Monday, August 14, 2017

5 sins I oppose in the wake of Charlottesville




If you had asked me “way back when” what the 21st Century would be like, I would have not anticipated the likes of the KKK and neo-Nazis being a part of it. Not in my wildest. Surely they whould have disappeared with the demise of the last millennium.

Alas, they and their ilk have not, and it is time for the voices of faith to rise up and push back against this darkness. Not in fear or panic. Only in confidence that we who are of the light have a much stronger power on our side. Not a mere physical power, but the spirit of Christ which conquers all.

I am heartened by what I have heard this weekend, so many good responses to the terrorism in Charlottesville. People of faith, evangelical faith like mine included, saying “Enough already!”

As a young man nearly a half-century ago I was deeply embarrassed by the silence of faith leaders, my own faith leaders, starkly silent in the face of brazen racism. It has marked me for life. I applaud the voices of faith who have spoken out so strongly in recent days.

My heart grieves for the families of those who died – a young peaceful activist and two police officers in the line of duty. I ache for those who were injured and I pray that their wounds, both physical and emotional, will heal. I intercede for the city, trampled by forces alien to its good.

But I am also stirred by what I trust is a holy anger, an anger that condemns the evil that has reared its ugly head. I urge others to join me in standing against all that is wrong with what happened this weekend.

Here are the five sins I oppose:

1. Hatred. See the faces in the photos, the faces of young men carrying torches. Their anger is not against sin, thus they sin in their anger, spewing out venom from the pits of hell. They speak evil of their fellow human beings, all of them created in the image of God. I see nothing of God’s love, and yet it is in the name of God that the KKK was raised up and sustained for far too long.


2. Violence. Watch a man filled with hatred barreling his car down a crowded street, intent on causing harm and mayhem among people who peacefully oppose his values. He seeks to present his views with a two-ton machine spreading brutality and bloodshed. This is not God’s wrath on evildoers, but violence demonic in nature.


3. Misrepresentation. Read the words of bystanders, beginning now to reinterpret the historical patterns of oppression in a softer, more palatable flavor. Starting once again to cradle sin in a velvety cultural context. Hiding evil behind secondary political influences instead of calling sin for what it is. Why can’t they be honest about what people in the past have done? Who are they trying to protect? Let us learn from our history. Let us call our society and cultures to account.

4. Silence. Listen to the church. Hear . . . nothing. The deafening quiet of those who hold back, giving excuses for why the church should not act. A silence that only emboldens those who speak evil. Why, of all the sins of our society, is the church most silent on racism, speaking only when it can strike a careful balance with all sides without being honest about why they think such a balance seems necessary to strike?

5. Racism, anti-Semitism, and nativism. They are all of the same. Feel the otherization that pits us versus them, that says to people of color, to people of the Jewish faith, to immigrants and refugees, you are not one of us. I cannot see anything of Jesus in such rhetoric. And yet there are people who call themselves Christians who espouse these lies, and people who call themselves Christians who excuse such anti-gospel teachings or allow them to go unopposed.

The percentage of these worst offenders in our nation is not large, but coupled with the many enablers, the numbers are huge. Fifty years after the death of Jim Crow and 70 years after the death of Hitler, such forces of injustice remain strong.

Now is not the time to hold back, to be passive, whether out of fear or indifference. These forces we saw in action this weekend in Charlottesville – the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, the Nationalists – these forces are hostile to the gospel. We have let them ferment in our midst for far too long. We will answer for our silence.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Be holy: A guest post from my daughter, Hannah



My daughter, Hannah Kenyon, starts her senior year at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, next month. For an online course she is taking this summer from Global University, she was required to post a blog related to her class. Here is what she has written:
 
For those of us growing up in the church we may have heard that God’s nature is Holy. We may have even heard that because “God is Holy, we must be Holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Maybe we even sang songs on Sunday Mornings, such as Holy, Holy, Holy by John Bacchus Dykes or Holy by Matt Redman. Without even thinking about what holy meant or what it meant to be holy, we probably heard these verses and sang these songs. We probably did not even question if we should still be holy today, since this was written all the way back in the Old Testament, in Leviticus. We may have even gone on our way and tried to be holy, without much direction as to what that meant. I know that I am guilty of this. In fact, before I set out writing this blog I did not understand what the word holy even meant. Let’s dig into this command together today, shall we?
             
