Where he stands: Michael Bloomberg

One in a series profiling Democratic presidential candidates – in their own words:

 

https://www.mikebloomberg.com/getting-it-done

 

Economy

  • Creating jobs

Mike will launch a major public research and development initiative in industries like agriculture, manufacturing, and medicine to create jobs and reward cities with the best plans for inclusive growth. He will also invest in community college partnerships and apprenticeships that connect people with identifiable jobs and career paths.

  • Minimum wage

Mike’s plan will enhance the Earned Income Tax Credit, pay it monthly and pay more where it’s most needed. Mike will also increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, indexed to inflation, ensure affordable child care, paid family leave and the right to sue employers for harassment and discrimination related to characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status or disability. And his plan will grant all workers — including gig, contract and franchise employees — the right to organize and bargain collectively.

  • Small businesses

Mike will set up “Business Resource Centers” across the country to help entrepreneurs access capital, navigate bureaucracy and take advantage of federal programs. And he will consolidate programs for small businesses in the Small Business Administration, and increase staffing and funding.

  • Rural America

Mike’s plan will include improving rural America’s connection to growth centers – for example, by investing in rural broadband access. These areas will be provided with technical assistance to help reap benefits from efforts to connect them with educational institutions, entrepreneurial projects and the online information economy.

Climate change

  • Mike Bloomberg commits to propelling the country towards a 100% clean-energy economy-wide future … before 2050, slashing emissions by 50% across the U.S. economy in 10 years. Mike calls for phasing out all carbon and health-threatening pollution in the electricity sector, ensuring 80% clean electricity by the end of his second term of office.
  • Immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement and meet the targets science recommends. …
  • Restore U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund, so that developed countries meet and exceed their goal to contribute $100 billion a year to developing countries, and ensure that this funding enables these countries to access affordable clean energy and strengthen their resilience to natural disasters.
  • Achieve reductions in all greenhouse gases, including … refrigerants, methane, and black-carbon emissions. Submit the Kigali Amendment to the Senate for ratification; improve satellite detection of methane leaks worldwide; reinstate U.S. leadership on the Arctic Council and prioritize the removal of black carbon from the atmosphere; and strengthen efforts to reduce emissions from the shipping and aviation industries.
  • Make climate change a top priority of U.S. foreign policy, and intensify U.S. and international actions to stop the expansion of coal and otherwise lower emissions. …
  • Calculate the costs of U.S. climate change efforts and apply a corresponding border adjustment – a charge on imports and a tax break for exports – for emissions-intensive goods.
  • Work with other countries to jointly end export assistance for fossil fuel investments.
  • Hold governments accountable and penalize corporations responsible for deforestation and other practices that increase climate change and rob indigenous peoples of their lives and communities.
  • Mandate the disclosure of all climate-related risks, including the full cost of retiring fossil-fuel assets, and greenhouse gas reporting. Furthermore, institute stress testing of financial institutions, including banks. Work with financial regulators around the world to do the same, and standardize these actions.
  • Encourage the G20 and the Financial Stability Board to develop a Task Force that would bring financial institutions together with multilateral and national development banks to finance clean energy and resilience projects in developing countries.
  • Protect national security, and ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people are kept safe from the impacts of climate change.
  • … Create an entry point to apply for refugee status in the United States at a minimum.
  • Make funding clean energy and resilience a priority for U.S. development assistance programs in the President’s annual budget request.
  • Establish an Office of Climate Security in the White House to coordinate climate-related strategies in intelligence, defense, development and diplomacy, and will include civilian and military staff.
  • Lead a new council bringing together all research-focused federal agencies, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to work together on R&D challenges affecting the most vulnerable to climate change.
  • Put military bases at home and abroad on a path to self-sufficiency by improving the resilience of all infrastructure that the military relies on at home and abroad from the effects of climate change, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. …
  • Help homeowners, building owners and tenants replace appliances, and upgrade existing buildings to save energy and reduce building emissions.

E-cigarettes

  • Direct the FDA to prohibit the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes, as well as all menthol-flavored tobacco products. .,.
  • Reduce tobacco use by increasing the federal tax on cigarettes by $1. …
  • Fight back against addiction. Nicotine levels in e-cigarettes are boosted to increase the chance of addiction in children. The same is true of traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products marketed to all ages. As president, Mike will mandate the reduction of nicotine in tobacco products to make them less addictive.
  • Make it easier for smokers to quit. … As president, Mike will make health insurance companies cover counseling and cessation medicines for smokers trying to quit. These services will be provided without co-pays, prior authorization requirements or limits on the duration of treatment. Mike will also require the FDA to expedite the approval of improved smoking-cessation products through its Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Gun safety

More effective background checks:

  • Require point-of-sale background checks for all gun sales and close the private sale loophole, which enables prohibited people to buy guns simply by finding unlicensed sellers at gun shows or on the Internet.
  • Require every gun buyer to get a permit before making a purchase.
  • Use sales records to identify crime guns and notify local police when individuals have been prohibited from having a gun. A central system will let local authorities know when a gun owner has become barred from having firearms – due to a criminal conviction or a restraining order.
  • Allow for extreme risk screening before guns are purchased so that issuers would be equipped to deny permits to troubled people who pose a danger to themselves or others. …

Keep guns out of the wrong hands:

  • Close the “boyfriend loophole” which allows domestic abusers to have guns, despite criminal convictions or restraining orders simply because they are not married to their victims.
  • Pass a federal red flag law that expands extreme risk orders to 50 states, and funds state efforts to maximize the policy.
  • Require buyers to be at least 21 years old to buy handguns and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.
  • Set a temporary ban on gun possession by assault and other violent misdemeanor offenders.

Ban assault weapons, protect schools, and prevent unintentional shootings:

  • Reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  • Require secure storage of firearms, which have been shown to reduce the risk of child gun injuries by up to 85 percent. However, an estimated 4.6 million American children live in houses with an unlocked gun.
  • Ban all guns in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, except for law enforcement.

Tackle daily gun violence in the hardest-hit communities:

  • Fund at least $100 million annually for local violence intervention programs.
  • Increase ATF funding by up to $100 million annually so that the Bureau is able to police the gun industry more effectively.
  • Fund at least $100 million annually for public health research into gun violence.
  • Require all buyers to wait at least 48 hours before any firearm purchase.
  • Make straw purchasing and trafficking stand-alone federal crimes, with serious penalties for offenders in order to help stop illicit sales.
  • Require all gun owners to report to police if their firearms have been lost or stolen, within three days after they know or should know that their guns are missing.
  • Repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) so that gunmakers and gun dealers will no longer have broad immunity from civil lawsuits.
  • Allow the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to treat guns like other household products so that the federal government will have the power to set safety requirements for gun technology.
  • Formally declare the gun violence crisis to be a public health emergency to expedite funds and research.
  • Appoint a White House gun coordinator to mobilize the public to fight gun violence and launch an interagency hub to fight gun violence.
  • Focus executive energy on suicide reduction, school safety interventions, and corporate partnerships.

Health care

  • Public option. The first step is to create a Medicare-like public option — health insurance that would be administered by the federal government but paid for by customer premiums. Priority would go to the uninsured, including low-income people who are in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid under the ACA. A public insurance option would improve consumer choice and increase competition in the private insurance market, lower everyone’s premiums. People of modest means who buy the public option would be eligible for the same subsidies that would apply on the health insurance exchanges.
  • Build on the Affordable Care Act. The ACA made great strides in helping people who don’t get health insurance through an employer afford coverage in the individual market. Mike … would expand enrollment efforts, restrict the sale of health plans that don’t meet ACA standards, and defend the law against politically motivated lawsuits. He would expand subsidies to cap premiums at 8.5% of a household’s income. He would create a permanent reinsurance program that, by helping insurers with the largest claims, would reduce customer premiums roughly 10%. Finally, because about a third of Americans choose not to see a dentist regularly because it is too expensive, Mike would expand Medicare to include an optional policy covering dental, hearing, and vision care, and would require all states to cover oral health services for adults in Medicaid.
  • Cap health care prices and ban surprise medical bills. … To bring prices down, Mike would cap out-of-network charges at 200% of Medicare rates. (Medicare does something similar; beneficiaries enrolled in private plans, known as Medicare Advantage plans, have capped prices for out-of-network providers. This cap protects beneficiaries, and, at the same time, gives private insurers greater leverage in negotiating rates with hospitals and clinicians.)
  • Lower drug costs. Mike would work with Congress to authorize the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. The government would cap drug prices at 120% of the average in other advanced nations — and this cap would apply to consumers with public or private insurance. Mike would ban drug company payments to the people who make decisions at pharmacies so that drug makers compete on the cost and value of their products — not on the amount of money they pay to get preferential treatment.

