Reparations: “What Would Jesus Do?”

June 19, 2019 is forever a historic day in African American history. Congressional members of the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony for H.R.40 – Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. Democratic Congressman John Conyers, Jr. first introduced the bill in January of 1989. Believing in the importance of repair and remuneration for the descendants of African American slaves, Conyers consistently reintroduced the bill every year until his retirement in 2017.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee officially took on the role of first sponsorship in March 2018. Her work successfully got the bill to its historic hearing on Juneteeth 2019. It is because of their combined efforts that in the 400th year since the first African slave was brought over and sold in this country, Congress heard testimony on the importance of establishing a committee to discuss proposals for reparations for slavery.

Witnesses included Ta-Nehisi Coates, writer of the Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations, activist and actor Danny Glover, economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton, and others. Their statements, since re-tweeted and leading the news on major outlets, stirred the room as they answered questions from the bi-partisan panel.

“The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress, but it is also a question of citizenship,” Coates said. “In H.R. 40, this body has a chance to both make good on its 2009 apology for enslavement, and reject fair-weather patriotism, to say that this nation is both its credits and debits.”

Asking The Difficult Questions

Coates’ statement targeted the hard question: “why should the federal government be responsible for something that happened in the past?” Many wanted to know, “Why congress?” “Who receives reparations?” “Are there any evidences to the affects of slavery in the present?” But the question that truly grabbed me, came from Democratic Representative Sylvia Garcia.

Addressing Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton, Garcia asked, “what would Jesus do about reparations?” Many immediately groaned in frustration as they saw the question as a distraction from the pertinent economic issues that needed addressing. In fact, one woman yelled out, “separation of Church and State!”

The question came off as a ploy, or a distraction to stall important discussion regarding the historic and economic ramifications of the bill. Thus, to the delight of many in the room, Sutton deflected politely.

“Well, when it comes to those kinds of questions I like to remind people that I’m in sales, not management.”

While the question seemed out of place, the answer missed a great opportunity.

The Great Disappointment

Without compromising principles of church and state, without restricting the religious freedom of any of her hearers, Garcia sought some moral basis in the life of Christ. It was the perfect moment to talk about how Jesus walked this Earth doing nothing but repairing what sin has broken both physically and spiritually. Garcia gave him the perfect opportunity to show that reparations is not a partisan agenda, but a moral responsibility, one certainly found in a biblically based approach to restorative justice.

As the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, Sutton has been working for decades with the Diocese of Maryland on racial justice, reconciliation, and reparations. He wrote a letter to the Maryland Episcopalian Church at large, and on May 11, 2019 he led out in the vote on the historic “Resolution on Racial Reconciliation” at the 235th diocesan convention. The resolution calling “for Episcopalians to study and support the concept of reparations…passed unanimously.” In fact, the Maryland Episcopalian Church reports “the ‘All in favor of this resolution’ call resulted in a rousing voice vote of ‘Aye!’ Then came the ‘All opposed…’ vote. There was complete silence.”

In his letter Sutton quotes Isaiah 58:12 and II Corinthians 5:18-20. It is safe to assume these texts and others were included in his official statement as Congresswoman Garcia says, “Bishop…it really did warm my heart that you have some scripture notes here.” By stating such a compliment before asking the question “what would Jesus do about reparations?” it’s clear she wanted him to speak on some of these Scriptures.

The Biblical Case for Reparations

While Garcia asked specifically about Jesus, we first have to understand this notion within the Bible as a whole. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture makes a strong case for reparations. It does not explicitly use the term, but it consistently speaks to the holistic repair of people traumatized by sin and injustice, in all of its various forms.

In fact, we’re first introduced to the concept of reparations in the story of Jacob and Esau. Recorded in Genesis chapters 25-33, the Bible describes the story of twin brothers. Genesis 25 chronicles how Jacob takes advantage of Esau’s exhaustion and hunger and gets him to sell him his birthright. But as if that weren’t enough, two chapters later Jacob disguises himself as Esau in order to steal Esau’s blessing.

