As a pastor, I believe in the Bible. I believe in Christian values and most of all I believe in the way of Jesus. I have a wife, three kids, and a church that I care deeply about. I am also an American. I live in a country and a city that I love. As I've watched the public outcry unfold over the latest Presidential executive order resulting in a travel ban for those coming in to our country. I have a couple of meandering thoughts for my congregation to consider as we navigate these times.
- Refugees are close to the heart of God and should be close to the heart of every Christian. The bible is clear: God's people are called to extend sacrificial love to the foreigner, the refugee, the stranger. The bible provides extensive guidance about loving the foreigner, providing food for the stranger, providing fair justice for the refugee, and not oppressing the outsider. In addition, many of the notable heroes of the Bible - including Jesus himself - were displaced from their homes as refugees. Regardless of our country's policies on the matter, Christians must demonstrate love and care to immigrants and refugees. One of the ways that we do that is by providing a voice for those who don't have a voice and advocacy for those who can't advocate for themselves. Whether it is an Iranian father detained at JFK airport or a Somali mother who can't find transportation to her doctor's appointment from downtown Erie. In big and small ways- Christians must open their hearts to outsiders. This executive order has struck fear and anxiety in the hearts of these people who are so precious to our God, and we as Christians must take action to give them a voice as many are doing.
- There is real pain in our streets - we must be careful not to quickly disregard what's going on here. And while this blog post is specifically focused on the immigration issue - what is going on in the streets of America is not. Many of these protests are born out of real fear and real uncertainty, not just for refugees from other lands but for the minorities and marginalized in our own land. I have enough friends who have been the victims of racism and oppression to know that this isn't just a theoretical issue - this is personal. So let's not just pretend that logic will prevail if we all will simply provide enough data points to support our arguments about immigration - there is a visceral side of this that needs to be handled at the ground level with respectful conversation and steps toward reconciliation. In the meantime, when the government oversteps its bounds - Christian leaders must voice a strong prophetic cry aimed at those in power.
- Erie, PA is a home for many refugees, and I'm proud of our city. Our country has historically opened her arms toward those who are fleeing persecution. And Erie, PA, is one of the bright spots in the US for opening her arms the widest; providing a safe haven for over 10,000 refugees. For many years our church through ServErie has been supporting local agencies who serve immigrants. We have come alongside groups like the International Institute, Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, and others who all play a part in providing critical services to those among us who have been displaced from their homes. I'm so proud to live in a city that is on the front lines of helping those foreigners, who may have previously been hopeless, to start a new life. If you’re looking for a tangible way to respond to the current situation – contact one of these agencies and volunteer to help out.
- Our government is not a Christian organization. Our country was founded on Christian principles, but it seems that some Christians want the government to operate like a church. I see bible verses being wielded like weapons and applied in wide-ranging fashion. We must remember that Christianity is not the state religion of the US and our government is not bound to follow the letter of the Bible. The US government and the church are very different entities with very different goals. One of the main objectives of the government, and therefore our President, is to protect our country. That means that he may need to enact policies that violate some of the tenants of Christianity. That's not thrilling to admit, but it is a reality. We can't expect the government to function as a Christian organization. It is not one. And throughout history each time the church and the government have hopped into bed together - it turned out to be a nasty, incestuous mess. Government leaders should be figuring out the rule of law, Christians should be figuring out the law of love. And when those two things conflict – our first stop as Christians should not be to whine about how the government doesn’t follow our rules, but it should be to double down in our efforts to serve the poor, attend to the broken, and walk out our faith in authentic and compelling ways.
- Our nation's security is important. We all have families. There is a reason that most of us lock our doors at night before we go to bed. We want to 'secure the borders' of our home to make sure that bad people can't get in. And it’s not that we hate those outside, it’s that we love those inside. Part of being a sovereign nation means that there are borders to secure. All nations take varying measures to secure themselves against their enemies - and it is naive to think otherwise. Those who have lived through 9/11 remember the feeling of absolute violation on that day. If that event was more fresh in our minds there would be much less controversy with President Trump's temporary ban. In fact many presidents (including President Obama) have used their executive powers to temporarily ban certain immigrants from certain countries from entering the United States. There must be some latitude given to our leaders when it comes to these kind of security issues.
- Executive orders should be well-vetted before being implemented. Executive Orders aren’t new. Barack Obama issued 249 total orders, George W Bush issued 291, Bill Clinton issued 364, and so far Donald Trump has issued 14. With this most recent executive order - the travel ban - it appears that some major players like Homeland Security, the Justice Department, State Department, and the National Security legal counsel were not adequately consulted before it was implemented. As a leader myself, I'm a firm believer in the wisdom of many voices. At the very least the implementation of this action was not well-thought-through nor well executed, and it brought with it some severe unintended consequences. I hope this mistake is part of a very fast learning curve for President Trump, as he discovers that this job is not like being a CEO of a company where you can just make sweeping changes with the stroke of a pen. The President must be more intentional about consulting and listening to seasoned advisers in these matters.
- Resettlement is a very complex issue. There are many facets to the issue of immigration and refugee resettlement. Take Syria alone as an example. 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance. 4.8 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.1 million are displaced within Syria; half of those affected are children. Rich Stearns of World Vision has called this the humanitarian crisis of our lifetime. So, people making policy decisions must consider the complexities of: what is best for individual refugees, what is best for nations who house them, what is best to solve the worldwide epidemic as a whole, and what is best in terms of global poverty, what is best for national security, etc. From a biblical standpoint - the bible doesn’t seem to suggest that people should be welcomed in to a country unequivocally. Instead, foreigners who received rights and privileges in a new land started by receiving permission from the appropriate authorities in that particular culture. There is an interesting article here about immigration and the Bible if you're interested. So, in addition to welcoming refugees to the US, there are also other important steps that our leaders should be taking to show love and care; including negotiating safe zones and resettlement strategies in countries closer to the refugees’ homes so they aren't half a world away from family and friends. I know just enough to know that this is a very complex problem, we must be careful not to oversimplify it. I am certain that if you or I was sitting in the President's seat, the answers would not be easy nor obvious.
- We need to be slower to personally react. There are mountains of misinformation out there right now. Christians on both sides of the aisle are taking click bait stories that fuel their biases and using them to dump gasoline on their own passions and to spread hatred and misinformation. We grab the talking points of our favorite partisan figures and regurgitate them ad-nauseam. We need to slow down our reactionary anger and get all the facts straight first. We all look stupid in our fear-based responses to each other. If we have any hope of moving forward in a Christ-like direction, we would be wise to re-engage real life, face to face conversation with others and practice the love and humility of Jesus. We are, after all, the body of Christ.
I'll wrap this up by issuing a call to prayer:
- Pray for those displaced from their homes and families.
- Pray for those workers and volunteers who serve immigrants.
- Pray for President Trump.
- Pray for our political leaders and policy makers.
- Pray for some specific people who disagree with you on this issue.