Maternal health

  • … Mike’s plan encourages states to pass laws that allow trained medical professionals to provide more care that is currently limited to a doctor’s scope. This is also aimed at providing better care for more women, especially in rural areas.
  • His proposal calls for the expansion of the National Health Service Corps, which offers loan repayment and scholarship opportunities for doctors who practice in high-need areas, to also cover medical students from minority communities. And he will boost funding for medical schools at historically black colleges and universities to increase the number of people of color in the health care workforce.
  • The plan re-confirms Mike’s long-standing support for women’s reproductive rights. Mike will work with Congress to codify Roe v. Wade into law, guaranteeing legal access to safe abortion in all 50 states. He will also partner with Congress to repeal the Hyde amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except to save the life of the mother, or in cases of incest or rape.

Housing

  • Mike will work to alleviate the nation’s severe shortage of affordable housing, break down barriers to building it in places where people want to live and ensure that the nation’s poorest can get into it. …
  • He will expand the Low Income Tax Credit, with conditions to ensure that more new construction is in low-income areas with substantial community investments to improve schools and reduce crime.
  • He will increase funding to federal affordable housing programs, such as the Public Housing Capital Fund, the HOME program, Community Development Block Grants, the Capital Magnet Fund and the Housing Trust Fund. …
  • He will set aside $10 billion in federal funds for a competition to reward municipalities that remove obstacles to the construction of affordable housing in neighborhoods with good schools, transportation and economic opportunities — for example, by changing zoning rules or allowing property owners to build additional housing units. Research suggests that in some cities, zoning restrictions increase housing costs by 50% or more.
  • He will enforce Department of Housing and Urban Development rules, such as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, that require cities to demonstrate progress in addressing segregation — for example, by removing exclusionary zoning regulations. …
  • He will increase funding for housing vouchers. It’s unacceptable that only one in four households that qualify for federal housing assistance actually receive it.
  • He will make it easier for people using vouchers to move to where opportunities are — for example, by administering them regionally and matching their value to rents by ZIP code.
  • Mike will … expand efforts to provide housing and prevent people from becoming homeless. …
  • He will expand permanent supportive housing, which provides stability to the chronic homeless, provides services to address issues such as substance abuse and seeks to graduate them to independent living. This approach … reduces the use of publicly-funded crisis services, including shelters, hospitals, psychiatric centers and prisons.
  • He will use federal funds to encourage cities to adopt rapid rehousing strategies, which provide housing search support and short-term rental assistance, and to implement strategies that prioritize access for the homeless and provide support and work training needed to achieve economic independence.
  • He will expand federal grants to cities that implement effective homelessness prevention programs such as Homebase, which work to keep people facing crises in their homes, including with legal aid and temporary financial assistance.
  • Mike recognizes that generations of discriminatory public policy — such as redlining, which effectively denied federal loan guarantees to minorities — have prevented some Americans from accumulating housing wealth and left them concentrated in high-poverty, low-opportunity neighborhoods. …
  • He will create a Housing Fairness Commission, funded with an initial $10 billion, to work with municipalities and nonprofits on testing policies aimed at reversing the effects of discrimination and expanding programs that work.
  • He will expand Fair Housing Act protections to include all relevant forms of discrimination, such as family status, veteran status, sexual orientation and source of funds.
  • He will enforce fair lending laws and keep gathering the data needed to do so.
  • He will revive HUD’s efforts to enforce progress on housing desegregation (under its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule) and ensure people’s right to challenge discriminatory policies in the courts (under its disparate impact rule).

Criminal justice

  • Sentencing reform: Mike supports the First Step Act but he believes that Washington can go further. The Justice Department should provide incentives for states to experiment with and evaluate the impact of shorter sentences.
  • Prison reform: … Mike will push to expand alternative-to-incarceration programs that have a proven record of success, based on his work in New York City. He’ll expand drug treatment, mental health services, and re-entry and career-training for people who are incarcerated. He will restore access to Pell Grant funding for incarcerated individuals, allowing them to pay for post-secondary education while in prison. And he will lower barriers to hiring for public employee and government contractor positions so that job applicants are not asked about their criminal records until after they receive a conditional offer.
  • Bail reform: Americans are spending almost $10 billion a year to incarcerate people who are awaiting trial – in other words, who haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. Many have been granted bail but can’t afford to pay. At the same time, African Americans and Latinos are less likely to be granted bail, which is the definition of injustice. Mike supports reform efforts that aim to reduce or eliminate cash bail for non-violent offenders.
  • Juvenile justice reform: There are more than 50,000 young people in confinement away from their homes. Close to 17,000 of them are being held for low-level, non-violent crimes, and 6,000 are being held before even being convicted. Mike will launch a nationwide initiative to cut imprisonment of young people in half by the end of his first term and eliminate juvenile incarceration for all non-violent offenders.

Veterans services

  • Creates a central repository of the skills required for a military position and the most common civilian jobs that are related.
  • Educates companies to better understand the unique skills that veterans bring to the workforce, including the value in including veterans as part of their diversity-and-inclusion efforts.
  • Calls for the collection of data and developing systems to better evaluate the needs of veterans in order to inform and prioritize future employment support services.
  • Offers credentialing services and support throughout a veteran’s entire career.
  • Makes employment and education benefits available to veterans, and provides critical financial literacy support to help protect veterans and their families from predatory lenders.
  • Helps veterans transition to life outside of the military and into new communities.
  • Mike’s plan also provides relief to any veterans who need support to combat the isolation that may contribute to veteran homelessness, opioid use and suicide.

Voter rights

  • Protecting voting rights for all Americans. Mike will fix burdensome voting laws and practices that make it more difficult for Black and Latino voters, Native Americans, transgender people, and people with disabilities to vote in federal elections. And he will end voter suppression by banning states from purging eligible voters.
  • Preventing gerrymandering and eliminating partisan influence in elections. Mike will require states to establish independent redistricting commissions to draw federal congressional districts, through a transparent and inclusive process, that produces fair representation. This is especially important for communities of color. …
  • Making it easy for all eligible voters to cast their ballots. Mike will make it simpler to vote by implementing uniform standards for federal elections across states, requiring policies like automatic voter registration and early voting, and ensuring the availability and accessibility of polling places.
  • Modernizing election infrastructure so our elections are safe and secure. Mike will … mandate the use of state-of-the-art voting machines, provide training and technical assistance for election officials, and require the Department of Homeland Security to assess threats prior to elections.

Where he stands: Joe Biden

One in a series profiling Democratic presidential candidates – in their own words:

 

https://joebiden.com/joes-vision/

 

The middle class isn’t a number — it’s a set of values. Owning your home. Sending your kids to college. Being able to save and get ahead. Across the country, too many families are being left behind. The next president needs to understand what the current one doesn’t: In America, no matter where you start in life, there should be no limit to what you can achieve.

We need to rebuild the middle class, and this time make sure everybody comes along — regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

Immigration

In the first 100 days, a Biden Administration will:

  • Immediately reverse the Trump Administration’s … policies that separate parents from their childrenat our border. …
  • End Trump’s … asylum policies. 
  • End the mismanagement of the asylum system, which fuels violence and chaos at the border.Trump’s … policy of “metering” — limiting the number of asylum applications accepted each day — forces people seeking asylum to wait on the streets in often dangerous Mexican border towns for weeks before they are permitted to apply. … Biden will … ensure asylum applications are processed fairly and efficiently, while treating families and children with compassion and sensitivity.
  • Surge humanitarian resources to the border and foster public-private initiatives. …
  • End prolonged detention and reinvest in a case management program. …
  • Reverse Trump’s public charge rule. … Allowing immigration officials to make an individual’s ability to receive a visa or gain permanent residency contingent on their use of government services such as SNAP benefits or Medicaid, their household income, and other discriminatory criteria undermines America’s character as land of opportunity that is open and welcoming to all, not just the wealthy.
  • End the so-called National Emergency that siphons federal dollars from the Department of Defense to build a wall. …
  • Protect Dreamers and their families. 
  • Rescind the un-American travel and refugee bans, also referred to as “Muslim bans.” … Prohibiting Muslims from entering the country is morally wrong, and there is no intelligence or evidence that suggests it makes our nation more secure. …
  • Order an immediate review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for vulnerable populations who cannot find safety in their countries ripped apart by violence or disaster.
  • Ensure that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel abide by professional standards and are held accountable for inhumane treatment. 
  • Protect and expand opportunities for people who risked their lives in military service. 
  • Restore and defend the naturalization process for green card holders. … Biden will … remove roadblocks to naturalization and obtaining the right to vote, addressing the application backlog by prioritizing the adjudication workstream and ensuring applications are processed quickly, and rejecting the imposition of unreasonable fees.
  • Revitalize the Task Force on New Americans by… promoting immigrant entrepreneurship, increasing access to language instruction, and promoting civil engagement.
  • Convene a regional meeting of leaders, including from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Canada, to address the factors driving migration and to propose a regional resettlement solution. Migration out of the Northern Triangle has impacted more countries than just the U.S. Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, and others have also seen growing numbers fleeing violence and a lack of opportunity. A regional problem requires a regional solution, so Biden will immediately convene regional partners to institute a comprehensive, multi-national plan to address the challenges.

