1

Apartheid in Palestine and a Christ who stands on the other side of the wall

Today, the Holy Land burns. The latest round of evictions of Palestinians from their homes in favor of the illegal Israeli settlement of the Occupied Territories predictably has led to violence which has, equally predictably, spiraled into death and destruction with no end to the violence, or the escalation, in sight.

These events have some thinking back to 2014 and the violence that wracked Gaza then. My thoughts turn even further back in time.

As a white college Republican enjoying the cramped comfort of a University of Georgia dorm room in the mid-1980s, I was blissfully unconcerned about apartheid. When I thought about it at all, my thoughts quickly dissolved into platitudes about the need to stand with the South African government against communist encroachments, or they were displaced by dispassionate musings about the role of human rights concerns in formulating American foreign policy. Then I heard the words. Really heard them: “The man is dead. The man is dead.”

I had discovered Peter Gabriel and his haunting anti-apartheid anthem, “Biko,” and had been inspired to learn more about Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid activist who was butchered by the South African government as part of “business as usual in Police Room six-one-nine.” As I listened and read, a sense of visceral horror awakened in me at the reality of a government and society in which the murder of a Black man for daring to demand to be treated like a human being could be viewed as casual. As ordinary. As mundanely routine. 

Standing with the ‘other’

I since have learned to listen to other voices appealing not just to my humanity, but to my faith, demanding from me a commitment never again to stand silent in the face of such dehumanizing brutality. Listening still, I am now beginning to more fully appreciate the reality of a Christ whose entire life and ministry were marked by solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed.

A Palestinian woman mourns over her son Rasheed Abu Arra, who was killed in clashes with Israeli forces, during his funeral in the Village of Aqqaba near the West Bank town of Tubas, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo / Majdi Mohammed)

I have become convinced there is no other place for a Christian to stand than with the “other” unless we want our prayers of “thy kingdom come” to be ignored as hypocritical blather by the God who created all human life as sacred — who formed it with God’s own hands and brought it to life with God’s own breath.

In particular, few things speak more clearly to my current understanding of what it means to be a Christian — a person who responds to God’s grace by actively and faithfully engaging in Christ’s kingdom work in the world — than does the Kairos Document. Created by a collaboration of South African clergymen and published in September 1985, the Kairos Document courageously condemned apartheid as heresy and called upon Christians worldwide to work for its end.

I have heard these voices and have taken them to heart. They will not let me stand silent in the face of Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestine. It is unjust. It is indefensible. It is apartheid.

This is apartheid

While the Israeli government lashes out at any suggestion that its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza can rightly be characterized as apartheid, facts are stubborn things.

“While the Israeli government lashes out at any suggestion that its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza can rightly be characterized as apartheid, facts are stubborn things.”

As defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid in the early 1970s, apartheid consists of certain “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” According to the ICSPCA, such “inhuman acts” include steps taken to “divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos”; the maintenance of a justice system marked by “arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment”; and the “deliberate imposition of living conditions” calculated to harm or destroy the oppressed people group.

As to the first of these “inhuman acts,” it is impossible to credibly dispute that the bantustans of South African apartheid have given way to the separation wall and military checkpoints of the Israeli system of hafrada in the Occupied Territories when speaking of a purposeful division of people along racial or ethnic lines. It is no accident that the terms “apartheid” and “hafrada” both mean separation. The languages of origin may be different. Little else is.

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Rasheed Abu Arra who was killed in the clashes with Israeli forces during his funeral, in the Village of Aqqaba near the West Bank town of Tubas, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo / Majdi Mohammed)

As to the second of these “inhuman acts,” Amnesty International has persisted in spotlighting the illegal detentions, and uses of torture and even lethal force, that mark purported efforts to maintain “law and order” by Israeli Defense Force occupation troops. By way of a single anecdote, as of December 2019, 186 Palestinian children were being held for indeterminate lengths of time as security detainees in Israeli prisons, denied access to a lawyer or even a parent during interrogation, and facing trial in special military courts.

Inhuman living conditions

It is the last type of these “inhuman acts,” though, that are sometimes less immediately discernible. They are no less unjust, nor are their consequences any less damaging. Simply put, Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories offers a textbook example of the “deliberate imposition of living conditions” intended to harm or destroy Palestinians as a people group.

Unfortunately in this regard, the Israeli occupation has been marked by incidents that only can be fairly described as acts of environmental terrorism. For example, in the 1980s, a Geshurei Industries fertilizer and pesticide plant in Israel was shut down because of its chronic and severe violations of pollution laws. It was allowed to relocate to Israeli-occupied land near Tulkarm in the West Bank and to resume operation without restriction, subject only to an injunction that it had to pause operations whenever the wind was blowing toward Israel. As of 2010, many of the trees around Tulkarm had become decayed and rotted stumps, the land surrounding the plant had become completely incapable of use for agriculture, and the local Palestinian population was suffering from a dramatic surge in various illnesses including respiratory problems and eye infections.

Sign photographed by the author on a trip to see the traditional baptismal place of Jesus in the Jordan River.

Perhaps most shocking of all is the damage caused Palestinians by Israeli control of the water supply in the Occupied Territories. In a 2009 study, the World Bank determined that, while Israeli settlers then constituted only 15% of the population of the West Bank, they were given 80% of the available fresh water supply. In short, 450,000 Israeli settlers were given access to more water than were 2.3 million Palestinians.

A call to stand with Palestinian Christians

In light of these and many other similar facts, the call of my faith to stand with the Palestinians is not faint. If I need a reminder of my calling, though, I need look no further than the Kairos Palestine Document — a 2009 manifesto created by Palestinian Christian leaders, echoing the sentiments of their South African brothers a quarter of a century earlier, standing bravely against the apartheid jointly faced by both themselves and their Muslim neighbors, and calling on their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world to lend their voices to their cries for justice.

Sadly, that plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears in terms of the majority of American evangelicals who, as a group, seem uniquely invested in viewing the Israeli occupation of Palestine as not only legal, but biblically mandated.

For example, a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2004 revealed that religious belief and affiliation were largely determinative of most Americans’ political views about Israel and Palestine. When asked whether the United States should favor Israel over the Palestinians as a matter of foreign policy, those poll participants who self-identified as secular rather than religious largely rejected that notion, with only 23% approving and 51% disapproving of that idea. Among American Catholics and mainline protestants, those numbers stayed relatively unchanged, with only 31% of Catholics and 33% of mainline Protestants approving the premise that United States policy should deliberately favor Israel over the Palestinian people. Remarkably, however, 64% of poll participants who identified themselves as “traditional evangelical” approved of the United States deliberately and officially siding with Israel at the expense of Palestinians, with only 18% disapproving of that notion.

American evangelical disinterest in the plight of Palestinians stands wholly at odds with one of the truths voiced in the Kairos Palestine Document — the fact that the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the economic and other harm worked thereby, has had a drastic and perhaps irreversible impact on Palestinian Christian communities.

“The Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the economic and other harm worked thereby, has had a drastic and perhaps irreversible impact on Palestinian Christian communities.”

A decade ago, almost 85% of the population of Bethlehem was Christian. Today, a Christian community that had survived and often thrived under centuries of Ottoman or Islamic rule has been decimated, with only 22% of the population in the town of Jesus’ birth remaining Christian. The fact that some Palestinian Christians now face backlash because of the very public support given the Israeli occupation by American evangelicals can only be expected to worsen the problem.

American evangelicals and the end times

This seeming disconnect becomes more understandable, if utterly contemptible, when it is realized that American evangelical support for the Israeli occupation has nothing to do with a desire to improve the current situation for the Jewish, Muslim and Christian people who call the Holy Land home. It has everything to do with speculative dispensationalist theology and a self-interested hope of speeding up the “end times.”

In this regard, a 2018 Lifeway Research survey of self-identified American evangelicals found that 80% believed the formation of the current Israeli nation-state and the “repopulation” of both Israel and Palestine by Jewish people “returning” from around the world was in direct fulfillment of prophesy and was bringing closer the return of Christ. For these American evangelicals, the goal is a shorter wait for the rapture, even if that means that the Jewish settlers whom they now purport to support will be forced to convert or burn forever in hell.

“The here-and-now ethical demands of the kingdom of God have been lost in Left Behind-fueled dreams of a distant heaven.”

While practicing a faith that calls for sacrifice of self for others, their Christian Zionist views speak to a different set of priorities. The here-and-now ethical demands of the kingdom of God have been lost in Left Behind-fueled dreams of a distant heaven.

To paraphrase Munther Isaac’s The Other Side of the Wall: A Palestinian Christian Narrative of Lament and Hope, a paradigmatic expression of a godless worldview is seen when powerful and privileged people build a wall between themselves and their powerless and destitute neighbors, and then justify their own selfish conduct by dismissing or even demonizing the unfortunate poor on the other side of the wall.

Hope from the other side of the wall

For people of power and privilege, the people on the other side of the wall are at best invisible and undeserving of consideration. At worst, they pose an existential threat. Such a view simply cannot be ascribed to Christ, or to those who would faithfully follow him.

With Jesus, we see an impulse to rip apart all the barriers erected by our selfishness and callousness, to preach good news to the poor, to announce release to the captive, and to stand hand-in-hand with those on the other side of the wall.

