Are immigrants a fiscal drain on public resources?
In addition to the job concerns raised in my previous post, immigration specialist and devout Christian, James R. Edwards, explains another economic concern often raised by Christians seeking to understand and respond to the immigration issue. “Immigrants who pay few taxes and draw heavily upon public services have been a significant burden on the communities in which they have settled.”  Such a problem is met with a mixed response from researchers. One study observes that immigrants do not pose an overall financial burden on the citizenry. However, the same study says in contrast that in a localized context, a concentrated immigrant population can and often does prove to be a financial issue for the community.  Such a burden is attributed not to the immigrants themselves, but to an insufficient appropriation of resources to these particular geographical areas. However, in many of these locations, immigrants and natives often live in close proximity. The lack of coordination between local, state, and Federal authorities results in insufficient federal funding to these locales. Unfortunately, such problems result in negative perceptions toward immigrants.
In contrast to Edwards’ assumptions regarding the taxes paid by immigrants, Stephen Moore, an economist with the Cato Institute, observes that many immigrants do indeed contribute tax revenue toward the public services they use. In fact, Moore finds the average immigrant pays nearly $80,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their lifetime. This is based on the immigrant paying an average of $105,000 more to the federal government than benefits received from the federal government while receiving on average $25,000 in benefits more from state and local governments than is paid to state and local governments. 
The data collected from naturalized immigrants suggests they generally have a positive effect on public resources and nation-wide economics. As one author states, “immigrants do not further split up the pie; they enlarge it.”  The glaring problem in this comparison, however, is the missing factor of undocumented immigrants. One can do little more than speculate on the extent to which undocumented immigrants impact the economic well-being of native and naturalized citizens. This is a very important consideration for which information is limited. No doubt the factor of undocumented immigrants fuels the debate since that unknown factor skews existing data. Proposed immigration reforms must account for and address the problem of undocumented immigrants. Such options will be discussed later in this series.
Christians will differ on how to address the economic issues related to immigration policy. But believers can certainly agree that no person, immigrant or native should be measured by their potential capital output, but rather by their status as bearers of God’s image.
Civility Clarification: This post is pointed, aggressive, and personal. It is intended to be a redemptive rebuke. As such, some may question how I can call for civility while writing in such a manner. It’s simple; civility is NOT the absence of conflict and conviction, nor does it demand one’s rhetorical tone to be constantly perky. Civility deals in honesty, which at times requires some hard truth to be spoken. For more, refer to this post of mine from June 2015, Do Unity and Civility Sacrifice Conviction?
Okay, on we go!
Two articles came across my Facebook feed this morning, each reflecting facets of our divided political context. One expressed worry over pastors of politically divided churches but revealed in the end, a one-sided concern; the plight of pastors dealing with fear from potential victims of Trump, but nothing about the fear and concern from folks over the appointments, policies, and other results from a Clinton presidency. That piece from Christian Century is here
The other was an article on the pushback against Russell Moore, of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore was not only an outspoken critic of Clinton during the campaign but also voiced concern and criticism over the efforts of many Evangelicals and Southern Baptist leaders for their rationalization of Trump’s words and behavior. Pastors like Robert Jeffries, of First Baptist Church of Dallas, openly endorsed the Republican candidate and encouraged other Southern Baptists to do the same. Moore pointed out the inconsistency and faulty logic of those who, like Jeffries, sought to make a vote for Trump a matter of spiritual fidelity, while explaining away rhetoric and actions by Trump that blatantly defied principles of Christian faith.
With the election over, Russell Moore is now being challenged by Jeffries, as well as Jack Graham, of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. Veiled insinuations of de-funding the ERLC or of having Moore resign are now the stuff of Social Media outlets and church hallway discussions. That piece from The Christian Post is here.
I am worried about the role and responsibility of pastors in this context, but my worry is about the extent to which pastors are not seeing and seizing their role as a prophetic voice in these times. The voice of pastoral prophet is easily silenced when seduced by the promise of political power. My post will address the specific groups with whom I’ve served over the past couple decades, The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF).
After serving in exclusively SBC churches, exclusively CBF churches, and churches with more than one alignment, I’ve seen that much of the issue is the pastor’s posture toward politics (totally unintentional alliteration there!).
