Category: immigrant rights

Dallas preacher says Jesus would seal the border

JeffressBy Alan Bean

The Rev. Robert Jeffress thinks Jesus would build a fence at the U.S. border so desperate children from violence-ridden countries would be discouraged from heading north.

“Yes, Jesus loved children,” Jeffress admits, “but he also respected law. He said, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars.”

In other words, Christians shouldn’t trouble themselves with immigration policy; that’s Caesar’s concern.

Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, once suggested that Barack Obama is preparing the world for the coming of Antichrist, so his “Caesar” reference probably doesn’t mean that we should leave immigration policy in the hands of the presiding president.  He means instead that everything Jesus said about welcoming children, and all the warnings he pronounced against those who harden their hearts against the pain of young ones, is irrelevant to American immigration policy.

Sure, Christians must be kind to the children they encounter within the suburban bubble, but the boys and girls of Honduras simply are on their own.

Since nothing can be done for the unaccompanied migrant children on our doorstep, the most compassionate course is to build a border wall so thick and so tall that the poor little blighters will have no choice but to return to the violence and squalor that drove them into the arms of America.

That young girl of seven or eight, carrying her two-year old sister on her back has spawned a crisis of conscience among American Christians.

On the whole, we have responded admirably.  “This is an unfortunate, even awful, situation for everyone,” said David Hardage,  Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “So much of what has happened and is happening is out of our control. What we can control is our response to human need. We will try to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need.”

Hardage sees Jesus standing on the side of desperate children, an assumption shared by most Texas Baptists.

Terry Henderson, state disaster relief director for Texas Baptist Men, compressed the issue to a simple question: “If Jesus was standing here with us, what would he tell us to do? That sounds kind of basic, but that’s the deal.”

That’s supposed to be a rhetorical question, but Robert Jeffress doesn’t provide the expected answer.  He thinks Jesus would slam the door.  Call it tough love. (more…)

Five ways the Senate’s immigration bill falls short of justice

By Alan Bean

As comprehensive immigration reform wends its tortuous way through the legislative process, we have witnessed a lot of hand-wringing from politicians concerning “border security,” spiking welfare costs, crime, and fairness to those who became citizens the legal way.  Rarely do we hear from the men and women who work with immigrants and advocate on their behalf.  ICA, Immigrant Communities in Action, is a New York-based coalition of immigration reform groups.  Today, they released a response to Senate Bill 744.  They don’t like it.  I am sharing the heart of their statement with you because it captures an emerging consensus within the immigration reform community.  Some organizations worked so hard for so long to get a bill through the Senate that they are willing to hold their noses and live with a deeply flawed piece of legislation.  But most of the reform organizations I monitor are deeply disappointed with the Senate’s immigration bill and this statement explains why.

 

Statement on the Senate Immigration Bill (S.B. 744)                                                    July 10, 2013

Immigrant Communities in Action

New York City

 

“A Call to Immigrant Organizations, Workers Centers, and Allies:

Building for a Just, Humane and Inclusive Immigration Reform, and Beyond

 

On June 27, 2013, the Senate voted to pass its immigration bill with a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32. While the bill includes provisions that seem to benefit some segments of immigrant communities, we are disturbed by the many provisions that undermine the basic premise of a just, humane and inclusive “comprehensive” immigration reform:

1. S.B. 744 creates an onerous labyrinth of a gauntlet instead of a just a path to citizenship.  While the bill seeks to offer a path to citizenship, and allow the millions of immigrants to come out of the shadows and become a recognized part of the social fabric, the specific provisions place many “thorns on the road” by making the process overly complex, financially unaffordable for many, and with an excessively long waiting period of 10-20 years. As these provisions would exclude millions of immigrants, either from the outset or due to the various obstacles, we will continue to have a large population of immigrants who would become even more marginalized and excluded than the current situation. (more…)

Coincidence or crafty staging: Senators witness woman climb 18-foot fence

By Alan Bean

The Gang of Eight senators took a photo-op tour of the border fence in Arizona yesterday and, what-d’ya-know, they witnessed a desperate young woman successfully scale an eighteen-foot border fence.  We have just their word for it since no media people were allowed to accompany the tour and hence we have no video or pictures.  I’m not questioning the legitimacy of the report; I’m sure the senators saw what they say they saw.  But how convenient that a young woman made her move at precisely the moment the senators made their appearance?

