Pastor Robert Jeffress recommends straw man arguments in defense of his position on President Donald Trump's "s***hole countries" remarks.
"Read this extremely well-written article on the biblical view of government. Cuts through a lot of the baloney coming from some evangelical quarters," Jeffress wrote Monday on Twitter with a blog post link.
The author of the blog post uses over 2,500 words to attack an argument no one made.
The blog, called Capstone Report, provides "commentary on Alabama football, politics and religion." The author of the post isn't listed but a few names are mentioned on the "About" page.
The post that Jeffress believes is "extremely well-written" is called "Repairing Evangelical Political Theology: Getting the State Right." The subtitle claims, "Defending Dr. Robert Jeffress and conservative evangelicals requires repairing our evangelical political theology."
The author, who I'll call Capstone for convenience, presumes to defend Jeffress from a critique by Pastor Mike Bergman published Jan. 18 in SBC Voices, "Rejecting the Utilitarian Image of Man (an examination of our attitudes about immigration and abortion)."
In a Jan. 12 interview with The Washington Post, Jeffress said he agreed with Trump's alleged comment questioning why we allow immigrants from "s***hole countries" like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations. We should allow more people from nations like Norway, Trump allegedly added.
The White House has since backed away from the remarks, arguing Trump never said that and the sentiment doesn't reflect Trump's views on immigration. Nonetheless, Jeffress defended Trump's alleged "s***hole" comments.
"I'm glad Trump understands the difference between a church and country. I support his views 100 percent, even though as a pastor I can't use that language," Jeffress said in part, adding, "I don't think there's anything racist about it at all."
Jeffress also argued that immigration decisions should be based upon whether the immigrant provides economic benefits: "Why would we allow people who will not benefit our country? We have the right to screen [refugees] based on the economic benefit they might bring."
Bergman argued that Jeffress is making a utilitarian argument and compared it to the utilitarian arguments made by some abortion supporters.
"At the core, Jeffress uses the same logic to restrict certain groups of people from entering the country as abortion lobbyists use to restrict babies from entering life outside the womb," he wrote. "On the one hand it is perceived value to the person and on the other hand it is perceived value to the nation.
"Both present a utilitarian mindset that view a person as less than a person. Person X is only valuable to you if they add something to your life."
Immigration, like abortion, should be informed by the view found in Genesis 1 that all are made in the image of God, Bergman added.
Capstone begins his critique of Bergman by setting up a false dichotomy.
"Dr. Robert Jeffress and conservative evangelical Christians who oppose open immigration are not 'utilitarians' who think like abortionists as one SBC blogger wrote. Such a charge is a damnable lie and mischaracterization, but we should expect no less of the followers of Russell Moore and his progressive fellow travelers who have infiltrated the Southern Baptist Convention," he wrote.
Capstone presents the debate as one between people who support open immigration and people who don't. But Bergman never claims in the article to support open immigration. In fact, he says the opposite: "Though we might disagree on what the best options and solutions are, most would agree that national security is a legitimate concern when it comes to immigration policy."
Also, in the immigration debate among evangelicals (which I've covered for many years), I haven't found a single person who supports open immigration. Capstone's straw man believes in open immigration, but he's not debating a position real people actually hold, at least within the evangelical circles I'm describing.
Falsely claiming that the other side supports amnesty or open immigration has become common practice among the evangelicals who support a more restrictive immigration policy. I believe this debate would be more productive, however, if we debated positions people actually hold.
Capstone also contradicts himself, arguing that the Bible should inform our views about the role of government on border security but the Bible shouldn't inform our views on immigration.
"In any case, on the issue of immigration there seems to be a significantly muddled ethical picture from the Bible. Without clear authority, the likes of Russell Moore who are attacking other Christians and undermining the credibility of the Gospel by claiming non-essential issues are 'Gospel issues.' Clearly, they are not. Otherwise, like abortion, there would be clarity in the biblical record," he wrote.
This is consistent with Jeffress' views on restricting the influence of the Gospel in politics. In a July 2016 radio interview, Jeffress said that when he was asked whether he wants a president who "embodies the teachings of Jesus," he answered, "Heck no, I would run from that candidate as far as possible. ... I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you know what I can find, and I believe that is biblical."
But Capstone also argues the Bible is clear on the related issue of border security.
"The biblical data is clear, the state exists to create order so that Christians can have lives of safety and quiet," Capstone argues. Later he adds, "This requires us to understand the state must be powerful enough to protect itself from inside rebellion and outside invasion. Security then should be part of the political evaluation Christians use when evaluating public policy."
Jeffress has been similarly inconsistent. In 2015, he said, "Government is never called upon to forgive. Government is never called upon to turn the other cheek. The responsibility of government, according to the word of God, is to protect its citizens. One way that government protects its citizens is by securing the borders. It is government's responsibilities to secure the borders."
But immigration and border security are inseparable. Who we allow to immigrate to the United States is a border security issue. I'm sure Capstone and Jeffress understand that. So to argue that the Bible should inform one but not the other is just a sleight of hand used to distract from the inconsistencies in their own arguments.
Capstone ends his article how he began — with more straw man arguments.
"Trying to force Gospel principles on the state is out of place. It would result in absurdities. Would justice be served if the government turned the other cheek to open rebellion? Should the state forgive the felon 70 times 7? Of course not. (Though prison reforming advocates in evangelicalism sure seem intent on pushing that as part of their prison reform agenda.)," he wrote.
Who exactly is arguing that government should turn the other cheek to open rebellion? Capston doesn't offer a source. Who is arguing for laws directing the state to forgive felons 70 times seven? (How would that even work?) He claims prison reform advocates are pushing this, but provides no citations or hyperlinks. I've covered prison reform for many years, as both a reporter and an editor, and I've never heard prison reform advocates "pushing that as part of their prison reform agenda." Capstone is refuting arguments no one is making.