I can’t even with Franklin Graham.
Refugees? Muslims? Undocumented immigrants? This is who the current president wants to put on America’s Most Wanted, and all Franklin Graham can muster is some mumbling nonsense about how we treat refugees isn’t really a biblical issue. No, I’m not kidding.
It’s amazing how anybody lets this guy roam about in scripture without adult supervision. Apparently, having a solid evangelical genetic pedigree and a B.A. from Appalachian State are all that are necessary to qualify you to plumb the ancient mysteries of scripture. It’s like saying that just because your old man was a doctor and you got a bachelors in microbiology that you’re qualified to do brain surgery. If you wouldn’t trust Franklin Graham to take a bone saw to your scalp, why would you trust him to tell you what the bible finds interesting or not?
The obvious question is: How would Franklin Graham even know whether or not the way we treat immigrants and refugees is a matter the bible has an interest in?
Memorizing bible verses, indulging in a little pamphlet theology, going to hear your dad preach, and then rolling that together into a giant fundamentalist bouillabaisse is an exceedingly thin basis for being recognized as a hermeneutical expert in scripture.
Good God. It’s difficult to know even where to begin to address the impoverished interpretive twaddle put forward by Franklin Graham on the subject of our responsibilities to immigrants and refugees.
I guess you could begin by pointing out that in the Hebrew scriptures there are 613 laws—which is, admittedly, a crap-ton of laws. So, you might expect a little duplication. And indeed, some duplication of laws exists. But do you want to know what gets mentioned more often than any other juridical principle? Some variation of “Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, or the stranger (i.e., foreigner).” More than three dozen times this injunction appears. Like, say this one from the prophet Zechariah:
”Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgements, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (7:9–10).
Or more specifically for my purposes, this one from Deuteronomy:
”You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (10:18).
Or this one from Leviticus:
”When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your G-d” (19:33–34).
Ok. You get the point. The Hebrew scriptures are pretty well convinced that the way God’s people treat refugees and immigrants is of more than passing concern to the Almighty.
“Fine,” you say, “but what about Jesus? What did he have to say about it? Maybe that’s what Franklin’s talking about. Probably. He knows things.”
The low hanging fruit in the case is, of course, the fact that Jesus and his family were refugees. Chased out of their homeland by King Herod when Jesus was but a baby, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph have an intimate understanding about what being a political refugee seeking asylum feels like. I find it impossible to believe that Jesus views the plight of immigrants and refugees to be a point of indifference—if only because that’s his own experience.
Or take the parable of the sheep and the goats, in which Jesus lays out what will distinguish those who do God’s will from those who do not:
”Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’” (Matt. 25:34–36).
Jesus also tells the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. A lawyer who has asked what he must do to inherit eternal life is told by Jesus that, basically, he must perform the heart of the law, which amounts to “Love God and love your neighbor.” The lawyer famously asks, “Who is my neighbor?” And the parable of the good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to that question.
According to the parable, then, the neighbor winds up being the one who acts with kindness toward the person in need. The irony, of course, is that the neighbor in the parable—in a great show of nationalist nose-tweaking by Jesus—is a Samaritan, which is to say, a despised foreigner.
Needless to say, the bible (both Hebrew and Christian) not only has an opinion about how we treat immigrants and refugees, it’s arguably at the very center of biblical faith.
“Well sure,” you might be inclined to argue, “that stuff is obviously in the bible—talking about how religious people ought to be nice to foreigners … in a purely religious—which is to say, a-decidely-not-political-economic-or-practical—sense. The executive order is a political matter. And since the government is not a religious institution, the bible has nothing to say about how governments should protect their borders.”
Oh really? You’re going with that? Religion needs to stay out of the government’s business?
Because I’ve got to tell you, I know a bunch of people down at Planned Parenthood are going to be excited to hear about this change of heart. I’m familiar with some tenth grade biology teachers in Texas who are going to be ecstatic to know that religion is something best kept out of public life. Indeed, I know a bunch of folks will be relieved to find out that maybe the government and not charitable religious institutions are best situated to provide the backbone for the social safety net—since all the religiously run soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters are running near capacity.
Franklin Graham thinks the church should mind its own business and stay out the matters of state? Good one.
In related news: Donald Trump is plagued by self-doubt and an aching need to serve other people, the Kardashians are secret artistic savants, and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell go to bed every night thinking about how they can help the poor by raising taxes on the wealthy.
Look, we’re not idiots. Franklin Graham’s agenda has always been driven less by his penetrating insight into the bible than by his driving passion to insinuate himself into the world of power politics. And if that ambition runs afoul of the bible, so much the worse for the bible.
Which is why Franklin Graham is yet again the worst thing to happen to God in a while.