Coincidence, or crafty staging?   (more…)

At Mexican Border, Four in Five Drug Busts Involve American Citizens

ImagePosted by  Pierre Berastain

“Three out of four people found with drugs by the border agency are U.S. citizens, the data show. Looked at another way, when the immigration status is known, four out of five busts—which may include multiple people—involve a U.S. citizen.”

Amidst the accusations of people like Governor Brewer and Sheriff Apaio that undocumented immigrants are dangerous criminals responsible for smuggling millions of dollars worth of drugs , this article brings a new and fresh perspective.

At Mexican Border, Four in Five Drug Busts Involve American Citizens

by 

The public’s view of a typical Mexican drug smuggler might not include U.S. Naval Academy grad Todd Britton-Harr, who was caught at a Border Patrol checkpoint in south Texas in December 2010 hauling a trailer with 1,100 pounds of marijuana.

Nor would someone like Laura Lynn Farris leap to mind. Border Patrol agents stopped the 52-year-old woman at a border checkpoint 15 miles south of the west Texas town of Alpine in February 2011 with 162 pounds of marijuana hidden under dirty blankets in laundry baskets. (more…)

Canadians outraged by immigration raid staged for the cameras

Diana ThompsonBy Alan Bean

Canadian activists are outraged by an immigration raid in Vancouver that they claim was staged for a reality show.  The folks with the cameras claim they are producing a documentary and only use footage after getting verbal permission.  A woman working across the street from the action claims to be deeply upset: “It doesn’t seem very Canadian,” she told the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) “It’s very sensationalized. I don’t like it. It’s just very creepy.”

This video is taken from the Vancouver Sun’s story on the raid.

http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/CBSA+raid+migrant+workers+complete+with+camera+crew+raises+concerns+Vancouver/8093462/story.html#ooid=huMzM3YTp5X9MjDEogQcyEYI834YBHGS

Canadians define themselves in opposition to the United States.  As Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once explained to an American reporter, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant . . .  one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”  When Canadians say something “isn’t very Canadian” we usually mean it is very American.

Canadians have just recently gained a passion for deporting undocumented aliens.  True, the number of people deported from Canada increased by 50% between 1999 and 2009, but we’re talking about an increase from 8,361 deportations per year to 12,732.

Contrast that with the 400,000 folks the Obama administration deported last year.

Of course Canada is one-tenth the size of the US and doesn’t share a border with a less wealthy nation, so comparisons are precarious.  Still, I find the reaction of the populace gratifying.  People were generally outraged by the idea of staging an immigration sweep for the cameras, something that would hardly raise an eyebrow in the USA.  And the immigration people were quick to insist that they were really looking for a genuine baddie and just stumbled over the other people by accident.

Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, appears to be fascinated by all things American, including our war on drugs and our prison industrial complex.  Is he now taking an interest in mass deportation?  Will private detention centers soon be springing up along the border between British Columbia and Washington State?  Perhaps some of our Canadian readers can shed some light on these questions. (more…)

Back to Dred Scott and Jim Crow?

Rachel Maddow was the first American journalist to draw attention to a story the mainstream media has studiously ignored: a Republican plan to score presidential elections using gerrymandered state district maps.  It is thanks to these electoral maps that Republicans were able to hold on to House in the last election while losing the popular vote.  If six Republican states (including Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio) had calculated their electoral college tallies using the same maps employed in state elections, Mitt Romney would now be president even though he lost the popular vote.

In Virginia, for instance, Barack Obama would have won only for of the state’s thirteen electoral votes under this plan even though he won the popular vote.   The trick is to make rural and suburban votes worth more than urban (that is minority) votes.  When you do the math, as several bloggers have done, this means that your average urban vote is worth precisely three-fifths as much as your average white vote. (more…)

Rachel Held Evans: The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart

wallpaper, love, heart, artistic, computer, graphic

This gripping piece from Rachel Held Evans addresses an issue that concerns me deeply.  I hope it concerns you too.  She begins with a frightening quotation from reformed theologian John Piper that effectively eviscerates the message of Jesus.  John Piper’s God isn’t the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Piper’s God is the Anti-God; the antipodes of the Abba Father Jesus introduced to the world.

But this isn’t just about one hard-hearted pop-theologian; Rachel Held Evans is addressing the spirituality of what we at Friends of Justice call “the punitive consensus”.  Churches are too theologically confused to respond to ethical challenges like incarceration and immigration.  The vacuum created by our silence is filled by fear-mongering politicians and a news media obsessed with sensationalism.

What drives our theological confusion?

