Nice try Paula White, but Jesus was a lawbreaking refugee


July 12, 2018

Editor’s note: This piece was written by Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life. It was originally published on Patheos on July 11. 

Image via Christ Church Cathedral

President Trump’s top spiritual advisor, Paula White, has been justifying the President’s crusade to torture immigrant children by ripping them from their parent’s arms and stalling on a court order to reunite them.

Now she’s backing her anti-immigrant position up with a misrepresentation of scripture.

“I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this, to say stuff like, ‘Well, Jesus was a refugee,’” White said yesterday. “Yes, He did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years. But it was not illegal. If He had broken the law then He would have been sinful and He would not have been our Messiah.”

Sorry Paula, but Jesus broke the law — repeatedly. He was the poster child for “lawless refugee.” King Herod sought to kill Jesus because he saw him as a political threat. Jesus escaped his grasp. Perhaps in Paula’s world Jesus’ parents should have submitted to local authorities.

I’m not sure Egypt was thrilled to have him either. Paula seems to have forgotten that little incident when Jesus’ people broke laws to flee Pharaoh’s decree.

Jesus regularly broke laws that were unGodly. He healed on the Sabbath. He overturned tables in the Temple. He emphasized compassion over and sometimes against the law of his day. He was executed by the Roman Empire for claiming to be the “King of the Jews.”

God has repeatedly told Jews to remember the suffering of their ancestors as refugees and outcasts and to treat others with compassion. Christians inherit this ethic, and Jesus embodied it. “You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Jesus was the incarnation of that law.

Paula’s ludicrous, scripture-based defense of the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance policy comes in the wake of massive outcry from Christians that the criminalization of immigrants seeking safety is immoral and inhumane. Trump’s religious advisors are clearly on the defensive.

I led a delegation of top women religious leaders from throughout the country to the border. We represented thousands of religious communities horrified by what the Trump Administration is doing to children. What we saw was traumatized children. Young people who had been so mistreated that they were physically ill and in need of medical treatment. Parents weeping for their kids.

A church in Indiana’s symbolic protest — putting the Holy Family in a cage on their front lawn — recently went viral. Catholic Bishops just paid a visit to the border to protest. Several hundred theologians and ethicists — even evangelical ones like Paula — condemned these policies.

Trump’s religious advisors know they have no moral ground to stand on. So they lie about scripture. They lie about why immigrants are coming here. And they lie demonizing migrants as criminals. They even lie about Jesus. Shame!

Paula tries to portray detention centers as a walk in the park. Yet Bethany Christian Services, a foster agency that is caring for immigrant children separated from their families said, “It is never OK to separate a child from its family when they are seeking asylum.”

How can one even begin to think it is moral to separate a child from a parent just for trying to get to safety or better life?

We’ve seen this before when we jailed Japanese citizens and when we enslaved African Americans. We had our rationales then too. We separated their families and we justified it with scripture and racist myths. We will not let it happen again.

Nice try Paula White but you don’t know Jesus as well as you think you do. Jesus is on the side of those seeking asylum. He was once a refugee.

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