The Bible says Jacob put on Esau’s clothes, covered himself in sheep’s wool, and made the meal Isaac requested of Esau. Because Isaac was blind he could not recognize that the son in front of him was not Isaac. Perplexed Isaac said, “the voice is Jacob’s, but the hands are the hands of Esau. And he did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him” (Genesis 27:22-23). Esau became furious and so Jacob fled Esau’s wrath.

The Cost of Reconciliation

After being a part for 20 years, Jacob wanted to reconcile with Esau. But he didn’t merely offer an apology. Jacob sent Esau “two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys, and ten foals” (Gen. 32:15). Even though Esau tries to deny the gift, Jacob insists saying:

No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” So he urged him, and he took it.

Genesis 33:10-11

In these verses, Jacob recognizes that his deception and manipulation of Esau was unjust. By giving Esau from the fruit of the blessings that he received through deceit and manipulation, Jacob paid Esau reparations. This is what reparations is about. It is about acknowledging the injustice and repairing and restoring the wounds and the voids that the injustice created.

God Commanded the Children of Israel to Pay Reparations

In fact, reparations is so important that God even commands the children of Israel to do it:

If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.

Deuteronomy 15:12-15

In these verses, God tells the children of Israel how to treat their slaves. He explicitly commands them not to hold a slave indefinitely, and that when released the slave should not “go away empty-handed.” Unlike Scripture, slaves in the U.S. were held indefinitely. In order to perpetuate this injustice it was written into the constitution that blacks were 3/5ths of a person. This systematically restricted blacks to the position of chattel slave.

Once emancipated officially in 1865, African Americans were promised “40 acres and a mule”. This promise was rescinded. From this Scripture alone, we see that God would not be pleased with such dealings. This verse shows the God of the Old Testament believes in reparations. But what about the Jesus of the New Testament? Some believe the God of the Old Testament holds different values and principles than the Jesus of the New Testament.

“What Would Jesus Do About Reparations?”

According to Luke 4:16-21 Jesus began his ministry reading scripture in a synagogue in Nazareth. Standing behind the pulpit, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me; Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Luke 4:18-19

Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus declares that his ministry is to enact the restorative justice of jubilee as recorded in Deuteronomy. He declares that He has come to liberate the enslaved and to restore what oppression has stolen. This commitment to the restoration of humanity and their reconciliation to God all culminates in Christ’s death on the cross. Understanding that sin wounded the human race stripping us of a relationship with the Father, preventing us from operating at full potential, robbing us of any chance at eternal life, and inflicting us with mental, physical, and social enslavement, God knew that a debt had to be paid in order for eternal repair, restoration, and reconciliation. It was for the injustice of sin that God paid reparations in the form of His son Jesus.

Was it God’s fault? Did God personally inflict these injustices on humanity? No! But the beauty of God is that He took responsibility for something He didn’t do. He paid a debt He didn’t owe. All because responsibility was not as important to Him as restoration.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

John 3:16-17

When Jesus died on the cross he said, “I’m willing to pay the debt required. I’m willing to use my life as reparations for the reconciliation of Creation to God the Father.” So when you ask, “what would Jesus do about reparations?” The Bible says He gave His life.

Through the story of Jacob and Esau, the commands God gave the children of Israel, and ultimately the life and death of Jesus Christ, we see that reparations is about acknowledging that injustice exists and being willing to pay the costly price necessary to institute restorative justice and inspire true reconciliation.

You and H.R.40

Photo taken by Claudia Allen from inside the H.R.40 hearing on June 19, 2019.

As we think about H.R.40 and how our government is seeking to commission a committee of researchers, academics, economists, and activists, we must ponder the Congresswoman’s question. H.R.40 is not a pay out. It is a request that we think about 250 years of slavery and 150 years of systematic oppression through “share cropping, convict leasing, Jim Crow, redlining, unequal education, and disproportionate treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system.” The lens of scripture would certainly be instructive here.

It remains to be seen how reparations for African Americans in this country will work practically. All I know is that the guidance and resolution that we need on this can be found in the Word of God.

I leave you with the pointed words of Ellen White, a prophet, abolitionist, and activist in Seventh-day Adventism who spoke consistently on the importance of uplifting former slaves and their descendants:

“The law of God contained in the ten commandments reveals to man his duty to love God supremely and his neighbor as himself. The American nation owes a debt of love to the colored race, and God has ordained that they should make restitution for the wrong they have done them in the past. Those who have taken no active part in enforcing slavery upon the colored people are not relieved from the responsibility of making special efforts to remove, as far as possible, the sure result of their enslavement.”

