In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Tennessee (yes, I intentionally called it a terrorist attack) allegedly committed by Kuwaiti-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez that killed five members of our Armed Forces, Franklin Graham fell into disfavor with some Christian leaders when he called for an end to Muslim immigration to the U.S. Graham’s critics believe that closing immigration to the Muslim world due to the actions of a small number of radicals does not express Christian love. Graham’s critics have a distorted understanding of our obligations as Christians as well as our effectiveness. Allow me to elaborate.
On one hand, God instructs us in the Bible to welcome the foreigner in our land. But on the other hand, God warned the nation of Israel against intermixing with the nations and people groups they were at war with. (In other words, God was concerned for the safety and spiritual wellbeing of his people because he knew that too much intermixing with the people from enemy nations would lead many of his people to change allegiance to other gods.) Granted, the context is different in each of these two instructions found in the Bible, but some American Christians have embraced the former Biblical imperative to welcome the foreigner while ignoring the latter imperative that warns God’s people of the danger of too much intermixing that can result in a nation losing their identity to the customs and religions of hostile nations. This one-sided approach to Biblical instruction leads some Christians to the misdirected, albeit compassionate, belief that America should always permit copious immigration because it presents an opportunity to express Christ’s love to unbelievers. Such thinking, given the current reality that the U.S. is at war with radical Islamists, means that some of our fellow citizens will inevitably die at the hands of radical Islamists who immigrate to the U.S. We know that some Muslims are radicalized via the internet after they get here, though we don’t know how many.
Some American Christians, attempting to demonstrate Christ’s love to the world, feel duty-bound to accept the low risk (for now) associated with Muslim immigration. Apparently those same American Christians are prepared to become martyrs if necessary. Such an attitude sounds spiritually enlightened and hip in a new age-pacifist sort of way. But is it Biblical when we live in a nation at war, indeed when our very soil has become a battleground? Do we have a right to expect even a small number of fellow citizens, who might not know the Lord, to be willing to die at the hands of radical Islamist immigrants so that we can express the love of Christ via a generous immigration policy? There’s another question we need to ask as Christians and good citizens: Are Muslim immigrants assimilating into American culture? Anecdotally I see more and more immigrants who show no apparent desire to assimilate into American culture. I also wonder how many immigrants are converting to Christianity. Over the past few years I’ve noticed quite a few Caucasian American women wearing the hijab. We, the church, need to ask who is converting who?
As for the argument that we need high immigration numbers as a mechanism for Christians to express the love of Christ, I refer you to John 13:34-35 where we receive a new command from God: “. . . By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This Scripture is directed at Christians. If we are honest with ourselves, we do a lackluster job of loving each other in the church. Jesus didn’t say the world would come to him because of good preaching, or excellent missionary programs, or faith-based social services, or creative outreach events; although all these things help bring people to faith in Christ. Jesus was pointing out the powerful witness to unbelievers that occurs when Christians love each other with the miraculous love of Christ. When done right, it’s something unbelievers would want for themselves. Since we have not done so well at loving each other in the church the way Christ loved his disciples, perhaps we should not delude ourselves that we can reach significant numbers of Muslim immigrants right now. It seems like we are just hoping that we can entice immigrants into the kingdom of God by first enticing them with our western freedom, democracy, economic opportunities and materialism. Again, I’m not sure how we can demonstrate the love of Christ through immigration policy when we do a lackluster job of loving each other in the American church.
Maybe the better approach is to re-focus on sending missionaries overseas. I’ve said it before, but the time has likely come in America when we need to slow immigration to a trickle for a while in order to give our current immigrants time and incentive to assimilate, and to allow law enforcement to cull the bad apples that present a danger to our fellow citizens. But such a policy has a fatal flaw in our current political milieu: It’s called common sense and it doesn’t help anybody make money or secure power. Fortunately God doesn’t need money or power. I pray that God’s will for our nation prevails.
If Bill Cosby were an illegal immigrant, could he move to a sanctuary city and escape the legal troubles surrounding his inappropriate/criminal sexual dalliances back in the day? Last week, as the Cosby story heated up, news about Kate Steinle’s murder in San Francisco allegedly at the hands of Illegal immigrant Francisco Sanchez (who happened to be enjoying safe refuge in the sanctuary city of San Franciso) went viral. Her tragic murder made me angry. You see, last year two sheriff deputies were killed in and near my hometown of Sacramento by illegal immigrant Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte. Mr.Monroy-Bracamonte had been deported twice before killing the deputies.
