jasonbwatson

February 15, 2017

Why I Am Not Standing

Last Wednesday World Relief ran an ad in The Washington Post–a full-page ad, I believe–calling President Trump and Vice President Pence to support refugees. The ad featured a five paragraph letter over the names of Tim Breene, World Relief CEO, and Scott Arbeiter, World Relief President, and is being called the Still We Stand Petition. The ad also included the names of “top evangelical leaders from all fifty states” expressing their support for the need to reconsider Trump’s executive order limiting individuals from several majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States. The ad did include the names of several well-known evangelical leaders, including Tim Keller, Bill Hybels, Max Lucado, Ed Stetzer, Ann Voskamp, Leith Anderson and Stuart Briscoe. There were dozens of others whose names I did not recognize. (And with all due respect to Voskamp, she is Canadian, and lives in Canada, so the inclusion of her name on the letter was a bit illogical). The ad also featured, prominently, a web address where anyone who wants to do so can add their name to the letter. As of early afternoon on February 15, one week after the ad ran, the site was boasting just over 6,000 signatories. I am not one of them, nor will I be. Here is why.

Trump’s executive order suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. Furthermore, the order states that during the suspension,

[T]he Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Homeland Security and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall review the USRAP application and adjudication process to determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States, and shall implement such additional procedures.

This is not a reckless or inappropriate action on the part of the President. I say this not as a Trump supporter–I would definitely not be comfortable classifying myself as such–but as a supporter of the Constitution and a Christian. The very purpose of the United States Constitution is, in large part, “to insure domestic tranquility, to provide for the common defense…and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” (see Preamble to the Constitution). Furthermore, the presidential oath of office includes stating that he “will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Therefore, calling a four-month timeout on refugee resettlement to the U.S. in order to make sure that the admission of refugees “does not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States” is both constitutional and appropriate (regardless of what a court said).

The World Relief letter states that Christians are taught to love their neighbor and that Jesus said that neighbor “includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country.” The letter goes on to express support for the government’s need to set guidelines for the admission of refugees, but says that “compassion and security can coexist.” I agree with that–and I suspect Trump, Pence and others does as well. The very point of the timeout is to ensure that that can indeed happen.

The letter goes on to state, “Since the inception of the refugee resettlement program, thousands of local churches throughout the country have played a role in welcoming refugees of all religious backgrounds. Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready, and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.” That is surely true. Churches and para-church ministries have indeed played a vital role in helping to provide for refugees and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. At the same time, it is not the responsibility of the United States government to accommodate the desire of churches to receive refugees. It is the responsibility of the United States to provide for the defense and security of the country.

The further reality is that churches, para-church organizations even individual Christians can still be involved in supporting and helping refugees even if those refugees cannot enter the United States. There are plenty of organizations providing much-needed assistance to refugees around the world and they would no doubt welcome the help the thousands of people signing this letter seem poised to offer.

Mindy Belz of WORLD is one of the most articulate and outspoken voices on the refugee crisis in the Middle East I think, certainly among Christians, and she has written that she does not think that Trump’s executive order will help Christians. It may not. Again, however, helping Christians in the Middle East is not the foremost priority for Donald Trump or any U.S. president. Nor should it be.

By the way, I am not staking unique ground in supporting the order. WORLD magazine has reported that “evangelist Franklin Graham, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., Southern Baptist pastor Ronnie Floyd, and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins are just a few of the evangelical leaders defending Trump’s order.”

Ironically, The Washington Post featured an article on February 10 taking Franklin Graham to task about what the Bible says. (Just ponder that statement for a minute, by the way…). The article, written by Joel Baden, who is a professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School, says that Graham “could not be more wrong” when he said that immigration is not a biblical issue. But Baden fails to make his point. He provides ample examples of refugees and exiles being treated kindly and respectfully throughout Scripture. He writes, “Across the books of both testaments, in narrative, law, prophecy, poetry and parable, the Bible consistently spells out that it is the responsibility of the citizen to ensure that the immigrant, the stranger, the refugee, is respected, welcomed and cared for.” Further, Baden cites both the Old Testament–“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:33-34)–and the New Testament–“Love your neighbor as yourself” (which Baden calls the Golden Rule, but it isn’t)–to support his conclusion.

Mathew Schmalz, an Associate Professor of Religion at College of the Holy Cross, made the same arguments in Newsweek. Raymond Chang, a pastor, does as well for The Huffington Post.  He focuses on the biblical instruction to treat sojourners as those who are native born and Jesus’s statement that we will be judged according to how we treat “the least of these.” The problem is, none of these passages–or any other passages–instruct any country to throw open its doors to immigrants, refugees or exiles. All of these passages instruct that once strangers are in the land, the people who live there are to treat them with fairness, respect and compassion. I agree with that and I suspect Trump, Pence and others do too. None of them tell a country or a people to welcome absolutely anyone into their borders or to exercise no discretion in protecting their own borders. And again, it is entirely possible–especially in the day and age in which we live–to love and care for refugees even without letting them into our country.

