Monthly Archives: July 2015
In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Tennessee (yes, I intentionally called it a terrorist attack) allegedly committed by Kuwaiti-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez that killed five members of our Armed Forces, Franklin Graham fell into disfavor with some Christian leaders when he called for an end to Muslim immigration to the U.S. Graham’s critics believe that closing immigration to the Muslim world due to the actions of a small number of radicals does not express Christian love. Graham’s critics have a distorted understanding of our obligations as Christians as well as our effectiveness. Allow me to elaborate.
On one hand, God instructs us in the Bible to welcome the foreigner in our land. But on the other hand, God warned the nation of Israel against intermixing with the nations and people groups they were at war with. (In other words, God was concerned for the safety and spiritual wellbeing of his people because he knew that too much intermixing with the people from enemy nations would lead many of his people to change allegiance to other gods.) Granted, the context is different in each of these two instructions found in the Bible, but some American Christians have embraced the former Biblical imperative to welcome the foreigner while ignoring the latter imperative that warns God’s people of the danger of too much intermixing that can result in a nation losing their identity to the customs and religions of hostile nations. This one-sided approach to Biblical instruction leads some Christians to the misdirected, albeit compassionate, belief that America should always permit copious immigration because it presents an opportunity to express Christ’s love to unbelievers. Such thinking, given the current reality that the U.S. is at war with radical Islamists, means that some of our fellow citizens will inevitably die at the hands of radical Islamists who immigrate to the U.S. We know that some Muslims are radicalized via the internet after they get here, though we don’t know how many.
Some American Christians, attempting to demonstrate Christ’s love to the world, feel duty-bound to accept the low risk (for now) associated with Muslim immigration. Apparently those same American Christians are prepared to become martyrs if necessary. Such an attitude sounds spiritually enlightened and hip in a new age-pacifist sort of way. But is it Biblical when we live in a nation at war, indeed when our very soil has become a battleground? Do we have a right to expect even a small number of fellow citizens, who might not know the Lord, to be willing to die at the hands of radical Islamist immigrants so that we can express the love of Christ via a generous immigration policy? There’s another question we need to ask as Christians and good citizens: Are Muslim immigrants assimilating into American culture? Anecdotally I see more and more immigrants who show no apparent desire to assimilate into American culture. I also wonder how many immigrants are converting to Christianity. Over the past few years I’ve noticed quite a few Caucasian American women wearing the hijab. We, the church, need to ask who is converting who?
As for the argument that we need high immigration numbers as a mechanism for Christians to express the love of Christ, I refer you to John 13:34-35 where we receive a new command from God: “. . . By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This Scripture is directed at Christians. If we are honest with ourselves, we do a lackluster job of loving each other in the church. Jesus didn’t say the world would come to him because of good preaching, or excellent missionary programs, or faith-based social services, or creative outreach events; although all these things help bring people to faith in Christ. Jesus was pointing out the powerful witness to unbelievers that occurs when Christians love each other with the miraculous love of Christ. When done right, it’s something unbelievers would want for themselves. Since we have not done so well at loving each other in the church the way Christ loved his disciples, perhaps we should not delude ourselves that we can reach significant numbers of Muslim immigrants right now. It seems like we are just hoping that we can entice immigrants into the kingdom of God by first enticing them with our western freedom, democracy, economic opportunities and materialism. Again, I’m not sure how we can demonstrate the love of Christ through immigration policy when we do a lackluster job of loving each other in the American church.
Maybe the better approach is to re-focus on sending missionaries overseas. I’ve said it before, but the time has likely come in America when we need to slow immigration to a trickle for a while in order to give our current immigrants time and incentive to assimilate, and to allow law enforcement to cull the bad apples that present a danger to our fellow citizens. But such a policy has a fatal flaw in our current political milieu: It’s called common sense and it doesn’t help anybody make money or secure power. Fortunately God doesn’t need money or power. I pray that God’s will for our nation prevails.
If Bill Cosby were an illegal immigrant, could he move to a sanctuary city and escape the legal troubles surrounding his inappropriate/criminal sexual dalliances back in the day? Last week, as the Cosby story heated up, news about Kate Steinle’s murder in San Francisco allegedly at the hands of Illegal immigrant Francisco Sanchez (who happened to be enjoying safe refuge in the sanctuary city of San Franciso) went viral. Her tragic murder made me angry. You see, last year two sheriff deputies were killed in and near my hometown of Sacramento by illegal immigrant Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte. Mr.Monroy-Bracamonte had been deported twice before killing the deputies.
