Monday, June 18, 2018


    There are many folks writing and speaking out against the Trump Administration policy of separating children from their parents, those who have sought to enter the U.S. without permission, or illegally.  I am sure my voice will not add much to what is being said, but I do feel it right to say something about it and not remain silent.

   Every once in a while our government does something it thinks is necessary to solve a problem and makes a choice to do something that is immoral, wrong, and/or even a crime against humanity.  We are a very “legal” nation so the government usually takes pains to declare something to be legal, even when it is morally wrong.  One example was the policy of torture during the Bush administration.

    Much of the time the executive branch is responsible for creating a “policy” to define how laws will be carried out.  The Legislative branch is supposed to be the branch that makes laws but many people are affected by how the Executive branch defines and executes those laws, or by how the Supreme Court interprets them.  Again, torture was a policy, not a law passed by Congress.  Abortion was allowed due to a SCOTUS decision, not by a law passed by Congress.

   Expediency and politics often are the driving forces in creating such policies.  The internment of Japanese citizens was such an expediency, the removal of Native Americans from their own lands was such an expediency.  History gives us more perspective years after an event, and after destroyed lives and bodies too.   Law enforcement is put into a dilemma as its personnel have to carry out such “laws” even when some of its members might have some conscience about enforcing things which cause obvious outrage among many of our people.

   Politics becomes a hindrance to moral considerations because parties don’t like to be criticized by the other side, and thus political parties attempt to discard moral arguments as mere political leverage in an argument.

   We have an obvious problem in our country when it comes to immigration, both legal and illegal.  Even the legal side is confusing, onerous, cumbersome, and intimidating.  Our present policies bear little resemblance to what is written on the Statute of Liberty or to the spirit and history of the land of freedom and the beacon of liberty from those who come from oppression and poverty.

   We have varying views of how to handle the flow of immigrants and it has been one that has flipped and flopped, ebbed and flowed, over the years.  At one time America had pretty wide open borders for some, and absolutely closed for others.  It was wide open for white people who came with guns and took the lands they wanted.  It was a border not wanting to be crossed by Africans who were brought here against their will.  It was a border already crossed by Spaniards in lands settled by them well before the Americans got to the West.  It was a land closed to the “yellow peril” except for labor to build the railroads and do mining, up until the 1960’s.  People from Asia of varying countries were not welcome until the second half of the Twentieth Century.

    Immigration has had an effect.  The idea that it is always good and helpful is certainly debatable. Beside a secular idea of individual freedom what culture do we already have that is worth protecting and preserving?  There has always been some sort of fight going on between Deism, the Enlightenment, Secular Humanism, and the ideology of the Protestant Reformation.   Without religious liberty, without religious morality and ethics, would America be America?  Can our culture, if our culture is worth maintaining, survive mass influxes of Muslim and Eastern thought and philosophy? 

   Jews and Catholics have been absorbed into our American culture and have made it richer, while adjusting to the reality of what was already here.  In short they gave up things to survive while America has had to come to grips with protecting their rights.  So, when our government policy became more liberal in the openness of immigration to all nations, religions, and groups some of our people become alarmed at changes perceived to be taking place around them. 

    Job competition, religious competition, linguistic competition, and the downright mobbing of borders by people refusing to be slowed by procedure and process has caused a reaction.  Some of that reaction is xenophobic, and some of it is sort of a righteous indignation that people are “dishing” the line.  Stories and incidents of terrorism and crime are alarming, and violent foreign ideologies and individual criminals need to be identified, resisted, and rejected.

    None of us should be blaming people for wanting to come here.  We as a nation should be the destination for anyone seeking a better way of life on this planet.  Our hope would be that every other nation could have such freedom and prosperity so its people would not want to leave where they are.  Unfortunately there are too many places of violence, oppression, and desperation.  Immigration has always brought enterprising and risk taking individuals to our shores.

   Once again our present Executive branch is making policy on top of the laws that exist, and some of those policies are inhumane.  They are expedient, they are an attempt to frustrate and discourage people who cross the border without documentation, but they are not all good policies.  On top of that the current President sends confusing signals to his own party, blaming others for what his erratic and ambiguous leadership creates.  Our Attorney General misapplies Scripture to defend government as he falls into the same trap as the “Divine Right of Kings” and disconnecting the creation of American law from the source of the greatness of American history.  

   Americans appealed to a “higher” law to resist the King who claimed that same Biblical authority.  Abolitionists appealed to a “higher” law to fight against legal but unjust slavery. Civil rights advocates violated state laws of racial segregation based on a “higher law” of justice.  Pro-life people appeal to a “higher” law to resist abortion policies.  Certainly some laws are unjust and don’t deserve to be law, they need to be changed.  In this case something weaker than law is being fiercely defended by the Administration and that is simply expedient policy to help meet a practical political goal. 