Jesus began his public ministry with a sermon in his home town of Nazareth that almost got him killed.  The message came straight out of Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Then Jesus reminded his listeners that the God of the Bible often heals the foreigner, the outcast and the Gentile when no such miracles of healing are performed for the citizen of Israel, the insider, and the chosen.  That’s the part that stirred homicidal rage in the hearts of a nice, religious crowd.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the public ministry of Jesus ends with the story about the sheep and goats being separated on the day of judgment on the basis of how they treated the “least of these, my brothers and sisters.”

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,  was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

Jesus isn’t just saying that we should be kind to the stranger and the outcast; virtually every major religion encourages us to show mercy to the stranger and the outsider and this is excellent spiritual advice.  But Jesus takes it one step further by insisting that he is incarnate within the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the incarcerated felon.  He has taken on the flesh, bone and hearts of such people.

Here’s how the theological equation works: God is incarnate in Jesus, Jesus is incarnate in the stranger, therefore, God is incarnate within the stranger.

The word translated “stranger” in Matthew 25, is zenos, a Greek word that can be translated foreigner, alien, outcast or stranger.  It’s the root of the English word xenophobia, literally the fear of foreigners or strangers.

Here’s our problem: Jesus comes to us in the face of the zenos, and we are xenophobic.   Our xenophobia makes us afraid of Jesus in his distressing disguise (to borrow a telling phrase from Mother Theresa).

The portrait of the God’s character we receive from Jesus can be difficult to square with the wrathful God we occasionally encounter elsewhere in Scripture.  Christians interpret the Word of God we find in Scripture through the Word of God that became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14)

Jesus becomes the lens through which all of Scripture is interpreted.

Or, to employ a musical image, we must learn to transpose the Bible into the key of Jesus.

If we don’t, we end up with the monstrous theology of the unfortunate John Piper.  If we do, we are embraced by a loving God who is infinitely more gracious and compassionate than we can possibly imagine.  The judgment of God is reserved for those like the Elder Brother in the Parable of the Lost Son who recoil in horror from the apparent “injustice” of God’s prodigal mercy.

How can we separate the world into good people and bad people if Jesus insists on pitching his tent with the baddies?

We can’t.  That’s the point.

Most Christians in America haven’t learned to view the punitive criminal justice and immigration systems through the lens of Jesus.  We can’t see Jesus in the incarcerated felon or the undocumented woman who wades the river for the sake of her family.  But the moment we feel the prisoner and the migrant with the heart of Jesus, we understand this cryptic saying fro Jesus: “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Please read Rachel Held Evans’ post in its entirety.   This is critically important stuff.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart

Rachel Held Evans

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.” 

– John Piper

“Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.” 

– Thomas Paine

It’s strange to think that doubt has been a part of my life for more than ten years now.

I remember when it first showed up—a dark grotesque with a terrifying smile that took up so much space, catching every payer in its gravitational pull. That I could grow accustomed to its presence seemed impossible at the time, and yet I have. It  hasn’t changed in size, but somehow it occupies less space. I smile back at it now.

A lot of people, when they catch pieces of my story, assume my doubts are of the intellectual variety. They assume I’m just a smart girl stuck in the Bible Belt asking pesky questions about science, history and politics that my conservative evangelical culture, with a bent toward anti-intellectualism, simply cannot answer.

This is true to an extent. I’ve wrestled with a lot of questions related to science and faith, especially given my location a mere two miles from the famous Rhea County Courthouse where John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a public school.  While I no longer believe the earth is just 6,000 years old, I still live in the tension of unanswered questions about the universe, and death, and brains, and Neanderthals, and whatever Neil deGrasse Tyson’s got to say on public television about the earth getting burned up by the sun or our species going extinct after an asteroid hits.  I have questions too about history and Christianity’s emergence from it, questions about the Bible, questions about miracles.

But the questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart.

If you’ve read Evolving in Monkey Town, you know that the public execution of a woman named Zarmina in Afghanistan marked a turning point in my faith journey. The injustice of the situation was troublesome enough, but when my friends insisted that Zarmina went to hell because she was a Muslim, I began wrestling with some serious questions about heaven, hell, predestination, free will, God’s goodness, and religious pluralism.

Evangelical apologists were quick to respond. And while their answers made enough sense in my head; they never sat right with my soul.

Why would God fashion a person in her mother’ s womb, number the hairs on her head, and then leave her without any hope of salvation? Can salvation be boiled down to luck of the draw? How is that just? Shouldn’t  God be more loving and compassionate than I?