According to United States Sentencing Commission data for 2014, Illegal immigrants accounted for 36.7% of federal sentences. Most of us commoners agree that our immigration system is dysfunctional and our leaders in Washington do not have the juice to fix it. Republican politicians exploit illegal immigrants for the cheap labor craved by business while democrat politicians exploit illegal immigrants for their votes, or the votes of their legal family members. In other words, when one of us commoners gets murdered or maimed by an illegal immigrant criminal, Washington considers it acceptable collateral damage. What’s it going to take to fix? Will the father of a child killed by an illegal immigrant someday walk into Congress and shoot the place up? If such a horrible thing were to happen I’ve no doubt our border would be secure overnight.
Here’s the thing: The Bible tells us to welcome foreigners in our land. Read Exodus 22:21-24, Leviticus 19:33-34, and Deuteronomy 10:18-19. These verses convey a tone of empathy that we are to have toward immigrants in our land; I accept that and try to live it. Unfortunately these verses do not provide guidance in the nuance of complicated ancillary issues surrounding illegal immigration, such as: what to do about endless legions of poor illegal immigrants fleeing horrible conditions in their country; the cost of housing, food, medicine, social services and education for illegal immigrants; the crimes committed by a segment of illegal immigrants while here; whether or not illegal immigrants perform jobs that natural citizens avoid; and the cost to the consumer if illegal immigration were shut off.
The primary focus of the Bible’s position on immigration instructs us to have a tender heart toward immigrants and to take care of them if they are in need while here. We can do that. But the Bible does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. The Bible also does not say that we must throw open the gate and accept whatever consequences, the good and bad. Just because we want our leaders to manage immigration with greater effectiveness does not mean we are incapable of empathy toward non-criminal immigrants. Perhaps if government did a better job of culling dangerous illegal immigrants from the herd, there would be more room for immigrants who want to work, achieve a better life and participate in civil life within the American community.
Given our current economic malaise, the hard reality is that there are simply not enough jobs and business opportunities for every immigrant, legal or not, who wants to enter America. Long-term moral solutions to illegal immigration are not pleasant (MOST moral solutions are not pleasant). It may require that American businesses pay higher wages to get legal workers. The Democrat Party may need to get by with fewer voters. Consumers might pay more for goods and services. Businesses may have to settle for leaner profit margins. Republican leaders may need to say no to powerful business interests that fund their campaigns. A greater percentage of immigrants may need to come here temporarily to get an education or vocational skills and return to their country of origin to help make things better there. The U.S. may need to slow all immigration to a trickle to give current immigrants a chance to assimilate and to give authorities time to get a handle on immigration and flush out the bad apples. The U.S. may need to apply economic pressure to Mexico and Central America to shape up and provide economic opportunities and safety to their citizens so that they do not feel desperate to get to America. These are the right things to do, and I believe they do not contradict the Bible.
One thing I know, God hears the cries of desperate immigrants as well as the families of victims like Steinle. If America is going to continue the exploitative immigration policies that result in tragic consequences to our own citizens, we will have some explaining to do before Almighty God. The thing is, our excuses probably won’t deflect God’s judgment. I pray for Kate Steinle’s family as they grieve. I also pray that our leaders grow a moral spine and fix the problems that contributed to her tragic death. That’s the only way they can avoid getting more innocent blood on their hands. Steinle’s death raises a sobering question: Who is more dangerous, illegal immigrant criminals or our political leaders?
America is my home and I love her despite her shortcomings. I am wed to the land and, more significantly, to the audacious dream of America and what it has meant for humanity. It does not take a prophet to divine that the recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States legalizing gay marriage has placed the audacious dream of America in a precarious position. While millions of my fellow citizens celebrate the Court’s decision, some of us perceive that the Court’s decision will have the opposite effect of creating a fair and stronger society for all. Before I continue I need to stress that the following argument comes from my identity as Christian American, not just as a Christian.