In order for pastors to be a prophetic voice to all sides of the divide, they must follow Christ’s posture toward political power. He resisted a simplistic posture, refusing to “come down on a side” when confronted by the unholy alliances of Pharisees/Herodians and Pharisees/Sadducees seeking to trap him with false dichotomies. Jesus also refused to allow complacency by demonstrating knowledge of and engagement with the political systems of his day. This is important since some problems are issues of justice for which we must advocate in hopes of legislative action. Finally, Jesus did not allow for a view that sees political power as the primary way to affect change, since many of our issues cannot be solved through political legislation, but through redemptive cultural engagement. In this way, politics is indeed downstream from culture.
So, what must the pastor do? In an admittedly generalized statement, but one I will stand by after 20+ years and five elections of alphabet-soup (SBC/CBF) observation and involvement; It is time for SBC pastors and leaders to get out of bed with the Republican party. It is also time for CBF pastors and leaders to get out of bed with the Democratic party.
While these two Baptist groups continue their 20+ year feud, I see them doing little more than mirroring each other’s errors in a way that continues to ignore the potential for unity in Jesus Christ and continues to damage our external witness toward a world needing community, compassion, care, and conversion.
So, what to do? For God’s sake, pastors, preach Christ!!!
When did preaching Christ become politically insufficient? When the grace of Jesus confronts human brokenness, such grace will be a redemptive rebuke to the deficiencies in the platforms and policies of the Left and Right, as well as serving to strengthen what honors God and people in the platforms and policies of both Left and Right. I believe it will take pastors modeling this approach for church folks to learn how to do it themselves. Such pastors will take heat for it from all sides since the present and previous elections have demonstrated that Christians display a greater devotion and trust in political systems than they do in the real-world, real-time redemptive power of the Gospel.
Princeton Theological Seminary President, M. Craig Barnes, author of the Christian Century piece makes my point in his second to last paragraph when he speaks with prophetic intensity about Trump’s sins while being oddly silent about Clinton’s. I agree with everything he wrote about Trump’s behavior and am sickened by the pass so many Evangelicals gave him. No doubt, the witness of the church has been damaged from this election. So yes, speak truth to Trump. However, the author’s prophetic credibility diminishes when he fails to deliver on the very thing he spent the article calling pastors to do. He does not speak about or to Clinton’s sins; especially since her policies, practices, and pronouncements were the reasons many Christ-followers chose not to vote for her. This element is as important for ministry as binding up the wounds and listening to those in fear over Trump’s election. But now, the author’s hand is tipped, his bias is revealed, and his message falls flat; precisely what happens when one attempts to speak with moral authority toward politics from the bed of their partisan mistress.
The Christian Postpiece demonstrates the extent to which the old-guard Christian Right is unwilling to de-tangle their politics from the Gospel. I agree with the observation of a young pastor named James Forbis (@jforbis), when he says,”they’re (Jeffries, Graham and the like) worried about losing control within the SBC and Southern Baptists losing cultural relevancy,” he continued. “By all means as a young, informed, and engaged pastor within the SBC I’m fine with losing cultural relevancy,” he concluded, adding that he would rather the SBC be counter-cultural.
If you want to know what a prophetic pastoral voice sounds like, you’ve just heard it from James Forbis. In contrast, Jeffries, Graham, Falwell Jr., and others who think like them will find no prophetic voice until they leave the altar of their Golden Elephants.
So, I am worried. I am worried about the unwillingness of my pastoral colleagues to admit, avoid, and call out partisan idolatry. I pray and hope for a change, but I’m encouraged by the folks at my church and by next-gen voices like James Forbis who inspire us to BE the change.
My mind and heart are still processing the tragedy that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on Sunday morning. As I preached this morning, my iPad (I preach from my iPad) was lighting up with notifications from friends of mine (I grew up in Central Florida) using the “I am safe” feature on Facebook to report they were ok. A childhood friend was at the club itself. He escaped through a back door unharmed but reports the loss of around 20 of his personal friends.
It’s difficult to put into words the many things I’ve been thinking and feeling since the story broke. I mentioned the tragedy in my sermon today. After church, in what was perhaps a mistake, I checked my Facebook newsfeed and was dismayed at how quickly this event is being trivialized by politics, social causes, and religious pontificating, all at the expense of civility and compassion toward the victims and their loved ones. To be sure, there will be a time to discuss and debate gun laws, sexual orientation, national security, and religious fundamentalism. Those are necessary conversations, but not now.
