Saturday, 28 January 2017

Why Trump's attitude towards refugees and immigrants worries me as a Lutheran Christian

"The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself". Leviticus 19:34.

What a week it has been in the political whirlwind that is Trump's US Presidency. There's so much wrong policy wise that I could talk about, it'd take me days to explain but there's one particular aspect of Trump's platform that worries me greatly. That relating to refugees and immigration. It worries me because I think about Trump has managed to do in the US and what his fellow far-right conservatives want to try and do in the UK. A proposal was floated by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, at the Conservative Conference that called for businesses to keep a register of all immigrants working in their firms post-Brexit to check whether they were legal or not, regardless of whether their legal status and documents had already been checked prior to commencing their job. If you're from an EU country, you currently have the right to remain and work in the UK provided you show your passport and qualifications. Those from outside the EU who are skilled workers are subject to Tier 2 immigration laws, which means they need to have a certificate of sponsorship prior to entering the UK and legitimate businesses (who need to be licenced Tier 2 sponsors) will check their passport, visa and qualification documentation thoroughly. Ms Rudd also talked about tests being tightened for UK companies so they find it tougher to recruit from abroad, saying effectively that "immigrants are taking jobs British people could do". Suffice to say that the speech has been treated as a " non-crime hate incident" by West Midlands Police and I'm not particularly surprised by that. What Ms Rudd might say is a "British job" may differ from PM Theresa May and what Mrs May sees as a "British job" might differ from UKIP's leader Paul Nuttall or god forbid, Nigel Farage. The worst part of Ms Rudd's speech was that she failed to address an important issue; that of the exploitation of workers in sweatshops and on farms as a result of rogue gang masters and agencies taking advantage of a workers' desperation. These agencies pay their workers below the minimum wage, withhold their passports and other legal documentation in a bid to stop them from attaining work elsewhere or to stop them reporting the agencies to the police.  I do feel the Government has more work to do to prosecute rogue gangmasters and agencies to save immigrant workers from exploitation and to help those workers get into sustainable jobs in the UK so they can support themselves and their families rather than deporting them. After all, it wasn't their fault. I'm glad the proposal for a registry has now been dropped by the Conservative Government but I remain cautious as the mood within the Conservative party turns towards tightening immigration controls post-Brexit.

I'm not sure that the UK will remain entirely committed to taking in 20,000 Syrian refugees before 2020. I'm not sure whether Mrs May wants to tighten controls to make it more difficult for political and religious refugees to claim asylum in the UK, especially if they are being persecuted for being LGBTQIA, as they currently can under Article 3 of the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) which says that "no one shall be subjected to torture or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment." As the Refugee Council have noted, in the UK in 2015, 14, 832 asylum seekers were locked up in detention centres, half of them detained during the asylum process and 154 of them were children. Since 2005, refugees are only allowed to stay in the UK for a maximum of 5 years. That's not long enough for them to make decisions about their future-whether to study for a degree, get a job etc. They have to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (IRR) (ironically my Mum has this as a Norwegian citizen adopted by a British Citizen) but still it's a lot of paperwork and such a request may be less likely to be granted post-Brexit. As a Christian living in the UK, I want to see a change in legislation so that refugees who want to stay in the UK can do so indefinitely without having to apply for IRR and to make sure that child asylum seekers do not end up being imprisoned in detention centres, especially if they already have family in the UK.

Now Trump....