In a free nation it is inevitable that equal protection under the law of one group will eventually conflict with the equal protection under the law of another group. In the recent epic struggle that landed before the Supreme Court, the gay community won but everyone else lost. How so, you ask? Well, the Sunday after the Court’s decision, my pastor verbalized what I’ve pondered for some time. He said the gay community today has the right to live how they want in America because of the Judeo Christian values that our founders codified into laws that protect the freedoms we all enjoy. If you doubt this, look around the world today at nations that do not have, or never had, a strong Judeo Christian influence and you soon realize that gay people are treated quite poorly in many of those places. The map linked below (Courtesy of Quartz and Pew Research Center) shows countries where gay marriage is legal. Note that most of the countries highlighted have, or at one time had, a strong influence from the Protestant or Catholic Church or both.
Has the historical and modern church at times stood in the way of gay rights? Yes, but the church has also advocated strongly for human rights. The efforts of Christ’s church have paved the way for much of the freedoms enjoyed by a large swath of humanity today. I know many on the left, secularists, will scoff at this. Sometimes the truth is too painful to bear.
Here’s the rub: By winning before SCOTUS, the gay community has managed to render the First Amendment (which covers all Americans, not just the small gay community) almost impotent. In other words, the gay community used the equal protection under the law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to sacrifice the First Amendment right to religious freedom enjoyed by millions of Americans. It was a selfish and vain attempt by the gay community to achieve happiness and peace via societal acceptance.
As a Christian with a fairly good understanding of human nature, I know this will not give the gay community the peace they crave. Sure, initially there will be celebrations and great happiness in the gay community, but God loves all people and his Spirit draws them to himself. That “drawing to himself” is the uncomfortable feeling that something is not right that each person experiences in life. It turns many people correctly toward God. The only solution to that deep uncomfortable feeling is the acceptance of Christ into a person’s life. But that is a theological subject for another time.
So what happens now in America? It’s hard to say. We have entered uncharted territory, considering that approximately 118 million Americans (this number was compiled from Pew Research data) who are fairly active in their faith have just had their religious freedom compromised. Actually, 320 million Americans (our current total population) just had their religious freedom compromised. For now I do not expect much to change in the lives of most Americans. Nary a week has passed and the issue of gay marriage and religious freedom seems to fade from our collective consciousness as life goes on. But even now I suspect radicals in the gay community are preparing to challenge protestant, evangelical and Catholic churches and faith-based organizations to embrace gay marriage or lose their tax exempt status as well as government funding for many of the social programs offered by the church. I expect that the gay community will attempt to have the government take away tax benefits enjoyed by members of the clergy who refuse to perform gay marriages or let gay couples use church facilities as wedding venues. Christian colleges and K through 12 schools may face attacks if their doctrine, hiring and enrollment practices are not acceptable to the gay community. Christian for-profit businesses will continue to have a target painted on their backs, as recent history has already shown. Gay leaders will continue to insist that people of faith not be allowed to “hide” behind religious freedom (darn that pesky First Amendment) and “discriminate” against gay people.
If the gay community and secular society drive the church into the shadows, one unexpected consequence is that the church will likely grow even more than it did when it enjoyed unlimited religious freedom (Ironic). Another unintended outcome would be that more Americans will realize (when it’s too late) that the church and faith-based organizations carry a tremendous load of social services provided to the needy and marginalized in America and around the world. Will our financially-strapped government step in to fill the gap? Will the gay community? I doubt it.
It is also ironic that by turning to the heavy hand of the federal government (as well as manipulating the opinion of an often obtuse public) for redress of perceived grievances, the gay community has handed the federal government far too much power for any institution to safely wield and still guarantee the sacred rights that apply to all people. Personally I do not believe the church should turn the other cheek at this point in our nation’s history. But while we fight back, we likely need to examine ourselves and stop living hypocritical lives. Hopefully our coming dilemma will prod us to take a hard look at ourselves. The church engages in far too much sin, infighting and turf wars. Too many people in the church want to soak up God’s love without grappling with sin in their lives. Too many do not practice the art of loving each other. Too many pastors and priests have set a horrible example in the conduct of their personal and professional lives. Too many pastors and priests are willing to refuse to marry gay couples while overlooking the plethora of sins in the lives of heterosexuals; sins like cohabitation, substance abuse, gluttony, greed, gossip, anger, racism, absence of love for others, pride, serial marriages, unethical business dealings, just to name a few.
