Am I That Kind of Person?

Am I the type of Christian who would shelter and aid an undocumented person to prevent a great injustice from occurring?

One of my predecessors was That Kind of Person. William Hanby, the United Brethren denominational editor in the 1840s and 1850s, and also a bishop for four years, spent 20 years helping runaway slaves who came across his path in Ohio. It was illegal. Hanby–an ordained minister, a bishop–was intentionally breaking the law, risking imprisonment. But today we view him as a hero.

I’d like to know the first time Hanby was faced with fugitive slaves, with pursuers close on their heels. Perhaps he tried to talk himself out of helping–it would be so easy to rationalize it away. But in deciding to help, he learned that he was That Kind of Person.

The incredible book “Conscience and Courage,” which I read many years ago, tells the stories of ordinary Europeans who risked their lives to shelter Jews. Author Eva Fogelman says rescuers didn’t fit a particular profile. Most didn’t set out to be rescuers, or consider themselves heroic or even sympathetic to Jews. But when presented with Jews on their doorstep, they decided to help. Only then did they realize they were That Kind of Person.

Today–EVERY DAY in our America–Hispanic families are getting ripped apart. Great injustices happen EVERY DAY. A few days ago I wrote about the Beristains in South Bend, Ind. They are just one example. What happened to that family happens EVERY SINGLE DAY. Enormous trauma is happening to families all around us because of government policies, but most of us never encounter it.

I have practically no contact with the Latino community. But if presented with a family threatened with being ripped apart and thrown into the ICE gulag, would I discover that I was a William Hanby Kind of Person? I could easily rationalize myself out of helping. Most evangelical Christians would. Would I?

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An Injustice in Trump’s Twisted Version of America

beristain-family

I’ve been following the sad case of Roberto Beristain, an undocumented man from South Bend, Ind., who was separated from his wife and three daughters–all American citizens–on February 6 because of Donald Trump’s dispassionate, devoid-of-humanity orders. For two months, he was shuttled around to detention facilities in six different states, while a loving family could do little but try to keep track of him. Then, at 10 pm last Tuesday night, he was dropped off at the border at El Paso, and he walked into Mexico.

President Obama was tough on illegal immigrants, earning the nickname Deporter in Chief. But he injected discretion and humanity into his actions. Trump removed all of that. I knew he would be tougher on undocumented people, but never did I dream that he would tear asunder families. Like he did with the Beristains.

The way things work, the family will never be reunited. At least, not in the United States.

This should not happen in America, and to American families.

Beristain came to the US–yes, illegally–in 1998. He met his wife, Helen, in Fort Wayne, Ind., where I live. They were married in 2001, relocated in Mishawaka, and brought three daughters into the world, all of whom are now teenagers. And US citizens. Roberto is owner of Eddie’s Steak Shed and employs 20 people.

A mistake by immigration officials back in 2000 got him classified incorrectly, making it difficult to get a green card. They’ve tried to fix it over the years, but no luck. He got by on a work permit, and followed all the laws. He has no criminal record. Everyone describes him as a perfect citizen…except for not being, technically, a citizen.

President Trump: this is dispicable. And I see no indication that you care one iota.

Breaking up this family doesn’t keep anybody safe. It doesn’t protect American workers. It’s not a matter of expelling a “bad hombre.” It’s just a rule. A rigid policy.

This is only one such case. It’s getting press attention because the wife was a vocal Trump supporter. She never imagined Trump would rip apart her family.

I realize that many supposedly family-values Christian will rationalize ways to applaude this, and spout things like, “Your sins will find you out.” Some are Facebook friends. This saddens me, but not nearly as much as I’m saddened by what the Beristain family is suffering, as a loving father has been torn from their lives because of our President is playing to his base.

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Why No Evangelicals on the Supreme Court?