Trump seems to have an irrational fear of migrants. He's obsessed with building a wall to keep Mexican illegal immigrants out and doesn't seem to care that the £15bn cost will be paid by working and middle class American consumers as the 20% proposed tax on Mexican imports get slapped onto the retail price. More disturbingly, Trump seems intent on keeping Muslims immigrants and refugees from entering the US, especially if they happen to come from Middle Eastern Countries.
Trump has signed a 90 day Executive Order immigration and visa ban against 7 Muslim majority countries. Trump has also banned all refugee admissions for 120 days and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely. Obama's refugee quota for 2017 has been slashed by less than half. All supposedly in the name of National Security to reduce Terrorist threats. You know the most telling part of his immigration policy is that Trump is going to try and make exceptions for Christian refugees, such as the Yazidis from Syria so he can grant them visas to come and resettle in the US. This policy smacks of a veiled attempt to try and retain the US's supposed "Christian purity" despite the fact there is meant to be some level of separation between Church and State; it is engrained within the US Constitution. Discriminating against refugees on the basis of religious belief also happens to violate the UN Constitution on Human Rights but judging by the New US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley's speech yesterday, I don't think the Trump administration really cares (she's gathering the names of ambassadors who are willing to oppose Trump's policies for the UN because they won't "back him". Very thin-skinned and petulant course of action I think).

It's disgusting to think that Trump has no compassion for those Muslims fleeing persecution because the way they practice their faith does actually differ from that of the radical fundamentalist Islam terrorists. Very few Muslim refugees or immigrants want to throw white gay conservatives off a building (I don't know any Muslim who would) because they've seen ISIS do it to gay Muslims in Iraq and Syria. Very few Muslim immigrants want to rape a young white woman in the street because they've seen their wives and daughters or friends raped in the street by ISIS terrorists. I can't even begin to comprehend what effect witnessing such barbarity in the flesh has on your mental health but to be then told by a man who has very little knowledge of Islam that he views you as the enemy, as a "threat" to his country's national security, just because a few Muslim men who sought asylum (or pretended to) have committed suicide attacks and rapes in Europe and the US? It's extremely irrational to me as a Lutheran to accept that it's OK to demonise people based on a generic understanding of their religious beliefs. Besides, doesn't Mr Trump know there are plenty of white evangelical Christian men who do this, even to their own wives? Ask those who have survived rape on college campuses about their ordeals and you'll find that Christian men and women commit such acts even though they claim to be devout followers of Christ.  As a Christian, I have always believed deliberate espousal of divisive rhetoric against a different religious group is fundamentally at odds with Christian teaching. I'm not a radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorist apologist but neither am I a radical evangelical Christian apologist. I think we should lock anyone up that commits a heinous crime such as a white supremacist murdering innocent African-American worshippers in a church in Charleston or an ISIS sympathiser murdering nightclub goers in Orlando, Florida. Both are equally to blame for their actions and you cannot demonise one extreme form of religion without demonising others. Those who say that Christians in the US commit less murders than Muslims really need to get their head out their bigoted arse and look at trying to reduce the murder rate as a whole. Using religious belief as a weapon to hurt others in some vain attempt to make a country safer are just deluding themselves.

What does the Bible say about refugees?

You know evangelical Christians are quick to point out Biblical verses that support their pro-life, homophobic, transphobic views but cannot point to many verses that explain their hostile, anti-refugee stance. The Bible is full of quotes which inform us that God expects us to do our Christian duty, which is to look after those less fortunate than ourselves:

  • Deuteronomy 10:18-19: "He defends the causes of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." God reminds us here that it is our Christian duty to look after orphans, widows and refugees by providing them with the essentials needed to survive. Food, clothing (and housing) should be provided without malice or expectations of reward. This is later reinforced in Luke 3:11: "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none…"
  • Ezekiel 16:49: "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." No country that deigns to call itself Christian in the 21st century should be wanting to follow the example of Sodom. The poor and needy I believe includes homeless migrants and displaced political and religious refugees. Why should we turn our backs on those who need our help the most and instead focus on enriching ourselves through excessive materialistic and hedonistic tendencies?
  • Exodus 23:9: "Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt." Christian (and Jewish) ancestors were treated as slaves in Egypt by an oppressive regime and God reminds us that we should not wish to emulate such a regime in any country which sees itself as truly Christian.
  • Malachi 3:5 reminds us that we need to ensure that refugees and migrants are just as deserving of access to justice as those who are native to the country. Those who are willing to take away the right of refugees and migrants to seek justice, such as being defrauded by unscrupulous gangmasters, will be judged by God.
  • Job 31:32 : "No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveller." Job was a "blameless and upright man" who devoted himself to God despite facing a number of tragedies during his life. God thought Job loved him because he gave him protection, so he removed his "protection" by taking Job's wealth, children and his health to test his loyalty to God. Job remained devoted to God despite his suffering and so God restored Job's wealth and allowed Job to have another family. This quote proves that even the midst of our own suffering, it is incumbent upon Christians to remain open-minded, open hearted and willing to help strangers. This is reinforced in Romans 12:13 where it is the said "the mark of the true Christian" is to "extend hospitality to strangers", that includes those who have different religious beliefs or are agnostic or atheist.
  • I John 4:7-21: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…We love because God first loved us." Love is unconditional and should be given freely, no matter how hard it may be to show it. Compassion is a form of love; being empathetic towards refugees is not a sign of weakness but a major sign of inner strength.