   I absolutely believe in obeying Romans 13, but I see that text in the context of a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  We the people get to choose our laws, and we get to choose our leaders, and we desperately in my opinion need to choose to change the leaders we have unless they get to a reality of justice, compassion, and wisdom, none of which they are exhibiting at the moment. 

   If we detain families at the border they should be kept intact and held together.  This is not the same as arrest for criminal activity where children are taken from parents by the state system  Detainees don’t even get the rights of people arrested in criminal cases such as quick hearings, adequate and provided legal representation.  If they are not applying for asylum, if they have no good argument for seeking shelter here then we need to send them home quickly, as families. If they are seeking asylum they should not be treated as criminals in any way.  All this money sought for a wall is nowhere as needed as money needed for a good system of examination, decision, and repatriation, with adequate provision for such families who are in that process.

   The President is correct that Congress needs to act, but it obviously has a hard time doing so with such a mercurial leader. he should stop making suggestions and then changing them, hoping for more political advantage.  He needs to paint a picture of justice, one that he really believes in, and sell that to Congress and lead them toward it. Somebody needs to lead, and we are a country desperately in need of one, a good one.

Sunday, June 17, 2018


   One of the struggles I experience in the world of racial reconciliation and peacemaking is to hear people say pretty stupid things.  Sometimes I get to hear people express their fears, and sometimes their anger, and sometimes just their ignorance.  In all of these expressions I am still called on by God to love people.

    Most of us are exposed to different spheres of thought, or activity.  Those of us who are Christians live, or ought to, in the world (environment) of the Church.  We also live in the world of politics, media – including both news and editorials.  We live in our cultures, we live in our families, in our vocations, and our opinions are formed.  Sometimes those opinions are well founded, and sometimes they are not.  Sometimes those opinions are held without pride or arrogance, they are held loosely, and are open to change.  Sometimes we tie our opinions to our egos and then we entrench ourselves against all comers, even the truth.

   Pastors are called to shepherd folks, and part of that shepherding is the pastoral care of people with racial opinions.  I have been thinking of how to do that, and how we can do that well.  I realize of course that even pastors like to choose sides, and sometimes it is necessary and right to do so.  I have decided to follow Jesus and therefore I am for righteousness, justice, mercy, and love.  I am against oppression, and evil, and racism.  I make no apology for that.  Yet, my weapons are not the weapons of the world, nor am I allowed to become so self-righteous in my causes that I being to mistreat people with whom I disagree, although at times that is hard.

    One pastoral issue within racial discussions is the subject of “white fragility.”  Now, there are other names for this and varying degrees of it such as…denial, defensiveness, anger, confusion, blaming the victim, creating false narratives about intents or motives, etc. The phrase is often used in a pejorative sense especially by People of Color to dismiss those white people who react negatively to various racial and justice issues.  In some circles there is little patience for white folks just coming into awareness about issues, especially when that awareness results in resistance to change or even in na├»ve celebration of their new realizations.

   When I say little patience there is slight willingness to hear people say dumb things, either as they try to learn and understand, or actually resist listening to truth.  This is where the phrase becomes pejorative, and speeches are made about how people should know better, should know by now, and allowance is not going to be made for very elementary discussions to teach these folk.

   This is exactly where pastors live, in a world of people being dumb, and saying dumb things, and doing dumb things.  It is like the world of parents who only hang on to their children because they are in fact blood relatives, otherwise they couldn’t continue to put up with such immaturity.  One can only try to imagine what it must be like for God to put up with any of us.

    Pastoral care for folks caught up in “white fragility” has to begin with a love for sinners and patience with them especially when their ignorance and racism is exposed.  It must be coupled with a determination not to excuse racism nor its buttressing of injustice, but with a willingness to begin with people where you find them.  It means answering a lot of very simple questions, hearing erroneous statements made boldly and not being intimidated by them, and gently correcting people.  Pastoral care is always about not losing the patient while trying to bring them to healing and that can usually only be done by maintaining the relationship.

    Why bother with putting up with such folks?  I like the bumper sticker I once saw that said, “we don’t make peace with our friends but with our enemies.”   Making peace is hard, and one has to be tenacious to do it.  Making peace is safer for everyone in the long run.  In a multi-ethnic society establishing allies across racial lines is essential for progress, and protection.

    Isolating ourselves and defining our “sides” and our parties while  demonizing our opponents is sort of an American political tradition.  The triumphalism of gaining ascendancy as our ethnic and ideological groups gather strength is often an illusion and very often temporary.  We reinforce ourselves in our rhetoric as we mock not simply our ideological opponents but those asking questions, even if they are sincere in their ignorance.

   White fragility is a way of thinking that sees white people as being set upon, as if gains for POC will mean less freedom for white people.  White fragility is fear because it finds the tables turned and white privilege (often assumed but not identified as such) seems at risk, socially, politically, and financially.  White fragility is anger at being made to feel guilty often before that guilt is specified and understood. We live in a blame culture and white people especially resist unspecified guilt.  When that guilt is accepted they know it will cost them something.

