Category Archives: Current Issues

Saul, Damascus, ICE, and Iraq

Today, Pastor Kevin preached about Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Acts 9 tells how Saul, with the approval from authorities, was finding Christians–men and women–and dragging them off to prison. During our discussion time, Kevin asked what we thought Saul was thinking during those three days he sat in Damascus, blind, after hearing Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

I didn’t enter into the discussion, but here’s what I was thinking. Did Saul think about the human cost of what he had been doing? Of ripping mothers and fathers away from their children? Of taking a man or woman from his/her spouse? Of disrupting livelihoods and causing hardship for the people who depended on them? Of the mistreatment these people experienced while incarcerated? Of the fear un-arrested Christians lived with every day?

My mind went in that direction because I’m still extremely troubled by what happened last weekend in Detroit, when ICE swooped in and arrested scores of Chaldean Christians to deport them back to Iraq. What Saul did 2000 years ago was echoed in Detroit–families being ripped apart, people living in fear, children traumatized, livelihoods disrupted, extended family members forced to seek recourse where little recourse existed because of unbending policies. Tears, lots of tears, and anguish. Hundreds more Chaldean Christians have been targeted for deportation. Some have already been sent back to Iraq.

I don’t know what happened to those persons Saul imprisoned. How long were they incarcerated? What kind of sentences did they receive? Were some executed? What happened to their children? To their businesses? To the extended family who depended on them? Did they have any legal recourse?

Those folks in Detroit, like the countless others ICE has arrested during the last few months across the country, have practically no recourse. They are in the ICE system, and they will be deported. I’ve also discovered that, Christians or not, they have practically no sympathy from conservative evangelicals like me.

As these Christians are returned to Iraq, we can be pretty sure that at least some of them will be killed there. Sometimes crucified. Yes, that happens in Iraq. In America, they have freedom to practice (like me) their Christian faith; in Iraq, they can be killed for it. Since 2003, the number of Christians in Iraq has plummeted from 1.4 million to 200,000. This is what we are sending men and women, mothers and fathers, back to. This is what people said they elected the president to do.

As an American, I will be partly responsible for their deaths. I’m not okay with that.

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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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Redemption and the Manson Family

leslie-van-houten

For me, and possibly you, the Manson “family” has been a reoccurring presence. I was 11 when the Tate-LaBianca murders happened, and certain names were indelibly etched into my memory–Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten. Their names have kept popping up over the years, usually in relation to parole hearings. And each time, the gruesome details are recounted.

Except for Manson, who is insane, all developed into model prisoners. And interestingly, after all this time, only one of them has died–Susan Atkins, in 2009, of cancer.

This morning, I read that Leslie Van Houten was denied parole for the umpteenth time. Parole was recommended, but Gov. Jerry Brown denied it, saying she “currently poses an unreasonable danger to society.” I’ll confess, there is a very large part of me that wants to see her released. She’s not the same person she was at age 19. But after reading, again, what she did in 1969…well, it’s shocking.

In Norway, the maximum prison sentence is 20 years, regardless of the crime. A person might remain imprisoned longer than that, but the initial sentence doesn’t go beyond 20 years. There is no “life sentence,” and certainly nothing like our obscenely unjust “three strikes” laws, which are so beloved by law-and-order politicians.

Part of the reasoning, in Norway, is that people change over time. I’m reminded of the scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” where Red says at his parole hearing, “I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left.”

Norway apparently believes in redemption and life-change. In America, our focus is punishment and vengeance. You can argue that some of these Manson fanatics did redeem themselves, but must continue paying the consequences. I don’t know. It’s an interesting discussion to have.

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A Glimpse of a Father’s Rage

I’ve been thinking about a devotional speaker I heard during an Evangelical Press Association convention back in the 1980s. He was a pastor and an award-winning author. in addition, he and his wife, both white, had adopted and raised two black boys.
 
During one devotional, he mentioned how his sons had been stopped by cops different times, and he KNEW it was because they were black. No other reason. He related this in a calm, objective way, as he used it to illustrate a point. But I distinctly remember something very different about his voice, for just a second. Leaking through that pastoral calm exterior, I saw a father’s rage. It was just a glimpse, and I think he meant to hide it, but it was there. His beloved boys had been treated unjustly, and there’s no way he could disguise his anger.
 
How many moms and dads in the black community, how many grandparents and siblings and spouses, live with the scars of having been treated unfairly because of their color? Injustice casts a long shadow. It’s not something you get over.
 
When I see African Americans marching, I remind myself that they are individuals with stories to tell–if not from their own lives, from the lives of people they know and love. It’s not something I know anything about, but as a Christian wanting to reflect Jesus, I’m trying to learn. Or, at the least, I’m trying not to be blindly critical of things beyond my experience.
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Thinking About the Unthinkable

Donald Trump has ramped up his enthusiasm for torturing prisoners, saying we need to do the “unthinkable.” What do you think he means? Pulling out fingernails? Attaching electrodes? Breaking toes? Gouging out eyes? Raping family members in front of prisoners? When you’re talking “unthinkable,” all of this is fair game. So if you’re going to vote for Trump, you might want to learn what exactly “unthinkable” means to him.

This would obviously go way beyond what the Bush administration started, striking at the heart of what we stand for. And it would make it profoundly absurd to then sing, “God Bless America.”

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Sentencing Reform: Tackling an Out of Control Issue

An issue important to me is sentencing reform, and candidates’ views will influence my vote. It’s been a big problem in America for decades, with a most definite racist and class component (white rich people tend to get breaks). We need to get a handle on it. The Brock Turner rape case has magnified the issue.

Here’s a interesting and insightful article about a black student athlete who committed a crime similar to Turner’s, but received a 15-25 year sentence.

At the end, the article takes a broad look at criminal sentencing. For instance: “Black men are given prison sentences 20% longer than white men for the exact same crimes.” And: “African-Americans and Latinos are three times as likely to have their cars searched by police than whites and are twice as likely to be arrested for drugs over whites — even though studies show whites use and sell drugs at the same or even higher rates than African-Americans.”

Sentencing reform has actually become somewhat of a bipartisan issue. The Koch Brothers, for instance, support it. I’ve not heard Hillary address the issue. I knew Scott Walker took a hard-line approach and opposed a Madison prosecutor who was getting some national attention by taking some common-sense approaches, but Walker dropped out early. I can’t see Trump taking anything but a “get tough on crime” stance in favor of harsh sentencing, but he could surprise me. As with most policy issues, I kinda doubt he’s given much thought to it.

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Selective Outrage, and Which Lives Really Matter

Republicans have been criticizing President Obama for not canceling his Latin America trip after the Brussels attack. Apparently he was supposed to go back to Washington, issue a sober statement condemning Islamic terrorism, then sit in the Oval Office wringing his hands. All of the presidential candidates, of course, canceled their itineraries upon learning of the attacks.

About 32 people were killed in Brussels.

Earlier in 2016, terrorist attacks killed 60 in Libya, 32 in Cameroon, 63 in Somalia, 30 in Burkina Faso, 55 in Iraq, 86 in Nigeria, 60 in Nigeria, 28 in Turkey, 24 in Cameroon, 80 in Iraq, 32 in Somalia, 62 in Iraq, 48 in Tunisia, 22 in Ivory Coast, 38 in Turkey, and 18 in Egypt.

Where was the outrage from Republicans over these attacks? Why weren’t they demanding that Obama cancel his schedule after these attacks? Don’t all lives matter?

We shouldn’t care only when terrorists kill people in a white Christian European country. That would be the R word.

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