June 29, 2018

We often hear our culture remind men to protect their own family.  Here Mark Adams, Superintendent of the Sierra Pacific Conference of the Free Methodist Church, reminds us that Christians protect and care for all families, not only his own.  Written for Father’s Day it speaks to men, however the message is for all Christians, men and women.

Supt. Mark Adams

June, 2018

Today is Father’s Day.  I am so proud of all four of my sons.  They are Lars, Jake, Alex and Felix.  Each are young men with sharp minds, quick wits, compassionate hearts and willing to sacrifice much to benefit others.  Three are fathers themselves, and really great dads at that!  I could not be a happier dad.  So, sons, remember – real men shield the defenseless and protect families.

Consequently, I must say something about the current American implementation of a policy to tear apart families as an immigration deterrent.  I am disheartened as a Christian father that the policy is being defended by national spokespersons (Jeff Sessions and Sarah Sanders) through biblical texts.  On a personal identity level (I have identified as an “evangelical Christian”) I am dismayed that over the past few years it seems that evangelical Christianity as a whole is becoming enmeshed with a political agenda that places nationalistic views ahead global Christian concerns, even promoting initiatives that seem to dehumanize others.

So, I offer my perspective as a Christian regarding these developments.  It is my perspective alone.  I am not writing from a political perspective, that is, seeking to advocate one particular set of “party-line” politics over another.  I am simply trying to understand the current state of affairs and seek to respond as a biblical Christian accountable to God and consistent with church.  On Father’s Day, I must admit, I also want to speak to my children, adult Christ followers who have expressed from time to time being equally disheartened.

Many who share my faith in Christ will have very different points of view.  Many who are citizens of the USA, as am I, will have a very different point of view.  From my perspective, these divergent points of view are healthy and good because through challenge and dialogue we grow stronger together (as long as that challenge is civil and not grounded in personal attacks).

There are three things I want to address.

   First, the current use of dismantling families as a deterrent for unlawful immigration.  

   Second, the use of Romans 13 as a defense of this policy.

   Third, the apparent dehumanization of immigrants.

Should we dismantle families as a deterrent to unlawful immigration?

The Free Methodist Church has a robust, biblical and practical statement regarding immigration.  I agree with it wholeheartedly.  I invite you to take a few minutes to read it and understand of the heart of the theological framework in which I and those aligned with the FMC dwell.

From this statement I quote, “God has consistently and persistently commanded His people to treat the sojourners and foreigners with justice and compassion. From the earliest Mosaic commandments through the New Testament, God pushes His people toward a particular care for those who do not ‘belong,’ and who are therefore vulnerable. The Hebrews were often reminded that they had once been strangers, immigrants, without a home; therefore they were to empathize with others in that condition. The Hebraic history includes two extended periods during which they were immigrants: the 430 years in Egypt as well as the years in exile in Babylon and Assyria. Out of that collective memory God gives them instructions to treat the foreigners among them with justice and to provide for their needs.”

The biblical texts providing the foundation for such a statement include but are by no means limited to Exodus 12:49, Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:10, Leviticus 19:33, Leviticus 19:34, Leviticus 23:22, Leviticus 24:22, Leviticus 25:35, Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:19-21, Deuteronomy 27:19, Psalm 146:9, Jeremiah 7:6, Ezekiel 22:29, Zechariah 7:10, Malachi 3:5, Matthew 25:35, Galatians 3:28, Romans 12:13, Luke 14:14, etc.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly suggested that a new “zero-tolerance” policy be implemented at American borders that includes the immediate removal of children from parents as a deterrent to immigration.  President Donald Trump says, “the democrats forced that law upon the nation, I hate it.”   It is demonstrably untrue that this seperation policy was implemented by “the democrats” and there is no doubt but that family separation as a deterrent to immigration is the innovation of the Trump administration.  Regardless, it does not matter to the Christian whether it was a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian (etc., etc.) which implements an unjust and inhumane law contrary to the basic principles espoused by the Scripture because it is not about the politics but the principle.

Neither justice nor compassion are partisan.

