Well readers, I have two happier posts in the works, one of which is about how much I love my kitten Aslan whom I introduced in my last post. But given that my kitten and dog enjoy a higher standard of living than our government is providing children seeking asylum at our borders right now, I feel compelled to write about how much our country still falls short of the ideas expressed in our Declaration of Independence which we recently celebrated. I should say here it is not my intention to completely trash-talk our country because despite all the problems we are facing right now, we are still far better off than many countries around the world. On July 3, I was watching Morning Joe on MSNBC as I ate breakfast before work, and in light of the horrible conditions at the border detention centers, and Donald Trump’s politicizing of what has always been a nonpartisan holiday with his military display and planned speech, one of the commentators suggested that Americans should go ahead and enjoy the holiday and say a toast to the things we do well, but on the 5th of July, we should reflect on what we could do to make this country better, and align it more closely with our ideals by next year.
I liked this sentiment, and I still believe there are many things we do well. For example, we all have the freedom to practice our religion or have no religion at all. Sure, there has been a disturbing increase in antisemitism, and misinformed fears of people who practice Islam, the majority of whom are peaceful. But when a gunman attacked a synagogue this past year, the community, including the mayor rallied around the synagogue and denounced the perpetrator of such senseless violence toward a house of worship, which completely violate the values of our free society. I have confidence that the same would hold true if a mosque were attacked. Sadly, this is not true in many other countries. Every year at HarvestFest, an annual event my church holds in October where field workers come home and share stories of how they are spreading the gospel around the world, I hear heartbreaking stories of churches being bombed or burned down, and worshippers being arrested or killed. Sometimes this persecution is inflicted directly by the government, other times by non-state actors who are not prosecuted because the government implicitly supports what they are doing. Either way, you come away from this event each year with a renewed appreciation for how lucky we are to live in this country where religious freedom is still upheld. Another value we still uphold well is freedom of speech. Sure, there are those who try to silence speech they don’t like, often using incredibly hateful rhetoric on social media, and people have lost jobs over speech a company or sponsor doesn’t like. But the bottom line is, I can confidently publish this blog post in which I will be saying bad things about the president, knowing it won’t lead to police storming into my house and hauling me off to a jail or prison camp where I could be tortured or killed. The same cannot be said in many other countries.
On the morning of July 4, while Mom made final preparations for a holiday feast that afternoon, we listened to Stay Tuned with Preet, a podcast my mom and I both like and which I also talk about in this post. Before the show, Preet asked his social media followers the question “What does patriotism mean to you?” At the end of the show, he shared a sample of responses. I was a little troubled by how some listeners seemed to believe patriotism is about blind loyalty to country, right or wrong. But several people indicated that patriotism means loving your country enough to criticize what we get wrong, so that we can be better. Related to that, I especially liked the sentiment of one woman who compared patriotism to the unconditional love a parent has for his/her child. I think this is a brilliant analogy that I also agree with. I think I was expressing this kind of love in this post when I indicated that at least as circumstances currently stand, I don’t feel compelled to flee to Canada. In the same way a loving parent wouldn’t abandon his/her child when he makes a big mistake or doesn’t live up to expectations, I cannot imagine abandoning this country. At the same time, the parent who almost worships his/her child, insisting the child can do no wrong, and trying to shield him from any consequences or hardships related to poor choices is actually making said child’s life more difficult in the long-term.
Given the 24-hour news cycle which can have the effect of desensitizing people to all the trouble in the world, and my job where I talk to people every day living with painful medical conditions, many of whom cannot afford the medical care they need, I admit there are days when I can relate to a psychological phenomenon experienced by people in emotionally draining occupations like paramedics and nurses known as compassion fatigue. But last summer when I heard footage of children crying for their mothers when they were separated by border patrol officers, I almost cried too. And what was almost equally horrifying to me was the callous attitude of commentators like Laura Ingram who downplayed the cruelty of this policy by likening the child detention centers to summer camp.