Despite the gloom that persists, I see rays of hope. Despite its critics and its flaws, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is beginning to bring the type of economic pressure to bear on Israel that hastened the demise of apartheid in South Africa. And recent polling suggests an incremental, but discernible, lessening of unquestioning support for the Israeli occupation among younger American evangelicals.

“Surely the continued bloodshed is so repugnant to the shared Jewish, Muslim and Christian idea of the sanctity of human life that change must come.”

I do not know what the future holds. In particular, I do not know whether a “two-state solution” (in which a Jewish Israel shares a border with a separate and sovereign Palestinian state) is still possible, or whether Israel’s aggressive illegal annexation of the West Bank in recent years eventually will result in a “one-state solution” in which Israel and Palestine are combined into a single, secular, democratic, nation with both Jewish and Palestinian residents sharing equal rights and equal votes. I sense, however, that the current state of affairs cannot long continue.

Surely the continued bloodshed is so repugnant to the shared Jewish, Muslim and Christian idea of the sanctity of human life that change must come. Surely people of faith will awaken to the horrors of apartheid and of war, and finally hear their holy call to be peacemakers. To be kingdom builders, not heaven seekers.

What I do know is that the hope I have finds its voice in the heartfelt words that conclude the Kairos Palestine document: “In the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope. We believe in God, good and just. We believe God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and death that still persist in our land.”

To those beautiful words I would just add my own prayer, with one last nod to Peter Gabriel (who doesn’t seem to have strayed as far from his Christian roots and imagery as some suspect): “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire. Once the flames begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher.”

I pray that the flames are those of the Holy Spirit, working through the people of God to bring justice and peace where both are desperately needed, not the fires of war, fueled by greed, racism and self-interest.

Chris Conley

Chris Conley is an attorney and graduate of the University of Georgia and of the Emory University School of Law. He and his wife, Mary, live in Athens, Ga., where both are members and deacons at First Baptist Church. They have one son, Aaron, who also is an attorney, and a miniature schnauzer, Oso, whose career path remains uncertain.

 

Related articles:

Trump’s Middle East peace plan makes sense until you read it, Christian peace activist says

Baptist convention denounces ‘oppression and violence’ toward Palestinians

Criticized for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, White House cuts funding for Palestinian refugees

 

 




Now there appear to be three paths for once-united Methodists

For more than half a century, leaders of The United Methodist Church have seen the denomination as a “big tent,” a place where different theological and ecclesiastical identities could co-exist and perhaps even co-mingle as a single entity. Now that the “big tent” seems to be unraveling with the apparent development of a new, traditionalist denomination, the Global Methodist Church, United Methodists are pondering how to be a worldwide church of some 12 million members in the technologically advanced 21st century.

Members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, the traditionalist caucus that is forming the Global Methodist Church, see Methodism as a church that combines the evangelical zeal of the Baptist tradition with the Calvinist love of rules and discipline.

“Members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association … see Methodism as a church the combines the evangelical zeal of the Baptist tradition with the Calvinist love of rules and discipline.”

Founded in 2016, the WCA held its fifth “Global Gathering” in early May in Montgomery, Ala., one of the homesteads of the former Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Eager participants seemed enthusiastic about founding their new church, which according to a legislative session will be based upon principles of “evangelism, scriptural authority, historic Methodist practices and a traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman,” according to a report by Sam Hodges of UM News.

Throwback to segregation?

At least one commentator, Seattle pastor Jeremy Smith, characterizes the fledgling GMC not as a new denomination, but as a throwback to a racially segregated era of the former Methodist Church, except that now the oppressed class is composed of LGBTQ persons instead of African Americans.

Jeremy Smith

In a recent post, “The Future of the Global Methodist Church is in the Past,” Smith likened the Global Methodist Church to the Methodist Church as it existed from 1939 through 1968. Those roughly three decades were marked by the existence of the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction, a church unit to which all African American congregations and pastors were assigned. The Central Jurisdiction was formed to satisfy the Jim Crow demands of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which wouldn’t join a tripartite merger with the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church unless racial segregation was assured.

In a contemporary expression of “hate the sin, love the sinner,” Wesleyan Covenant Association members insist they love LGBTQ persons and would welcome them into their new fellowship — provided they don’t practice their sexuality.

WCA members reject the notion that their tenet of traditional sexuality harms either individuals or the institutional church. Instead, they blame the growing acceptance of LGBTQ persons in the United Methodist Church on bishops and pastors who have promoted what WCA members view as a sinful lifestyle. One Global Gathering speaker, pastor Eric Huffman, summarized the viewpoint: “Infinitely more harm is caused by spineless and sentimental church leaders who misrepresent the truth because they like being liked by people more than they like people loving Jesus,” he was quoted in Hodges’ story as saying.

“WCA members reject the notion that their tenet of traditional sexuality harms either individuals or the institutional church.”

On the other end, Liberation

At the other end of the spectrum is a loosely organized group calling itself the Liberation Methodist Connexion or LMX. Unlike the Global Methodist Church with its strict faith statements and institutional structure, the LMX could hardly be characterized as a church by any organizational standards. At best, the LMX might be identified as a set of aspirations on a journey toward a beloved community.

Its website states: “The Liberation Methodist Connexion (LMX) is built on what currently is, and on an expectation of what is yet to come. We are journeying toward a new way of being followers of Christ that refute the imbalance of powers, principalities and privileges that has plagued Methodism: colonialism, white supremacy, economic injustices, patriarchy, sexism, clericalism, ableism, ageism, transphobia, and heteronormativity. We trust God’s presence and our collaborative labors will guide us toward a new, more liberative way of answering our calling and being in connexion together.”

UMC left in the middle

Between these two extremes, the United Methodist Church struggles to find some handles on the moment of impending schism.

David Field

The latest attempt comes in the form of an academic approach by David Field, who heads a European-based distance-learning program called Methodist e-Academy. Field has published an 18-page paper describing six different understandings of United Methodism today:

  • As a U.S. denomination.
  • As a European free church.
  • As a connection of holiness societies.
  • As a confessional church.
  • As a generously orthodox church.
  • As a movement of liberation.

Field has been active with the unity movement, Uniting Methodists, who support maintaining the current denomination by allowing more flexibility in decision-making. Uniting Methodists produced the “One Church” plan that was defeated at the special 2019 General Conference at which traditionalists tightened the prohibitions against same-sex marriage and ordaining LGBTQ clergy by a margin of 438-384 votes.

In his introduction, Field approaches the wedge issue splitting the church from a different perspective. He cites two principles: the terminology used to describe LGBTQ people, which carries moral and ethical judgment, and the ethical and theological significance of the debate itself.

“We are in conflict not merely because we disagree on inclusion and affirmation but because different groups within the church weigh the significance of the diversity of views differently,” he wrote. “This is an ecclesiological issue in two ways. First, how much diversity can be embraced and/or tolerated within a church? Second, how do we determine what are church-dividing ethical issues and what are not?”

Field cited an icon of the traditionalist movement: the late Albert C. Outler, longtime professor at UMC-related Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Outler was active during the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s when the current UMC was formed.

Field quoted Outler from a 1962 Oxford Institute of Methodist Studies paper: “Do Methodists have a doctrine of the Church? Outler’s conclusion was that while Methodists had a functional ecclesiology, they had not developed a detailed theological understanding of the church.”

‘Wonder, Love and Praise’

Contemporary scholars and theologians attempted to define The United Methodist Church in a study intended to go to the 2020 General Conference for review and ratification. The document, “Wonder, Love and Praise: Sharing a Vision of the Church,” was produced by the church’s Committee on Faith & Order, but unfortunately is among the casualties of the General Conference delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The document was widely circulated in 2017 and 2018, reviewed and critiqued by scholars and agency staff as well as bishops.

“Wonder, Love and Praise” has a lot going for it, as this writer noted in a 2017 interpretative analysis: “As a potential mechanism for United Methodist unity as well as church identity, ‘Wonder, Love and Praise’ focuses on how to create a Christian denomination of Wesleyan heritage that can serve a world of human diversity. While its theology likely will interest scholars, clergy and ‘Methonerds,’ rank-and-file United Methodists might identify more with practicalities: a two-part process for how the church makes decisions about its policies and practices.”

“Each church unit from local congregations to regional bodies would be empowered to decide what non-essential policies and practices work best in their respective contexts.”

In particular, “Wonder, Love and Praise” proposes a concept of “subsidiarity.” The principle, based on a business model of quality assurance popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, means that each church unit from local congregations to regional bodies would be empowered to decide what non-essential policies and practices work best in their respective contexts. The key phrase, of course, is what policies and practices are to be considered “essential.”

“Wonder, Love and Praise” has a chance for resurrection in the coming year as United Methodists prepare to gather (they hope) for General Conference Aug. 29-Sept. 6, 2022, in Minneapolis. The denomination’s ministry coordinating agency, the Connectional Table, recently unanimously adopted a proposal to serve as an organizer for regional conversations across the worldwide denomination on the nature of the UMC.

According to the agency’s announcement, one goal of those conversations will be to hear from rank-and-file United Methodists whose views aren’t often represented in the halls of legislative power or big denominational gatherings, said Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, Connectional Table executive, in a UM News article. She told Heather Hahn of UM News that “the challenges the denomination faces require learning, not leveraging authority.