If something doesn’t change, the coming persecution will likely separate genuine Christians from the superficial. I don’t know, maybe God’s spirit will help us now that our comfortable church life could be a thing of the past. In the meantime, what can you do? Pray for our nation as much, or more, than we pray for our individual needs, and pay attention to potential leaders who want our votes. It is time to elect leaders who will appoint judges who know better than to sacrifice one part of the Constitution for another due to the pressures of political correctness.
If Caitlyn Jenner married Rachel Dolezal, would it be an interracial same-sex marriage? For those of you living under a rock (I’m seriously thinking about joining you), Rachel Dolezal is the white lady and former leader of the Spokane NAACP who made the news recently because she self-identifies as black. Egad, just when I thought identity-bending couldn’t get any more confusing. It was bad enough when Bruce Jenner switched teams. Back in the day I had a man crush on Jenner when I was in high school because he was a cool jock. But the recent story about Dolezal choosing to be black made me wonder what the hades is going on in American society? Well, when humanity throws me for a loop, I check out the Bible for answers.
Going way back in history, the Bible says God cautioned humanity that those who did not know God or believe in God would eventually find themselves confused and off track about a variety of things in daily life. For instance, Deuteronomy 22:5 says that a man must not wear a woman’s clothes and a woman must not wear man’s clothing because such behavior is detestable in God’s opinion. The inclusion of this warning in the ancient text of the Bible tells me that Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner and the transgender community today are not breaking new ground. There has always been a demographic with a strong inclination to change their gender identity, whether society approved or not. Apparently that fact has now expanded to race, as well. Is the desire to switch teams and become a different gender or race something natural and healthy due to a genetic hiccup in the womb, or does it indicate mental illness? Is it a disability, a lapse in judgment, or a breakdown in character?
Isaiah 5:20 says, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” I find it curious that a significant segment of our population today believes that radical self-transformations like those of Jenner and Dolezal are admirable, brave, and healthy. They say it is a good thing and anyone who disagrees is evil or hateful. They are saying bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. A growing segment of our population is losing the ability to discern the difference between good and evil as well as the difference between healthy and unhealthy.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” These two verses are at the root of many of our problems. We do not ask God about the way we live. That said, allow me to change direction here. What if Jenner’s decision to change gender was indeed the result of years of mental torment because he felt feminine in a masculine body? What if Jenner tried to find healing through every traditional clinical approach without success? What if Jenner asked God for help, but received none? (Yes I know it changes the dynamic if Jenner does not know God, but bear with me.) If that is the case, it is understandable why Jenner would take such drastic action as to change his gender. Given enough pain, EVERY person will try almost anything to make the pain stop. This is true of severe physical as well as mental pain. I know what some of you are thinking: God answers prayer and heals those in pain. I’m sorry, but sometimes God does not answer our every prayer and heal our body and/or mind of every ailment? The reality is that there are times when we are compelled to do whatever it takes to function without pain pushing us to the brink of jumping off a bridge.
I admit that I do not understand why God sometimes allows people to go through severe pain, and I try not to blame God. But in such situations, well, grace becomes priceless. Jenner needs our grace. As for Dolezal, I’m suspicious that her decision to change race was political or influenced by cultural forces, but ultimately I do not know her heart. Don’t get me wrong; I do not believe society should treat the decisions of Jenner and Dolezal with reckless admiration as if they are somehow leading us into a brave new world of utopian tolerance. However, extending grace and compassion to Jenner and Dolezal feels like the right thing to do.
Imagine my horror when opening the news and seeing the headline that the U.S. Justice Department, assisted by Swiss authorities, had filed corruption charges against 14 FIFA officials. (Yes that was sarcasm, because like most Americans I had no clue what FIFA was.) Anyhow, the crux of the charges in the indictment surround alleged bribes and kickbacks ($150 million worth) in exchange for votes for host countries of the World Cup and providing lucrative media and marketing rights. The World Cup is the Mecca of world of soccer. It’s where all those soccer moms and dads aspire to see their progeny compete when they grow up.
I do not know if the charges have validity, but it does remind me that the Bible has something to say about bribes. If you do a word search of “bribe” in the Bible, some common themes appear. For example, Deuteronomy 16:19 says, “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.” Fascinating. We in the church spend a lot of time praising God’s grace and soaking up his mercy. We easily forget — to our own peril — that our God of grace and mercy is also the God of Justice and fairness. Bribes have terrible power. Deuteronomy 16:19 warns us that bribes have the power to make even the wise impotent in their discernments. Bribes also dupe otherwise innocent people to justify unethical practices. Bribes in developed countries buy unmerited access.