Review & Herald, January 21, 1896.




Good Fathers: Today and Tomorrow

#FromTheVault

This tough, demanding role calls for creative partnerships.

Fatherhood, a time-honored role, is presently in such a state of flux that many men, especially black men, hardly know how to handle it effectively. The medias has greatly distorted fathering with the use of such situation comedies as All in the Family and the not-so-good Good Times. With the increased independence of women and greater emphasis on children’s rights, fatherhood in the future surely will be one of the most demanding and creative roles a man will ever play. Successful fathers must possess the following qualities: a high degree of spirituality, respect for women, a balance in career goals, and responsibility for influence.

The successful father will accept the fact that as a human he is totally unable to direct and mold rightly the lives of his children without divine guidance. In matters of morality, the media is corrupt, the government compromised, and the church inconsistent. How can a father counsel his children against pre-marital sex when the Supreme Court has declared abortion on demand to be legal? With the large number of television programs, books, magazines, and popular songs promoting compromising or immoral behavior, a father must look to others sources for moral standards.

The effective father of the future must be firmly grounded in the Word of God. He must learn about the lives of Bible characters and teach his family about their failures and successes. His children must be familiar with great Bible truths and believe that the enabling power of the Holy Spirit can help them to live out these great truths as they run the gauntlet of temptations common to youth.

Constant prayer for wisdom characterizes the daily life of the effective father. The first fact every father must accept is that he is grossly unprepared for the many decisions before him. Only by bowing in humility before the heavenly Father can there be even a remote chance of true success. Indeed, the creative solutions to tough family problems have often been resolved, not through might or money or compromise but through divine inspiration and direction.

Fathering is but half the parenting process. Mothering is the other half. Many fathers have overlooked the fact that the best mothering is done by a woman who feels her husband respects, trusts, and appreciates her. Many a marriage and home have been destroyed because the mother felt that either she was left alone to make all the decisions or that she wasn’t involved in major decisions.

It is not wise of think of oneself as a successful father if the mother is not allowed to reach her full potential. Fathering, in the sider sense, includes supporting and encouraging the mother. The roles of a mother or father, as we have traditionally learned them, in many cases have changed dramatically. It’s important that both parents seek to support each other and do what is necessary to promote, nurture, and advance the family unit.

The effective father must be grounded in the Word of God.

Fathers who understand this relationship can then find joy in the challenge of dirty diapers, soiled dishes, unwashed clothes, and messy bedrooms. Fathers who help with the constant, repetitive, and often boring tasks of keeping house allow the mother to spend quality time with the children and also allow her the have cherished moments for rest and reflection. Too few fathers know the limitless joy of marital bliss when the mother is allowed to go to bed early and the father stays up to take care of the supper dishes, give nightly baths if needed, and do other exhausting evening activities before joining her.

For many men, the most difficult area of fathering is balancing career objectives with family commitments and responsibilities. Currently, fathers are measured by society on their ability to provide creature comforts and material possessions. A man who refuses to provide for his family obviously needs counseling. However, the father who provides every material need and want, yet fails to spend quality time with his family is planting the seeds of discontent and restlessness. There is no real wisdom in being a workaholic in order to acquire that home, that business, that vacation when, after having acquired it, the family doesn’t enjoy the “thing” because they really don’t enjoy the father, who by now has become nervous, ill-tempered, and restless.

The successful father will consistently have to do what many may consider very unwise. During the family’s formative years, the father will need to balance career goals with the emotional and spiritual needs of his family. He will not take a job, regardless of the pay, if the environment is harmful for the children. He will not recklessly move to a new area if his wife’s job or objectives might be severely affected. The father realizes that jobs come and go and that his first job is to promote well-being and contentment in his family. Moreover, what is the advantage of gaining a major career promotion and losing the sense of family that the promotion was supposedly going to improve? It is better to rear a successful and well-adjusted family than to start and run the world’s largest business.