I haven’t heard anything about the lack of religious diversity on the Supreme Court, and how Neil Gorsuch would fit in. Most recently, there were six Catholics and three Jews. When John Paul Stevens stepped down in 2010, it was the first time in US history that no Protestant served on the Supreme Court. (Merrick Garland, for the record, would have made it five Catholics and four Jews.)

Catholics have really come on strong in recent years. The first Catholic justice was appointed in 1836, but during the next 120 years, only six more Catholics were appointed. But since 1988, six Catholics have been appointed, all of them serving at the same time. What’s up with that?

Within Protestantism you have the mainline denominations, which tend to be socially liberal, and the more conservative evangelical and fundamentalist denominations–the ones that got Trump elected. The mainline denominations have been over-represented in relation to the population, and evangelicals have been greatly under-represented. During my lifetime, every Protestant justice has been from a mainline denomination–Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran.

So, President Trump, how about putting an evangelical on the Court? Maybe a good ol’ Southern Baptist, the country’s second-largest denomination? The last Baptist Justice was Hugo Black of Alabama, appointed in 1937 (and there were only two Baptist justices before him).

Neil Gorsuch is Episcopalian, so a Protestant would replace the Catholic Scalia. We sometimes view Episcopalians as the closest thing to Catholics. But Episcopalians support abortion rights (with some limits), support same-sex marriage, and ordain gays, lesbians, and transgenders. Not exactly evangelical-friendly.

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Christian Leaders Address the Refugee Executive Order

Too many Christians let their views on public policy be shaped by talking-head pundits. This is particularly sad when it comes to issues of morality and biblical faithfulness. I always want to hear what Christian leaders have to say–missionaries, ministers, theologians, Christian college presidents, leaders of Christian organizations, etc.

Regarding President Trump’s executive order against refugees, a number of Christian leaders have spoken out. I give their views far more weight that the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews–people whose views are shaped by ideology, not by Christian values.

Here is a statement from the leaders of eight Christian organizations, including World Relief and World Vision. These people are on the front lines, ministering to refugees and others devastated by conflict and natural disasters. I highly value their voice, and appreciate them speaking truth to power in the name of Christ.

Dear President Trump and Vice President Pence,

As evangelical Christians, we are guided by the Bible to be particularly concerned for the plight of refugees, individuals who have been forced to flee their countries because of the threat of persecution. Evangelical churches and ministries have long played a key role in welcoming, resettling, and assisting in the integration of refugees from various parts of the world. As such, we are troubled by the recent executive order temporarily halting refugee resettlement and dramatically reducing the number of refugees who could be considered for resettlement to the U.S.

The Bible teaches us that each person — including each refugee, regardless of their country of origin, religious background, or any other qualifier — is made in the Image of God, with inherent dignity and potential. Their lives matter to God, and they matter to us. While the U.S. has in recent years received only a fraction of 1 percent of the world’s refugees annually, we believe the refugee resettlement program provides a lifeline to these uniquely vulnerable individuals and a vital opportunity for our churches to live out the biblical commands to love our neighbors, to make disciples of all nations, and to practice hospitality.

Our faith also compels us to be concerned with the well-being of families. Most of the refugees admitted to the U.S. in recent years are family reunification cases, coming to join a relative already in the country. A temporary moratorium will unnecessarily delay families whose cases already have been screened and approved from being reunited.

We fully affirm the important role of the U.S. government in vetting and screening those considered for resettlement to our country; indeed, it is a God-ordained responsibility of government. However, the U.S. refugee resettlement program’s screening process is already extremely thorough — more intensive, in fact, than the vetting that is required of any other category of visitor or immigrant to our nation — and it has a remarkably strong record. While we are always open to improvements to our government’s screening process, we believe that our nation can continue to be both compassionate and secure.

We would ask that you reconsider these decisions, allowing for resettlement of refugees to resume immediately so that our churches and ministries can continue to live out our faith in this way.

We are praying for you and for all of those in positions of civil authority, that God would continue to grant you wisdom and guidance.

