No, they aren’t a hate group

Frank Schaefer, erstwhile fundamentalist, has issued a call:

The Bible Trump’s evangelicals quote sanctifies humanity’s moral infancy idolizing the worldview of the Iron Age, leaving believers susceptible to justifying all manner of Trump’s evil in the name of God.

Face it: American Evangelicals are the Number 1 threat to democracy.

I am not an Evangelical, nor do I play one on social media. Further, I have friends who are Evangelical and did not, and would not, vote for Trump. Period.

What I find troublesome about this bombastic statement is the reverse is a hidden truth. Those on the ideological extremes are the “threat” and often display cult-like symptoms while promoting hate, as Frank has done.

Look, I don’t like those in the pocket of Trump, but I also can’t stomach of the more extreme liberals. I am not going to consider either side an actual threat. The threat comes from those who follow along too easily, who do not educate themselves about the issues, and who do not speak up about what is important.

When Rome fell, it fell between the imperialists and the republicans. The vast majority of Roman citizens were neither, only crowd followers. They were the mob, and the mob is the most dangerous threat to our Republic.

Prophets, Walls, and Trump

A recent trend has developed, no, not recent, but rather an old trend, that is taking a new form, of comparing the wall which President Trump is calling for and the wall which Nehemiah built in the Old Testament. Much of this has been in response to the claim that somehow the building of a wall on the southern border is inherently immoral. I do not hold with that opinion, though I do believe it to be unnecessary and and potentially immoral in the sense that it is not good stewardship of the resources that have been provided because there are better options. I wanted that clear from the start. Yes, I think it is immoral due to poor stewardship, but I do not find a wall to be inherently immoral. The problem is that there are certain religious leaders, and those who listen to them, who are making the claim that a wall along the southern border is inherently moral.  Take, for example, the words of Robert Jeffress who says: ” “The Bible says even Heaven itself is going to have a wall around it. Not everybody is going to be allowed in. So if walls are immoral, then God is immoral.” The logic of this is so incredibly flawed that I do not feel the need to comment upon it. The problem though is that he does not stop there, but continues on into a political tirade. “There is nothing immoral about a wall but what is immoral is for Democrats for political reason to block the president from fulfilling his God-given responsibility to keep our country safe and it’s certainly immoral for Democrats to support sanctuary cities which are nothing but havens of lawlessness. Instead of vilifying and demonizing President Trump, we ought to thank God every day we have a president like Donald Trump who takes his oath of office seriously and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep this country safe.”  In reality, the entirety of his inauguration day sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader”, is full of these comparisons. These are not Godly statements, but worldly ones cloaked in religious parlance.  Never the less, a large number of people have begun comparing Trump’s wall to Nehemiah’s wall, based largely upon comments like this. Because of that, a brief examination should be made of the two for the sake of comparison.

So, to start, Trump is not Nehemiah, or any other Old Testament figure. I really can not stress that enough. There is always some comparison to leaders from the past, but with Trump, those willing to anoint him as the next Nehemiah, and thus a prophet, or the next Cyrus, the next conquering ancient king. If one looks hard enough, comparisons of any leader to ancient leaders can be found, and might even be useful, but there is a difference between a comparison and treating the ruler as one of the ancients. This is really the first problem. Trump is simply Trump. He is his own man, and he makes his own decisions. He is no more appointed and chosen by God than any other president. That gets into a very long conversation about free choice, free will, and predestination as well as how the sovereignty of God manifests itself, but suffice it to say, for my part anyway, that God does not hand pick our rulers. He has given us the reason necessary to choose our own however. If you believe that God divinely appointed Trump, then one also believe that God has divinely appointed Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Lenin, etc. If you want to justify that, I welcome your thoughts as it makes no sense to me.