Oh, the Calvinists could make perfect sense of it all with a wave of a hand and a swift, confident explanation about how Zarmina had been born in sin and likely predestined to spend eternity in hell to the glory of an angry God (they called her a “vessel of destruction”); about how I should just be thankful to be spared the same fate since it’s what I deserve anyway; about how the Asian tsunami was just another one of God’s temper tantrums sent to remind us all of His rage at our sin; about how I need not worry because “there is not one maverick molecule in the universe” so every hurricane, every earthquake, every war, every execution, every transaction in the slave trade, every rape of a child is part of God’s sovereign plan, even God’s idea; about how my objections to this paradigm represented unrepentant pride and a capitulation to humanism that placed too much inherent value on my fellow human beings; about how my intuitive sense of love and morality and right and wrong is so corrupted by my sin nature I cannot trust it.

They said all of this without so much of a glimmer of a tear, and it scared me to death.  It nearly scared me out of the Church.

For what makes the Church any different from a cult if it demands we sacrifice our conscience in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to authority?  What sort of God would call himself love and then ask that I betray everything I know in my bones to be love in order to worship him? Did following Jesus mean becoming some shadow of myself, drained of empathy and compassion and revulsion to injustice?

Perhaps in reaction to the “scandal of the evangelical mind,” evangelicalism of late has developed a general distrust of emotion when it comes to theology. So long as an idea seems logical, so long as it fits consistently with the favored theological paradigm, it seems to matter not whether it is morally reprehensible at an intuitive level. I suspect this is why this new breed of rigid Calvinism that follows the “five points” to their most logical conclusion, without regard to the moral implications of them, has flourished in the past twenty years.  (I heard a theology professor explain the other day that he had no problem whatsoever with God orchestrating evil acts to accomplish God’s will, for that is what is required for God to be fully sovereign! When asked if this does not make God something of a monster, he responded that it didn’t matter; God is God—end of story.) And I suspect this explains why, in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, so many evangelical leaders responded like Job’s friends, eager to offer theological explanations for what happened instead of simply sitting down in the ashes and weeping with their brothers and sisters.

Richard Beck has also observed this phenomenon and refers to it as “orthodox alexithymia”:

When theology and doctrine become separated from emotion we end up with something dysfunctional and even monstrous.

A theology or doctrinal system that has become decoupled from emotion is going to look emotionally stunted and even inhuman.  What I’m describing here might be captured by the tag “orthodox alexithymia.” By “orthodox” I mean the intellectual pursuit of right belief. And by “alexithymia” I mean someone who is, theologically speaking, emotionally and socially deaf and dumb. Even theologically sociopathic.

Alexithymia–etymologically “without words for emotions”–is a symptom characteristic of individuals who have difficulty understanding their own and others’ emotions. You can think of alexithymia as being the opposite of what is called emotional intelligence.

Orthodox alexithymia is produced when the intellectual facets of Christian theology, in the pursuit of correct and right belief, become decoupled from emotion, empathy, and fellow-feeling. Orthodox alexithymics are like patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex brain damage. Their reasoning may be sophisticated and internally consistent but it is disconnected from human emotion. And without Christ-shaped caring to guide the chain of calculation we wind up with the theological equivalent of preferring to scratch a doctrinal finger over preventing destruction of the whole world. Logically and doctrinally such preferences can be justified. They are not “contrary to reason.” But they are inhuman and monstrous. Emotion, not reason, is what has gone missing. Read the entire post.

I encountered this recently after I spoke to a group of youth about doubt. In the presentation, I mentioned that upon reading the story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho for myself, I realized it was a story about genocide, with God commanding Joshua to kill every man, woman, and child in the city for the sole purpose of acquiring land. I explained that this seemed contrary to what Jesus taught about loving our enemies.

Afterwards, a youth leader informed me that when it came to Joshua and Jericho, I had nothing to worry about…and had no business getting his students worried either.

“I don’t know why you had to bring up the Jericho thing,” he said.

“Doesn’t that story bother you?” I asked. “Don’t you find the slaughter of men, women, and children horrific?”

“Not if it’s in the Bible.”

“Genocide doesn’t bother you if it’s in the Bible?”

“Nope.”

He crossed his arms and a self-satisfied smile spread across his face. He was proud of his detachment, I realized. He seemed to think it represented some kind of spiritual strength.

“But genocide always bothers me,” I finally said, “especially when it’s in the Bible. And I get the idea that maybe it’s supposed to. I get the idea that maybe God created me to be bothered by evil like that, even when it’s said to have been orchestrated by God.”

