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.
This past Sunday at Calvary (the church I pastor), we hosted a forum for an immigration attorney to come and share about the nature and challenges of her work, the immigration system itself, and what immigrants experience as they go through the naturalization process, as well as asylum, and deportation. It was insightful, informative, and heart-breaking. It inspired me to share information I compiled in an essay from a few years ago. I’ll share the essay in several parts over the next few posts.
Although I now live in New Mexico, I’m a native of Florida. Florida natives are an interesting and rare breed. Florida natives possess a certain pride and frustration reflected in a popular bumper sticker message directed at the many seasonal residents of the sunshine state. The message is simple and straight-forward, “Welcome to Florida, now go home.” Another is equally popular, “We don’t care how you do it up north.” Still, another is functional in its tone, “When I get old, I’m moving north and driving slow.”
While these messages are sent in good fun, they convey several misconceptions. First, is the misconception that seasonal residents are bad for the economy. In reality, much was gained when the snowbirds came to town. Church attendance increased, businesses enjoyed the additional activity, and the increase in population allowed for greater real-estate revenue. While these half-year residents may not have paid as much in taxes as natives, they certainly contributed to the welfare of the community. Yes, they drove slowly, but they came as most of us came; from somewhere else. The second misconception is perhaps the most important. While my great-great grandmother was Seminole, my self-identity as a “native Floridian” is arguable.
Members of the Seminole tribe could point to the invasion of their land by my Scottish-born ancestors with much more disdain and cause for lament than my shallow rejection of snowbirds. The Seminoles are the true Native Floridians, I am the immigrant. In fact, we are a nation of immigrants, making the issue of immigration one that requires a wise, careful, and thoroughly biblical response.
While the messages sent from my bumper sticker to snowbirds generated friendly jibing, Immigrants in the United States have often encountered serious intolerance along with negative, if not inaccurate stereotypes. While it is accurate to point to historical and political realities for their impact on one’s attitude toward immigrants, a fair question can be raised; where do those attitudes come from? Are there underlying factors connected to the formation of society’s perspective toward immigrants on an individual level?
To this question, several proposals have been offered. These include how one’s attitudes are influenced by the condition of the economy, how perspectives are shaped by concerns over safety and security, and how one’s affinity for their own culture impacts their capacity to accept the cultural particularities of another. There are many studies that provide helpful information regarding general attitudes toward immigration policy. 
People of faith, Christian faith in particular also form their perspectives on immigration through the lenses of the economy, security, and culture. Religion, however, has been mentioned as an almost incidental element in the formulation of one’s attitude toward immigration. Until recently, the role of religious thought and practice as a key element in the formulation of such attitudes has been overlooked as an area of serious study. While researching this series, it was interesting to note the appeal that more attention be given to religion’s role in this area by researchers themselves. Sociologist Steven Warner called the absence of material a “huge scholarly blind spot”. 
Of course, just as there are widely diverse perspectives in each of the three conditions mentioned above, adding religious affiliation to the interpretive mix in no way yields a unified religious response. This is illustrated through my affiliation with a ministry to border residents and its director. The research reveals a primary concern often expressed by potential visiting church groups is whether or not the immigrants they would serve are “legal or illegal”. In more than a few cases, church groups elect to avoid ministry efforts toward undocumented immigrants. It was believed by these groups that to do so would serve to enable illegal activity  While it has been no surprise for Christian groups to state their convictions on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage, my source with the border ministry has been surprised to see more and more groups view immigration as a moral issue, and therefore decline opportunities to minister to what they call “illegal aliens”. The news, however, is not all negative. My source reports that other groups increasingly seek out his ministry in order to seize opportunities to minister specifically to immigrants they know to be undocumented. 
Why would some groups decline to engage in ministry to undocumented immigrants based on Christian conviction, while others cite Christian conviction as a reason to seek such an opportunity?