Back in 2014 Wes Walker wrote on ClashDaily.com, “To suggest…that Israel would ever have willingly thrown open the borders to a swarm of culturally hostile foreigners, grant them asylum, and become financially responsible for their care is ridiculous. That would have been seen as an invasion force, and would have been treated as such.” The articles above, and others, that attempt to use the Bible as justification for letting any and all refugees into the United States, or for promoting refugee settlement here at the possible expense of national security, are missing the mark–and the intent of Scripture.

By the way, I am sure I am not the only one who sees the irony in The Washington Post, Newsweek and The Huffington Post attempting to use the Bible to support certain policy positions and government actions. I would love to see them make an effort to support a biblical position on things like abortion, marriage, homosexuality and gender issues among many others. That would be something I would take a stand for!

March 21, 2013

A “particular social group”

This story has received a fair amount of attention in select news outlets in recent weeks, so you may have heard about it already: Uwe and Hannelore Romeike have six children, five of them school age, and the came to the United States from Germany in 2008. Why? Because homeschooling is illegal in Germany, and the German authorities had threatened to take the Romeike’s children away from them because they were homeschooling. In 2010 a U.S. immigration judge granted the Romeikes political asylum because, in the opinion of the judge, the family had a legitimate fear of persecution in Germany due to homeschooling. There are documented cases of other Christian families in Germany that have been fined, imprisoned and even stripped of custody of their children for homeschooling. Why? Because, according to the Germany authorities, homeschooling families are creating “parallel societies.”

The laws in Germany are more than 80 years old. In fact, according to Aaron T. Martin’s article entitled “Homeschooling in Germany and the United States, published in the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law in 2010, “the draconian policies that are on the books in Germany today were originally implemented by Hitler in 1938.” Why did the Nazi government abolish homeschooling? Because “Nazi leaders proceeded systematically to attack books,
music, films, and radio programs that forwarded any view of the world
inconsistent with the Third Reich’s agenda.” It was this climate in Germany that drove many of the nation’s leading intellectuals out of the country–including Albert Einstein to the United States.

One could question why Germany still has such laws on its books, and I do. In fact, interestingly enough, so do the state legislatures of Georgia and Tennessee, which both took the unusual approach in 2009 of passing resolutions calling on the German government to legalize homeschooling. Among the reasons stated in the Georgian resolution is the statement that “parents hold the fundamental responsibility and right to ensure the best quality education for their children, and parental choice and involvement are crucial to
excellence in education” and “the importance of religious liberties and the right of parents to determine their child’s upbringing and the method in which their education should be provided.” Apparently the Bundestag is unimpressed by the opinions of two states from the American south, as no action to change the law has been taken, to my knowledge. And while I agree that Germany should change their laws in this regard, I am more concerned with what the U.S. government is doing at the moment.

After the immigration judge granted asylum to the Romeikes in 2010 the government immediately began backtracking, concerned that the European Union would be offended and that key European allies would consider the decision an affront to their national sovereignty. The Department of Homeland Security disputed the decision, and last May the Board of Immigration Appeals sided with the government. Now the Romeikes await a decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on an appeal filed on their behalf by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that Germany’s ban on homeschooling does not violate the “fundamental rights” of the Romeikes. He further argues that homeschoolers who are persecuted for homeschooling their children do not constitute a “particular social group” requiring protection from the United States. What kinds of people do make up groups warranting asylum? Well, the United States has granted asylum to torture victims and victims of religious persecution, as well as to some political dissidents. According to an article by Mary Jackson in WORLD Magazine, the U.S. has also expanded asylum status over the last decade to include “several hundred harassed homosexuals.”

HSLDA Founder and Chairman Michael Farris wrote on the HSLDA web site on February 11 that “The Supreme Court of Germany declared that the purpose of the German ban on homeschooling was to ‘counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.’ This sounds elegant, perhaps, but at its core it is a frightening concept. This means that the German government wants to prohibit people who think differently from the government (on religious or philosophical grounds) from growing and developing into a force in society.” For those reasons, and the fact that the U.S. Attorney General’s office is arguing that such a ban does not constitute the persecution of a “particular people group,” Farris believes that the “argument revealed some very dangerous views of our own government toward our freedom.” I have to agree. If the United States government is willing to deport a family that entered the U.S. legally, followed the rules to obtain asylum, and–to my knowledge–have been law abiding residents of the United States for nearly five years because the government does not think that the right to homeschool one’s children is a “fundamental right” then we have a serious problem, and we better be on the lookout. What’s next?

Blog at WordPress.com.