     No one likes to feel guilt, or accept guilt, or be blamed for things that happened long ago or about which they struggle to see a direct link to their door, or to their personal decisions.  When assailed by such blame without an understanding of how they could possibly be at fault they are like people about to be sued by someone assumed simply trying to make some money for themselves, without justice, in the legal system.  People get ready to fight back in such circumstances.

    Good pastoral care means helping people see that repentance for real guilt is actually a doorway to joy, freedom, and fellowship. Good pastoral care means helping people own up to history, and to be delivered from illusions about living in a completely merit based society with everyone beginning at the same starting line.

     Pastoral care for people working their way to racial reconciliation means seeing and hearing sinful things from people, and from people on both sides of issues.  It means loving them through it, seeking to maintain relationships, to keep the discussion going, to reducing the heat in the words and conversation, listening to the hurt, anger, and panic, and pointing people always to Christ and the Scriptures.  It means at times repenting in ourselves as pastors as we feel like giving up, or cutting some folks off, or just getting to name calling.   Lord have mercy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


The Anomaly of Social Justice without faith and of Christianity without Social Justice.

    Recently I have been listening to one of the “great courses” from the Teaching Company on “Transcendentalism.”   Listening to the history of this movement one realizes how profoundly American culture and philosophy has been impacted by unbelief.  America is not immune from the philosophies and religious opinions of the Enlightenment, Deism, and frankly, unbelief.

   Some of our greatest American founders were Deists.  They were educated men, they read the Bible, they just didn’t believe much of it.  They certainly were culturally influenced by it, but when it came to accepting miracles they trusted their intellect more than the word of preachers.  By the time of Jefferson some intellectuals, and religious folks, no longer believed in the Trinity. 

   This was not new of course, there had been struggle over this theological concept back to the time of Arius, writer’s such as Milton didn’t accept it (though probably with more orthodox belief) and then came the slide of Congregationalists in New England from Trinitarian orthodoxy to an unorthodox Unitarian belief.  One can see a pattern of applying skeptical and intellectual judgement, with a sense of human determined superiority ("free thinkers") in determining what is true or not, to the Scriptures. 

    There have always been people who have felt their own reason was superior to an old book, who have tried to be scientific, and used their best reason to determine if something could be true or not.  Christianity is not one of those things that can be taken apart by reason, intellect, or science and still be left intact, especially if all of those things are undertaken by unbelief.  If one starts with the proposition that supernatural things are absolutely not possible then one cannot end up with believing that the miracles in the Bible are true.  Without the supernatural there is no God, and there is no salvation.

    The Transcendentalists were essentially Deists with an agenda.  They thought that human beings could intuitively leap (transcend) to enlightened thought as to what was moral, just, and best for humanity.  They were too unbelieving to stay even in the Unitarian Church, but they nevertheless borrowed much from the Christian “capital” of justice and mercy.  What they claimed as “intuitive” was often simply stuff they learned from Scripture.

   They were champions of abolition from slavery, equality for women, justice for the worker, and respecters of creation (nature).   These are not out of accord with concepts in the Bible, or with the character of God.   Of course they found it difficult to create Utopian expressions of community with just these concepts.  Human sinfulness kept getting in the way.  Nevertheless they weren’t wrong about everything, and they have had a deep and lasting impact on American education, intellectual thought, and the claim of “free thinkers” thinking they could think better than believers.

   Some of the people who opposed their ideas of justice were orthodox believers.  Though orthodox believers weren’t trying to “transcend” to leaps of intuition about what was best for humanity they still could easily have read the Bible more closely. Transcendence has never been necessary to notice suffering or to understand justice. In fact the Bible is not shy in revealing God to be in his essential character a God of justice, the only God, actually, who is also a God of compassion and mercy.  They could have read the character of Christ more perspicaciously rather than simply working to create a creedal formula for a confession of faith.

   One of the great tragedies of the institutional church has often been its protection of the status quo rather than following its radical founder (Jesus) into a life of full-orbed righteousness that affects not only personal morality but also public justice.

     For those who cannot believe the supernatural power of God means to attempt justice without his gracious help, to attempt to love one’s neighbor as oneself without spiritual empowerment, to endure suffering and to be a servant without the hope of eternal life.  Thus, justice, mercy, and rights become causes with only human agency and means and not transcendent realities which the God of heaven and earth will finally accomplish.  They become righteous causes that make us self-righteous and give us no hope against the continual reality and witness of evil in humankind.

   There are so many Americans, and people around the world, who wish for a better one.  They wish for justice, for peace, for equity.  Unfortunately their own unbelief deprives them of the prospect of joy and hope while the intransigence of  “Christians” who are racist, sexist, and oppressive gives unbelievers little witness of Biblical truth. 

    How strange to hear so-called Christians speaking against social justice, sometimes because they see it associated with people who so vociferously tell us they can’t believe in God or the Bible.  Righteousness is righteousness, and truth is truth no matter the mouth of the ass that speaks it.