What does holy mean? According to dictionary.com, holy means “entitled to worship as or if sacred” (dictionary.com). If we take this definition, this says that holiness as God’s nature means that He is entitled to be worshiped. If this is the case, and God commanded us in Leviticus that we should be Holy as well, does this mean that we are also entitled to be worshiped? To be worthy of worship seems so weird to us, mere humans. It also seems weird to think that God would want us to be worshiped along with Him, since all the glory and worship should be on Him. Maybe we are not supposed to be worshiped. Maybe this definition of Holy is used to describe God, but there is a better definition of Holy that depicts us. When I looked back on dictionary.com again, another definition it gives is to be “dedicated or devoted to the service of God” (dictionary.com). This seems to better define us mere humans, doesn’t it?
             
What does it mean for us to be Holy? Like the above definition says, it means to be “dedicated or devoted to the service of God”. Let’s unpack this a little. To be dedicated or devoted is to be seriously focused on one or more tasks or beings, so much so that we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by other people or things. In other words, to be holy means to be completely focused on the will of our Lord, without allowing ourselves to be distracted. I think this looks slightly different for everyone, since God has a slightly differently will for all of us. However, our initial will of the Lord is to be in complete awe and surrender to Him, so we should be completely devoted to that task. This looks like obedience to God, diving into His Word, being willing to pray bravely and worship Him without holding back. At least this is the picture I get from this. Again, this may be different from one person to the other.
             
Now that we have answered what holy means and how to be holy, let’s tackle if we should be holy today since that command was given, so long ago in the first five books of the Bible. I believe this command to be holy, or completely devoted to God’s will for our lives is still God’s command for us today. 1 Peter 1:14-16 says, As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:14-16 NIV). Here once again, it says that we should be Holy because God is holy. Since this command is found also in the New Testament, it suggests that we should keep this command that God gave to the Israelites so long ago.

The command to be Holy, that God gave the Israelites in the fourth book of the Bible, remains a command for us today. I challenge you to discover what being Holy means to you and your life according to God’s will. If you don’t know what God’s will for you is, I suggest you use the advice of Maria from “The sound of music” and “start at the very beginning”, God’s word, “a very good place to start” (Sound of Music 1965). Start with reading a chapter of the Bible a day. Be holy, devoting yourself to God and His will for you and you will be blessed.

Sources: "Holy." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 28 July 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/>.

Monday, June 12, 2017

An Open Letter to Senator Bernie Sanders: Most respectfully, you have crossed a line!



To the Honorable Bernie Sanders,

Your line of questioning to Russell Vought in a confirmation hearing this past week was way out of Constitutional line. You were wrong to press Mr. Vought on his religious beliefs.

Like Mr. Vought, I am an evangelical Christian and I too believe in hell. It does not matter how many others share our belief. The Constitution is explicit that there is to be zero religious testing. Yet, upon hearing his stated views on hell and his commitment to the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as means of eternal salvation, you said, “This nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”

Technically, you don’t have to give a reason to vote no on this man’s nomination. The reason you cannot use is that you disagree with his views on life hereafter or whether Jesus is the only way. As Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution states: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

To be honest, I don’t see religious liberty as a central concern of mine. The church is not called to self-preservation; witness to the Truth as I understand it entails a willingness to suffer and die. I have observed that the church and the faith of its people are often more robust when in a minority, even oppressed setting. I’d rather have robustness of faith than over-weening favor.

Even so, the line of questioning you used in this hearing presents a danger to our society, and on this basis I object to your actions in the confirmation hearing. Please allow me to explain.