The second problem, specific to Nehemiah, and his wall, is that not only is Trump not a prophet as stated above, the circumstances are completely different in numerous ways. First, Nehemiah sought the permission of the ruler to return to Jerusalem to build the entire city back up, including the wall. The Jews at this time are under the rule of the Persians, specifically, King Artaxerxes. Here is our first significant difference. We are not under the rule of any foreign power seeking to return to our homeland.The second significant difference is that Nehemiah makes a request of the King, the one who has the ability to let the wall be rebuilt, and asks permission to do so. There is a similarity here as Trump can not simply decree the wall be built, he must ask those tasked with the responsibility of allowing it to happen. He has asked several times, and the answer has been largely “no”. Nehemiah asked, and received a “yes”.  This yes was not a result of manipulation, or shutting down parts of the Persian government. Again, the comparison falls very short.

Let us back up just a little bit to understand another large difference in the situation.  We are not the descendants of a theocratic state. Religion does not govern our civil law, nor is it required of our citizens. Part of his mission in Jerusalem is to, with the help of Ezra, enforce the law of Moses, not allowing those not of the Jewish faith to do business in the city, force the divorce of Jewish men from their wives if they were not Jewish, etc. One would hope that such a purification is not in Trump’s plans after the wall. The necessity of these things being done in the Old Testament is another topic for another time. I mention them here simply because if we are comparing Trump to Nehemiah and Trump’s proposed wall to Nehemiah’s wall, then we must look at not only the men, but their missions, as well as the circumstances. The circumstances in a religiously pluralistic society and the circumstances in a Jewish society that is theocratic are completely different.

We must look to the reality of this time in Israel. Israel is surrounded by the Samaritans, the Philistines, Ammonites, and various Arab tribes, all of which actively sought the destruction of the Jews. Now, there is a similarity here between Nehemiah and Trump is that both have used the idea of being surrounded by enemies seeking our destruction in their justification of needed a wall, but that similarity ends quickly because Nehemiah was telling the truth and Trump has lied. We are not surrounded by enemies and armies on all sides that seek our destruction. We simply, despite some of the rhetoric, not. The issues that Jerusalem faced in the  days of Nehemiah are simply so drastically different than the issues that we are facing today on the southern border that there can be no proper comparison between the circumstances, let alone the individuals involved.

If you support a wall, so be it. If you are a Trump supporter, I am not, but again, so be it. We are all privileged to live in a society that allows for disagreement. If you are a Christian and support both these things, then we have some differences, but I assume those differences are not about the salvation offered in Christ, so be it. What I am asking is, that for the sake of whatever witness the church has left, to stop claiming that this or that candidate belongs to God Stop calling any president a modern day prophet. Stop claiming that walls are inherently moral, or immoral for that matter. Let’s be honest, Nehemiah may have built a wall, but Joshua tore one down, so at best the Bible is ambiguous to their inherent morality or immorality. For the sake of the Bride, just stop.