“’In other words, if we knew the answers, we would have deployed them by now,’” Bigham-Tsai was quoted as saying.

 

Related articles:

Top-down schism plans ignore local United Methodist churches’ new reality

United Methodists learning more about Christmas Covenant through videos

New denomination declares ‘liberation’ from United Methodist Church

2020’s earth-shattering events threaten United Methodist Church’s future

United Methodists seek both separation and unity because of ‘Catholic Spirit’

Coronavirus challenging denominational summer conventions yet again




Faith leaders call on Americans to ‘welcome the stranger’ as Biden administration announces new refugee admissions cap

The Biden administration has announced it will raise the refugee admissions cap to 62,500 for the current fiscal year and to 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year.

This is a welcome and much-needed step as it follows a months-long delay in finalizing an increased admissions goal, which jeopardized the safety of many refugees and already had caused irreparable damage to thousands of refugees who were approved for resettlement.

Chris Kelley

The action by the Biden administration formally terminates the dismantling of the refugee admissions program by the previous administration, which had capped admissions at resettling 15,000 refugees for fiscal year 2021 — the lowest determination on record.

Rooted in American values, refugee resettlement historically has enjoyed bipartisan success. As President Biden reminded us in his statement, announcing the raised refugee caps: “The United States Refugee Admissions Program embodies America’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable, and to stand as a beacon of liberty and refuge to the world. It’s a statement about who we are, and who we want to be.”

Recently, Church World Service convened a special call with representatives of three faith traditions to give their perspective on what it means to “welcome the stranger.”

Host Ayesha Hassan, Texas grassroots organizer for Church World Service, was joined by Imam Islam Mossaad, Rabbi Neil Blumofe, and Pastor Allison Lanza — three Texas leaders in their faith communities and advocates for welcoming refugees.

Their insights reflect a broad consensus in our country that Americans not only have the compassion but the resources to resettle some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The refugee journey

Ayesha Hassan of Church World Service began the conversation by telling the refugee story.

“A refugees journey begins when they are forced to flee their country of origin to a relatively safe neighboring country or refugee camp. Once they arrive in the refugee camp, they apply for refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UNHCR.

“It’s important to note that refugees are the most heavily vetted immigrants to enter the United States.”

“Once a referral is submitted and approved, a series of screenings and interviews take place. It’s important to note that refugees are the most heavily vetted immigrants to enter the United States and that the series of checks can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months to complete.

“If approved, the individual family then receives extensive medical screenings to ensure they do not have any communicable diseases, including COVID-19. If they pass their medical screenings, they are then officially approved, and their travel is booked.”

A Jewish perspective

The first guest speaker, Neil Blumofe, a rabbi serving Congregation Aguda Achim in Austin, Texas, wondered what the nation collectively lost when the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 was passed to restrict immigration from the East.

Neil Blumofe

“I wonder what excellence our country could have reached and what violence in World War II would have been forestalled had so many in our society not been afflicted by nativist fears, an isolationist spirit, and big suspicions of neighbors who spoke a little differently, or who had some different customs from different lands.

“Perhaps our country could have finally gotten out from under the heavy legacy of enslavement or the legislating discrimination and segregation in the period after reconstruction, known as redemption, or Jim Crow.

“I wonder what it would have been like for my family, Jewish people trapped in Europe, who were murdered in the organized genocide known as the Holocaust. I wonder what gains we all would celebrate, as we would have honored the diversity, the talents, and the entrepreneurial, innovative spirit of so many, who would be so grateful to be in America away from danger and violence and have the chance to pursue the American dream. And thinking of all of this, my heart is still broken.

“I wonder what excellence our country could have reached and what violence in World War II would have been forestalled had so many in our society not been afflicted by nativist fears.”

“In the Bible, it states there shall be one law for the citizens and for the stranger who dwells among you. It states that when a stranger resides with you and your land, you shall not wrong them. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, as the Bible says, I am the Lord your God. In the Jewish tradition, this is everything.

“We are taught, ‘Never again,’ and we are to find transformative, just and positive ways toward refugee resettlement, and neither put stumbling blocks before us to do this, like restrictive legislation that leaves people to languish or be murdered, nor wish this issue will disappear and direct our focus elsewhere.”

A Muslim perspective

Islam Mossaad, imam of the North Austin Muslim Community Center, spoke of the Muslim requirement of helping those in need and how legislation should reflect enduring American values about welcoming immigrants.

Islam Mossaad

“Compassion pervades the whole ethic of Islam in terms of how we will treat those who are in difficult and dire straits, to the point where in one tradition it states that a person who is supporting an orphan, supporting a widow, are at the same level of a person who is perpetually praying at night and perpetually fasting during the day. This idea of the social obligation — it is not an option.

“I remember growing up here in Austin, one of the communities that came were Cambodian Muslims in the ’80s, who came to Austin as refugees. Now they are very successful in different parts of the United States, in education and in business, and all it took was a little bit of rahma.

Rahma is the word we use for the womb of a mother. It’s something that is giving protection, giving safety, but then eventually the child comes out of the womb and is then a productive part of the society.

“We need to continually revive that understanding of America. … This is a land where those who are suffering and those who are persecuted can find respite and can find a place alongside their fellow citizens.

“Prayer is important. But prayer by itself is a voiceless act.”

“Prayer is important. But prayer by itself is a voiceless act. What really raises our voice up to God is when he sees us helping one another and coming to the aid of one another, especially the most desperate, the most vulnerable.

“So let compassion and mercy come into legislation and let it come into the reality of the principles and values espoused here in the United States of America.”

A Christian perspective

Finally, Allison Lanza, pastor of Ridglea Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, spoke on how the life of Jesus reflects the life of a refugee and how his followers should respond.

Allison Lanza

“The Christian narrative is clear that welcoming refugees, loving our neighbors, standing with the oppressed is not optional. Unfortunately, the public Christian narrative in our state and in our country has not made that so clear. Many who are anti-immigrant and anti-refugee have spoken about this from a Christian faith perspective. That is antithetical to what our Scriptures say and who we are.

“The story of Jesus, his family tree, as we hear in the Gospel of Matthew, is filled with people who were foreigners. That’s who he comes from. His story begins as a refugee, his life is threatened from political danger when he is first born, and his family flees for safety.

“The Christian narrative is clear that welcoming refugees, loving our neighbors, standing with the oppressed is not optional.”

“We remember that Jesus was killed by political oppression for his religious beliefs and actions. This, if nothing else, should call us to take action, to welcome those who are oppressed because of their beliefs and because of their actions. But the story ends with Easter, it ends with hope, it ends with life speaking louder than death, love speaking louder than hate.

“As faithful people, we must be the advocates who speak out for that love and welcome in this place. I’m so grateful to each of you all who are being that advocate, who are calling your political leaders, who are welcoming refugees when they arrive in your cities. Thank you for showing what that love lived out looks like.”

Chris Kelley, a Dallas-based journalist, is active in advocacy work for Refugee Services of Texas.

 

Related articles:

Faith leaders express joy as Biden finally raises ceiling for refugee admissions to 62,500

Biden administration skewered for keeping Trump-era cap on refugee resettlement

Refugee resettlement expected to rebound, but the pipeline is broken

Biden plans to restore refugee admissions, but rebuilding the system will take time

What would happen if immigration policies were based on majority opinion in the U.S.?




On social capital, churches often do one part well and one part not well

This is the fifth in a series created by a partnership between Baptist News Global and the Campbell University Center for Church and Community. Each month’s columns explore one of the seven types of capital described in the Community Capitals Framework developed by Flora, Flora and Gasteyer.

A few years ago, Brian worked as a consultant on a large social capital initiative in Charlotte, N.C.. The project was in response to the awareness that large segments of the population were historically denied access, inclusion and equity in areas that many others took for granted.

Social capital involves bonding and bridging efforts, which we will discuss more in this article. The significance for the church is that while it often does the bonding work well, it does not always do the bridging work well. You might even call it a sin of omission in many communities.

“Social capital is, in a word, community.”

Consider Charlotte, which on a national survey by Robert Putnam scored near the top for social capital indicators of philanthropic giving and churches per capita but was second to last in interracial trust. Out of 40 geographies studied, Charlotte was 39 out of 40, behind only Maricopa County, Ariz. As a community, Charlotte seemed to score high on measures related to bonding social capital, but low on those that indicate bridging social capital.

As we have discussed in previous articles, the community capitals are interrelated, and social capital flows strongest along the current among the seven. Flora, Flora and Gasteyer describe social capital as more than just an individual attribute, but importantly an interactive and community-level concept that “involves mutual trust, reciprocity, groups, collective identity, working together, and a sense of shared future.”

Our churches, workplaces, youth sports leagues, service clubs and schools all are social organizations in which we create networks and build trusting relationships with others to work toward the public good. Social capital is, in a word, community.

To suggest that social capital is a prominent community capital would be an understatement. In fact, there are two types of social capital that we referenced earlier and hope to discuss — bonding and bridging social capital.

According to Flora, Flora and Gasteyer: “Bonding social capital consists of connections among individuals and groups with similar backgrounds. These connections may be based principally on class, ethnicity, kinship, gender or similar social characteristics. Members of a group with high bonding capital know one another in multiple settings or roles.”