Respectfully,

Chad Hayward
CEO, Accord Network

Shirley V. Hoogstra
President, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

Hyepin Im
President & CEO, Korean Churches for Community Development

Leith Anderson
President, National Association of Evangelicals

Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez
President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon
Ambassador. The Wesleyan Church

Tim Breene
CEO, World Relief

Richard Stearns
President, World Vision U.S.

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“For the Lord is a God of Justice….”

A turning point of sorts occurred for me in 1980, when I attended an Evangelical Press Association convention in Chicago. The closing speaker, Wes Pippert, referenced biblical teachings about the poor and justice. I remember it distinctly. It was as though God grabbed me by the collar and said, “Pay attention to this! It’s important!”

I grew up under great biblical teaching, but don’t remember ever hearing messages about justice. Four years of Huntington College were similarly silent. So when I heard Wes Pippert, I was pretty much a blank slate. Ignorant. And thus began for me a decades-long journey during which God taught me about issues of poverty and justice. God reshaped my mind, and prepared me for things he had planned for me.

IN MY EXPERIENCE, evangelicals just don’t teach about justice. I’ve sat under some excellent pastors, but only one has preached on the subject (thank you, Tim Hallman). It’s puzzling to me. To an extent, I think white evangelicals (my tribe) view justice as a “black” issue, or as something only “liberals” champion. Beyond that, I can’t figure it out.

After a couple decades along this journey, I reluctantly accepted that the Republican Party TENDS to work at odds with bringing justice in society. They care about justice for the unborn, but that’s about it. When I talk or write about justice, I sense people’s eyes glazing over. They think I’m just trying to spiritualize what they view as anti-God liberalism. I get that a lot.

Anyway, I don’t talk about justice because, as people sometimes mistakenly assume, I’m a raging liberal. I talk about it because God stabbed me through the heart with the issue way back in 1980, and has patiently shown me how much he cares about justice. Justice for the poor, for prisoners, for aliens, for the marginalized, for racial minorities, for women, for workers, for children, for the oppressed.

These SHOULD be concerns for all Christians.

So no, I won’t shut up about it.

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Alternative Sports Facts

Green-Bay-Packers-shoot-for-first-win-in-BuffaloIt was great seeing the Packers make it to yet another Super Bowl. Don’t believe the liberal media, with their fake news, which says the Falcons won. The Packers won, period. I look forward to them defeating the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

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The Gold Pitch

You’ve seen those alarmist commercials, often on cable news, which want you to invest in gold. They tell you about a coming global economic collapse which will make your money worthless. But if you have gold, you’ll be okay.

SO, they urge you to send them your money–which, of course, will become worthless–and they will send you their valuable gold. What am I missing here? Why do they want your worthless money? What do they intend to buy with it–platinum?

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Trump: Hitting the Ground Running with the Economy

After 30+ years at the United Brethren national office, I’ve seen (from the sidelines) hundreds of pastoral transitions occur in our churches. It’s always nice when a church is all primed to move forward–problems have been dealt with, the congregation is unified, finances are doing well, good leadership is in place. You know that the next pastor will be able to hit the ground running.

I kind of view the Trump presidency that way, at least when it comes to the economy. I like what he did with Carrier, and that most corporations are going to think twice about relocating operations overseas. That’s a great way to use the famed Bully Pulpit. I think the economy in general is primed for him to move forward in job creation, revitalizing the middle class, and other areas.

It was reported this week that in December, the economy added jobs for the 75th month in a row, which is a record. The inflation rate has been very low for many years now (1.6% or lower for the past three years), stocks are up, exports are up, domestic oil production up, gas prices down. The auto industry, once on the brink of collapse, is now humming along nicely.

Of course, a great deal remains to be done. I don’t want to paint a totally rosy picture. Many people are unemployed and under-employed, or are working at very low-income jobs. But nothing ominous, economy-wise, faces the incoming president. It really does remind me of a church which is ready to move forward.

