Cruel or harmless? Pastors mixed on GOP migrant transports

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As Republican governors ramp up their high-profile shipments of migrants to Democrat-administered jurisdictions, the practice is receiving mixed reactions from Christian faith leaders — many of whom, especially evangelicals, have supported GOP candidates in large numbers in recent elections.

Some describe the actions as inhumanely exploiting vulnerable people for political ends, while others say it is a harmless way to draw attention to the impact of immigration on states near the southern border.

“Playing political games earns points — and the hypocrisy of the current immigration system is easy to spot,” Ed Stetzer, a professor, dean and executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center in Illinois, said in a statement.

“However, it does not solve the real problems. … Let’s fix the system,” he added, “and stop turning people into pawns of political one-sidedness.”

But the Rev. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas and a prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump, who imposed restrictive immigration policies during his tenure, supported the transports.

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“Government officials who refuse to take their biblical responsibility to protect our borders must feel the effects of their lawless policies,” Jeffress said via email.

“Transporting illegal migrants to Washington DC or Martha’s Vineyard is not exactly the same as sending them to Siberia,” he continued. “Most Americans would love to have the opportunity to visit both destinations.”

Florida governor Ron DeSantis flew immigrants on two planes to the posh Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, while Texas governor Greg Abbott also sent migrants to cities with Democratic mayors. Most recently, on Thursday, two busloads were disembarked from his state near Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in Washington. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has also adopted the policy.

Republican governors are trying to draw attention to what they allege failed border policies under the Biden administration.

Brent Leatherwood, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy bureau, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said such actions “seem to be more about public relations.”

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“We have long called for reinforced border protection and at the same time (for) people entering 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 go to the table and come up with a solution that respects human dignity.”

Joshua Manning, pastor of the ethnically diverse Community Baptist Church in Noel, Missouri, a city of 1,800 with a large immigrant population, agreed that the transports are the wrong way to expose a real problem.

“You shouldn’t load people up and treat them as political props — that’s degrading,” Manning said.

However, he said immigration is a tricky subject. Places that have spoken out in support of migrants and asylum seekers “may not see the difficulties of anything associated with that,” he said.

In the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Corona, in New York City’s Queens borough, the large Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church held a special service Wednesday to pray for the immigrants. In an interview, their predecessor, Reverend Manuel Rodriguez, called the transports a “terrible crime.”

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“We are all appalled by the continued violations of human rights by the DeSantis administration and other governors who are so inhumane and unethical to send people to places where they were not even aware they were going to be sent,” Rodriguez said. .

“You don’t use people fleeing their homeland in fear, because of violence, hunger, persecution, because of the threat of rape … as tools, as objects to make political points,” he said.

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The Bharat Express News religious coverage is supported by the TBEN’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The TBEN is solely responsible for this content.

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