But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. 
I do not say that as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say it as a minister of the gospel who loves the church, who was nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its Spiritual blessings, and who will remain true to it as
long as the cord of life shall lengthen.
… I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some few have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the
anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

… In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than
man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.”
They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century….

~ Martin Luther King 
Letter from a Birmingham Jail

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Why the Christian should care about public policy.

Politics is a dirty game.

It is divisive usually, but now especially, so it is not surprising that I hear many of my fellow evangelical Christian slate off politics for the gospel.

“I don’t do politics. I am a gospel person.”

I can appreciate that. The gospel is the good news of Jesus for all people. I can see why it is attractive to be about Jesus over what feels like the most divisive parts to our society. I would say in large part, that describes me as well. I can hardly think of a friend of mine who is not a Christian who has not been encouraged to consider Jesus by me. I don’t want to play the partisan games of politics that can isolate the message of Jesus from people.

But we make a mistake when we confuse the concept of politics with policy. Politics is the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group. It refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance—organized control over a human community, particularly a state. The control of political parties, the partisanship divides, the mudslinging can have us reject the whole system and stick our heads in the sand about public policy.

However policies affect people. They affect lives. They can be good. They can be terrible and destructive. Whilst I understand the Christian that may want to stay away from the partisan divides, may I encourage you to lean into understanding the policies that have been made by our governing authorities and the policies that are sitting in congress waiting to be approved.

Many of these policies the church and the Christian should wade in on and be a prophetic voice. We should use our democratic opportunities to call the governing authorities to rule wisely and in a way that treats people made in the image of God like they are image bearers.

Another way to understand public policy instead of the word “politics” we should think about policies being a code word for ethics. Do we have good ethics in the way we govern and treat one another? Are we being unethical in the way that we conduct ourselves with our own citizens or citizens of the world?  

Ethics are entirely in the realm of what a Christian should care about in the world. Though parties can support them and do, our ethics should be above a particular partisan argument. We should continually ask the question about “what is right” and “what is wrong” in the world. What is good? What is ethical? At times, it is pertinent for the church to speak and to call our government to a higher standard of ethics, to do what is good instead of what is wrong.


“He has told you,
O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Deserving my Citizenship: Reflections on grace and generosity

How much have you considered where you were born and its impact on your life?

My reflections started when I was young. We would visit poor villages in Mexico to visit family friends of my grandparents and mother or relatives of my aunts and uncles and my mom would lecture me before we went, “Christy, people are going to offer us hospitality and they will give you the best they have. You are to eat whatever they offer and say thank you. No complaining and no comments if it’s not what you are used to.”

I didn’t understand words like “privilege” back then. My mom didn’t even use those words. Yet, there were life lessons that began to be built into me that I didn’t have language for yet. I didn’t have a passport back then and yet I could enter and exit the US freely every other year to visit Mexico because of my white skin and birthplace and because it was pre-9-11 days. I never went hungry in my middle class family. Some of the families I dined with on these visits went hungry at times.

My dad had a good job my entire life with the exception of one layoff when I was a baby but he still found work during that time. He is a hunter and in my memory he’d always get an extra hunting tag each year to hunt in a neighbouring state and get the meat processed and given to a family out of work that we knew from somewhere in the community. I hadn’t experienced a dad without work but my parents saw those in our community that might be lacking. I was still slow to appreciate this.

As I got older and got that passport and began to travel extensively, I saw the privilege of my birthright, how easily I could visit countries without a visa because I came from the US and how friends would be locked in place, unable to travel because they were born in this patch of dirt over there instead of my patch of dirt over here.

Once more the realization of privilege started to dawn on me although this time I started using the word.

What do we do with privilege? How do we relate to others who have less privilege? The shock that strikes me is often privilege leads people to lord it over others with phrases that show a lack of understanding of even their own circumstances and how many factors contributed to them having the access/wealth/mobility they enjoyed that they did not create themselves in the fullest sense of the word.

