Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Reflection

by Rev. Laura Barclay

John: 1-5, 12: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What had come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (NRSV).

What really strikes me in this lectionary New Year’s text is John’s vision of Jesus as a light against the darkness who enlightens his children, whom the author says are given power to be “children of God.” Such language conjures up images of Lord of the Ring, with Frodo facing the dreadful gates of Mordor, or the movie Gladiator, with Maximus alone having the courage to challenge a corrupt emperor. It brings to mind epic sagas of far off and exotic places. But let’s examine the world and context in which our author was writing.

According to scholars, the community of John’s followers had recently undergone a split. Theological differences arose between those who believed that Jesus was both human and deity, and those who believed he was all-deity. This community splintered and separated, and those left behind were wounded, broken, and left nursing their wounds from the fracture in the body of Christ. These people in John’s community, the legacy of the beloved disciple, saw themselves as inheritors of the legacy of Christ. It was up to them to teach who Jesus really was and share the hope that came from Jesus’ incarnation.

The pain of John’s community at the bickering and separation of their own seeps onto the paper but it doesn’t define them. They share the love of God who became human in Jesus and experienced the pain of rejection like John’s community. And, I believe they found salvation in embracing that hopeful love that reorients them facing ever outward in a broken world.

Because of the importance of the task at hand, this monumental story they have to tell, they speak of the light and the darkness—loaded metaphors for good and evil, being in the presence of God and outside of it. The darkness is a vast and seemingly formless void, just like what God witnessed at the beginning of everything. Yet the light of hope we see in Christ shines through the ages and guides us into community and toward one another. We are the presence of Christ and hope in the world, because Jesus gave us the power to be God’s children.

And that is the power of community. Like John’s community, we’ve experienced fractures. Whether denominationally, ideologically, or economically, these last few years have not been easy. But that’s the great thing about a new year. We look to God and know that no matter how much we’ve been bogged down in recessions, unemployment, war, health care debates, and the unseemly partisan rhetoric of the world around us, we have the power as the children of God to set a new tone. We can’t keep bad things from happening, but we can react with love. Together, we can be an unfailing light that fights back the darkness of despair. We can exit our church walls after the 11:00 o’clock sermon is over and vow to continually help our neighbors and share our love with them.

We must bring hope, peace, love and joy beyond the walls of the churches and religious buildings to which our faith too often remains confined. John Chapter 1 is an encouraging reminder to go forth—we have an example to follow! That example is a poor Jewish baby born 2,000 years ago who had the courage to love. That blessed child walked with God and exhibited love to everyone. It wasn’t a polite, meek love, regardless of his humble beginnings. It was a love that challenged the times, threatened the status quo, and overturned (sometimes literally) the position and power of those in religious and political authority. It was a love that called him to heal, embrace, lift up, and teach. He crossed social boundaries to show that love. What a powerful teacher we have in that child, who gave hope to a world wrought with suffering, oppression, slavery, and death. Let us remember to shine our light in the darkness, no matter how overwhelming. Let us remember that together, our lights shine brighter to overcome the darkness of brokenness, exclusion, hunger, injustice and poverty. Let us have the courage to love as Jesus loved and loves us still. Let us be open to the love of others. Let that be our resolution.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Fear of Christmas

by Rev. Dr. Joe Phelps

Sunday’s performance of Rutter’s Magnificat teems with sophistication as the basses and tenors chase sopranos and altos up and down the musical score, accompanied by a full orchestra. This highbrow work is sung in Latin, which, like a British accent, makes anything sound more elegant and urbane.

But what we call the Magnificat, or the song of Mary, is as down-home as a labor union rally. “The big cats are going down because we’ve oppressed far too long. God has heard the cries of the poor, so you’d better get ready for change you can believe in.”

No wonder we prefer Mary’s song in Latin set to lofty music. What better way to obscure the politically charged, radically subversive message of the woman chosen to carry the mystery of Divinity in her body than to civilize it to death?
We’ve done the same thing to the whole Christmas story, really. Two thousand years of carols about the perfect baby Jesus (“no crying he makes”) and angels that look like Precious Moments dolls have camouflaged the hard-hitting implications of the story. For example, let the previous compliment to the British be accompanied by a recent Reuters story of competitive British parents creating a “manger chic” for Christmas pageants, with exotic fur throws purchased for their children cast as sheep, and ivory bridesmaid dresses for their darlings selected to be angels.