At this point, information is still being gathered, facts are still unclear, speculation is rampant, and fear is front and center. Add to this the frustration of a fractured and polarized population and you have every reason to react in ways that simply deepen the divide, increase the fear, and add further insult to these tragic injuries.
The Scriptures provide a better way. They call us to mourn with those mourning (Romans 12:14). I know many Christians will be concerned with when “they,” be they Muslims or members of the LGBTQ community, need to be “told the truth.” The truth will come through in your living example of grace. Remember, Romans 12 is the same chapter that calls Jesus’ people to demonstrate their worship by presenting our lives as “living sacrifices to God.” That would appear to remove any exceptions we’d like to put between the command and our obedience. Some Christians will object, thinking this call to mourn and bless only applies to fellow Christians. Think again. Just before verse 14, is a two-word command; “practice hospitality.” Hospitality here is a mash-up of two greek terms, phileo – brotherly or familial love, and xenos – stranger, foreigner, or one who is other. Philoxenian – familial love for the “other.” That means love toward those you may not understand, agree with, or otherwise consider to reside in your circle of comfort. The Way, Truth, and Life who is Jesus will shine through as you put flesh and blood hands and feet to work in tangible, visible, and practical ways. Want to be in a position to speak the truth? First, earn the right to be heard.
Now is a time to be present to weep and mourn with victims and their loved ones. It really doesn’t matter what your views are on same-sex attraction, gay bars, alcohol, gun control, ISIS, or what Trump and Hillary had to say. Now is a time to go and give blood. Now is a time to prepare and deliver a meal. Now is a time to provide a shoulder to cry on or hand to hold. Now is a time to cover your co-worker’s shift because their loved one is being treated in a hospital; or being prepared for burial. This is a time to give comfort and stand vigil with those grieving. Now is the time to stand in humble protection over those who would be further victimized by ignorant and insensitive rhetoric from “religious” people whose hate-filled words are not much different than the terrorist’s bullets. Followers of Jesus are bound to those hurting. These are people. People created in the image of God. People for whom Jesus died. People that belong to the one and only global tribe we call the human race. While I understand and agree with the call of many to pray, I would encourage praying people to become active people. As the old African Proverb says, “When you pray, move your feet.”
It takes courage to love. That’s why it’s easy for this tragedy to be made worse by reactionary words and actions. Love takes the time to cultivate and bear the fruit of patience, kindness, truth, generosity, humility, dignity, selflessness, mercy, forgiveness, and perseverance. That’s what love does, and it’s why love never fails.
It is only through active love that the tide of hate and violence can be turned. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? pp. 62-63
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
The recent controversy over “transgender restrooms” is at the same time a legitimate concern for those in the transgender community who are in many cases suffering from very real societal rejection and confusion, as well as protective parents and individuals concerned that both their personal privacy and safety be protected while using public restrooms.
As with many other issues surrounding gender, sexuality, discrimination, and personal security, productive discussion on this issue has been difficult in light of rhetoric based in emotion, reaction, and misunderstanding. It is my suggestion that those who wish to speak truth to this situation must actively seek truth regarding the dynamics of this situation.
This post is not an indication of agreement or disagreement with the restroom policy itself. My purpose is to shed light on the way members of the Christian community, LGBTQ community, political community, and other concerned citizens are speaking to this issue without regard for accurate representation of data and people involved. Much of the “dialogue” has been reduced to name-calling, dirty politics, angry rhetoric, boycotts, and threats of violence.
To my concerned fellow Christians …
There are already laws in place protecting you from sexual assault in public restrooms. Lewd acts, indecent exposure, sexual misconduct, harassment, abuse, or assault are against the law and have been for decades regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, or restroom policy. The concern over the proverbial “creepy cross-dresser,” “peeping Tom,” or anyone else committing an inappropriate act toward another person is addressed in existing statutes that are enforced whether the H.R. 3185 Equality Act is passed or not.
While the Target controversy brought it to the spotlight, LGBTQ people have had restroom rights for years. In at least 12 states, members of the LGBTQ community have already had this protection for between 5 and 22 years. In my own State of New Mexico, laws prohibiting the discrimination of persons using public restrooms on the basis of sexual identity and expression was passed in 2003. Where has the “outrage” been for the past 13 years?