Biden will work with Congress to pass legislation that:

  • Creates a roadmap to citizenship for the nearly 11 million people … who register, are up-to-date on their taxes, and have passed a background check. …
  • Reforms the temporary visa system. 
  • Provides a path to legalization for agricultural workers who have worked for years on U.S. farms and continue to work in agriculture. 
  • Preserves preferences for diversity in the current system. … The Diversity Visa lottery … brings up to 50,000 immigrants from underrepresented countries to the U.S. each year.
  • Increases the number of visas offered for permanent, work-based immigration based on macroeconomic conditions. Currently, the number of employment-based visas is capped at 140,000 each year, without the ability to be responsive to the state of the labor market or demands from domestic employers. As president, Biden will work with Congress to increase the number of visas awarded for permanent, employment-based immigration — and promote mechanisms to temporarily reduce the number of visas during times of high U.S. unemployment. He will also exempt from any cap recent graduates of PhD programs in STEM fields in the U.S. …
  • Creates a new visa category to allow cities and counties to petition for higher levels of immigrants to support their growth. 
  • Enforces the rules to protect American and foreign workers alike. The U.S. immigration system must guard against economy-wide wage cuts due to exploitation of foreign workers by unscrupulous employers who undercut the system by hiring immigrant workers below the market rate or go outside the immigration system to find workers. Biden will work with Congress to ensure that employers are not taking advantage of immigrant workers and that U.S. citizen workers are not being undercut by employers who don’t play by the rules. …

Violence against women

Biden wrote the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, established the first White House Advisor on Violence Against Women during the Obama-Biden Administration, and launched a national campaign to change the culture surrounding campus rape and sexual assault.

As President, Biden will: …

  • Expand the safety net for survivors
  • Empower and protect young people
  • Confront online harassment, abuse and stalking
  • Ensure justice for survivors
  • End the rape kit backlog
  • Address the deadly combination of guns and domestic violence
  • Change the culture that enables sexual violence
  • Support the diverse needs of survivors of violence against women
  • Protect and empower immigrant women, and
  • Lead the global effort to end gender-based violence

Veterans programs

… a Biden Administration will:

  • Rebuild trust in the Department of Veterans Affairs. …
  • Conduct a thorough assessment of the staffing needs and requirements across the VA to inform specific hiring initiatives and programs for attracting and retaining medical professionals. This includes ensuring that professionals are working to the full scope of their license and creating incentives to support health care professionals joining the VA workforce.
  • Refine and update Community Care Guidelines, ensuring that if a veteran is referred to a community care provider that does not meet the same level of access and quality as the VA,  the veteran will be referred back to the VA. …
  • Establish cultural competency training protocols to ensure that providers in VA facilities and in community care settings understand and are equipped to support the needs of LGBTQ veterans in the health care setting.
  • Work with Congress to improve health services for women veterans. Biden will ensure that each VA Medical Center has at least one full-time women’s primary care physician; and, within 200 days of taking office, make available a women veterans training module for community health care providers. …
  • Provide funding to ensure there is safe, reliable child care at all VA Medical Centers.
  • Work with Congress to eliminate co-pays for preventive health care for veterans …
  • Expand the list of presumptive conditions to ensure no veteran who experienced a TBI or had exposure to burn pits or other environmental toxins goes without access to VA health care and benefits. …
  • Ensure that disabled veterans that require a prosthesis are able to access the most modern prosthetics technology available, and that they are able to upgrade their equipment at no cost as new developments occur.
  • Expand funding for direct and purchase-care treatment for disorders related to the misuse of alcohol and opioids in order to reduce … long wait-times for treatment.
  • A Biden Administration will support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes and reschedule cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts. …
  • Increase funding for and expand access to telehealth through the VA, particularly in rural areas not able to access timely care.
  • Modernize VA hospitals and clinics to serve our veterans better through a nationwide infrastructure plan that provides a comprehensive refresh of VA health facilities. …
  • Create safe, modern, clean, and recovery-oriented housing for veterans being treated for SUDs and those who are homeless by refurbishing buildings condemned or not in use, such as the massive VA Los Angeles campus.

Education

A Biden Administration will:

  • Provide two years of community college or other high-quality training program without debt for any hard-working individual looking to learn and improve their skills to keep up with the changing nature of work. 
  • Create a new grant program to assist community colleges in improving their students’ success.… Reforms could include academic and career advising services; dual enrollment; credit articulation agreements; investing in wages, benefits, and professional development to recruit and retain faculty, including teacher residencies; and improvements to remediation programs. The Biden plan will also help community colleges around the country scale successful programs to help a larger number of students.
  • Tackle barriers that prevent students from completing their community college degree or training credential. There are too many Americans who don’t complete their education or training programs not because of a lack of will, but because of other responsibilities they are juggling, such as a job to pay their bills or caring for children. Often these students and their families also face housing and food insecurity. The Biden Administration’s community college initiative will be a first-dollar program, meaning that students will be able to use their Pell grants, state aid, and other aid to help them cover expenses beyond tuition and fees. In addition, the Biden plan will give states financial incentives to foster collaboration between community colleges and community-based organizations to provide wraparound support services for students, especially veterans, single parents, low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities who may face unique challenges. …
  • Make a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including community-college business partnerships and apprenticeships. 
  • Invest in community college facilities and technology.Biden will invest $8 billion to help community colleges improve the health and safety of their facilities, and equip their schools with new technology. …
  • Double the maximum value of Pell grants, significantly increasing the number of middle-class Americans who can participate in the program. Pell grants help 7 million students a year afford college, but they have not kept up with the rising cost of college. …
  • More than halve payments on undergraduate federal student loans by simplifying and increasing the generosity of today’s income-based repayment program. Under the Biden plan, individuals making $25,000 or less per year will not owe any payments on their undergraduate federal student loans and also won’t accrue any interest on those loans. Everyone else will pay 5% of their discretionary income (income minus taxes and essential spending like housing and food) over $25,000 toward their loans. This plan will save millions of Americans thousands of dollars a year. After 20 years, the remainder of the loans for people who have responsibly made payments through the program will be 100% forgiven. Individuals with new and existing loans will all be automatically enrolled in the income-based repayment program, with the opportunity to opt out if they wish. …
  • Make loan forgiveness work for public servants. … Biden will create a … program which offers $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, up to five years. Individuals working in schools, government, and other non-profit settings will be automatically enrolled in this forgiveness program; up to five years of prior national or community service will also qualify. …
  • Create a “Title I for post-secondary education” to help students at under-resourced four-year schools complete their degrees. The Biden Administration will establish a new grant program to support under-resourced four-year schools that serve large numbers of Pell-eligible students. The funds will be used to foster collaboration between colleges and community-based organizations to provide wraparound support services for students, especially veterans, single parents, low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities who may face unique challenges. …
  • Prioritize the use of work-study funds for job-related and public service roles. Biden will work to reform federal work study programs to ensure that more of these funds place students in roles where they are either learning skills valuable for their intended careers, or contributing to their communities by mentoring students in K-12 classrooms and community centers. …
  • Crack down on private lenders profiteering off of students and allow individuals holding private loans to discharge them in bankruptcy. In 2015, the Obama-Biden Administration called for Congress to pass a law permitting the discharge of private student loans in bankruptcy. As president, Biden will enact this legislation. …
  • Support and protect post-9/11 GI benefits for veterans and qualified family members. …

Gun violence

As president, Biden will:

  • Ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. …
  • Regulate possession of existing assault weapons under the National Firearms Act.
  • Buy back the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines already in our communities.
  • Reduce stockpiling of weapons. … Biden supports legislation restricting the number of firearms an individual may purchase per month to one. …
  • Require background checks for all gun sales.
  • Reinstate the Obama-Biden policy to keep guns out of the hands of certain people unable to manage their affairs for mental reasons …
  • Close the “hate crime loophole.” Biden will enact legislation prohibiting an individual “who has been convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime, or received an enhanced sentence for a misdemeanor because of hate or bias in its commission” from purchasing or possessing a firearm.
  • Close the “Charleston loophole.” The Charleston loophole allows people to complete a firearms purchase if their background check is not completed within three business days. Biden supports the proposal in the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019, which extends the timeline from three to 10 business days. …
  • End the online sale of firearms and ammunitions. 
  • Create an effective program to ensure individuals who become prohibited from possessing firearms relinquish their weapons. 
  • Incentivize state “extreme risk” laws, also called “red flag” laws, which enable family members or law enforcement officials to temporarily remove an individual’s access to firearms when that individual is in crisis and poses a danger to themselves or others. Biden will incentivize the adoption of these laws by giving states funds to implement them. And, he’ll direct the U.S. Department of Justice to issue best practices and offer technical assistance to states interested in enacting an extreme risk law.
  • Give states incentives to set up gun licensing programs. …
  • Adequately fund the background check system.