Human beings are clever, too clever for our own good. In our western sophistication we take the distasteful word “bribe” and turn it into a more palatable word or phrase (a euphemism) such as an “incentive,” or a “gift,” or a “fee,” or a “contribution” . . . the possibilities are many. I once worked for a retail company where our wholesale supplier gave us what they called “premiums” for buying more of their products. The premiums came in the form of TVs, stereos, golf clubs, vacations, tickets to professional sporting events and so forth. Granted, the wholesaler did not expect us to do anything illegal, but they did expect that their premiums would buy our loyalty, even if some of their products were subpar or overpriced. The Bible warns us that bribes, in any form, are dangerous. Bribes spread like cancer throughout a society until they become standard operating procedure. And in the process they weaken trust, which is the foundation of a healthy society.
I noticed that many of the comments under online articles about the FIFA indictments came from people expressing their satisfaction that FIFA leaders were finally, after decades of illicit behavior, going to get their comeuppance (an archaic term used to describe a punishment or fate that someone deserves). While I appreciate that most people have a healthy sense of justice, the fact remains that institutions such as the U.S. Justice Department, despite its vast resources, can’t make people ethical. The law has always been inadequate at forcing people to be ethical. Only the work of God’s spirit can lift people up and heal their ethics, and even then it can take a long time with many ups and downs.
Allow me to swing this topic around to our situation here in America. We have become so sophisticated in our bribery that it can be nearly impossible to discern a bribe from a legitimate business exchange. There is no easy formula to help us navigate away from cleverly camouflaged bribes. The best I can come up with is that a legitimate business exchange would occur naturally even if the bribe was removed from the equation. A bribe gives one party an advantage over others. The person offering the bribe does not have to compete on a level playing field. Ultimately we desperately need a higher percentage of citizens who have sought and encountered Christ. Only then will people have the chance to acquire the necessary spiritual acumen to recognize and reject bribes throughout our society, though it won’t happen without resistance.
The picture to the left demonstrates the tragic irony of a world that hates Jesus. The picture shows two People magazine covers that I spotted in line at the grocery store today. The one on the left says “Goodbye Bruce, Hello Caitlyn” while the cover on the right says “The Duggars’ Dark Secrets.”
For some unknown reason, the reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting never popped up on my radar. I don’t know if the show is good or bad TV programming. But the brouhaha over Josh Duggar’s recent admission that he molested two of his sisters when he was about 14-years-old definitely caught my attention. Why? Because many people have gone apoplectic in their hatred for Josh and, it would seem, his entire Christian family. But after watching celebrities and media professionals vomit their vitriol at the Duggars, a question popped into my cranium: What if Josh had come out and said that he began to feel like a female in a male body when he was 14-years old? What if Josh said that he was confused back then and so he experimented sexually in a desperate bid to discover his sexual identity? Would his critics be so outspoken today? Would there be any criticism at all? (We all know the answer.) If only Josh had said he felt sorry for touching his sisters inappropriately but now that he is an adult he feels compelled to admit to himself and to the world that he is meant to live his life as a woman? Josh would be hailed as a hero by many of the same people currently heaping on the criticism.
Some people call the Duggars hypocrites because the Duggars supposedly tell others how to live when the Duggars had this big “secret” sin in their own family. Wow! How ironic that those who criticize the Duggars for hypocrisy would themselves be revealed as hypocrites if every detail of their childhood (and adulthood) were revealed. Let’s face it, many who castigate the Duggars are not doing so out of sensitivity and concern for Josh Duggar’s young victims. No, they do it because they hate Christians, certain forms of religion, and specifically they hate Jesus and what he represents. Also, unbelievers despise God’s moral code because it often does not align with their own. They cry hypocrite when they themselves are hypocrites. Here’s the truth: We are ALL hypocrites. Hypocrisy is part of our human nature. Any lout can spot hypocrisy among people and ideologies they loath. And more than a few can spot hypocrisy where there is none. But a wise person can also spot hypocrisy in his own camp.
