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If:

1. Abortion is immoral

2. Birth control reduces abortions

3. Government mandates that increase the cost of insurance are equivalent to wealth redistribution

4. Wealth redistribution is immoral

5. The government mandate reduces abortion and redistributes wealth

Then:

Opposition to government mandate indicates wealth redistribution is more immoral than abortion, therefore money is of higher value than human life.

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Last night Jeremiah and I (finally) watched a Netflix movie I picked out a (very) long time ago called Promises, and I just wanted to take a brief moment to highly recommend it to all of you.  The movie is from 2001, so some of you may have already seen it; however, since documentaries often receive less attention than other films, you may have missed it like us.

Basically, one of the co-producers and co-directors of the film, B. Z. Goldberg, is a non-practicing Jew who was born in (and went to college in) the U.S. but grew up in Israel near Jerusalem.  He worked as a journalist for a while, but over time became interested in working towards reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians, with this film being a part of that mission.  The basic question of the film is, essentially, “How do kids think about politics, violence, reconciliation, etc.?  How do they understand themselves as Jews and Palestinians, and how do they relate to one another?  How is this different, perhaps, for children vs. adults?  How can kids play a positive role in peace-making?”

The film includes secular Jewish, ultra-orthodox Jewish, and Muslim Palestinian kids living in Jerusalem, as well as Jewish kids in a nearby settlement and Palestinian kids from a nearby refugee camp.  The seven children featured range in age from 9-12 and were filmed between 1995-2000.  At one point, some of the kids get to meet each other—both to play and to discuss politics and peacemaking.  They all have widely varying viewpoints about the issues and each other, and these viewpoints change over time.  (The DVD also includes a 2004 update.  Interestingly, all of these kids are more or less the same age as me, which added to my interest in their journeys.)  The children are funny, insightful, frightening, heart-breaking, and inspiring in their own unique ways, and the film does a great job showing how family background, economic status, and level of religious commitment shapes each child’s perception of his or her world.

We expected the film to be rather depressing, and while there was a lot of despair, there was also a lot of hope.  And the kids really did crack us up at multiple points.  We have long been opposed to the U.S.’s support of Israel and the Christian Zionist impulse which has captured so many evangelicals.  This film was a great way for us to feel a greater sense of connection to all the parties involved in the conflict, and I think it has left us more committed to thinking about what we can do (from advocacy in everyday conversations to supporting non-profits) to work for justice and reconciliation in this area.

The only unfortunate hole in the film was its not including any Christians (of either Jewish, Palestinian, or other Gentile background).  I would be really fascinated to hear from kids of these backgrounds, as well.  In terms of U.S. Christian Zionism, we are excited to also recommend a movie we haven’t yet seen but just ordered: With God on Our Side.  It has been recommended by the VP of World Vision, which to me is a pretty worthwhile endorsement.

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So apparently Rick Perry has decided that instead of solving Texas’ budgetary woes, his time is better spent organizing  a prayer rally to ask God to solve it for him. He has titled his event, which is to be held in an athletic stadium, “The Response.” Forgive me for being cynical, but this seems like a blatant attempt to provide a launchpad for a 2012 presidential run. Nothing gets that evangelical block of voters in the GOP going like a good mix of religion and empire. The explicit attempt to exploit the whole “everything is going down the crapper because people have walked away from faith” line of propaganda, recently the cornerstone of Glenn Beck’s insanity, is readily apparent when perusing the website for the event. On a page titled “Why the Response” it says:

Historic Crisis

America is in the midst of a historic crisis. We have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. The youth of America are in grave peril economically, socially, and, most of all, morally. There are threats emerging within our nation and beyond our borders beyond our power to solve.

Our nation is at a crossroads. More and more Americans are perceiving the critical juncture we find ourselves in – the future of our nation is determined by the courage of its people: first, in recognizing the magnitude of our common trouble; then, by uniting to seize the unique opportunity this moment offers us. Our response can, in part, determine our future and define for our children – and their children – what kind of nation they will govern, serve, and lead.