I’m not sure he and I will ever understand one another, but I’ve decided to quit apologizing for my questions.  It’s not enough for me to maintain my intellectual integrity as a Christian; I also want to maintain my emotional integrity as a Christian. And I don’t need answers to all of my questions to do that. I need only the courage to be honest about my questions and doubts, and the patience to keep exploring and trusting in spite of them.

The bravest decision I’ll ever make is the decision to follow Jesus with both my head and heart engaged—no checking out, no pretending.

It’s a decision I make every day, and it’s a decision that’s made my faith journey a heck of a lot more hazardous and a heck of a lot more fun.  It means that grinning monster, doubt, is likely to stick around for a while, for I know now that closing my eyes won’t make him go away. It means each day is a risk, a gamble, an adventure in vulnerability and trust, as I figure out what it means to follow Jesus as me, Rachel Grace—the girl who cried for Zarmina, the girl who inherited her mama’s bleeding heart and her daddy’s stubborn grace, the girl who digs in her heels, the girl who makes mistakes, the girl who is intent on breaking up patriarchy, the girl who thought to raise her hand in Sunday school at age five and ask why God would drown innocent animals in Noah’s flood, the girl who could be wrong.

It means I’ve got a long race ahead of me, but I’m going to run it with abandon. I’m going to run it as me. Because I think that’s what God wants—all of me, surrendered and transformed, head and heart engaged.

I’m growing more confident in my stride, and I am running faster now, breathless, kicking up dust, tripping over roots and skinning my knees, cursing now and then, but always getting up and gaining ground on that bend in the path where I think I can see Jesus up ahead.

Immigration debate forces Republicans to choose

By Alan Bean

The gun debate has revealed some troubling tensions within the American conservative movement.  It is a misnomer, of course, to speak of the American conservative movement, we are really dealing with dozens of overlapping movements locked in a troubled marriage of convenience.  The same sort of uneasy alliance exists on the left.  Major shifts in political fortune often reveal deep fissures within the constellation of groups and individuals Hillary Clinton once called the “great right-wing conspiracy”.

Conservatives have a deep distrust of centralized government, but they are often willing to support the unmitigated flowering of government authority if it promises to get drugs off the streets, reduce crime or enhance America’s reputation in the world or secure the nation’s borders.  When three-quarters of a steadily-growing Latino electorate pulls the lever for the opposition, the need for change is obvious.  Suddenly the conservative desire to maintain white hegemony (“taking back our country”) is in tension with the conservative fear of “jackbooted thugs”.

In an opinion piece for The Hill, Mike Lillis directs us to recent remarks from South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, by all accounts the staunchest of staunch conservatives:

While Gowdy has not made immigration a focus of his two years on Capitol Hill — most often toeing the party line without fanfare — he recently rejected the notion that the government should round up and deport the millions of illegal immigrants living in the country.

“You want them knocking on your front door?” Gowdy told Gannett this month. “You want them going to elementary schools and rounding up the kids?” (more…)

Texas business needs Latino labor; the Texas GOP needs Latino votes

By Alan Bean

Thanks to Scott Henson for alerting me to this piece in the San Antonio Express-News.  In the 2012 election, as everyone knows, Latinos turned out in record numbers, voting overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.  Signs abound that Republicans, even in safely red states like Texas, are taking notice.

Even if Latinos continue to support Democrats, the blue team won’t be competitive in the Lone Star State for at least another decade.  But Republicans can’t win the presidency without significant Latino support, and that sobering fact has deflated the anti-immigrant movement, at least temporarily.

Long-term, Texas Republicans can maintain control of their state’s legislative machine only by cultivating Latino participation and influence.  That won’t happen if Texas Republicans are lining up to sponsor anti-immigrant legislation.

Jason Buch’s article (see below) suggests the Texas GOP may be awakening to the new reality.

If so, this is great news.  Mass deportation is having the same impact in poor Latino communities that mass incarceration has wrought in poor African American neighborhoods, and for similar reasons.

During the most recent session of the Texas legislature, immigrant rights activists combined with pro-business groups to defeat most Arizona-style bills. Texas businesses, large and small, need undocumented workers in the same way the GOP needs Latino votes.  Texas Republicans can soldier on as the Party of White for at least another decade without Latino support, but bereft of undocumented labor the state’s economic infrastructure would collapse.

Immigrants, legal and otherwise, contribute far more in labor and taxes than they absorb in various forms of social assistance. Brave men and women (it takes courage to cross the border these days) come to America in search of work and show their gratitude by working far harder than most native born citizens.  As Texas moves reluctantly into new demographic territory, may these good people receive the dignity and respect they deserve. (more…)