Note: These are my notes from a talk I gave at Cornerstone Christian Ministry on January 18, 2017. I’ve only recently gotten around to editing them because of various other projects and constraints on my time. Much has happened in the months since I originally gave this talk, including the firing of most of the officials mentioned and an awful lot of xenophobic policy and violence; I have not attempted to update this transcript to include those events. The end of this reflects that fact and deals only with the information that was available at that time. I encourage the reader to stay updated on current events and to learn more about these things on their own. My goal with this is simply to provide a framework for Christians to think about this topic and to make the reader aware of the gravity of the present situation so that they may be stimulated to learn more on their own. This is nowhere near exhaustive- indeed, it barely scratches the surface of what the Bible has to say about this, and as I review it one final time before publication, I am struck by how much more there is to be said. But I have judged it to be sufficient for what it is and for my abilities at the moment, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak where I have been silent and correct where I have erred. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV); this translation and many others are available for free online here.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES AHEAD
Good evening, everybody! I’m Nick, and tonight I’m going to be talking to you about xenophobia- what it is, what the Gospel has to say about it, how it manifests itself, and what we as Christians are called to do about it. This is a difficult topic. It’s a serious one. But it’s also a very important one. Some of you will probably be upset or offended by what I say tonight; that’s OK. My hope for this talk is that everyone, myself included, walks out feeling at least a little mad, a little upset, a little like we’re doing something wrong. We as Christians are not called to live lives of anger- quite the opposite. But we are called to be angry about the things God is angry about, and xenophobia is one of those. So I ask one thing of you: to listen, earnestly and sincerely. And if you disagree, if you think I’m way off base- let’s talk. We have a discussion time afterwards just for that. And if you don’t feel comfortable with that, then talk to me privately. Let’s get coffee and chat. But please don’t disengage. Please don’t look away.
So what is xenophobia? Can anyone tell me? Yes, it’s fear of foreigners, particularly immigrants and refugees. It’s often tied in with other prejudices such as racism. To be clear: this is not, strictly, a talk about racism. That talk is an important one to have. But it’s not one I personally feel equipped for, and so I’m going to discuss it primarily as it relates to xenophobia.
We’ll dive more into the particulars of xenophobia and how it has manifested itself in the past and continues today, but first, I’d like to equip you with a biblical/theological framework with which to approach it. There are three places from which I’m going to engage this: the doctrine of creation, the doctrine of reconciliation, and the example of the early church. The first two fall under what we call systematic theology. This is what comes most naturally to me- I study systematic theology, and so I’m inclined to think of these things in how they relate to the central teachings of the Gospel.
The biblical account of creation is amazing in its uniqueness. It is structured so as to parallel other Near Eastern creation myths in order to reject their doctrine. In other stories, the beginning of the universe is violent and chaotic; humans are slaves to the gods, and work is overwhelmingly bad. But in the book of Genesis, God actually shares his responsibility and power with humans. In Genesis 1:26-28, often called the cultural mandate, he commands humans to rule over and tend his creation. After naming all that he makes on the first three days of creation, he leaves the work of the remaining three days to be named by humans. Old Testament scholar J. Richard Middleton comments on the implications of this:
This sharing of power is radically different from the ancient Near Eastern worldview, in which only some elite person (typically the king) was regarded as the image of God. Indeed, the entire social order in the ancient world was predicated on the concentration of power in the hands of a few who controlled access to blessing from the gods, thus reducing the majority of the populace to a lower, dependent social status. Human imaging of God’s power on earth will therefore need to take into account the fact that in the biblical account no human being is granted dominion over another at creation; all equally participate in the image of God. The process of cultural development is meant to flow from a cooperative sharing in dominion, modeled on God’s own sharing of power with human beings.
