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!

October 26, 2016

The Prophetic George Washington

I have written here twice–fairly adamantly at that–that so-called prophecies shared recently that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States are false prophesies. I did not say that Trump will not be elected–though I am doubtful that he will–but that God did not reveal any prophetic message to anyone that Trump was His chosen man. I stand by that position. In this post, however, I would like to talk about the prophetic George Washington. By that I do not mean that Washington was a prophet or that he received any prophecies from God. Part of the definition of “prophetic” though is “predictive” and “ominous” and Washington was definitely that.

I would like to draw your attention specifically to Washington’s Farewell Address. It was not actually delivered publicly, but Washington’s thoughts in September 1796, as he decided not to run for a third term in office, contain a wealth of valuable and relevant advice that our country would do well to remember now 220 years later.

After sharing his thoughts on his tenure in office, his feelings for the people and the nation and his appreciation for the trust that had been placed in him, Washington transitions with this:

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger natural to that solicitude, urge me on an occasion like the present to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend for your review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all important to the permanency of your felicity as a people.

If nothing else, the address is a primer in 18th-century vernacular and may serve to expand someone’s vocabulary, but the simple truth is that Washington’s reflections led him to share some of the most insightful, practical and crucial comments on the elements essential to maintaining America as a free, independent and thriving nation.

I strongly recommend reading the entire address. It is not overly long and it can be found with ease by doing an internet search. Allow me, though, to highlight a few of Washington’s most poignant observations.

Regarding political parties, which were just beginning to emerge during Washington’s presidency, he said this: “One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts.” Here Washington was talking specifically about regional differences being taken advantage of by parties, but his point is relevant even now that regional differences are not so important as they were then. Do political parties misrepresent the opinions and aims of the other party(-ies)? Ummm…yeah. In fact that seems to be what they spend the majority of their time doing. If you have watched any of the debates this presidential season you have seen Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spend most of their time saying something about each other only to then have the other respond with something along the lines of, “everything just said is completely false” or something even more strongly worded.

Washington, too, knew that the dangers of party went far beyond geographic and regional differences. Roughly half way through the address he said this:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns his disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.

If you follow current events at all then the last paragraph above will sound eerily familiar to you. How many jealousies and false alarms have occupied the national news media in the past six months (and beyond)? How much animosity is there between the two parties? It is incredible; toxic almost. The time, effort and attention of the candidates and the parties (not to mention the media) is primarily on the squabbles and the scandals, calling names and slinging mud, with little of any substantive discussion of what policies might be pursued to actually help the country. And have we opened the door to foreign influence and corruption? I think “flung it open” might be more accurate. Read some of the accounts of the foreign influence purchased through the Clinton Foundation. Read about the amount of influence China has over the United States because of the amount of our debt China owns. Read about the offer from Russia to send election monitors over to the U.S. to ensure that the elections on November 8 are free and fair, i.e. “not rigged.”

Washington was no fool, and he knew that it would be impossible to eliminate parties and factions from any country. He did, though, observe this: “A fire not to be quenched, it demands uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.” I think it is safe to say that it is indeed bursting into flame, and the United States may well be consumed.

Back in 2008 Sean Collins wrote a book review for Spiked Online that began with this sub-heading: “It is not a clash of ideologies but rather an empty bickering over nothing of much substance that makes the presidential campaign seem so shrill and divided.” If that were true in 2008 it is exponentially more true today. In a 2014 PowerPoint presentation available online, Artemus Ward of Northern Illinois University’s Political Science department stated, “there are now, more than ever before, two Americas—Democratic America and Republican America that have inevitably led to government by crisis (shutdowns, sequestrations, fiscal cliffs, and debt ceiling threats).” In a 2015 article, the Washington Post examined ten reasons why American politics are worse than ever, and included this statement: “As these [party] divisions have intensified, Americans have come to hate the other party and its members more and more.”

I could provide additional commentary and evidence–and you could easily find your own with an online search if you do not already have enough knowledge from personal experience–but it is obvious that what Washington warned would happen has indeed happened. It did not just happen, but it is certainly getting worse. The fire has burst into a flame–and if we do not put it out it will indeed consume.

Next time I will examine another facet of Washington’s prophetic Farewell Address.

 

January 30, 2014

Miley was just the beginning

Not all that long ago everyone was all riled up over the lewd performance of Miley Cyrus at MTV’s Video Music Awards. The outcry against the performance came from all sectors, including Cyrus’s peers and other industry insiders. The mother of Cyrus’s partner in that performance, Robin Thicke, called her performance “misbegotten” and “not beneficial.” Lance Bass said he suspected that Cyrus shocked a lot of her fans, and commented that he had not expected to have to warn his nieces and nephews who tuned in to watch him perform on the VMAs that Cyrus would be “naked and humping a finger.” Cyndi Lauper called the performance “so sad, so sad” and said that it was “really raunchy. It wasn’t even art. It was raunch.” Given that those were the comments from others in the industry, you can imagine the responses from conservative groups like the Parent’s Television Council.

The VMAs were in September, though, so why am I bringing this up again now? Simple. The Grammys were just a few days ago, and that ceremony was proof positive that what got everyone so worked up in September has since become more acceptable. The sad truth is that–as with so many other things in culture–what was initially shocking gradually becomes less so and soon what once shocked becomes common place.