The justification for family separation at the border has been espoused by talking media heads and several of my personal friends alike as the only reasonable way to handle processing criminals.  That is, when mom is arrested for a crime – armed robbery for example – she is arrested and her children cannot go with her to jail, they must be separated from their parent, a tragic outcome of the immoral decision made by a lawbreaking mother.  Further, as John Kelly says, the children are put “in foster homes or whatever.” Whatever right now is an American tent city for dispossessed children.  But the point of justification is that the children are not left as orphans in the street, and are cared for as humanely as the system will allow.  Further, so the justification goes, allowing people to unlawfully sneak into the country makes a mockery of the legal system and equates to a nation with any borders.

I get it – the justification for this policy is that lawbreakers are prosecuted, and children caught in the crossfire are cared for as best possible.

Are there times when undocumented immigrants must be separated from their children?  Almost certainly, and this has been the case for decades, when criminal activity or human smuggling was suspected, for example.  Children have been routinely provided homes away from their parents under both the Bush and Obama administration when they crossed the border without adults to accompany them.   According to the law, however, an immigrant seeking to enter the country outside of a border checkpoint may be fined or jailed for six months.  Being jailed or separated from family is not required by the law.  Further, the law – until now – has protected those seeking asylum, which requires crossing the border and declaring such.  Asylum may be sought as a result of domestic violence as well as verifying persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, social group alliance or political opinion.  According to the law of the United States, during the application period, the family is under the protection of the United States for up to one year.

Tragically, many of the families have been unduly criminalized while in fact seeking to follow the law!  They go to a port of entry, seek asylum, and discover that “being under the protection of the USA” means being criminalized and forced into the status of practical widows and orphans.  This practice is not only violates the current law of the land, but also opposes the biblical principles.

Ezekiel says (22:29) “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Many more texts speak to this principle.

I believe significant immigration reform is necessary and long-over due (and I suspect regardless of the political or faith affiliation of readers, most agree with this).  Regardless, even if the current the laws were the only way to deal with immigration, they can and should be implemented in a way that is fair and just, and not used in a manner that a thuggish, totalitarian state would choose to implement.  Let the “punishment” fit the “crime”.  If a murderer is convicted, decades – maybe life – in jail may be the fitting justice.  If a robber is convicted, months or years in jail or service and repayment may be the fitting justice.

But what is fitting justice for a father seeking to make a way in a new land to simply feed his children. What is just for a mother escaping cartel-infested territory so that her son is not decapitated and put on display. How does a compassionate nation extend “justice” to a refugee escaping with the shirt on his back and two children in tow with the hopes of just finding a place where bombs don’t drop throughout the night?  Does not justice require at least treatment with dignity, even if the end result is yet “no room in the inn?”

Brutal treatment will produce harmful outcomes in the long run.  It is not likely to actually deter those seeking to come to the United States.  Further, the children who grow up with the memory of mistreatment will experience perhaps irreparable harm.  The policy may form the cutting edge of a new wave of violence aimed at American national security.  Certainly, in terms of building strong partnerships with global alliances, to be a nation that is rebuked by the United Nations for human rights violations not particularly healthy.  As a Christian who hopes to be instrumental in sending representatives of Christ abroad to provide evangelism and aid to people who need to hear of grace and mercy in Christ, such national behavior is a hindrance.

Seperating immigrant children from parents, then, is not only unjust, not required by American law, not necessary to enforce in this manner, not a true deterrent, not biblically justifiable and simply immoral. Should we use dismantling families as a deterrent to immigration?  I think not.

Should we use Romans 13 as a defense of this policy, as does Jeff Sessions? 

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 31:1-2).

Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted this text, which has created quite a firestorm, as justification for implementation of new, more brutal measures to protect American borders.  The text was not used to justify the law itself but to point out that according to the Bible people who break the law are rebelling against God and the due punishment, whatever it is, is justifiable.