The Genesis creation account provides a normative basis to critique interhuman injustice or the misuse of powers over others, whether in individual cases or in systemic social formations. Specifically, since both male and female are made in God’s image with a joint mandate to rule (Gen. 1:27-28), this calls into question the inequities of power between men and women that have arisen in patriarchal social systems and various forms of sexism throughout history. And since the imago Dei is prior to any ethnic, racial, or national divisions (see Gen. 10), this provides an alternative to ethnocentrism, racism, or any form of national superiority; beneath the legitimate diversity of cultures that have developed in the world, people constitute one human family. God’s intent from the beginning is thus for a cooperative world of shalom, generosity, and blessing, evident most fundamentally in his own mode of exercising power at creation.
-J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 51-52.
Creation is the beginning of the Gospel. But what comes after that? The fall, and then redemption and ultimately restoration. The fall in Genesis 3 is essentially the collective turning of humanity from God. This is the beginning of what we call sin. Sin is rooted in idolatry, which New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright defines as the failure to worship and reflect God’s image into the world. The result of sin and idolatry is that we give power to created things, power that they never should have had. And so these things rule over us, and the entire creation is out of joint. Our relationship with creation, with others, and with God is broken. Redemption is thus the correction of this brokenness, the restoration of this relationship. This is why when asked in Matthew 22 what the greatest commandment is, Jesus responds
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
20th-century Swiss Reformed theologian Emil Brunner explains this thus:
For sin as personal self-isolation from God is at the same time self-isolation from man. When through faith in Christ sin is removed, and man’s heart is opened to God, it is opened also to his fellow man; life for oneself is replaced by life for another, by the will to fellowship and the capacity for it. Thus regeneration means two things: that we become our real selves, and that we become capable of real fellowship. The faith through which we are born again includes the knowledge that the creation of a true self is identical with the creation of a true capacity for fellowship.
-Emil Brunner, Dogmatics: Volume III- The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation, trans. David Cairns (London: Lutterworth Press, 1960), 274-275.
The clearest way in which this is love demonstrated is in the means Christ used to save us. Being fully God, he could well have chosen to stay above us. But he,
though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This example of Christ is quoted throughout the letters of the New Testament as the basis of Christian ethics. What makes this especially mind-blowing is what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:10: Christ did this while we were “enemies of God”. If the holy God of the universe gave up his rightful place and died to save his enemies, how much more should we mere idolatrous humans who have been saved by his grace lay aside ourselves and every claim to privilege for those around us? In light of this, what justification do we have to cling to our rights- or to what we believe to be our rights- at the expense of others?
Now that we’ve seen some of the basic Biblical principles of our relationship with others, I want to explore what the Bible has to say explicitly about ethnicity. The answer is a lot. Throughout the Old Testament, we see that the purpose of Israel’s election is not merely that Israel may be saved, but that it would be an instrument through which all nations would be redeemed. We see this made explicit in the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” says God to Abraham. This is also made clear in Isaiah 56:
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”
Furthermore, Gentile figures feature prominently throughout the Old Testament, such as Ebed-melech the Ethiopian in Jeremiah 38 & 39, Rahab in Joshua 2, and Ruth, who even has her own book of the Bible. In fact, Rahab and Ruth are both listed in Matthew 1 as ancestors of Jesus, and this in a time when women were not normally included in genealogies. The implications of this for our view of ethnicity and sex cannot be ignored. We must also note that Rahab was not only a Gentile and a woman, but also a sex worker. It would be difficult to think of someone more outcast in this period, and yet she is an ancestor of Jesus.
There is doubtless someone who at this point has raised a question in their mind regarding other parts of the Old Testament that seem to indicate support for ethnocentrism and genocide. I will make two general hermeneutical comments in this regard. The first is that what we have seen thus far is sufficient to indicate a God whose justice is radically inclusive and concerned with justice for people of all nations. On this basis we are compelled to examine those seemingly problematic passages more carefully to see whether we are perhaps misreading them. The second is that much of what we see there has to do with Israel being set apart. Israel’s taking on of customs from the surrounding peoples of Canaan in Judges meant that they were worshipping false gods, and it is for this reason that the very particular cultural customs of the law, such as dietary restrictions, exist. We see this in Acts 10, where God speaks to Peter in a dream and declares all foods clean, as well in Acts 15, where the Council of Jerusalem decides that Gentiles who have turned to God should not be forced to keep the Law of Moses.