The Christmas story begins with a recognition of who is in charge (“a decree went out from Emperor Augustus”) and his demand that all people in the occupied land return to their hometown to register to pay taxes (quick: name a Christmas carol that includes the word “tax”). That’s what brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem from where they lived in Nazareth, 30 miles to the north--imperial powers throwing their weight around, treating ordinary people like puppets, using their might to meet their own needs. Some things never change.

There’s the stable birth, complete with cattle that are lowing, whatever that means. Other than a cute twist for future Christmas pageants, does the stable detail tell us something about where the sacred is most visible?

And then there are the shepherds, the salt-of-the-earth, working-class folk who are the first to hear the news from “a multitude of the heavenly host.” This is akin to a dignitary sending birth announcements to hotel clerks and fast-food assistant managers instead of to the social and political elite.

We read that the shepherds were “sore afraid” by their nocturnal visitors. Translation: it scared the heaven out of them. You’d be scared too, both by singing night angels but also by their message that interrupts the regularly scheduled programming with the announcement of a new deliverer who will come from outside the prescribed places of power in order to shuffle the deck and deal out a new hand.

But can we hear this message?

I don’t see many of us afraid like the shepherds at Christmas. Maybe we fear not scoring a coveted Zhu Zhu pet--this year’s hip toy. Or we’re afraid our credit cards (symbols of the System if ever there were one) will max out before our shopping is finished. Or maybe we’re afraid that we won’t “get in the Christmas spirit” this year.

But the fear of Christmas that awakens in us an understanding of how the world should be ordered? Not so much.

Karl Barth, a German theologian during World War II, warned, “Christmas without fear carries with it fear without Christmas.” That is, lives void of reverence for the sacred carry in them the seeds of fear that grow unquestioned and unchallenged. These lesser fears paralyze us and ultimately bear the fruit of havoc in our world-- competition, hoarding, retaliation, isolation.

But what about the life-altering chill from hearing a message announcing that the Holy One hears the cries of the poor, comes among us, and condemns our wars and conflicts with the simple words “and on earth, peace”? What about the heart-in-throat evoking realization that this “good news of great joy” really is for “all the people”? What if it’s true that Love is stronger than hate? What if we really are meant to live together as one people, united in common parentage, humanity, and hope?

I wonder if even my Jewish and Muslim friends, who reverence their own faith stories just as I do, might be invited as honored guests to see beyond the details of Christmas and the specificity of the Christian faith in order to recognize a picture that is profoundly and universally true: The Heart of Love wants to scare us awake from the sleep of life-as-usual into a new way of being stewards of these beautiful lives we’ve been given.

Once frightened awake we are assured in Mary’s song “God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation.” As the angels said to the awakened shepherds in the field, “Do not be afraid.”

Joe Phelps is Pastor of Highland Baptist Church and Ridgewood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jimmy Carter and Gender Equality

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Former President Jimmy Carter stated in a recent video appearance at the Parliament of World Religions meeting in Australia, “Every generic religious text encourages believers to respect essential human dignity, yet some selected scriptures are interpreted to justify the derogation or inferiority of women and girls, our fellow human beings.”

Carter has become a champion of women in religion over the past decade since his departure from the Southern Baptist Convention, and his humanitarian record is impeccable. His comments made me reflect about the global state of women in religion. Carter said, “It is ironic that women are now welcomed into all major professions and other positions of authority, but are branded as inferior and deprived of the equal right to serve God in positions of religious leadership. The plight of abused women is made more acceptable by the mandated subservience of women by religious leaders." This is an incredibly astute observation. While American women are slowly closing the pay gap in the secular world (MSNBC reported recently that women in DC make 92 cents for every dollar a man makes, though they lag far behind in the South), women are far from having equal representation in the pulpit.

