Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Here’s What Jesus Says About Welcoming Refugees


(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)

At last count, 31 governors have issued statements that they will not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Nevermind that governors probably do not have the power to enforce state borders, their statements have come under fire from many, including evangelicals who usually support conservative political leaders.


Because this latest example of xenophobia conflicts with the details of Jesus’ life a little too closely.

Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic.
First, Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees. The nativity scene, after all, is about a Middle Eastern family looking for a place to stay. Matthew tells us that after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph fled with the baby to Egypt. Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic even for those who often miss the irony of their political views and professed faith.

Second, Jesus gives an ominous description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 that directly speaks to the issue of welcoming the foreigner. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus declares, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Conversely, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

While one could argue over the definition of “brothers and sisters,” Jesus is known for universalizing the love of neighbor. It is perhaps one of Jesus’ unique contributions to moral teaching in human history. In his depiction of the Last Judgment, Jesus is the King, and He clearly states that how we treat who He calls “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” is how we treat Him.

Who are “the least of these?”

Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment.
In verse 28, we learn that one category of “the least of these” is the “stranger.” How does Jesus define “stranger?” Matthew was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate as stranger is xenos. Xenos can be translated into English as “foreigner, immigrant, or stranger.”

In other words, when we don’t welcome the foreigner, Jesus takes it personally.

Let us acknowledge that even though it’s an unpopular thought in twenty-first-century America, Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment. Needless to say, that statement should give pause to all of those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, yet quickly reject the stranger.

We are wise, of course, to ask questions about public safety and the possibility of terrorists embedding themselves within refugee groups. I understand the apprehension that some feel who are sincerely concerned about the safety of U.S. citizens, and I do not dismiss their concerns as trivial. There is another view, however, for us to consider.

Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS.
In addition to Jesus’ warning about the afterlife, conceivably there are earthly consequences to not welcoming the stranger. Perhaps not welcoming refugees would create more terrorists who would seek to harm the United States. Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS. If a mother and father seeking a safe land for their children are denied hospitality, they will not feel goodwill towards the country that rejected them. Furthermore, if their children were to die because of hardship, why would be surprised if grieving parents were to act in revenge?

Finally, one could easily make an argument that rejecting the refugees allows the terrorists to win. Their most powerful weapon is, well, terror. If we fear an attack so intensely that we are willing to deny hospitality to refugee children, who could argue that the terrorists haven’t won? Not only have they taken human lives, they will have succeeded in taking away our humanity.

Many Christians, including conservative evangelicals, realize that Jesus speaks clearly on this matter. No matter how many governors claim there is no room in the inn, the teaching of Jesus is simply too relevant to the current situation for Christians to ignore.

(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)


Arizona Education Cuts Amount to a Tax on Women, Children, and Their Families


As a pastor in Arizona, I value one particular book very highly, but I have personally felt the power of education to improve lives. I received an outstanding public school education in my hometown in Ohio, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I eventually earned a Master’s Degree. I believe in education, and even a casual reading of the Bible reveals that the nurture of children is deeply embedded in Judeo-Christian values.

Sadly, Arizona children may not have the same educational opportunities I received. Repeated state budget cuts to public education have knocked Arizona to near the bottom of the country in education funding.

As Arizona voters know well, the most recent budget cuts came after a four-day budgeting process ending in a budget passed in the middle of the night. Arizona has cut total education spending by 32% since the recession of 2008, more than any other state in the country.

The cuts have reduced education resources for Arizona’s children, from kindergarten to college. According to the Arizona Education News Service:

In Arizona, 41 mostly small, rural districts were on a four-day school week this school year. Next year, Apache Junction and Coolidge Unified will join them in an effort to cut costs, while Peoria Unified decided against it in early April and approved a plan at their board meeting last week to reduce expenses in other ways.

The effects of these cuts on our children’s education are devastating, and the cuts were not limited to elementary, junior high, and high school. From the Arizona Republic:

According to the report released Tuesday night by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona is spending 47 percent less this year per college student than it did in 2008, adjusted for inflation. That’s a larger percentage cut than any other state, equating to $3,053 less annually per student.

The budget cuts further reduced funding to college students and actually eliminated all funding for Arizona’s three largest community college districts. In response to the cuts, Arizona college and university tuition has risen more than any other state since the Great Recession, placing the financial burden squarely on lower and middle class students and their parents who were already struggling to afford college anyway.