Both of these passages are central to the Acts of the Apostles because the book is so focused on the expansion of the church to include Gentiles. This theme continues throughout the Epistles and is the main reason for the writing of Ephesians, Philippians, and Galatians, which famously proclaims in chapter 3, verse 28 that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This does not mean that these distinctions cease to exist; it means that they are secondary to our identity as the redeemed in Christ and members of the Church Universal. No one has greater access to God on the basis of birthright, sex, or class. We are all called to live in equal, loving community with each other.
This is all consummated in the great image in Revelation 7 of every tribe and tongue worshiping together in the new creation:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Now let’s take a look at how Jesus announced this in his own ministry. We’ll start with Luke 4, where he proclaims the beginning of his ministry.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 to show what the kingdom he is proclaiming is like: a kingdom where justice reigns, where the oppressed are set free, where the blind see. Everything he says here, he demonstrates concretely in the course of his ministry by actually doing- hence why he proclaims that the Scripture is fulfilled. But just as important as what he says is what he does not say. He only reads the beginning of the oracle, cutting it off mid-sentence right before “and the day of vengeance of our God”. That line would have been understood by his audience to mean judgment on the Gentiles, and by leaving it out, he’s making a statement about that assumption. He then goes out of his way to make his point by recounting the story of Elijah and the widow from 1 Kings 17 and of Naaman the Syrian from 2 Kings 5. Both of these stories depict times of great need for Israel in which God chose to heal a foreigner instead of ethnic Israelites. Jesus points this out, and this so angers his audience that they attempt to kill him. In telling these stories, Jesus makes clear that the kingdom he is proclaiming is not what they have been imagining. Rather than a military revolution that would overthrow Roman rule and establish a state in which ethnic Israel would reign over Gentiles, he is proclaiming a revolution of peace and justice that will establish a kingdom where all are welcome and equal on the basis of God’s sovereign choice and their following him, not on their ethnic background or cultural practices.
Jesus teaches this more specifically by demonstrating it with a particular group; namely, Samaritans in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10, and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
And now the story of the Samaritan woman:
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.
Both of these stories are incredibly theologically rich and are two of the most-cited passages in Scripture about love of neighbor. I won’t attempt a full exegesis here, and I encourage the reader to study and meditate on them on their own for the rich meaning in both. In these words you will meet Jesus.
The single most important thing to understand in order to comprehend these passages is the relationship between Jews and Samaritans in 1st-century Palestine. (John provides some commentary on this, as he was writing to a Gentile audience that would be largely unaware of this dynamic).
Samaritans were half-Jewish and half-Gentile, meaning that they were ethnically different from Jews. They also did not worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, meaning they were also religiously different from Jews. And yet Jesus chose one of them as an example of righteousness above Jewish religious leaders who did everything correctly. This of course is reminiscent of the prophets, especially Amos, who warned that true worship consists not of proper ritual but rather of service to God and neighbor. But it also highlights that everyone is your neighbor, even- especially- those who are different from us. In particular, the truth that we are commanded to love those of other faiths is of vital importance in a world where many of those suffering most are Muslim. This does not mean that we need to fall into some sort of universalism or shy away from the truth of the gospel- on the contrary. Jesus explicitly tells the woman that it is the Jews who worship correctly and confronts her personal sin (though he also flouts social standards of the time by being alone with a woman, and a woman known for her perceived promiscuity at that- again, Jesus has a great deal to teach us about sexism and shaming, but that’s a topic for a different talk). It is precisely this truth-telling that will save her; for Jesus himself is Truth.
