A litmus test for evangelicals that shouldn’t be

Honduran migrants cross the U.S. border wall to San Diego from Tijuana, Mexico, on Dec. 16, 2018, before turning themselves in to U.S. border patrol agents, standing at the top. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

President Trump, along with Republican and Democratic U.S. representatives, have forgotten that immigrants, legal and especially illegal, are human beings. They have turned the immigration issue into a political football.

They threaten a partial U.S. shutdown later this week over whether to pay for Trump’s border wall with Mexico (which, by the way, during his presidential campaign Trump promised that Mexico would pay for). Trump wants $5 billion for it. Democrats are offering $1.6 billion for border security.

Those numbers are peanuts compared with the trillion-plus-dollar budget that Congress oversees.

The stalemate has nothing to do with dollars and budgets.

It’s all about the politics.

Worse, for many Americans, it’s become a litmus test of evangelical Christianity. Many outspoken proponents of the border wall are evangelicals who support Trump’s for-the-most-part conservative social agenda.

https://www.vox.com/2018/10/26/17989084/christopher-maloney-in-god-we-trump-evangelicals-trump

Many staunch opponents are “social justice” Democrats who see the immigrants’ “caravan” in Mexico, heading for the U.S. border, as displaced Latin Americans fleeing poverty and, especially, violence in their home countries.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/fleeing-poverty-and-violence-central-american-women-explain-why-they-join-caravans-1543947664

I am an evangelical Christian who supports the Democrats on this issue.

Why?

Because Jesus would.

The kingdom of God has feet

Jesus’ primary mission on Earth was to introduce us to the “kingdom of God.” He offered us a personal, one-on-one relationship with his Father. In the Old Testament, God came and went, offering support to specific individuals for specific events or short periods of time. In the Gospels, Jesus said God would come and remain with us at all times, not come and go as he did previously.

To do that, Jesus did not require us to get our act together spiritually or socially before we could let God into our hearts full-time. No. God met – and still meets – us right where we are.

In other words, Jesus Christ was – and still is – the “social justice” God as well as the “evangelical” God.

Very few Christians understand this, even though the message is obvious throughout the New Testament.

Jesus called several fishermen as his first disciples (Matthew 4:18-22). Not exactly upperclassmen. He also hand-picked a hated tax collector (Luke 5:27-28), who left a lucrative job to follow a charismatic leader and his band of nomads. His other disciples were not exactly household names or community leaders when Jesus called them (Mark 3:13-19).

Jesus the social activist

Once he had his chosen twelve, Jesus did some surprising things. He visited Samaria, which no self-respecting Jew would have done, and talked with a woman who had been married five times (John 4:1-42). He acknowledged her past but didn’t condemn her for it.

Same with a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). And a mentally disturbed caveman (Mark 5:1-20). And an inquisitive political leader who met him at night because he didn’t want to be noticed (John 3:1-21).

He healed numerous disabled people, including several who were blind and others who had physical deformities (read the gospel of Luke, for example).

All of these folks were outcasts. Yet Jesus met them right where they were, healing them and encouraging them to “go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

Jesus the leader

Jesus also interacted with the religious and political leaders of his day, who were the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees (Mark 12:13-40). Those religious leaders also were the local political leaders, serving the oppressive Roman government in return for keeping the peace in their communities.

They tweaked Jewish laws and customs to keep themselves in Rome’s good graces, picking and choosing Scriptures to fit their agendas.

To put it mildly, Jesus didn’t like that. He called them blind guides and hypocrites (Matthew 23:13-36).

Jesus didn’t attack the Pharisees and Sadducees on a political level, but on a spiritual level. On politics, he said: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

On Palm Sunday, the crowd thought they were hailing a political king who was entering Jerusalem to overthrow the hated Roman government (Matthew 21:8-11). When Jesus didn’t do that, they deserted him – and crucified Him.

What does all this have to do with immigration?

