website and blog of Dr. Kevin D Glenn

Of Walls and Borders: Pt. 2 – Financial Concerns

May 8, 2018

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.” [1] 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. [2] 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. [3]

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.” [4] 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.

[1] Swain, Debating Immigration, 60

[2] Pilar Marrero, Killing the American Dream: How Anti-immigration Extremists Are Destroying the Nation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 194

[3] Stephen Moore, A Fiscal Portrait of the Newest Americans (Washington, D.C.: National Immigration Forum, 1998), 20.

[4] Tanya Maria. Golash-Boza, Due Process Denied: Detentions and Deportations in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2012), 204

Why we need pastoral prophets instead of partisan pawns.

December 21, 2016

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 Post piece 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.

Who’s with me?

Tolle Lege (Take up and read)

July 18, 2016

Howdy, all!

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

Books-bookshelf-person-head-540wDISCLAIMER: 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

Mon2015-05-18-capitol-hill-books-0118editsters 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

The Bad Habits of Jesus – Leonard Sweet

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

Mourn with those who are mourning; no exceptions.

June 13, 2016

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.”



your church, my church-big church small church

December 17, 2015

UPDATE – March 5, 2016: There’s been a recent flurry of activity over comments made by Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, GA. You can listen to those comments here. Andy has since apologized in a tweet and is likely to expand that apology along with clarification via his expansive communication resources.

I like Andy. He’s a great communicator and leader. There are aspects of his comments that I understand, but would not have communicated the way he did. Unfortunately, the fallout has brought to the surface a lingering debate about church size. Both sides speaking of the other in caricatures and generalizations. It’s sad, really, since I believe we need churches large and small.

Below is a blog post from December 2015. I think it can offer a better way to frame the conversation…

December 17, 2015: I love the church. Like Bill Hybels, I believe the local church is the hope of the world. The church is the movement, entity, community, outpost, Body, place and people that Jesus called to reach the nations. Since there are so many different people, in so many different nations (including our own), one would think that while there is unity in Christ and his message of grace; a diversity in style, approach, emphasis, and size among churches would be a given.

One might also assume that the greatness of our commission would inspire those who make up the church to embrace such diversity as we labor to reach our world through churches big and small.

But …

When published an article on why large churches continue to grow, the comments thread reminded me that my assumptions about diversity and encouragement might not be “givens” at all.

People in large churches assumed small churches weren’t doing outreach. People in small churches assumed churches only grew large because they watered down preaching and went to a business model … on and on the arguments went. It was sad.

So which church is best-small or large? I’ve served in small churches and mega-churches, and I’ve found they each have the same best and worst parts.

You know what’s right with both? Jesus.

You know what’s wrong with both? People.

There are pros and cons to churches large and small, and problems that are exclusive to churches large and small.

Large churches can lose sight of the importance of community if they neglect to think “small” regarding the development and deepening of community, providing opportunities for ministry, and holding to sound scriptural teaching. It can also be easy for mega-churches to become insensitive if they value efficiency over empathy.

Small churches that fail to think “big” can easily create an isolationist culture if they neglect Christ’s call to share the gospel with others not already like them. Those in small churches can become power-hungry as fewer numbers of people control larger numbers of ministry areas, committees, and boards. This can create a situation where there is an incentive to keep the church small in order to retain power; keeping new folks out of the leadership loop.

As far as preaching is concerned, there’s bad doctrine in mega and mini churches (snake handlers anyone?) It’s simply foolish to suggest that churches become large because the gospel is being watered down.

This is not an either/or issue (either big or small), but a both/and issue. The “Body” needs churches of all sorts and sizes. We do nothing but hurt ourselves and help the enemy when we tear down one another.


Make Us One

June 25, 2015

“If there was ever a time for a unified voice from the Body of Jesus, It’s now.”

That was the thought I had as I read a passage that I’ve read maybe hundreds of times. This time, however, it moved me to tears.