So what happens when we forget this truth?
These are images of Holocaust victims. People slaughtered en masse because they were perceived as a threat to the good, pure German Volksgemeinschaft and its empire. The middle picture is from the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich. Upon liberating Dachau, the troops of the US Army’s 10th Armored Division found train cars filled with corpses. My grandfather, Private Ray Vistain, was among those soldiers. He later told my mother that no matter how long he lived, he would never, ever forget those sights, and most of all, the smell- the horrendous smell of mass murder.
I want you to look at each one of those pictures. They are shocking, I know. It’s not comfortable to look at these images. It’s disturbing. And that’s precisely why we need to: so they we don’t let this become abstract.
Look at every single face. Think of that person: their life, their family, their hobbies, their job, their dreams for the future. Consider that each and every single one of them was created in the image of God. At which point you may ask: how could anyone do this?
The answer is dehumanization and lies.
Here are some more images for you:
These are from a Nazi propaganda film entitled Der ewige Jude, or The Eternal Jew. The first image shows still frames that placed stereotypical Ashkenazi Jews side-by-side with vermin, such as rats and insects, in order to create an association between the two in the mind of the viewer. The second image is another still displaying the “invasion” of Europe by Jews. (Sound familiar?) The final image is the film’s poster, depicting Jews as sinister, conniving, and foreign by giving them cruel facial expressions, emphasizing “Jewish” phenotypical traits, and using the color red in the Star of David and on their faces in order to evoke evil and Satan.
To be clear, the Holocaust had already been going on for years when this film was released in 1940. This one film did not convince everyone to go out and murder every Jew they could find. But it was one part of an enormous campaign to dehumanize and alienate Jews that paved the way for the attempt to eliminate them- which nearly succeeded. The NSDAP 25-Point Platform of 1920 already defined Jews as an other who could not be a part of the German nation and thus placed them under severe restrictions.
Why did enough Germans go along with this to give the Nazis a plurality in the Bundestag, from which they could make a backroom deal with President Hindenburg’s advisers to get Hitler in power? Because they wanted someone to blame. The war of attrition fought in World War I and the global depression had devastated Europe. Germany was hit especially hard because it had been decided by the Allies that it was responsible for the war and would have to pay massive reparations. Hyperinflation had obliterated the Mark’s value. People were angry and scared and confused and needed someone to blame. So Jews it was.
And this type of prejudice isn’t gone. Just take a look at these pictures of protests in Germany. This is a group called PEGIDA, which stands for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occidentt). They have been protesting every Monday night in cities across Germany since the winter of 2014/2015, starting in Dresden, a city I called home for a brief period.
The sign in the foreground of this picture reads “Enemies of the German People. [Chancellor Angela] Merkel, [Foreign Minister Sigmar] Gabriel and their minions. They are leading an campaign of destruction against us!” This sign implies that the immigration policies of the German federal government are part of a campaign to destroy the German people. Both the words Volk and Vernichtung have strong associations with the Nazi past; Volk was used to describe those who were “true Germans”- that is, fitting Nazi standards of racial purity- and Vernichtung is the term used for the campaign of genocide perpetrated at camps like Auschwitz. Thus, the demonstrator is saying that Merkel and Gabriel are like Nazis for taking in immigrants, employing a common tactic of PEGIDA and the AfD in which Nazi terms are re-appropriated both as positive things and as negative descriptors of ones opponents.
Although no signs are fully legible in this picture- besides perhaps the one in the back that reads Ausländer raus! (foreigners out!), an old anti-immigrant rallying cry often shouted at dark-skinned civilians in the streets- the flags say a fair amount. If you don’t recognize it, these are the flags of the Kaiserreich (the German Empire from 1871-1918). It was the collapse of this empire that bore the Nazi movement, which sought to restore Germany’s former imperial greatness. It is possible that these flags are being carried by members of the Reichsbürger movement, which refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany and insists that the Kaiserreich is the only true German state. Its members have been known for stockpiling weapons, which led to a shooting that killed one police officer and injured three others in Bavaria last year. Although not strictly speaking a Nazi movement, its focus on reclaiming the German Empire and longing for the past has much in common with these movements.