“Bonding is the part of the equation that pulls people together.”

Bonding is the part of the equation that pulls people together. It is the proverbial glue of the community or organization. It is one of the things that churches tend to do well as we look out for one another, attend to one another’s needs, celebrate, grieve and serve together.

For a teenager, the bonding relationships of church are enormous. It is where they create relationships with peers and adult mentors. They gain access to resources that are present in their faith communities. They are encouraged and supported to answer questions about who God is calling them to be. In the healthiest situations, teenagers find significant adult scaffolding around them to nurture their formation — spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Similar types of bonding happen for adults in congregations. Job leads might be found. Meals are shared for those who have been hospitalized or are grieving. Beyond that there are social and spiritual relationships that evolve. Adults find support from one another in ways that impact social standing, employment, marriages and families.

Often people will stay engaged with a church because of these relationships even when they dislike the pastor or some stances of the church itself. The bonding of social capital is what makes the relationships sticky.

We have missed bonding social capital greatly during the pandemic. Yet, although we have been left wanting for community during this time, Robert Putnam, in his often-cited book Bowling Alone, has documented our decreased involvement in various social organizations throughout the entire second half of the 20th century. In fact, although many of us engage regularly in networks through social media, the social networks that allow us to spend time in bodily co-presence and meaningful engagement with others have been waning for some time. For rural churches, the evidence may be in decreased membership and worship attendance over the past decades.

It might be that the need to reconnect with others post-pandemic will be enough to re-invigorate involvement in church and other community organizations. But, given Putnam’s findings from more than two decades ago about our decreased engagement in community life, it also may not. Instead, perhaps we need to re-examine how we engage in and through these social organizations.

This brings us to the second piece of social capital, bridging social capital. As Flora, Flora and Gasteyer write, “Bridging social capital connects diverse groups within the community to each other and to groups outside the community.”

“It is through bridging social capital that we come to understand and trust one another across differences and work to strengthen relationships.”

Putnam describes bridging social capital as more “outward looking,” arguing that it “can generate broader identities and reciprocity,” It is through bridging social capital that we come to understand and trust one another across differences and work to strengthen relationships.

The difficulty, of course, is that whenever inclusion develops in a community, or a segment of one, that also creates exclusion. The power of bonding by nature is that it creates inclusion and exclusion. In and of itself, that is not a problem until it is left unaddressed.

Thinking back to the example of Charlotte at the beginning of the article, there seemed to be a disconnect between bonding and bridging social capital. And, although it is perhaps a presumptuous leap to suggest a correlated nature between those statistics, it does raise the question of how well access, inclusion and equity are championed in communities of all types — including by churches in rural communities, and maybe even your congregation and community.

“The problem with many of our created networks is that you have to be inside the system to gain access.”

The problem with many of our created networks is that you have to be inside the system to gain access, so how do you gain access to other networks, particularly if your church does not provide advantage? Imagine if bonding relationships could grow more readily into bridging relationships to build greater social capital and collaborative work across the entire community.

Churches are called to collaboration as a general act of kingdom building. The church as described in Acts, the missionary journeys of Paul and the imagery of the body of Christ are but a few examples of how our mission in the world is connected through time and space.

This is language the church is familiar with but perhaps doesn’t always live out in practical ways at the local level. Groups are embedded with inequalities, and those only break down as bridges are built to expand networks.

In a previous column, we explored some of these inequalities. These are starting points for building bridges. If these networks are to be impactful with the purpose of developing stronger communities, the bridging work needs to be expanded beyond those we know, and be done with humble curiosity, so that individuals and communities might flourish. While the internal connections may be strong within a church, how strong are the ties to the community? How do we use bridging social capital to connect to local events, schools, restaurants or even (gasp!) churches from other denominations?

One step is to recognize the role of the faith leader. There are countless clergy who recognize the importance of expanding their roles as pastor to the community, redefining the definition and parameters of their congregation.

“There are countless clergy who recognize the importance of expanding their roles as pastor to the community.”

Justin’s pastor encourages his church to see the need to stop thinking of themselves as simply a church in the community but rather as part of the broader church body of the community. Another minister in Monroe, N.C., is not only associate pastor at his church, but adjunct professor at the university nearby and a referee in the North Carolina High School and National Collegiate athletic associations.

These are examples of clergy leading the way to create bonding and bridging social capital in their communities. They are creating opportunities for community engagement and setting examples of what increased participation in the public good might look like. They also are representative of what the church is called to be and to do.

In this way, the broader church in the community can be a foundational space for creating and bolstering social capital as we move out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we seek to re-engage in community life now two decades after Putnam’s work.

If we have not learned anything else during the pandemic, it is that the flourishing of the community means the whole community, especially those lacking access, inclusion and equity to many of its resources. The bridging work is critical to making this happen, and the bonding social capital in congregations is a great place to start.

Ideas for congregational bridging:

  • Create individual and organizational friendships, not just one-off projects through collaboration in community service activities.
  • Plan mission trips or events that tie in education about context and systemic issues.
  • Facilitate listening and learning dialogues with various groups in the community that might look or believe differently than your own.
  • Deepen relationships and understanding by exploring the cultural capital of your community.
  • Attend and support local events hosted by other community groups.
  • Increase online worship opportunities, building bridges using social media to move relationships from online to “in real life.”

Brian Foreman

Justin Nelson

Brian Foreman serves as executive director of the Center for Church and Community at Campbell University. Justin J. Nelson serves as assistant professor of sociology.

 

Previous articles in this series:

Let’s begin a conversation about the church in rural areas

The importance of natural capital for the rural church

Rural churches need to understand the cultural capital of their communities

Understanding human capital makes volunteer recruitment easier




Al Mohler’s curious defense of conversion therapy

Conversion therapy (also known as reparative therapy) is rooted in the idea that same-sex attraction is a sickness that can be healed. Throughout most of the 20th century, psychoanalytic and behavioral psychologists had different ways of explaining same-sex attraction, but it was generally assumed that some form of developmental malfunction was involved. A variety of fixes were proposed, everything from talking cures, to electroshock therapy, to ice-pick lobotomy (which is every bit as nasty as it sounds), to aversion therapies in which subjects were shown homoerotic images after nausea had been induced.

The typical Victorian response to same-sex attraction was simple moral revulsion. The subject was so taboo that it was rarely discussed in public.

Oscar Wilde

In 1895, when the playwright Oscar Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency,“ he was forced to walk a treadmill for hours a day, a punishment so barbaric it was banned in England in 1903 as a form of torture. The only reading material Wilde was allowed was the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress. At one point, while being transferred between prisons, a crowd jeered and spat at him as he stood on the railway platform.

So thinking of same-sex attraction as a developmental malfunction rather than a moral failing was an advance.

But when the gay rights movement was sparked by the Stonewall police riot in 1969, mainstream attitudes toward homosexuality underwent a gradual revolution. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association stipulated that same-sex attraction no longer would be regarded as a form of mental illness. By the 1990s, the only people championing conversion therapy were evangelical Christians.

Robert Spitzer

Their movement received a boost in 2003, when Robert Spitzer, the prime architect of the APA’s 1973 decision to stop labeling homosexuality as an illness, released a study suggesting that, in some cases at least, sexual orientation could change. Christian groups like Exodus International and Focus on the Family leapt for joy. A stream of testimonials poured forth from formerly gay men who claimed to be functioning heterosexuals. Conversion therapy became a hot media topic.

For a while. Then the bottom dropped out. In 2013, Spitzer reversed himself yet again. His earlier methodology had been deficient. He now was convinced that sexual orientation was an immutable fact of life. That same year, after many of its supposed converts had “relapsed,” Exodus International went out of business and apologized to those who had been damaged by its work. Conservative evangelicals like James Dobson of Focus on the Family continued to cite Spitzer’s 2003 study, but the conversion therapy movement never would recover.

Mohler’s 2015 book

In his 2015 book, We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., argued that the marriage between biblical Christianity and psychotherapeutic theory had been wrongheaded from the drop. Secular forms of therapy, he said, were overrated.

In 2005, Southern Seminary abandoned the old term “pastoral counseling,” a blend of biblical and psychotherapeutic practice. Instead, the seminary would offer courses in “biblical counseling.” Since the Bible contains the full counsel of God, seminary officials argued, secular modalities were unnecessary.

Albert Mohler

Mohler remained adamant that “the gay lifestyle” and “gay marriage” were inherently sinful. We Cannot Be Silent argued that if a son or daughter marries a person of the same sex, mom and dad should boycott the ceremony. Attending your child’s gay wedding, he argued, was a tacit affirmation of gay marriage.

Although he believed gay marriage and “the gay lifestyle” remained sinful, Mohler no longer believed that secular forms of therapy could change sexual orientation. The problem was spiritual and demanded a spiritual response, he said.

“By God’s grace, that might happen over time as a sign of God’s work within the life of that individual,” Mohler stated at a seminary-sponsored conference held in conjunction with the release of his book. But “for many, many people struggling with these patterns of sin, it will be a lifelong battle.”

The words “lifelong battle” were Mohler’s way of admitting that preaching, penitence and prayer were no more likely to alter sexual orientation than were secular forms of therapy. Since heterosexuality wasn’t a realistic option for some people, lifelong celibacy was the only option.