The so-called separation of church and state clause is in our Constitution’s first amendent for two reasons: 1) to protect the church (and other religious bodies) from unnecessary interference by the government; and 2) to protect the church (and other religious bodies) from losing their spiritual and moral vitality by becoming overly entangled with the affairs of state. The separation clause is of protective value to faith communities, which are vital to the health of our society.

At the same time, the separation clause and the religious test clause do not disbar people of faith (or non-faith) from engaging in government or exercising their values in determining or executing state policy. Communities and individuals of faith can and should exert influence on society in general and government policy in particular. Individuals of faith should run for office and be willing to serve in all areas of government. The separation principle is about institutional entanglement, not about the expression or promotion of value.

I don’t think you want a valueless government anymore than I do. A valueless government is something no one on the right or left wants. In fact, that is why you pressed that line of questioning, isn’t it, Sir? You were so concerned about values that you wanted to bar someone with a different set of values from getting into a lower level position at the Office of Management and Budget.

Therein lies the rub. The Constitution does not allow for discrimination against one set of values over another, other than the principle that all people, regardless of their beliefs, are equal under the law. The only values test allowed for government officials is whether they will agree to uphold the Constitution. When we ignore the Constitutional ban on religious tests, we pose grave danger to our society and its government.

Our nation faces increased polarization. We do well to avoid feeding that fire. This past weekend people have been in the streets marching against Sharia law and promoting what I personally see as hate speech. I oppose what these marches stand for – though I do not oppose their right to march. And I oppose any attempt to treat Muslims (or any other religious group or non-religious group) differently. Are you going to ask the same questions of the first Muslim who enters your hearing room? I pray not.

Our nation’s first motto was E pluribus unum: one out of many. We thrive on our diversity, including our religious diversity, and freedom. There is a reason that the only place in the original Constitution where religion is mentioned is in this ban on religious tests.

Not that you noticed, but I didn’t vote for you in this last election cycle. Actually, I “voted” for none of the candidates for the office of President. For the first time in my voting life, I could not even “hold my nose,” as some urged. That’s not to say I didn’t agree with some of your positions or that I devalue you as a person. But I will say that my nay vote on you and your co-candidates had nothing to do with anyone’s religiously-held perspectives.

You failed the test – the religious question test – this past week, Senator Sanders. I urge you to retake the test and uphold the entire Constitution as you have pledged to do.

(For more information on the Senate hearing referred to above and for the video showing the exact line of questioning by Senator Bernie Sanders, go to http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/09/532116365/is-it-hateful-to-believe-in-hell-bernie-sanders-questions-prompt-backlash)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Why I oppose the new Administration’s refugee order




On the day we Americans remembered the horrors of the Holocaust and marched for the unborn, we shut our gates on the refugees of the world. Late on Friday President Trump, issuing an executive order, effectively did just that.

Of particular concern to those of us who work with refugees, the President suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days in what is being called a “reset”. That means that over the next four months, no refugees will enter the US and organizations such as ours will have to scramble without funding to maintain our refugee resettlement operations.

Other countries, like Australia, are being considered as alternative refugee destinations during this reset. But what does that mean for Pentecostal refugees from Ukraine in transit to reunite with family members already settled in Portland, Oregon? Just when these families think they will be together again at last, are they to find themselves divided by a Pacific Ocean they cannot cross?

In recent decades our local team, the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s (EMO) SOAR program, has received tens of thousands of refugees from around the world. We partner with Church World Service (CWS), one of the nine national nonprofits who work with USRAP. Most of these nine are faith-based organizations, including World Relief of the National Association of Evangelicals, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

At EMO/SOAR, our dedicated staff includes many former refugees themselves – from Eastern Europe, Northwest Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Cuba. They know what it’s like to arrive, exhausted and disoriented, after years of being in legal limbo, after extensive scrutiny, and unsettledness in third countries. It takes time for them to understand they are finally welcomed, safe and settled.