Perhaps a perusal of Southern Baptist literature may tell us why. As America’s largest Protestant denomination (though their numbers are declining), their view on women says a great deal about conservative religion and women’s representation therein. The December 2009/January 2010 issue of SBC Life, Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention states:

“The Bible clearly teaches that men and women are equal in value and dignity and have distinct and complementary roles in the home and the church…If families do not structure their homes properly, in obedience to the teachings of Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, and Colossians 3, then they will not have the proper foundation from which to withstand the temptations of the devil and the various onslaughts of the world. This in turn impedes the husband and wife from modeling redemption in their home God has called them to (Ephesians 5:22-33).”

The SBC believes that women are separate, but equal to, men (they call it complementary equality). Women’s domestic duties are just as important as those of the men who run the church, and those who violate this teaching invite the devil into their homes. They clearly ignore Galatians 3:28; Jesus’ attitude toward women; Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene before any other after resurrection, making her the Apostle to the Apostles; and all of the women who are cited as church leaders in Paul’s letters, including Phoebe (a deacon), Priscilla (church leader), Junia (a prominent apostle), and others (10 female leaders in Romans 16). SBC leaders are threatening that the devil may take hold of your household if you violate their view of female subservience. They also ignore the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, which showed separate can never be equal. But, I don’t wish to get in an argument over prooftexting. That rarely serves any purpose but to find and distort passages to fit one’s own ideology, as demonstrated by the above excerpt from SBC Life with Ephesians 5:22-33.

Rather, I agree with Carter’s view that the entirety of scripture is liberating. While you can prooftext and distort passages out of their historical context, the Bible as a whole has a bend toward freedom, love, and hope. In the Old Testament, Moses frees his people with God’s help, God watches over his people in exile, and God sends prophets and leaders to proclaim social justice (Micah 6:8, Jeremiah 22:3, Amos 5:24, Isaiah 1:17, Nehemiah 5, etc.) as an exhibition of the love of God toward all God’s children. In the New Testament, Jesus comes to declare that the poor are blessed, spends time with the social outcasts (tax collectors, lepers, and women), and has a large following of female patrons and supporters who funded Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Jesus was politically dangerous to the Romans because he served a higher power that demanded love, social justice and obedience to God’s way, not Caesar’s. I take comfort in the liberating and logical words and deeds of Jesus over the fear and ludicrous suggestions espoused by the SBC that my husband and I might embrace the devil because we are both ordained and share housework. I love my God, and 400 years of Baptist history has taught me that personal experience and the priesthood of all believers make my love and testimony valid before my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

Carter promotes women in ministry in his words, as well as religion being used faithfully to follow God’s liberating call in the world rather than to restrict and build hierarchies. I think Carter is trying to say that if the glass ceiling is broken at the top, and women can be seen as pastoral models and leaders, then our view of God and society will be transformed. If a woman’s perspective in religion is valued, than perhaps Ephesians 5:22-33 will be seen less as a justification for the devaluation of women and more of a treatise on loving understanding between the sexes.

I’d like to close with Carter’s most powerful words: “At their most repugnant, the belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo. It also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair and equal access to education, health care, employment, and influence within their own communities.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

How Far Is Too Far in Religious Politics?

by Dr. Ken Massey, pastor of First Baptist Church of Greensboro, NC

As a Baptist desirous of defending church state separation and religious liberty, I am troubled by a growing practice among Catholic leaders.

I’m referring to the practice of withholding communion from elected representatives who vote in ways that are not consistent with Catholic teaching. Catholic clergy across the country have either refused to give or have asked officials like Rep. Patrick Kennedy to abstain from communion because their votes are contrary to Catholic dogma. Should any religion use ultimate spiritual leverage to get a vote from our representatives who happen to be adherents of that religion? When does political pressure from religion turn into extortion?

Regardless of the issue or the religion involved, what we are seeing from the Catholic Church is a dangerous precedent that crosses the line into church-state entanglement. We have entered a minefield when ecclesiastical leaders use spiritual coercion on politicians so they vote according to sectarian doctrine.

I am not protesting Catholic discipline in general, only that which is directed at our representatives for the explicit purpose of making their votes line up with Church teaching. And I’m not suggesting that religious groups should not lobby for their causes. Rather, I’m arguing that severing a Catholic politician from their primary means of grace (Communion), leaps far beyond the typical political pressures of money and support. A Catholic should, if they believe the Church’s teaching, consider their immortal souls in danger if they cannot receive communion. A Baptist would just join another church, but for a Catholic politician it might feel like a spiritual gun is being held to their head.