Finally, the successful father will accept responsibility for his influence on those not of his home. Through his behavior, attitudes, deportment, and philosophy the successful father must attempt to demonstrate to other fathers the potentials for successful fatherhood.

In the church, in the school, on the job, and on the playing field, he will encourage the principles of toleration, compassion, strength, kindness, and generosity. He knows that the world needs men who are true to such family principles. He will seek ways to uplift, encourage, and help those in his circle of influence, as well as direct them to his heavenly Father. A variation of a slogan used by the Marines seems appropriate here: “The world is looking for a few good fathers.” Will you be one?




Sudan: Don’t Silence the Messenger

“Spreading the message of justice must continue for the termination of every power-hungry, resource-exploiting, humanity-demeaning and truth-silencing force.”

Sudan, a country cornered by Ethiopia, Egypt, and now South Sudan, is in battle for economic stability, government integrity, and freedom of expression. With protests taking a particular rise in late December of 2018, citizens demanded the removal of long term President Omar-al-Bashir. Unfortunately, military backlash from the Transitional Military Council (TMC), in response to Bashir’s removal and arrest, resulted in the deaths of many protesters and even children, according to UN News. In addition to the violence, Al Jazeera reports the Sudanese government declared “a blackout on communications, including blocking social media access, disrupting phone traffic and severely restricting the spread of information.”

Living in a Dark Spot

Oftentimes, media censorship, particularly during times of conflict, is one of the many tactics used on the playground for power. Silencing the messenger not only impedes time spent alleviating injustice(s), but it also enables the perpetrator to continue.

What is our moral and spiritual responsibility towards a crisis like this? When a country is experiencing a media blackout and its citizens and residents are restricted from sharing the injustices happening to them, does the Christian story-teller have an obligation to share their story on their behalf? Sources say Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram are all blocked in Sudan. With Sudan in a “dark spot,” who becomes responsible for sharing the message of Sudanese injustice? Who shares the message when they silence the messenger?

Several verses in Scripture command us to speak up for injustice. More specifically, they highlight our responsibility to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. In fact, the prophet Isaiah writes about this while extremely frustrated with the silence of the children of Israel. He said, “No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth…Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:4,14 NKJV).

In Sudan it seems that truth has fallen in the street and the media restrictions of the government prevent equity from entering in. In these verses Isaiah is looking for the Israelites to do justice and can’t find anyone willing. Isaiah is expressing the divine expectation God has that His children speak up for the oppressed, while challenging our tendency to remain silent on matters of injustice. It’s texts like these that show us that it is the Christian’s responsibility to share the message of justice when injustice silences a fellow messenger.

Scripture Demands We Share

The New Testament, also provides insight and examples on speaking up for justice, even when we’re in a dark spot. For example, Luke records in Acts 4:13-21 that religious leaders tried to silence Peter and John. In a predominately Jewish region many early Christians experienced injustice for believing and teaching about Jesus. Facing public beatings, the destruction of property, religious persecution, character defamation, unfair prison sentences, and much more, the early Christians experienced great injustice. In fact, some would even say their experiences seem eerily similar to those of the Sudanese today.

In Acts, we see the Sanhedrin monitoring Peter’s proverbial Facebook wall as he passionately shared the gospel of Jesus Christ, while the Council marveled watching every truth-soaked, Holy Spirit-filled, and rightly divided YouTube video on his channel.

His preaching about a Jesus who healed the sick on the Sabbath, cared for the poor, drove moneychangers out of the Temple, preached liberty to captives, and rose from the dead infuriated the religious leaders. His message of a liberator from oppression, and freedom from injustice was far too threatening. And so the Sanhedrin didn’t just remove Peter’s posts. They removed Peter. The Council who perceived Peter as “uneducated and untrained” silenced him before he shared too much. They unanimously agreed:

A notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name. So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus (vs. 16-18, NKJV).

Speak The Things You See and Hear

Peter and John sharing the liberating message of Jesus Christ infuriated the Jewish leaders. And the Sudanese sharing of injustice and State violence is infuriating the TMC. Both leaders attempted to silence both groups. The beauty is that right now we can resist the silencing of the Sudanese with the words of Peter:

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (vs. 19-20, NKJV).