I went to a week-long summer camp for three summers as a child, and there is no comparison between my experience, and what separated children are still enduring. Sure, I was separated from my parents, but it was a separation my parents and I both consented to, with plenty of time for my parents to soothe my fears about homesickness by reminding me of all the fun, unique experiences I would have. By contrast, mothers interviewed about their situation last summer indicated they didn’t know they would be separated from their children when they arrived, which means they wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to soothe their children or explain the situation to them before being separated. When I got to camp, it was a week full of fun, unique experiences like swimming in a lake, boating, playing silly games in the dining hall and singing songs around a campfire. By contrast, children separated from their parents were taken to detention centers where their entire summer was spent essentially locked in cages. Last summer, these centers at least provided basic education, but this summer, children aren’t even getting that. Finally, I knew exactly when my parents were coming to take me home, so when there were a couple moments when I was starting to feel homesick, I could console myself with the assurance that I would be home soon. By contrast, neither the children nor the parents knew if, or when they would be reunited. Many parents wait months to be reunited with their children, and according to a CNN report I read, 471 parents have been deported without their children.
I didn’t take any action to speak out against our country’s cruelty toward immigrants seeking asylum last summer, or even write about it on this blog because I think I was just so shocked by this atrocity I didn’t know what I could do or how to approach the issue. But this summer, with many children who still have not been reunited with their families, and with children and families being denied toiletries and basic medical care, I cannot stay silent any longer. I still feel fortunate to live in this country and am optimistic that we can get onto a better path. I am not the only American appalled at how our government is treating asylum-seekers, so if the thousands of protestors featured in the news shouting “close the camps!” stay engaged in this cause and vote in leaders at all levels of government with integrity and good character, this, and many other situations we are facing could change for the better. But as immigration policy currently stands, this country is like a child that needs to sit in time-out or lose some privileges. Actually, the natural consequence of President Trump’s behavior, and withdrawal from international agreements like the Paris Climate Accord, our allies are already putting us in time-out so to speak by making decisions without our input, and thus we are losing the privilege of leadership in the world. I hate to see our country lose respect and influence on the world stage, but until we wake up and elect leaders with good character, and until some who call themselves Christians actually return to upholding Christian values, this natural consequence is well-deserved.
I have thoughts on several issues, but given that these issues are complex, I will save them for posts of their own. For this post, I want to focus on President Trump’s immigration policy because it has disturbed my conscience, and is a leading story in the news right now.
Of course, President Trump is not the first president to have to address immigration and border security. But recent past presidents sought to address this issue with thoughtfulness, striving to recognize the need for border security and law enforcement while not forsaking our values. We are after all, a nation built by immigrants, and most of us are descendants of immigrants. On my dad’s side, I know that my grandma’s parents both emigrated from Poland in the early 1900s. Grandma’s mother fled from an abusive father, and Grandma’s father fled to avoid being drafted into the army during World War I. My mom’s side has been in this country longer, but they came to this country in the 1600s, seeking asylum from an oppressive Scottish government.
President Obama actually built the first detention centers and deported more people than President Trump has thus far. But children were never separated from their parents, and all immigrants were treated with basic human dignity while inside our borders, even if they were ultimately deported. President Obama also issued an executive order protecting undocumented children brought to this country illegally by their parents, recognizing that as children, they had no say in this decision, and they were good people who had now become part of the fabric of their communities and our society. In fact, many of these children were so young when brought to this country that they had no memory of their native countries, so America was the only country they had ever known. I remember both President George W Bush and President Obama giving speeches advocating a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, although neither were successful in convincing Congress to pass such legislation. By contrast, President Trump’s position on immigration is centered on racism and hate, from his cruel zero-tolerance policy that separated children from their families, to his past racist rhetoric about shithole countries, to his tweets just last week attacking “the squad,” the four Democratic congresswomen of color who spoke out against him, and his sitting back and smiling as supporters chanted “send her back!” in reference to Ilhan Omar one of the women in the squad who was not born in this country but is a legal U.S. citizen, at a rally in North Carolina.
