Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The pernicious way Ronnie Floyd is wrong on refugees

I invite you to read two public statements on refugee resettlement published in the last couple of days by prominent faith leaders. 

The first is from Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church here in Northwest Arkansas. Floyd served a term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2016.

The second is from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, current bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Compare one paragraph from each:

In this spirit, earlier last week I communicated with the Trump administration asking that it not stop the U.S. refugee admissions program or stop resettlement from any country for any period of time. The Bible calls us to welcome the stranger and treat the sojourner as we would our own citizens. I agree with the importance of keeping our country secure as the administration stated in its executive order last Friday, but I am convinced that temporarily banning vulnerable refugees will not enhance our safety nor does it reflect our values as Christians. Instead, it will cause immediate harm by separating families, disrupting lives, and denying safety and hope to brothers and sisters who are already suffering. (Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton)
While the Church prays for our president and political leaders to resolve these complex issues, our church and many others will continue our extensive efforts to serve the vulnerable here and abroad whatever the policy of the government. We do not advise the government regarding issues of national security and they do not advise us on who and how we serve. (Pastor Ronnie Floyd)
Each of these leaders articulates an understanding of the relationship between government as an institution and the church as an institution. Bishop Eaton calls on the Trump administration to take specific action (that is, reverse their current executive order). She does so out of deep familiarity with refugee resettlement, because, as Lutherans perhaps know better than Ronnie Floyd, refugee resettlement in the United States is completely handled by nine agencies (like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service). The United States conducts, in cooperation with the UNHCR, the incredibly extensive vetting process for refugees coming into the United States, but it is communities of faith and non-profits who do the direct work of resettlement.

Furthermore, Bishop Eaton offers insight grounded out of her own civic responsibility and her spiritual commitments, and acknowledges the immediate harm caused to refugees if we stop admissions.

Floyd, on the other hand, strangely spiritualizes a separation between the church and government that simply doesn't exist in practice, and implies in his statement that refugee resettlement is primarily a national security issue.

In so doing, Floyd perpetuates the scapegoating of refugees. Refugees must be dangerous, so we have to vet them extremely. Floyd seems to be unaware that refugees are already vetted over a long period of time, and are perhaps the safest group of people coming into our country (he doesn't even mention this in his post). He also confuses systems, indicating early in the blog that our immigration system is broken, then shifting back to refugee admissions, in the process simply not acknowledging that immigration and refugee resettlement are not the same thing.

On his recommendation, I went and read the Southern Baptist statement On Refugee Ministry. Here's where things get really twisted in Floyd's statement, so please bear with me.

Floyd says that, and I quote, "We do not advise the government regarding issues of national security." 

And yet, the statement On Refugee Ministry, reads "we call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm."

So which is it, does the SBC advise the government on national security, or not?

And why is it only national security that Floyd mentions in his blog, when in fact the more significant portions of the SBC statement on refugee ministry include the following statements:

WHEREAS, Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner (Exodus 22:21–24Exodus 23:9–12Leviticus 19:33–34Deuteronomy 10:17–22Deuteronomy 24:17–22Deuteronomy 26:5–13Psalm 146:8–9Matthew 25:35–40); 
RESOLVED, That we affirm that refugees are people loved by God, made in His image, and that Christian love should be extended to them as special objects of God’s mercy in a world that has displaced them from their homelands.
So, if we take the SBC at their own word, the highest priority in their statement is to remind the church of its commitment to care of sojourners and refugees, and remain resolved to recognize their dignity and see them as "special objects of God's mercy in a world that has displaced them from their homelands."

Ronnie Floyd, please tell me, how is scapegoating refugees as a "dangerous population" that needs extreme vetting a form of recognizing them as "special objects of God's mercy?"

Floyd seems super focused on security. He even mis-interprets the oath the president takes when he or she enters office, "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Floyd interprets this to mean, "Our government’s first responsibility is to protect the American people." But in fact, our president's first oath is to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution." The fact that Floyd shifts the meaning of this to national security, especially as regards refugees, really displays what he thinks about refugees.

Compare this to Bishop Eaton's statement. She writes:
People of faith helped start and still sustain the refugee resettlement program in the United States following World War II. As Lutherans, many of our ancestors faced the pain of having to flee their homes and the joy of being welcomed in new communities across the United States. As we have done throughout history, millions of Lutherans across the country honor our shared biblical values as well as the best of our nation’s traditions by offering refuge to those most in need. 
We are committed to continuing ministries of welcome that support and build communities around the country and stand firmly against any policies that result in scaling back the refugee resettlement program. 
We must offer safety to people fleeing religious persecution regardless of their faith tradition. Christians and other religious minorities suffer persecution and rightly deserve protection, but including additional criteria based on religion could have discriminatory effects that would go against our nation’s fundamental values related to freedom of religion.
I would contend that Bishop Eaton knows her Bible far better than Ronnie Floyd. She knows, as Lutherans know based on long experience and deep reading of Scripture, that the fundamental insight of much of Scripture is, "Care for the refugee and sojourner in your midst, because you were once strangers in Egypt."
I think Floyd has gotten far too comfortable, too cozy with this president, and has failed to heed Scripture, which reminds us we were once strangers and sojourners, and our Christian responsibility, or spiritual role, is to call the nation in which we reside to care for the sojourner and partner with it in such resettlement.
 I call on Ronnie Floyd to repent and do better. Challenge our administration to reverse its refugee admissions reductions. If Floyd would like to publish a statement aligned with Christian faith, from a more biblical perspective, I encourage him to consider signing on to Bishop Eaton's statement. 

I should add one more thing. Ronnie Floyd appears to believe Christians should resettle refugees in order to introduce them to Christ. "Furthermore, the Church should always stand ready nationally and globally to love all refugees, meeting their needs, the greatest of which is ultimately the same as ours: A personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

Thing is, you can't get there from Scripture itself. All those Old Testament references included in the SBC statement encourage Israel to welcome the sojourner and refugee simply because they are in need--love your neighbor. And the inspiration for such welcome and care is the historical fact that Israel was once a sojourning community itself.

There's no need to instrumentalize refugee resettlement as a tool for converting people to Christianity. That would be to repeat many of the same patterns that created religious refugees in the first place. Rather, as Bishop Eaton states:
We must offer safety to people fleeing religious persecution regardless of their faith tradition. Christians and other religious minorities suffer persecution and rightly deserve protection, but including additional criteria based on religion could have discriminatory effects that would go against our nation’s fundamental values related to freedom of religion.
Christian witness is witness through neighbor love, not neighbor love in order to convert. In a nation like ours, as followers of Christ, we do the right thing because it is the right thing. We can trust the Spirit to work in such neighbor love as the Spirit wills.

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