Ironically, I just finished teaching on this very text as a portion of what our network of churches accomplished at an annual family camp.  Quite a surprise I had as I emerged from the cell and wifi free zone to discover Romans 13 being used to justify the implementation of bad policy relating to immigration law.   Clearly, biblically speaking, God instituted government.  Marriage, church and labor are also “institutes” of God.  Government brings order and is a necessary part of human beings living together.  Government is a gift from God.

Still, Romans 13 does not, when viewed from a larger biblical context, command raw obedience to every aspect of government. In fact, resistance to evil government and bad law is a common theme throughout the Bible – not to dismantle government but to improve it and lead to a more just and compassionate order in this world.

I recently wrote extensively on how Americans in a democratic republic should view their responsibility to government and God in light of Romans 13 and similar texts.  Confronting bad government is a biblical and prophetic ideal.

We can be patriotic (loving our country) and prophetic (speaking biblical truth to power).  The biblical prophetic tradition demonstrates the frequent and constant application of the “Word of God” as a challenge to the status quo for unjust behavior among the kings of Israel, Judah and the world.  Elijah confronted Ahab, Nathan confronted David, Nehemiah confronted governnors, Jeremiah confronted Zedekiah, Isaiah confronted Hezekiah, John confronted Herod.  There can be no doubt that Elijah and Isaiah loved Israel (broad-sense) and were patriotic (even “zionistic” and nationalist) but understood the nation would be better if it were increasingly just and moral.  So it is that a modern American prophet, Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds the church of Jesus Christ in the age of the modern republic to be the conscience of the state:  “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”

If the laws of the USA were not challenged from time to time, slavery would be still an American institution, and neither blacks nor women would be permitted to vote.  Likewise, you have the right to bear arms (2nd Amendment) and responsibility to pay federal income tax (16th Amendment) as a result of to changes in the law.  I might be jailed for writing in opposition to a law if it were not for the 1st Amendment.

The fact is, American Christians have an incredible gift that many believers who look to Romans 13 do not have.  Our government specifically provides the right to oppose and change it from the inside out, as long as violence and deception are not the tools employed.  Our American Declaration of Independence enshrines this right in its first paragraph!

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Therefore, while I appreciate a government official seeking to live by a biblical standard, I choose to employ that same standard to resist unjust laws that deny implicitly or explicitly that “all people are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”  All people are not just American citizens.  All people include immigrants. And, as laws in the USA derive their just power from the consent of the governed, when those governed no longer consent, the law (even if still implemented) no longer has “constitutional” justice.

Finally, my heart breaks over what appears to be a concerted effort to dehumanize immigrants. 

From the time President Trump launched his campaign to run as president, he touched a populist nerve that sees immigrants as a threat.  His opening statement maligned Mexican (and within a few sentences, Middle-Eastern) immigrants thus:  “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

While fringe internet chat rooms, bars, work places and maybe not a few church picnics around America surely contained such commentary, the president legitimized and fanned the flame of labeling immigrants as bad people.  Since that time, a concerted effort has been made to associate immigrants, particularly from Latin America, with uber-violent gang activity – in particular the largely Salvadoran “MS13” – a Los Angeles based crime-syndicate with 10,000 global adherents. Pairing immigration with violence, crime and danger has been the bread-and-butter of our national leaders’ campaign to dehumanize or criminalize immigrants.

Such a concerted political effort is not unprecedented.  Italian immigrants were rejected as mafiosos.  Irish as violent, rural thugs.  Chinese as unclean thieves.  Arabs as terrorists.  Now, Latinos as rapists and gang bangers.   I think most Americans see that the fears associated with particular people groups in the past have not been, by and large, grounded in fact.  Most people seeking to emigrate to the United States do so in the hope of finding a free land that affords opportunity for those willing to work hard and follow the rules.  The immigrant reality s is that they do work hard and do follow the rules, more than most native-born citizens.  In fact, crime is strongly negatively associated with immigration, even “illegal” immigration.  Still, fears continue – perhaps it is simply the innate “tribal” or social aspects of what constitute the human psyche which leads to this cyclical negative reaction towards new comers.  Nonetheless, shame on leaders who stoke such fear to divide people.