In addition, the repeated budget cuts have led to a teacher shortage in Arizona. The 2013-2014 school year saw a 29% increase in the number of substitute teachers, as 62% of school districts reported open teaching positions in their schools. Last school year, 74% of Arizona schools had between one and five teacher positions open in September. This school year, a member of the church I serve who is a principal in the Southeast Valley of Phoenix lamented that it was very difficult to hire enough teachers. As to the cause of the teacher shortage, 42% of former teachers reported that the primary reason they left teaching was to pursue a career offering higher wages. Already underpaid Arizona teachers simply can’t afford these cuts.

These budget cuts disproportionately affect women. In 2012, over two-thirds of all public school teachers in the U.S. were female. When public teachers pay, women pay. Not only are the budget cuts impacting Arizona students and their families, the cuts are directly affecting the jobs of thousands of Arizona women.

It may come as a surprise to some Arizona voters that the deep cuts to education coincided with tax cuts given to corporations. In 2011, while Arizona was still recovering from the Great Recession, lawmakers passed a bill giving a 30% tax cut to corporations, amounting to $270 million, more than K-12 received in funds. Prior to the 2011 tax cuts, nearly two-thirds of Arizona corporations reportedly paid almost no state tax. While I understand the need to lure new businesses to create jobs, Arizona’s excellent cities, abundant sunshine, and natural beauty can still help to attract corporations and employees, even if corporations foot something at least in the ballpark of their fair share of the tax burden.

Ironically, the education cuts may actually reduce the number of new jobs produced in Arizona. Phoenix Business Journal recently reported that two companies that would have added 3,000 new good-paying jobs in Phoenix chose to expand to other cities instead. What was the reason these companies took their 3,000 new jobs elsewhere? One manager explained:

“My key managers didn’t want to relocate to Arizona despite the golf and the weather,” said one decision-maker. “They were afraid they would not find good schools for their own children. They also felt that the state’s reputation for poor education would affect the ability to recruit talent from outside.”

Along with slower than recent migration to Arizona, the tax cuts actually created the deficit that the education cuts remedied. In 2015, however, the corporate tax cuts remained in place, while the education budget was further reduced. When tax cuts create a deficit, someone has to pay the bill, and the ones paying now are Arizona women and children. So much for “women and children first.” Speaking as a pastor, both the Jewish and Christian scriptures call this an injustice.

While Arizona cut its education budget more than any other state, it is not the only state to drastically cut funding for public education. Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Kansas have instituted deep cuts as well. Voters should be aware that the governors of these states seem to be following a shared pattern of behavior and also share a well-documented connection to the same donors and influencers. The education cuts appear to be part of a multi-state agenda.

Arizona voters are practical enough to know that there is a difference between fiscal conservatism and fiscal irresponsibility. Instead of asking corporations and those with means to pay anything close to their fair share of the cost, the repeated cuts to Arizona public education amount to a tax on Arizona lower and middle class families, and especially on women and children.

Social Justice

What Evangelicals Could Learn from the Pope

Pope Francis

(This article originally appeared in Huffington Post Religion.)

When Pope Francis visits the United States for the first time later this month, he will set foot in a country in which a segment of evangelical Christians are waging a crusade. I count myself as an evangelical, but there is a split in the party, so to speak. The centrist and progressive evangelicals are ready to move on from the culture wars of the past 40 years. The conservatives? They are moving, but seemingly backward.

An Apostolic clerk in Eastern Kentucky is being hailed as the newest evangelical martyr for refusing to issue marriage licenses, for God’s glory. The presidential candidate with the most evangelical support (20 percent) is the billionaire Republican frontrunner who “loves” a Bible he can’t quote and wants to build a wall to keep “illegals” (mostly Latino Catholics) out. And it’s impossible not to notice that as soon as same-sex marriage became law, the right wing culture warriors reverted back to raiding Planned Parenthood like it was 1992 all over again.

The theocratic fantasies of this segment of American evangelicals have now been laid completely bare. I support the protection of religious liberty as outlined in the First Amendment, but some Christians, like the emperor Constantine, seem determined to conquer under the sign of the cross. Even while forwarding chain emails claiming that Muslims are trying to enforce Sharia law in the U.S., culture war Christians are attempting to force all Americans to live according to their interpretation of religious law.

This culture war is taking its toll on faith in America. An alarming 36 percent of Young Millennials are now unaffiliated with any religion, and the percentage of “The Nones,” those who claim no faith, is up among all age groups. An earlier study revealed their reasons for leaving the faith; they believe that “… religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.” The rise of the Religious Right, an extreme politicization of conservative Christianity in the U.S., coincided with a rapid decline of faith.