And now, we are being forced to stop right in our tracks while the federal government does a reset on what is indisputably the most successful and secure program of its kind. Why do I oppose this order? Let me count the ways:

1. The terrorist record – or glaring lack thereof – of refugees coming to the US.
Since 9/11, 750,000 people have been settled in the US through the USRAP. According to the Washington Free Beacon (a conservative paper) only one of those refugees has been involved in stateside terrorist activity: Abdul Razak Ali Artan from Somalia. Add in three individuals arrested for terrorist links in their home countries while in the US. Add in a dozen linked to terrorism in their home countries prior to coming to the US. Just for sake of argument, throw in the Tsarnaev brothers, whose father was granted political asylum, a process entirely different from arriving as a refugee, and thus not really countable. Now for good measure, double, no triple all those – just in case – and you come up with 0.000072% of refugees who have been known to be involved with terrorism. You are more likely to be hit by a meteorite than to be terrorized by a refugee. The charge that refugees are a threat just does not add up.

A friend asked me how the crime rate for refugees compares with the general US population. Actually it is lower, much, much lower. But, with the second generation, it skyrockets, becoming about the same as the general US population. In other words, the first generation of refugees is way less likely than the average American to commit a crime and their children turn out to be normal US citizens.

2. The difference between our refugee programs and those in Europe

No comparison. There was little or no vetting with the flood of refugees into Europe. Desperate people just rushed the borders, swam the waters, clawed their way to freedom, many dying enroute. How could they be stopped? No doubt troublemakers came with them. Even so, the vast majority were honestly fleeing for their lives.

When we talk about refugees, the only people who rush America’s boarders, swim the waters and claw their way to American freedom are Cubans, who until the last days of President Obama’s administration had a status unique among all the peoples of the earth. Then the “wet foot dry foot” policy that has long given Cubans instant refugee status was rescinded by Obama and now they too must be vetted just like everyone else.

3. The difference between refugees and immigrants – or, for that matter, tourists

If you want to spread terror in the USA, the last route you want to take is as a refugee. The vetting is daunting – harder than becoming President of the United States. Seriously, just get a tourist visa for most countries or come without a visa like everyone else from the UK or France.

Immigrants, legal or otherwise, are a whole different category from refugee. Farook of the San Bernardino attacks? Born in the USA. His accompliss, Malik, arrived on a fiancĂ©e visa (non-refugee). Rahimi the NY Chelsea bomber? Came as an immigrant. Mateen, the Pulse nightclub shooter? Born in the USA. His widow? Child of immigrants, not refugees. Oh, and none of them came from one of the countries on President Trump’s banned list, not even Syria. Home-bread Oklahomans and Coloradans have contributed more terrorists in the US than have Syrians.

I don’t mean to sound flippant, but the accusations about terrorist refugees are flippant. Nay, they are total falsehood. They have no basis in the facts. The US refugee vetting process is intense. Check out the screening process here.

Any system, even our own refugee system, has glitches from time to time. Investigations are currently underway concerning a few recent Syrian arrivals. But the only way to make sure our borders are absolutely secure is to shut out the world and allow no one, not even you or me, to come or go from our American shores. For me that flies in the face of the Great Commission. Can our refugee system be improved? Sure. Does it need to be shut down to be improved? No.

4. The organizations that settle them

Here is what I think is the greatest rub. On the very day that Vice President Pence said the Trump administration was standing with evangelicals on the right of unborn children to live, the President was coming into direct conflict with evangelicals about another cause near and dear to their hearts, their own refugee resettlement programs.

As I said above, the US Government engages nine mostly religious nonprofits in doing the work of resettling all refugees. Evangelicals and other people of faith play a huge outsized role in that work. They have for years. Not just when refugees first arrive, but for months and years after. If anything the President should be consulting the likes of World Relief and Church World Service before impacting their missions. Which brings me to my next point…

5. The impact that 120 days will have on these organizations

Let me speak personally. We had forewarning that this action might be taken by the new administration. We braced ourselves for it and prayed that it would not come. But come it did and now we and organizations like ours across the nation must expend precious resources to see how we can keep our refugee resettlement operations viable for the next few months who the administration does its reset.