This verse teaches us that some of the most important times to speak up is in the face of harm and conflict. The unrest in Sudan is the period of harm and conflict in which many Sudanese currently find themselves. Many have shared and continue to share what they have seen and heard all over social media. But as of today, many truth-tellers are muzzled. Such attempts at censorship mean that it is now our responsibility to share. We must use our social media and other platforms to call for prayer and justice in Sudan.

You Cannot Silence Injustice

The Sanhedrin thought they won when they threatened Peter and John. The Council thought they won when they blocked the media in Sudan. But the message is alive. The message of a resurrected Christ was not contained to Judea and Samaria. And the injustices of Sudan cannot be contained to Northern Africa. As people of faith in Jesus Christ, we have the authority of Matthew 28:18-20 to share His truth of a liberating gospel. In other words, we have divine permission and divine authority to speak up and speak out.

Acts 4:27-31 confirms this responsibility in Peter’s prayer for boldness. After being released from interrogation Peter prayed, “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” 

And the Bible says that when the accompanying believers prayed this prayer with Peter “the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”

They, (the Sanhedrin, the Council, Social Media Regulators, Political Institutions, Governments, fragile systems, etc.) may try to silence what you do or say. They may even try to regulate where you go. But they can never silence injustice. Injustice has a way of soaring above restrictions and demanding a response. Today, the world sees what is happening in Sudan. We hear the cries of injustice across oceans and deserts, and we will no longer remain silent. Instead, we will speak with holy boldness for justice in Sudan.




My Struggle With Mental Health

These Are My Confessions

I am a pastor, husband, father, and a writer. I love Jesus and I am excited about what He is doing through me and in me. Yet, there are two issues that I have dealt with my whole life: ADD and anxiety. I became aware of them pretty early on in life. The anxiety manifested itself in two ways, especially:
  1. Public speaking
  2. Dark, lonely places
I’ve always said God has a sense of humor because he called me to be a pastor: a job that requires a lot of public speaking and also a lot of traveling and staying in dark places alone. And truthfully I must confess, traveling was very difficult for me for the longest time. The anxiety got so bad that I couldn’t fall asleep. And I will never forget how my anxiety took over when I preached my first sermon. I was so overwhelmed that even though I had 10 pages of written material I only spoke for 5 minutes. My girlfriend at the time was so unimpressed with my sermon she broke up with me soon after.

You Are Not Alone

The reason I’m sharing my experience is because I find so many leaders and members alike struggle with mental health issues. And to make matters worse they’re getting terrible counsel. Unfortunately, many of us are dealing with everything from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) by ourselves. Anyone facing these issues alone knows that isolation only exasperates the problem.

Get Counseling

You know what helped me? Counseling helped. At some point we have to be honest and admit that sometimes you can’t just pray depression away, or anxiety, or _______________ (fill your mental health challenge here). “Pray harder” may not be the best solution.
In fact, when you pray and the problem continues it can create a false sense of guilt and shame. Many begin to believe that either God doesn’t want to heal them, or that they don’t deserve to be healed. And neither of these things are true. The fact of the matter is, mental health issues are not exclusively spiritual issues. They are illnesses that require medical attention in the same way a broken arm or a heart attack requires a physician. So if you’re struggling with mental health go see a counselor.

Prayer Really Works

But in addition to the counseling, prayer really did help a lot. There is a calming effect to prayer. This calming effect is really why I believe talking to God is such a blessing. I can truly say that through prayer i’ve experienced the promise of Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Work With the Weight

I also found that doing my job regardless of how I felt helped. In spite of the anxiety, I continue to speak and travel. I’ve taken God’s instruction to Joshua to “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). It’s verses like these that teach me to trust in God’s calling more than in my issues.

Talk Through It

And finally, I learned that talking to people also helped. Because there is a stigma attached to mental health issues it is oftentimes hard to open up. But when we share our stories with others it allows people to feel comfortable saying “that is my story too!” Vulnerability breeds community.
I want to invite you to seek help. The Father says, you are worthy. Jesus says, you are loved. And the Spirit say, you are special.

 




Hope Garden: A Sanctuary in the Middle of a Desert

A young mother and her two children walked down the street coming from our church’s daycare. It was their first day, and this mother was walking her children home. They obviously lived nearby, but we were alarmed to learn they lived right across the street from the church. Joining them on their stroll we struck up a conversation, the path took us past the garden. We asked if they like to eat. They laughed and responded “of course!” To that we responded, “then let’s eat!”