Even if you do not identify as a Christian, there are so many reasons why President Trump’s policies and rhetoric are wrong and detrimental to our country’s interests. There is the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission specifically cites remarks like “go back to where you came from” as an example of unlawful workplace harassment. Where I work, if management got wind of someone making such a remark, they would be fired on the spot, but the President of the United States has not, and most likely will not face any consequences for this remark. There is the fact that President Trump’s treatment of asylum-seekers is a violation of national law, and international treaties. There is the staggering waste of tax dollars being paid to for-profit detention contractors to house immigrants when I heard an immigration advocate interviewed on a podcast last year argue that when immigrants were released into this country to live with other family members, 99 percent of them still showed up for their court hearings. And while another blog post could be written on the immorality of exploiting immigrants, the reality of this fallen world is that immigrants are willing to do crucial work that American citizens won’t do because this work is hard, pay is low and there are no benefits, jobs such as meat packing, harvesting crops, even providing nursing care for the increasing senior population. Deporting hard-working, undocumented immigrants whose only crime was entering this country illegally or advocating policies that only welcome highly educated immigrants could lead to labor shortages in crucial sectors of our economy down the road. And can you imagine how blah life would be without the wonderful variety of ethnic foods, music and traditions that immigrants brought to this country? This diversity is really what made America great, and the only way we can continue to be great. But those of us who identify as Christians should be especially horrified by President Trump’s immigration policies for a higher set of reasons.
As I have mentioned in the past, I studied for a time with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I didn’t end up converting because I don’t agree with their theology surrounding Jesus. But I still consider these witnesses good friends, and I wish more of my fellow evangelical Christians would have an open mind and study with them because although I believe their theology is incorrect, there is so much that they get right as far as what it means to take faith seriously. And there are two things that both of our bibles agree on: one cannot serve two masters, and we are called to be citizens of a higher governing authority.
Jehovah’s Witnesses take these principles so seriously that they do not run for political office, serve in the military or even vote. The way one of my friends explained it, all earthly governments are influenced by Satan, but Jehovah’s Witnesses need to be a unified front as God’s government is higher than any of the earthly governments in place right now, and so by abstaining from voting or any civic activities, there is no animosity if a Jehovah’s Witness living in the United States meets a Witness from Iran, even though there is tension between the earthly governments of these countries. I am not arguing that my fellow Evangelicals abstain from voting. On the contrary, I believe that Christians should vote and contact their representatives to speak up for the issues God puts on their hearts because while it is true that this world will always have problems until Christ returns, He wants us to work with this system in our spheres of influence (which include the governments of the countries in which we live) to try and bring a taste of His Kingdom to this world now rather than just throwing up our hands and hoping He will return soon. But it is sad and honestly frightening to me how many of my fellow Evangelicals have fallen victim to pandering and propaganda, and have chosen to blindly follow and almost worship President Trump and his enablers in Congress. I hope any Evangelicals who stumble on this blog don’t take what I am about to say as judgmental. This is not my intention, as only God knows what is in each person’s heart, and I know I have plenty of my own sins to work out that I will be judged on. As a quick relevant example, although this post has been about the need for more compassionate immigration policies, my heart isn’t always pure regarding my attitude toward immigrants. I have never made blatant racist remarks against them, have never and would never dream of telling someone to go back to the country they came from, but sometimes in real-world situations, I react with impatience and annoyance rather than patience and compassion. As I have mentioned in the past, I groan to myself when I go to a restaurant and end up with a waiter or waitress who is not fluent in English, especially if I am on a family vacation, when sometimes I haven’t had enough sleep and am beyond hungry by the time we get to a restaurant. Although I have never actually vocalized this, in my mind I am fuming, “oh for heaven’s sake, give me someone who speaks English!” Normally at the sound of a foreign accent, I would smile in celebration of the diversity and opportunity our country offers, appreciate how brave this waiter or waitress is for starting over in a new country and learning our language better than I would ever learn theirs if I had to start over in their country, but sometimes in the heat of the moment, I am just tired and hungry and don’t have the patience to even try and communicate with them, so I put my head down hoping the waiter will just assume I have a headache or something, and let my parents do the talking and explain to them about my Celiac Disease. But even if my anxiety over the need to make sure it is understood that my meal needs to be gluten free is legitimate, I should make a better effort about not fixating on my food, trust God because everything always ultimately works out, and engage in conversation with said waiter or waitress, showing them the same mercy and compassion I would want to be shown if I had to start over in a new country. But even though I fall short in my interaction with immigrants, I feel compelled to speak the truth in love, which is that it is just not possible to honestly call yourself a Christian, while simultaneously supporting President Trump’s policies, especially his immigration policies. And even before I read this excellent article linked to above, I have felt for a long time that if Christ were to return today, He would judge purported Christians who support President Trump with the same anger He expressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees. To support President Trump while calling yourself Christian is to be a hypocrite.
