Cruel or harmless? Pastors mixed on GOP migrant transports
As Republican Governors are stepping up their high-profile migrant transports to Democratic-run jurisdictions, the practice is drawing a mixed reaction from Christian religious leaders — many of whom, especially evangelicals, backed GOP candidates in recent elections in large numbers.
Some describe these actions as inhumane exploitation of vulnerable people for political gain, while others say it is a harmless way to draw attention to the impact of immigration on the states close to the southern border.
“Playing political games scores points — and the hypocrisy of the current immigration system is easy to point out,” said Ed Stetzer, professor, dean and executive director of Wheaton College Billy Graham Center in Illinois, in a communicated.
“However, this does not solve the real problems. … Let’s fix the system,” he added, “and stop turning people into pawns of political one-upmanship.”
But the Reverend Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump, who imposed restrictive immigration policies while in office, backed the transportation.
“Government officials who refuse to fulfill their biblical responsibility to protect our borders should be made to feel the effects of their lawless policies,” Jeffress said via email.
“Sending illegal migrants by bus to Washington DC or Martha’s Vineyard is not exactly the same as sending them to Siberia,” he continued. “Most Americans would like the opportunity to visit either destination.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew immigrants on two planes to the upscale island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts on Wednesday, while Texas Governor Greg Abbott also sent migrants to towns with mayors democrats. Most recently, on Thursday, two whole buses from his state landed near the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey also embraced the policy.
Republican governors are trying to draw attention to what they claim was a failure border policy under the Biden administration.
Brent Leatherwood, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy agency, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said such actions “seem to be more of a public relations issue.”
“We have long called for stronger border protections and at the same time (for) people who come to this country to be treated in a way that respects the imago dei (image of God),” he said.
Most Americans, including Southern Baptists, “want a solution to our broken immigration system,” Leatherwood added. “Let’s reduce some of these actions and instead come to the table and find a solution that truly respects human dignity.”
Joshua Manning, pastor of Community Baptist Church in Noel, Missouri, a town of 1,800 with a large immigrant population, agreed that transportation is not the right way to highlight a real problem.
“You shouldn’t burden people and treat them like political props — it’s dehumanizing,” Manning said.
He said, however, that immigration is a tricky subject. Places that have come out in favor of migrants and asylum seekers may not “see the difficulties of all that is associated with this”, he said.
In the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Corona in New York’s Queens borough, the large congregation of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church held a special service on Wednesday to pray for immigrants. In an interview, their pastor, the Reverend Manuel Rodriguez, called the transports a “horrendous crime”.
“We are all horrified by the consistent violation of human rights by Governor DeSantis and other governors who are so inhumane and unethical to continue to send human beings to places where they don’t even have not been informed that they would be sent,” Rodriguez said. .
“You don’t use human beings who flee their homeland in fear, because of violence, hunger, persecution, because of the threat of rape…as tools, as objects to do make political arguments,” he said.
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