The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 4

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

For Evangelical Christians, our final and binding authority on all areas of faith and practice, whether it be moral, civil, political, or social is the Bible. It is not the court system. It is not the president of the United States. It is not conservative or liberal radio and cable news programs. It is not the political pundits with an agenda to advance. It is not any social media platform. It is not a Republican, Democratic, or any other mainstream, extremist, or left-leaning political party.

Too often, Christians do not look to the Scriptures to inform their views, opinions, and convictions on day-to-day matters such as relationships, finances, forgiveness, human worth, and the family unit. Immigration too is a subject that suffers from the lack of biblical scrutiny and understanding. In a recent survey conducted by a Lifeway Research poll commissioned by the Evangelical Immigration Table and World Relief 1, 1000 evangelicals answered this question, “Which one of the following has influenced your thinking the most on immigration?” The results:

  • 17% – Immigrants you have interacted with
  • 16% – Friends and family
  • 16% – The media
  • 12% – The Bible
  • 11% – Immigrants you have observed
  • 5% – Position of an elected official
  • 2% – Your local church
  • 1% – Your teachers and professors
  • <1% – National Christian leaders
  • 21% – Not sure

Two areas of concern emerge from the results. First, when it comes to the source of influence regarding immigration, more evangelical look to the media, their local church, and national Christian leaders combined than they do the Bible. Second, more than 20% are unsure – meaning it is likely a subject to which they give little thought (my conclusion).  I found the results shocking and disturbing. Why would the Bible rank so low as a source of information for evangelicals? I have two possible reasons.

First, perhaps the Bible says what we do not want it to say because it does not align with other already-formed opinions. Second, maybe we believe the Bible is silent about this issue. Yes and no. If you approach the Bible in search of a narrow, specific one-size-fits-all, hard-and-fast, all-questions-answered, not-too-messy immigration policy easily applied to our nation, then yes, the Bible is silent. However, if you approach the Bible allowing the canon of Scripture – the Old Testament principles, commandments, instructions, and nuances, along with the New Testament imperatives, doctrines, and from-the-mouth words of Jesus Christ to provide a comprehensive view on how to treat immigrants and view immigration in its entirety, the Bible is certainly not silent.

Scripture is rich with stories of real people with clear instructions as to how the Israelites were to treat foreigners who would live within their borders. In his book, Christians at the Border; Immigration, the Church, and the Bible, evangelical Old Testament scholar David Carroll asserts that many of the most prominent characters of the Bible were themselves, at one point or another, immigrants, crossing borders to reside in another land.

Reasons for the migrations of people throughout Scripture strike a similar chord to the migrations of people today. The movement was, at times, hunger driven by famine. Such was the case with Abraham (Gen. 12:10), Isaac (Gen. 26:1), Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:1). Others moved against their will: Joseph, the Northern and Southern kingdoms into exile, and Daniel. Some migrated due to God’s providential calling, specifically Abraham and the Israelites out of Egypt. In many ways, the reasons that forced people of the Old Testament to migrate to other lands are similar to the factors that move people from country to country today: displacement by war, famine, opportunities for work, a better way of life and livelihood, and the reunification of families, to name a few.

In addition to the real stories of real people moving between nations, the Old Testament paints an unambiguous picture of the character of God toward the vulnerable. Immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers are vulnerable today. In their native land, they are vulnerable. Political corruption, crime, hunger, human trafficking, genocide, and poverty reduce family stability and increase the likelihood of suffering, family separation, and death. In this country, they are vulnerable as well. Immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers face unsafe working conditions, inhumane living conditions, family separations, exploitation by unscrupulous business owners, mock and scorn by the native-born, and politicians who use their plight to bolster poll numbers and fuel fear and hatred. Scripture is clear on God’s view of the vulnerable. During harvest season, Israel was only allowed to glean the fields once to leave the remains for, “the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). God’s concern for these groups is repeated many times on the pages of Scripture. The Psalmist writes, “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” (Psalm 146:9).

God’s directive for Israel to show concern and compassion to the immigrant and foreigner comes with a reason. Moses wrote, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). God’s people are told to love immigrants as themselves because they knew firsthand what it was like to dwell in a land that was not their own. While the instructions of the Old Testament are not binding on Christians today and its law are not de facto immigration policy, they do show God’s unchanging character and love for His creation. If the Old Testament can inform our decisions and beliefs on matters such as marriage, sin, evolution, family, government, and worship, it must inform our decisions and beliefs on immigration as well.