A Deal With The Devil

From time to time I get angry about a thing. When I do, it usually comes out here. Today I am mad. Not annoyed at a situation mad, or bothered by people mad, I am talking table flipping, three cord braiding, righteously mad. The funny thing is that it is at an apparently growing, or at least vocal, number of Christians. So, as in other times, this won’t be terribly well written. It is more like a rant that needs to get of my chest so I do not continue fuming. It may be a touch incoherent even, but is is honest righteous anger for whatever that is worth. Read on at your own risk.
Let me start with a very blunt statement. God does not, nor has He ever, put America first. God, our loving Father and creator, has put His entire creation first. That’s us folks. If you, as a Christian, put America first, then you have become an idolater. God is first. Always. If He is not, it is idolatry. No nice way to say it. To put this into the perspective of the current hot button topics, God does not see thousands of unarmed, suffering, scared, and victimized people coming to somehow invade the deadliest military power on Earth, He sees human brokenness, suffering, and tragedy. No matter what you think about immigration policy in this country, that is what you should see too. I don’t care if you want a wall, or if you want open boarders, or if you are, like most everyone, somewhere in between, if you see anything other than the human brokenness, suffering, and tragedy, then you are not seeing with Heaven’s eyes, but you are likely seeing through the eyes of The Adversary, and that brothers and sisters is a dangerous place to be. If you can watch the news reports on whatever your favorite flavor of politically motivated “news”, and see anything other than human suffering, then you are not seeing this in a Godly way. If you look at this large group of people and only see the hand of George Soros and/or middle eastern terrorists sneaking into the country, then those are not heaven’s eyes either. (By the way, there is no evidence of either of these things.) If you look at this human tragedy and see something that has to do with Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, The Green Party, or any other political group, then God is not first and foremost, nation is. That is a massive problem for those who would call themselves Christian.
There are those who call themselves “nationalists”. That has gotten an unfair characterization as being racially motivated, and that is most often not the case. For the sake of clarity, I will use “nationalist” as defined by Merriam-Webster. “ loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or groups”. This shall be our working definition. For those of you who call yourselves nationalists, I want to be clear here, I too am a nationalist. I guess I should likely coin a word here and rather than identify as a nationalist, identify as a “kingdomalist”. I do freely exalt one kingdom above all others and place my primary emphasis on the promotion of it’s interests as opposed to those of others. The Kingdom is the only kingdom that matters, the Kingdom of God. It has come, it is here, and it will come in fullness. Just so we are clear, it won’t be waving the red, white, and blue. It has one color, the red blood of Christ on the cross, and it was shed for everyone, including the migrant caravan. If your nationalism has you thinking in any way other than this, then you are doing it wrong. Be a kingdomalist. It’s clunky to say, but it at least is accurate to the faith that we all claim. You do not advance The Kingdom by making America Great Again. You don’t advance the Kingdom by failing to see those suffering as anything other than result of human brokenness and in desperate need of mercy and compassion. If anything, you hinder it. 
