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Patkotak ignores facts, smears Christians helping migrant kids

Egan Millard
OPINION: In her rush to decry Christians as hypocrites and bigots, columnist Elise Patkotak insulted the very people who are doing the most good in this situation. Pictured: protesters in San Antonio call for aid to immigrants, legal or not, including children. Hector Becerra/Los Angeles Times/MCT

In her column in Wednesday’s Alaska Dispatch News, Elise Patkotak­ rails against unnamed Christians ­who she claims are defying Jesus’ teachings – some by yelling viciously at refugee children, some by not using their positions of power to denounce those protesters. However, even a passing glance at the facts reveals that the exact opposite is true: Christian individuals and groups are leading the effort to care for the migrant children caught in the middle of the border dispute. Sadly, in her rush to decry Christians as hypocrites and bigots, Ms. Patkotak engages in hypocrisy and bigotry herself, insulting the very people who are doing the most good in this situation.

Ms. Patkotak condemns "those horrible people ... who stood in front of refugee children screaming at them to go back where they came from." By this, I assume she means the protesters who blocked buses carrying detained children and adults in Murrieta, California, on July 1, though she does not identify them. (In fact, she does not cite a single fact or refer to any specific person in the entire article.) I wholeheartedly agree with her that those people’s actions were repulsive by any standards, Christian or otherwise. But Ms. Patkotak’s prejudice is exposed when she assumes the protesters were hypocritical Christians. She denounces "the hateful speech and actions of people who call themselves Americans and Christians," but not one of the Murrieta protesters was identified as a Christian in any news story I could find. In fact, despite an extensive search, I could not find one instance in any news story in which a person identified as a Christian participated in any anti-immigrant protest since the current crisis began. 

Indeed, all the news coverage I could find relating to Christianity and the border crisis points to the fact that Christian leaders have been exceptionally vocal in calling for Christ-like compassion for these children. Ms. Patkotak accuses unnamed "church leaders" of defying Jesus' command to care for children. “Why are (Christian leaders) so silent on this Christian value?” she asks. "Where are all those Christian leaders, pastors and priests, bishops and lay preachers? Where is their voice denouncing this hate toward children?"

A simple Google search or perusal of a newspaper immediately makes the answer to this question clear, but it seems Ms. Patkotak isn't interested in getting that answer. Those Christian leaders’ voices are being heard loud and clear by those who will listen. Dozens of news stories from the past few weeks -- too many to list here -- quote high-profile Christian leaders of all denominations unequivocally denouncing hatred toward children. Perhaps the most telling headline of all ran in The New York Times on July 23: “U.S. Religious Leaders Embrace Cause of Immigrant Children.” In the first sentence of that story, Cardinal Dolan of New York, one of the most powerful Catholics in America, spoke in no uncertain terms about the Murrieta episode: “It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that “the anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting.” United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano didn’t mince words either: “These migrants are God’s children and therefore our youngest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters for whom we must care.”

Coalitions of Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant congregations (along with other faith groups and non-religious organizations) have sent letters to Congress urging that the children be treated kindly and not immediately deported. Cardinal George of Chicago has offered to house some of the children at facilities in his diocese. And Pope Francis, the most influential Christian on Earth, has spoken out specifically against the “racist and xenophobic attitudes” at play in the U.S. immigration debate. “This humanitarian emergency requires,” he wrote on July 14, “as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”

But Christian organizations are doing more than just speaking out. They are among the few groups actively helping the children. Churches are sheltering them -- like St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fontana, California, which housed 46 undocumented women and children and gave them food and travel money. Catholic Charities USA, the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church are running fundraising drives to provide the migrants with food, clothing, supplies and housing. Catholic Charities of Dallas is providing legal assistance for migrant children, as it has done for years. Look online and you'll see many inspiring stories like these.

If you’re going to spew judgment at a wide swath of people you’ve never met, you should at least make sure the facts don’t indicate the direct opposite of your claims. Assuming Christians are hypocrites is just as bad as making assumptions about people based on their skin color, nationality or immigration status.

Like Ms. Patkotak, I was raised Catholic. Like her, I have been disgusted by certain things done in the name of Christ. But we cannot let that anger blind us from the good that is happening right now. We cannot let it develop into a lie that smears the reputations of those who are doing the most to help. I'm sorry Ms. Patkotak is filled with such anger, and I sympathize with her. But I think she'd feel better if she joined our cause instead of tearing it down.

Egan Millard is a copy editor for Alaska Dispatch News. He can be reached at emillard@adn.com.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.