Resettling refugees takes a lot of volunteers. But the work also takes a team of highly trained, highly dedicated staff. People like “Y” on my team, like me a Pentecostal who believes that God has given her this task of ministering to refugees. With our team, Y is committed to working with these refugees for 8 months, helping them with all kinds of processes to get them settled.

How do we pay Y so that she can do her job? We receive x amount of federal and state dollars for each refugee we resettle in addition to the money to be passed on directly to the newly arrived refugees to help them find housing, jobs, etc., etc., etc. This money comes to us from the Federal refugee program through CWS, our national partner agency that receives the refugees in New York or Miami and sends them on to us.

In other words, no refugees, no reimbursement from CWS. No reimbursement from CWS, no Y.
Jump to 120 days from now and the Administration decides it is okay to start allowing refugees to enter once again. We need Y to do what she has been doing so well for so many years. But will we still have Y?

6. The impact that 120 days will have on the refugees

As important as Y is, she and I both agree that the refugees are much more important. After all, Y herself was a refugee once. We have refugees who have been waiting for years to come to the US, years of vetting, years of sitting in third country refugee camps, years of kids growing up without any sense of roots, years of fear of having to return to a country where their lives have always been in danger. They could wait four more months, surely. Or can they?

Do you understand now why I oppose the new executive order? I have more reasons if these are not enough. But maybe you understand and you want to help. I pray so.

What can you do?

1. Call your congressional delegation.
Signing petitions. Marching. These are all helpful at raising awareness. But no one can address this matter like your Senator or Congressman can. The President alone can set the quota of arrivals in a given year. Personally I think his lowering it to 50,000 is wrongheaded. But he was elected, not me.

However, I have representation in Washington and I am putting pressure on them to put pressure on the White House. Only you can call on your own Congressman or Senator. He or she listens to you because you sent them there. So, please, call or write or email your Representatives today and tell them the 120-day reset is a very bad idea.

2. Contact your local agency to see what specific help they need.

Wherever you live, chances are there is a local agency partner of one of those nine national nonprofits that resettles refugees. Contact them. Tell them you appreciate them. Ask them what you can do. Likely they are reeling right now, just like after 9/11. They need to know you are standing with them.

I’ll tell you what we need. We need to know you support us and you are contacting your Congressional Delegation. We need to hear you are ready to volunteer to help. Like the guy who called today and said he is bringing our refugee team pizza for lunch tomorrow, just to show he cares.

And we need your support. Several months ago, during one of the recent refugee crises, we set up a Refugee Rapid Response Fund to help us be prepared financially for the extra pressure before we get the CWS reimbursements. Now we need that fund to help us maintain our preparedness in this 120 day crisis. We want to keep Y and the rest of our staff ready. We want to keep them helping the refugees who have already arrived. And so we need to increase the funds available. Perhaps you can help.

3. Mobilize others

Friends of mine went to Kosovo to serve a country greatly in need. Family health reasons required them to return after only a year. They were devastated that they could not follow God’s call in Kosovo. But shortly after they returned to Oregon, God gave them a vision to work with refugees arriving in their town. An amazing team of more than one hundred volunteers has come together in the past few months and my friends and this team are prepared to help us welcome the next wave of refugees who come our way. With your vision, you can recruit others to volunteer, to give, and to do one final and most crucial step:

4. Pray

I put this last, because I think it the most important. But it is really first, middle and last. Pray that a renewed vision for refugees would infuse our land to the very top. Pray that Christians (and others) will remember that Jesus calls us to lay down our lives, not close our doors in fear. Pray that we will be able to continue to do the work God has called us to do. And pray for the refugees in limbo.

 In recent days, my mind has returned to the story of the ship filled with Jewish refugees denied entry to America during World War II. In 1939, the US refused to admit over 900 Jewish refugees who had sailed from Hamburg, Germany. Denied permission to land in the US, their ship was forced to return to Europe. The governments of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium each agreed to accept some of the passengers as refugees. But 254 are known to have died in the Holocaust.

A heavy way to end my thoughts, my friend. But it weighs heavy on my heart as I begin a week of trying to sort out what to do about our refugee program – and our refugees waiting offshore.