I feel sorry for the folks who are dumping on the Duggars. Why? Because many of those who hate the Duggars have embraced the terminal ways of this world. Their very souls are in jeopardy and yet they believe with all their heart that they have gained the high moral ground. Their hatred for the Duggars is cut from the same cloth as the hate that ISIS has for Christians in the Middle East. The haters here just dress it up a bit nicer.
The link below is an excellent article by Tim Weinhold. See if you can spot the flaw in his argument.
Here’s the flaw: The problem of static and declining worker wages in America cannot be fixed solely by promoting the formulaic idea that it is simply a good business practice for employers to pay workers higher wages than the free-market dictates. Why? Allow me to explain with an example: I once worked for a medium size company that paid all its employees more than the free-market rate in wages and benefits for our type of business. Unfortunately a competitor with deep pockets came to our communities and paid their workers less than the free-market rate. Our competitor was prepared to sustain losses for many years in order to drive us out of business and capture market share in the long run. We lost too many customers to our competitor’s lower prices which were subsidized by their workers lower wages. Since wages were the largest expense for our business, we could not compete without implementing severe cuts in wages and benefits, and so we folded.
The solution to the problem is not a business formula. The solution is first to change our hearts and accept the reality that something has gone amiss with our long-cherished American value of the free-market setting wages and providing equal opportunities for all. Then, either this generation or the next will need to fix the free-market, which has actually become crony capitalism.
Government can’t fix this problem because government is in bed with too many big businesses and special interests. More importantly, government can’t fix what ails the human heart. This next statement will sting but here goes: perhaps we followers of Christ ought to focus as much or more on the corruption of the free-market as we do on gay marriage. Why? Partly because a free-market that provides opportunities to all is part of the very soul of America. An uncorrupted free-market has the best chance of raising more people out of poverty than any other economic system on earth. The plight of the poor (and the middle class which is becoming poor) may take priority in God’s estimation over issues such as gay marriage. I base this statement on Ezekiel 16:49 that says:
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
Granted, America spends billions on government services to the poor. And yet we have hardly made a dent in poverty. Dependence on government programs is rampant. Only an uncorrupted free-market that provides opportunities to the poor like it does to hedge fund managers is moral. A corrupted free-market (due to insatiable human greed) will inevitably exploit the poor and the middle class.
Whereas socialism’s Achilles heel is human sloth (not the critter), the free-market Achilles heel is greed; and both share the common characteristic of being a condition of the human heart. Conservatives like to decry sloth while liberals decry greed . . . while God decries both, though based on my readings of the Bible I suspect greed really gets in God’s craw. Whether sloth or greed there are natural unpleasant consequences to both. And America is experiencing some consequences of both, and it will get worse if we do not have a day of reckoning or repentance from the highest levels of society to the lowest.
I do not agree with everything the Pope says, but at least he has spoken out on this issue of corrupted markets and capitalism gone awry. The silence from leaders of evangelical Christianity is deafening. Oh by the way, many employers pay higher than the market rate, but they treat their employees like slaves under their yoke 24/7; this, too, is an abomination. But I digress.
Dan Price is a young optimist. For a variety of reasons I do not expect that his admirable decision to pay all his employees no less than $70,000 a year will be successful in the long run (though I hope I’m wrong). It certainly won’t be successful unless the ENTIRE Christian world supports his efforts, and likeminded efforts, by helping to change our culture so that uber-wealthy businesses that insist on paying workers as little as possible are treated like pariahs in our society. On the other hand, workers have a moral obligation to make themselves more valuable to their employers. Undereducated workers or workers with no trade skills who feel entitled to a high-paying job … well, they also deserve pariah status. Making our economy work for more than a top tiny percent of the population requires that everyone accept their responsibility. I’m just saying.
Here is some interesting data from Pew Research on wages:
Recently, we celebrated a friend who got hired for a ministry position in a town a couple hours up the road. Our friend shared his excitement about the new job, though he was disappointed to be leaving his diverse church. He’s going to a community with virtually no diversity, or I should say with no diversity based on the common understanding of diversity—that diversity is about skin color and ethnicity. His comments made me realize that I take my neighborhood diversity for granted. The zip code where I live is said to be the most diverse in America. See the article at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-most-diverse-zip-codes-in-america-2012-11#95834-south-natomas-sacramento-1 The diversity of my community has benefits. For example, when Cindy and I go out for dinner, our vast options for ethnic cuisine staggers the senses. I was reminded of the extent of my spoiling when we visited a region of the country where they used ketchup as red sauce on enchiladas (I kid you not).