Jesus the servant

For people outside the church, Jesus was compassionate and gave them the benefit of the doubt every time. For people inside the church, Jesus spoke harshly for their judgment and hard-hearted attitudes, because they knew the Scriptures and should have known better how to treat people (including Jesus Christ himself).

If Jesus walked across the United States in the flesh today, he would give us the same message. We still haven’t learned it.

Immigrants need us. They are fleeing for their lives, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

In contrast, many Americans are richer than we think we are. Globally, if your wealth (assets minus debts) is in the $100,000 to $1 million range, you are among the 7.3 percent of the world’s population that has about 40 percent of the world’s wealth. If your wealth equals only $3,210, you are wealthier than half of the people across this planet.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-richest-people-in-the-world-20160121-story.html

Our response

What are we afraid of? That we might lose political influence?

Blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups already are gaining influence in this country. So are women. Are we truly worried about immigrants who have nothing materially, but who just might have the gifts, talents and work ethic we need to make this country run?

Is there not room for all?

I recently attended a conference in Chicago on urban ministry. One speaker pointed out that white Americans will not get involved in any project or event unless they lead it. That means whites will not allow any minority individuals to lead whatever they are involved in.

Whoa. That’s an eye-opener.

Are we afraid that a minority person might actually have leadership skills? As white people, are we not willing to submit ourselves to a black, Latino and/or female supervisor or other type of leader?

In the words of a decades-old slogan, what would Jesus do?

Jesus’ response

Jesus hand-picked a group of outcasts and under-the-radar people to train as the leaders of his future church. (If you read the book of Acts, there are women and couples who are leaders in the early church, as well as the more well-known Paul, Peter and James.)

No one is an outcast in Jesus’ eyes. Not disabled people. Not mentally disturbed people. Certainly not immigrants.

In a dispute between outcasts and church leaders, Jesus sided with the outcasts every time.

The “unchurched” often understood Jesus better than the church folks did. They certainly connected with him in a more real way.

We forget this at our own peril.

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There’s just enough truth in nearly every viewpoint to make all of us dangerous

How do you think your religion is perceived by others who are not part of the faith?

A friend needed a few people to answer a 10-question survey for a community college religion course she is taking this fall. I figured, why not, I’ll give it a shot. I wondered what direction a “religion” survey would go.

Religion

Question 1: What does religion mean to you?

My response: Religion is a generic term for any belief in God or a higher power. It might be personal, or it might not be.

Question 2: Is there a difference between faith, religion and spirituality?

My answer: “Faith” is my personal belief in God, who is unseen, but who affects my life deeply. “Spirituality” is a hot-button term that means different things to different people. Spirituality includes the supernatural, which may or may not include God.

How am I doing so far? Would you agree?

I have no idea how other people answered these questions, nor does that concern me, because I’m not the one taking the religion class.

“Faith” is something my “religion” talks about often. “Spirituality” is one of those words I try to avoid, because I may try to connect spirituality to my faith, but you may connect spirituality with something else completely. Like the paranormal. Or astrology. Or a different religion. Or crystals. Or New Age thinking. Or palm reading. Or …

Perceptions

Question 9 is the one at the top of this column. Those of you who have a different faith, or no faith at all: How do you perceive Christianity, which is the “faith” I live by?

I tried to put myself in your shoes. Here’s what I came up with:

Many people equate Christianity with a judgmental Republican viewpoint, since some vocal Christians promote that. It’s hard, because the God of the Bible is not like that. Others see it as a list of do’s and don’t’s and are afraid they’ll have to give up fun things if they “convert.”

A judgmental Republican viewpoint. I actually wrote that.

I had a discussion earlier this week with another friend over the immigration issue. He’s a staunch supporter of President Trump, and vociferously defended his keep-the-illegal-immigrants-out policy that Trump advocates.

I responded that while I support most of Trump’s positions, I see immigrants as real people. Most illegal immigrants are fleeing for their lives, literally, I said, and the citizenship process is long and cumbersome. That’s the real issue, I argued. Let’s make it easier to become a U.S. citizen.