The Old Testament instructions to consider the foreigner are in line with the New Testament instruction for Christians to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Jesus interacted with the foreigner and the outsider during His earthly ministry, most commonly the Samaritans. In John 4, He recognized the worth of the Samaritan woman at the well who was one of the first to recognize Him as the Messiah. He recognized it was a foreigner, a Samaritan, who was the only one of ten who returned to give praise and thanks for healing. He was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” by a lawyer and responded with a story whose protagonist was a Samaritan. Jesus’ answer affirmed that a neighbor is anyone with a need. Jesus did not qualify “neighbor status” as the one who looks, speaks, acts, believes, and behaves as we do. Neighbor status is not limited to economic feasibility, absence of risk, or legal determinations.

If the reader gleans only one thing from these articles, I hope this truth resonates — the person trapped in the spider web that is our current immigration system matters. The person who decides to risk everything to provide a better way of life for their family was created in God’s image and should be treated with respect and not caged like an animal or left to die in a canal or detention facility. Rondell Trevino, the founder of The Immigrant Coalition, said it succinctly, “Immigrants are not problems to solve, they are people to love.”  The immigration issue facing our country is not black and white; it involves many shades of gray. However, for the Christian, the directive to care for and love all people as fellow image-bearers of God could not be any more black and white.

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1 LifeWay Research, “Evangelical Views on Immigration,” February 2015, http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/ uploads/2015/03/Evangelical-Views-on-Immigration-Report.pdf.

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 3

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

I assume most people are familiar with Chic-fil-a. Their chicken is good and their customer service is better. Their unique marketing strategy creates a paradox – using cows to sell chicken. From the cow’s perspective, it is completely self-serving. When you and I are told by sign-toting cows to “Eat More Chikin”, they are really telling us, “I benefit if you listen to me.” There is no consideration for the chicken. I’m afraid this analogy is played out repeatedly in the discussion of immigration/immigrants/refugees. Voices and opinions offered on the matter are at times self-serving and don’t take into account the people involved. We must be balanced in our approach to this delicate matter.

Matthew Soerens, U.S Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief states, “Just 12% of evangelical Christians say their views on the arrival of refugees and other immigrants are primarily informed by the Bible.” 1 So, if barely over one out of ten evangelicals allow their thoughts and opinions on refugees and immigration to be formed by Scripture, what outside forces could possibly form their opinions? I can’t speak for the remaining 88%, but I have my thoughts on two possible influencers: personal politics and fear.

A tendency exists to allow the political party we identify with to shape and influence our views on not only immigration but other weighty issues. The truth is that no political party – Republican, Democrat, Independent, or otherwise is correct all the time. It is impossible. A political party’s platform – the sum of their position on the issues that affect the daily lives of Americans (i.e., taxes, education, defense, trade, immigration) will at some time come into conflict with Scripture. Immigration is one of those issues which rubs against the Christian faith. To offer blind allegiance to a political party and refuse to acknowledge the gospel imperatives and mandates is a slippery slope.

Politics is not a pure, dependable, and informative source from which to discern truth and establish personal conviction. This assertion rests on the premise that politics is ever-changing; motivated by human thought, desire, greed, and earthly pursuit. Even the most conservative parties move with culture and progress away from the center as society evolves. If politics is the source of our opinions on immigration and its related work, that position may be different depending on the outlook and direction an individual political party takes at any given time.

We seem to fear refugees and immigrants because our national leaders have told us to be frightened. Immigration is a convenient drum to beat. It is easy to whip a crowd into a frenzy by stating that all immigrants and refugees are here to hurt us, take our jobs, and drain precious resources that should belong only to Americans. This type of rhetoric is not only untruthful but harmful. Language such as, “caravans,” “hoards,” and “invasion” serve only to polarize the nation and exaggerate what may be happening in isolated locations that are not indicative of what is taking place across the country collectively. People are most afraid of three things when it comes to immigrants and immigration: terrorism, crime, and an increased economic burden.

There is a false narrative perpetuated by the media and public officials that all immigrants are criminals and terrorists. Most immigrants are well-meaning and honest individuals and families seeking a better life. With increased security screenings at airports and ports of entry since September 11, 2001, our country has made great strides to protect the safety of those residing within our borders by ensuring those outside our borders who wish to harm innocents do not enter.  There is no way to keep those who would want to harm others, regardless of the country of origin or immigration status, from acting on their desire. A 2016 article published by the Cato Institute, a conservative think-tank, revealed the terrorist threat from the immigrant community to be lower than most would believe. Consider:

A thorough analysis of all terrorist attacks since 1975 found that the odds of an American being killed in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a foreigner – including the large-scale attack on September 11, 2001 – are 1 in 3.6 million annually. Since the Refugee Act of 1980, no Americans have lost their lives in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a refugee. The odds of being killed by a terrorist who came to the United States as a refugee or who was in the United States illegally are much smaller still: 1 in 3.6 billion and 1 in 10.9 billion, respectively, per year. You are about 800 times more likely to die from being struck by lightning and 17,000 times more likely to die from an accidental gunshot than by a terrorist attack perpetrated by an undocumented immigrant. The level of collective fear over the possibility of immigrant-fueled terrorism is dramatically inflated. 2

