousands of innocent lives in the Middle East.

    Let’s pray to that end, that America’s war mongering would cease!

  9. Pingback: Refugees and the Christian.... My Perspective | Caffeinated Thoughts

  10. Tim says:

    A couple thoughts strike me here.

    Maybe I need to read Hoffmeyer’s book but I find his distinction between Ger and Nekhar/Zar unconvincing every time I have read a summary or defence of it. The evidence behind it in his blog is speculative (the proof of Ger receiving permission is a single account where that was the case and a second account where maybe that happened in the background) but treated as definitive.

    There seems to be little obvious contrasting between these two groups in the law. Meaning I don’t see a point wherein we see a set of rights given to the Ger that the Nekhar/Zar are denied. Rather there are many passages in which the Ger is said to have certain equal rights and unrelated passages where the Nekhar/Zar is treated in a different way from the resident, but, the lack of clear contrast between the two makes me extremely wary of statements like: “The delineation between the “alien” or “stranger” (ger) and the foreigner (nekhar or zar) in biblical law are stark indeed,” or “These passages from the Law make plain that aliens or strangers received all the benefits and protection of a citizen, whereas the foreigner (nekhar) did not.” One could find many other ways to read these different treatments. That the stranger’s equal rights were not all-encompassing seems a potential solution. I am not rejecting the argumnet but I think it’s overstated (I am also curious to see how this reading handles the prophetic movement that expands God’s plan outside of Isreal). (Again maybe, I just need to read the book rather than engaging it on the peripherary).

    All of this is not to deny the importance of reading scripture carefully and not forcing it on inapplicable situations. I am all for that. I am, however, equally concerned over the knee-jerk nationalism and ethnocentrism that often accompany these particular arguments (I am not suggesting you are doing so). For so many of the Christians I have engaged with, the argument seems to either be “The bible says accept the foreigner so no borders matter,” or “The bible isn’t talking to us there so get those foreigners out.” I appreciate that you are trying to navigate between these two positions and maybe I am being reactionary to the misuse of a legitimate argument (especially in my context of American Evangelicalism where nationalism is often made a Christian virtue). I should also acknowledge my tendency towards being a bleeding heart and the need for that tendency to be checked by scripture and my Brothers and Sisters.

    Lastly, I think tying refugee responses and immigration-in-general is dangerous. These situations are often quite different and shouldn’t be made equal. Refugee situations leave us with a number of dilemmas that immigration does not. One being the gutting of a societies skilled and educated class by removal from their own culture. I was recently in the UK, (in Stockton-on-Tees to be precise) and was struck by the fact that among the collection of Iranian asylum seekers in the community there was a disproportionate number of individuals with high levels of education and elite skill sets (doctors, pharmacists, professors and such). One often undiscussed portion of the refugee crisis is that those who can get out are often those with the most means; this leaves behind people lacking needed technical skill sets and strips a region of its elites (I hate using that word here but can’t think of another at the moment). It seems the damage done by ISIS and other crises in the Middle East will continue long after they are resolved (if that is even possible) as those left in these regions will be those with the fewest resources and skills to rebuild societies.

    Thank you for this thought provoking piece, I don’t fully agree with all of it, but I am pushed to think more Christianly by it.

    • I think Hoffmeier puts more weight on the word difference than it sustains. However, I think that the broader issues that he brings into the frame of discussion are important. For instance, the question of how to treat the alien or stranger in the land is not the same thing as the question of which aliens and strangers should be allowed to reside in the land in the first place. Hoffmeier helps to show that the duty of hospitality to the resident alien is not the same thing as a radical open borders policy. Taken in concert with other biblical material, we also see that the resident alien was present in a guest-host framework and that, while the stranger could be welcomed, the identity of the nation was very sharply defined and maintained over against outsiders, even when they were guests. This is rather unlike the current situation in the US.

      I think that the refugee/immigration debates are distinct, yet inseparable, especially in the current context of Europe and the US (relative to the countries affected by the executive order). What we are typically dealing with in countries like the US is resettlement of refugees: the US is not the nearest border or where refuge is first sought. Rather, the need for refuge and the natural desire for a better and more secure life in the West go together.