Notice the subtle way that loose morality is intertwined with terrorism and fiscal shortfalls. The youth are threatened “most of all, morally.” Yes, Rick Perry, rebellious teenagers are more threatened by their sex drives than by terrorism or poverty. The most disturbing part of the whole lets-blow-up-Muslims-while-saluting-the-flag-and-high-fiving-Jesus shtick is how effective it has been recently (you know, like with the last Texas governor to run for president). I have a prayer for this country:

Dear Lord, please give us leaders who don’t borrow their policies from Carrie Underwood songs. Much Love, Jeremiah.

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I have been reflecting on immigration lately, spurred by the subject of the book I just read (generally rather than its content).  I probably get some things wrong politically, but I at least have sense enough to know that God’s grace covers both those of long memory and the asses that oppose them. I find that the rhetoric of people discussing the issue should probably be toned down, and the sort of emotional language regularly employed by, for an easy example, Sojourners isn’t really necessary. No one is in my mind a sinner for supporting one point of view or another.

Christianity has a long history of giving voice to the other. Our calling to share power and resources with the marginalized can by no means be denied. It is simply a part of who we are. I understand then, the powerful drive pushing compassionate individuals to disregard the law and throw their full support behind illegal immigrants. Whether they be right on this issue or not, God be praised for people yearning to look after those so easily swept aside or exploited.

I do not, however, agree with their conclusions regardless of their nobility. I think it not particularly egregious that the state control its borders and decide who to grant citizenship, nor do I think it wise to grant amnesty to those who have flouted the law for their own enrichment. I do have a problem with the way many conservatives have presented the issue, though. The discussion has been undeniably xenophobic, echoing the propaganda of the world’s ugliest age. They are the ones responsible for our problems. They have taken our jobs. They have consumed our resources. They. They. They.

There are few things more detestable than a pundit arguing what is, in my mind, the correct position by wrong means in catchy, hateful rhetoric. So here is my proposed solution. No amnesty for illegal immigrants coupled with an unprecedented easing of restrictions on legal immigration. If the problem is really the legality of the immigration, then make immigration easier. I suspect that a number of my fellow conservatives would be equally unhappy with this solution as with amnesty.

If so, I can only suspect that the reason lies somewhere past respecting the law and somewhere short of  racism. Xenophobia should not be confused with racism, by the way, and it doesn’t help when aforementioned good-hearted people start acting like it. The great inconsistency I find in right-wing Xenophobia is so astonishing as to make me wonder why no one has before pointed it out.

If competition is indeed the life-blood of the market and a free market produces the best results, then why should we limit immigration? If we conservatives really believe that competition achieves the best economic end, then we should be flinging open the doors of this country and welcoming in every hardworking Latino/a, African, and Asian that wants to come. I expect what motivates the desire to restrict immigration is a preservationist instinct, but if the only way we can keep what we have is to exert our power as American citizens to keep others from the money and the power then I suspect that we have a problem.

By my reading of Luke’s Gospel especially, I see that God is on the side of the lowly. Read the magnificat then tell me God is okay with us living in our giant walled city of America letting in only enough Mexicans to keep us well stocked in fresh produce and engine parts. Let us be compassionate, not by bending the law to preserve our wealth nor flouting it to fit our fancy, but by living justice so thoroughly that even the laws of our secular nation learn it. If the people are not the problem, let us agree to change the law.

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Of the modern political controversies, the question surrounding illegal immigration is the one that causes me the most self-doubt. I have long held that contempt of law should never be rewarded and that amnesty is not the proper response. However, in the last few years, God has taught me to love justice. My compassion for the immigrant wars with the clear sense of right and wrong concerning the law. So, a while back (read a year and a half) I elected to receive an early review galley copy of a book on the subject. I shamefully have just gotten around to reading it.

The book is written by an Old Testament scholar at Trinity International University and attempts to collect the biblical evidence that might be applied to the issue of illegal immigration in an easy to ready format. I generally appreciate the books narrative structure, essentially tracing the story of Israel from Abraham to the Exile and then jumping to Jesus before concluding. Unfortunately, this narrative approach does not pay the dividends one might expect. Hoffmeier’s book contains lengthy paraphrasing of biblical stories set off by inordinately long block quotes of biblical text. He largely fails to actually make an argument when he works through this material instead choosing to leave his points only loosely connected to the present discussion.