Immediately, we turned towards fifteen beautifully raised garden beds. The four closest to us were filled with cherry tomatoes. Before we could offer them to pick their fill, the young three-year old girl, same age as our daughter, picked a tomato and quickly ate it before her mother could object. The image of this little girl eating a fresh cherry tomato, juices and seeds sticking to her little fingers was priceless. This is what it was all about. Giving the community access to fresh organic food.

Ministering in the Desert

It began with a vision of hope for our community. Our church sits in the midst of a neighborhood food desert with crime, sickness, and poverty raiding each home. We recognized that these issues were not mutually exclusive to the systemic problems of our community. Community’s with food deserts like ours need more than simply one-time acts of charity. We need justice. The primary concern for a Christian is to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s justice. Too often justice is discussed in retributive terms, but biblically justice is restorative. Even the judgment in God’s justice is for the purpose of restoration in the earth and the human family. This is why the Hope Garden is an important justice initiative for our community, especially right now.

More grocery stores are closing, destroying more opportunities for people to find fresh food. Even the local food banks are closing down. And as healthy food becomes more scarce liquor stores are popping up in abundance. In fact, more and more liquor stores are being built in some of the most vulnerable communities. Interestingly enough, out here in Georgia, churches still outnumber liquor stores. This should compel believers to come together and speak out against the injustice happening in their communities, but unfortunately it hasn’t.

We need a plan from the city to revitalize our community, but we cannot wait for them. At Emmanuel SDA we choose to lead by example. My wife and I understand how easy it is for churches to become complacent and content remaining within their devilishly designed boxes settling for the occassional handout that fails to effect the root issues. But we want a reason to worship. We want to experience the joy of celebrating a miracle done through us. And so we planted the Hope Garden.

Birthing “Hope Team”

A team of people from my church and others quickly emerged. Tired of program focused religion and feeling a move for something greater, Hope Team was birthed. This movement is a new type of church plant that focuses more on mission instead of programming. The Hope Team searches for ways to inspire and revitalize the communities around it. So, when multiple farmers asked us if we were interested in planting a garden for the community, we felt confirmation that God was moving. The idea for the Hope Garden was planted in our hearts, and the Spirit just kept on watering it.

Soon, the local Home Depot offered to help with the project and encouraged us to write a grant. Taking their advice we wrote the grant and a month later they awarded the project $5,000. With these funds and the help of volunteer workers we built our garden beds. Soon the news media picked up the story and the word quickly got out. Since the inception of the project we have gained several partners and others have even caught the vision for their churches and communities. We’re even blessed that some developers in the city want to use our cite as a pilot for doing future gardens at other churches.

The Hope Garden Harvest

The beauty of the garden project is how so many activists and charitable agencies are seeing the value of the garden within their communities and careers. For example, those in the medical field see the value of fresh fruits and vegetables for patient prevention and recovery. This summer our church will host cooking classes featuring foods from the garden.

Those in the business sector are interested in how community members are being equipped to grow and sell their own produce. Law enforcement loves the idea of making use of void space within the community to train young people how to care for the community. Educators see the connection students can make with the practical science applications a garden creates. And most recently, we’ve partnered with the Boys and Girls clubs and city Parks and Recreation to bus children to our garden to participate in this educational experience.

Hope Garden Vision

Currently, our team is working out the logistics for distributing the food in an equitable manner. Our ultimate vision for the garden is that it become a training ground for individuals to learn how to grow their own food. We don’t want folks to solely rely on the garden for their produce needs. We want the garden to inspire, educate, and empower people.

One of our goals is to allow families portions of our land to grow their own food. We are still working out the details of how to market the project and inspire residents to take advantage of the opportunity. But we’re confident that if we continue to show them our consistency in this area then they’ll grow to trust our intentions and believe in our projected outcomes. We are starting small, but we have so much potential for growth. And we believe that as the garden grows so will our community.