Health care

As president, Biden will:

  • Give Americans … a public health insurance option like Medicare.
  • Increase the value of tax credits to lower premiums and extend coverage to more working Americans.
  • Expand coverage to low-income Americans.
  • Offer middle class families a premium tax credit to help them pay for coverage. For example, take a family of four with an income of $110,000 per year. If they currently get insurance on the individual marketplace, because their premium will now be capped at 8.5% of their income, under the Biden Plan they will save an estimated $750 per month on insurance alone. That’s cutting their premiums almost in half. If a family is covered by their employer but can get a better deal with the 8.5% premium cap, they can switch to a plan on the individual marketplace, too.
  • Stop “surprise billing.” This could occur, for example, if you go to an in-network hospital but don’t realize a specialist at that hospital is not part of your health plan. The Biden Plan will bar health care providers from charging patients out-of-network rates when the patient doesn’t have control over which provider the patient sees (for example, during a hospitalization). …
  • Repeal the … exception allowing drug corporations to avoid negotiating with Medicare over drug prices.
  • Limit launch prices for drugs that face no competition and are being abusively priced by manufacturers.
  • Limit price increases for all brand, biotech, and abusively priced generic drugs to the inflation rate.
  • Allow consumers to buy prescription drugs from other countries.
  • Terminate pharmaceutical corporations’ tax break for advertisement spending.
  • Improve the supply of quality generics.
  • Expand access to contraception and protect the constitutional right to an abortion.
  • Restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
  • Defend health care protections for all, regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
  • Double America’s investment in community health centers, which provide primary, prenatal, and other care to underserved populations.
  • Expand access to mental health care.

Agriculture

Biden will strengthen our agricultural sector by:

  • Pursuing a trade policy that works for American farmers. …
  • Support beginning farmers.  … The Biden Administration will expand the Obama-Biden Administration’s micro-loan program for new and beginning farmers, doubling the maximum loan amount to $100,000. And it will increase funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s farm ownership and operating loans that typically serve beginning farmers who grew up on a family farm but need low-cost capital to add to their family’s operation to support another household.
  • Foster the development of regional food systems.
  • Re-invest in land grant universities’ agricultural research so the public, not private companies, owns patents to agricultural advances.
  • Partner with farmers to make American agriculture first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions, giving farmers new sources of income in the process.
  • Strengthen antitrust enforcement. From the inputs they depend on – such as seeds – to the markets where they sell their products, American farmers and ranchers are being hurt by increasing market concentration. The Biden Administration will protect small and medium-sized farmers and producers by strengthening enforcement of the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts and the Packers and Stockyards Act.
  • Expand bio-based manufacturing to bring cutting-edge manufacturing jobs back to rural America. The Biden Administration will create a low-carbon manufacturing sector in every state in the country, but not just in cities. …
  • Promote ethanol and the next generation of biofuels.
  • Invest in wind and solar energy.
  • Invest $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure, and triple funding to expand broadband access in rural areas. 
  • Invest in green infrastructure nationwide.
  • Expand access to credit for new and small businesses. … The Biden Administration will dramatically expand funding for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program to help rural entrepreneurs. Biden will expand the number of Rural Business Investment Companies to help rural companies obtain capital.

The candidates’ views – in their own words

 

What is truth? Who do you believe?

Those aren’t easy questions to answer in today’s social media-crazed society, where everyone is a journalist and even more of us have an opinion on any issue out there.

In this atmosphere, we will determine the next president of the United States later this year. The primary and caucus season starts in less than two weeks.

President Donald Trump is the incumbent Republican, and as much as I’d like to see a challenger for him in the GOP primary, I don’t see that happening. No one is planning for his impeachment trial to be successful, so let’s just assume he will fill the Republican side of the presidential ballot in November.

So, in preparation for the upcoming primary election and caucus season – beginning with the Democratic caucus in Iowa on Monday, Feb. 3 – let’s take about a week to learn what makes the top candidates tick.

In their own words. Not from debate sound bites only on certain issues. Not from social media supporters or critics.

I researched the six candidates who participated in the last Democratic debate on Jan. 14, and added Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Yang. Those seem to be to be the top eight candidates still in the running.

I spent a little time on each candidate’s campaign web site to find where he or she stands on issues important to him or her – in their own words. Some have exhaustive explanations on numerous issues; some discuss only a few causes. Others offer short discourses on a few issues and lengthy tomes on others he or she is passionate about.

I will highlight the issues in each candidate’s own words. As the editor of this blog, I’ll condense for clarity. If you wish to find further details, I’ll provide the campaign web site for each of them.

Most of the candidates have harsh words for President Trump and for his policies. For this exercise, I’ve eliminated that. Tell me what your plan is. We’ve heard enough rhetoric and criticism. Tell me what you’re going to do about it.

Also, several of the candidates are better preachers than many preachers are. I’ve kept that to a minimum as well. My primary format is bullet points listing the candidates’ stances.

I’ll use an old newspaper technique to remain objective when profiling multiple people: I’ll highlight them in alphabetical order.

So, where does each candidate stand on the issues of our day? Let’s find out. In his or her own words. Each candidate gets his or her day:

 

Joe Biden on Friday, Jan. 24

Michael Bloomberg on Saturday, Jan. 25

Pete Buttigieg on Monday, Jan. 27

Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday, Jan. 28

Bernie Sanders on Wednesday, Jan. 29

Tom Steyer on Thursday, Jan. 30

Elizabeth Warren on Friday, Jan. 31

Andrew Yang on Saturday, Feb. 1

 

I have no idea who I will vote for when the time comes. I lean toward certain candidates; others make me cringe; still others I don’t know much about.

That’s the point of this project. Who, in general, supports the positions you or I support?

Don’t expect any candidate to line up perfectly with all your views. Which issues are non-negotiable for you? Hopefully you don’t have too many of those, or you may have trouble voting for anyone.

Let’s choose our Democratic candidate wisely, with a clear mind and calm heart. After all, that’s how we want our leaders to lead.

Don’t we?

Sometimes the old stuff is still relevant

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

I had to memorize this before I joined a church for the first time in high school. It’s an ancient statement of Christian beliefs called the Apostles’ Creed.

I grew up in formal Protestant churches that were liturgical. We recited the Apostles’ Creed frequently. It’s not a perfect statement of faith, but it’s pretty good. There’s a lot of excellent theology in it.

I attend a non-liturgical church now. We don’t recite the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer or any other liturgical statement, ever. Well, hardly ever.

I miss it. We want to be all modern and new, but sometimes the old stuff is still relevant.

What is a Christian supposed to believe, anyway? Do we even know any more? Every denomination, every church (whether denominational or not), every group of believers of all types, issues a statement of beliefs. Based on what?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Well, OK. The Apostles’ Creed wasn’t around at the beginning. The first version was written about 390 AD. It’s old, but not quite Bible-times old.

Is the Apostles’ Creed worth remembering today?

I think it is. There’s plenty of good Biblical truth in there that often gets lost in 21st century America.

 

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

 

Can we agree on the opening line? Do all Christians believe God made Heaven and Earth? The Bible begins, in the first words of Genesis, with this truth. If we disregard this, we disregard everything that follows it – both in the Bible and in the creed.

Did God create the Earth in six literal days, or did those six days represent a longer timeline? We weren’t around then, so we have to study evidence we discover about the Creation. Whatever your interpretation, God created Earth – and all that’s in it, including us. That’s ground zero.

 

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

 

Yes or no. Is Jesus God’s only Son, and is He our Lord – which means we serve Him with our daily lives?

 

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

 

Was Jesus both God and man? If he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, then the living God is his father. If he was born of Mary, then he was a man, a human being.