Hoffmeier also makes several interpretive arguments that are more assertions than arguments. For example, he attempts to align certain Hebrew words with legal resident and non-legal resident arguing that the text makes an important distinction between them. This might be the case, but Hoffmeier offers no philological evidence to back up his claim with the exception of noting that the LXX uses proselytos indicating a religious understanding of the term for some. He does provide footnotes for this material, but he does not incorporate the arguments apparently given by the texts he cites. More troubling is Hoffmeier’s tendency to seamlessly weave together archeological material with the text of the Old Testament to make his arguments. Much of the information he provides is interesting but ultimately irrelevant, and awkwardly pins the text to the archeological material treating them as if they are the same sort of thing.

Hoffmeier’s consideration of the New Testament is extremely terse, and one wonders at the wisdom of spending six chapters on the Old Testament and rushing through the New Testament material. His points are generally fine, his argument based on Romans 13 is largely agreeable, but he makes awkward material choices. He spends a long time arguing that the “least of these” in Matthew 25 should only apply to Christians or disciples of Jesus , leaving us to infer that this means that the text cannot apply to illegal immigrants. Then, in the next chapter, he points out that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are Christians. I was left scratching my head at his logical inconsistency.

Ultimately, I largely agree with Hoffmeier’s conclusions, but I cannot help but say that he has done a poor job arguing them. Perhaps the great shortcomings of the book should be attributed to its obvious orientation to lay readers, but the book fails if it is read as a primer for ethical reflection on the issue of illegal immigration. If you want an easy to read book that will discuss some of the issues in a lay-friendly manner and do not mind its hasty conclusions, then this book would at least make a decent starting point. If you are hoping for substantive exegesis and ethical argumentation, look elsewhere. I give it two and a half French philosophers out of five.

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A friend recently asked on Facebook whether it was heretical to believe in the idea of a Christian nation.  I answered that to make up for my being-in-your-face 95% of the time, I do try to be a bit more polite on occasion.  With that in mind, I’m not sure I’d yell, “You heretic!” at anyone who talked about Christian nations, though ultimately, I do see this as a false, un-Christian belief.  I ended up going on a while to explain why, after which, my “essay” of a Facebook comment was applauded with the suggestion that I post it here.

So without further ado, here are those thoughts:

1) It’s completely ridiculous to define a nation as Christian because even if for a moment everyone in the nation were Christian, not everyone born the next day would necessarily choose Christianity. To call a nation Christian is rude to those who are not Christian, as well as to people too young (or not yet born) to choose make the Christian faith their own. Being a credobaptist influences my views here—I don’t think anyone should be assumed to be a Christian or coerced into religion just because their parents or community practice it.

2) A nation is more than just a collection of individuals. It is filled with institutions and systems which can reflect more or less of the Lordship of Christ. If God’s reign does not seem apparent in such realms (which, let’s face it, it never will completely until God’s inaugurated kingdom is finally fulfilled some time from now when Jesus returns…), then it is rather foolish for anyone to want to associate Christianity with the nation. Even if everyone in a nation were Christian, if it imperfectly lived out the Christian faith in its political system or domestic or foreign policy or cultural mores or whatnot, it seems inappropriate to call it truly “Christian” without qualification.

3) Because the cross reconciles people across social boundaries (See Eph. and Col.!), it seems silly to emphasize our nationality in the way that calling ourselves a “Christian nation” does. We should be Christians much more than Americans/whatever-one-is and identify much more with the global church (including those from “non-Christian” nations) than with our “Christian” nation. Plus, since we should love our neighbor, we should be trying to identify with and love our non-Christian neighbors outside our national boundaries, as well. If one thinks they have moral superiority or economic privilege or are the right side in a war or anything along those lines because they are from a “Christian” nation, that’s just ignorance of the Bible’s interest in reconciliation across ethnic lines and emphasis on caring for the “foreigner.”

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