Do Words Matter? Refugee Rhetoric, Understanding Who the Vulnerable are with a Few Thoughts on President Trump speaking on Refugees in Minnesota

Posted: September 29, 2020 in Uncategorized

While social media platforms across the internet exploded going into the weekend of September 18 with the news of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passing away; President Trump appeared at a rally in Minnesota. In the midst of such polarizing politics across our country and as we go over the tragic milestone of 200,000 lives lost in the US due to Covid19 I am daring to post briefly on politics; and right as one head into the first debate:)

While both former Vice-President Joe Biden and President Trump spoke in Minnesota on Friday, 9/18/20 I want to briefly focus on one thing that the President said in his two-hour speech as he covered a lot of ground (according to the Star Tribune): ‘Trump’s off-the-cuff speech stretched nearly two hours and touched on a hodgepodge of topics ranging from Hillary Clinton’s e-mails to a recounting of the battlefield success of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee “except at Gettysburg.’’

The one thing I want to briefly mention and post a few rambling thoughts is when Trump mentioned ‘refugees.’ Because words matter…. and the way you say them matter….. And because of the focus on the headlines being on the death of Justice Ginsburg(and rightly so) I saved this a snippet (<15 seconds) and hope you will watch it**:

*If you want to see the whole speech(approximately 2 hours) see: here.

The President said that refugees are “one of the most vital issues of this election.”Now, let me say that I agree with him! But I think from his tone and what follows in his speech we may disagree on how to seek to care for, serve, speak for, and stand with our refugee and immigrant neighbors.

Now some will argue that this is clearly racist rhetoric and others will say it is just “Trump being Trump.“ I will let you decide, but let me say again that words matter. As a Bible-believing Christ followers we are given two main commands by Christ in the New Testament of the Bible, they are to “Love God” and “Love your neighbor” (see more in Matthew 22:36-40)

Let me insert here that over the almost 4 years of President Trump’s term and his campaign that preceded it, his rhetoric has made me believe that he has no category of what it means to love your neighbor. And to give the President credit he would be in company with many over the centuries that also did not know what it meant to show mercy to your neighbor or who your neighbor was (see Jesus teaching in the Gospel of Luke 10:25-:37). As the President may have unfortunately surrounded himself with people that cannot help him understand what it means to love our neighbor, we should pray for him. Seriously. We should not only pray as he leads this country for wisdom (1 Timothy 2:1-3) but we need to pray he would understand the plight of the vulnerable displaced (now near 80 million globally) outside of the womb and seek to change his heart, tone, rhetoric, and policy towards refugees and immigrants(here is some help I gave to pray for him on this topic here). While the global refugee crisis now approaches 30 million the US has changed from aiming to welcome some 110,000 refugees to be resettled here to just 4 years ago it now will welcome just over 11,000 total during the last year. This number should grieve us and lead us to speak and and act on behalf of those that cannot.

It is clear there is a derogatory tone in the way President Trump talks about refugees in this clip and I think most would observe this is as divisive language. While we should look to places like Ephesians 4:29 to guide our tongues: … “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. We should also call all leaders to do the same.” I am reminded of the old proverb my grandma would teach us kids that was “if you don’t have anything nice to say about somebody then don’t say nothing at all.”

What saddens me most though are Christian friends who except this rhetoric without ever speaking out. Sadly, this last week one leading Evangelical scholar said that President Trump is not divisive and that if Christians say he is then they are “bearing false witness.” This kind of blindly following the President and never critiquing his clear shortcomings should grieve us. The Bible clearly calls us to speak up for the vulnerable: ” Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”- Proverbs 31:8-9.

Will we do that? Will we call our leaders to do that?

Right as the Covid19 shutdown was beginning to happen in the US I wrote a series of articles with the title “People Are Being Slaughtered in Syria and I Wonder if American Christians Even Care? …. Now clearly the title was somewhat to be clickbait and a little provocative but the goal was that it may spur Bible believing Christians in the US to informed to speak and act particularly against this kind of divisive political rhetoric.

Again words matter so when he says “refugees” I have to wonder if he knows what the word means? Seriously. As a refresher: REFUGEES are people who have been forced to flee their home country and who are unable to return because of a well-founded risk of persecution due to race, nationality, religion, membership in a political social group, or political opinion.[1] While this is the “legal policy” definition it is important that refugees are vulnerable people made in the image of God and Jesus calls us to serve, love, and welcome them in His name. For some, this is a political issue, but for followers of Christ this is a human issue and a call to the Church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

BUT, WHO ARE THE VULNERABLE?

“Vulnerable” is taken from the Old Testament focus on taking up the care and cause of the “quartet of the vulnerable”: widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor. Zechariah 7:9–10 says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” In pre-modern, agrarian societies, these four groups had no social power. They lived at subsistence level and were only days from starvation if there was any famine, invasion, or even minor social unrest. Today, this quartet could be expanded to include the unborn, the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless, and many single parents and elderly people, for instance. So let us understand refugees in the broader scope of vulnerable people and please reach out if you would like more discussion on this.

[1] Who is Not a Refugee? By legal definition, someone fleeing poverty or natural disasters is not a refugee.


Now…. not only do words matter, but the way you say words matter and where you say them matters. President Trump’s rally was in Bemidji, MN. Bemidji is the county seat of Beltrami County and theTrump campaign strategically picked this location as it was the first municipality in Minnesota to formal rule against refugee resettlement happening there (though no refugees have been resettled there in the previous 5 years). So clearly the President’s divisive refugee rhetoric was playing to the crowd; it is important to note that before he became a politician Trump was an entertainer.

Please hear me, this is not meant to be an attack on the President but a call to prayer that we pray for him and pray that Christ followers would speak to some of us the sad and clearly anti-biblical rhetoric. As I have written in numerous places over the years about “Our Biblical Mandate to Care for Refugees” I hope you will use some of those resources to help you think, speak, and act on this important topic during this divisive political season. God’s grace and blessings to you.

**While this video was posted on 9/19/20 to have it online, the actual blog was posted on 9/29/20.

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