“Since heterosexuality wasn’t a realistic option for some people, lifelong celibacy was the only option.”

Here Mohler was parting company with the Pentecostal/Charismatic wing of the evangelical coalition.  Mohler calls himself a “friendly cessationist.” He believes the kinds of signs and wonders we read about in the Bible died out at the conclusion of the Apostolic Age. God can perform miracles whenever God wishes, Mohler insists, but the Almighty shows little interest in the flashy stuff these days. The practice of exorcism, favored by Trump-supporting preachers like Paul White, was right out.

Mohler gets new religion

But Mohler is a resilient man. Six years after giving up on conversion therapy, he has emerged as its champion. In a rambling, 4,000-word essay published in The Briefing blog on April 22, Mohler lamented that the United Kingdom is poised to ban conversion therapy.

“We believe that Christians can fight sin and must fight sin,” Mohler says. Further, “we believe that by the means of grace, Christians, all Christians are to be conformed to the image of Christ.” Then comes the kicker: “We understand that there are those who have a sexual inclination that is not biblical. We understand that that is of sin. That it is in essence itself, sin and sinful.”

“We understand that there are those who have a sexual inclination that is not biblical. We understand that that is of sin.”

In We Cannot be Silent, Mohler argued that even if same-sex orientation is innate and immutable, it remains sinful. Even the discovery of a “gay gene” wouldn’t change his thinking. If the Bible calls something sin, that’s what it is. The fact that it might be “natural” changes nothing. Because we live in a fallen world, what is “natural” still may be wrong. The natural world, he says, is “tainted by sin.”

Therefore, if the case for banning conversion therapy implies that gay is good, Mohler’s against it.

He points out that, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson backs the ban. Since Johnson leads the Conservative Party, the last bastion of opposition has disappeared and the cause is lost.

Mohler overstates the case. Johnson did promise to ban conversion therapy shortly after rising to the position of prime minister in 2019, but at the first sign of push-back from UK evangelicals, the prime minister backed off. Johnson has denied being “a serious, practicing Christian,” but he’s a smart politician. Jayne Ozanne, a devout evangelical Christian, recently resigned from Johnson’s cabinet to protest the government’s foot-dragging.

Jayne Ozanne and Matthew Hyndman

Jayne Ozanne

Growing up in the conservative evangelical wing of the Church of England, Ozanne gradually came to terms with the fact that she was gay. She says she has seen God work some amazing miracles over the years, especially through her work with the Archbishop’s Council, but changing her sexual orientation wasn’t one of them. Realizing that all the prayer in the world wouldn’t help, Ozanne took a vow of lifelong celibacy. But after 20 years of living in denial, her body literally shut down and she wound up in a hospital bed. Unable to find a physiological problem, her doctor said: “Jayne, there is obviously something deeply wrong here. You will die unless you actually confront what’s going on.”

That’s when Ozanne decided to take a fresh look at Scripture. “And I think the biggest thing for me was trying to understand the real core of the message of Christ,” she says. “Which is that he came to save the lost, that he came to love all, and that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from that love of Christ.”

In Mohler’s extended rant, he mentions “God” 14 times and the Bible (or God’s word) 21 times. Jesus gets two mentions. The word “love” doesn’t appear at all. In Mohler’s theology, the “Word of God” is the Bible. For evangelicals like Ozanne, the Word of God is Jesus.

Mohler refers to Ozanne as “a person identified in this news report as gay evangelical Christian,” which implies that she can’t be a true evangelical because she is a mouthpiece for the “gay agenda.” Why else would she say that she takes “freedom of religion very seriously up until the point that it causes harm.” Mohler resents the suggestion that the gay agenda is the cure for an evangelical disease.

Matthew Hyndman

This resentment takes center stage when Mohler eviscerates Matthew Hyndman, the gay ex-evangelical who is currently leading the charge against conversion therapy in the UK. Hyndman opposes any “religious exemption” to the proposed ban on conversion therapy that would permit attempts to “pray the gay away.” If this kind of prayer takes place “in an overwhelmingly homophobic or transphobic context,” Hyndman says, “the pernicious power of prayer must be dealt with.”

If Mohler wore pearls, he would be clutching them. But Hyndman is simply stating that prayer predicated on the view that gay and transgender persons are sinners in the hands of an angry God becomes pernicious.

Like Jayne Ozanne, Hyndman speaks from experience. When he came out to his faith community in Northern Ireland at the tender age of 21, he was swiftly excommunicated. Forgiveness was impossible, Hyndman’s friends and family told him, unless he repented his sin and submitted to conversion therapy.

For people like Ozanne and Hyndman, conversion therapy is painfully personal. For Mohler, it’s an abstraction. Considered objectively, the practice is ineffective. But since it has become a pawn in the culture war, it must be defended. It’s the Bible or the gay agenda, and he stands with the Bible.

“For people like Ozanne and Hyndman, conversion therapy is painfully personal. For Mohler, it’s an abstraction.”

Parallels to young earth creationism

Mohler’s defense of conversion therapy mirrors his embrace of young earth creationism. The physical evidence, Mohler freely admits, suggests an ancient earth. But since the Bible describes a young earth, the apparent age of the planet is deceptive. God, for God’s own inscrutable reasons, made the earth to appear old.

In similar fashion, Mohler accepts the idea that, in virtually every case, sexual orientation cannot be altered. But it doesn’t matter that same-sex attraction comes naturally to some people. It’s unbiblical. And therefore, it must be sinful.

From our limited perspective, God might appear cruel and capricious, making the world look older than it actually is and creating gay people and then condemning them for being gay. But a Sovereign God makes the rules; we don’t.

The people who tune in to The Briefing may accept this tortured logic; but thinking Christians will demand something better.

Alan Bean

Alan Bean

Alan Bean is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is a member of Broadway Baptist Church and leads a nonprofit organization, Friends of Justice.

 

Related articles:

On banning conversion therapy: Listen with your heart| Opinion by Bob Browning

Two campaigns launched to ban ‘conversion therapy’

Repressing my sexual orientation cost me my health — permanently | Opinion by Amber Cantorna




Voting rights and the ninth commandment

It shouldn’t feel so hard to write about voting rights in a way that will not offend partisan sensibilities. It didn’t used to be this way. In 2006, Congress reauthorized the 1965 Voting Rights Act with a unanimous vote in the Senate, 98-0. It was promptly signed into law by President George W. Bush, who did so in honor of Fanny Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in attendance.

Sadly, much has changed in the last 15 years, and such bipartisan cooperation seems like another era.

While the task is difficult, I cannot let my desire to avoid accusations of partisanship overcome the need to speak truth and advocate for justice as I see it.

‘One person, one vote’

“One person, one vote” is the ideal that forms the bedrock of our democracy. It aligns with the fundamental Christian belief that all people are created in God’s image and are therefore equal. It is one of the reasons I am a Baptist.

“’One person, one vote’ is the ideal that forms the bedrock of our democracy.”

Our congregational polity means each church member is empowered to vote on important matters of church life and governance. In our country, each citizen should be empowered to have their voice contribute equally to determine who represents us and how our government operates. A government by, for and of the people.

Of course, whether or not each voice is valued and given equal weight never has been a settled question. The vote has been the subject of conflict and debate throughout U.S. history. Originally, it was reserved for landowning white men, and Black slaves counted as only 3/5 of a person when considering Congressional representation. While the 15th Amendment gave Black males the right to vote, that right was rarely protected. Eventually, and after a sustained movement, women were given the vote in 1920. Less than 60 years ago, the Voting Rights Act finally put the weight of the federal government behind the promise of Black suffrage. Although in application, that fight continues.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 set up a process of federal approval for changes to voting laws in states with a history of discrimination. Those “pre-clearance” provisions were undone by the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court ruling in 2013. Proposed changes to voting laws have picked up pace since then.

Must this be a partisan fight?

According to experts at the Brennan Center for Justice, as of March 24, 361 bills with restrictive voting provisions have been filed in 47 state legislatures this session. Fortunately, 843 bills have been filed to make voting access more expansive.

These dueling proposals demonstrate the partisan nature of this fight. Whether it is non-citizens, dead voters or Russian hackers, both parties should be committed to free, fair and secure elections. Faith in democracy is heightened when people believe their voice is counted and valued.

“Both parties should be committed to free, fair and secure elections.”

We should make it as easy as possible for every eligible voter to register and vote. Free and fair elections should mean each person is able to exercise their right to vote with few barriers and in a manner that ensures security. Any bill that restricts access and makes it more difficult for some to participate should provide rock-solid evidence of a problem and explain how the bill addresses it. Unsubstantiated accusations and hypotheticals are not enough, especially in light of our history.

Despite our partisan reality, recent polling shows broad agreement among the public on several measures that would make voting easier. Seventy-eight percent of Americans think early in-person voting should be available for at least two weeks before an election; 68% believe Election Day should be a national holiday; and 61% believe everyone eligible should be automatically registered to vote.

Georgia and Texas

In many states, the law is moving in the opposite direction. Georgia and Texas are two states garnering substantial attention.

The law recently passed in Georgia was not as extreme as some of the proposed provisions, but it is problematic. Under the new law, there will be less time to request absentee ballots, fewer drop boxes with less accessible hours, local officials can no longer mail absentee ballot applications to all voters, and voters have half as long to request absentee ballots. The law also bans mobile voting sites, (polling places on wheels.) Such sites have been used only by Fulton County, which has the largest Black population in the state.

