Trumpism’s anti-biblical hostility has finally reached our parish in Berea. One of our trained catechists, who teaches the principles of Catholicism, has been deported. I’m serious about the anti-biblical remark. More specifically, President Donald Trump’s refugee policies are anti-Catholic.
The Catholic Church has always taken the questions of sanctuary and immigration as matters of faith. “Sanctuary” itself is deeply spiritual. It represents an ecclesial place where believers may find refuge from unjust secular laws. Moreover, the term “immigrant” is a biblical category. In the Gospel of Matthew, the treatment of immigrants is identified as a specific basis for God’s final judgment. What’s done to refugees, we’re taught, is done to Jesus. For that reason, the Catholic Church lists “Welcoming the stranger” among its hallowed “corporal works of mercy.”
In fact, antagonism toward immigrant Catholics has long precedent in this country. It was strong in the middle of the 19th century. After 1918, Italian Catholic emigreswere threatened with deportation. Subsequently, the slur “WOP” came to mean “without papers.” Even into the 1960s, candidate John F. Kennedy had to answer questions about his possible “conflicting loyalties” — to country or pope?
During the 1980s the U.S. fought what Noam Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century.” It raged, he said, against the Catholic Church in Latin America whose bishops had dared to affirm a “preferential option for the poor” as their official position. The conflict took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Latin American Catholics. Today its aftermath remains a principal cause behind the stream of refugees entering the U.S. through Mexico.
Trump’s policies against refugees represents an extension of that 1980s religious war. In its current form, it vilifies and excludes Catholics as devoid of the moral standards the church prides itself on teaching.
Think about it. The president said: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best ... They’re sending people that have lots of problems. . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
He asserts that most entering Mexicans — evidently including trained catechists — are drug dealers, criminals and rapists.
There are at least 100 refugee Catholics in our Berea church of 200 families. And that doesn’t even count the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students in Berea College. All of these people and their families stand accused not only by the president, but by those he emboldens to harass them. In other words, our fellow Catholics are in danger, so are their sources of income, their health and well-being.
How then might believers respond to the plight of their Hispanic brothers and sisters in Christ? We might:
▪ Identify Trump’s policies as anti-biblical and specifically threatening to Catholics.
▪ Lobby senators and congressional representatives to vote against Trump’s immigration policies.
▪ Use the term “anti-biblical” in our phone messages to those politicians.
▪ Congratulate Lexington Bishop John Stowe for following the example of Chicago’s Cardinal Blasé Cupich who ordered his archdiocesan officials not to cooperate with immigration agents seeking information about parishioners and Catholic school students.
▪ Urge church councils to identify our houses of worship as sanctuaries for refugees and immigrants. I suspect that actions like those might help mobilize Christians against the Trump administration’s anti-biblical xenophobic juggernaut that, as I’ve said, is in practice quite obviously anti-Catholic.
Imagine what might happen across the country if Bible-lovers everywhere responded in these ways.
Reach Mike Rivage-Seul, retired Berea College professor and former priest, at Mike_Rivage-Seul @berea.edu.