The information above illustrates a significant divide among Christians in their attitudes toward immigration. While the reason for the differing responses above are cited as Christian conviction, this series of posts will observe the way in which one’s Christian beliefs are constantly at odds with one’s sense of economic, security, and cultural self-preservation, and how this struggle impacts one’s understanding of the information available on immigration issues. This leads members of the Body of Christ to very different mechanisms by which they process and interpret the economic, security, and cultural factors of the current immigration conversation. The goal of this series is to heighten one’s awareness to the diversity of perspective within the Body and to provide a synopsis of the differing views of Christians in a way that promotes greater understanding and education. My hope is that even with differing perspectives on immigration policy issues, Christians will see immigrants as people in need of compassionate ministry, love, and respect. They are what all of us were at one time; strangers in need of a place and people.
A Christian perspective on the economic impact of immigration can be summarized through two different questions. One, can our nation afford the number of immigrants crossing our borders? Two, can our nation afford not to have the number of immigrants crossing our borders? To be sure, one could speculate that both sides would agree such questions on their own are temptations to see immigrants as fiscal units rather than as individuals made in God’s image. This, however, must be held I tension with the reality of the concerns raised by immigration’s economic impact.
The influx of immigrants takes jobs from native workers.
Citing studies by Harvard economist George Borjas, immigration specialist and devout Christian, James R. Edwards, observes that a large number of low-skilled immigrants puts “downward pressure on low-end wages”, making it difficult for low-skilled citizens to compete for the same jobs, since the immigrant will usually do the job for much less money. This, according to Edwards, “is not a good thing for America’s low-skilled workers, leaving them vulnerable to…direct job competition, wage depression, and flooded labor markets.”  This claim assumes an influx of immigrants sufficient to create such an environment of job competition. However, other factors are present to temper this claim.
The condition of America’s current and future labor force must be taken into account. It is projected that from 2006 to 2016, the U.S. economy will grow at an average rate of 2.8%, a modest projection to be sure, but one that will generate an increased need for workers in the labor force. Among citizens, no increase in the labor force is expected between now and 2020, leading to an aging native labor force.  In addition, Jenny Hwang, devout Christian, and director of the Refugee and Immigration Program of World Relief, notes that “low U.S. fertility rates will not only slow labor force growth but increase the ratio of retired people to working people.”  In short, there are simply not enough native-born workers to replenish the low-skilled labor force as its needs grow with the economy unless those gaps are filled by immigrants.
The citizenry that makes up the current labor force is also becoming more educated. In 1960, 50% of American men dropped out of high school to work a trade or join the military (my father being among them). Presently, less than 10% do so. However, of the 50.7 million jobs projected to be created between now and 2016, half will require no more than high school diploma. 
The suggested solution to this situation is to tighten and limit the extent to which immigrants can fill the gaps mentioned above. Such attempts, however, have been problematic and have produced shortages. Hugh Morton of the National Association of Home Builders points out that “contractors struggling to find quality roofers, concrete finishers, etc…found immigrant trade contractors a godsend.”  In 2011, crackdowns on immigrant workers in Georgia led to an astonishing 50% of its agricultural produce being left to rot in the fields – at a cost to the state of more than $400 million, with total losses prompted by the act topping $1billion. In Alabama, immigration limitations have cost the state $11 billion since June of 2011.  New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg said of immigrants, “New York City alone is home to more than three million immigrants, who make up 40% of our population…our City’s economy would collapse if they were deported. The same holds true for the nation.”  The entrepreneurial spirit of many immigrants accounts for a number of business and services that would otherwise not exist due to the culturally distinct manner by which some immigrants perform their service. 
