Why aren't US evangelicals out protesting the deportation of Iraqi Christians?

ReutersChaldean Christians protested against the arrests outside ICE facilities in Detroit

When is a Christian not a Christian?

It isn't a trick question, but a pressing concern we need to get our heads around.

Let me explain.

This week, a battle has commenced between the American Civil Liberties Union and the immigration authorities in Michigan. The ACLU is fighting on behalf of 114 Iraqi Christians who were arrested earlier this month.

There are claims that some among the group have criminal records so they should be deported. Yet the ACLU and other advocacy groups say that to send them back to Iraq is effectively a 'death sentence' because of how dangerous life is for Christians there.

'Not only is it immoral to send people to a country where they are likely to be violently persecuted, it expressly violates United States and international law and treaties,' said spokesperson Kary Moss.

Given the concern expressed by many Christian leaders in the US, especially evangelicals, about the plight of persecuted believers in the Middle East, you might imagine there would be a groundswell of support for the group.

Instead, the response has been lukewarm. So lukewarm, in fact, that the community's spokespeople have begun to wonder why. 'They could be doing a lot more,' said Martin Hanna of the Chaldean Community Foundation. Speaking to RNS, he went on: 'They could be saying, "Wait, we have been fighting to protect these people in their ancestral lands and now we are sending them back to those areas that we're not doing enough to protect?'"

In fact, it seems the Knights Of Columbus is the only major Christian organization to speak out unprompted on behalf of the group of Chaldean Christians. When asked by RNS, Trump supporter Franklin Graham gave an uncharacteristically equivocal response. 'I find it very disturbing what I have read about Chaldean Christians being rounded up by ICE for possible deportation. I would encourage the president to have someone investigate these cases thoroughly,' Graham said in a statement.

Why isn't there more outcry?

There are three worrying trends being displayed here. Firstly, there's the sheer ignorance in many of our Western Churches about other Christians. Knowledge of other denominations and kinds of Christians among white evangelicals in the West is, in my experience, pretty poor.

The Chaldean Church dates from the early centuries of Christianity and traces its roots back to a time before Christian faith had reached British shores, let alone America. Yes, there are a bewildering number of denominations and groups in the Middle East, but ignorance shouldn't be an excuse for lack of solidarity from Western Christians.

A second factor may be the suspicion that Chaldeans aren't the 'right' kind of Christians. Anti-Catholic prejudice was prevalent in US Protestant circles only a few decades ago, and continues in pockets. Despite a significant thaw in relations, prominent evangelical leaders have attacked the Catholic Church (of which the Chaldean church is a part).

To this day it's possible to read thousands of online comments daily from Protestant evangelicals proclaiming that Catholics aren't proper Christians, that they 'worship Mary', 'don't believe in Jesus' and other such calumnies.

If ignorance is one enemy of the Chaldeans, then prejudice is another.

A final reason Christians in America haven't leapt to the defence of the Chaldeans in Michigan is sadly that many of them still support Donald Trump's administration even when it is targeting Christians. Eighty-one per cent of white evangelicals voted for Trump and there is evidence that after his Supreme Court pick of Neil Gorsuch, he remains incredibly popular with that group.

Even when the Trump Administration seeks to deport Christians to Iraq – one of the countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian – there is little complaint from white evangelical America.

This is all deeply troubling. If our fellow Christians are truly our sisters and brothers, then we shouldn't let our ignorance, our prejudice or our fidelity to a political leader get in the way of our solidarity with them. It now seems that some combination of those three factors is preventing evangelicals from opposing this deportation of our sisters and brothers, our fellow Christians, to a place where it is desperately dangerous to be a Christian.

Trump's own administration declares there to be a genocide against Christians in Iraq and then it seeks to deport Christians back there. There's something deeply wrong here. 

Follow Andy Walton on Twitter @waltonandy