President-elect Trump should be able to take office and hit the ground running. No impending economic meltdown to address, no major industry facing collapse. Problems will arise, obviously, but Trump won’t be hit with them on Day One. He can lay out a path and move the economy forward. I hope that is what happens.

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Why Not Celebrate New Year’s Day in March?

Why does the New Year start in January? Why not a nicer, more optimistic month, like March? Well, it used to start in March. Which explained why the last four months of the year were named after numbers. September (septem) was the 7th month, October (octo) the 8th, November (novem) the ninth, and December (decem) the 10th.

But then along came Julius Caesar. He thought January would be more appropriate, since it was named after Janus, the god of doors and gates. That started in 45 B.C. So when Jesus came along, January had already been imposed across the Roman Empire.

The 5th month used to be called Quintilis (quint=5), but Caesar changed it to Julius to honor himself. The next emperor, Augustus, did likewise with the sixth month, which had been Sextilis. All the previous months were already named after gods–Janus, Februus, Mars, Aphrodite, Maia, Juno.

After the Roman Empire went away, January fell out of favor. Countries did their own thing. March became popular. But in 1582, Pope Gregory created the Gregorian calendar, which restored January 1 as New Year’s Day.

The British Empire didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752, which means the Founding Fathers grew up celebrating the New Year in March. Russia held off until after the Revolution in 1917. So godless communists also preferred the Pope’s calendar, apparently.

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Let’s End the Electoral College

No state uses the electoral college to elect a governor. Ever wonder why? States go strictly on the popular vote. Electoral college lovers will argue that that just gives certain counties more power (in my state, that would be Marion, Allen, and Hamilton counties). I argue that it makes every citizen count equally. Equality is kind of an American value, isn’t it?

Every four years, we hear tortured explanations of why the electoral college is a good thing. Why the all-wise Founding Fathers decided to use it back in the 1700s. I realize it’s never going to go away. But I’d like to see the popular vote prevail. The winner is the person who gets the most votes. THAT is democracy. The electoral college is NOT democracy.

Majority vote prevails at every other level–city, county, state, US Representatives, Senators–but we use a whole different method for selecting a president. Doesn’t that seem odd? It’s like playing a full basketball game, and if it’s tied at the end, you switch and play Rock-Paper-Scissors.

This electoral college thing treats states on a winner-take-all basis. Most states are already considered in the bag for one candidate or the other. Trump wrote off California, Illinois, and New York–some token campaigning, but voters in those states didn’t really matter TO HIM. Hillary wrote off Texas, Wyoming, Indiana, and most of the deep South. Voters in those states did not matter TO HER. When I vote for a Democrat for president, it’s totally irrelevant, because Indiana is going with the Republican.

In the general election, each candidate focuses on just a handful of “battleground” states. I’m tired of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin being the only states whose citizens really matter. The states where candidates devote their time and resources. I matter, too. So do citizens in Idaho, Montana, and Massachusetts, whether they live in cities or in the country.

There are 4.1 million people in California who voted for Trump. But they might as well have stayed home. Likewise for the 3.8 Texans who voted for Hillary. Consider that in Wisconsin, the TOTAL number of votes cast was under 3 million. But every one of those votes counted A WHOLE LOT. That’s not American.

Over the years, hundreds of proposals have been introduced to reform or end the electoral college (a term which doesn’t appear in the Constitution). Polls consistently show that a wide majority of people favor abolishing the electoral college (75% clear back in 1981). It’s an archaic system, which may have fit the world of the late 1700s, but it’s time to go. Plus, the electoral college is death to third parties. Ross Perot won 19% of the votes in 1992, but received NO electoral votes because he wasn’t strong enough in any single state. I’d love to see a third party candidate who actually stands a snowball’s chance.

Brazil, France, Finland, and Argentina are among the countries which once used an electoral college kind of system, but replaced it with a direct, popular-vote election. In the US, state legislatures appointed US senators until the 1900s, when we switched to a popular vote. So it CAN be done.

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