This is an impossible concept to fully grasp, and yet it’s true. God himself came to Earth to connect with us on our level, as one of us.

 

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.

 

Many versions of the Apostles’ Creed omit that last line, because it’s controversial. How could the living God descend into hell?

Here’s the best explanation of that I’ve heard (I don’t remember where I heard this first):

In Heaven, we are fully with God. In Hell, we are completely separated from God. (We experience parts of both on Earth, which is why we have such a struggle between good and evil.) When Jesus took our sins, yours and mine, on his shoulders on the cross, God the Father abandoned his Son there – because God cannot even look at sin, much less accept it in any form. Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1), was a literal question. At that instant, when the Father and Son were separated, Jesus descended into hell.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story.

 

On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

God the Father forgave all the sin that Jesus had become on our behalf – and by extension, God has forgiven us of all the sins we have committed, are committing and will commit. This is mind-blowing, life-changing, and absolutely true.

This is the definition of unconditional love.

zoo lights 8

All we have to do is accept it, and our sins are forgiven. We can’t earn forgiveness. It’s a gift. We have to say yes, and thank you.

And one day, Jesus will judge us, not for all the good or bad we’ve done or not done, but only on whether we’ve accepted the gift of his forgiveness or not.

Our present and future lives should reflect our thanks to God for this gift. The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t talk about this, but if we think we have encountered the living God and our lives don’t change at all because of it, then we haven’t encountered the living God.

This is basic Christianity.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

The creed ends with several theological statements:

  • The Holy Spirit lives in each believer. The Spirit is God, giving us insight into the Father and Son. Again, this is impossible to fully understand, but we will one day.
  • The holy catholic Church refers to all believers around the world. “Catholic” is lowercase; it does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Communion of saints refers to the universal salvation of all believers past, present and future. We are all brothers and sisters, “saints,” in Christ.
  • God forgives sins. He does not excuse or ignore them. Forgiveness requires a huge cost: the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
  • Our bodies will be resurrected one day – as perfect heavenly bodies. Again, I can’t explain how this will happen, but the Bible says it will, and Christians look forward to it.
  • Everlasting means forever. We have a beginning, but no end. Earthly death is a temporary thing, a transition to a better life that will be everlasting. This is our hope. Death is hard, especially on those of us remaining on Earth, but we all will face it one day. No exceptions. Are we ready?
  • Amen means “so be it.”

With all kinds of ideas out there about what it means to be a Christian, sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics. The Apostles’ Creed is based on the Bible itself.

It’s a good refresher. Hope this encourages you.

Trump, the man, the politician and the nation’s deep divide over him

We don’t discuss politics at home, and that’s a good thing.

I do talk politics in this blog on occasion, however. Responses typically are strong.

The goal of a blog is to spark discussion – to get you, the reader, to ask yourself what you believe, and why.

But with politics, we – nearly all of us – put our blinders on and mindlessly point out how I am right and you are wrong. We all quote “facts” to support our position, and label the other side’s “facts” as “fake news.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned from social media this year, it’s that.

A deep divide

I wrote a blog last week that said President Trump mocks the Christian faith, then followed up a few days later by re-posting a story saying Trump could be the loneliest man in America.

Common sense says we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion in polite society. Talk about both at the same time, and I was playing with fire – and not from an Advent candle.

The flames hurt. Two days before Christmas.

I addressed a deep dividing line among evangelical Christians, of which I count myself as one. Close friends and people I respect tremendously came down on the other side of the line I drew.

God’s choice?

Trump is God’s choice, they told me. If Trump is God’s choice, then so was former President Obama, I responded. And so was every president we’ve ever had, from George Washington forward.

Trump promotes several values and viewpoints that evangelicals defend vociferously. Pro-life/anti-abortion. Appointing conservative judges. Opposing illegal immigration. Removing our troops from war zones where we don’t have a local interest. A tough stance on trade with China. Supporting Israel. Gun rights.

Trump is upholding the GOP platform, which previous GOP leaders haven’t had the guts, or gall, to do.

Our president is a bull in a china shop, and many evangelicals are ecstatic.

Is that what it takes to run a country?

Donald Trump, Melania Trump

He ignores his own experts, often tweeting behind their backs. He’s been married three times (two of them became naturalized citizens while married to Trump), so he’s not the best with personal relationships either. If you disagree with him, he ridicules you, fires you or divorces you.

Is that what it takes to run a country?

No compromise

Whatever happened to the art of compromise? Oh right, Congress forgot how to do that years ago. That’s why Trump got elected in the first place. Congress was immobile and ineffective.

It’s our own fault Trump is president. We asked for him.

In 2016, Republicans understood the nation’s frustration with politics as usual. I’m not sure Democrats still understand.

So, the lines in the sand are drawn.

Jesus’ prayer for unity

Jesus talked about humility and loving others, including the poor and outcasts. He lived that message too. Yet Jesus did not compromise His message when talking with the religious/political leaders of His day, who sought the status quo to protect their positions, and they crucified Him for it.

The very last words of Jesus before He was killed were these:

 

“I ask … on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me …”

John 17:20-21

 

This is why my blog last week cut so deeply among so many of us. Jesus’ last words were a prayer of unity for us (those who will believe, future tense). Because we aren’t unified, Jesus’ message “that the world may believe that you have sent me” gets lost in the debate.

Two days before Christmas. Perhaps that was not a coincidence.

War at Christmas

Christmas is not a warm fuzzy story of a baby, “no crying he makes,” in a manger with animals all around. Christmas is God’s declaration of war on sin, nothing less. God the Father sent His Son to this earth to fight, and defeat, sin. To do it, He had to become fully human, as well as remain fully God. Words cannot adequately explain how this works. But that’s the story of Christmas, and the story of our Christian faith.

Donald Trump

If President Trump forces us to take a stand on our faith, then that’s a good thing.

Instead, as I mentioned, we’ve put our blinders on. When I re-posted a report claiming our president might be the loneliest man in America, some of you dismissed the article because of the sources quoted, ignoring the content of the story completely.

Because the sources, several of them, were “liberal,” the authors had an ulterior motive – that Trump isolated himself from the sources, because he disagrees with their viewpoints.

I understand loneliness, at least to a degree. If the president has isolated himself, it’s largely his own fault – because anyone who tries to get close to him gets pushed away or fired. He trusts no one.

As a bull in a china shop, he will not let anyone tame him.

The message that unifies – and divides

I’ve read articles before about loneliness among high-profile actors and actresses, because they live a lifestyle that us common folk cannot relate to. Perhaps this is Trump’s lot in life too.

But no. We reject that line of thinking because we reject the man. We treat him as less than human, because we think he treats us as less than human.

That escalates. We point fingers, accusing the other side of being less human than we are.

This is our country today.

Can we find common ground, somewhere – anywhere?

Jesus knew what He was talking about when He prayed that we might be unified. We justify all kinds of things as Christians. Our message is not unified at all. Faith is messy. Faith is hard. The Bible promises that all believers will suffer for their faith, no exceptions.

Jesus said He did not come to spruce up the traditional Old Testament message; He came to deliver an entirely new one that revolves around His crucifixion and resurrection.

That message should unify, and galvanize, Christians. That message alone.

All the other stuff follows Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Does President Trump have the cross and the empty tomb as the starting point in his life? No, he doesn’t.

That’s why I wrote my blog last week.

And why all of us, myself included, fall off track so easily.

Father, forgive us. Every one of us, for we know not what we do.

President Trump, an unrepentant sinner, mocks Christianity

Finally, the silent wing of evangelical Christianity has a voice.

Perhaps we’re silent because we don’t want to mix politics with our faith, not on a deep level. Perhaps we’re silent because no one on either side – the Democratic left that disdains religion, and the Republican right that claims religion their way is the only correct one – is listening.

Thank you, Christianity Today, for giving us a voice.

And now, my silent evangelical friends, it’s time for us to speak up.

Christianity Today, a conservative Christian magazine written for church leaders and active church members (it’s not intended to be a mainstream publication), wrote an editorial following the impeachment of President Donald Trump. The magazine rarely writes political opinion pieces, but felt an impeached president required comment.

The magazine wrote on President Trump’s morality. Whether he broke legal laws or not is for Congress (and us, as voters) to decide. Morality, however, is a faith issue, which affects our – and his – standing before God.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html?fbclid=IwAR1EIy7ukyJqSWns0z7M1_kDIGnNSto0muAN0DnUBpQhp3lxSAogzLrVUWQ

 

The reason many are not shocked about this (using his political power to attempt to coerce a foreign power to discredit a political opponent) is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

 

This is our leader, who holds the most powerful political office in the entire world.