The most notorious change is the criminalization of passing out food and water to those waiting in line to vote. Why would anyone want to make it harder to stand in line to vote unless there was substantial evidence that handing out free pizza and water bottles was buying votes?

“A better question might be, why are people having to stand in line so long that they need sustenance?”

A better question might be, why are people having to stand in line so long that they need sustenance? The provision is more nefarious when the same law contains a mechanism for the state to take over elections from local officials. Will lines intentionally be made longer in particular counties or precincts, which will deter or suppress certain voters?

In Texas, 49 bills have been filed to restrict voting access or make voting more difficult. The two making their way through the legislature right now are SB7 and HB6. These bills would restrict the freedom of local communities to expand early voting and would make voter intimidation much more likely and difficult to stop. They also make it more difficult for those with disabilities to receive help voting.

During the presidential election of 2020, Harris County, which includes the incredibly diverse city of Houston, utilized 24-hour early voting locations and drive-through voting, which helped increase turnout by 10%. Voters of color made up more than half those who took advantage of these polling places. Although there has been no credible evidence of increased fraud, both these options would be outlawed by SB7. One can reasonably wonder if high turnout and minority participation are the “problems” these bills seek to solve.

About voter fraud

Proponents justify these provisions and others by a stated need to prevent voter fraud. At best, such provisions could limit hypothetical voter fraud schemes. They are not responses to proven instances of voter fraud and will certainly make it more difficult for some to vote.

Independent analysis shows voter fraud in Texas this century is extremely rare: only 174 people have been prosecuted out of 94 million votes cast since 2005. The Brennan Center has a comprehensive list of studies that show similar results, including studies from Arizona State University, which show 10 cases of voter impersonation fraud nationwide from 2000 to 2012. According to a Houston Chronicle investigation conducted just two weeks ago, there are 43 people with pending voter fraud charges with the Texas attorney general’s office. Only one of those is from the 2020 election in which more than 11 million votes were cast.

“While voter fraud itself is almost nonexistent, … the term is frequently used in political debate.”

While voter fraud itself is almost nonexistent, and thus does not affect election outcomes, the term is frequently used in political debate. A recent Houston Chronicle editorial outlined an extensive history of racially motivated voting restrictions. In each case — all-white primaries, poll taxes, re-registration and voter purges — the stated justification of these clearly discriminatory laws was the same, to prevent voter fraud.

Voter fraud is exceedingly rare, and rather than impacting the outcome of our elections, it most often is used as the pretext for racially discriminatory and restrictive voting laws. We are therefore facing a conflict between fictitious, hypothetical fraud, and an undeniable history of racial discrimination.

No doubt the increase in bills that limit voting access or institute new restrictions are based in part on the widespread and entirely unsubstantiated allegations of massive voter fraud following the last presidential election. Rather than rebut conspiracies, I’ll only point out that those who so fervently claimed fraud and promoted the allegations are now in court defending themselves from civil defamation lawsuits. Their most common defenseno reasonable person would believe such claims. It was nothing more than political hyperbole.

Unfortunately, their made-up lies have real-world consequences. These claims, debunked in more than 60 courts, have become the basis of public policy.

The authors of such bills claim they are necessary because public faith in our elections has been shaken. But the same politicians who sowed seeds of doubt cannot now use that doubt as an excuse for new voting restrictions. People believe lies about the election because they keep telling them. Public policy should not be based on lies.

It is not surprising that politicians and parties want to protect their power, but we also should expect them to uphold democratic ideals when attempting to do so.

Do corporations have better morals than churches?

The corporate reaction to the new law in Georgia and proposed bills in Texas has been swift. I commend the computer CEOs and airline executives who have spoken up for democracy and in defense of historically marginalized voters.

“Do we now expect more moral leadership from corporations than church leaders just so we don’t offend the diehard partisans in our pews?”

Shouldn’t pastors and other people of faith do the same? Do we now expect more moral leadership from corporations than church leaders just so we don’t offend the diehard partisans in our pews? I know it is not easy. I’ve been quiet for too long and done too little myself. I’m grateful for the pastors and people of faith who have spoken out, and I encourage you to join them.

Christians concerned about the common good, those trying to follow Jesus in his mission to free the oppressed, those who want to “do justice,” must be willing to engage. When it comes to voting, we should give particular deference to and speak up alongside those who find it harder to vote — neighbors who work overnight shifts or multiple jobs to support their families, those with disabilities, and those without reliable transportation or child care.

We should hold those promoting changes to voting laws to a high standard. Suspicion from minority communities is well-earned, based in historical fact and justified.

Police violence against Black Americans has caused an awakening among many white Christians to the reality of systemic racial injustice. Those looking to engage in racial justice and reconciliation work should take this opportunity to fight voter suppression alongside our Black and Latino brothers and sisters. Our commitment to justice must be stronger than our desire to avoid partisan fights.

Stephen Reeves

Stephen Reeves serves as executive director of Fellowship Southwest. This column appears concurrently on BNG and on the Fellowship Southwest website.

 

Related articles:

Voting rights and the people who died for them: Jonathan Daniels et al. | Opinion by Bill Leonard

A vote is ‘a kind of prayer,’ Warnock says in first Senate speech

What I learned about voter suppression while sitting in the Quiet Chair as a child | Opinion by Paula Mangum Sheridan




Interpreting the data: Why are some Christians getting vaccinated and others aren’t?

It is well-documented by now that white evangelical Christians are among the largest groups resisting vaccination against COVID-19. But the reason for this might not actually be rooted in vaccine denial, according a new analysis in The Atlantic.

“The pattern of resistance to the coronavirus vaccines looks less like COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and more like COVID-19 denialism,” wrote Robert David Sullivan in the journal. “While a significant chunk of Americans profess to be uneasy about getting shots to prevent COVID-19, most come from the swath of the population that has tended to downplay the disease’s severity and to resist other measures to fight it, rather than the swaths that have resisted vaccines for other diseases.”

Other analysts point to the concurrent effect of white evangelical Christians not trusting the media and other secular institutions.

Both of these theories would explain why evangelical Christians — who typically stake their faith on a literal interpretation of the Bible — don’t see being vaccinated as a way to follow Jesus’ admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In response to a recent BNG article on new PRRI data that shows 46% of white evangelicals do not see vaccination as a way of loving their neighbors, one BNG reader wrote with an explanation.

“The primary reason I reject the vaccine is due to the general mistrust of the media and government institutions that are pushing vaccination so hard.”

“The primary reason I reject the vaccine is due to the general mistrust of the media and government institutions that are pushing vaccination so hard, even to hinting at the probability the vaccine could become mandatory,” the reader wrote. “If the vaccine is really effective, it will protect those who submit to it. Rejecting the vaccine doesn’t endanger the beloved vaccinated neighbor, provided he doesn’t neglect to get the increasing number of boosters required to ensure its efficacy, But that’s on the neighbor, not the one rejecting the vaccine.”

A tendency exploited

This sentiment resonates with interpretive comments by Curtis Chang, professor at Duke Divinity School and creator of the Christians and the Vaccine project. Chang previously served as pastor of an evangelical church in California.

He recently appeared on the NPR program 1a, on a segment about Christians and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Curtis Chang

“One of the defining cultural marks (of evangelicalism),” he said, “is a tendency to be on guard against secular institutions. It’s a tendency. … What has changed dramatically in the last five to 10 years is that tendency has gotten weaponized into outright distrust of practically every major secular institution. … That has come from external actors seeking to exploit this tendency among evangelicals.”

This has put pastors of evangelical congregations in a tough spot during the pandemic, Chang added. “Pastors are being undermined.”

That mistrust of the vaccine and denial of the severity of the pandemic have been fueled by several sources, but he explained that QAnon and anti-vaxxers are “intentionally targeting the Christian community” with misinformation.

He cited a national survey that found 95% of evangelical pastors said they intend to get the vaccine, compared to 50% of the people in the pews. “That’s a massive gap,” he said.

The mark of the beast?

There’s another segment of the evangelical community that opposes vaccination for more specific reasons: Fear that the vaccine is the dreaded “mark of the beast,” a key to an end-times theology known as premillennial dispensationalism, popular with many but not all evangelicals. It is important to note that not all evangelicals who refuse vaccination do so for fear of receiving the mark of the beast, although some clearly do.

In February, the Washington Post reported on this trend. The story begins: “In an insular world on the social media app TikTok, young Christians act out biblically inspired scenes in which they are forced to take a vaccine for the coronavirus, only to end up splattered in fake blood and on the brink of death.”

Technology reporter Elizabeth Dwoskin, author of the Post story, then explains: “Along with hundreds of thousands of other vaccine-questioning posts by social media users all over the world, they’re demonstrating the ways in which health misinformation is targeting Christians, some reaching sizable audiences.”

Evangelical leaders unheeded

This is happening despite the fact that prominent evangelical leaders including evangelist Franklin Graham and SBC ethics leader Russell Moore have publicly called for Christians to be vaccinated. Graham faced a tremendous backlash from some of his followers.

Evangelist Franklin Graham and SBC ethics leader Russell Moore have publicly called for Christians to be vaccinated.