The claim that women and children need to be protected from transgender persons is a statistical non-issue. In fact, there are substantially more reported cases of sexual predation from cisgender persons (people who identify with their biological sex) toward members of their own families or within their circle of trust than there are of transgendered persons toward strangers in bathrooms. In addition, transgender persons have been using restrooms according to their identified gender for a long time with few, if any reported instances of sexual assault taking place in those restrooms.
Finally, in the fervor to “protect” people from transgender offenders, at least one very painful case of misidentification has already occurred.
Consideration should be given to how this law was passed in North Carolina.
It was done in a manner that would have had conservatives up in arms had the left acted in the same manner; and rightly so. The means by which this bill was passed was exclusionary, uncivil, and did not call for open and honest debate. We cannot hope for improvement in political discourse if tactics such as this are continued. Such means to an end, whether carried out by the Right or the Left are simply wrong.
Do not assume transgender persons are sexual predators. When a conversation is based in fear and ignorance, the default approach to interaction is often to assume or accuse the other side of the worst possible position. Much of the heated rhetoric surrounding this issue stems from cisgender people expressing their concerns by assuming transgender people are predatory and exploitative in the expression of their sexuality. The extant data simply do not support this fear (see stats above). Just as heterosexual persons are entitled to protection from predators, so too, are persons with same-sex attraction as well as transgender persons. These folks are also entitled to be protected from false accusations and assumptions of predatory behavior. There is not a “sexual identity” exception to laws intended to protect the privacy and safety of people.
The responsibility to protect children in public spaces lies with parents and guardians regardless of the business, organization, and patronage of said establishment. Many parents are rightly concerned at the possible danger to their children implied in this discussion. However, one would be hard-pressed to find a parent, grandparent, or another responsible adult that does not monitor the potty-break of their little one by either taking the child into the restroom themselves or waiting at the door with a keen eye and ear on who comes in and out of the restroom. This was true before this conversation, and will be true as long as there are children in the care of an adult. While one can expect some measures of safety from the restroom’s owner, the ultimate responsibility for protecting children in restrooms is with adult caregivers.
Consider the way the church has harmed and wronged the LGBTQ community. I believe it is only right and fair for Christ-followers to acknowledge the way members of the LGBTQ community have been treated on our watch. They have been vilified, ridiculed, abandoned, shamed, and attacked by the very people called by Jesus to be identified by grace and truth. According to research done for his upcoming book, Us versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBTQ Community, Andrew Marin reveals that 86% of those in the LGBTQ community were raised in a faith community. 54% have since left those communities, but not for the reasons you might think. Only 15% left their faith communities over issues of theology, the rest left for reasons linked to being kicked out of their homes and churches, being rejected, shamed, ignored, or subjected to abuse and bullying. A staggering 40% of homeless teenagers on the streets today identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
Caleb Kaltenbach, who was raised by a lesbian mother and gay father (they divorced when he was young) marched in gay pride parades as a child. He recounts one parade when a group of Christians shouted horrible slurs and sprayed him, his mother, and other marchers with squirt guns filled with urine. Caleb is now a pastor and his parents are Christ-followers, but he has spent many years in ministry helping the church understand just how much damage has been done. Check out his book, Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction
Try to imagine what goes through the mind of someone from the LGBTQ community when they hear you say, “I’m a Christian.” To many, they simply hear, “I hate you” or “I’m afraid of you.” The church has so much to overcome because of the evil that was done to this group of people in the name of Jesus, but there is also great hope. The Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear and that we overcome evil with good. The truth of God’s amazing grace is still the hope of all humanity, and it’s a hope many in the LGBTQ community are open to hear and embrace. Remember the 54% of those who left the faith community? When asked if they would return if invited, a solid 76% said yes! What are we doing as the church toward folks in the LGBTQ community? Are we investing in relationships, engaging in conversation, and inviting them into our lives, homes, and churches?
I understand and agree with the concern for the church to hold fast to the historic, orthodox Christian teachings as they pertain to marriage and sexuality. It is not enough, however, to just be right. We are also called to be good; to teach what is true in a manner and from a posture that is full of grace. How we hold our beliefs is as important as what we hold as belief.