Low-skilled jobs are not the only areas of employment where Christians raise economic concern. Highly skilled positions are also addressed, although concern does not appear to be as intense in this area. Edwards confirms that among the gains and benefits brought to the nation through immigration, those related to work done by “highly educated and entrepreneurially talented immigrants” is seen as a valuable contribution to the economic picture. Notable examples are, Sergey Brin, Russian immigrant who founded Google, Inc., John and David Tu, Taiwanese immigrants and founders of the multi-billion dollar Kingston Technology, Dr. Alfred Quinones-Hinojosa, neuro-surgeon at Johns Hopkins University, who picked tomatoes in the fields of California as an undocumented immigrant before working his way through school, eventually attending Harvard Medical School. It is clear from these examples that the contribution of immigrants to the fields of science and technology in the U.S. is unmistakable. Another Taiwanese immigrant, Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo, explains,
“Yahoo would not be an American company today if the United States had not welcomed my family and me almost 30 years ago. We must do all we can to ensure that the door is open for the next generation of top entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists from around the world to come to the U.S. and thrive.” 
It would seem that while concerns are valid regarding the number of immigrants entering the U.S., there appears to be sufficient room for both citizens and immigrants in both high-skill and low-skill jobs. However, more research is needed, including an answer for why contractors would have trouble finding roofers, masons, and concrete finishers at a time during which so many are out of work, and why American students continue to score low in math and science, while the best educational institutions and the most state-of-the-art research facilities in the world reside in the United States. It appears the world makes the U.S. its destination of choice while its own citizenry struggles to seize the opportunities in its own back-yard.
Next Post: Are immigrants a fiscal drain on public resources?
Tanya Maria. Golash-Boza, Due Process Denied: Detentions and Deportations in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2012), 47.
 Warner Steven, “Religion, Boundaries, and Bridges.,” Sociology of Religion 58, no. 3 (1997): 217.
 Border ministry source, interview by author, August 26, 2012.
Testimony the Committee on Judiciary, United States Senate (2006) (testimony of Michael Bloomberg, Mayor, City of New York).
 My research revealed numerous branches of business supporting this claim. In the interest of space, a brief list would include; food services, tailoring, art, alternative medicine, exercise, and non-traditional education, just to name a few.
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.
In my sermon yesterday, I quoted from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and recommended the book. I usually recommend books that I quote from, even if they contain content that I and my congregants might disagree with. The frequent quotes and recommendations prompt a question I’m asked almost every week, “What are you currently reading?” I love this question, but frequently forget to provide a reading list … my brain gets pretty scattered on Sundays. Fortunately, someone reminded me to put out a list, so here we go …
I usually have a list for each season, so this will be the list for summer 2016
DISCLAIMER: It is important to understand that just because a book is listed in my reading list does NOT mean that I agree with or endorse the content. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to chase down a rumor about some heretical thought attributed to me and find that it all started because someone assumed a book I was reading on a topic represented my position on that topic. I read widely. I deliberately and often read authors that challenge my beliefs, and I believe our best thinking can develop when all of us do the same. So, keep in mind that a book listed is not a perspective endorsed.
Ok, here’s the list for summer 2016 (bold means I’ve finished it)
11.22.63 – Stephen King
Strong and Weak – Andy Crouch
Good Faith – Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion – John Wilsey
Jesus Before the Gospels – Bart Ehrman
Unoffendable – Brant Hansen
People to be Loved – Preston Sprinkle
Metaphors We Live By – George Lakoff
The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders – Gregg Frazer
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling
Here’s what I plan to read in the fall of 2016
Monsters in America – W. Scott Poole
Us versus Us: Religion and the LGBTQ Community – Andrew Marin
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World – Scott Laurence
Next Door as It Is in Heaven: Living Out God’s Kingdom in Your Neighborhood – Lance Ford and Brad Brisco
Was America Founded As a Christian Nation? – John Fea
One Nation Under God? – John Wilsey
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit – James K.A. Smith
This week has been filled with tragedy, the most recent being Thursday night’s ambush of Dallas Police officers protecting the participants of a Black Lives Matter protest. At this time, 5 officers have been killed and 11 injured in the worst attack on law enforcement since 9/11.