My friend didn’t buy that argument. He said for the first time ever, immigration laws are being enforced.

Both of us have a deep faith in Jesus Christ. How can we hold opposing views on such a vital issue?

Many of my more liberal friends also support immigrants, legal and illegal, going so far as to encourage sanctuary cities and support churches that are willing to host illegals to protect them from deportation.

Jesus did not take a stand on such issues. He was not a politician. The people of his day, like many people today, wish he was political. That’s why they shouted “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday. Hosanna is a political term. The crowds were looking for a “savior” to overthrow the oppressive Roman government.

As soon as the crowds realized Jesus wasn’t going to do that – he had a different, much higher, purpose in mind – they abandoned him. And crucified him, almost immediately.

While Republican values generally are more in line with the Bible than Democratic values are, the lines are not that clear. There are exceptions, both ways.

Immigration, in my opinion, is one of them.

Neither side is willing to reason with the other on this, or any, issue.

So we get a judgmental Republican (or Democratic) viewpoint.

Reality

Question 4: What appeals to you about your religion?

It gives meaning to my life. The God of the Bible wants the best for me and for all humankind. No other religion’s leader can claim that.

This is why I struggle with politics. Trump said this week that the published death toll of nearly 3,000 from last year’s hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was not even close. He said Democrats were trying to make him look bad.

Trump cares only about his reputation. Puerto Ricans are pawns to him. “Nobody is singing his praises because we all saw what happened,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told The Associated Press.

GOP activists blame the media for distorting Trump’s record. But The AP is about as impartial as media get.

If you reject published reports and photos of the devastation, then there’s nothing anyone can say to you. Information has never been more widely disseminated. If we pick and choose what to “believe” (the drugstore tabloids don’t count, but that’s my opinion), then we are choosing our own reality, instead of trying to understand what’s truly going on in the world and responding accordingly.

Jesus did not have this attitude at all. Instead, he defended the outcast every time: the Samaritan woman at the well, lepers and other physically sick people, the prodigal’s son, a woman who gave her last penny in taxes, even a demon-possessed caveman. And many others.

I wish Americans thought and acted like that. Many do, often outside the political landscape.

Benefits

Question 8: What benefits to society do you think your religion or religion in general presents?

When lived correctly, Christianity accepts all people. That doesn’t mean Christians agree with other faiths or viewpoints, but we “love the sinner, hate the sin.” That’s a real thing. We promote family values, which overcomes drug abuse, teen sex/abortion, addictions, hate/anger, etc. – ie, looking for love in all the wrong places.

There’s just enough truth in nearly every viewpoint to make all of us dangerous. It’s easy to twist “truth” to fit our own agendas.

The church I attend has a three-point mission statement: Love God, love people, live surrendered. We spend the most time talking about the last point. What does surrendering to God and the Bible look like?

Each of us will answer that question differently. But each of us must surrender to God. Not my will, but yours be done, on Earth as it is in heaven, according to the Lord’s prayer.

That’s the key. Not the Republican way. Not the Democratic way.

God’s way.

The God of the Bible’s way.

That’s what faith means to me.

Silent majority taking charge at the ballot box

It’s nearly unanimous: Donald Trump is a horrible president.

He lies, his personality is abrasive (to put it mildly), he offends other world leaders and members of his own party alike, and he never has anything nice to say about the media.

So say the media. And social media. And plenty of other people.

The editor emeritus of our local newspaper, in a recent Sunday column, wrote that all of the columnists the paper features on its opinion pages, except one, do not support Trump. Even several conservative columnists the newspaper features do not support our current president.

The anti-establishment president

Our political and media leaders are missing the point.

Trump was elected as an anti-establishment president. Democrats hate him, and many Republicans barely tolerate him.

When Trump was nominated in a very crowded GOP primary field, I figured he’d be one of the first candidates eliminated because he was so brash. He offended everyone. He talked before he thought. He had no political experience. His most famous quote was: “Your fired!”

Not exactly the mentality of a team player.