Republicans cannot, and do not, argue this point. President Trump is a horrible representation of who Christ wants us to be as Christians.

His shocking comments about former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who served in Washington for 59 years – longer than anyone ever has – followed previous comments criticizing former U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Republican – both after they were dead.

To attempt to disgrace Dingell in a speech in Michigan – where Dingell is still respected, and always will be – shows President Trump’s naivety on how to connect with people. Trump claims Dingell is “looking up from hell.” His widow, Debbie Dingell, who holds the congressional seat previously held by her husband, supported his impeachment. She, of course, was hurt by the president’s comments.

Trump intended to hurt her, as she faces her first Christmas without her husband.

This is the man who holds the highest office in the land.

I’m reading a book about former President Harry S Truman, a Democrat who offered this thought in 1947 to his daughter as she launched a singing career:

 

Wish I could go along and smooth all the rough spots – but I can’t and in a career you must learn to overcome the obstacles without blowing up. Always be nice to the people who can’t talk back to you. I can’t stand a man or woman who bawls out underlings to satisfy an ego.

Truman, by David McCullough, p. 569

 

Oh, how far we’ve come, and not in a good way.

To evangelicals who continue to support President Trump, Christianity Today offers this comment:

 

Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.

 

The magazine was founded by the Rev. Billy Graham, one of the most respected evangelical leaders of the previous century. His own son, Franklin Graham, unwittingly proved the magazine’s point by claiming his father would have defended the president:

https://www.facebook.com/FranklinGraham/posts/2925457574177071

 

Yes, my father Billy Graham founded Christianity Today; but no, he would not agree with their opinion piece. In fact, he would be very disappointed. I have not previously shared who my father voted for in the past election, but because of this article, I feel it is necessary to share it now. My father knew Donald Trump, he believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump. He believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.

 

Franklin doesn’t know his own father’s views on politics. I voted for Trump for president too, but as the lesser of two evils, not as our nation’s savior. We don’t know Billy Graham’s reasons for voting for Trump.

Speaking in 1981 about Jerry Falwell and The Moral Majority, which Falwell founded, Billy Graham told Parade magazine this:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2018/02/billy-graham-warned-mixing-politics-religion/?fbclid=IwAR14WKMkwWfesj1VXcRM2LVFzlFODPeCuoWzqT4fQ58047ek0xWjnkviJyY

 

I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.

 

Billy Graham saw this happening almost 40 years ago, and warned against it. Even his own son has forgotten that.

Many of my Democratic friends mock Christians because so many of them publicly support President Trump, despite his numerous moral failures. But as Billy Graham further states in the article by patheos.com, not all Christians support the hard right.

And as Christianity Today makes clear, President Trump and his evangelical supporters are ruining the Bible’s central message, that faith in Christ is necessary for every man, woman and child.

The hard right cannot pick and choose the parts of Trump they support and brush off the rest, any more than we can pick out Bible verses we like and ignore all the others.

Yes, we’re all sinners, as Trump is. But Trump is an unrepentant sinner, and this mocks the very faith we claim.

That is why I no longer can support the president of the United States.

Christianity Today concluded its editorial this way:

 

To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.

 

A good friend of mine supports the president because he is pro-life. She claims he has taken the strongest anti-abortion stand of any president in history.

But once a child is born, then what? If he or she wasn’t born here, President Trump doesn’t want them here. If, as adults, they oppose him politically, he fires them or ridicules them. President Trump is not pro-life at all. He is pro-Trump, and nothing else.

(When a woman is considering abortion, it’s already too late. What led her to consider an abortion in the first place? Let’s tackle root causes, not the result. The hard right is picking the wrong battle anyway.)

President Trump is using evangelicals to further his political agenda, nothing more.

I wish the Republican Party would find a different candidate for the 2020 election this fall. I’m serious when I say that. The party could find someone who not only talks the talk of Christian values, but who also makes some effort to live by them.

The living God is the ultimate judge of every one of us. Until then, we have to make judgments sometimes here on Earth, and we don’t always do a good job of that.

President Trump mocks the faith he claims. Billy Graham had it right.

Perhaps our national politicians should focus on the debt, infrastructure, a hand up (not a hand out) for the poor, national defense and getting our education system functional again. Back off of divisive social issues. Let’s find common ground on issues that government officials must agree on.

Removing President Trump from office, and finding someone who can reach consensus, would be a good start.

Jesus lived as a refugee

Newly arrived Sudanese refugees in February 2018 wait behind a wire fence at a reception center in Yida, South Sudan. While millions of South Sudanese flee their country in what the United Nations has called the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide, hundreds of thousands of people from neighboring Sudan have found an unlikely haven there from fighting at home. (Sam Mednick/Associated Press file)

 

Jesus Christ was a refugee in every sense of the word.

A refugee is someone forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, refugees cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.

Bosnia Herzegovina War Relief 1993
A Bosnian driver, part of an aid convoy to eastern Bosnia, locks his truck at Sarajevo’s airport in 1993. (Associated Press file)

This definition comes from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a United Nations agency based in Geneva, Switzerland, with the mandate to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.

Jesus fled, displaced when he returned

Jesus became a refugee during the time of the wise men, or magi. This happened long after his birth; the wise men do not belong in the manger scene.

When King Herod heard that wise men from the east visited Jerusalem to look for the child born king of the Jews, he was jealous. Herod asked the magi to tell him where Jesus was “so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

Right. When the magi left town without informing Herod about Jesus’ whereabouts, Herod was enraged and killed every child in and around Bethlehem 2 years old and younger. So, Jesus was a toddler when this happened.

But our future Savior was no longer in town. Before Herod’s massacre, an angel of the Lord told his dad, Joseph, to get out of Dodge and flee to Egypt with his young family because of the threat of violence.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph remained in Egypt until Herod died. Even after that, they were afraid to settle in Jesus’ hometown of Bethlehem, so they landed in Nazareth. This story is told in Matthew 2.

I don’t understand why many, if not most, conservative Christians in the United States are so opposed to immigration. Jesus was an immigrant. He and his family were forced to flee their homeland by night to escape persecution and death.

And while they did return to their home country, they did not feel safe in their hometown – which is the definition of a forcibly displaced family, according to UNHCR.

So, Jesus understands perfectly well the plight of immigrants, because he was one.

Refugees face strict scrutiny

Immigration, of course, is not a uniquely United States issue.

Greece Migrants
A man from Afghanistan on Oct. 5 repairs the front door of his makeshift tent after rainfall, at the Moria refugee and migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. At least 12,000 people — more than four times the site’s capacity — are housed in the camp. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

Two-thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well-founded.

https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/what-is-a-refugee/

The United States resettlement program is the largest in the world and the U.S. has been the global leader in resettling refugees since the 1970s – so this is not a new issue at all. Refugee resettlement to the U.S. is traditionally offered to the most vulnerable refugee cases including women and children at risk, women heads of households, the elderly, survivors of violence and torture, and those with acute medical needs.

The process of refugee resettlement to the U.S. is a lengthy and thorough process that takes about two years and involves numerous U.S. governmental agencies.

Refugees do not choose the country in which they would like to live. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, identifies the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement and then makes recommendations to select countries.

Once a refugee is recommended to the U.S. for resettlement, the U.S. government conducts a thorough vetting of each applicant. This process takes between 12 and 24 months and includes:

  • Screening by eight federal agencies including the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the FBI
  • Six security database checks and biometric security checks screened against U.S. federal databases
  • Medical screening
  • Three in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security officers

Since 1975, the U.S. has welcomed more than 3 million refugees from all over the world, and these refugees have built new lives for their families in all 50 states.

Refugees and their families have woven themselves into the fabric of American society. They are our neighbors, our friends and our colleagues. They are teachers, business owners and contribute positively to communities across the country.

https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/usa/

Noteworthy facts by region/country

Central African Republic

  • Since 2013, nearly 1 million men, women and children have fled their homes in desperation, seeking refuge within mosques and churches, as well as in neighboring countries (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and the Republic of the Congo).

Central America

  • In recent years, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have experienced a dramatic escalation in violence by organized criminal groups, locally called maras.
  • Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in the region.
  • The number of people fleeing for their lives from Central America has grown by ten times in the past five years.

Europe

  • The ongoing conflict and violence in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the world is causing large-scale displacement. Refugees are seeking safety beyond the immediate region.
  • Since 2015, more than 1.4 million people have taken their chances aboard unseaworthy boats and dinghies in a desperate attempt to reach Greece, Italy and Spain en route to Europe.

Iraq 

  • More than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced across the country since the start of 2014 and more than 240,000 are refugees in other countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Germany.