On Sunday night the 56th annual Grammy Awards ceremony was held, ostensibly to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry. As Melissa Locker noted in her column for TIME‘s Entertainment section, however, the show “has become less about the awards and more about the eclectic and outlandish performances.” I did not watch the Grammys, so I am using news reports as the basis for my comments here, but it would seem that “eclectic and outlandish” might be putting it mildly. Those reports make it all the more confusing that the Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri would have started her Monday column (the day after the Grammys) with this statement: “The Grammys were remarkably incident free.”

Really?

To quote NFL officials after an instant replay look-see, “after review” the ruling by Petri has been overturned. The Grammys were actually incident-full. Kristen Andersen of LifeSiteNews, in her column appearing on MyChristianDaily.com apparently has a very different perspective on what qualifies as an incident. (That, of course, is actually part of the problem–so much of what would have been shocking and entirely unacceptable not all that long ago no longer even rises to the level of an “incident” in the minds of so many). Andersen begins her column like this: “Sunday night’s Grammy Awards show was all about shock value.” I do not know about you, but “incident free” and “shock value” are really not synonymous in my book. So to what was Andersen referring? She continues with this: “Scantily-clad singers, same-sex ‘marriages’ set to anti-Christian lyrics, simulated sex acts and a performance full of demonic imagery by pop star Katy Perry – who used to be Christian artist Katy Hudson – were just a few of the on-stage stunts that seemed custom-designed to offend Christian believers.” Not to put words in Andersen’s pen, but it would seem that such antics would likely offend more than just Christians.

During the Grammys each of the following occurred: Katy Perry’s performance of “Dark Horse” included her pole-dancing around an inverted broom while flames and demons danced around her; rap artist Macklemore performed a song entitled “Same Love” while thirty-three couples of all sexual orientations were legally married on stage in a ceremony officiated by Queen Latifah; husband and wife Jay-Z and Beyoncé gave a performance in which Beyoncé “wore little more than a thong leotard and simulated sex acts with a chair, her husband, and herself” (Andersen); and Pink “shock[ed] with a sexy performance outfit” consisting mostly of “a sexy, long-sleeved lace bodysuit that hugged her curves” (Hollywoodlife.com).

The UK’s Daily Mail apparently had a different take on the evening’s activities than did the Washington Post‘s Petri. It’s column on Monday ran under a headline snatched from the Twitter-sphere: “‘It’s a sad day when our kids can’t even watch the Grammys’: Beyoncé slammed by parents after VERY risqué performance.” The column began with the statement that many parents deemed Beyoncé’s performance “too explicit for children to watch.” The column went on to describe Beyoncé’s performance as “both seductive and risqué” and included “moves Miley Cyrus would have been proud of.” Based on the photos included in the Daily Mail column I would have to agree–there is no way to blast Cyrus’s performance as raunchy and inappropriate while also commending Beyoncé for hers.

The Daily Mail column included another interesting observation that provides further evidence of the contradictory responses to Cyrus and Beyoncé. First, the column states, “Beyoncé’s performance comes after she admitted in a recent mini-documentary that she is proud to embrace her sexuality. She said: ‘I don’t have any shame about being sexual. I’m not embarrassed about it. And I don’t feel like I have to protect that side of me.'” The column then went on to state that such “embracing” of her sexuality has not stopped President Barack Obama from praising Beyoncé as a role model for children. The column quoted Obama as saying recently, “Beyoncé could not be a better role model for my girls because she carries herself with such class and poise and has so much talent.'” She may have talent, but it is unfathomable to me that any father would encourage his daughters to model themselves after a woman who gave the performance the Beyoncé did on Sunday.

Part of the responsibility of Christians is to shine a light on the darkness in the world. Several Christian artists did that after (and during) the Grammys on Sunday. Natalie Grant tweeted, “We left the Grammys early. I’ve many thoughts, most of which are probably better left inside my head. But I’ll say this: I’ve never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I’ve never been more sure of the path I’ve chosen.” Despite the fact that Grant did not identify any particular performance or indicate when she left the Grammys the backlash came swiftly, with many accusing her of hatred toward homosexuals. Responding on Facebook, Grant wrote that she would much prefer to use her platform to unite rather than divide, but “I do have my own personal convictions that I live by, and I will continue to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord. (Philippians 2:12)”

Grant went to the show and left early. Mandisa opted to not even go–and she won two Grammys on Sunday. She won for “Best Christian Contemporary Music Album” and “Best Contemporary Christian Music Song” but she was not there when her name was announced. Explaining her absence via Facebook, Mandisa wrote, “Both times I have gone to the Grammys I have witnessed performances I wish I could erase from my memory, and yes, I fast forwarded through several performances this year; but my reason is not because of them, it’s because of me. I have been struggling with being in the world, not of it lately. I have fallen prey to the alluring pull of flesh, pride, and selfish desires quite a bit recently. … I knew that submerging myself into an environment that celebrates those things was risky for me at this time. … Perhaps being alone with [Jesus] as my name was announced was protecting myself from where my flesh would have tried to drag me had I been up on that stage.”

If I may, Mr. President, I would like to suggest that Mandisa would be a much better role model for your daughters than Beyoncé.

Bottom line, the performances at the Grammys on Sunday are likely only evidence of what will continue to be; I am afraid things will get worse rather than better. I will leave it to you to prayerfully consider what, if anything, you will do about that, but I would humbly suggest that you consider Ephesians 5:11, which reads, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” That is what I am endeavoring to do here. My purpose is not to chastise or blame Pink, Beyonce, Katy Perry or Macklemore. My point is to expose what happened to expose the serious slide our nation is on away from any modicum of decency in the public arena. Miley was just the beginning….

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