There is a true moral and political danger in labeling and marginalizing people.  Dehumanization of Africans, which even in American law constituted 2/3rds of a human being and declared property, enabled slavery.  Regular reinforcement of Jews-as-dogs, and the source of national failures, led to acceptance of the mass slaughter of 6 million Jews by Nazis.

Consider this remark from a Rwandan correspondent in 1994, as public media paired Tutsis with cockroaches leading to the massacre of nearly 1,000,000 souls.

“What happened in Rwanda was the result of cynical manipulation by powerful political and military leaders…  The authorities told the Hutus that the Tutsis planned to take their land. They summoned up memories of the colonial days when the Tutsi overlordship had guaranteed second-class citizenship for the Hutus. ‘Remember your shame. Remember how they humiliated us. Be proud of your Hutu blood.’ Intellectuals were recruited into the cause of creating a pan-Hutu consciousness, and they travelled the country spreading the propaganda of hate. ‘Mercy is a sign of weakness. Show them any mercy and they will make slaves of you again.’ There were powerful echoes of Hitler’s Germany and the demonization of the Jews….What kind of man can kill a child? A man not born to hate but who has learned hatred. A man like you or me.'”

America, with its increasingly diverse population (fewer white than non-white babies were born for the first time as of July 1, 2015) cannot afford to make xenophobia and race-based thinking an ongoing “thing.”  Such thinking is illogical and destructive for any policymaking that seeks to make the country stronger.  Further, racial or ethnic discrimination is in direct opposition to every New Testament principle regarding humanity.

America, with its shrinking birthrate and growing elderly population, simply cannot grow its GDP, work-force, tax-base, or productivity in the present, much less the future, without a robust and helpful increase in immigrants.  According to just about EVERYONE that studies the issue from a social, economic and GDP-based perspective (here’s just a small few resources: Forbes, US News and World ReportFortune, Bloomberg, the Atlantic, Harvard) unequivocally declares that the USA needs MORE immigrants, not fewer.  Take away humanitarian and compassion issues associated with the debates at the border, simple public policy that promotes healthy immigration and better policies regarding work and wor-permits would in fact contribute to making America greater still.

Rather than demonize and mischaracterize immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and families struggling with immigration status in America today, it makes moral and practical sense to work toward common goals that recognize the “self-evident truth that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Of course, apply strong background checks, prosecute true criminals, and the like – for while most immigrants are wonderful human beings some are criminals.  Just as most people in the general population are wonderful, and some are criminals (native-born Americans are vastly much more likely than immigrants, legal and undocumented, to be criminals).

So, what then?

Well, if I could wave a magic wand and suggest political behavior from national and local leaders, I would say; stop using human beings as political poker-chips, playing to a political base for a short-term populist gain, lay down party politics, and work toward a long-term, robust, healthy immigration policy that is respectful of humanity, strong on security, provides a more nimble path for legal immigration and creates a legal work-permit structure that allows lawful employment for non-security threat individuals even if citizenship is not the long-term goal.  That is my less than nuanced and probably naïve nutshell perspective on policy.

In the meantime, I will continue to speak out when I see the United States (my country) move toward brutality and inhumane application of policy.  I will seek to apply biblical principles in their wholistic framework toward advocacy, and challenge those who would choose to misuse the Bible as a weapon against the defenseless and a shield to protect injustice.  I will endeavor to continue to promote healthy awareness of immigration and immigrants from a biblical perspective while not intentionally maligning those who disagree or have another point of view.

As a leader in the Sierra Pacific Conference, I will continue to promote the development within our network of strong, compassionate, and fully lawful immigration centers to provide those seeking help in navigating our complex system with the aid they need.  I will continue to seek to expand our network of undeniable blessing among as many people groups as the Holy Spirit will draw together, always seeking first to express Christ’s love and share eternal salvation in Jesus.   As a father, I will continue to seek to model for my children advocacy for the weak and helpless, and to ask them to always do the same.

On Father’s Day, real men shield the defenseless and protect families.