When religious rulers step in between public servants and their sworn ultimate duty to uphold the Constitution, it seems to me that they have crossed a line. Threatening House and Senate members so that they vote with the Church is an unconstitutional goal that effectively creates congressional seats for the Holy See.

The U.S. has avoided the religious wars that entangled the Imperial Roman Church over the centuries. We did this not because we refused to elect religious people, but because we refused to elect men and women as representatives of their religion. Our congressional leaders represent ALL persons of ALL beliefs in their congressional districts. Our founders knew the tragic history of religious politics and rejected it.

This spiritual strong arm on elected officials is bad for the Church because it will create backlash. Many will refuse to elect otherwise capable Catholics if they think these politicians will be obligated or pressured to vote as directed by The Church. The same would be true if Muslim members of Congress were obligated to “vote the Koran” or if Methodist Senators had to check in with their bishop before they voted.

This practice is also a step down the wrong road for a country that values religious liberty. If you think political warfare between secular political factions is hurting our country, just wait for an injection of sectarian religion. There’s nothing quite like a mandate from God to kill compromise and justify any and all means necessary to achieve a goal. We don’t need religious exclusionists taking the mainstream hostage as we see in other countries.

Our country does not need Baptist or Catholic representatives. We need U.S. representatives that vote for the good of the country—a country that has refused to give preference to any religion but instead liberty to all.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Institute for Dismantling Racism: "Racism diminishes human existence"

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Recently, I attended a weekend-long Institute for Dismantling Racism (IDR) Training, conducted by the groups Crossroads and IDR. It began with introductions and a retelling of American history from the perspective of People of Color. From the beginning of the European invasion through the genocide of American Indians and slavery to the fight for Civil Rights, listening to a fact-filled narrative of American history from this perspective was incredibly powerful in thwarting many shadowy American myths still hiding in the corners of my mind. Perhaps one of the most jolting pieces of information was that the first slave ship to the New World was called “Jesus”. I could not help but remember one high school teacher of mine defending the idea of Manifest Destiny, which is a glorified way of saying that one believes God ordained European settlers to conquer the New World and that the death of millions of American Indians was just tragic collateral damage. This idea is still very much alive in the psyche of many Americans.

The next day we discussed the importance of a unified definition of racism, which is the misuse of power plus prejudice, so that we may more successfully confront racism and become anti-racists ourselves. We addressed low-income neighborhoods and the consequences of external government, corporate, and non-profit decisions: poor roads, less grocery stores, more government placed liquor stores, substandard education, less access to medical care, and social services whose leadership lives and makes decisions outside that community. We discussed white privilege, which is what a white person gets just for being white (read: white affirmative action). For instance, white persons do not have to worry about racial profiling, unfair treatment in the justice system, discriminatory hiring practices, etc. People of Color have to worry about all of these things and receive statistically higher interest rates on loans when compared to whites with the same credit history, along with higher infant mortality rates and higher stress levels. These discussions made me think about the everyday things about which I am blind, simply because I was born with lighter skin. I felt fortunate that I could enter into a safe and honest dialogue with other people about institutional disparities with regard to race.

The final day we covered racism in our own institutions. One of the most obvious and troubling observations about where the attendees’ institutions fell on the continuum of racism (racist institutions on the left and multicultural anti-racist institutions on the right) was that churches were the farthest behind. This is not surprising when you think about Martin Luther King’s observation that 11:00am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, or that the Southern Baptist Convention was created because preachers in the South wanted to defend slavery from a biblical standpoint. Most of our institutions were created in a pre-Civil Rights era, and we need to think creatively about how to confront racism and transform these institutions. We cannot do it alone and we cannot do it overnight. Organizations like Crossroads and IDR are here to train as many people as they can across America to give them resources to discover how racism infects their institutions. IDR encourages several people from every institution to attend and form an anti-racist group so that one person is not trying to change the organization alone. Contact Willard Bass, Executive Director of IDR, for information about tailoring a workshop for your organization or attending the full 3 day training. His email address is revwillard.bass@gmail.com.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving (aka National Day of Mourning)