Hope Garden is Hope for the Community

As I finish this article I find myself in the barber shop waiting to get a cut. Music is blasting. Every other word begins with “F”. The barbers and patrons don’t know who I am, or what I do for a living. And that’s how I like it. I love when ministry is unfiltered. Raw. Real. And based on the nature of my environment, I couldn’t help but get sucked into a good barber shop debate: “did black folks start the country music genre?” Like every good beef in the 21st century we pulled out our cell phones and let google settle it.

But any good woke brotha knows that even google can’t always be trusted. And just like that a new debater began to reel about other untrustworthy things like the processed food we eat. We began talking about Nipsey Hussle, Dr. Sebi, and nation building. At the end of our discussion we coordinated a partnership with his people and our garden to help educate and employ black men. Experiences like this have taught me to embrace the uncomfortable spaces in search for where Jesus really is. And this experience has showed me that He still lingers where the religious people least expect Him. And there is where Hope continues.




Bible Truths Shirley Chisholm Reminded Us Of

Remembering Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president of the United States, one who was “unbought” and “unbossed,” and believed she belonged at the table.

Shirley Anita Saint Hill was born to immigrants from Barbados. Shirley Chisholm (her married name) was an educator and advocate for children and the poor. Eventually she entered the arena of politics and became the first black woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968 and represented the 12th District of New York until 1983. In 1972, she became the first Black woman to run for President of the U.S.

Throughout her political career, Chisholm saw herself as “the people’s politician.” She was determined to be Unbought and Unbossed (the title of her autobiography) and that was one of the reasons much of the Democratic power structure tried to deny her a seat at the table during her presidential run. Other reasons, of course, were that most didn’t believe an African American or a woman could become president—let alone someone who was both!

Embed from Getty Images

 

Wholistic Approach

Whether running for office or pushing legislation, Chisholm  often had to work outside the party apparatus and gather support as she blazed her way along the “Chisholm Trail.” She was as quick to challenge Democrats as well as Republicans when it came to representing the have-nots. As you’ll see below, she also didn’t shy away from challenging the church to see people as “integrated wholes” and to act upon that belief. The following excerpts from “The Relationship Between Religion and Today’s Social Issues”[i] provide a glimpse into her heart:

  • “It is exceedingly difficult to explain one’s inner feelings and motivations especially when it seems that one’s actions defy current policy and standards… Philosophically I remain involved because it is the only way in which I can express my love toward a different America, an America that does not yet exist in time and space…
  • “In 1st John 3:18 we find the following word: ‘My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth’
  • “Quite often the church gives the distinct impression that it is concerned exclusively with its own self-preservation, but the clergy must assume a strong role in preparing young men and women to function meaningfully as religiously oriented citizens who are able to cope with the economic, social, religious and political problems of the day. The church can no longer be mute and expect the young to be satisfied. The Bible touches upon every phase of life and our lives are supposed to be integrated wholes, for unless religion is all of life, it is none of life. The rights and wrongs of political issues cannot be sidestepped…
  • “There are those who claim that the gospel is opposed to the changing of priorities I have described and they stress the inner, individualistic, formalistic aspects of religion and obedience to authority and tradition. But I believe that we must reconcile those who are oppressed, alienated, rebellious not by conditional handouts which perpetuate servile dependency but by giving to them access to the reins of decision making and to the resources needed for growth in freedom and maturity…
  • “Remember that biblical faith is oriented towards a new future not a static past. When Israel’s faith faltered, Christ came to free a new community to carry on God’s work in history…
  • “Are we ready to learn to deal with others as God has dealt with us? God gave us life at the risk of our rebellion and paid for reconciliation at the price of the cross.”

As the preachers used to say, “The doors of the church are open.”

 

[i] Quoted from Religious Education LXIX/2 (March-April 1975): 117-123, by Marcia Y. Riggs (editor) in Can I Get a Witness? Prophetic Religious Voices of African American Women, 183-7.




Mis-Education of the Church

Dr. Carter G. Woodson insisted that the contribution of “the Negro” be recognized year-round. What about the contribution of people of African descent as seen in the Bible?

Dr. Carter G. Woodson birthed the first Negro History Week on February 7, 1926. Why February? Because of his admiration for Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, who were both born in February. So whether you call it Black History or African American History Month, it wasn’t bestowed upon us by another race. Nor does the length of the month have anything to do with its designation.

