We Evangelicals Need to Accept Diversity

It’s happened before, and it’s happening now.

You can tell when America is dealing with a new immigration challenge, because Americans get hostile toward aliens – they create caricatures of foreign people groups and become intolerant of religions with which they are not familiar.

The worst culprits of this injustice, more often than not, are my own people: evangelicals, and especially the fundamentalist evangelicals.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, immigrants flowed into the United States from Ireland, Italy, Russia, and Eastern Europe. The Protestants in America were fearful of this: It threatened their hope of establishing a “Christian America” (that is, a Protestant Christian nation). All these immigrants with their strange religions – Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox – needed to be put in their place, under the rule of Protestant American hegemony.

In the 1960s and 70s, another new wave of immigration flowed into America, with people groups even more severely separated from Protestantism. People from Thailand, Cambodia, South Vietnam, Japan, and China. This coincided with an immigration influx from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Lebanon, Iran, and Egypt. If the Protestants found Roman Catholicism a threat, imagine what they thought of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam!

Evangelical Fundamentalists, when feeling the threat of these foreigners and the consequent and inevitable societal upheaval that accompanies it, make the following case: We need to restore this nation to the time when we were not so threatened, we need to return to our roots as a Christian nation.

They do not show love for and acceptance of these foreigners. They do not love their neighbors as themselves. They instead make them out to be enemies of our God-ordained right to be “One Nation Under (the Protestant, evangelical fundamentalist) God.” And instead of loving their perceived enemies, they hate them.

In 2010, the evangelical fundamentalists are winning a hearing again (aided by politicians like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin who see a political jackpot in it). Their targets this time are two groups of immigrants: Mexicans and Muslims.

The illegal immigration of Mexicans is certainly an important issue for the country, but here’s the question: Why are fundamentalist evangelicals so threatened by it? I hear a lot from my Christian friends about the illegality of these foreigners. I hear them say “amnesty” with a snarl in their voice (how did such a beautiful word become an ugly one?). Chuck Colson recently showed his exasperation with evangelicals who "demonize immigrants" when he wrote, “The so-called 'facts' about illegal alien criminality...are deliberate misrepresentations or complete fabrications... Christians ought to oppose this demonization of 'the strangers in our midst.' As theologian T. M. Moore wrote, 'God defends strangers. He has compassion for those who have left all and risked all to find new lives in a strange country.'" When I mention to my brothers and sisters in Christ that the Biblical Prophets warned ancient Israel on many occasions that they would be judged based on how they treated foreigners and strangers in their land, they look at me as if I was speaking heresy.

The mosque in New York City is certainly an important issue for the country as well. But, again, here’s the question: Why are fundamentalist evangelicals so threatened by it? Out of one side of their mouths they say that the Muslims have the Constitutional right to build a house of worship there. Out of the other side, they say it is “insensitive” or “inappropriate” to do so (the same arguments used in the past when the powerful in America attempted to marginalize a new people group). Newt Gingrich is saying that Muslims are attempting a “Stealth Jihad” in an effort “to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of Sharia.” That’s frightening stuff, just the kind of fear-mongering that fundamentalist evangelicals eat up. Jay Sekulow, the lawyer who has made a name for himself for fighting for the religious freedom for evangelicals, ironically is on the front line against the Muslim mosque- Sekulow's American Center for Law and Justice is filing a lawsuit against it.

So, what are we going to do? Will we, as evangelical Christians, fight diversity for the sake some (real or imagined) earlier age? Or will we actually champion diversity, instead of being militant against those that are foreign to us, we could instead show the love and grace of Christ.


Matt said...

Amen, Bob, Amen.

Byron Harvey said...

Well,here we go again, I guess. Just one question: why does saying something is, at the same time, both Constitutional and insensitive/inappropriate constitute talking out of both sides of the mouth? By your reasoning, it would seem, everything that is Constitutional is also appropriate; nothing that is legal is insensitive. Right? If not, explain your reasoning. There are all sorts of things that are legal/Constitutional which may be, at the same time, insensitive and/or inappropriate, Bob. Heck, I can think of more such things that evangelicals do than I can things that Muslims do; it's not even hard. I just still don't get it. Differ on the point if you like; that's fine. But it isn't talking out of both sides of the mouth to say this.

Bob Robinson said...

Byron, I made my point on this in our debate back in my post on 9/4.

One can certainly be concerned about the Constitution and Sensitivity at the same time. The idiot who wanted to burn the Qur'an had the constitutional right to do so, but was urged by the government not to exercise that right, out of a sense of sensitivity and other issues (like putting our troops in greater danger).

But when our nation faces an extremely sensitive time in its history when a certain people-group is threatened to lose their constitutional rights, we must lean our decision-making on the side of the Constitution.

This country is dangerously close to allowing discrimination based on religion, which has often been the case in the past (thus the purpose of this post). I believe that every true American patriot should be on the side of religious tolerance on this one. And I believe that every Christian who values religious liberty should be vocal about these Muslim's right to worship freely in New York City.