Trump has never mentioned any of these Biblical quotes once in his campaign speeches. He was lucky to get his 2 Corinthians one correct and yet that act along with a few random church attendances seemed to convince Evangelical Christians that Trump was their political saviour because he said he'd be tough on abortion and preserving the right for them to express hate because it is a form of "Religious Freedom". Yet by positing such disgusting policies against immigrants and refugees, I think Trump wants to emulate the leaders of Sodom and as Ezekiel tells us, God doesn't want Christian leaders to emulate Sodom. Christians such as myself have a duty to speak out against the need for religious registers, discriminatory refugee policies and flagrant attempts to violate internationally agreed laws. We should stand up for all refugees who have been left displaced by violent religious and political conflicts regardless of their nationality, religious faith (or lack of), sex, gender identity, sexuality, age or disability. As I John 3:18 "Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action" reminds us,Christians cannot just express our discontent at policy decisions. We can try and lobby politicians who are in Government to try and get their leaders to amend their policies; for example getting Trump to remove the indefinite ban against Syrian refugees but with the administration under the influence of Islamophobic brain farting Breibarters like Steve Bannon, I doubt that would happen. So what we need to do is to try and change mindsets so that such policies will not be retained by other politicians in the future. Getting wonderful young progressive people who came to the US or UK as refugees or migrants to stand as candidates for Congress/Parliament is one positive step forward. The Resistance against Mr Trump is organised, engaged and I'm sure will support any refugee wanting to do this, regardless of their religious beliefs. Resistance members should go into their communities and talk about why Trump is wrong implementing temporary bans against Muslims, even using quotes I've provided in this blogpost to do it.

However, we Christians have to attempt to act away from the political sphere too. This may mean donating to charities on an regular basis. It may mean having the strength of our convictions to join organisations such as Refugee Action, The British Red Cross (or International Red Cross) or Amnesty International. You could do anything from helping them to advocate for a change in refugee policy to helping get food, clothing, educational materials and camping equipment to the refugees who need them.  When refugees come to the UK or the US and settle in your area, you can also make them feel at home. Offer to help them to learn English. Invite them to join your local coffee morning club or Zumba class. Make them feel welcome. If Christians do not make an effort to extend our hospitality willingly to those who have been through so much in their lives, especially young children, why should we expect them to respect us for who we are? 

I hope this blogpost has shown you that not every Christian agrees with a narrow-minded, inward looking, nationalistic approach to governance. I hope liberal, progressive and moderate Muslim refugees know they have friends in the US, UK and Europe who know that their views differ from those of the radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. I hope progressive liberals in the US who are part of The Resistance know that they are not powerless, that they can do so much to help refugees and raise awareness of the hypocrisy behind Trump's immigration policy. It can be difficult to decide to take action because we worry about our own credibility being shredded by those who are fundamentally ideologically opposed to us but we should not fear their mockery or threats. Christians should know that if we stand by the strength of our convictions we do so knowing that God is behind us. Job's example shows us that we can withstand the ridicule because our reward is better awareness of God's love and that's better than any material gain or false sense of security instilled in us by those who wish to make us fearful of others.