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Political Evangelicalism v. Biblical Christianity: Remember the sojourner

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Wednesday’s publication of the Washington Post included a full-page ad from an organization called World Relief, which promotes the support of immigrants among church leaders. The ad was a letter to President Donald Trump and Congress, urging them to protect Dreamers, refugees, persecuted Christians and dispersed families. The letter was signed by 100 church leaders from all over the country, including many notable names in the evangelical sphere: writer and Bible teacher Beth Moore, author Max Lucado and Texas mega-church pastor Matt Chandler, to name a few.

The idea of evangelicals supporting immigrants and refugees may come as a surprise considering how the group has recently voted. According to Pew Research Center, among the “white born-again/evangelical Christian” vote in 2016, 81 percent were for Trump. Pew Research Center also indicates that last year 76 percent of white evangelicals approved of Trump’s proposed travel ban. And according to the Washington Post, white evangelicals are the religious group most likely to favor expansion of a Mexico border wall.

Clearly there is a disconnect between the votes from this group of voters and the conviction of the church leaders who have signed this letter to Trump.

The disconnect here is that over the years, “evangelical” has come to denote a political party rather than a commitment to and belief in Biblical teaching. Politically, evangelical is essentially synonymous to “right-wing conservative” and often indicates a general harshness toward immigrants and other marginalized groups. The group has gained a reputation of hatred, exclusion and ignorance— qualities that violently oppose the teachings of Jesus.

The reason the evangelicals listed on the World Relief ad have a heart for immigrants and refugees is because they categorize themselves by the true definition of evangelicalism rather than the political one.

If evangelicalism originally means Bible-believing, then we must look to what perspective the Bible offers regarding immigrants and refugees. The Old and New Testament address this topic, often using the term “sojourner.”

In the Old Testament law, God has a lot to say about sojourners. The book of Leviticus commands, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy goes so far as to say, “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner.”

The New Testament addresses the issue as well. The gospels show Jesus himself teaching that his followers should welcome strangers into their homes, feeding and clothing them (Matthew 25).

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote in late January, “Christian conservatives may believe strongly in their own righteousness. But from the outside, it looks as if their movement was never really about morality at all,” in a piece titled “Of course the Christian right supports Trump.”

Goldberg’s evaluation of “the Christian right” demonstrates the contrast between the definition of political evangelicalism and the term as defined Biblical Christianity. Pure Christianity isn’t based on believing strongly in one’s own righteousness, as Goldberg puts it. Biblical teachings of sojourners emphasize the fact that people actually cannot rely on themselves at all. The Levitical law says “…for you were strangers.” The command to Israelites to love the sojourner is rooted in the fact that they were sojourners, too, and God delivered them.

Christianity is this: that every one of every class of every nation is a wanderer in need of refuge, and that God is kind and loving and welcomes sojourners into his kingdom through Jesus and counts them as his own. To know that—to really know it, must propel generosity toward the wanderers among us.

Lydia Waybright can be contacted at [email protected]

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