by Rev. Laura Barclay

In 1970, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts asked Frank James, the leader of the Wampanoag tribe, to speak at their Thanksgiving festivities. As he looked at the spectators and out into the waters where a replica of the Mayflower was docked, he did not speak about the partnership between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. Instead, he spoke about the pain that followed. For European settlers, we trace the beginnings of our country and the idea of America as a melting pot to that meal. For Indians, they trace their genocide, loss of land, customs, languages, and way of life to that symbolic day. Not long after that meal, many Indians died or were enslaved in King Philip’s War. Within a few centuries, the United States would break treaty after treaty with the Indians, forcibly removing Indians off their land to reservations and forcing Indian children to reject their native traditions and be schooled in European culture.

The Gospel lectionary text for this Thanksgiving Sunday is Matthew 6:25-33, where Jesus instructs that we should be more concerned about the Kingdom of God than our clothing and food. I do not believe that he’s saying hunger and poverty are not of great concern. In fact, he states the exact opposite in Matthew 25, when he claims that the only criteria for judgment hinges on clothing and feeding the poor. I believe, in context with Jesus’ other statements, he is saying that what matters most is hospitality. Jesus’ whole ministry was about expanding the social norms for hospitality. He healed lepers, ate with vilified tax collectors, changed water into wine to extend the celebration at a wedding, and blurred the lines of the strict social environment in which he lived. Perhaps he’s saying that loving God and neighbor, with hospitality being the public outpouring of that love, is more important than priding ourselves on large tables of food and designer clothing.

In our displays of food around the Thanksgiving table this year, let us remember the entirety of the Thanksgiving story. Let’s remember that God calls us to hospitality and love. As God’s children, let us give thanks for God’s love and show others that love through our hospitality. Let us ask for forgiveness when we have failed to exhibit that love, and give thanks that tomorrow is a new day to work for reconciliation. Let us remember the Indians who will again gather at Coles Hill near Plymouth Rock and to observe the National Day of Mourning. Most importantly, let us pray and work toward the day when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:4).”

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, drive safe, and I’ll see you next week!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting To Know Your Neighbor

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last night, I attended the Metro Council of Churches meeting for C.H.A.N.G.E. (Communities Helping All Neighbors Gain Empowerment), an intentionally multi-racial, multi-faith, non-partisan organization that brings churches, non-profits, and neighborhood associations together to solve identified community problems through collaborative research. We then meet with corporate leaders and government officials to challenge them to work with us toward a solution. Delegates representing each of our churches met last night, and one of our activities was to find a person you don’t know and ask them the following questions:

1) Why are you here?
2) What makes you angry/get up in the morning/lose sleep at night?

We had 25 minutes to make a new friend. I paired up with the Liberian-American gentleman sitting to my right representing an African-American Missionary Baptist church. I learned what worried and angered him, why he cared about making a difference in Winston-Salem, and what he’d like to see changed. We had similar values and concerns. Perhaps the most profound thing he said was, “I see this as God’s work. We can say it in church and not live it. Here, we are living Jesus’ example and caring about each other.” He also said that getting to know one another makes it harder to make generalizations about a person based on skin color. Once you get to know one another and trust that you both want to work side by side to make positive change, you realize how much you have in common. Suddenly, the fractures in the body of Christ don’t seem so deep.

The point of the exercise was to connect the members of C.H.A.N.G.E. on a deeper level and to cause you to care about your neighbors even more than the issues you might organize around. You stick with social justice work because you know and love your neighbor, and want to continue to work by their side. I think churches could learn a lot from this model for two main reasons. First, a healthy church should be missional and engaged in the work of the community. Staying enclosed behind the walls of the church in a self-contained community is not what Jesus asked of us. Second, I think church members should have relational meetings with each other and non-church members in their community. In this way, stories become intertwined in the larger narrative of God’s people working through history to be a light to the world. So, go have coffee with someone you don’t know very well. Have lunch with that person you always wanted to know better. You might find out that you aren’t so different after all, and that you can work together “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:8].”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

North Carolina Baptist State Convention Severs BCE from Budget

by Robert Parham, Executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics
Reprinted from Ethics Daily's website: http://ethicsdaily.com/news.php?viewStory=15190

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina voted last week to deny churches the opportunity to give through the convention to the Baptist Center for Ethics, thereby ending an almost 20-year partnership.

