Why the “Great Replacement” theory is dangerous

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Why the “Great Replacement” theory is dangerous

May 26, 2022 -

FILE - A migrant waits of the Mexican side of the border after United States Customs and Border Protection officers detained a couple of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border on the beach, in Tijuana, Mexico, Jan. 26, 2022. About 3 in 10 also worry that more immigration can cause native-born Americans to lose their economic, political and cultural influence, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

FILE - A migrant waits of the Mexican side of the border after United States Customs and Border Protection officers detained a couple of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border on the beach, in Tijuana, Mexico, Jan. 26, 2022. About 3 in 10 also worry that more immigration can cause native-born Americans to lose their economic, political and cultural influence, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

In Buffalo, New York, last week, a lone gunman brutally murdered ten people and injured three more in “one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history.”

The shooter appears to have put out a large “manifesto” as a twisted justification for the killings. His abhorrent ramblings concluded that there was a replacement of white Americans by people of color, and that it must be stopped. This racist ideology led him to choose Buffalo, a town comprised of mostly black Americans.

Some drew comparisons of his racist justification to the fear of many Americans that they will be “replaced” by immigrants. According to one poll, one in three Americans believes an “effort is underway to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains.” While there are differences between this concern and the “Great Replacement” theory, they do share some frightening similarities.

Although we won’t dig into the politics too much, we will show why the “Great Replacement” theory is dangerous.

Are all immigrants Democrats?

Immigrants are often morally conservative, even though they strongly tend to vote for Democrats. For instance, in 2019, 53 percent of Hispanic immigrants reported themselves as Democrats or leaning that way; 39 percent said Republican or leaning that way.

Some analysts say their Democratic leanings are because they don’t feel welcomed by the Republican party. Others say it’s because immigrants normally come from socialist countries and Democrats will give them more government support. Still others say it’s because Democrats are lenient on immigration.

One of the biggest political conundrums is a “chicken before the egg” question. Do immigrants vote for Democrats because of their immigration policies? Or, do Democrats open up the borders because they know immigrants will vote for them?

The latter interpretation has been picked up by many controversial pundits. Some raise concerns to goad Republicans to vote to keep America from changing its demographics and giving more power to the Democrats. (It’s hard to see, personally, why this strategy is favored over simply trying to win immigrants over to the conservative “side.”)

As far as legal immigrants, there was a “ratio of 5.8 native-born babies to 1 new American from naturalization” in 2020. Additionally, illegal immigrants “don’t illegally vote in detectable numbers.”

That said, there are plenty of reasonable conservative arguments for more strictly enforcing current immigration laws and there are also arguments for and against making immigration easier. These conservative political beliefs are not necessarily the same as “replacement theory.”

But, there are other sinister ways this outlook on immigration can easily be twisted.

The “Great Replacement” theory

The “Great Replacement” theory is one put forward by a right-wing French thinker named Renaud Camus. The ideology was touted by the New Zealand gunman who killed over fifty people. On the surface, Camus rejects violence but uses strong language condemning nonwhite immigration.

The theory has been widely condemned as racist, xenophobic (bigotedly fearful of “other” cultures), and unfactual. I have discussed the idea that Europe is becoming more Muslim, but I pointed out that a Muslim majority is not a sure conclusion and that the vast majority of Muslims are assimilating, with entirely peaceful intentions. The philosophy of the “Great Replacement” is baseless and fearmongering, and most everyone (conservatives included) rejects it.

However, a similar conservative talking point is that the government is allowing immigrants in to “replace” native-born Americans for electoral gain. In America, the view that “somebody” is purposefully flooding the US with immigrants to take away your influence can be twisted to mean “white” people are being replaced by people of color. Christians must outright reject racist notions which would call anyone lesser for their skin color or ethnicity.

As Christians, we must be extremely careful that worldly philosophies like these don’t creep into our thinking. Dr. Jim Denison dismantled the QAnon conspiracy theories, though they are still propagated to this day. Sadly, people prone to believing conspiracy theories are also prone to believing the “Great Replacement” theory.

If we say “I can’t believe these people from such-and-such a place are coming in! I barely even recognize this country anymore. It used to be a Christian nation,” then we are dangerously close to Christian Nationalism and a whole host of other unbiblical ideas.

Indeed, if there are racial undertones in your political worries, it also becomes racial prejudice, an evil sin that God hates.

As Christians, we should be asking: “Is this political idea making me less loving toward immigrants or another ethnicity? Is my political leaning making me fear immigrants first before I move to love them?”

If so, we should take a long, careful look at what’s really driving our thoughts, because those ideas are antithetical to God’s word.

Loving “the least of these”

This can be unnecessarily confusing, and at worst, intentionally misleading to conflate the conservative positions on immigration with this more sinister “replacement theory.” Both the left and right are guilty of confusing this phrase. Many media outlets accuse Republicans of using “replacement” language to talk about immigrants, while Republicans deny that it’s the same as the “Great Replacement” and that it has no racial undertones.

Even as we debate the issue of immigration, we must strive for clarity and truth. We should be wary of those who use “replacement” language, and we should also be wary of those who say more restrictive immigration is automatically the same as the “Great Replacement” theory.

Many characterize immigrants as a burden on society. In general, this could not be further from the truth. Economically, immigrants lead to billions of dollars in growth as a labor force, especially because of their unskilled labor.

Regardless of whether they are “useful” to our society, as Christians we should recognize immigrants (sojourners) as part of the “least of these” the Bible exhorts us to love (Matthew 25:40, Zechariah 7:9–10). If your church is close to where refugees are being resettled or immigrants are moving, we encourage you to get involved in serving them.

As Christians, we must make sure to tear down any prejudiced feelings about such people made in God’s image.

And, the good news is that around two-thirds of Americans believe that diversity “makes the US stronger.”

All sides must love first and foremost

Our political allegiance on these issues should always be secondary to and informed by our primary one: loving our neighbor and caring for the immigrant.

For those on the left, take care that you are not only relying on the government to help others. The government’s activity or inactivity doesn’t prevent you from helping those in need. In fact, the mandate to love our immigrant neighbors applies to you as equally as it does to conservatives.

For those on the right, take care not to let inflamed rhetoric of “them” and “they” and the “deplorables” cloud compassion or hide an immigrant’s humanity. And do not let unfounded fear take hold so that you’re led to prejudice.

“We must always be proud to welcome people as fellow Americans”

The forty-third President of the US, George W. Bush, was a Republican and conservative. He led the country through 9/11 and the Great Recession. And, contrary to popular expectations, he tried to pass a great deal of immigration reform. These reforms were a “middle ground” that did not allow amnesty but also did not require mass deportations, etc. His desire was to see America stronger through a large, diverse immigrant population.

It’s clear that his heart for immigrants remains. In a beautiful work that unites across the aisle, Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants, tells the stories of forty-three American immigrants he personally knew, loved, and respected. For each, Bush created an oil-paint portrait and includes it along with their story.

He writes, “At its core, immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation. . . . We must always be proud to welcome people as fellow Americans. Our new immigrants are just what they’ve always been — people willing to risk everything for the dream of freedom.”

Former President George W. Bush’s outspoken faith, love of immigrants, and art give a beautiful example of how American Christians can respond to immigration (even if they hold conservative beliefs).

The “Great Replacement” is a theory deeply rooted in fear and prejudice that has no place in God’s kingdom. And while there is room for disagreement on immigration law, God’s law on how we are to value those made in his image is beyond debate.

Let’s learn to have healthy conversations about how to best love immigrants, both through politics and through our ministry.

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