South Sudan

  • Since December 2013, brutal conflict in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives and driven 3.3 million people from their homes. While an estimated 1.9 million people remain displaced inside the country, 2.2 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries in a desperate bid to reach safety.
  • Uganda currently hosts the most South Sudanese refugees, having taken in more than 1 million people.

Syria 

  • Lebanon Syrian Refugees
    A Syrian refugee who will stay in Lebanon cries in Beirut Dec. 3 as she says goodbye to a relative who is boarding a bus to take her home to Syria. Lebanon is hosting some 1 million Syrian refugees who fled their country after war broke out eight years ago. (Hussein Malla/The Associated Press)
  • Syrians continue to be the largest forcibly displaced population in the world, with 13 million people at the end of 2018. That’s more than half of the Syrian population.
  • More than 5 million people have fled Syria seeking safety in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. In Lebanon, where more than 1 million Syrian refugees reside, there are no formal refugee camps and about 70 percent of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line.
  • In Jordan, more than 660,000 Syrian refugees are trapped in exile. About 80 percent of them live outside camps, while more than 140,000 have found sanctuary at the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps. 93 percent of refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line.

Rohingya Refugee Emergency

  • As of April 2018, an estimated 671,000 Rohingya children, women and men have fled to Bangladesh escaping violence in Myanmar since Aug. 25, 2017.
  • The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. The vast majority of Rohingya refugees are women and children, including newborn babies. Many others are elderly people requiring additional aid and protection.

Ukraine

  • Two and a half years of conflict have left more than 1 million Ukrainians displaced from their homes, including 66,000 people with disabilities.
  • 300,000 others have sought asylum in neighboring countries.

Yemen

  • Fighting in Yemen, already one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, has severely compounded needs arising from long years of poverty and insecurity.
  • Nearly 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance. Those forced to flee their homes are especially at risk. More than 2 million people now languish in desperate conditions, away from home and deprived of basic needs. The situation is so dire that 1 million displaced Yemenis have lost hope and tried to return home, even though it is not yet safe.

https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/statistics/

Brotherhood and sisterhood

This is the life our Lord and Savior lived as a very young child. Jesus overcame that beginning as an outcast to lead the most productive life imaginable.

Today’s immigrants can follow a similar path. Very few are terrorists, which is all conservatives want to talk about. (Most “terrorists” are already in this country, by the way – and aren’t necessarily from other countries.)

I meet displaced people all the time. Most are from Puerto Rico thanks to Hurricane Maria, which isn’t the same as fleeing war or violence, but their homeland is unlivable nonetheless. Many of them are working and trying to better themselves. They just need a helping hand to get started.

That’s how the United States began. We all were immigrants, seeking a better life. It didn’t come easy. It didn’t come quickly. But our forefathers persevered, and here we are.

As did Jesus. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood in a non-traditional family. His dad was a carpenter who wasn’t around when Jesus became an adult. He had half-siblings.

Refugees didn’t have sanctuary or asylum programs in Jesus’ day, but he survived.

As Americans, we can do better. We must do better. We judge others far too quickly, and often wrongly. They are our brothers and sisters.

That’s terminology Christians should understand. If our faith truly means anything, let’s start living it.

How (and why) God works

With Christmas activities taking place every day, it’s easy to forget “the reason for the season.”

I find three ways to connect, learn and grow closer to Jesus, for whom the holiday was named.

All three are crucial.

Year round. Including in December.

Personal quiet time

I’m a morning person, the first one up in my household. Always have been. When our kids were young, my job started before they got up for school. Even today, I’m up before 6:30 a.m. – without an alarm.

I start the coffee. I feed the cats. I pour a cup of the morning brew. I sit down in my living room chair, the cup in one hand, the Bible in the other, and often a cat on my lap.

That’s the best part of my entire day. It’s dark. It’s quiet. It’s warm (thanks to the cat).

God often speaks to me there.

Today I read the first three chapters of 1 Peter. “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit …” (1 Peter 3:8) In church yesterday our pastor talked about the deepest longings of our hearts. A magazine did a survey on that recently, he said, and the most common longings were happiness, money, a relationship, peace and joy.

My deepest longing, however, didn’t appear on the magazine’s list: unity. I wish with all my heart that we as Americans and as citizens of the world would learn to get along with each other. I’ve written about this many times.

Most of our deepest longings are selfish. Mine is for unity among all people. That’s selfish too, I suppose; I wish to be understood as well as I wish to understand you.

These thoughts ran through my mind in my quiet time this morning.

This happens frequently. A verse I read resonates, and my mind probes into it. What does it mean? What would it look like if we (I) truly lived this out?

Unity among believers is the last thing Jesus prayed for in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified (John 17:20-24). Unity mattered to Jesus, too.

Many of you discredit the Christian faith because we Christians can’t get along with each other, much less with you. Our message to you is fragmented. Some so-called Christians mis-lead you.

This is why we must read the Bible for ourselves. What’s in there? I’m a journalist; I’m a cynic by nature. I’m not going to take your word for it. I will double-check you.

I will read it for myself.

Small group

Having said that, I can learn from you, and you from me. The best churches are organized with small groups of a dozen or so people who get together on a regular basis. My wife and I also attended Sunday School classes for many years. And we participate in Wednesday night men’s and women’s groups to study the Bible and issues of the day, with a Biblical perspective.

I have plenty to learn from you. You have insights into life that I don’t have. I’ve experienced things that I can share with you as well. As we get to know each other better, we discover that we aren’t as different as we thought we were.

We also can support each other through our struggles and trials of life. When someone in our group has a dying relative, others understand because they’ve been there. When someone new joins the group because he and his family just moved here, I can relate right away, because that’s my experience too. When someone talks Browns-Steelers … well, I have ties to both cities, actually.

All these issues can unify us. We connect at this level in a group setting.

The best groups challenge me to learn something new about myself, to step out in faith and do something, to help me understand a truth about God in a different or deeper way. It’s a safe place to be vulnerable. For guys, that’s not normal. And even in a couple of men’s groups I’m in, that doesn’t come easy.

But it’s necessary. I can learn things from you that I cannot learn on my own.

Preaching

Uh oh, here it comes. Yes, there’s a reason to attend a Sunday morning service every week.

The pastor, if he (or she) is inspired by the living God, has done his homework on his message for the day. As a general rule, the pastor dives deep into a verse or small section of the Bible. He offers insights and background that his training and study have taught him. And then he gives practical applications on how we can live out the truths that he is teaching us.

If this is the only Bible learning we do each week, we miss so much. Even if you hear one sermon a week for your entire life, you’ll miss reading most of the Bible. That’s why we must read the Bible on our own, and study it in small groups. We learn truths in different ways, and at different levels.

Real-world application

Does God speak to you when you are alone? Does He speak in your small groups? Is He speaking through your pastor?

I daresay that most of you who are critical of God or the church aren’t participating in it at all, but are criticizing as outsiders. We in America are good at that. We Christians are good at criticizing you too.

All of us would do so much better if we got to know each other better. Find out what makes each of us tick. How each of us thinks.

On Facebook I follow a prominent expert on poverty, who travels the country seeking to alleviate or even end poverty. She commented recently about a library forgiving fines.

Are library fines a poverty issue? Yes. She explained how she grew up in a home with more than 20 relatives. She avoided libraries because if she took a book home, it would get lost in such a crowded place. She missed out on all a library offers – chances to discover new ideas, improve reading skills, learn history and other subjects from those who have lived it – because she was afraid of getting punished for using a library.

I had no idea.

The point of a personal quiet time, small groups and weekly preaching is to learn and grow closer to God and to each other. Is poverty a God issue? Absolutely, yes. It’s easy to judge people who don’t pay their library fines as lazy or thieves – until we understand why.

Unity. My deepest longing. Which I realized in a sermon. Then meditated on in a personal quiet time. And read about online.

I’m trying to live it out. It’s a worthy goal.

This is how God works. Alone, in groups and in church. With real-world applications. It’s all good.

And it’s all necessary.

Bring on January

When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

Matthew 6:3

 

I saw this meme making the rounds the other day, and it’s a good one. It seemed a little out of place on Giving Tuesday, however.

My response to one friend who posted that verse:

 

In other words, do in January what you do in December.

 

We Americans love to be generous around the holidays. We give thanks on Thanksgiving. For Christmas, we buy presents our relatives don’t need or probably even want, often with money we don’t have, just because that’s what the holiday is all about.

On Giving Tuesday – one day a year – we are reminded that there are other people in the world besides us. So, we are encouraged to throw money at them.

Can you tell that December is not my favorite time of the year?

I’m jaded.