To my friends in the LGBTQ community …
I hope our relationship can model a better conversation than most are having on this! I’ve been friends with some of you for a long time while others are new friends. I hold a traditional/historical view of marriage (between one man and one woman). I do not believe the government should have been involved in the re-definition of marriage. I understand sexual orientation and gender issues to stem from an unhealthy and inappropriate fusion of one’s identity with one’s sexuality; I believe sexuality is an insufficient, unsustainable, and inferior manner by which one’s identity is defined.
Most of you disagree with me, and still we are friends!
We love, respect, listen to, contend with, and learn from each other. For some of you, I am one of a handful of Christians, and the only pastor you personally know. While you ask me, “Why do Christians …?“ and I ask you, “Why do LGBTQ people …?” We each avoid the broad brush strokes, stereotypes, and cliché labels.
That kind of civility, respect, relationship and genuine desire for productive conversation is what this and so many other issues need. I pray that how we do this can be a source of hope and instruction to some seeking a high road of dialogue, as well as a challenge to those settling for the low road of talking points, vilification, and cheap shots.
Understand the complexity of this issue and the toll it takes on people. I get it. The stats are clear that there’s little to fear. For a moment, however, put yourself in the shoes of the majority of women who go to the Women’s room. What do they expect to see? Other women. If you identify as a female but have male anatomical and biological function, can you imagine what goes through their mind and emotions when they see you? If you’re a man and see a person with feminine physical features in your restroom, what would go through your mind and emotions? If you had a child with you, what then? I’m not being a jerk here; I am being realistic. What if you saw someone in your restroom that did you did not expect? Any combination of curiosity, fear, defensiveness, caution, concern, and/or other protective reflexes kick in.
In the proposed H.R. 3185 Equality Act, one reads that the amendment would “Prohibit the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 from providing a claim, defense, or basis for challenging such protections.” Millions of Americans whose definition of marriage and sexuality are rooted in a historic/traditional Judeo-Christian religious ethic will understand this to be a direct threat to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. While lobbying for your own protection, you are attempting to strip away the protection of others based on their religious convictions. Have you considered the irony of this approach?
Perhaps some consideration for the complexity of human response and processing could be considered as you ask for people to consider the complexity of human sexuality and gender identification. Perhaps a better solution is the one suggested by a gay friend of mine, “leave the gendered restrooms alone, just add one (like the family restroom) that is not gender-specific. Sounds expensive until one considers the money that boycotts and lawsuits will cost.” He might be on to something.
Do not assume people with concerns about this matter are homophobic or bigoted. Just as cisgender people should avoid the mistake of assuming that LGBTQ people are sexual predators and pedophiles, those in the LGBTQ community should listen to and consider the concerns and objections of those in the straight community without resorting to accusations of homophobia and bigotry.
The fear and ignorance can cut both ways. The fear of attack and retaliation that my friends in the LGBTQ community have experienced often leads to a refusal to take a step back and consider the view from the other side. I had lunch recently with a transgender woman, we’ll call “Kim.” Because she identifies as a man, she advocates for the freedom of transgender persons to use facilities consistent with their identity. However, “Kim” is also a mother of young children. This allows her to appreciate and understand the other perspectives in the conversation. “I have the vantage point of both a mama and papa bear,” she said to me, “so I get the fear. I feel it too. Sure, there is some ‘good ol’ boy’ thinking that can bring down the level of dialogue, but most of the people I talk to are not bigots. They just want to be heard and don’t want to feel an agenda is being forced on them. That’s where we are blowing it. I am often embarrassed at how intolerant the LGBTQ community can be. Nothing is gained by being just as intolerant as we accuse straights of being.” Kim believes there can be common ground on this issue, “but not until both sides tone it down and actually begin to see each other as people rather than political categories, tokens of societal breakdown, or objects of dehumanization; people loved by God and people Jesus died for.”
To all of us …
Display the same level of tolerance and respect you demand from the other side. As Jesus put it, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31
Funny how that word from Luke’s gospel really cuts to the heart of things. How do we treat people we care about? Maybe that’s how conversations like this should begin. I think they would be a whole lot more productive.
A quick word on the Target boycott. I understand if someone chooses to boycott Target stores over this. Just consider a couple things:
The restroom policy was not the cashier or local store manager’s decision. Taking out your frustration on these folks is just proverbially “kicking the dog.” Don’t confront them, yell at them, or tell them how you plan to boycott. Make your case to the corporate offices. Leave the little guys alone.