If you think that sending the US Military to the boarder to confront those attempting to come here, then there are a couple of problems. The first is that you apparently have not heard of The Posse Comitatus Act. You should look it up. A group of a few thousand unarmed civilians does not an invasion make, no matter how fiery the rhetoric, so it applies. The second problem is that you somehow think that it is appropriate to use the US Military, the deadliest fighting force on the Earth, to confront a group of unarmed civilians. What is wrong with you? Has adherence to the cult of Americanna become so strong that you would protect it with the threat of military force to those who are unarmed and seeking a better life? If the question is what would Jesus do, the answer is never going to be send the army to confront unarmed, desperate civilians. Never. Once more, just so there is no doubt, NEVER.
No doubt by now some of you have read this as some sort of political statement. That is unfortunate, but in this climate unavoidable I imagine. It is not. This has nothing to do with the politics of America. Nothing. This has everything to do with how a large group of Christians is viewing those who are in desperate need. I am not saying that the migrant caravan should be let in. I am not saying they should be turned away. I am not saying anything other than that there is a refusal of a large group of Christians to see them as even human. When you have prominent Christians, such as former Southern Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee calling the group of people an invasion (“America is great because immigrants helped make it great but what’s brewing at the border is NOT immigration-its an invasion! @realDonaldTrump cannot allow people to overrun the borders,” in a tweet), you can see that whatever sense of God he has, it is blinded by unhealthy and misplaced loyalty to some type of nationalist ideal. All he can see is an imaginary invasion instead of seeing the massive amount of human suffering. Not the eyes of God, and instead the eyes of The Adversary. There are others of course who have said similar things. I am highlighting on one person to demonstrate the thoughts of many. These are people. Desperate, scared, and hurting people. Whatever you think the policy response should be, that must be the first thought that you have. It must. Any response that a Christian can, in good conscience, support, has to begin with the reality that these are people. Not an invading army. Not some mass of refuse to be swept away by the impending hurricane, (read twitter at your own risk of losing all faith in humanity), but people. I do not care about your politics. Whatever they are, you are welcome to them, but if your politics come before your ability to see the suffering of human beings, then the state is your god and not the Creator God.
At the end of this is a very simple truth. If nation is above God, you made a deal with the Devil. If you can not see people before you see policy, you have made a deal with the Devil. If you believe that armed soldiers would be used against unarmed civilians, you have made a deal with the devil. If you think that a few bad actors means that thousands should be treated as criminals, you have made a deal with the devil. If you can not see human suffering, desperation, and tragedy before you rant on about the law, then you have made a deal with the devil. All I can say to you if this describes you, is God save us from the Christians.
Father in heaven, we pray mercy upon all those in dire situations. Where there is violence, we ask that you raise up mighty men and women of God to bring peace, where there is need, we pray your supernatural provision, where there is desperation, we pray that the Holy Spirit shines the hope of Christ brightly. For those who are desperate and traveling Lord, we pray for mercy and protection that they might not be preyed on by those seeking to take advantage. We ask your forgiveness for the many times that we fail to see Your people as what they are, beloved creations of You possessing your image just as we do. And Father, for those in this caravan, we pray that wisdom and mercy prevail and that in this time. Finally God, we pray that until Your heart becomes ours, and that until we can see through Your eyes, that your protect the most vulnerable from the Christians that can not see them yet. Amen, and amen.