One responsibility of the government toward its citizens is to provide a safe place to live, work, and play. There are many Americans who associate immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants with crime and propensity for criminal behavior.  The fear of an increased crime rate makes the mistrust of immigrants and refugees easier to rationalize. Matthew Soerens notes it is vital to understand that unlawful presence in the United States is not a crime – it is a violation of civil, not criminal law.3 Unlawful entry, which is different from unlawful presence, into the United States is a violation of criminal statute. Nearly half of the undocumented immigrants in the United States entered lawfully and overstayed their visas. It is simply untrue to make blanket statements to the effect that all illegal immigrants are criminals as is commonly claimed. A March 15, 2017 article from the Cato Institute paints a different picture of the “all immigrants are criminals” argument:

One way to measure the relationship between immigration and crime is by examining incarceration: in 2014, based on US census data, 1.53% of native-born US citizens between the ages of 18 and 54 were incarcerated, but only 0.85% of undocumented immigrants and 0.47% of immigrants with legal status of the same age and cohort. 5

The American Immigration Council released a report in July of 2015 entitled, “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States.” Their findings are of particular interest, “This disparity in incarceration rates has been consistent in studies based on census data going back to at least 1990, with the incarceration rate of native-born US citizens always at least double and sometimes as much as five times the rate of immigrants.”6

Many Americans believe immigrants are an economic burden on our country: taking goods and services away from Americans. This perceived burden involves jobs, healthcare, education, and other services. There are two sides to this coin with the immigrant/refugee caught in the middle. On one side are those who feel the country is adversely affected by immigration. They believe the children of undocumented immigrants are an added financial burden on local school systems, requiring the development of new programs to meet specific needs such as English as a second language. Expenses related to teacher salaries, classroom supplies, utilities, meals, and transportation add up. Others are concerned that immigrants who are willing to accept below-average wages tend to drive down the income of native-born citizens. Still, others point to the added financial burden to an already taxed healthcare system. Hospitals cannot turn away patients from emergency services regardless of their ability to pay. Hospitals and state governments, in turn, must absorb this cost.  From this vantage point, the immigrant family/refugee family is nothing more than a drain on society; leeches, takers, and non-contributors. The validity of these arguments may exist on one level, but on another level, is the financial contribution that immigrants/refugees make but from which they cannot draw any personal benefit.

A presentation by the Evangelical Immigration Table offers some insight into the push-pull argument that immigrants/refugees are takers.

  • Forty% of Fortune 500 companies were founded or co-founded by an immigrant or their child.
  • Twenty years after arrival, the average refugee adult has contributed approximately $21,000 more in taxes than they have received in governmental assistance and services at all levels.
  • Almost all economists believe that the net economic impact of immigration on the United States is positive, including 96% of economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal who believe the net economic impact of illegal immigration is positive.
  • While undocumented immigrants cannot receive federal means-tested public benefits, they can and do pay taxes: In Texas, contributing $1.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010; Federally, contributing billions of dollars annually—from which they cannot benefit—to Social Security.
  • Immigrants account for approximately 14% of the overall U.S. population but are 95% of victims of labor trafficking and 17% of sex trafficking victims in the nation, according to an analysis of the U.S. Dept. of Justice Prosecution Data by the Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking.7

Soerens highlights the real issue related to wage disparity among immigrants and native-born Americans:

The possible slight negative impact of immigrants on native, low-skilled workers should not be glossed over. Instead, policymakers have a responsibility to make sure that immigrants who are here in the shadows are regularized in a system so US workers can compete fairly. Having immigrant workers is not necessarily what hurts native-born workers: what may hurt native workers in some cases is the fact that these workers are here illegally. Having undocumented immigrants, who do not have equal rights and protection under the law, allows employers an unfair competitive advantage in hiring cheap immigrant labor over native workers. This is unfair to US-citizen workers and law-abiding employers and puts immigrant workers at risk of exploitation by unscrupulous employers. 8

 

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1 LifeWay Research, “Evangelical Views on Immigration,” February 2015, http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/ uploads/2015/03/Evangelical-Views-on-Immigration-Report.pdf.

2 Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 108.

3 Brett Snider, “Is Illegal Immigration a Crime? Improper Entry v. Unlawful Presence,” FindLawBlotter, July 9, 2014, http://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/2014/07/is-illegal-immigration-a-crime-improper-entry-v-unlawful-presence.html.

4 Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 115.

5 Michaelangelo Landgrave and Alex Nowrasteh, “Criminal Immigrants: Their Numbers, Demographics, and Countries of Origin,” Cato Institute, March 15, 2017, www.cato.org/publications.immigration-reform-bulletin/criminal-immigrants-their-numbers-demographics-countries.

