And, most recently, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney General Jeff Sessions used scripture as a tool to defend the family separation, citing Romans chapter 13 as defense for separating children from their parents at the U.S. border — both a far cry from the “family values” promoted by self-identified, right-wing Christians and from the message and life of Jesus himself.
The Bible, I realize, is incredibly nuanced and complex. And I know my experience with Christianity, which adds up to fewer than 20 years, doesn’t exactly lend itself to theological or biblical authority.
But I do have two eyes, and when I look at scripture I don’t see a God who positions Himself in power to harm the marginalized. I see Jesus, who sits with the broken and those at the fringes of society. I see Him weeping with those who wept, raising the dead and healing the sick. I see Him dining with prostitutes and moving toward the marginalized in mercy. I see Him giving His life to forgive the sins of the world.
I see something counter to the version of Christianity I see every single day in my news feed.
Not only have we as a church failed to love and protect the vulnerable and provide sanctuary for those who need it; we’ve employed God’s word to bring them harm.
It’s not just politicians and powerful church leaders at the helm of the church’s complacency and abuse toward the vulnerable; it’s everyday Christians, just like me.
According to Pew research, white, evangelical Protestants are the least likely group to accept refugees — which strikes me as odd, because Jesus (himself a refugee) came with a very different agenda, one that not only includes, but prioritizes, justice toward the marginalized.
Christian activist and author D.L. Mayfield has worked with refugees and vulnerable populations for 13 years. Though she was raised conservative Christian and politically Republican, she’s realized in recent years that the “family values” of right-wing Christianity are both immoral and anti-biblical when they don’t include the vulnerable among us — which includes refugees fleeing violence in their countries.
“The Bible was written as a promise of liberation for the marginalized, not for leaders to read and oppress more people,” Mayfield says. “In the Bible, God is so clear about protecting the triad of the vulnerable — the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner.”
While self-identified Christians like Sessions and Huckabee Sanders tout scripture as a means of self-protection and nationalism, Jesus hinged his life and ministry on cultivating peace through loving others, a message Brian Zahnd, pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Mo., believes is at odds with an “empire” mentality.
“In the Bible, Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it failed to recognize the things that make for peace, and I’m sure Jesus weeps over the current state of America for the same reason. It’s not border walls and child detention camps that make for peace, but the ideals inscribed on the Statue of Liberty,” Zahnd says.
Sometimes, the state of American evangelicalism disheartens me so much that I’m compelled to, as Christian author Jen Hatmaker says, burn it all down and start over from scratch, building on an entirely new foundation.
I feel helpless to make real changes in the landscape of Christianity, and I’m hesitant to defend its reputation because I see all the ways we’re failing, and I know my own complacency hasn’t helped. I don’t know how to engage with my non-Christian friends over the ways the church has hurt and betrayed them. And I don’t know how to tell my Christian friends I’m disappointed and saddened by the Christianity I see us living, and that I want us to do better.
After all, if we’re missing the mark on the most basic tenet of our faith, what do we have left?
As cultural Christianity appears to sink before my eyes, it’s the love and compassion of Jesus — toward me and toward the breastfeeding baby snatched from her mother — that keep me from jumping ship.