In a July newsletter just posted to his website, Dr. James Dobson, one of the leading evangelical Christian voices in the United States, narrates his visit to one of the immigrant detention centers along the southern border, where the US Customs and Border Protection holds refugees who have fled from Central America and elsewhere to seek asylum in the US. Dobson witnessed conditions that reduced him to tears. He writes that he was “profoundly grieved over the misery of thousands of people.” Although he does not report speaking directly with any of the refugees or hearing their stories, he does share passing along a message, translated by a border patrol agent, through a fence: “Please tell them that God loves them,” he said. “Now tell them that I love them, too.” In response, the “many skinny young men” behind the fence “smiled and waved timidly.”
Journalists, lawyers, doctors, and others have detailed inhumane treatment of refugees in these camps. Held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, refugees face severe neglect, gratuitous cruelty, sexual abuse, racial slurs, and other human rights violations. The government has recently argued in court that the children do not need soap, toothbrushes, or beds. The government’s policy of separating children from their parents inflicts on children psychological harm and violates international law, according to the American Psychological Association and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, respectively. The situation has grown so severe that seven children have died in US custody in recent months. Some experts have gone so far as to call the detention centers “concentration camps” and compare them to “torture facilities.”
In his short visit, Dr. Dobson observed only a small slice of what refugees experience in the camps, which is not surprising given that he was invited there by the White House and so would naturally not be shown the worst of it. However, Dobson—contradicting his own comment that the journalists bringing attention to the situation “have not been truthful about what is going on there”—nonetheless confirms in detail the accuracy of the ongoing news coverage. He notes the overcrowding, disease, and despair and acknowledges the policy of separating children from their parents “sounds inhumane.”
In the message he sent through the fence, Dobson put into words precisely what these refugees need: Love. God’s and ours. Undoubtedly, Dobson knows well the New Testament’s injunction that this love must be put into action. He has surely read countless times the unequivocal stance of the Book of James on this exact point:
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Dobson likely even has memorized the still more concise and direct words of First John:
let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
Sadly, he does the exact opposite. Instead of truth, Dobson slanders these refugees. In the newsletter, he slings against their character three ugly accusations. First, he associates them with “violent criminals,” even though studies show undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, especially violent crimes, than citizens. Second, he calls many of the families seeking asylum together “fake families,” even though he admits in the same breath that he does not have a shred of evidence to support this claim. Third, he warns that refugees will hurt the economy and culture of the US, even though studies have shown that immigrants benefit the economy and even though—unless Dobson equates American culture with white culture only—it is beyond question that those from other cultures enrich the culture of the country.
As far as deeds go, Dobson grows even icier. The postscript to his newsletter presents readers with a single “action item”—the “one solution” he can think of. Before considering the suggestion, we need a little context. Earlier this year, while opposing a particular abortion law he disagreed with, Dobson urged people to:
call, write, and email your representatives and remind them that the majority of us in this country want the exact opposite . . . . Donate, march, and post on social media and use every tool and resource at your disposal to affect the change for which we are all praying so fervently.
This list of actions shows that, when he really wants to accomplish something, he can think up plenty of actual things for people to do. But now, when it comes to refugees, he recommends none of these. Nor does he recommend we donate diapers or toys to the camps. Nor protest the camps. Nor vote. Nor attend the national vigil called for July 12. Nor donate money to those organizations working on behalf of refugees. Nor strike nor boycott companies profiteering off the camps. Nor hold the government accountable in any way to US and international laws on the treatment of refugees.
Instead, he recommends we pray—and only that. The problem with this is that, by presenting prayer as the only thing we can do, even when his own history of advocacy proves he knows better, he effectively tells readers not to do anything else. In this situation, his call to prayer is a call to not act. He is not content to stand by and let these abuses continue. He must convince us to do the same.
Moreover, even in calling for prayer, he turns his back on the very refugees he has just professed his and God’s love for. He does not ask us to pray for the refugees. Not that they will be safe from disease and death. Nor protected from harm at the hands of their captors. Nor comforted. Nor treated with dignity. Nor reunited with their families. Nor freed. Not even that the conditions the refugees are fleeing from will improve. Nor does Dobson even ask us to pray for ourselves. Not that we will be moved to actual compassion. Nor that we will have the courage to stand up for the most vulnerable. Nor that we will repent of how we have treated these “strangers,” in violation of so many of the Bible’s most sacred commands.
Instead, Dobson would have people pray for the person most directly responsible for inflicting this suffering on refugees in these camps, the president of the United States. And, to be clear, Dobson does not mean we are to pray that the president will be stopped, which would be a good thing to pray indeed. Nor that the president will be moved by God’s love or by human decency to relent from this cruelty. Nor even that the president might be rescued from that fate assigned for hurting children, that the New Testament describes as worse than being thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around one’s neck. No, Dobson asks us to pray in support of the president and to do so precisely in light of the opposition he faces for these policies.
What a strange, cruel “love.”
My prayer is that those genuinely “grieved over the misery of thousands of people” will act out of genuine love to stop the abuses. Like many others, my own action will start with donations, letters, and the vigil, while also looking for other, still more practical and effective steps. I hope you will join us.
Image via CBN