Boycotting target over this will force you to be either a hypocrite or a hermit. Keep in mind how difficult it will be to maintain consistency, considering that 407 businesses achieved a perfect score of 100 on the Corporate Equality Index, a survey distributed by the Human Rights Campaign that measures support for LGBT employees and the broader LGBT community. That high score is impossible to achieve without having trans-inclusive health-care and anti-discrimination policies that include gender identity… The link below opens a .pdf of the report, with the 407 companies listed on pages 36-45 http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/assets/resources/CEI-2016-FullReport.pdf
While we may not understand or agree with the way one lives out their sexuality, these are people created in God’s image and people for whom Jesus died. We are not to de-humanize people, nor fail to recognize their dignity as creations of God; just as we would desire others would see us. This is why I find it troubling that a Bill from Congress would be needed to address and recognize the equality of another human being. As Christians in the United States, we already hold to two; The Constitution and the Bible.
It is the responsibility of Christ-followers to pursue truthful information regarding issues that impact the lives of individuals. Sound-bite thinking, biased reporting, knee-jerk reactions, and the failure to understand the various facets of issues like these cause the community of faith to lead in fear and anger rather than in love; a love that rejoices in the truth.
I was at home recently, when the doorbell rang. I was not expecting a visitor, so I looked out the window to see who was there. Two young men were at my door. Was I concerned? Yes. Was I curious? Yes. Was I cautious? Absolutely.
Before opening the door, I looked both young men up and down, checked to see where their hands were, what was in their hands, how they were standing, and looked for signs of aggression in their countenance. There are tell-tale signs of aggression in one’s facial expression, body language, and clothing.
Seeing nothing to alarm me, I opened the door slightly, maintaining forward leverage on the door. My foot was planted behind the door as well – both actions preparing me to close the door should they try to rush. Why was I thinking they may rush the door? Because I am aware of situations where unexpected visitors rushed the door and invaded the home. Having that in mind, I was cautious.
The young men said they were from the Cross-Country Team of a local High School and were selling raffle tickets to raise money for travel to the State championships. I asked to see the tickets, asked about their coach, and about the dates of the State meet. Since I know students in the school and on the Cross Country Team, I asked about them and their events, all the while looking and listening for hesitations, conflicts in their story, or other signs of deception. In other, similar scenarios, I have asked to see to see a business card, letterhead, or some other type of credentials.
It turns out one of the young men was the boyfriend of a student I knew quite well. All was well at that point, my caution was satisfied and I invited the guys inside. I had my son, an aspiring cross-country runner, come out to meet them. We all chatted and I purchased several raffle tickets, after which the boys went on their way. Sadly, I didn’t win the PS4 offered in the raffle.
Was I afraid? No. Was I cautious? Yes. Was I compassionate? Yes. Would I do all that again? Absolutely.
BOTH compassion AND caution need not be mutually exclusive practices. Any sensible parent of a teenager is keenly aware of what it means to “trust, but verify.” We hope for, strive for, and even pray for the best from people, but we should also be prepared to respond to the worst in people.
To ignore caution is reckless and naive, but to forfeit sensible compassion is cruel and inhumane. BOTH caution AND compassion are possible.
In the aftermath of the shooting in San Bernardino, and from the still smoldering embers of concerns over the arrival of Syrian refugees, Donald Trump’s suggestion Muslims be banned from traveling to and from the US has served as rhetorical lighter fluid, igniting a firestorm of response from condemnation to commendation. The span of response demonstrates how complex these issues have become, and how vital it is for wisdom to prevail. I think such a path is possible if we all can approach these issues with a humility recognizing that no single party, person, or platform alone has the capacity to fully engage these issues. We need each other. Together, we can do better than the base mob-mentality to which Donald Trump is appealing.
I will concede that as a follower of Jesus, it can be hard to walk the line between Christ-like compassion and sensible security. However, closing the border based on religious affiliation violates the very religious freedom (among other freedoms ) upon which our nation was founded. It also sets a precedent that could just as easily be applied to Christians. As Russell Moore wrote in his Op-Ed for the Washington Post, “Make no mistake. A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians.”
