Russell Moore vs. Jerry Falwell Jr: Should detained immigrants be treated with dignity and compassion?

A knotty question for pro-Trump Christians, it seems. On the one hand, Christ calls followers to treat even the least among them as their brothers.

On the other hand, Trump calls followers to accept that suffering might deter illegal immigration. That was the point of family separation, right? Be cruel enough to people who come and they won’t come.

The amazing thing about this exchange, apart from how it perfectly captures the duality of evangelicals’ political identity in the age of Trump, is how unconcerned Falwell Jr is with civility. Granted, he’s not a minister like Moore is, but he’s the son of one and serves as president of one of America’s most famous Christian universities. Trump coveted his endorsement during the 2016 primaries precisely because he believed the Falwell brand would carry weight with evangelical voters in a primary where they were being forced to choose between Trump and Ted Cruz. You would think an explicitly Christian appeal on immigrants’ behalf by Moore might give Falwell pause and lead him to temper his rebuke.

Nope. Falwell is loyal to but one deity and he serves him zealously.

“To be sure, we should do our best to care for these children,” Falwell might have said, “but we must remember that this is an extraordinary crisis and the government is scrambling to cope.” Why say that, though, when you can demean Moore for reiterating Jesus’s own teachings about caring for those in need? Save that bleeding-heart cuckery for the Democratic primary debates, buddy.

The icing on the cake is him accusing Moore of being an “employee” (of who? of God?) when Falwell himself is known for being one of Trump’s most servile evangelical surrogates and owes his job to the fact of who his father was. It’d be like Lindsey Graham accusing Justin Amash of being a suck-up to power.

And what’s that bit about Moore not making payroll? Does Falwell think Christ’s words don’t apply in the context of immigration because Jesus never had to worry about how to afford employer-provided health insurance for the Apostles?

Whatever the case, I think Falwell finally clinched an administration job for himself with that tweet. I know Trump has a lot of yes-men competing for his attention, but how many would go so far to defend him as to drag a pastor for bringing Jesus into it?

Trump himself was more tactful today when reporters brought up the subject of conditions in detention facilities, claiming that he’s “very concerned” about it before quickly adding that conditions now are better than they were under his predecessor. Maybe he was being sincere or maybe he was just more politically savvy than Falwell, knowing that voters are reading stuff like this:

So, in any event, the children told us that nobody’s taking care of them, so that basically the older children are trying to take care of the younger children. The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, “Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take of this little girl?” and they’ll bring in a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor.

Many of the children reported sleeping on the concrete floor. They are being given army blankets, those wool-type blankets that are really harsh. Most of the children said they’re being given two blankets, one to put beneath them on the floor. Some of the children are describing just being given one blanket and having to decide whether to put it under them or over them, because there is air-conditioning at this facility. And so they’re having to make a choice about, Do I try to protect myself from the cement, or do I try to keep warm?…

So, on Wednesday, we received reports from children of a lice outbreak in one of the cells where there were about twenty-five children, and what they told us is that six of the children were found to have lice. And so they were given a lice shampoo, and the other children were given two combs and told to share those two combs, two lice combs, and brush their hair with the same combs, which is something you never do with a lice outbreak. And then what happened was one of the combs was lost, and Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. They weren’t allowed to sleep on the beds, and they had to sleep on the floor on Wednesday night as punishment for losing the comb. So you had a whole cell full of kids who had beds and mats at one point, not for everybody but for most of them, who were forced to sleep on the cement.

That was being reported around the same time that a DOJ lawyer who had defended Obama’s immigration policies in the past made the case that detention facilities should be considered “safe and sanitary” for legal purposes even if detainees don’t have soap or toothbrushes and are sleeping on concrete. Whether those conditions have been created deliberately to deter immigrants, as Ken White suspects, or merely a byproduct of DHS struggling to cope with a huge influx of people with no help from Congress is debatable, but Trump at least has the good moral sense to be concerned about it or the good political sense to pretend to be concerned about it. Not Falwell. Which way do most evangelicals go on that?

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David Strom 5:21 PM on December 09, 2022