In the summer of 2011, when I first arrived in Kurdistan, Iraq, I remember thinking that my mission there was to help restore a broken nation. From the moment I stepped of my fourteen-hour flight, I was well aware of the physical and economic suffering that afflicts Middle Easterners each day. What I was not prepared to see and experience was the lack of “religious” and political support that Middle Eastern Christians receive from many American Christians, including Evangelicals who profess interest in “social justice.”
Though I was very familiar with deadly persecution cases that these Christians face in their own countries, I was completely oblivious to the discrimination they encounter when seeking asylum in the United States. As an American, I believed that because of Mideast Christians’ dire situation, compassion-minded politicians in the U.S. who claim to speak for the dispossessed should be more concerned to help a truly suffering, endangered people. And as an Evangelical, I believed that “social justice” was meant especially for persons persecuted for their faith, including Mideast Christians.
Interestingly, I remember fairly well that before making my two-year trip to Iraq, I observed how the new push for “social justice” as a key theme for Evangelicals had become the latest gospel of “love and mercy” preached from pulpits throughout many U.S churches. But once in the Middle East, I began to understand that this particular interpretation of “social justice,” which often fights so fiercely for illegal immigrants in the U.S., largely excludes persecuted Christians whom I personally knew and loved.
More importantly, as Mideast Christian friends of mine described their fears, their struggle to survive, the loss of loved ones, and the final blow of hope, rejection from the West, the indifference of many politicians who trumpet compassion and justice became increasingly evident. In one particular case, in which I attempted several times to assist a Christian family from Mosul, Iraq (now ISIS occupied) to flee persecution, the refusal of the U.S visa entry hit me hard. At the same time it opened my eyes to the realities of this new gospel of “love and mercy.”
Meanwhile, many prominent U.S. Evangelicals were pushing hard on behalf of legalizing illegal immigrants who were pursuing the “American Dream.” They attached the church’s name to Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which made mass legalization a chief focus. I am the daughter of a Mexican immigrant who came to the U.S. legally. And I am a young Evangelical (Assemblies of God) who knows many immigrants, legal and illegal, in my California community. From my perspective, this Evangelical crusade for “justice” on behalf of illegal immigrants falls short. It doesn’t speak for all immigrants, it doesn’t speak for all Hispanics, and it certainly doesn’t speak for all Evangelicals. Much of the Evangelical campaign behind mass legalization seems much more political than theological.
For many Hispanic Evangelical activists, such as the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership, justice comes in the form of seeing “the image of God in every human being” and understanding that, “Vertically, the heart of God stands moved by the plight of the immigrant and the suffering.” These words are important, but do we best respond to them?
Pro-legalization advocates among Evangelicals have packaged their agenda as the natural implementation of Matthew 22:39 to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and to “do justice and righteousness” to the fatherless, the widows, and the resident alien. But this particular struggle for “social justice” often seems to have a very politicized version of Christian love and compassion. To be exact, this campaign for mass legalization from some Evangelicals seems to focus on politically appealing to one specific growing population in America, i.e. Hispanics. And it assumes that Hispanics in the U.S. are nearly all of one mind about the correct policy towards illegal immigrants. We aren’t!
The push for “comprehensive immigration reform” in recent years has claimed the banner of compassion and unprejudiced love. But this platform of compassion, love, and justice for those who suffer seems to express great concern for only one politically important demographic. And it seems to benefit both some politicians and some religious officials pushing a particular political agenda.
This spring a new movement called the “Imago Dei Campaign (Image of God)” was launched by some prominent Evangelical leaders, including the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, James Robinson from LIFE Today, and Jim Daly president of Focus on the Family. Seeking to transcend the “confrontational” ways of the old Religious Right, this coalition affirms that Christian love exemplifies acceptance and validation of all humans from all walks of life. The Imago Dei Campaign further emphasizes: “For the image of God exists in all human beings: black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay; conservative and liberal; victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever.” This language sounds admirable, and perhaps the intent is very good. But it also seems possibly very politically loaded.
And although the Imago Dei Campaign cites the “undocumented,” it does not seem to specifically affirm Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith. Not only are these Mideast Christians of course created in the “image of God,” they are our brothers and sister in Christ for whom we have a very special responsibility. And yet there has been over the last several years so much money, effort and time dedicated by some Evangelicals to legislation to legalize millions of the undocumented, while many more millions of persecuted Christians do not receive the same political attention. Why?
Are persecuted Christians not worthy of being recognized as a suffering people that moves “the heart of God?” It sometimes seems that in this fight for “justice and righteousness,” some “social justice” minded Evangelicals fail fully to heed I Corinthians 12:26, which declares that “when one part of the “Church suffers, the whole body suffers.”
So let’s be candid. A lot of religious and political figures who quote the Bible about “social justice” are not fully including persecuted Christians globally in their understanding of protecting or providing justice for the oppressed who suffer for their faith. I have a particular concern about some liberal Hispanic Evangelical church voices that continue their religious crusade for mass legalization, while thousands of persecuted Christians in the Mideast and elsewhere see their visa applications rejected. Not only are these suffering Christians denied the “American Dream.” Often their very lives are imperiled.
Religious activists who stress legalizing illegal immigrants as essential “social justice” while failing to speak up for the plight of the vulnerable, tormented Persecuted Church do not have their spiritual priorities right. Now is the time for major reflection, starting with the Hispanic Evangelical Church, about how we can more truly help the most vulnerable, starting with Christians in danger for their lives.Google+