Both of these signs draw a comparison between Muslim immigration and an invasion. The second is parody of the common “Refugees Welcome” sign, depicting the women and children fleeing war zones as terrorists being chased by a Crusader. This, again, is reminiscent of the invasion propaganda from the Nazi era.
This sign reads “don’t give Islam a chance”. It is a reference to a German public health campaign with billboards reading gib AIDS keine Chance (“don’t give AIDS a chance”). This implies that Islam is a disease and that Muslims are carriers of this disease, similar to Nazi propaganda that depicted Jews as vermin carrying diseases to Europe.
This final picture is a screenshot of a Facebook post made by Heinz-Christian Strache, chairman of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ). It depicts three figures (left to right): “the banks”, “the government”, and “the people”. At first glance, this image may seem benign- a mere commentary on the preferential treatment given to banks, especially in light of the 2008 crash and subsequent recession. But a closer look reveals that the banker is depicted with a hook nose and Stars of David on the cuff of his sleeve, drawing on the old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews secretly run the world via control of banking, film, television, government, and any other number of other industries. After an outcry over the image, Strache replaced it with a version that removed the Stars of David. Nevertheless, he sent a clear message to both Jews and anti-Semites about whose side he was on.
This same conspiracy theory popped up in a television spot on the eve of the 2016 Presidential election. Before I get into this, let me be clear that I’m not here to condemn or shame anyone for how they voted. That’s not the point here. I’m not here to say that anyone is Hitler or as bad as Hiter. That’s false, unfair, and offensive. This election was an ugly and difficult one, and I know many people voted how they did for many different reasons. What’s done is done, and I’m not going to dwell on it. All I ask is that you listen seriously to what I’m going to present to you and consider the role that xenophobia played in this election.
Do you recognize anyone in that ad? Certainly Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and Democratic Nominee for President. But there are three others who you may or may not know. The first is George Soros, a Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist who has given vast sums of his fortune to promote democracy, aid in the transition from communism to capitalism in Eastern Europe, and advance progressive political causes. The second is Janet Yellen, Chairwoman of the US Federal Reserve. The third is Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of finance giant Goldman Sachs. Now what do these three have in common? Obviously, that they’re all bankers.
They’re also all Jewish.
That’s right. In fact, Secretary Clinton is the only non-Jewish person to appear in a negative light in this ad, and considering it’s a campaign ad against her, it would be rather odd if she didn’t make an appearance.
Note as well what words are spoken while each person is on screen. When Secretary Clinton appears, the viewer is told that she “meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty”. This reflects a belief in an intentional, secret conspiracy at the highest levels of government to submit the United States to the will of global banks.
We are then told just who runs these international banks. The first is George Soros, whom we are told is one of “those who control the levers of power”. After him comes Janet Yellen, who is a part of “global special interests”- an interesting claim, given that she was born and raised in the U.S. and currently works for the U.S. government. Finally, we are given Lloyd Blankfein, who is part of the “global power structure”- again, an interesting claim regarding a natural-born American citizen who works for a U.S.-based company.
To be clear: I’m not claiming that Trump is a full-fledged anti-Semite. He likely had little to no involvement in the creation of this ad. It is even possible that the creators of this ad did not intend to be anti-Semitic (I am skeptical of this, but I will admit its possibility.) But regardless of intent, regardless of involvement, I can guarantee you that every single white nationalist, Klansman, and Neo-Nazi who saw this ad walked away smiling, knowing that the future President of the United States was on their side. And I can guarantee that every single informed Jew and ally watched this and walked away afraid and shocked at such brazen anti-Semitism being used in the campaign of a major presidential candidate.