In addition, to punish all Muslims because of the actions of radical jihadists will only serve to confirm the worst radicalization propaganda and swell the ranks of jihadists – making the problem even worse. The Muslims I know personally are just as disgusted with the actions of radical Islamic Jihadists as my fellow Baptists are at the actions of Westboro “baptist church.”
I do think a better plan for screening and vetting refugees is essential. I see no conflict between being BOTH compassionate AND being cautious. If there is already a good plan in place, it needs to be better communicated to the American people with verification of its effectiveness.
These are important times we live in! The best advice I can give is to be vigilant in our watchfulness and faithful in our witness; striving to be BOTH cautious AND compassionate.
To a large degree, Jesus has already provided the vision for unity and civility. Shortly before his passion, Jesus prays that his followers, present and future, would “all be one.” In the same discourse, Christian unity provides the strength for believers to be in the world, but not of the world. It is in our loving unity that Jesus says “the world will know that you are my disciples.” Such a clear and compelling vision set forth by Jesus himself would surely provide enough to get the church started toward the realization of a civility-conscious vision. However, it is often hard for people, even Christians, to imagine civility as a beneficial endeavor. Perspectives can be skewed by false and fuzzy perceptions of what such a reality would and would not look like. The following blog addresses a couple of misconceptions regarding civility by examining what civility is not. More to come in a few days
What Civility Is Not
Civility is not the absence of conflict.
While preaching through a sermon series on marriage, I prepared an entire sermon on the reality of conflict in marriage and principles for couples to approach their disagreements with civility. A couple approached me after the service. The husband was most upset that I would “endorse” conflict in a marriage.
For him, an ideal Christian marriage should be one that resembled his own: a relationship free of conflict. He went on to claim that they had enjoyed more than 15 years of marriage without a single argument. Of course, the husband did all of the talking. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I have ever heard his wife speak.
The interaction raises a common misperception about unity and civility. Does a vision of Christian civility demand the absence of any conflict? Is it somehow uncivil to disagree at all, to hold convictions, and to passionately articulate and defend to convictions?
Blogger, author, and Bible teacher Frank Viola writes, “Civil disagreement and even debate, when done in the spirit of Christ, are healthy and helpful.” The two terms healthy and conflict may sound like an oxymoron. Wouldn’t healthy relationships be characterized by avoidance of conflict? The answer depends on what you think of when hearing the word, conflict. Communication scholars report most people share words like war, hate, battle, failure, anger, lose, and argue, when associated with the term conflict.
From a semiotic standpoint, the word “conflict” conjures negative images and experiences. Therefore, it is naturally avoided. However, the Christian community can imagine a better way regarding conflict, seeing it as redemptive, productive, and instructional.
It is often the very resistance brought on by healthy conflicts that cause relationships to deepen in trust. Conflict among fully engaged individuals is a catalyst to growth. Pastor and church consultant Mel Lawrenz imagines civility through the idea of engagement. In his vision, Christ followers remain consistently engaged with God, one another, their community, and their world. As such they are in a consistent position to establish and maintain healthy relational connections. However, Lawrenz recognizes that such relational connections are not free from conflict, for the connections are between human beings. “Conflict is inevitable as long as we are human. The questions become how to lessen the frequency of conflict and how to deal constructively with conflict when it does arise.” Communication professors Tim Muehlhoff and Todd Lewis remind Christ-followers, “Conflict is common, and in a sense inevitable to all relationships.” The tension present within relationships of inevitable conflict helps us keep in mind that civility is in the best sense of the word, “practiced.”
Practicing conflict is hardly a new concept for the followers of Jesus. The early church was not a sanitized, conflict-free environment. Jesus was in constant conflict with the religious leaders of his day and led a band of constantly squabbling disciples. Paul confronts Peter publicly over his uncivil table manners toward Gentile believers. The Jewish church was deeply and passionately divided over whether or not to recognize Gentile converts to the Way. Paul played referee to warring factions in Corinth, and pled with two women in Philippi who could agree on nothing else, to “agree in the Lord.”
The community of the Prince of Peace has been a laboratory of civil conflict since the beginning. Yet as much as they zealously debated their differences, their practiced goals were to pursue Shalom between one another for the sake of Christ’s gospel of peace. Civility calls believers to the gymnasium of grace to wrestle vigorously with their differences. Civility also calls us to the laboratory of love wherein our diversity is contended, tested, and our conflicts seek to be resolved. The Christ-follower can emerge with greater strength, depth of character, and a clear perception of what it means to choose civility.