The Charlotte Observer reported on two public criticisms in particular:

  • “STOP. It is NOT your job as a pastor to try and talk people into taking a vaccine that is considered experimental.”
  • “I WILL NOT GET THE VACCINE!!! God knew when I was conceived when and how I was to die.”

Emily Smith

Emily Smith, a Baylor University epidemiologist who has been featured several times in BNG articles about the pandemic, told the Washington Post that she is concerned about the apparent acceleration of misinformation and distrust of the vaccine in some Christian circles.

“In the summertime, I thought, these are just fringe beliefs. But the further we got into the pandemic, I realized, these are very widely held, and I was surprised by how many Christians and churches subscribe to this,” she told the Post. Her own Facebook posts under the banner Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist have sparked harsh responses and even threats.

“It’s one of the scariest and most disheartening parts of this, that so many people think that when you put on a mask, it is the mark of the beast or signals that you don’t have faith or God isn’t in control,” she said.

Joel Rainey

Joel Rainey, lead pastor at Covenant Church, an evangelical congregation in Shepherdstown, W.Va., also appeared on the NPR program 1a along with Chang. He explained how as a pastor he tried to get ahead of his congregation by providing accurate information about the virus and the vaccine and the Scriptures.

Rainey said he was prompted to do so by health care providers in his congregation who convinced him to let them speak along with him. Their argument: “Our folks can hear from people they know and have come to trust.” And that largely appears to have worked, he said.

He predicts that his congregation’s rate of vaccination now mirrors the state of West Virginia, which ranks among the highest in the world.

Young evangelicals

There’s another problem nationally, though, and that is young adults — particularly young evangelicals — who are more likely to be vaccine deniers or vaccine hesitant.

The Atlantic reports again: “Young conservatives are the great outlier. According to Kaiser Family Foundation polling, 13% of Americans say they definitely won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine, but that includes 18% of people ages 30 to 49, and a whopping 29% of Republicans. Hesitancy is particularly high among people who live in rural areas and white evangelicals — for whom increased church attendance correlates with increased hesitancy, according to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute.”

“Young conservatives are the great outlier.”

The magazine cites research by Civiqs polling that monitors real-time data on vaccine acceptance by age group and other factors. As of April 28, this tracker showed an 18-point gap between 18-to-49-year-olds and those 65 and older on whether they will be vaccinated, not accounting for religious belief.

“People in this age bracket are also less likely to die or get very sick from COVID-19 than others,” The Atlantic noted. “But the gap in skepticism surpasses mere degree and extends into type. No wonder vaccine hesitators are particularly repelled by Anthony Fauci, who has become the public face of efforts to fight the pandemic.”

Why are white Catholics more vaccinated?

And there’s one other oddity about faith and the vaccine that emerged from the latest survey by PRRI and Interfaith Youth Core: White Catholics of all ages are among the most likely of all faith groups to be vaccinated other than Jews. About two-thirds of white U.S. Catholics have received a COVID vaccine or plan to get one.

America magazine, a Catholic publication, reported on the new polling data with an attempt at interpretation but no clear answers: “It is unclear whether the high vaccination rate is a matter of faith — Pope Francis has urged Catholics worldwide to get vaccinated against COVID — or of demographics.”

One possible explanation for the difference is education levels. National polling finds that those with four-year college degrees are more likely than others to say they’ll be vaccinated.

“It is worth noting that, according to a 2016 survey by PRRI, white Catholics are more highly educated than most other religious groups (39% said they were college graduates, compared with 25% of white evangelical Protestants and 12% of Hispanic Catholics),” America reported.

Yet as with others, not all Catholics are motivated by the argument that they should be vaccinated as a way to love their neighbors.

“White Catholics were not especially likely to cite love of neighbor as a reason for getting vaccinated,” the magazine said. “Only 57% of white Catholics agreed with the PRRI statement, not much different than the 55% among Hispanic Catholics or 55% among white mainline Protestants.”

 

Related articles:

4 in 10 Americans don’t see getting vaccinated as a way to ‘love your neighbor’

Faith leaders are key to reaching herd immunity in U.S., researchers say

Public health officials find churches are ideal sites for COVID vaccine clinics

The church has a role to play in implementing COVID vaccine

6 things you should know about the COVID vaccine

Your friendly neighbor epidemiologist has an important message for you




Dissident Episcopalians awarded $100 million worth of property as U.S. Supreme Court declines to take up Fort Worth case

In a case little heralded outside North Texas and outside Episcopal Church insiders, the United States Supreme Court in February opened the door for more litigation nationwide over disputed church property as churches split over social issues such as women in ministry and LGBTQ inclusion.

The case, All Saints’ Episcopal Church v. Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, has particular application for mainline Protestant denominations that assert corporate ownership of church property — such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church.

And while Baptists and others in the free-church tradition based on local church autonomy might see the Texas events as irrelevant, the root legal problem identified could come into play in virtually any congregation that splits and has a dispute over property.

The root legal problem identified could come into play in virtually any congregation that splits and has a dispute over property.

This case was deemed so important that although it involved only Episcopal congregations, a coalition of Presbyterians, Methodists and others joined in petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to address the underlying legal debate, not just the current case.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 22 declined to take on any part of the issue — leaving in place a patchwork of state-by-state regulations that likely will continue to produce uneven outcomes. And by refusing the case, the high court left in place a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that awarded $100 million in property to a breakaway Episcopal group in Fort Worth, Texas.

That meant that the week of April 19, members of five North Texas Episcopal churches had to vacate their buildings and turn over the keys to a group of dissidents that several years earlier had broken with the national denomination over the ordination of women priests and the inclusion of LGBTQ Christians.

Former sanctuary of St. Luke in the Meadows Episcopal Church in Fort Worth.

“Today is our last worship in the building that has housed St. Luke’s in the Meadow for more than 75 years,” wrote Episcopal lay leader Katie Sherrod on Facebook April 18. “For one last time we will celebrate the all-encompassing, unconditional love of God for all humanity. We will walk out of there carrying with us the memories of the hundreds of faithful lay people and clergy who built it up for mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church.”

“We grieve that this building, made holy by the love it housed, will now be in the hands of those who believe women are not proper matter for ordination and that LGBTQ people are somehow disordered,” added Sherrod, a veteran journalist who serves as communications director for the Episcopal Church of North Texas. “We will pray for them. But St. Luke’s in the Meadow will carry on, ministering to our neighbors, all of them, no exceptions. If the cost of inclusion is to lose our buildings, so be it. We will move forward, holding on to one another and to God. Pray for us.”

How did this happen?

As with most church fights, there’s a back story here. It’s a story rooted in the same cultural divisions that are rending the fellowship of churches of all kinds: gender and sexuality.

While the Episcopal Church in America has taken a more liberal route that includes ordination of women as priests and inclusion of LGBTQ persons in most aspects of the church’s life, those views have not been universally accepted. On a diocese by diocese and congregation by congregation basis, different decisions have been made.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth offers one of the clearest examples of this division. Unlike its larger neighbor 30 miles east, Fort Worth remains far more conservative politically and culturally than Dallas. That conservatism has been evident within the region’s Episcopal churches as well.

Jack Iker

By the dawn of the 21st century, the Episcopal bishop of Fort Worth, Jack Iker, was considered one of the most conservative bishops in the nation. He was reported to be the only such bishop opposing the ordination of women as priests.

Things got more heated when in 2004 Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, was named Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. And then in 2006, Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church in America, the first woman to hold such a position.

Within two years, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth voted to leave the denomination, fueled by Iker and his appointees who continued to hold more conservative views than the national leadership. The national body did not recognize the Fort Worth group’s decision, claiming it is not possible for a diocese to leave the fold because of the connectional nature of the denomination’s polity. Jefferts Schori revoked Iker’s credentials.

Katharine Jefferts Schori

That set off years of litigation, with two competing groups claiming to be the legitimate Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth — even going by the same name.

Iker remained bishop of the breakaway diocese until his retirement in 2019, when he was succeeded by Ryan Reed. The national church named Scott Mayer as provisional bishop of what it considered to be the legitimate diocese. Mayer also serves another Texas diocese as bishop.

The Iker-led group became a founding member of a new transnational body called the Anglican Church in North America — a name that plays to the roots of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican communion created when Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church to create the Church of England. “Anglican” is a more all-encompassing label than “Episcopal,” which has been used most widely in the United States.

The property dispute

With two competing dioceses claiming leadership over the Episcopal congregations of the Fort Worth region, a practical matter quickly arose: Who owned and had the right to use the various church properties?

Unlike Baptists and others in the free church tradition where local congregations own and manage their own properties, the Episcopal Church claims title to all its affiliated church properties. The same is generally true for Methodists and Presbyterians, which also has led to similar disputes in recent years.

For example, in Dallas, Highland Park Presbyterian Church in 2014 agreed to pay a regional body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) $7.8 million — which was calculated to be 11% of the fair market value of the $70 million property — to keep its buildings after leaving the national church for reasons similar to the Episcopal divide in Fort Worth.

The sanctuary forfeited by All Saints Episcopal Church.