No state convention executive or elected leader ever called to explain what it was that we did or did not do that created the need to rupture the partnership. Neither did they bother to disclose information about their pending decision. No formal communication was exchanged.

State convention messengers made a decision in 2008 to begin pulling up the drawbridge to the conservative castle. A year later, they sealed the drawbridge, cutting off relationships with the non-fundamentalist Baptist world and fortifying relationships with the fundamentalists who run the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

"No sideline passes will be distributed for the Baptist State Convention's (BSC) annual meeting in Greensboro Nov. 9-11. You need to be in the game," wrote the convention's state paper editor in a cutesy way. "Come to Greensboro. Get into the game."

By getting into the game, he apparently meant in part that supporters could benefit from "a great lineup of breakout sessions." One of those sessions was led by a man connected with the North Carolina Family Policy Council, a Christian Right organization that believes in thought police, opposes the teaching of evolution in schools and thinks the United Nations is undermining families.

Neither the state convention's action nor its right-wing workshop represents the best of North Carolina Baptists.

From my perspective, I regret the loss of such a long-time partnership. I was not totally surprised, however. I had warned in an editorial in January 2004 about the challenges facing North Carolina moderates. That piece upset some state convention moderates who wanted to avoid thinking about the future and addressing honestly the existing dynamics.

"Know that the Baptist Center for Ethics is grateful for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina," I wrote. "BSCNC provided BCE over $31,000 in funding in 2003. Jim Royston, the state executive director, reviews books on our Web site. Steve Sumerel on the convention staff writes a regular column about substance-abuse issues. Just as BCE expects to continue working with friendly elements within BSCNC, North Carolina moderates will find alliances within the state convention constellation."

A new challenge now faces the theologically thoughtful and morally centrist North Carolinians, who belong to churches no longer allowed to support BCE through the BSC budget.

Traditional Baptists in SBC-affiliated churches must decide if they want to be bound in organizations retreating from the 21st century. They must determine if they want to fund organizations which are aligned with Birthers, Tea-Baggers, Disney-boycotters, anti-public school advocates and preachers who think women ought to only be homemakers. That's who the SBC leadership is. And that's what BSC wants to become.

While thoughtful and centrist church members weigh their decision to stay hardwired to the fringe of culture and theology, these good Baptists need to know in concrete terms what BSC's decision means financially for BCE.

Churches through the state convention provided financial support to BCE of $28,369 in 2004, $26,840 in 2005, $26,031 in 2006, $27,001 in 2007, $23,567 in 2008 and $14,879 through September of this year.

We hope goodwill North Carolina Baptist individuals and churches will decide to make up our loss of funding.

If you read this editorial, then we hope you help us make up this defunding. To make a secure, online contribution, click here. If you prefer to write a check, mailing directions are on this same page.

We also hope you will consider getting BCE in your church budget or supporting BCE through the mission resource plan of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

We have a clear moral perspective and a transparent one. We disclose our vantage point every day on EthicsDaily.com, through our documentaries and in our online curriculum units. We frame issues from a centrist Baptist position that is rooted in the biblical witness, seeks to interpret and apply the teachings of Jesus, honors the best of the goodwill Baptist tradition, knows that the headquarters of the Baptist faith is the local church and hopes that we both inform and equip church members. We don't speak for Baptists; we do speak to Baptists and other people of faith.

We hope you will speak up for BCE.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

“For You Were Once a Stranger: Immigration in the US through the Lens of Faith”

-an NC Council of Churches resource

review by Rev. Laura Barclay

An incredibly divisive issue over the last decade in America, the vitriol created by the immigration issue is rivaled only by that of the anger surrounding the health care reform debate. Perhaps putting a human face and hearing real stories about this issue might be the best place to start. On pages 36 and 37 of this resource, chronicler Daniel Grood recounts his stories working in Mexico providing pastoral care near the U.S. border. He states that many undocumented immigrants come from a part of Mexico where there are no jobs, and putting food on their children’s tables has become exceedingly difficult. One man, Mario, revealed that he is not crossing the border because he wants to break the law or even come to America. The economic conditions where he lives are so bad that he knows his family will die if he stays. At least if he crosses, obtains work, and can send back money, his family might live a little longer. However, his group is captured and chained, all while an over-head U.S. border patrol helicopter plays “La Cucaracha” while they run (37). Humiliated and lacking hope, they are transported back to Mexico. How did conditions get so bad?