In John 17:15-21 Jesus prays,

“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20 I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

We have been sent into the world as a united witness to Christ. Our unity is a witness to the Tri-Unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I cried because I realized the extent to which this prayer and call from Jesus is unheeded by his church.

Unheeded by me …

I started to imagine … what if?

I’m a visionary. Some would call me a dreamer. That’s okay with me.

One of my dreams is for the community of people that identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ to recognize and respond to the need we have for unity.

Unity, not uniformity. I understand that each Christian has ideals, preferences, interests, and experiences that are widely diverse. The scriptures don’t even expect uniformity, since Paul uses the diversity of a human body in 1 Corinthians 12 as a way to explain the various functions, methods, approaches, and roles everyone has as part of the Body of Christ. Yet, Paul goes on to explain that the various parts are brought together and called one Body under the Headship of Jesus.

One Body, many parts, all united in Jesus. Pretty clear, right?

Easier said than done … then and now.

In my theological education, I deliberately studied among people who had different beliefs than me. As a result, I have friends that are Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Pentecostals, non-denominationals, Mennonites, Lutherans, Episcopal, and others. Even these categories have their own internal variations. In our studies, we disagreed on many non-essentials, but were surprisingly united on the essentials of Evangelical faith.

I’m a Baptist. I have been my whole life. Studying with all the people mentioned above made me an even stronger Baptist. I love my Baptist heritage and remain committed to the distinctives of the Baptist identity within which I was raised, although that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything I see, hear, and read coming out of the national offices in Nashville. In fact, my Baptist tribe is splintered in many directions as evidenced by the church I pastor – Southern Baptists worship, work, and witness alongside Heartland Baptists, as well folks from the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. It gets tricky, since Baptists aren’t always known for their ability to agree … the old joke is that if you have three Baptists in a room you’ll end up with five opinions! Still, we have made it work at my church because of a commitment to lean into the unity we find in the essentials of our common faith in Jesus Christ. The same is true of  Christians from other denominations with whom we minister. But this did not happen easily, nor is it natural. It is an intentional and daily practice.

Unfortunately, it is so much easier to emphasize the points of disagreement and lose sight of where we are unified. Unity is hard work for the Body today, just as it was for those that Jesus prayed would be one (John 17:1-26), and for the warring factions of the Corinthian Church (1 Cor. 12:13-27). Still, Jesus prayed for oneness, and Paul called for unity, so I will keep praying and envisioning a diversely unified Body of Christ.

I have a friend who is a very talented mosaic artist. Much of her work is in finding the right kind of diversity of color, texture, shape, and size in the individual pieces. She tells me that a mosaic’s unique beauty is in proportion to the difficulty of its assembly. She says her best works are stained with blood from her fingers.  Her mosaics come to mind as I think about this problem.

The difficulty with the Body of Christ is its diverse population of broken humanity brought together through the grace of Jesus.

In contrast, the beauty of the Body of Christ is its diverse population of broken humanity brought together through the grace of Jesus.

On one hand, the broken pieces are sharp, rough and differ from one another, drawing blood from the hands working to create an image of unified diversity. The Body is a problematic project, “susceptible to division and fragmentation,” as John Stott observed.  On the other hand, the broken lives redeemed by Jesus create a mosaic of grace that reflects the creative unity of our Master Artisan. That’s where I am hopeful. I pray the various broken pieces of humanity that are redeemed by Christ can come together in a manner that reflects his likeness to a world in need of his grace and truth.

What if we as followers of Jesus took seriously the call to become one Body? What would it take? I’d like to offer a few suggestions over the next several posts. I hope you will find them helpful.

  1. Does unity and civility require us to abandon a strong stance on conviction?
  2. What if we lost our fear of being “wrong?” Not morally wrong, but wrong in a “teachability” sense.
  3. What if we realized how wide a platform for unity we have?
  4. What if we recognize the strength of our unity is the sum of our diversity?
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