While American evangelicals war against same-sex marriage and abortion rights, Pope Francis has clearly chosen a different path. Although the Pope supports neither, his actions have served to open the gate to those who have been shut out of their communities of faith. He agrees with evangelicals on many doctrinal issues, but his overall tone is one of bridge building instead of wall building. Pontifex means “bridge-builder,” so he’s living up to the title.

(Read the rest of the article at Huffington Post Religion here.)

Social Justice, Uncategorized

5 Scriptures That Should End Donald Trump’s Presidential Campaign

(This article originally appeared at Huffington Post Religion.)

“They have to go.”

That is the crux of the long-awaited Donald Trump immigration policy. This past Sunday, Trump repeatedly told Meet the Press host, Chuck Todd, that the 11 million people who entered the country illegally must be deported. He did not specify how the country could afford the hundreds of millions of dollars that a national deportation bureaucracy would require, but that’s the deal he’s offering.

But wait, there’s more…

Trump added that their children who were born in the United States would have to be deported as well. That, of course, would require repealing the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution that grants birthright citizenship to every person born in the U.S.

Every decent human being, regardless of faith, should feel righteous indignation at a brash billionaire threatening to nullify the Fourteenth Amendment, revoke the citizenship of children born in the United States, and ship them to another country. This policy punishes the most vulnerable in our society who had nothing to do with their parents’ actions, and it has no place in the United States of America.

Not only is Trump’s immigration policy a moral outrage, it is also hypocritical. The Atlantic pointed out that Trump’s policy would have barred his own grandfather from entering the country. We also know that two-thirds of “The Donald’s” wives were born outside of the United States. Thankfully, almost a super-majority of the nation of immigrants disagree with Trump, as 65 percent of Americans favor some kind of path to citizenship.

While I support regulated borders and a sensible and compassionate immigration policy, one of the most often repeated values in Scripture is offering hospitality to the stranger. Even dedicated people of faith may be surprised to know how forcefully the biblical authors spoke out on the issue of immigration.

With Trump’s immigration policy now public, those of us who desire to follow Christ have the opportunity to examine what our faith tradition teaches us about showing hospitality to the immigrants and the vulnerable among us. While some Christians short-sightedly stop at quoting Romans 13:1, others will step back, look at the big picture, and acknowledge the existence of a higher law. For example, consider Leviticus 19:33-34…

(Read the rest of the article at Huffington Post Religion.)


How Evangelicals Can Regain Our Superpowers


When I was four, my mom took me to see Superman II at a drive-in theater. Neither the awesomely bad, late-1970s special effects nor the tinny audio from a speaker hanging on the car door could stop this enthralled little boy from wanting to be Supes.

I jumped off the living room furniture wearing a red cape for the next several years. In spite of new incarnations, to me, Christopher Reeve is still the real Superman, and I’m sure somewhere deep in my psyche there still lives a four-year-old boy ever-aspiring to be a superhero.

In Superman II, the plot thickens when Superman, determined to love Lois Lane as a normal human, steps into a mysterious, clear chamber in the Fortress of Solitude and surrenders his superpowers. He emerges as a very human Clark Kent, but even more vulnerable than he realizes, as he now overestimates his strength. Having only felt super-human confidence his entire life, he fails to realize how weak he really is. On a subsequent dinner date, forgetting he is no longer the Man of Steel, Clark sticks up for Lois and gets bloodied in a bar fight.

Trying to make authentic disciples through a theocratic government

Around the time Superman II was filmed, conservative Christians began enjoying political power in the United States. The Moral Majority (also known as the Religious Right, Values Voters, Christian Right, etc.), led by televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, attempted to legislate their Southern Evangelical version of Christian values. Recently defeated in his support for school segregation, Falwell led others to build a coalition united against women’s rights and gay rights.

You read that last sentence correctly. In 1967, Falwell started a whites-only “Christian” school named Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, Virginia as an alternative to the recently desegregated public schools of the South. Ten years later, he blamed born-again Christian President Jimmy Carter for making it harder for these “Christian” segregation academies across the South to remain tax-exempt. Throughout the 1980s and all the way up to the presidential election of 2004, conservative evangelical Christians wielded impressive political power.

That level of political influence is now gone, and the memory of it seems as outdated as the Superman II special effects. When a favorite of Christian conservatives, Indiana governor Mike Pence, endured that humiliating press conference last month in which he sheepishly stated that he never expected such a backlash following his signing of Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he was probably telling the truth…

Read the full article here.