Refugees and the Alt-Right

Last weekend, the devastating events in Charlottesville, and the non-response of President Trump consumed the news. The extreme right’s message of superiority, isolationism, and white nationalism is growing stronger and stronger. For those of us who find this message appalling, it is up to us to speak out. I firmly believe that faithful Christians have an important role to play in this conversation (if the violence we saw last weekend can even be called that). So, as a white evangelical who advocates for refugees, this is my contribution. I hope you will find this information about refugees and the alt-right informative and encouraging.

What is the Alt-Right?

Before we can discuss how anti-refugee sentiment is tied to the beliefs and ideologies of the alt-right, we must first understand those beliefs. There has been a lot of talk this last week about white supremacy, but white supremacists are only one group within the alt-right movement. The primary, and one could even say the official, position of the alt-right is white nationalism. In this excellent article, The Gospel Coalition explains the difference between white supremacy and white nationalism.

“White nationalism is a political view that merges nationalism with white identity. White nationalists are racial separatists who believe that to preserve the white race, other racial groups must be excluded or marginalized in “white states” (i.e., countries or regions that have historically had majority-white populations). White nationalists are frequently concerned about miscegenation and non-white immigration because it contributes to what they consider to be “white genocide,” i.e., the replacement of the “white race” by other racial groups.”

So, while it is probably safe to say that all white supremacists are also white nationalists, the reverse is not equally true. Many white nationalists simply want the US to be a white country, and are content to allow people of other races to live in majority countries of their own.

Refugees and the Alt-Right

White nationalism results in harsh anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments, with members of the alt-right opposing refugee resettlement, and all immigration, with the exception of white Europeans. You may hear people who hold this view talking about “clashes” of religion and culture, over blowing reports of crimes committed by Muslims in Europe or undocumented immigrants in the US to support their opposition to refugees and immigrants. Those members of the movement who are perhaps more generous might focus on sending aid to refugees overseas, or seeking to end conflict in others countries so that refugees can return home. These alternative, “safer” options to refugee resettlement can effectively obscure white nationalism for what it really is.

Christians, Refugees, and the Alt-Right

Chances are that some of those alt-right opinions about refugees sound familiar to you. I have heard similar sentiments from Christian family members and church members. I have heard them voice their (often misplaced) fears of Muslim immigrants and Sharia law and conclude that it would be best to bar them from entering the US. I have heard them decide that welcoming refugees is not worth the miniscule risks to our safety; it would be better to let them languish in refugee camps. I have heard them complain about the humanitarian nature of the US resettlement program, not willing to spend their tax dollars to welcome a refugee woman with eight children whose husband was killed in a political prison.

All these sentiments mask a sinister fear of the other, and the belief that we are better off living only among our own kind. But these sentiments are in direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ, who not only made all men, women, and children in his divine image, but through his death and resurrection broke down the walls of hostility between different races and cultures (Eph 2:14). The ultimate, eternal purpose of salvation through Jesus Christ is the glory of God expressed in all its fullness through the worship of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev 7:9-10).

We, the Church, the Body of believers, are to live as an earthly expression of God’s eternal kingdom. This means that when sinful human nature chooses isolation, superiority, and nationalism, we, redeemed sons and daughters of God, are to choose welcome, equality, and harmony. When others segregate and quarantine themselves, seeking comfort and familiarity, we are called to go, loving our enemies and making friends with the most unlikely of people. We do not pursue diversity for its own sake, but for the sake of the gospel and as an expression of the power of divine reconciliation. For we were once enemies of God, and he became flesh to make us friends.

For some of my friends and family, trying to convince them of the political reasons to welcome refugees may not be a battle worth fighting. However, for my friends and family who call themselves Christians, lovingly reminding them of these biblical truths is a battle I have an absolute responsibility to fight. White nationalism is not just another political opinion that believers can choose to adopt, it is in direct opposition to God’s Word and we must be bold in making that clear.