This is not about politics. I am not saying you should necessarily vote for President Trump’s democratic opponent, although right now I think that is what I personally am going to do. I am well aware that Democrats have had their fair share of crooked behavior, immoral conduct and hyperpartisanship, but President Trump’s policies, especially his immigration policy, not to mention his complete lack of morals or integrity are so egregious that getting him voted out of office in 2020 needs to be the top priority. But if Evangelicals cannot in good conscience vote for President Trump’s opponent, I feel as though they would honor God better by following the example of Jehovah’s Witnesses and at least for this election, not voting at all. I just ask my fellow evangelicals to consider this question. Since we are all sinners, we will never find perfect leaders in this current world, but who do you think Jesus would judge more favorably if He returned today: the political figures who may not talk about their faith publicly but who in general advocate Christ-like policies that lift up the poor and marginalized, or the political figures who loudly profess their faith and pander to you by promising to appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme court, but who in general have implemented policies that make life worse for the poor and marginalized, and who will even twist scripture out of context to justify cruel policies as Jeff Sessions did last summer?
Some of my fellow evangelicals will say there is spiritual warfare today, and the Enemy Satan is doing everything he can to turn people away from God, but sadly some of these same people are completely oblivious to the fact that the Enemy has already turned them away from God using Fox News propaganda, and conservative talk radio. So I would like to conclude with a few bible verses that I hope will tickle the conscience of even one person who stumbles on this blog, and bring them back to God.
Hebrews 13:1-2 says: “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” It just so happens that our church was studying the book of Hebrews this summer, and in God’s perfect timing, the pastor preached on these verses three weeks ago, right as the conditions in the detention centers were coming to light. I think my fellow evangelicals don’t realize that a large portion of the immigrants from the central American countries are themselves Christians, so by turning our backs on them, we are actually turning our backs on our own brothers and sisters. Furthermore, we were all at one time aliens whom God pursued, and therefore we are called to embrace and show hospitality to strangers, whether they are Christian or not. It is the best way the church can articulate the gospel to the broader culture, and this message is if anything more relevant today given our culture’s stranger danger philosophy, than it was when the book of Hebrews was written.
Matthew 25:34-35 says: “Then the king will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Jesus goes on to tell those on his left who did not do these things they will not inherit the kingdom. Jesus, who was Himself a refugee, includes our treatment of the stranger, the immigrant in this world as criteria for whether we inherit eternal life. This should be sobering. I confess I was tempted not to include this verse for fear of being a hypocrite as I fall far short of these standards. I am not as generous with my money as I could be, and very stingy with my time. This is an area of my faith life where I would like to progress. But even if you are like me and rarely volunteer or donate to charity, we could all start by at least speaking out against elected representatives who pander to Christians but implement cruel policies that are completely at odds with Jesus’ teaching.
Matthew 24:14 says: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Jesus didn’t say He only came for the people of the roman empire who was his audience, nor did He say He came only for white people, or only people living in the United States of America. He wanted the gospel to be preached to all nations. I get the impression from this bible verse, and bible verses about Jesus abolishing all earthly governments, that He will have an open borders policy, if borders as we know them even exist at all. At that time, we will all realize how stupid and petty our thousands of years of racism were as we were all created in God’s image, with the same hopes and dreams. But why must we wait until then? Why not strive to bring a taste of God’s kingdom to this country now with policies that secure the border against real criminals, which is necessary in this fallen world, but policies which are grounded in common sense and compassion, not hate and racism.