Pete Buttigieg's Christmas tweet inadvertently sparked a war over whether Jesus was a poor refugee

Peter Weber

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and top-tier 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted a Christmas message: "Today I join millions around the world in celebrating the arrival of divinity on earth, who came into this world not in riches but in poverty, not as a citizen but as a refugee. No matter where or how we celebrate, merry Christmas." In 2019, those are apparently fighting words.

Some conservative Christians protested that Joseph, the terrestrial father of Jesus of Nazareth, wasn't poor — though it's hard to see how a carpenter from an otherwise insignificant village in Galilee would be well-off — or faulted Buttigieg for not saying "Jesus" in his tweet. "But it was perhaps Buttigieg’s classification of Jesus as a refugee — a common line among the Christian left — that received almost immediate pushback from evangelicals," says The Washington Post's Eugene Scott.

The Daily Wire's Matt Walsh tied the criticisms together in one tweet, and he got some pushback from Jack Jenkins, a religion reporter with a master's degree in divinity from Harvard.



Walsh, who is Catholic, argued back that Jesus wasn't a refugee because Galilee and Egypt were both part of the Roman Empire. Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest who's nobody's idea of a theological conservative, explained in 2017 why Jesus and his family were clearly refugees, at least according to the Gospel of Matthew. And fellow Jesuit priest Jeremy Zipple noted that Pope Benedict XVI — nobody's idea of a liberal — disagrees with Walsh, as did Pope Pius XII.



Jesus' citizenship status "has real implications for how Christians on both sides of the aisle conduct policy" and view President Trump's hardline, restrictive immigration and refugee policies, Scott reports. And Buttigieg dropped his Christmas tweet into a tender moment for evangelicals being internally challenged to square their faith with their fealty to an unrepentantly flawed president. Read The Week's Bonnie Kristian on how evangelicals might fix this moral dissonance.

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