      Such resettlement really tends to privilege elites, as you say. Even when they are moving through Europe by foot, the people in question have typically paid very heavily to get here and are often relatively more privileged people from their countries. In Europe they are also overwhelmingly single young males, in part because women and children couldn’t make the journey in the same way (which is one reason why the presentation of Canada by some as a great refugee haven, while it has excluded the key demographic leads some of us to roll our eyes).

      As you observe, it is important to look at the bigger picture. Refugees often leave the country that they came from to languish. This isn’t just the case for immigration into another country. It is also seen in the patterns of internal migration within countries. The fact that so many parts of the US and the UK are suffering is because universities are acting as an increasingly aggressive sorting mechanism, creaming the most promising young people off the top of their communities and leaving them with few highly gifted people embedded in their communities to advocate for and empower them.

      It is important to see the bigger pictures. For instance, it is one thing to celebrate the way that Italian and Irish Americans have succeeded in the New World. It is another to recognize the reasons why they were first uprooted from their own countries and to see how a country like Ireland languished for the better part of a century and a half as its best and brightest left its shores. Although many found better lives overseas, their absence condemned people to poorer lives at home. It is also important to recognize the huge problems of integration faced by these communities on American soil, the legacy of organized crime (the Mafia and the Irish Mob) America still deals with as a result, the need for extreme measures in the public school to integrate, and the struggle for the definition of the nation relative to Catholicism, which almost required a movement in the direction of secularism to resolve it.

      I have suggested in the past that we often need to compare such situations more to the case of adoption. Adoption is a highly disruptive measure undertaken in order to deliver children from a very bad situation into a better one. However, as it is such a disruptive measure, cutting bonds with parents and involving a struggle to make the child feel part of a new family, we tend to do whatever we can to avoid the disruption. We try to resolve the bad situation which they are leaving. We explore the possibilities of kinship care. We then may provide temporary foster care in other families. If they are adopted out, we seek to ensure as little disruption as possible and a good match between the child and their new adoptive parents (finding a family of the same culture, race, and religion, for instance). We also recognize that children tend to inherit the characteristics of their parents and that many adoptive children will struggle in homes whose parents have extremely different characteristics and expectations (of ability and behaviour).

      Similar things could be said about the compatibility of different cultures. Some immigrant groups assimilate very well (perhaps especially when immigration is highly selected, as it tends to be for southeast Asians in America, for instance). Where immigration is less discriminate, things can be more complicated. As in the case of adoption, lots of prudence is required and we need to appreciate the considerable costs of disruption for all parties. Adoption is hard work. Diversity is hard work. They can come with considerable costs and struggles, even when they work out well. Recognizing the profound goodness of the love shown in adoption is quite compatible with wanting to keep the disruption caused by adoption to a minimum.

    • I should add that it is imperative in these situations to consider the long term prospects of integration or assimilation and the attendant costs. For instance, already last year, in Sweden, the gender ratio at age 16-17 was 123 males to 100, although this was almost certainly largely inflated by refugees lying about their actual age for benefit purposes. In Sweden only 53% of refugees have found jobs after 10 years. Mass unemployment, underemployment, and marginal employment and singleness of men from marginal communities of minority ethnicities, religions, and cultures is a recipe for long term problems arising from deep social alienation.

      And this threat of future alienation isn’t limited to immigrant communities. Increased diversity reduces social trust and raises atomization and alienation for everyone. The fraying of the social fabric has produced a large number of alienated young men ripe for radicalization in the West. Movements such as white nationalism attract young white men for much the same reasons as radical Islamism attracts young immigrant men. When societies are weak, there will always be a threat from the feral lost boys abandoned or betrayed by them.

      • Tim says:

        All very important points. In so many of the recent crises facing the world, I wonder to what degree unthinking urges towards globalism create ripples that have turned into merciless torrents. It’s a difficult position to be in as a member of a global church who wants the good of all (especially brothers and sisters) but also aware that good-for-all is a difficult notion to quantify from a distance.

        Thanks for the responses.

  11. Mary Adams says:

    Have you read any of William J Federer if so what do you think about his views?

  12. Geoff says:

    Thank you for this article.

    The scriptural balance you brought to this, which is counter to the knee jerk reaction within and without the church is much appreciated.

    Melanie Phillips in TheTimes (UK) today also sets out the pre-Trump Administration precendent for the Order. which didn’t seem to raise so much as an eyebrow (but I’m not up to speed on this.) She also brings much needed balance.