The peculiar thing about being white and living in supposedly the most diverse zip code in America is that sometimes it doesn’t feel like the most diverse zip code in America. I suppose part of the reason for this blindness to diversity is due to the human tendency we all have to live in enclaves of people who look and act somewhat like us (though I pity anyone who looks and acts like me) even when the surrounding population does not look and act like us. Anyhow, the church I attend is mostly white with a broad smattering of people from a wide range of ethnicities. The church has mostly transitioned through the church-plant phase and has entered the comfortable-with-each-other phase. The comfortable phase feels good because we have started to love each other despite our array of differences. Becoming one body as described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 takes time and malleable hearts. Becoming one body is not possible without the glue of love found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Out of all our efforts and spiritual gifts in the church, love lasts forever. Prophesy, speaking in tongues, etc. … those things are finite. Not so with love.
A church in another part of our town has a reputation for opposition to diversity, they’ve even been accused of racism. They do not go out burning crosses at night nor do they tattoo their bodies with images denoting white supremacy (which would also denote their glittering ignorance regarding God’s kingdom). They just have a reputation for making non-whites feel like they might be better served by finding another church. Are they racist, or are they just afraid of people who might cause change in their church? I’d guess it is both.
There is a movement in the American church toward diversification. I hope it’s more than a fad that gives us bragging rights. Here’s the thing: diversity is not limited to skin color and ethnicity. Diversity can be also achieved in church via a variety of measurements such as: Rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Young and old, employed and unemployed, good part of town and bad part of town, industrialists and environmentalists, gay and straight, single and married, married and divorced, educated and uneducated, healthy and sick, contemporary music lovers and traditional music lovers, Giants fans and Yankee fans. Leaders who tweak church outreach efforts and leadership vision in order to encourage the growth of a diverse congregation—however diversity is defined in their community—are likely to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s glowing pleasure. That’s not to say that making changes to increases diversity can be achieved without blowback and resistance. After all, going down the path of diversity is likely to reveal some hidden and unexpected prejudices in places we would not dream they might be found. But what the heck, we need to deal with those prejudices if we want the privilege of considering ourselves genuine followers of Jesus. I’m just saying!
Many moons ago, I worked as an undercover store security agent. The work brought me into contact with a variety of law enforcement officers. One store I covered, located in a rough part of town, fell within the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department. We caught many shoplifters and fraudsters and we referred them to the sheriff’s department for criminal prosecution. I used to cringe when one particular sheriff responded to the store. We’ll call him Joe. Joe was the quintessential middle-aged officer who had long since burned out on law enforcement. He was mean to every suspect right from the point of first contact, often antagonizing them until they fought back physically. If a suspect did not answer his questions quickly or if he felt they were deceitful, he would come down on them hard. Suspects that could have been released with just a citation to appear in court ended up being painfully restrained, arrested, handcuffed, and hauled off to jail with a big brouhaha in front of customers and employees. (Oh such fond memories … not.)
All of our security personnel and many deputy sheriffs knew that Joe had a problem, but it was challenging to get anything done about it. He had tenure, so to speak. I eventually went to work for another company, so I never heard what happened to Joe and his rough-handed approach to the administration of justice in the community.
Here’s the thing: Joe was abusive and even physically brutal to ALL suspects. He did not care if a suspect was black, brown, or white; he was brutal towards all humanity that might find itself afoul of the law, no matter how minor the offense. As it turns out, Joe was a great mentor. Yep, he was one of the reasons I decided to not go into policing. Don’t get me wrong. I had the privilege of working with hundreds of law enforcement officers who executed their duties with professionalism, firmness, and even compassion. Out of those hundreds of officers, I encountered maybe two Joes. But being a police officer can wear a person down.
Real law enforcement work bears little resemblance to what we see on television and in the movies. Rarely is it glamorous. Officers, quite frankly, spend most of their time encountering the detritus of humanity. Yes, I know that God does not see any human being as garbage. But the reality is that some human beings live like animals. Day in and day out, year after weary year, police officers interact with the same types of people—criminals, the uneducated, the uncouth, the addicted, the manipulative, the violent, the deceitful, the mentally insane and occasionally some regular citizens who just need some help. After years working in the trenches of law enforcement, police officers can easily get jaded towards all humanity. It takes a special type of person to remain positive and professional under these circumstances.