Back in Fort Worth, the original diocese currently has 15 congregations, including eight that found new locations after the breakaway group claimed ownership of their former church buildings. The property disputes came down to five highly contested by the congregations who believed the more conservative group was stealing their property: St. Christopher’s, St. Luke’s in the Meadow, St. Elisabeth’s & Christ the King, and All Saints in Fort Worth, and one congregation, St. Stephen’s, in Wichita Falls.

About two dozen congregations aligned with the breakaway group have retained possession of their church buildings. What will happen to the five properties now being turned over to the victorious group is unclear, as those who have remained worshiping there do not favor the conservative group and are vacating the premises.

Suzanne Gill, spokesperson for the conservative Fort Worth diocese, told Spectrum News that Bishop Ryan Reed plans to reopen the empty churches as soon as possible and that all who desire to worship will be welcome.

The court cases

The split in the Fort Worth diocese prompted litigation in the civil courts that has yo-yoed back and forth with a victory for one side and then for the other, finally landing in the Texas Supreme Court, which is made up of nine Republican judges in a state government system dominated by social conservatives. Texas is one of the few states in the nation that holds partisan elections for its state Supreme Court seats, creating one of the most partisan state high courts in the United States.

Typically, civil courts refuse to engage in disputes over church doctrine or polity. But in this case, the courts took on the matter while claiming it could be considered on “neutral” grounds that do not involve theology or doctrine.

The courts took on the matter while claiming it could be considered on “neutral” grounds that do not involve theology or doctrine.

The Episcopal Church argued that a portion of its church law known as the Dennis Canon says that church property is held in trust for the national church and therefore does not belong to the congregations. Iker and his group argued that the properties belong to the diocese, which means them. After several twists and turns, the Texas Supreme Court in May 2020 ruled that Texas law allows a trust to be revoked and that Texas law supersedes canon law, awarding the properties to the Anglican group.

Critics of the Texas court ruling expressed alarm that the high court applied the law as if the church were a corporation, not a church.

Sherrod told Spectrum News that this should concern other churches with hierarchal polity: “I have a hard time explaining this because they tied themselves into legal pretzels to be able to do this. They decided that churches are businesses. If they’re businesses, then the board of directors can vote to do whatever they want.”

And, she said, the Texas high court’s decision appears to her to be politically motivated.

“When we were down in Austin before the Supreme Court, one of the judges started quoting the Bible at us,” she said. “They would talk a lot about the gay issue and stuff. We would talk about the law, the fact that this was a church and who gets to decide who the Episcopal bishop of Fort Worth is.”

Spectrum News further reported that the Texas outcome stands alone: “In at least three other dioceses around the country facing the same legal battles — cases in which a conservative faction of the church split and then claimed the rights to their property — courts have sided with the national church. Texas is the only place where the courts awarded property to the splinter group.”

“Texas is the only place where the courts awarded property to the splinter group.”

And yet, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case. That concerns other religious leaders not just because they disagree with the outcome but because they believe a larger legal issue was left in limbo.

Why this matters

Before a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court case called Jones v. Wolf, the court deferred to a church’s own resolution of its property disputes as a First Amendment protection. In Jones, however, the court allowed other approaches by saying a state “may adopt any one of various approaches for settling church property disputes so long as it involves no consideration of doctrinal matters, whether the ritual and liturgy of worship or the tenets of faith.”

The friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church and others explained their reason for weighing in on the matter: “We believe that deference to religious organizations’ decisions regarding internal structure, organization, and hierarchy is paramount to maintaining religious liberty and separation of church and state.”

And that has not been the case ever since the Jones ruling, the religious leaders said.

“State courts have taken widely divergent approaches in deciding church-property disputes based on purportedly neutral principles of law. As a result, some courts still provide substantial deference to a church’s internal resolution of property disputes, while other courts afford virtually no deference to the church’s views. But regardless of how courts interpret Jones, one thing is apparent: The neutral-principles approach has not allowed courts to adjudicate church-property disputes free from entanglement in questions of religious doctrine and polity.

 

Related articles:

We lost our church today | Opinion by Wende Dwyer-Johnsen




Buckle up: Global turbulence ahead

As much as we might wish otherwise, living in the post-COVID world promises to be a pretty rough ride over the next 20 years.

So buckle up. Not just because of the global impact of the pandemic itself, but because of the increasing effects of social fragmentation, climate change, mass migration and the inability of governments and institutions to meet the demands of the people they serve.

That’s the forecast of the latest “Global Trends” report, released April 8 by the National Intelligence Council, an arm of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The report looks at potential scenarios between now and 2040, and they all involve major international change — ranging from the manageable to the catastrophic.

‘Most significant disruption since World War II’

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic marks the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political and security implications that will ripple for years to come,” the report states. “The effects of climate change and environmental degradation are likely to exacerbate food and water insecurity for poor countries, increase migration, precipitate new health challenges, and contribute to biodiversity losses.

“These challenges will intersect and cascade, including in ways that are difficult to anticipate.”

There’s more: “Novel technologies will appear and diffuse faster and faster, disrupting jobs, industries, communities, the nature of power and what it means to be human. Continued pressure for global migration — as of 2020 more than 270 million persons were living in a country to which they have migrated, 100 million more than in 2000 — will strain both origin and destination countries to manage the flow and effects. These challenges will intersect and cascade, including in ways that are difficult to anticipate.”

Every nation will face these challenges — rich and poor, powerful and weak, democratic and authoritarian. Perhaps that will compel us to work together more and compete a bit less. New communication technologies now connect us instantly, creating new efficiencies and improving living standards as our economies become increasingly integrated.

Paradoxically, however, “that very connectivity has divided and fragmented people and countries,” says the report. It also will “create and exacerbate tensions at all levels, from societies divided over core values and goals to regimes that employ digital repression to control populations. As these connections deepen and spread, they are likely to grow increasingly fragmented along national, cultural or political preferences. In addition, people are likely to gravitate to information silos of people who share similar views, reinforcing beliefs and understanding of the truth.”

Sound familiar?

Tribalism goes global

The digital tribalism that has divided Americans into hostile political and cultural camps in recent years is affecting much of the rest of the world in similar ways. In theory, citizens of free countries can access virtually all of human knowledge online. In reality, we are gravitating toward the bits and pieces we want to believe.

“The digital tribalism that has divided Americans into hostile political and cultural camps in recent years is affecting much of the rest of the world in similar ways.”

At the same time, governments, institutions and international organizations are struggling to meet the new realities — and in many cases failing. As old systems erode and crumble, public frustration and conflict will increase within and between nations.

They will either adapt or risk collapse. Developed countries with coastlines, for example, likely will have to build massive seawalls and plan for relocating whole populations as climate change brings rising sea levels. Poorer countries with fewer resources will struggle to respond to climate-caused storms, droughts and floods.

In a glimpse of what may accelerate in the years ahead, hundreds of global aid organizations published an open letter April 20 supporting the U.N. Call for Action to Avert Famine in 2021, warning that millions already are suffering from Yemen to Venezuela: “People are not starving — they are being starved. … by conflict and violence; by inequality; by the impacts of climate change; by the loss of land, jobs or prospects; by a fight against COVID-19 that has left them even further behind.”

Meanwhile, countries with declining or aging populations, including the United States, will seek many more immigrant workers to compete with the economies of younger nations. If they don’t, “decades of progress in education, health and poverty reduction will be difficult to build on or even sustain,” the forecast warns.

Five scenarios

One of five international political scenarios could play out between now and 2040, according to the report:

Democracies might experience a new resurgence, with the United States and other free societies leading the way in global development and cooperation. Conversely, China could emerge as the global leader with its authoritarian model but would be unlikely to solve major international issues. Or, these two superpowers could dominate separate spheres. In still another model, multiple competing power blocs could develop around the world. Last, global environmental catastrophe could result in multiple national revolutions, with new alliances emerging to pick up the pieces.

Three ways to make a difference

How can we possibly influence the course of events on such a global scale as individual Christians? Allow me to offer a few suggestions:

Pray, locally and globally, with your Bible in one hand and your newspaper or smartphone in the other. Pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. From Scripture, we know God wills that all nations hear the gospel of salvation, that the poor be clothed and fed, that the victims of injustice and hatred be defended, that the immigrant and the refugee (whether they flee from war, poverty or natural disaster) be rescued.

“If you reside in one of the many silos of American isolationism — mental, political or spiritual — get out of it.”

Think. Open your mind to the world. If you reside in one of the many silos of American isolationism — mental, political or spiritual — get out of it. God needs well-informed servants who know what is happening around the world, how to separate fact from fiction and how to resist being manipulated by lies and conspiracy theories. I’ve lost count of the number of Christian friends who have told me they don’t read or listen to the news because it’s too biased or “upsetting.” That is nothing more than spiritual and intellectual laziness when a universe of useful information is only a click away. God will judge us for willful ignorance.

Act. Maybe you can’t solve the global migration crisis, for example, but you can welcome some immigrants to your community. You can lead your church to sponsor a refugee family. You can vote out that local politician who whips up anti-immigrant hatred. You can tell your congressional representatives and your president to restore orderly, humane immigration policies and end the shameful era of keeping refugees and asylum seekers out.

This is still God’s world. You can help God redeem it, or you can sit on the sidelines. 

Erich Bridges

Erich Bridges

Erich Bridges, a Baptist journalist for more than 40 years, retired in 2016 as global correspondent for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. He lives in Richmond, Va.