Trump has also chosen to surround himself with figures known for their xenophobia. Close Trump advisor Steve Bannon is best-known for having turned right-wing site Breitbart News into a haven for extremists and the alt-right and referred to conservative commentator Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” and journalist Anne Applebaum as a „Polish, Jewish, American elitist“. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who Trump has considered offering a position as Secretary of Homeland Security, is known for authoring anti-immigration laws that have been repeatedly deemed unconstitutional and discriminatory, including Arizona SB 1070. also known as the „papers please“ law. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 for reportedly being too racist. And Mike Flynn, Trumps nominee for National Security Adviser, is known for his affinity for conspiracy theories and Islamophobia, once tweeting that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL”.
Indeed, the whole election was soaked in xenophobia. Here’s an excerpt from the second presidential debate on October 9th, 2016:
Martha Raddatz: We go to Gorbah Hamed for a question for both candidates.
Hamed: Hi. There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States and I’m one of them. You’ve mentioned working with Muslim nations. But with Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labelled as a threat to the country after the election is over?
Raddatz: Mr. Trump, you’re first.
Trump: You are right about Islamophobia and that’s a shame. But one thing we have to do is, we have to make sure that, because there is a problem. I mean, whether we like it or not and we can be politically correct, but whether we like it or not, there is a problem. And we have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on. When they see hatred going on, they have to report it. As the example in San Bernardino. Many people saw the bombs all over the apartment of the two people that killed 14 and wounded many, many people. Horribly wounded, they will never be the same. Muslims have to report the problems when they see them. And, you know, there is always a reason for everything. If they don’t do that, it’s a very difficult situation for our country. Because you look at Orlando and you look at San Bernardino and you look at the World Trade Center. Go outside and you look at Paris, look at that horrible thing. These are radical Islamic terrorists and she won’t even mention the word and nor will President Obama. He won’t use the term radical Islamic terrorist, no. To solve a problem you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least, say the name. She won’t say the name and President Obama won’t say the name. But the name is there. It’s radical Islamic terror. And before you solve it, you have to say the name.
Raddatz: Secretary Clinton.
Clinton: Thank you for asking your question and I’ve heard this question from a lot of Muslim Americans across our country. Because unfortunately there has been a lot of very divisive, dark things said about Muslims. And even someone like Captain Khan, the young man who sacrificed himself defending our country in the United States Army has been subject to attack by Donald. I want to say just a couple of things. First: We’ve had Muslims in America since George Washington. And we’ve had many successful Muslims. We just lost a particularly well-known one with Muhammad Ali. My vision of America is an America where everyone has a place, if you are willing to work hard, do your part and you contribute to the community. That’s what America is. That’s what we want America to be for our children and our grandchildren. It’s also very short-sighted and even dangerous to be engaging in the kind of demagogic rhetoric that Donald has about Muslims. We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lawns. I’ve worked with a lot of Muslim groups around America. I’ve met with a lot of them and I’ve heard how important it is for them to feel that they are wanted and included and part of our country. Part of our homeland security. And that’s what I want to see. It’s also important, I intend to defeat ISIS,to do so in a coalition with majority Muslim nations. Right now, a lot of those nations are hearing what Donald says and wondering why should we cooperate with the Americans and this is a gift to ISIS and the terrorists. Violent jihadist terrorists. We are not at war with Islam and it is a mistake, and it plays into the hands of the terrorists, to act as though we are. So I want a country where citizens like you and your family are just as welcome as anyone else.
Note how, in response to a question about discrimination against Muslims, both- yes, both, including Secretary Clinton- candidates wind up talking about terrorism committed by Muslims. Ms. Hamed wanted to know how her future president was going to help her and other members of her community feel safe in a country that has grown increasingly hostile towards them, and instead she was told how her community needs to do a better job of turning in potential terrorists who the vast majority of them have no more contact with than any other American.
