Category: immigration reform

Rachel Held Evans: The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart

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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.

Eight senators present bipartisan immigration proposal. Is this good news?

By Alan Bean

How much progress has been made thus far on the immigration front?  Clearly, the Republicans, at least in the Senate, have read the writing on the wall from the 2012 election.  Their “no amnesty; no way” position has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.  Thus we see Marco Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, signing off on “a pathway to citizenship” for America’s 12 million undocumented residents.  Will he stick to his new guns?  We’ll see,

The senatorial gang of eight, by the way, consists of Charles E. Schumer (D-New York), John McCain (R-Arizona), Richard J. Durbin (D-Illinois), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona).

The Senate proposal rests on four pillars:

  1. Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
  2. Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
  3. Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and
  4. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers. (more…)

Libal: Operation streamline must end

By Bob Libal

Immigration Reform Must End, Not Expand, Operation Streamline

The debate over the proposed “comprehensive immigration reform” bill is intensifying, with a “gang of six” senators attempting to hash out a bill that would regularize the status of some undocumented immigrants but may also include increased funding for harsh border enforcement policies.

This debate overlooks the astounding fact that federal spending on immigration enforcement now surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined. One of the most costly of these programs is Operation Streamline, a little-known enforcement program that is part of broader trend funneling immigrants into the criminal justice system. These policies channel billions of dollars to private prison corporations and are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in prison. The “gang of six” are reportedly considering expanding funding of Operation Streamline. (more…)

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…)

205K deported parents separated from their children in just two years

By Alan Bean

Americans don’t agree on issues like abortion and gun rights, but most sentient citizens understand that kids need to be with their parents and parents need to be with their children.  We grieve for the families in Newtown CT who lost a child to a mad rampage because the worst nightmare of any parent is the horror of losing a child.

Does our compassion extend to undocumented parents separated from their children through deportation?  Seth Wessler has faithfully covered this issue for Colorlines and his most recent article raises issues most of us never think about because we don’t have to.  Parents frequently cross the border illegally in an attempt to reunite with a child.  Deportation destroys families.  Some deportees make several failed attempts to cross the border regardless of the consequences.  That’s what parents do.

Nearly 205K Deportations of Parents of U.S. Citizens in Just Over Two Years

by Seth Freed Wessler

The federal government conducted more than 200,000 deportations of parents who said their children are U.S. citizens in a timespan of just over two years, according to new data obtained by Colorlines.com. The figures represent the longest view to date of the scale of parental deportation. (more…)

ICE officials say they were just doing their jobs

By Alan Bean

Two Latino parents were arrested in Detroit on Tuesday morning as they dropped their children off at school.  Immigrant rights groups are outraged.  Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) say they were simply following procedures.

Although Latino voters gave Barack Obama his margin of victory in 2012, more undocumented residents have been deported under his watch than under any previous administration.  Obama won because Latino voters perceived, correctly, that the situation would have deteriorated even further had Mitt Romney become president.

Were the ICE officials who arrested two men in front of their children following standard procedures?  Probably.  The Obama administration is ostensibly focusing on deporting criminals while going easy on undocumented residents with close family ties in America.  Unfortunately, as the article below makes clear, entering the country without documentation is now a federal crime even, as is often the case, the primary reason for entering the United States was to be re-united with young children.

If you were deported as an “illegal alien” while your citizen child remained in the United States, what would you do?

Nothing?  Perhaps, but if you didn’t do everything in your power to get back with your child you would lose my respect (and Jesus wouldn’t be impressed either). (more…)

Senator Durbin highlights the story of Friends of Justice intern, Pierre Berastain

By Alan Bean

Senator Dick Durbin wanted to dramatize the need for getting serious about the DREAM act,  so he used the story of Friends of Justice intern, Pierre Berastain to add some sizzle to his argument.  Pierre, a student at Harvard Divinity School, is a wonderful example of what immigrants, documented and otherwise, can give our nation.  Please check this out!

Don’t buy the hype; immigration reform will be a hard sell in Washington

By Alan Bean

A week ago, I asked “Can the Republicans Romance Latinos?”  My conclusion was negative.  Immigration reform will require strong bipartisan support and the initial leadership must come from the Republican side of the aisle.  Barack Obama’s embrace of mass deportation (we deported more people in 2011 than were deported between 1907 and 1980) shows how desperate Democrats have been to flex their tough-on-immigrants muscle.  Obama is unlikely to stick his head out for the Latino community so long as the Republicans are competing to see who can offend Hispanic voters the most.  Only if the Republican party moves to the left of the Democrats on this single issue will the dynamics of the immigration debate shift significantly.

And that is unlikely to happen.  I argued that a political party that has prospered for two generations by tapping into white racial resentment is unlikely to discard it’s trump card.  How can you play to angry white men and advocate meaningful immigration reform at the same time?  You can’t.

Of course there is more than one kind of racial resentment.  If the Democrats have been undermined by white racial resentment, the Republicans just stumbled over Latino racial resentment.  Latinos have good reason to resent both parties, but the Republicans tried to shore up white votes by intentionally demeaning Hispanic voters.  It came down to choosing which brand of racial resentment would hurt you the most.  Republicans decided, correctly, that they had more to lose by alienating their Tea Party base than they would gain from courting Latino votes.  Obama, realizing he couldn’t out-tough the Republicans, wisely decided to toss the Latino electorate a bone.

Republicans should understand that conservative white voters won’t be voting Democrat anytime soon.  Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.  Conservative whites will vote Republican even if the party moves to the left on immigration; but a large chunk of the party faithful, perhaps a majority, will voice their displeasure.  An internecine civil war will be avoided at all cost.

Barack Obama would likely do his part if the Republicans took the lead on immigration, but he is unlikely to go to the wall on this issue  if he isn’t sure his party has his back.

So it comes as no surprise that Chuck Schumer of the Blue Team and Lindsay Graham of the Red Team are now associating “reform” with an even more militarized border and no real path to citizenship for undocumented residents.  That kind of talk will get us nowhere.

Seth Wessler, the author of the article pasted below, is the guy I call when I have a question about immigration.  He has a thorough grasp of the key issues and the courage to speak painful truth.

Until we get it through our heads that undocumented immigrants are normal men and women with a compelling interest in bettering their lives, we won’t create just policy.  Even those who seem willing to grant “amnesty” insist on “sealing the borders” first.  That is the approach Ronald Reagan took: “The people that are already here can become citizens, but that’s it.”

In the real world, however, people keep crossing the border no matter how many walls we build or how dangerous the passage.  Moreover, in their shoes, we would do the same–if we could summon the courage, that is. (more…)

Normal Republicans have always favored immigration reform

Although you would never know it from watching television during the past five years, Republican report for comprehensive immigration was strong before the Tea Party made the issue toxic.  Or so says Molly Ball.

Why Republicans Are Suddenly Pro-Immigration Reform

Molly Ball

The Atlantic

November 14, 2012

The GOP establishment has long wanted to pass comprehensive immigration reform but been cowed by its activist base. Tuesday’s election gave them an opening.

Republicans lost the election in part because Mitt Romney drew record-low support from Hispanic voters, who made up a record-high proportion of the electorate. Within days, top Republicans have figured out what to do about this: Support immigration reform!

The chorus of prominent voices has been stunning: From Sen. Marco Rubio to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, from television and radio host Sean Hannity to columnist Charles Krauthammer. To some on the left, this looks like the most craven sort of opportunism — the GOP scrambling for a quick PR fix to its deep-seated demographic problems. (more…)