Civility is not the absence of conviction.
In April of 1862, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay for The Atlantic magazine. In it, he praised President Lincoln for his resolve in seeking to emancipate slaves; an action perceived by many in the south as a threat to their established civilization. Emerson observed that America was attempting “to hold together two states of civilization: a higher state, where labor and the tenure of land and the right of suffrage are democratic; and a lower state, in which the old military tenure of prisoners or slaves, and of power and land in a few hands, makes an oligarchy: we have attempted to hold these two states of society under one law. But the rude and early state of society does not work well with the later, nay, works badly, and has poisoned politics, public morals, and social intercourse in the Republic, now for many years.”
Emerson continued, asking, “should not the best civilization be extended over the whole country, since the disorder of the less civilized portion menaces the existence of the country?” Emerson’s polished yet passionate plea is grounded in his belief that true civility is connected to firm convictions. “There can be no high civility without a deep morality.”
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas stated his belief that the moral decline in his city is realized because “we have let our standards of civility and truth waste dangerously away.” Emerson and Lukas each in their own way convey an approach to civility that is essentially connected to conviction. It is the reversal of what W.B. Yeats describes in his poem, “Second Coming,”: “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Such a reversal is needed, for the concern of some is that along with civility comes passionless indifference, or even a posture of compromise. Lutheran pastor and scholar Martin Marty framed the concern as follows; “people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions, and people with strong convictions often lack civility.” If we desire to be more civil, however, it need not be at the expense of our convictions. Richard Mouw calls this “convicted civility.”
Expressing civility and pursuing unity does not mean we’re prohibited from prophetic criticism of the thinking, beliefs, behaviors, and other systemic realities of the times. While it may be true that civility calls for us to affirm the right of another to express their beliefs, civility does not demand that we accept, affirm, or approve of those beliefs and their resulting actions. Saying one has the right to express their convictions is one thing; saying they are right in how they express them is something different. Civil conviction calls us to the former, not the latter.
The next post will address how civility and unity navigate questions of relational chemistry – Does being civil mean I have to like everyone?
 Muehlhoff and Lewis,Authentic Communication, 104.
 In this sense, practice does not make perfect, but it allows for improvement and reveals the space for further improvement. It is an effort of repetition where the end is not completion, but continued execution much like attorneys “practice” law or doctors “practice” medicine. “Practicing” Christians “practice” their faith.
 A concise exploration of Jesus’ conflict with and between his disciples as well as the religious leaders of his day is offered in Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford [England: Oxford University Press, 1989), 44-47.
I strive to be a peacemaker. That means I often seek ways to resolve a conflict from an option beyond an “either/or” approach. I even teach principles of polarity management to churches, organizations, and in relationship counseling (pre-marital, marital, and family). I believe “principled centrism” would help us become more politically productive, and I even think that many of us are stuck in conflict because we should see many issues as tensions to be managed rather than problems to be solved.
Some issues, however, require the sort of clarity that reveals one’s “side” on an issue. Some positions cannot exist in the middle. Sometimes, there is a line in the sand that one simply cannot straddle. Today highlights such a time.
SCOTUS has declared same-sex marriage to be a legal right in all 50 states.
I have a very diverse group of readers, parishioners, colleagues, and friends. Many from the LGBTQ community. We have frequent and at times intense conversations on the issues, but never has there been a moment when I was disrespectful, unkind, and unloving to you … nor you to me. We have been and remain friends. This was in light of the fact that I have and continue to hold that marriage is defined by both Old and New Testaments, the teaching of Jesus, the apostles, and the overwhelming consistency of church teaching as the life-long union between one man and one woman.
However, since news broke of the Court’s decision, I’ve been asked for a response and for clarification on my perspective. The statement shared below was written by Russell Moore, of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is “signed” by nearly 100 Christian leaders from a variety of denominational perspectives and is being published through Christianity Today. Although I understand some who identify as Evangelicals will not identify with this declaration, it does convey in clear, compassionate terms the convictions that I and the majority of Evangelicals hold on this issue as well as the love we have for individuals who do not share these convictions.
Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage
As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good.
The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.
Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.
The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:
Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Rom. 13:1-7);
teach the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper.
The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty. In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.
The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry. Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.