6 Walter Ewing, Danile Martinez, and Ruben Rumbaut, “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States,” American Immigration Council, July 2015, www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/sites/default/files/research/the_criminalization_of_immigration_in_the_united_states.pdf.

7 https://www.baptiststandard.com/opinion/other-opinions/commentary-immigrants-refugees-why-care/

8 Soerens and Yang, Welcoming the Stranger, 132.

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 2

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

Each day the gap widens between people on opposite sides of the immigration debate. Those who would advocate for closing borders, building walls and fences, and across-the-board deportation of everyone in the country who is here unlawfully are with an increasingly negative and hostile tone making their position known and presence felt. Those who would advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, increased financial support for backlogged immigration courts, respect for the God-given dignity of each human being, and a pathway to citizenship for those in the country unlawfully who qualify have, in their own way, acted in a hostile manner toward those on the opposite side of the aisle. On the left and right, and somewhere in the middle of this issue sits the Christian. As I will explain in detail in a later post, I am in favor of the latter  – bipartisan immigration reform which acknowledges the dignity of the individual, respects the rule of law, protects the integrity of the immediate family unit, guarantees secure borders, and establishes a pathway to citizenship/and or legal status for those who wish to become permanent residents.

It is important for the Christian to be truthful in their speech and hospitable in their actions toward others – including those with whom they disagree. To ensure we do not allow erroneous stereotypes, political soundbites, and the talking heads of cable news to drive and shape our understanding of who is at the heart of the immigration debate, a few definitions may be helpful.

An immigrant is a person who comes to a country for the purpose of permanent residence. It is this permanence that causes many people so much heartache. Immigrants can enter either legally – through official ports of entry and according to the rules established by the host country – or not. Those who choose to come in by other means are often referred to as “illegal.” Usage of the term “illegal” in this context may not be the best word to communicate the truth. The term “undocumented” speaks more clearly to the actual status of the person and not to the actual person. “Illegal” carries a derogatory tone, suggesting by definition the person in question is guilty of a crime or is prone to a life of crime. This is simply not the case as I will explain in a later post in this series. Most desire to establish a legal status and residency, but the present broken immigration system does not offer clear avenues to do so. Daniel Carroll, in his book, Christians at the Border, wrote, “What these people lack is proper documentation required by Washington and the workplace. They [immigrants] are not criminals. At the same time, the label alien can evoke the sense of someone unchangeably foreign and other, without hope of reconciliation or mediation. Illegal immigrants, therefore, is unhelpfully prejudicial. Undocumented immigrants are a more just label and better represents the present reality.”

What people tend to forget is that we are a nation of immigrants. If you live in North America you are likely an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant. Those who would rail against others for not being “from here” are likely unaware they too are not “from here.”

An alien is defined as any person not a citizen or national of the United States. An alien could be an immigrant, but not necessarily. An immigrant may or may not be an alien. According to the US State Department’s website (www.state.gov), an alien may lawfully be within the United States through a visa – a conditional authorization granted by a country to a foreigner, allowing them to enter and remain within the country for a defined period. Visas are granted for a myriad of reasons. Categories of visas include business, student, performing athlete, medical treatment, teacher, and temporary agricultural worker, to name a few. Provision and permissions exist for an alien to legally be in the United States.

A refugee is defined as someone who has been forced to flee from his/her country because of persecution, war, or violence and has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. They are likely unable to return home or are afraid to do so. Around the world, the leading causes of refugees leaving their country of origin are war and violence (ethnic, tribal, and religious). A refugee’s status is somewhat different from that of the immigrant – largely in part due to their desperate situation. To be eligible for entrance as a refugee, a person must be otherwise legally permitted to come to the United States. Refugees can legally work and apply for a green card after a defined period of time. They can stay in the country indefinitely depending on whether conditions in the native country that drove them to seek asylum in the United States changed. There is also a process for refugees to apply for U.S. citizenship.

 An asylum seeker is an individual seeking asylum, which is “a protection granted to foreign nationals already in the United States or at the border who meet the international law definition of a ‘refugee’” according to the American Immigration Council. Asylum requests are processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Those seeking asylum have already made it to the United States and contend they need to stay because of conditions in their native country. People seeking asylum could be fleeing persecution for factors like their race, religion or political views. U.S. Customs and Immigration use the standards of “credible fear” and “reasonable fear” when determining an asylum request. This is often a lengthy process involving multiple government agencies. Both asylees and refugees have to make their case they face credible persecution for the same kinds of reasons. Asylees have their status determined after they arrive in the United States while refugees must obtain clearance to enter the country before they arrive.