“Why don’t people just work?”

“They should wait their turn and come the legal way.”

“We need to lock down our borders.”

I could have been born in poverty. I could have been born to parents who did not have access to the kind of job that my dad had access to. I could have been born in a country that is rife with civil war or corruption or just isn’t high enough on the eco-system of countries to have the freedom owning a US passport gives me.

But, without any merit of my own, I was born in circumstances that gave me opportunities in life that others can only dream of having and often have to fight to obtain.

What does it mean to wield my privilege for the sake of others? The more I see the grace in my circumstances, how God gave me opportunities I did not earn or deserve, the more it moves me to not hoard them but to steward the power and grace I have been given for those who do not have the access that I have been given. I am also finding it humbling to remember that while I have privilege and access to travel, it does not make me wiser than those who do not, how do I posture myself to learn from those in different circumstances?

I started reading an interesting book on the movement of peoples. This stood out to me and has made me consider my privilege even more in light of what is happening globally with immigration.

“Accordingly, it is also an explicit and extended meditation on how knowledge developed and deployed by Western experts is used to evaluate the particular circumstances of people from poor regions of the world whose lives will be fundamentally altered depending on the ultimate decision about their refugee status. In the settings examined by the authors, knowledge is not retained for contemplation by those in the “ivory tower” but is used to make what may often literally be life-or-death decisions.

The essays also hint at some of the paradoxes of globalization. In the twenty-first-century world, knowledge, as well as data, money, and media, flow across national boundaries with unprecedented ease. However, the flow of people across boundaries has perhaps never been more regulated. In sub-Saharan Africa, the continental home of many refugee crises over the centuries, a common response to unhappiness or crises was for individuals or whole communities to move. It was only in the twentieth century – with the creation of national boundaries developed by the colonialists and subsequently ratified by independence leaders and the ensuing development of notions of citizenship tied to politically defined boundaries – that the concept of “refugee” was even possible. There seems to be every indication that the movement of people will continue to be closely regulated by all nations and those, especially in the West, who have some ability to police their borders will continue to try to control population movements through administrative mechanisms.” – Adjudicating Refugee and Asylum Status: The Role of Witness, Expertise, and Testimony (pp. xv-xvi). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Again.

We need to sit down and have a family conversation America.

Portland Oregon, December 22, as 2019 was fast arriving, another black man was racially profiled, had the police called on him, and he was shamefully kicked out of a Doubletree hotel he was staying at as a guest.

His crime? Talking on the phone to his mother in the lobby while black.

The US feels more divided than ever. When we say “Black Lives Matter,” people hear instead that we are against the police. When athletes take a knee in civil protest at a game to remind people of the injustices that face unarmed black men and women every day as they experience deadly encounters with the law, the president rails against them to garner support.

Our civil liberties and our constitution matter. It matters that we give people the freedom to express protest. It also matters that we look at how we (as non black people) are reacting to our fellow citizens that takes away their right to exist and move about freely.

I want us to pause for a second and ask “why?” Why do so many Americans see a black man and think “threat.” Why have we been conditioned to do so? What can we do differently so that this shameful treatment stops happening? Do we meaningfully check our assumptions? Do we even see when we have them?

Recently I read about James Comey starting his time as FBI director by adding training curriculum to new FBI trainees at Quantico on the history of the FBI abuse of power and authority towards Martin Luther King Jr. Future agents and analysts have to look at their agency’s deep shameful sins and see how lazy legal work, abuse of power and the law, unequal treatment of different races, and profiling of minorities led to injustices in their history. I could not be prouder or love them more as an agency for doing this hard work. It takes courage to look at a personal history and to try to learn from it. The LA Times covered some of the curriculum here.

It is time the rest of us do the same. The next time you see a black person and begin to think threat, pause, and ask yourself “why?” Ask yourself “why am I wrong?” Question your assumptions and feelings. What could it cost them in life or dignity if we act on our false perceptions?