What You Do To the Least of These, Taking It Political

Like many people, I am horrified at what is happening on our borders. I take it personally. The first step toward any solution is to immediately stop the policies that are in place currently. No more mandatory detention, no more criminal prosecution as a default. No more ICE raids rounding up non-violent illegal immigrants. Re-institute the protections for abused women and those escaping gang violence. Before you shut off, give me the chance to explain what goes into place after this stops.
I want to be upfront and honest. I long for a world where we can have open borders. I do not think it threatens our identity in the least, and I also believe that one of our inherent rights is the freedom of movement. That’s the idealist in me. The pragmatist in me says that we are not there yet and that our current system is broken, and has been broken for many years. I don’t care who is to blame and I am completely uninterested in assigning any blame to anyone. At this point assigning blame does no good. Recognizing that we need laws in place, those laws, the question then becomes what can be done, should be done, and what can a Christian live with, at least this Christian. As a Christian, I follow a God who is merciful, and because of this, laws that I can, in good conscious, support must be merciful. I also follow a God who is just, and as such the laws must reflect that which is just. I follow a God who also wipes the slate clean when I come in repentance, so in this case, such laws must also somehow reflect this. We are also not a theocracy, nor do I wish us to be, but my faith does dictate what I can, and can not, support in matters of civil law. In that spirit and purpose, I offer the following things.
  1. The dreamers (a really dumb name) that are currently here need a pathway to citizenship. That starts with them getting their legal status and should be tethered with the process of becoming a US citizen. The process of becoming a US citizen via naturalization requires one to have a resident status for five years, have established a residence for five years, and be present in the US. These requirements should be subject to the same lesser requirements as anyone else (marriage to a US citizen, military service, etc.) The application for citizenship should be filled out and given a ‘pending status’ for the duration of the green card issuance. If the requirements are not fulfilled in this time, save for serious extenuating circumstances, then said “dreamer” becomes subject to deportation under the law. In this system the green card should not be able to be renewed.
  2. The green card system over all needs to be overhauled. There should be allowed one five year renewal after the original issuance, and that is all. The end goal of residency in the US should be permanent citizenship. This should also apply to those with refugee or asylum status. After one year, such individuals must apply for a green card anyway, then they become subject to that system as well.
  3. For those here illegally, there needs to be a short window to rectify the situation. After said window, I believe that we should pass legislation that will make it impossible for anyone who has been here illegally from ever becoming a citizen or obtaining a work permit or resident status.
  4. I believe that we should use and require mandatory E-verify systems for all employers with stiff penalties for those companies that refuse to comply or who knowingly hire those here illegally. Those penalties should be significant enough to matter requiring the company to pay fines in excess of the estimated profit they garnered from the illegal workers as well as the salary paid them. In extreme cases, such as a company that is running primarily on illegal immigrants, assets should be seized and then auctioned off. I seriously dislike regulations and asset forfeiture, but the reality of where we are, that is decades of bad policy, require some extreme measures to be taken.
  5. A non-citizen stamp should be applied to drivers licenses and state ID cards. This would require a non-citizen to provide their work permits or legal resident documentation for even the simplest of financial transactions. This helps prevent illegal immigrants from travel, from working and receiving money, etc. I do not like over burdening individuals, but this seems to be a necessary step.
  6. At the boarder, for those crossing illegally, we should track with fingerprints and photos compiling a database of those trying to enter. Upon capture, the individuals should be printed, and photographed. The option should then be given them to apply for asylum, leave to the country they crossed from with the understanding that should they attempt to enter a second time, there is criminal prosecution, or to face prosecution. This should be done the first time only. At this time they should also be given, upon request, the proper forms and instruction to enter legally if they so chose to fill them out upon returning to their country of origin.
  7. In cases where there is a crime, the children should be allowed contact with their parents in much the same way as children can visit their parents now who are incarcerated. Currently, this is not the case. Parents and children often do not even know the location of each other. Unless the crime is felonious and/or violent, I think that they penalties should be handled with fines, or even civilly, to prevent the separation of families.
  8. For those seeking asylum, if the policy is to be detention until their case is heard, then such detention should be in a family setting. Something like FEMA trailers are not ideal, but are better than separation and treating those coming form help like criminals. Something along those lines seems to be compassionate but also serve the perceived current need to detain asylum seekers. I also think that should those seeking asylum have family here, that releasing them to their families pending their hearing should also be an option. I also think that churches could play a role here in perhaps establishing temporary housing for those coming seeking asylum in some way.