Motive

It’s great that we give alms to the poor around the holidays. But what’s our motive? Is it to salve our conscience? Is it to keep up with the Joneses in a giving kind of way?

Or, is it that we’re doing something that we know deep in our hearts that we should do more often than once a year?

Many people have needs this time of year, certainly. The food pantry where I volunteer saw its busiest week of the year right before Thanksgiving. A couple of people asked if we were giving away turkeys (we weren’t, but we did give away extra meat, thanks to the generosity of our director.)

Many of us are lonely this time of year. We’ve lost loved ones, and we miss them during family times over the holidays. For them, some of the gifts we offer this month should be spiritual or even physical – our presence, I mean, even more than a present.

Everyone in my immediate family, including my parents, is still among us, so I have yet to experience this up close. But many of you understand this deeply.

Many agencies and companies are collecting toys and gifts for the needy for Christmas. That’s a good thing. I don’t want to downplay that.

I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon, that’s all. If the rest of you are donating to a cause, the cause doesn’t need my gifts too.

Like I said, I’m jaded.

In the dark

I just might wait until January, when most of you have put all this generosity behind you.

January is cold and dark. Winter has arrived in full force. Sub-freezing temperatures are the norm. There are no major holidays to look forward to. It’s back to the daily grind. Vacations are over.

And the needy are forgotten.

Hunger is not a once-a-year phenomenon. Neither is loneliness. Memories of our loved ones don’t fade after the calendar turns and we view December through the rear-view mirror.

Indeed, my mother-in-law’s birthday was in January. She passed away quite a few years ago. We don’t talk about that at home, but maybe we should. My in-laws’ photo still hangs on the dining room wall with other family photos, and it will remain there forever.

When Jesus talked about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, I think this is what He meant. When the bright lights of publicity are gone and no one is looking, will we continue to serve the needy in our communities then?

When January comes

The quote from Jesus at the beginning of this blog is an action statement from Jesus. In the same breath, He talks about motive.

Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

Matthew 6:2

 

What is their reward? Praise by others. That’s all they get.

Praise by others lasts a day or two, and then we move on to another issue. That’s the way life on this Earth rolls.

 

… so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:4

 

This is why we give in January, as well as in December. It’s dark. We’ve moved on. No one is watching anymore.

But the living God sees. He knows what we’re up to. We can’t hide from Him. He knows the motive in our hearts.

Even in December, God knows what motivates us. Are we real, or are we just doing what we’re supposed to be doing?

I can’t answer that, because I can’t see your heart.

I volunteer occasionally with the American Red Cross. We don’t have to follow God to serve there. Motives vary among volunteers, I’m sure. The Red Cross is just glad when volunteers care enough to assist.

Rewards

Where does our reward come from, though? Is it from the Red Cross, or is it from the living God?

Our motive provides that answer.

Jesus said elsewhere in the Bible to store up treasures in heaven, and not on Earth. God is holding those rewards for us in heaven, even the secret rewards, and He will give them to us when we get there.

But we don’t have to wait for heaven to receive rewards from the living God. When I give in secret, God gives me a blessing right here, right now. Many of you understand this.

We give gifts because the living God gave us the best gift of all – Jesus, born on Christmas Day. It’s our feeble response to the gift of life and meaning that we have received.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Or supposed to be all about.

Where is your heart today?

Even more important, where will your heart be in January, when all the Christmas decorations have been put away for another year?

Does the Christmas spirit live on in you, year-round?

Just a thought.

Thankful for the big picture

Public praise, private critique.

Perhaps that’s a New Year’s resolution. Oops, wrong holiday.

But maybe not. Thanksgiving is a good time for public praise.

(Private critique will remain that. Social media aficionados, take note. Chill out and be more positive. End of rant.)

In my first full year of retirement from paid work, I jumped into three significant volunteer projects. All three are worth a little public praise.

After-school basketball

First – and no doubt, the toughest – is an after-school basketball ministry organized by the youth director at our church’s new Lorain, Ohio, campus (which hasn’t even opened yet).

boys pray

In the spring, Joe sought volunteers to help him reach neighborhood youth through basketball. I’ve played pickup ball – never in a league – and our three sons all played recreation basketball as children, so I’ve been around the game for a long time. I try to keep myself in somewhat decent shape, so I decided to give it a shot.

The church building is an old YMCA that is still being transformed into a church, but we’ve been using the big gym all along. We enter through a side door now while the rest of the building is under renovation.

Sometimes, I wonder why I’m there. How does a retired white guy from the suburbs connect with inner-city kids of multiple races and ethnicities?

The answer: Slowly.

As the weather turns cold, I’ve been taking one or several of them home after the hoops is done. That might be where “ministry” is beginning to form. I’m seeing a window into their lives outside of the formal basketball program.

Some of them are hungry. Some of them have broken families. Some have values that I’m not comfortable with.

I don’t judge. I’m just listening at this point. Not probing too much – I’m not aggressive that way.

But I’m thankful to connect with these young men (and the occasional woman who comes with them).

This is a long-term ministry. Hearts don’t change overnight. First, we have to connect. That’s not in my comfort zone. But this is the kind of thing that the living God is doing.

I don’t have to do this. Yet here I am. Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to serve You.

Food pantry

wcws 2

Also this spring, I began volunteering at a food pantry in South Lorain. I’ve always had a soft heart for hunger issues – I’ve never been hungry in my life, literally. I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from. Many people can’t say that.

crop walk logo

In Saginaw, Mich., I was treasurer and off-and-on coordinator for the Saginaw CROP Hunger Walk, an annual walk that raises funds and awareness of hunger issues, for more than 20 years. We lived in Rockford, Ill., for a little over a year and I connected with the CROP Walk folks there too. Here in Elyria, the CROP Walk leaders have no passion for the ministry and I wasn’t up to the effort of trying to fire them up, so I looked for other opportunities.

Enter We Care We Share, a 12-year-old food pantry on a shoestring budget that serves thousands of needy residents every year.

The pantry’s volunteer coordinator attends the same church I do. He invited me (and others) to participate, since more volunteers were (and still are) needed.

He didn’t tell me he was going on vacation, so one Tuesday I just showed up. Didn’t know anyone there. Told them who I was and why I was there. They invited me to stay, so I did – for four hours that afternoon. Then, they invited me back.

So I came back. And I’ve been coming back, two afternoons a week, ever since.

We’re family. We laugh, pray together, rib each other, volunteer together, serve together, pitch in wherever needed. We’re on the front lines of fighting hunger. We hand out dozens of food boxes each day – non-perishable goods, meat, bread, fruits and vegetables – whatever Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Ohio delivers to us on Monday afternoons.

Young families just getting started. Senior citizens in poor health who can’t even carry their food box to their vehicle. Many adults with kids and grandkids in their household. Some say, “I wish they’d leave” – not to be mean, but to get out on their own and learn to support themselves, and to give the older adult a little peace. We are there during the transition.

Residents get evicted, and frequently change addresses. A few are homeless.

We serve them all, face to face.

As with the basketball kids, I can’t relate. I don’t have to do this.

I never want to take the material things of life for granted. God has given me a heart to serve folks down on life, struggling to make it.

There’s no quick fixes here, either.

All we can do is serve. And pray.

So that’s what we do.

I’m grateful for this opportunity.

Bible study group leader

Third, I was asked to be a group leader this fall for Bible Study Fellowship, an international in-depth Bible study that this year is studying Acts in the New Testament. I attended the 30-week class for the previous two years, and the leadership there thought enough of me to invite me to step up my involvement.

bsf photo

As with basketball and We Care We Share, BSF is a major time commitment. There is “homework” for each class member to do before we meet on Tuesday evenings.

I’m at a satellite class in Avon, Ohio – one of three satellites around the main program in Parma Heights, just past Cleveland International Airport from where I live.

The leaders of all four areas – about 40 of us total – gather at 6:30 a.m. Saturdays to go over the upcoming week’s lesson, and to receive leadership training. I set my alarm at 5 a.m. to ensure I get there on time.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We begin our time literally on our knees in prayer.

I’m shepherding a dozen guys in my class every week. I keep in touch when they miss. Some have health issues of their own or of family members, and some travel for work. We pray for each other.

This week, three guys attended who had missed two to four weeks each for various reasons, and all three said they missed our discussions. They want to come every week. Circumstances sometimes prevent that. Life happens.

Again, relationships take time. As a leader, I have to be pro-active. I’m learning as I go.

The big picture

2019 has been a year of beginnings for me, changes and challenges. The honeymoon periods soon will be over, if they aren’t already.

That’s when ministry will begin.

Time to take the next step. Next steps, actually.

Hope you’re as thankful for the big picture of your life as I am of mine.