As you can tell, the language as it pertains to immigration status is nuanced. One can begin to understand how difficult it must be at a port of entry to determine a person’ status, intent, and needs. The “one-size-fits-all” approach to immigration is impossible at best and reckless as worst. Blanket statements that people crossing the border are here for the same reasons and they should all be treated the same demonstrates a lack of understanding of the overall process at best, and a lack of concern for the individual at worst. As we continue in this series, we will examine what the Bible has to say about immigration and the treatment of the foreigner.

 

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 1

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in PhoenixThrough an event you had absolutely nothing to do with – your birth – you were given a place in a country with tremendous blessing. To live in the United States is to be blessed – period.  You do not have to do anything to enjoy the blessings of being an American. Blessings such as freedom, opportunity, and protection are ours simply by location.

Americans enjoy freedom. We have the freedom to live where we want, own a home, wear what we want, speak out against our government when we feel it has acted unjustly, travel with very little restriction, work or not work, and marry whomever we choose. We have the freedom to own as many cars as we choose, to assemble, protect ourselves, make career choices, and live life virtually unhindered.

Americans enjoy opportunity. Let me say something here I believe to be critical. Opportunity does not equal success. Opportunity is the chance to be successful. It is the possibility to be better, do better, and live better. This is the crux of the matter at hand. We can attend school and earn an education to provide for ourselves and families. We can search for a job that not only yields a paycheck but brings personal fulfillment and satisfaction. We can start our own business. We can secure loans and financing to begin these businesses. We can participate in our government: voting, running for office, campaigning, and holding our elected officials accountable. Opportunity exists for us to worship however and wherever we choose, or not to worship at all. There is a reason why, for over 200 years, the United States has been regarded by those outside as, “the land of opportunity.”

As Americans we enjoy protection. We enjoy an imperfect justice system dedicated to holding lawbreakers accountable for their actions. We enjoy laws designed to regulate and promote a civil society. We are protected by the greatest military in the world who protect American interests abroad and ensure threats from the outside do us no harm. We enjoy protections against unfair labor practices: ensuring safe working conditions and a minimum wage. We enjoy the protection of law enforcement officers who ensure our safety from those disinterested in our safety.

Now, imagine for a moment you do not have any of these blessings.

Through an event you had absolutely nothing to do with – your birth – you were given a place in a country of limited to little blessing. Imagine you were born into a country where the blessings described above do not flow freely or easily. Imagine for a moment living in limited freedom. You suffer the inability to speak out against a government who may be acting unjustly, the inability to worship however and wherever you choose, and the inability to enjoy life unhindered.

Imagine for a moment living in limited to no opportunity. Jobs are scarce, and wages do not allow for adequate care of your family. Disposable income is inconceivable. Imagine living in a country where corruption makes owning your own business, attending college, and participating in government almost impossible. Imagine waking up each day with no hope of a better future – not even a chance.

Think about what it must be like to live with little or no protection. Employers can take advantage of their employees for personal gain. No guaranteed minimum wage. No one to ensure that your work environment is safe. Imagine no protection from street gangs, drug cartels, and human traffickers. Imagine living in fear every day of your life – no hope, no chance, and no prospect for a better tomorrow. This is the reality of many who live outside the borders of the United States. Being an American does not make you superior. Being an American makes you envied. Imagine how those outside the United States must feel when they see Americans taking their blessing for granted and squandering their freedom, opportunity, and protection – the three things which are the envy of the world. On the matter of why immigrants make their way to the United States, Michael Soerens, U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, in his book, Welcoming the Stranger wrote”

Immigrants today, whatever their manner of entry, come primarily for the same reasons that immigrants have always come to our country. Though immigration policies have changed quite drastically over the last two centuries, immigrants themselves are still pushed out of their countries of origin by poverty, war, and persecution, and are still drawn to the United States by promises of jobs and economic advancement, freedom, and family reunification. These push-and-pull factors explain most, if not all, of immigration to the United States from the time of the first settlers to today.

The Irony That Is Our Current Partial Government Shutdown

govclosedClosed for business. Well, partially. Closed is the current reality for more than one-quarter of the government of the United States of America. For more than a month, these agencies have experienced some closure:

  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • State Department
  • Justice Department
  • Commerce Department
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Customs and Border Patrol
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • Transportation Safety Administration
  • Secret Service
  • The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • Treasury Department
  • Internal Revenue Service
  • Department of the Interior
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development

These agencies have been forced to furlough employees because their budgets failed to receive congressional approval on time causing the paychecks of nearly 800,000 employees to stop. To add insult to injury, portions of these agencies are deemed “essential” to national security and are forced to work without being paid. For the first time in American history, a branch of our armed forces, the US Coast Guard, is working without pay. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, so it is not budgeted through the Defense Department as the other four branches are.