The book explores the nonsensical evolution and increasing restrictions of immigration laws that clearly reflect the xenophobic culture of the times. For instance, did you know that at one point immigrant “epileptics” and “persons with physical and mental defects” were excluded from naturalization? And almost all Asians were barred from entry at another point in US history (54-55). Even more frustrating is the now-exorbitant waiting period for immigrants to become U.S. citizens: it’s up to 20 years in some cases (13). The explanations of significant, lengthy and painstaking hurdles through which immigrants must jump are not only head-scratching, but make it clear that our laws are actually preventing legal immigration that would help us track who is in our country. It was also helpful to learn that NAFTA destroyed Mexico’s economy along with ours, as American businesses moved from Mexico to find even cheaper labor abroad. This exodus of Mexican job mirrored ones from US manufacturing towns, and left thousands in northern Mexico without jobs (24).

Perhaps the most compelling argument for immigration reform for Christian readers comes in Chapter 7, with the statement, “The Gospel of Matthew says God in Jesus not only takes on human flesh and migrates into our world but actually becomes a refugee himself when he and his family flee political persecution and escape into Egypt [Matt 2:13-150]” (39). Jesus, Mary and Joseph were undocumented immigrants in the great nation of Egypt. Perhaps this experience motivates Jesus to say in Matthew 25, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me” [NRSV].

If Christians are to example the Good Samaritan, as Jesus demands, what are we to do next? The reflection questions throughout the book help the reader to focus their thinking. The book says that end goal should be for persons of faith to show their hospitality by demanding immigration reform that requires employers to treat workers fairly (34). Low wages and poor working conditions comprise the reality of economic slavery under which many undocumented immigrants are trapped. A majority of workers are paying into Medicare, Social Security and Federal Taxes to the tune of $50 billion in federal taxes from 1996 to 2003 (17). Despite the perception that undocumented immigrants are a drain on our system, statistics like these would show another side of the story. These workers are actually paying into a system they will never get to benefit from, and they risk deportation at any moment.

No one wants scores of unaccounted people in America. We must call for reform that allows hard working immigrants access to a path toward legal citizenship, and allows the US to have a more efficient, practical system. We are all children of God who must help our neighbors. If you are interested in this resource, go to the North Carolina Council of Churches website, http://www.nccouncilofchurches.org/ for more information.

Anti-Rape Bill Should Not Be a Partisan Issue

by Rev. Laura Barclay

I was very troubled last month to see that 30 senators voted against Senator Al Franken’s anti-rape amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill. This amendment would revoke defense contracts from Halliburton and others who do not allow their employees to take workplace rape and sexual assault cases to court. One such example cited by Senator Franken involved a former Halliburton employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, who was gang raped and locked in a shipping container by her co-workers and later prevented from taking her case to court by her employer.
How can this be a partisan issue, you ask? Those 30 senators, who all happen to be white, male, and Republican, claim that the government is overreaching their authority into the private sector with this bill. They also believe that frivolous lawsuits would occur from allowing employees to sue. One article explains a portion of this: http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2009/10/06/12247/senate_passes_franken_amendment_aimed_at_defense_contractors

However, many of the 30 senators who voted against Franken’s bill had no problem intervening and cutting federal funding when corruption became evident in ACORN. I would have hoped these senators would have made rape cases as much of a priority as financial corruption.

I believe this is another case where politicians get so involved in how to argue against and defeat the other side that they lose focus of the reason they decided to be public servants and run for office. Both parties have been alternately guilty of this throughout history, even though this example highlights Republicans. Many politicians seem to miss the whole point of good governing that protects and cares for its citizens and upholds the law. Democrats and Republicans alike could learn from his example. Jesus went where the poor and suffering were without apology. Our government would do well to exemplify this behavior and listen to the stories of these rape survivors who are crying out for justice.