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!

September 13, 2012

Lessons We Can Learn

I strive to avoid being overtly political in this blog, but that is not for lack of political opinions or positions. Rather, it is the result of my desire that this space be used for thought-provoking dialogue and not become another political blog that will only be read by people who agree with me.

That said, I have a few comments relating to the handling of the attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East, and then some thoughts on what lessons can be taken from these events and applied to the Christian life.

First, I have to join with Mitt Romney, Charles Krauthammer, Mike Huckabee and others and say that I find the statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Egypt to be spineless and inappropriate. While I have not seen the movie, or the trailer for the movie, in question, there is no excuse for the United States, in any way, shape or form to apologize for the freedoms upon which our nation is built. According to the New York Times, the embassy issued the statement before the attack on the embassies in Egypt and Libya occurred. Be that as it may, the statement, which begins with, “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims”–sounds like the result of a politically correct sensitivity seminar. Does the United States really need to apologize that the actions of an individual–actions that are protected by free speech–hurt peoples’ feelings? If the U.S. government is going to assume the role of apologizing every time free speech results in someone’s feelings getting hurt, I have news for you: the government will do nothing else, as this will become a more-than-full-time job in and of itself. There are plenty of people who make comments on a regular basis that I find offensive (yes, Bill Maher, Howard Stern and Roseanne Barr, I am talking to you). I find many of their comments offensive to my sense of decency and politeness, to my Christian beliefs, and to my conservative political tendencies. Yet, never have I received an apology from the government (at any level) for the idiotic statements they make with such regularity, nor do I ever expect to. Why? Because one of the great things about the United States is the freedom that we have to speak our minds without fear of reprisal. I am exercising free speech right now by expressing my dissatisfaction with the actions of the U.S. government. I do not want the government telling me what I can and cannot say, but that means I must also accept that that freedom necessarily allows others to say things that I may find offensive. What should I do about it? Turn it off, ignore it, or, when I feel the need, respond to it, but I would not suggest that the three individuals mentioned above should lose the right to say what they think and I certainly would not expect the government to apology to Christians around the world when those individuals “hurt the religious feelings” of Christians.

(Just to be equitable, by the way, I find plenty of things that Rush Limbaugh, et. al, Ann Coulter and Pat Robertson say to be offensive, too).

The embassy statement ends with, “Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.” Here’s the thing: religious freedom is a cornerstone of American democracy, yes, but no more and no less a cornerstone than freedom of speech–even when that speech “hurt[s] the religious beliefs of others.”

I do not agree with some of the attacks that I have seen directed at President Obama’s statement made Wednesday morning. I do not see in that statement an apology for America. At the same time, Mr. President, you do not have the liberty to say that the statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Egypt does not reflect the U.S. government’s position, because it does, whether you want it to or not. Every U.S. embassy is the U.S. government to the people in those countries, for all intents and purposes, and whether authorized or not, any statement those embassies may issue becomes–even if only temporarily–the position of the U.S. government. What I do find disturbing is that President Obama’s statement does not unequivocally state that the U.S. will punish those who attacked our embassies. A U.S. embassy is sovereign U.S. soil, and an attack on one of our embassies should be treated no differently than an attack on Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Center. Do I want another war? No. But these attacks must not be allowed to pass quietly into yesterday’s news.

So, what lessons are there in this for Christians? First of all, just another clear example of the difference between Christianity and other religions–most strikingly, Islam. Christians do not respond with violence when their faith is mocked, ridiculed or even threatened. Historically, Christians respond in civil disobedience, and they suffer whatever consequences come their way as a result of doing so. Most Muslims are unapologetic about their desire to destroy Christianity…yet Christians do not respond with violence.

Second, we see, through the attack on the U.S., a reminder that what Christians believe and stand for is an offense to some people. Even though no one has suggested that the film that supposedly launched these attacks on U.S. embassies is a product of the U.S. government, the government represents America, and the actions of Americans are reflected on the government. Similarly, Christians will sometimes suffer persecution simply because of what they believe, whether they have taken any offensive actions toward another or not. And, as with the situation described here, Christians must always remember that the actions of anyone claiming the name of Christ will reflect on all others claiming the name of Christ–all the more reason for Christians to demonstrate Christ’s love in all interactions with others.

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