At the basement level, one issue is the reason for the shutdown – security. The president is telling the American people a crisis exists at our southern border. The American people have been made aware the nation is not safe due to the flow of illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants into our country. He has said to the American people that we need a wall built along the southern border at the cost of approximately 5.7 billion dollars which will make us safe and solve the security issue. Those on the other side of the aisle do not see things the same way and have refused to concede to this request. Since both sides could not compromise on a spending bill, the government of the United States was allowed to shut down on December 22nd partially. I am certainly oversimplifying this for there are other issues to be considered, but I think you get the picture. I want you to keep the matter of security in mind as you continue to read.

Back to those furloughed workers. If the shutdown continues through Friday, January 25th, those 800,000 employees will miss their second paycheck. The stress and strain of this financial burden will negatively affect these families if it has not done so already. Concerns that mortgages, insurance, medication, child care, college tuition, and other monthly bills will go unpaid must be at the forefront of the minds of these furloughed workers. While some may have been prepared for something like this, it is likely many were not. Before you say, “They should have been better prepared for something like this,” I have a question for you, “Are you prepared for something like this?” Could you miss two paychecks, two Social Security checks, two retirement checks, and life go on with no hardship or long-term ramifications?

The majority of the 800,000 furloughed workers remain at home while a smaller portion must continue to work; including agencies that are high-risk and involve overwhelming levels of responsibility: TSA, FAA, CBP, and ICE, among others. Imagine the personal stress, worry, and concern those who must continue to work carry with them to the job as if nothing is wrong. Yes, the livelihood of their families is always with them. Yes, the likelihood of this stress could lead to distraction.

Who needs a distracted air traffic controller in the tower who is responsible for managing America’s air travel worrying about being evicted from their home? With my wife flying to Japan next week, I don’t.

Who needs a distracted TSA agent whose responsibility it is to prevent harmful and potentially destructive substances from boarding America’s airlines to be worried about not being able to provide medication for a sick child? With my wife flying to Japan next week, I don’t.

Who needs a distracted FAA agent whose responsibility it is to maintain inspections of airplanes ensuring they are safe to fly to be worried about losing their place in a daycare program for their children because they cannot make payment? With my wife flying to Japan next week, I don’t.

Who needs a distracted US Coast Guardsman whose responsibility it is to protect America’s coastlines from illegal drugs to be worried about how to provide food and other basic needs for his/her family when headed out for six-month deployment? America doesn’t.

Who needs a distracted CBP/ICE agent whose responsibility it is to enforce immigration laws and maintain security along our borders to be worried about paying college tuition for their son/daughter? America doesn’t.

To add further insult to injury, these furloughed workers must come to work every day and be verbally abused by an angry public who have been forced to stand in long lines and experience longer waiting periods for services due to the government shutdown. I can only hope they see the vital nature of their jobs concerning the security of our nation. They do not deserve this. America does not deserve this. If the reason for this shutdown boils down to security, I will submit to you that we are in many ways less secure as a nation than we were before. This is an irony only Washington, D.C. could create.

Be Careful Who You Let In Your Ear

12. So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had directed, saying, “Come back to me the third day.” 13.  Then the king answered them roughly. King Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders, 14. and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!” (2 Chronicles 10:12-14)

It is not difficult to find advice. People are always ready to tell you what you should do and what you should not do. People are always ready to tell you how you should do anything. With so much free advice floating around, there must be some type of litmus test to determine what advice we will accept. When it comes to accepting advice, two questions must be asked – “Does this advice match God’s Word?” andDoes this person have my best interests in mind?”

Rehoboam became the king of Israel upon the death of his father, Solomon. Shortly after assuming the throne, Rehoboam was approached by Jeroboam, a former servant of Solomon. Jon behalf of the people, Jeroboam made one request of the new king. His request was to, “lighten the burden and rule less harshly than your father did and we will serve you.” Rehoboam asked counsel from two groups. The advice of the elders, his father’s servants, was to serve the people and in return they would serve the king. The advice of the younger men, those Rehoboam grew up with, was to make the lives of the people more difficult. He chose the counsel of the younger.

Throughout the course of our lives we will receive conflicting advice. Our challenge will be to listen to the advice that is biblical and leads us to a decision that honors God. We should not allow pride or peer pressure to get in the way of the sound counsel God has made available through the wisdom of others. Back to our story. Refusal to accept wise counsel can bring about unintended and unforeseen consequences. Jeroboam returned for the king’s answer. Hearing the load and burden would be made more oppressive under the rule of Rehoboam, Jeroboam rebelled, and the nation of Israel was divided. Rehoboam remained king over Judah and Jeroboam became leader of the kingdom of Israel. Advice is good, but wise and godly advice is best. Be careful who you let in your ear.