My heart breaks for so many involved in these troubling times. I grieve with friends, colleagues, and loved ones who are black have been so patient with me over the years. See, I grew up in an environment that proudly waved confederate flags and referred to minorities by their first name – only after inserting a “title” containing a slur. Some of my earliest memories of interacting with African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and even Native Americans involved learning terms like, nigger, spook, coon, spick, wet-back, chinc, slant, gook, and in’jun. It wasn’t until friendships were formed with “those people” that my prejudices were challenged and changed. It was long and hard work that involved a great deal of me shutting my mouth unless it was to ask a question, listening, learning, and seeking to understand the stories of these folks as individuals and as a people. In doing so, I learned how many areas of daily life are points of caution, contention, and even confrontation to them while being non-issues to me in my white skin.
None of this was to make me feel guilty. Guilt motivates one to little more than a self-serving act that removes the feeling, but does little to actually produce change. No, the stories of these friends was shared to make me aware of my responsibility. My responsibility as a member of a privileged part of the population to speak up and speak out in support of equality, dignity, and justice for the multi-ethnic members of our singular human race. This has required much of me. I can not only speak of change, I must act in ways that demonstrate change.
I also grew up around first responders. My dad was a firefighter, so those guys were like a group of second fathers to me. Since the police and fire stations were next door to one another in those days, I knew most of the officers. My childhood best friend’s brother was (and still is) a cop, and that same best friend grew up to become a cop himself. I saw these men and women risk it all to serve, protect, rescue, and help members of the community; even those I had been conditioned to despise. Fast forward a couple decades and once again, I’m very close with folks from the military, fire/rescue, and law enforcement. I’ve prayed at the commissioning of military officers, police academy graduates, and led invocations at memorials for fallen soldiers and police officers. As one of my closest friends and active police officer wrote this morning, “The police are the last line between good and evil (thin blue line).” I am grateful for and supportive of the men and women who put their lives on that thin blue line everyday to protect each of us, and I grieve with those who have lost brothers and sisters in blue.
However, I can see and understand that there is a need for serious evaluation and change in aspects of law enforcement regarding their connection to, relationship with, and performance of their responsibilities toward the African-American community. There are simply too many complaints, cases, and confirmations of interactions between law enforcement entities (police, prisons, judicial systems) and African Americans that have resulted in oppression and tragedy.
So here they are. Real people with stories, concerns, responsibilities, and most of all, common humanity. But something has gone very wrong, resulting in the violence we have seen. There are very real points of concern, tension, misunderstanding, and even malice among these folks. The way forward is not with political spin, not with premature speculation, not with misinformed blame, not with useless guilt, and for God’s sake, not with vindictive violence.
As the news was breaking, I wrote a single question in my Facebook status, “How long, O Lord?” It’s a question of lament. A question that calls for change.
Indeed, things must change.
Some advocate for change.
Some will lobby for change.
Some will demand change.
Some will campaign for change.
Some will protest for change.
Many will pray for change … in other people; in THEM.
And we will expect that change to take place … in other people; in THEM.
That kind of change won’t happen. Why?
Until I addressed my own racism, privilege, ignorance, and participation in the problem did God begin to answer my prayers for change. Not until we stop looking through the window at others and look in the mirror at ourselves is change possible.
We will see change not when we merely talk, advocate, lobby, demand, or offer prayers that others change. Only when we take responsibility to embody the changes we seek will anything actually change.
Change must be done. Like justice, mercy, and love, change is an act of the will. It is a decision – an action. I must be and do differently. Is there a prayerful plan of action for that? There is, but I wonder who is serious enough about change to pray it for this will be the most dangerous, uncomfortable, sacrificial, liberating, and effective prayer you will ever pray – because it is answered in your being and doing it.
This is a prayer that can turn red and blue voters to purple, bring gun lobbyists from both sides to the same table, bring black lives matter and blue lives matter to solutions that matter, and bring together diverse perspectives under the unifying hope of peace and common good.
But do we really want to be the embodiment of this prayer? The answer to that question is what will determine where we go from here.
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.” – St. Francis of Assisi
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.