And yet, the other candidates dropped out, and he remained. All the way to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where he was officially nominated as the party’s candidate for the highest office in the land.

Rejecting the status quo

Why?

Republicans, like Democrats, supported the candidate they thought could garner the most votes. Even if he was brash, abrasive and not a model Republican.

Again, why?

As I told a friend shortly before the election a year ago, Trump struck a nerve that runs deeper in this country than anyone realized.

We still don’t realize it.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats have a good reputation these days, and haven’t for awhile. Congress appears incapable of action. This was true under former President Barack Obama as well as currently under Trump.

Business as usual just wasn’t working. Congress’ ineptness was the main reason Trump was nominated, then elected. If the two-party system was working well, the GOP would have nominated an insider who would further GOP values and causes, to run against the Democratic candidate who would further that party’s values and causes.

But it wasn’t.

So, we got Trump.

GOP a step ahead

If Trump had to run for re-election this year, would he win?

I think he would. And we all would be just as shocked as we were last year.

I saw a blurb in our local paper last week, buried on page A6, with this headline: “Trump’s small donors fuel GOP fundraising.”

Three paragraphs followed. Here they are:

 

The Republican National Committee raised more than $100 million in the first nine months of 2017, marking the first time it has raised that much, that fast, in a non-presidential election year.

The record-breaking fundraising can be largely attributed to a flurry of small-dollar donors responding to fundraising appeals by the first Republican president in eight years, Donald Trump, according to a new report to be released later this week.

The numbers give Republicans a large cash advantage over Democrats as they look to retain control of both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections next year.

 

If Democrats think they’ll reclaim one or both chambers of Congress next year as a backlash to Trump, they will be in for a big surprise. Trump, abrasiveness and all, has a larger following than anyone on either side is willing to acknowledge. His supporters largely remain silent on social media (although not entirely).

Loudest voice not winning

I’ve discovered that many of my left-leaning friends are thoughtful and engaging people, offering detailed arguments on why Trump should be opposed, at least, or impeached, at most. Many of my right-leaning friends, when they talk politics at all, offer one-liners and short paragraphs in support of a specific Trump policy or the general direction of the GOP.

In a debate, I’d predict the left would defeat the right. Liberals are better at communicating their values than conservatives are.

Trump’s supporters are writing a new definition for “silent majority.” Instead of arguing in public, they’re showing up at the ballot box.

According to the page A6 blurb in the newspaper, Republicans are already gearing up for next year’s midterm elections – in a big way.

The rest of us are missing the point.

Both parties need to change, since the status quo in Washington, D.C., is pleasing no one.

The Republicans realized this first, and nominated an unconventional candidate. The Democrats have yet to figure this out.

Preparing for 2018

In the editor emeritus’ column, he quotes a liberal columnist, Leonard Pitts Jr.:

“Pretty much nobody – outside of his base of voters and people who attend rallies in Alabama – pretty much nobody is saying (‘Great job, Mr. President.’). And I think that’s what people need to understand.”

While very few people are publicly saying, “Great job, Mr. President” – Pitts is right about that – his “base of voters” is larger than Pitts knows. And they are small donors, lots of them, willing to put some money where their votes are, if not where their mouths are.

Is anybody listening to them?

Does anybody care what those small donors think, value or do with their lives? Are they truly supporting Trump, or are they only opposing the longstanding GOP-Democratic stalemate?

Do most Americans really want an expensive border wall with Mexico, for example, or is there a deeper issue in play? And can anyone articulate what that issue might be?

I’ve seen articles saying that many of our children aren’t allowed to walk to school, even if it’s nearby, because their parents are afraid of abductors. This is the message of our country today: Trust no one. Not even people in our neighborhood.

Why was Trump elected? Because we as Americans think and act like him.

Yes, we do. We are just as angry and self-centered as he is.

Trump is not a team player. Neither are we.

We reap what we sow.

We must understand this before any meaningful change will take place.

The longer we deny this, the more ingrained Trump becomes.

Just watch. Next year’s midterm elections will prove me right.