According to United States Sentencing Commission data for 2014, Illegal immigrants accounted for 36.7% of federal sentences. Most of us commoners agree that our immigration system is dysfunctional and our leaders in Washington do not have the juice to fix it. Republican politicians exploit illegal immigrants for the cheap labor craved by business while democrat politicians exploit illegal immigrants for their votes, or the votes of their legal family members. In other words, when one of us commoners gets murdered or maimed by an illegal immigrant criminal, Washington considers it acceptable collateral damage. What’s it going to take to fix? Will the father of a child killed by an illegal immigrant someday walk into Congress and shoot the place up? If such a horrible thing were to happen I’ve no doubt our border would be secure overnight.
Here’s the thing: The Bible tells us to welcome foreigners in our land. Read Exodus 22:21-24, Leviticus 19:33-34, and Deuteronomy 10:18-19. These verses convey a tone of empathy that we are to have toward immigrants in our land; I accept that and try to live it. Unfortunately these verses do not provide guidance in the nuance of complicated ancillary issues surrounding illegal immigration, such as: what to do about endless legions of poor illegal immigrants fleeing horrible conditions in their country; the cost of housing, food, medicine, social services and education for illegal immigrants; the crimes committed by a segment of illegal immigrants while here; whether or not illegal immigrants perform jobs that natural citizens avoid; and the cost to the consumer if illegal immigration were shut off.
The primary focus of the Bible’s position on immigration instructs us to have a tender heart toward immigrants and to take care of them if they are in need while here. We can do that. But the Bible does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. The Bible also does not say that we must throw open the gate and accept whatever consequences, the good and bad. Just because we want our leaders to manage immigration with greater effectiveness does not mean we are incapable of empathy toward non-criminal immigrants. Perhaps if government did a better job of culling dangerous illegal immigrants from the herd, there would be more room for immigrants who want to work, achieve a better life and participate in civil life within the American community.
Given our current economic malaise, the hard reality is that there are simply not enough jobs and business opportunities for every immigrant, legal or not, who wants to enter America. Long-term moral solutions to illegal immigration are not pleasant (MOST moral solutions are not pleasant). It may require that American businesses pay higher wages to get legal workers. The Democrat Party may need to get by with fewer voters. Consumers might pay more for goods and services. Businesses may have to settle for leaner profit margins. Republican leaders may need to say no to powerful business interests that fund their campaigns. A greater percentage of immigrants may need to come here temporarily to get an education or vocational skills and return to their country of origin to help make things better there. The U.S. may need to slow all immigration to a trickle to give current immigrants a chance to assimilate and to give authorities time to get a handle on immigration and flush out the bad apples. The U.S. may need to apply economic pressure to Mexico and Central America to shape up and provide economic opportunities and safety to their citizens so that they do not feel desperate to get to America. These are the right things to do, and I believe they do not contradict the Bible.
One thing I know, God hears the cries of desperate immigrants as well as the families of victims like Steinle. If America is going to continue the exploitative immigration policies that result in tragic consequences to our own citizens, we will have some explaining to do before Almighty God. The thing is, our excuses probably won’t deflect God’s judgment. I pray for Kate Steinle’s family as they grieve. I also pray that our leaders grow a moral spine and fix the problems that contributed to her tragic death. That’s the only way they can avoid getting more innocent blood on their hands. Steinle’s death raises a sobering question: Who is more dangerous, illegal immigrant criminals or our political leaders?
America is my home and I love her despite her shortcomings. I am wed to the land and, more significantly, to the audacious dream of America and what it has meant for humanity. It does not take a prophet to divine that the recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States legalizing gay marriage has placed the audacious dream of America in a precarious position. While millions of my fellow citizens celebrate the Court’s decision, some of us perceive that the Court’s decision will have the opposite effect of creating a fair and stronger society for all. Before I continue I need to stress that the following argument comes from my identity as Christian American, not just as a Christian.
In a free nation it is inevitable that equal protection under the law of one group will eventually conflict with the equal protection under the law of another group. In the recent epic struggle that landed before the Supreme Court, the gay community won but everyone else lost. How so, you ask? Well, the Sunday after the Court’s decision, my pastor verbalized what I’ve pondered for some time. He said the gay community today has the right to live how they want in America because of the Judeo Christian values that our founders codified into laws that protect the freedoms we all enjoy. If you doubt this, look around the world today at nations that do not have, or never had, a strong Judeo Christian influence and you soon realize that gay people are treated quite poorly in many of those places. The map linked below (Courtesy of Quartz and Pew Research Center) shows countries where gay marriage is legal. Note that most of the countries highlighted have, or at one time had, a strong influence from the Protestant or Catholic Church or both.