    I view Trump more of a business man than anything else, but in that role I doubt if he tweeted so much.

    And as for the UK extending an invitation to a State visit to Trump, it is an invitation to the office of President of a democratic State, who is in position through a democratic process. Is that too simplistic to understand?

    There doesn’t seem to have been as much furore over the State visit by China! Where was the high handed moral indignation and outrage then among the UK liberal media. Perhaps, overcome in the name of economic progresss. And what is China’s policy on refugees and Muslims?

    it’s worth remembering in all this, that Islam is a political system. Christianity is not and there is only true unity in diversity in Christ Jesus, a unity, an identity, which cuts across, transcends, every tongue, tribe and nation. And politics.

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  19. Matt says:

    The media opposes and exaggerates everything Trump does:

    “Of course, appearances matter, especially when it comes to such things as the face that we present to the world as a nation. However, in the age of television and social media, our politics has become so absorbed with surfaces and appearances that the substance of actual policies is neglected.

    “When one looks at the actual substance of the executive order, a lot of the spectacle that has been created around it, both by Trump and by his opponents on the left and right, seems to operate according to misconception and ignorance. For instance, the list of the seven countries in question wasn’t selected by Trump himself, but comes from policy established under President Obama’s administration (note the absence of the names of the countries in President Trump’s order). Yet there were no shortage of people arguing that the list of countries was determined by Trump’s own business interests.”

    And this is correct but certainly not politically correct:

    “It is imperative as Christians that we consider the way that immigration functions within liberalism. I have argued in the past (see my remarks in the comments here, for instance), that mass immigration from culturally alien nations is one of the means by which liberalism extends its power and one of the means by which the expulsion of Christian values and practices from public life is effected and justified. It is one of the means by which a people is rendered more controllable by the forces of capital and government.

    “Mass immigration, in the form it is practiced in the liberal West, is a profoundly socially destructive force, antagonistic to historic modes of life. It fractures the foundations of society upon which our liberal institutions and freedoms are built, as I argued in my recent post. It is less a matter of welcoming the stranger into our society as a guest and much more typically a matter of a host people being steadily dispossessed of their land by a liberal polity to which all are slowly subjected as an ever more atomized and amorphous mass of people. Without becoming an inhospitable people, we need to be a lot more resistant to such developments.”

  20. George Terry says:

    Concerning your argument that only 56 Syrian Christians immigrated, maybe the following will give some needed perspective. First, 0.8% of Iraqis are Christian, yet 15% of the refugees the U.S. accepted from Iraq last year were Christians. It’s the same people doing the vetting process for Iraqis as Syrians, so it’s pretty hard to argue that they’re intentionally biased against Christians. For both Syrians and Iraqis, the UNHCR vets and recommends refugees for a particular country, and then the U.S. vets them further. The simple reality is that the U.S. religious percentages closely mirror the total religious percentages for UNHCR refugees in Syria and Iraq: there just aren’t that many Syrian Christians reporting to UNHCR refugee camps, which is clearly not the case with Iraqi Christians.

    Possible reasons include: 1) Lebanon is ~40% Christian (far higher % than Syria). It seems likely that a lot of Syrian Christians were simply embraced by their brethren in Lebanon and started new lives without reporting to the camps. If the Lebanese church took them in, why would they seek to go anywhere else?
    2) Turkey doesn’t report the breakdown by religion. It’s not unreasonable to me to think that most Christians who didn’t go the Lebanon route aimed for Europe, mostly via Turkey. Also, perhaps many took the direct sea route to Italy or Greece (many Syrian Christians are Catholic/Orthodox). So again, they didn’t report in camps where they would documented by UNHCR and potentially routed to the U.S.
    3) Rebel forces in Syria are overwhelmingly Sunni, opposed to the secular/Alawite Assad. Christians are not particularly opposed to Assad, as they prefer a secular government; they are part of a coalition of minority religious/people groups along with Assad’s Alawites. So when Assad’s forces started taking control, it’s likely that more of the Sunnis left than did the Christians. (NOTE: Christian militias are fighting alongside either Assad’s forces or Kurdish forces in the north against ISIS.)

    But perhaps most importantly, the U.S. accepted 37,521 CHRISTIAN refugees last year. So maybe there isn’t as much bias against the Christian community as your article indicates.

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