Mike Huckabee’s surprise second-place showing at the Ames straw poll has catapulted him into contention with the leading candidates in Iowa. This was all the more remarkable given the former governor’s record of “compassionate conservative” sympathies for government activism and liberal immigration policy. Since his presidential campaign began, Huckabee has been careful to mask his views on immigration, including support for recent “comprehensive reform,” with an emphasis on border enforcement and security. Yet only two years ago, as governor, he denounced a bill in the Arkansas legislature that would have prohibited state benefits for illegal immigrants as “un-Christian” and “un-American.”
A former Baptist pastor, Huckabee sermonized against the bill’s supporters: “I don’t understand how a practicing Christian can turn his back on a child from this or any other state.” Like his fellow presidential candidate, Sen. Sam Brownback, Huckabee regards it as his Christian duty to help subvert and liberalize U.S. immigration laws. Together, they embrace the notion that fidelity to the Gospel requires privileging the interests of non-citizens over those of fellow citizens.
Michael Gerson, the well-known former White House speechwriter, has described President Bush’s own agenda with many of the same Christian references that Brownback and Huckabee use. Gerson has claimed that President Bush “set out policies—a federal role in improving education, humane immigration reform, Medicare prescription drug coverage—that borrowed more from Roman Catholic social thought than from Friedrich Hayek.”
There is certainly no trace of Hayek anywhere to be found, but of Catholic social thought there has been even less evidence. Where the latter calls for respecting subsidiarity, compassionate conservatism offers centralization, and where the Church calls for equitable treatment of labor, “compassion” dictates importing labor and depressing American wages. Above all, this allegedly Christian conservatism has focused “solidarity with the poor” primarily on those who have entered the country illegally.
Behind this notion is the assumption that Christianity, as a “universal” and supranational religion that preaches charity, obliges the faithful to set aside all considerations of national loyalty and permanently welcome the stranger and the foreigner—no matter how they have come to be here. Hijacking admirable Biblical exhortations to hospitality to travelers, these pro-immigration Christians have turned them into mandates either to subsidize the resettlement of whole populations or to facilitate the exploitation of poor laborers through guest-worker programs. This same view takes for granted that Christianity must logically lead to support for political transnationalism, embracing the policies of globalization and open borders.
This distorted understanding of the obligations of religious charity confuses Christianity with an abstract universalistic ethic that effaces particular loyalties to one’s place, neighbors. and community. Reviewing Robert Spencer’s A Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, John Derbyshire charged that “a great enabler of globalization has been the Christian tradition” —after labeling globalization the most destructive ideology and, by extension, tarring Christianity as the source of this dangerous idea. For Derbyshire, as for Huckabee and Brownback, Christian charity and fraternity recognize no distinctions of affinity or hierarchy of relationships, but this only shows how detached from a correct understanding of the Christian tradition both the purveyors of political compassion and their secular critics are.
In Christian social thought, there are obligations between kin and between fellow citizens that take priority on account of the natural affinities and associations that they share, and it is contrary to Christian charity to neglect these obligations, whether for the sake of “compassion” or out of a desire for convenience and profit. Within any polity, fellow citizens have more obligations to one another than they have to non-citizens. Robert Spencer cited Aquinas in his reply to Derbyshire: “after his duties towards God, man owes most to his parents and his country,” and in connection with these obligations come obligations to relatives and compatriots. Aquinas says elsewhere, “Wherefore in matters pertaining to nature we should love our kindred most, in matters concerning relations between citizens, we should prefer our fellow-citizens…” (Summa Theologica 2.2.26)
This idea is not limited to Thomists or Catholics alone, but belongs to the Christian tradition as a whole. Indeed, St. Paul argues in I Timothy 5:8: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
Despite what some pro-immigration Christian politicians may think, the imperatives in Emma Lazarus’s “New Colossus” are not Dominical commands.