During the GOP primary race, Jeb Bush came under fire for his suggestion that the United States only admit refugees who can “prove” they are Christians.
“There are no Christian terrorists in the Middle East,” he said, but struggled to say exactly how the Christian refugees would be identified. “I mean, you can prove you’re a Christian,” Bush vaguely insisted. “I think you can prove it. [If] you can’t prove it, then, you know, you err on the side of caution.”
President Trump never took kindly to Jeb, a man to whom he gave the persistent and damaging label “low energy,” but he seems to have adopted some of Bush’s plan for handling would-be refugees.
Trump’s “extreme vetting” executive order, signed Friday, was accompanied by an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network in which Trump said his order will protect America from radical Islamic terrorism while making sure persecuted Mideast Christians will be safe.
As with much Trump says and does, this is a messy mix of good impulses, sheer nonsense, and outright dangerous ideas.
Let’s start with the good. Trump is right that Christians in the Middle East have suffered obscene persecution, and it is always good news when people who need refuge are able to get it more easily. To the extent that this executive order smooths the process for Christian refugees, it should be applauded.
Now, the nonsense. Trump is either lying or deeply misinformed in his claim that it was “almost impossible” for Christian refugees but easy for Muslims to get to the U.S. before his order.
On the contrary, as Reuters reports, “Pew Research Center said last October 38,901 Muslim refugees entered the United States in fiscal year 2016 from all countries — almost the same number of Christian refugees, 37,521.”
Digging further into the Pew data, we find that on a 15-year scale, the truth is actually the opposite of what Trump said:
Overall, a far larger total number of Christian refugees than Muslim refugees have entered the U.S. since fiscal 2002. During the past 15 years, the U.S. has admitted 399,677 Christian refugees and 279,339 Muslim refugees, meaning that 46% of all refugees who have entered the U.S. during this time have been Christian while 32% have been Muslim.
And finally, the danger. As was widely noted back when Bush proposed his similar plan, you can’t actually “prove” who is and is not a Christian.
This is not just my opinion. It is not just an obvious practical consideration or a comment on our government’s competency or lack thereof.
No, this is literally what the Bible says: Only God knows every human heart. Only God can “prove” who is or isn’t right with him. Not me. Not you. Not Trump.
Of course, there are ways we can get a reasonably good idea of whether or not someone is a Christian. It isn’t reciting creeds or giving a testimony, which anyone can fake if they’re desperate to flee a warzone.
Jesus said people would recognize us as his followers by our love. But tell me: What federal form is going to make that assessment? What federal bureaucracy should be allowed to play God when the lives of innocent people, Christian and Muslim alike, are on the line?
Governments have tried to sort people before based on whether or not they’re Christians. It never turns out well. If Trump is serious about a compassionate, safe solution to the refugee crisis, he’ll abandon any religion-based vetting ideas immediately.