My 2019 Reading List

49599632_304755387050747_7659627551651790848_nThose who know me know I enjoy reading. Regardless of where I am there is usually a book nearby. Because of this, I am asked often, “What are you reading now?” I enjoy this question and am always happy to share and make recommendations. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I do not set numerical reading goals. The climate of the church often guides my reading. I do however have a framework that further guides my reading. I run from fiction. Topics such as church health, church growth, leadership, missions, and church revitalization account for much of my reading. Why these? I have devoted my life to the local New Testament church and yearn to see her and her people grow and flourish. I generally read at least one missionary biography a year. I am always reading something from the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Recommended Reading List – Once a Marine, Always a Marine. In addition to the academic reading I will do for sermon preparation and other Bible studies, listed below is my reading list for 2019 and what I hope to learn this year.

  1. Small Church Essentials; Field Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250 by Karl Vaters. It is commonly known that approximately 85% of a Southern Baptist churches average 100 or less in morning worship attendance. We are a convention of small churches. The church I pastor, First Baptist Church of Perry, Florida is just below that threshold – about 180. I want to learn more about the unique challenges that are before the small church and how to better lead through those challenges.
  1. Church Growth Flywheel; 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church by Rich Birch. I have already started this book and I’m in love with it. Birch stresses the importance of capturing the big days on the calendar, the wisdom of sermon series, and the necessity of the church being seen in the public in service. I want to learn more about building and maintaining momentum throughout the year.
  1. PR Matters; A Survival Guide for Church Communicators by Justin Dean. If you don’t accurately tell people who you are and what you stand for as a church, people will formulate their own opinions and judgments about who you are – often incorrectly. I want to learn how to better tell the story of what FBCP stands and where we’re going.
  1. How to Break Growth Barriers; Revise Your Role, Release Your People, and Capture Overlooked Opportunities for Your Church by Carl F. George and Warren Bird. As churches grow, certain numerical markers introduce a new set of challenges, needs, and adjustments: barriers of 200, 400, 800, and 1000. This book deals with nuts and bolts stuff about moving from one barrier through another. I want to learn what may be keeping us around the 200 barrier and what adjustments must be made to push through.
  1. ReClaimed Church; How Churches Grow, Decline, and Experience Revitalization by Bill Henard. There is a strong movement today across Southern Baptist life to reclaim and revitalize dying churches. To be honest, FBCP is at a plateau state in terms of growth. Henard’s books offers a look into the life stages of church, why they die, and steps to becoming healthy once again. I want to learn where we as a church may be on what Henard describes as a, “death spiral” and actions to take to turn around.
  1. Leading Major Change in Your Ministry by Jeff Iorg. I firmly believe big changes will be necessary for not only FBCP to be more effective in our mission as a church and reaching people, but for the New Testament church in America as a whole. I want to learn how to set the stage for long-term growth and how to deal with the inevitable challenges and messy situations change is certain to bring.
  1. Be Known for Something; Reconnect With Community by Revitalizing Your Church’s Reputation by Mark MacDonald. I am excited about this book. Every church has a reputation; like it or not. Reputation and sometimes earned and sometimes they are assigned incorrectly. The forces that determine how the community sees the church are many. I am certain that FBCP has a similar reputation to many larger downtown First Baptist Churches: self-absorbed, business people only, a rich church. I know this is not the case, but perception and reputation is reality. This is such a burden for me that two of our leadership teams will be reading this book together this year. I want to better understand how we are viewed by our community and how to help them see who we really are.
  1. It Is Not Death to Die; A New Biography of Hudson Taylor by Jim Cromarty. Taylor was a 19th-century missionary to China. His life of surrender, hard work, sacrifice, and service are well-known today. I want to learn more about that kind of life.
  1. ReMission; Rethinking How Church Leaders Create Movement by Gary Comer. Here we are reintroduced to the mission of the church and the responsibility that every Christian has in seeing that mission fulfilled. Comer challenges church leaders to create positive and consistent movement toward the mission we have been given. I want to learn how to reinforce the importance of God’s people being outwardly mobilized and how to communicate that truth better.
  1. Neptune’s Inferno; The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal by James D. Hornfischer. This is my selection from the CMC Reading List. The Battle for Guadalcanal in 1942 had long been thought to be a Marine victory. Hornfischer’s work details the U.S. Navy’s contribution to what turned out to be the most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific War during World War II. Like I said earlier, Once a Marine, Always a Marine.

If any of these titles interest you, I would enjoy the opportunity to read along with you and study together.

Are You Sleeping Through Christmas?