Mr. Trump has been particularly blunt in his rhetoric. At a campaign rally in Charleston on February 19, 2016, he told an apocryphal story from the last century.
In the early 1900s, he recounted, Gen. John J. Pershing, known as Black Jack, captured 50 terrorists, dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood and had his soldiers execute 49 of the men. “The 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened,’ ’’ Mr. Trump said. “And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem.’’
“So we better start getting tough and we better start getting vigilant and using our heads, or we’re not going to have a country, folks,” Mr. Trump said.
Besides being almost certainly false, as well as graphically violent, this story draws on the fact that observant Muslims do not eat pork. This is commonly used against them in hate crimes, like when severed pig’s heads are left outside mosques. Make no mistake: this is a statement specifically against Muslims.
These attitudes go beyond words. After the San Bernardino massacre in December 2015, Trump infamously called for “a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States”. He later expressed support for a registry of Muslims. His exact plans regarding both of these are still unclear, though surrogate Carl Higbie cited Japanese internment camps as precedent for such an action.
So what do we do about all this?
The first thing we need to understand is that it starts with the Holy Spirit changing our hearts. We are all desperate, depraved sinners, and without his grace we are unable to please him. None of us is above reproach, and it will not do for us to condemn others’ xenophobia and ethnocentrism without first examining ourselves, confessing and repenting of our sin, and finding healing and forgiveness at the foot of the cross. To be blunt: I don’t care how far left your politics are. That does not give you a pass. That does not make you automatically prejudice-free. You can still be xenophobic. Being a liberal/leftist does not necessarily equate to supporting immigration justice, just as being in the right does not necessarily equate to xenophobia.
If I have erred on the side of saying too much and being too harsh in this talk, it is because the church has too often erred on the side of saying too little, and because I am acutely aware of the urgency of the task at hand. Forgive me if I have been judgmental; know that I grieve the sin in my own heart as well, and that I am preaching this to myself as much as to any of you.
We must learn to love another, to seek reconciliation, to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19), and to build meaningful relationships with marginalized people- not treating them as token friends who we expect to educate us on the entirety of xenophobia and ethnocentrism, but as the brothers and sisters that they are. We must speak up when we say people being oppressed, whether in the form of casual remarks, physical violence, or systemic injustice. And we must seek real relationships with those who embrace hate. Only through love will their hearts be changed. It is for this reason that we are commanded to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute” us (Matt. 5:44), and I don’t think it a stretch to connect this to the fact that “God’s kindness is meant to lead [us] to repentance”, as the Apostle Paul explains in Romans 2:4. If you want to learn more specifically what this means, I would point you to Matthew 5-7, Romans 12-15, and the Epistle of James as good starting points.
But we must also recognize that there is a systemic dimension to this. If you are a citizen of the United States, you have the right to vote. Exercise that right. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. But know who your candidates are in all races, including- especially- local races, and know where they stand on the issues.
Of course, you can also lobby them outside of election years. Your representatives at the local, state, and federal level have publicly available contact information so you can write them, email them, call them, or even pay them a visit in person. If you’re not sure who your representatives are, you can find them here. It’s important, of course, that you know what specific issues to contact them about, so do your best to stay updated on the news. If you don’t do that already, here are some recommendations on English-language sources.
I personally am not a huge marcher, but I do think there’s a place for protests, especially in cases where something dramatic has happened and there needs to be a large, visible, public demonstration of opposition or support. More useful can be donating to organizations like the ACLU, NAACP, or SPLC that mount legal challenges to discriminatory laws, promote tolerance via education, and track extremist groups. If you’re financially unable to do so, you can also volunteer for numerous organizations that are involved in protecting immigrant rights and promoting justice.
I’d like to end tonight with a quote by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.
I remember he asked his father: “Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”
And now the boy is turning to me. “Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.
And then I explain to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
-Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 10 December 1986