Much has been said about the “devil” knowing and quoting the scriptures of the Bible as a means of explaining why Jeff Sessions would use the text to justify the barbaric treatment of asylum seekers at our borders — separating children from parents. However, Jeff Sessions is not the Devil: he is exactly what white, conservative Christianity has been in history: a servant of white supremacy, colonization, and economic power.
Evangelicals may be drawing the line with Trump’s shameful policy, but they still own this atrocity because we would not be here without the role they played in vilifying immigrants, serving the Republican Party instead of challenging it, and — directly — by electing Donald Trump.
Over sixty-eight percent of white evangelicals believe that America does not have a responsibility to accept refugees. This number exactly matches the sixty-eight percent of Republicans who believe America has no responsibility for refugees. So it is disingenuous to draw the line at separating families when white, conservative Christians led the way to this point and still overwhelmingly support the president who instituted this brutish policy.
Evan as Franklin Graham — son of the famed evangelist, Billy Graham — attempted to appear concerned about the “disgrace” of separating families at the border, he could not bring himself to identify that the problem is a unique creation of the Trump administration.
Graham, instead, served the same role as many religious leaders in the past — giving cover to powerful men by creating a lane in which Christians can be outraged but not at the actual people with whom they should be outraged.
Graham’s equivocation is precisely why conservative Christians own the atrocities happening at our border. Not only do white Christians like Graham refuse to challenge the systems of power and people that make this barbarity possible, they are regularly complicit with that power.
Consider that, at every junction in this nation’s history white, conservative Christianity has been on the opposite side of justice and liberation for marginalized people.
White Christianity stood by as their colonial leaders devastated the indigenous Americans so brutally that the gospel was completely ineffective:
The governor’s cruelty toward the people, [Franciscan friar Juan] de Escalona wrote, made preaching the Gospel impossible, for the Indians rightly despised any message of hope from those who would plunder their corn, steal their blankets, and leave them to starve.
[Others]… lived and worked among the [native Americans] for two years without securing a single convert…
White Christianity, in a similar fashion as Jeff Sessions, used the Bible to justify slavery.
Christianity is the official religion of the Ku Klux Klan — the white supremacist organization that terrorized Black people throughout Jim Crow.
Conservative Christian men and women vehemently opposed the Equal Rights Amendment:
Many conservative Christian women worried that the Equal Rights Amendment was an affront to their decisions to take on what they saw as biblically based roles of full-time wives and mothers. The Equal Rights Amendment came to represent, for them, an attack on traditional families
On the opposite side of the fight for Voting Rights and Civil Rights were White Christians who would lynch Black people and show up in time for church the next morning.
When faced with young, Black Christians marching for justice in Selma, AL on Bloody Sunday, chief deputy sheriff, Leonard “L.C.” Crocker — a white Christian man– made it clear that he had no regard for his faith or that of sixteen-year-old Jimmy Webb when that faith was used to challenge their power:
“You take your prayers back to your church … I don’t want you to pray for me. I don’t think your prayers get above your head.”
The predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention descended into chaos attempting to pass a resolution condemning the alt-right and White supremacy in 2017. The resolution passed but the process exposed just how entrenched white fear and resentment are in Christian spaces.
At nearly every stop in American history, we find White Christianity either complicit or co-conspirators with white, male, Christian supremacy.
When you as a Christian ignore every other opportunity for justice, every opportunity to “set at liberty of the captive”, and each and every opportunity to help the “least of these” among us, you have done your part to lead our country to a place where our top justice official now uses the Bible to justify literally ripping children off of the breast of nursing mothers.
And while those of us who have been fighting on the side of justice for some time welcome Evangelicals and other white, conservative Christians to this side of the battle, be aware that we aren’t simply fighting to take things back to a place where you can be comfortable with what America does; rather, we’re going all the way to the liberation of every marginalized group here at home and abroad.