Slide1Today is Christmas. It will be a day filled with activity. Children will open the gifts from under their trees that have taunted them for weeks. Families will gather with those they have not seen in a long time. Others will gather in houses of worship to celebrate the birth of the Savior promised by prophet of old. For the vast majority, the thoughts and focus of today will be on the cultural aspects and traditions of Christmas. They will miss the One who is Christmas. Our generation would not be the first to miss this One. In their song, “While You Were Sleeping’, Casting Crowns wrote of the prospect of missing Jesus at Christmas:

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you’re lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left His throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight
Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
And stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Bethlehem physically slept. It was a quiet night in Bethlehem, much like every other night. No one was expecting anything special to happen. While they slept, prophecies that would shape the course of human history were being fulfilled in their quaint little hamlet. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Savior of the world was born in a lowly stable with no fanfare, no attention, and no honor due a King. While the residents of Bethlehem slept in peaceful dreaming, the landscape of their world was changed forever. Together the stars and the angels proclaimed the birth of the Christ-child with no applause from man. The residents of Bethlehem secured a place for themselves in history as, “a city with no room for its King.” They go on to write:

Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave His only Son
The Way, the Truth, the Life had come
But there was no room for Him in the world He came to save
Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Thirty-plus years after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the people were still asleep. They slept with their eyes wide open. Spiritually cold and indifferent. No concern. No care. No conviction. They slept while the Son of God hung was nailed to a cross. The residents of Jerusalem slept while Jesus died. The residents of Jerusalem slept while the Messiah, the One the religious leaders were looking for, the One they should have recognized, gave His life for the people who cried “Crucify Him.” He came as their writings and witnesses told. He had walked among them, performed miracles, taught, and loved. He testified that to have seen Him meant to have seen the Father. He yielded. He died. While they were mocking, He was forgiving. While they were callous and unconcerned, their eternity was on His mind. While they claimed He was a liar, the Father proved the truthfulness of His testimony. The residents of Jerusalem secured a place for themselves in history as, “a city with no room for its King.” Before we take the residents of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to task on their failure to recognize and worship Jesus Christ, notice again the words of Casting Crowns:

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night
America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping

We are a sleeping nation. In broad daylight with the sun shining brightly, we sleep. With the complete thoughts and mind God written for us revealing our sin, pointing us to the cross, and calling us to die to self, we sleep. Lullabies of tolerance, coexistence, and compromise rock our nation to sleep every night. Lullabies of “many paths to God”, “man is his own god”, and “feed what makes you feel good” enable a nation to peacefully sleep. Violence, hate, fear, and greed are the most newsworthy items of our day. We are living in a country where creation is worshiped over the Creator. We live in a country where trees, animals, and other things that do not bear the image of God are elevated above and valued more than human life that does bear the image of God. We live in a country where a person is still judged by the color of their skin. We live in a country where a person is judged by their birthplace. We live in a country where a person is judged based on their economic worth. The most troubling part is that America seems to be sleeping well. What will it take to stir this nation from its sleep? What will happen to our nation if we continue to sleep? How long before God Himself says, “that’s enough” and the Bridegroom splits the sky to receive His own? Will Americans secure for themselves a place in history as, “a city with no room for its King?” We certainly seem to be headed that way.

Today is Christmas. As we spend time with our families, exchange gifts, and share meals together, let’s be reminded of Luke’s words about today.

“Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.

Missional Monday: Missional Voices

mmI hope this collection of thinkers and ministries will further challenge you to live an on-mission lifestyle. Enjoy.

Read:  I recommend Toxic Charity; How the Church and Charities Hurt Those They Help – and How to Reverse It.  by Robert Lupton, Founder of Focused Community Strategies. Through 40 plus years of experience in urban ministry, Lupton asserts most charitable work on behalf of churches and other organizations is ineffective, and even harmful to the one it is intended to help. He offers suggestions and practices on how to help connect the individual organization desiring to help with the individual in need, so the recipient can maintain dignity and take control of their own situation.

Follow:  Tim Rice. Tim is the Missions Mobilization Director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He is passionate about assisting individuals and churches to live missionally and engage their communities, state, and the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know Tim personally and you will be both encouraged and challenged by what he shares with others. You can find him at @timricesc

Follow: JR Woodward. JR is the director of V3 Movement – a grassroots church planting movement. He also publishes a very insightful and educational online paper regularly at his site. You will certainly be encouraged and informed by his work. It has been a source of encouragement for me. You can find him at @dreamawakener

Get to Know: The Sunshine Girls – a weekly outreach ministry to women who work in the Adult Entertainment Industry in Savannah, Georgia. Their goal is to shine the life-changing light of the Gospel into these dark places. The mission of the organization revolves around establishing relationships and opportunities for another way of life. You can learn more about them here. Pray for the work these women are doing in some very hard and dark places. I am thankful to know one of these Sunshine Girls personally.

Just the Facts: According to Lifeway Research:

86% of Protestant pastors believe Christians have a responsibility to care sacrificially for refugees and foreigners.

When asked to share which single factor has most influenced their beliefs and opinions about immigration, evangelicals provided the following answers:

  • Relationships with immigrants – 17%
  • Friends and family – 16%
  • Media – 16%
  • The Bible – 12%
  • Their Church – 2%