Progressive Churches Challenge the Hard-Line Conservative Evangelical Narrative on Immigration

July 21, 2019

In contrast to the unwavering support that conservative and evangelical religious groups give President Trump, progressive churches and synagogues are fighting on the front lines against the administration’s anti-immigrant policies

In contrast to the unwavering support that conservative and evangelical religious groups give President Trump, progressive churches and synagogues are fighting on the front lines against the administration’s anti-immigrant policies


Progressive Churches Challenge the Hard-Line Conservative Evangelical Narrative on Immigration

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: The United States’ religious right has been a hotbed of support for  President Trump. Influential conservative mega church leaders have thrown their weight behind him. One is Paula White, a pastorwho runs a megachurch in Florida She claims to be on a divine mission, to help Trump hear “what God has to say”.
The Manhattan billionaire has gained the unshakable favor of many mega churches and conservative institutions. He has done this mainly by advancing their agenda, from anti abortion laws, to a conservative supreme court, that could eventually favor them when key issues reach the highest authority. Also by routinely claiming that Christianity is under attack.
The Trump administration has embraced the support of the religious right. According to The Christian Post, in August 27, 2018 the White House held a  “state like” dinner for hundreds of Evangelical Leaders.
The support you have given me has been incredible but I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back — just about everything I promised.
NARRATOR:  Vice President Mike Pence, a born again evangelical Christian, recently led a media tour through the detention camps and declared: “even the most hardened criminals in our criminal justice system are not treated like that, death row inmates don’t live in conditions like that.”
Yet many pastors and spiritual leaders of the right, recently provided moral arguments to justify the separation of families and caging of children, such as pastor Robert Jeffress who openly praised Trump’s political action or Pastor Mike Jones who said that “Trump Putting Babies in Internment Camps is God’s Will – Or Fake News”
RABBI DR SHMULY YANKLOWITZ: I think any religious institution, which diminishes suffering that is happening among the vulnerable populations, is living with religious hypocrisy.
NARRATOR: This is Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, an Open Orthodox rabbi, author and human rights defender.
RABBI DR SHMULY YANKLOWITZ: They have abandoned their texts, because as someone who has studied various religions and have been exposed personally to them, I know that the core of every religion is compassion, it is mercy upon vulnerable people.
And for [conservative religious groups] to say that they support the current administration, and policies that marginalize, and target the vulnerable, [they] are living with religious hypocrisy. No matter if they are Jews, Christian, Muslim, or have no faith at all.
NARRATOR: But other religious organizations and leaders oppose the Trump administration. Even in evangelical organizations, some Trump-supporting pastors face disapproval from other members of their congregation One is David Platt, a pastor from a church in Virginia, who publicly apologize for praying with Trump, after the president paid him an unannounced visit.
Last week hundreds of people took to the streets to oppose the administration’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers in detention centers. Here’s Father Andrew Barreras from the Reform Catholic Church.
FR. ANDREW BARRERAS: Christ never talked against, he was for the immigrant. If we follow Christian values we should support them, help them, not mock them, not locking them up in cages, separate them, or abuse them, mentally, physically.
NARRATOR: Some of the groups, working on the ground to relieve the suffering of ailing immigrants and asylum seekers, are religious organizations.
OSCAR LEON: The activist group No More Deaths is a voluntary faith organization which is a ministry of the Unity Universalist Church of Tucson.
NARRATOR: No More Deaths is a coalition of community and faith groups trying to stop immigrant deaths in the desert. For 15 years now, the group has worked at the border, providing humanitarian relief while risking detention and, as of late, persecution, by the Trump administration.
Nine of the group’s activists have been detained and prosecuted in recent months, but they are not alone in their view. Many local groups form a network to support asylum seekers. These are small Latino and inclusive progressive churches, trying to reflect their interpretation of the gospel.
FR JAMES PENNINGTON: Over the past four years we have been working pretty intently on immigration issues. And about two years ago we announced that we are a sanctuary church.
NARRATOR: Father James Pennington leads the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix Arizona. They’re a member of United Church of Christ congregations, which according to their site has 5.000 churches and about a million members worldwide. 
Their progressive platform includes environmental issues, LGBTQ protections, minorities and immigrant rights, even sexual education.
FR JAMES PENNINGTON: This issue of family values, and especially the current administration and administrations before that, which where talking about family values, that is not a family value.
And then especially the statements that are heinous and say that -this is our way to tell you to stop coming to our country, we are going to take your children, and we are going to put them in some detention for children or Child Protective Services, that is just outrageous. And it is so anti anything that I understand as gospel and humanity.
NARRATOR: First Church UCC, Phoenix provides shelter to undocumented immigrants who face deportation, and runs an immigration legal clinic.
GORDON STREET: We are here to speak out against this moral injustice, going against the families and kids. It is not the right Christian thing to do. It is not the right human thing to do.
NARRATOR: Commissioned Minister Gordon Street is an example of an “inclusive” new wave of faith.
GORDON STREET: I think the more conservative right wing church forgets about,the basic human things that Jesus thought about. He hung out with people [like the] ones in here, speaking out against the establishment and what is human and right to do.
NARRATOR: Father Pennington questions the values and consistency of conservatives religious groups.
FR JAMES PENNINGTON: It is really hard to understand that kind of closed system of Christianity, which is a more conservative Christianity, which says we value families, and we don’t think we should abort a child. But once the child comes into the world, it’s like we don’t want to provide social services. We are going to pull them from their parents arms at the border.
Like it is a total … it seems like to me, irrational. It is irrational.
NARRATOR: Rabbi Yanklowitz thinks the time is now to exert change from within.
RABBI DR SHMULY YANKLOWITZ: So we see in every religious group that binary happen, those who are resistant and pushing back against policies of hate, or those who are submitting to them because some archaic religious dogma. And each of us within our own religious camp have an obligation to speak up, and challenge people in our own religious communities, to realign themselves with our own ancient traditional values.
NARRATOR: Father Pennington says to address these splits, there must be dialogue among both the left and right wings of the US’s religious community
FR JAMES PENNINGTON: And this is not just Christian, but it’s Muslim and it’s Jewish, and it is the three Abrahamic faiths that have this whole understanding of peace and equity and justice, and that we are all given the same rights as humans. Yet in each of those Abrahamic faiths we’ve had our times when we needed reformation, and we needed to be transformed and change our own narratives.
So for me it has been really difficult to have those conversations. It is easier to have them with like-minded people, but we need to have them.
NARRATOR: Stay with The Real News for more on the issue.