You may have heard about the recent riots in Baltimore over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray, a black man, who died in police custody. After Gray’s death, the City of Baltimore erupted with cries of police brutality and racism. When these tragedies happen, some in the community immediately default to racism as the root problem. Apparently those same people seem to think the job of a police officer is little different than, say, a dentist or a businessperson. The reality is that if a police officer has crossed the line and used excessive force, or has simply been careless in his duties, it is quite possible that the officer has simply become extremely jaded towards people in general. It may have little if anything to do with racism in the heart of the officer. But apparently being excessively jaded isn’t as sexy as racism, though it is just as tragic. This is not to say that racism does not exist in police departments across the country. But come on folks, our police officers have a most unpleasant job that places them in constant contact with the worst the human race can produce. We can’t excuse their behavior when they cross the line, but we can at least have a little understanding and sympathy.
The loons have arrived in Northern California. Oh I don’t mean those beautiful waterfowl or the snowbirds that migrate south this time of year. I mean those grey mourning doves that return to our neck of the woods every spring. Unfortunately the mourning dove is a morning bird. That is he perches outside my bedroom window and begins to sing his deep-throated song nearly an hour before the sun rises. At first his “cooOOoo-coo-coo” was a pleasant reminder of spring and new beginnings with the change of season (yes we have seasons in California: tourist season and peak tourist season). But after several mornings of mourning dove solos, I started stuffing tissue in my ears to drown out that bird’s incessant blather while wishing that California Fish and Game would move dove season up to April 1st. I hope that bird finds a mate soon; that’ll shut him up.
That dove reminds me that season’s change no matter what. I’m usually not a fan of spring, mostly because it feels like a bridge season; it is no longer winter but neither is it yet summer. Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to resist certain changes of season in our lives. Perhaps you saw the tragic news recently about the 73-year-old reserve sheriff who shot an unarmed suspect who resisted arrest. The reserve sheriff thought he had drawn his Taser when he had actually drawn his pistol. The suspect died. http://www.wsj.com/articles/police-video-shows-deadly-shooting-of-black-suspect-in-tulsa-1428913303 That reserve sheriff might be a great guy with a pure heart, but I struggle to understand why a 73-year-old is in an active policing role. Granted, some 73-year-olds run marathons. On the other hand, some 73-year-olds spend their days in wheelchairs ensconced in care homes. As we age into the golden years we continue to have a strong work ethic, but our work skills might not keep up.
My wife’s grandmother swore she was a good driver into her eighties … until she had an accident that totaled her car. Fortunately no one was injured. Needless to say we did not get her another car. When my mother-in-law began to demonstrate some scary diminished driving skills, my wife and her siblings stepped in to see that her mother no longer drove. As one might expect, my mother-in-law thought there was nothing wrong with her driving. As we age, acknowledging our diminishing mental and physical agility can challenge our pride and threaten our independence as well as our personal sense of value. We want to stay in the game of life as we have heretofore lived it. But what does God have to say about aging and changing roles. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that we can expect a variety of seasons to change in our life. Ecclesiastes presents these seasonal changes as a non-negotiable fact. Numbers 8:23-26 describes a mandatory retirement age for the tribe of Levites who acted as caretakers for the Tent of Meeting in ancient Israel’s place of worship:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘This is a special command for the Levites: Every Levite man who is 25 years old or older must come and share in the work at the Meeting Tent. But when a man is 50 years old, he will retire from this hard work. Men who are at least 50 years old will be on duty to help their brothers, but they will not do the work themselves. That is what you must do for the Levites so that they can do their duty.’”
I am NOT suggesting we must all retire at 50. But I do believe that God prefers that we embrace new seasons rather than cling to old seasons. God gives us appropriate things to look forward to in new seasons. Notice that God did not take the 50-year-old Levites completely out of service. He just reassigned them to a less front-and-center role. If we have a problem with that, it may be due to our pride or our fear of becoming irrelevant. Don’t let pride or fear rob you of God’s gift of having something to look forward to. The trick, of course, is spotting the change of season in our life when it occurs … hopefully before we start screwing things up.