There is no silver bullet. We have a mess that has been decades in the making and it will likely take decades for it to be straightened out. The above I think reflects the justice tempered with mercy that Christians should be desiring. It also reflects, I think, the best of America in doing all that we can to welcome those who come. We are a nation of laws, of course, and there needs to be justice, but justice that is acceptable to Christians should only be that justice that is tempered with mercy.

What You Do To the Least of These, Taking It Personally

Unless you live under a rock, you have likely heard something, perhaps many things, about current United States Immigration policy and enforcement as well as the use of scripture, specifically Romans 13, to justify it. If you want to learn about what the meaning of Romans 13 actually is, I suggest that you check out David Watson’s excellent insights into it. He speaks about it far better than I could and that will not be the focus of my thoughts here, but will be the subject of some sarcasm and biting criticism regarding those who misuse it.  It is important to have an understanding of the passage though as it has come up in public discourse as a defense for things that are frankly unholy. So that we are clear, by unholy, I mean actions that are inspired by the pits of hell and not the throne of grace. I’d hate for someone to misunderstand.
To understand what is going on at the US borders, we need to realize some things. First, children have not been treated well in many cases for a long time. This is not new, though widespread public awareness of it is. In criminal cases at the boarder, children have often been removed. Many people have arrived at the US boarder  crossings and presented themselves as asylum seekers. This is nothing new. What is new is the US government deciding that asylum seekers should be held in detention, which requires their children be taken from them. What is also new is that the Justice Department, via Jeff Sessions, has decided to eliminate the protections of asylum for victims of domestic violence and gang violence. To be clear, what that means is that if you happen to be a battered woman (or man for that matter) with children, or if you happen to be a victim of MS-13, a street gang that was formed in the US and exported to other countries, it stinks to be you. We won’t help. We will throw you in jail for a bit though then send you home where it will undoubtedly be worse. Mr. Sessions has also decided to prosecute nearly everyone who crosses the boarder with the misdemeanor crime of doing so, even if they are seeking asylum, creating a huge backlog of cases. Yes, those coming to the US for help are being branded criminals even if they present themselves as asylum seekers. The sources for the information are numerous, but I have chosen The Wall Street Journal, hardly known for being a liberally biased news source, to try and mitigate the temptation to dismiss the information. This is drastically different than years passed. Before you go on reading, let me ask you if you think that your daughter, if, God forbid, she were fleeing gang rape, and asking for protection, should be arrested, prosecuted, and then sent back to her rapists? I mean, that is obviously what Jesus would do right? Deport the vulnerable victim because, after all, Romans 13. What if it were your daughter who had been brutally abused by her husband? Yep, you guessed it, convict and deport her back to her abuser because, you know, Romans 13. These are not hypothetical, save for the relation to you. These are real cases, and this  what is literally happening on our boarders as you read this. On top of that, while they are being prosecuted and prepared to be sent back to their abusers, take the kids from them because, you know, Romans 13. What is drastically different now than in times past is the indiscriminate prosecution of misdemeanor crime without regard to circumstance of seeking asylum. We are criminalizing victims of abuse, and Christians are cheering it. Christians in America are actively cheering the active prosecution of women running from gang rape and abuse, having their children taken from them, and sent back to their rapists and abusers. Because that is what Jesus would do. You know, Romans 13. The BBC has also reported on the matter mentioning that the policy of separating families is to be used as a deterrent. Christians are cheering this as well. Yes, Christians are actively cheering a policy that uses children as threats. Some verse or another about millstones comes to mind. Matthew 18:5-6 “And whoever shall receive one such little child in My name receives Me.  But whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believes in Me, it would be better for him that an ass’s millstone were hung around his neck, and he be sunk in the depth of the sea. ” Papa Wesley would say the following on the matter “And all who are in this sense little children are unspeakably dear to me. Therefore help them all you can, as if it were myself in person, and see that ye offend them not; that is, that ye turn them not out of the right way, neither hinder them in it. (Mat 10:40; Luk 10:16; Joh 13:20. Mar 9:42; Luk 17:1.)” For those of you who still care, those are the explanatory notes, thus are a UMC standard of faith. If you happen to complain about some not keeping the standards and then applaud these efforts, you are just as guilty as those you accuse. I daresay we are not helping children by taking them away from their asylum seeking parents who are being prosecuted and detained for a misdemeanor that has not been applied to them in recent memory. But you know, Romans 13 means that the things Jesus said don’t matter, at least to those who are cheering.  If you are a Christian and applaud such things, then you are a victim of listening to the spirit of the father of all lies and not the Holy Spirit that guides us in truth and righteousness. In case that wasn’t clear enough, let me be perfectly blunt. You are listening to the voice of Satan himself and not the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the teachings of scripture, or the words of Jesus the Christ, not to mention the standards of faith of the United Methodist Church. While there is much to be said about hospitality in the Old Testament in relation to moral law, and while I would love to write about such things, the simple truth is that this is a matter of deciding whom it is that you will serve. Will you serve the God of justice tempered with love and mercy who has set Christ as the head of the church, or will you serve His adversary by supporting such morally repugnant actions with your applause? Choose you this day…
So I have been asked lately why it is that I take it so personally. Why is it that I am so angry over this. It’s simple. As Christians, who desire to follow Christ and lead a Christ like life, we should be righteously angry over this. If we claim to follow Christ, then we must follow Him also when He says “Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it to Me.” Jesus took it personally, so personally, that it is presented in the context of Him on the throne of judgement. So ask yourself, would you send Jesus back to face gang rape? No, that’s not a blasphemous question, it is the very real and relevant question. Would you rip a child from Jesus’ arms? Would you approve of Jesus beatings? When you support and applaud these things, you do so also unto him. The answer is that I take it personally because Jesus did. It makes me righteously angry because it makes Jesus righteously angry. The question though isn’t why I am taking it so personally, the question is why aren’t you.