Has the historical and modern church at times stood in the way of gay rights? Yes, but the church has also advocated strongly for human rights. The efforts of Christ’s church have paved the way for much of the freedoms enjoyed by a large swath of humanity today. I know many on the left, secularists, will scoff at this. Sometimes the truth is too painful to bear.
Here’s the rub: By winning before SCOTUS, the gay community has managed to render the First Amendment (which covers all Americans, not just the small gay community) almost impotent. In other words, the gay community used the equal protection under the law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to sacrifice the First Amendment right to religious freedom enjoyed by millions of Americans. It was a selfish and vain attempt by the gay community to achieve happiness and peace via societal acceptance.
As a Christian with a fairly good understanding of human nature, I know this will not give the gay community the peace they crave. Sure, initially there will be celebrations and great happiness in the gay community, but God loves all people and his Spirit draws them to himself. That “drawing to himself” is the uncomfortable feeling that something is not right that each person experiences in life. It turns many people correctly toward God. The only solution to that deep uncomfortable feeling is the acceptance of Christ into a person’s life. But that is a theological subject for another time.
So what happens now in America? It’s hard to say. We have entered uncharted territory, considering that approximately 118 million Americans (this number was compiled from Pew Research data) who are fairly active in their faith have just had their religious freedom compromised. Actually, 320 million Americans (our current total population) just had their religious freedom compromised. For now I do not expect much to change in the lives of most Americans. Nary a week has passed and the issue of gay marriage and religious freedom seems to fade from our collective consciousness as life goes on. But even now I suspect radicals in the gay community are preparing to challenge protestant, evangelical and Catholic churches and faith-based organizations to embrace gay marriage or lose their tax exempt status as well as government funding for many of the social programs offered by the church. I expect that the gay community will attempt to have the government take away tax benefits enjoyed by members of the clergy who refuse to perform gay marriages or let gay couples use church facilities as wedding venues. Christian colleges and K through 12 schools may face attacks if their doctrine, hiring and enrollment practices are not acceptable to the gay community. Christian for-profit businesses will continue to have a target painted on their backs, as recent history has already shown. Gay leaders will continue to insist that people of faith not be allowed to “hide” behind religious freedom (darn that pesky First Amendment) and “discriminate” against gay people.
If the gay community and secular society drive the church into the shadows, one unexpected consequence is that the church will likely grow even more than it did when it enjoyed unlimited religious freedom (Ironic). Another unintended outcome would be that more Americans will realize (when it’s too late) that the church and faith-based organizations carry a tremendous load of social services provided to the needy and marginalized in America and around the world. Will our financially-strapped government step in to fill the gap? Will the gay community? I doubt it.
It is also ironic that by turning to the heavy hand of the federal government (as well as manipulating the opinion of an often obtuse public) for redress of perceived grievances, the gay community has handed the federal government far too much power for any institution to safely wield and still guarantee the sacred rights that apply to all people. Personally I do not believe the church should turn the other cheek at this point in our nation’s history. But while we fight back, we likely need to examine ourselves and stop living hypocritical lives. Hopefully our coming dilemma will prod us to take a hard look at ourselves. The church engages in far too much sin, infighting and turf wars. Too many people in the church want to soak up God’s love without grappling with sin in their lives. Too many do not practice the art of loving each other. Too many pastors and priests have set a horrible example in the conduct of their personal and professional lives. Too many pastors and priests are willing to refuse to marry gay couples while overlooking the plethora of sins in the lives of heterosexuals; sins like cohabitation, substance abuse, gluttony, greed, gossip, anger, racism, absence of love for others, pride, serial marriages, unethical business dealings, just to name a few.
If something doesn’t change, the coming persecution will likely separate genuine Christians from the superficial. I don’t know, maybe God’s spirit will help us now that our comfortable church life could be a thing of the past. In the meantime, what can you do? Pray for our nation as much, or more, than we pray for our individual needs, and pay attention to potential leaders who want our votes. It is time to elect leaders who will appoint judges who know better than to sacrifice one part of the Constitution for another due to the pressures of political correctness.