Christians deviate from their own faith and Scripture whenever they espouse beliefs that immigrants of color are a threat to American culture, society and security, a Southern Baptist minister and author said during a recent podcast about the Great Replacement theory.
“Anytime you see Christians begin to be coopted into this type of thinking on any level, it’s a distortion of the faith,” Alan Cross said during a December episode of the “Only in America” podcast hosted by Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum.
“If you really read the Bible, there isn’t room for this type of thinking, for racism, xenophobia, fear of the other or ranking people according to race,” said Cross, lead pastor of Petaluma Valley Baptist Church in Petaluma, Calif., and author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus.
Also known simply as Replacement Theory, the conspiracy dating to the 1800s holds that white populations, whether in Europe or the United States, are being “replaced” by brown-skinned immigrants from Africa, South and Central America and other non-white nations.
Noorani noted in the podcast that white nationalists chanted, “You will not replace us” during the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., and others have observed that many of the insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, were motivated by a fear and hatred of immigrants.
“It’s an ideology over 100 years old rooted in racism and fear and it continues to permeate our media, our culture and our politics,” Noorani said.
A University of Chicago survey released this month reported that “the right-wing theory of ‘great replacement’ is the key driver” of the insurrectionist movement that organized the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In a Foreign Policy article published a year after the siege, author and researcher Robert Pape explained that 21 million Americans believe Joe Biden “is an illegitimate president” and that use of force is justified to restore Donald Trump’s presidency.
Pape also connected the arc of the Great Replacement from inception to its adoption by American insurrectionists.
“Coined by the French far-right writer Renaud Camus, cited as inspiration by the mass murderer who attacked two mosques in New Zealand, and popularized in the United States by right-wing media personalities such as Tucker Carlson, the central idea is that majority white populations are being replaced by minorities and that liberal leaders are deliberately engineering white demographic decline through immigration policy,” he wrote.
“Our national survey shows that the No. 1 belief among insurrectionists — shared by fully 75% of respondents — is the ‘great replacement’ of the electorate by the Democratic Party and that this idea is also the most important separator of people in the 21 million from the general population, where the theory doesn’t hold much sway.”
But the theory itself is built on shaky premises at best, Cross said.
“Is the left importing immigrants from all over the world to steal elections? Well, if they are it’s a bad strategy because a lot of immigrants are a lot more conservative than many think,” the Baptist pastor said. “They get here, and they work hard, they have families and they’re religious. So, they might not go along with everything the left is saying.”
Many Americans don’t realize that Great Replacement also has origins in the 19th century use of Darwinian theory to rank whites above people of color, he added. “The idea was that the Nordic races were on top because they were conquering everything, so they were obviously more intelligent than others, and you had a hierarchy of other races that developed below. And this began to be applied toward views of immigrants.”
These attitudes also evolved into a supposedly scientific search for a “master race,” a concept that “was actually very prominent in the United States,” Cross said. “This wasn’t just something Hitler came up with.”
Although that extreme expression seemed to end after World War II, notions of racial purity, and the need to protect it, continued in Europe and the U.S., he continued. “To protect our nation, we needed to keep the, quote, ‘lesser races,’ out of our country and so immigration (policy) began to be shaped by that.”
But Christians should avoid aligning their faith with the racist ideology behind the theory — or disentangle from it if they already have bought into it, Cross said.
“When you see white evangelicals begin to drift in this direction, it’s not because of theology or what the Bible teaches. It’s always because the culture is pulling them that way and they begin to adapt their faith to what they already want to believe. That’s how racism developed. That’s how slavery was inserted into the West — and Jim Crow and segregation,” he said. “Then our theology gets warped and twisted into this. It’s a sign of other things at work in our faith that aren’t healthy.”
It often starts with anxiety stirred up by news reports about immigrants. But that’s no excuse for buying into Great Replacement, Cross said.
“When you see white evangelicals begin to drift in this direction, it’s not because of theology or what the Bible teaches.”
“I think we’re letting the larger narrative of fear of the other seep in, and we need to take a stand and say these are real people made in God’s image that we are called to love,” he said. “And if you have a problem with loving your neighbor, then that’s a spiritual problem that you need to get right on and not just believe everything you’re hearing.”
Cross said he has seen Christians let go of racist assumptions by getting involved with people of color and immigrants on the local level. “The answer is to build those relationships and build bridges and help people get to know each other. We have to help people humanize others and see other people as real people.”
Making such connections can be as simple as paying attention in the community, he added. “Just remember the Mexican restaurant you go to after church every Sunday. You like those people. And then that plays out in our churches. You see it all throughout the South and all throughout the country.”
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