The Harvard educated history professor never intended Black History to be confined to one month a year. Its study was to be a liberating force throughout one’s life that helps elevate all aspects of society. To get started, why not peruse a few passages from his most famous work, The Mis-Education of the Negro? The pagination for the following quotes are based on the 2016 edition by Watchmaker Publishing.

Sampling of Woodson’s Observations

  • “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.” Mis-Education, 9
  • “The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples.” Mis-Eduction, 9
  • “The conditions of today have been determined by what has taken place in the past, and in a very careful study of this history we may see more clearly the great theatre of events in which the Negro has played a part.” Mis-Education, 15
  • “In the teaching of fine arts these instructors usually started with Greece . . . but they omitted the African influence which scientists now regard as significant and dominant in early Hellas. They failed to teach the student the Mediterranean Melting Pot with the Negroes from Africa bringing their wares, their ideas, and the blood therein to influence the history of Greece, Carthage, and Rome.” Mis-Education, 20
  • “In medical schools Negroes were likewise convinced of their inferiority in being reminded of their role as germ carriers… Little emphasis was placed upon the immunity of the Negro from diseases like yellow fever and influenza which are so disastrous to whites. Yet, the whites were not considered inferior because of the differential resistance to these plagues.” Mis-Education, 21
  • “Taught from books of the same bias, trained by Caucasians of the same prejudices or by Negroes of enslaved minds, one generation of Negro teachers after another have served for no higher purpose than to do what they are told to do. In other words, a Negro teacher instructing Negro children is in many respects white teacher thus engaged, for the program in each case is about the same.” Mis-Education, 22
  • “Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.” Mis-Education, 25
  • “The education of any people should begin with the people themselves, but Negroes… have been dreaming about the ancients of Europe and about those who have tried to imitate them.” Mis-Education, 27

Artistic License

So called “biblical” perpetuated this mental enslavement. According to the Bible, Moses and Paul looked like Egyptians (Exodus 2:19 and Acts 21:38). Yet, strangely, we see them portrayed as if they were Norwegians. We know then, someone is trying to place unbiblical, unhistorical, un-geographical shackles on your mind.

Ethiopian Eunuch and Philip.

How is it, on the other hand that the artists always seem to depict the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8:27 and Simon of Cyrene of Mark 21:15 as black? Any map will show that Libya (home to Cyrene) is on one side of Egypt and Ethiopia is on the other side of Egypt. Why depict these people so differently?

From a racist and sexist standpoint, the Ethiopian eunuch is an emasculated servant. He would be accountable to a woman—so there’s nothing exemplary about him. Although he’s literate, he doesn’t understand what he is reading until Philip (always depicted as white) is sent to enlighten this lost soul from the “dark continent.”

The Romans singled out Simon of Cyrene to fill his divinely mandated role as a burden-bearer. Both men have been consistently depicted in this manner because such artwork is a tool of mis-education. Again, ask yourself why the Ethiopian and Libyan are depicted as dark-skinned Africans, while Moses and Paul are mistaken for Egyptians yet portrayed as white?

Supremacy That Seeped in

Moses was the premier freedom-fighter, law-giver, and prophet of the Old Testament. He is credited with writing the first five books of the Bible and setting the tone for the rest of the

Simone of Cyrene (in Libya). What was it that enabled generations of artists to acknowledge his color?

Bible. Even in the Gospels, Jesus’ critics use the writings of Moses to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing. Paul is the premier apostle of the New Testament. He was highly educated, multilingual, a persuasive speaker, a leader’s leader, and proficient writer of approximately half of the New Testament. To be consistent in their artwork of Africans by portraying these men according to their biblical description would have undermined the white supremacy inherent in the colonization and enslavement of Africans.

Realistic biblical artwork would force some cultural and historical introspection among Europeans.  European people and places aren’t referred to in the Bible until the book of Daniel. That is when Greece overcame Medo-Persia. Europeans don’t actually interact with the biblical narratives until the four Gospels discuss Roman census and taxes, a handful of Greeks visiting Jesus, and a centurion that seeks Jesus’ healing power. The vast majority of the Bible takes place at the junction of Africa and Asia, with the main players being Africans and Asians.

Read the Bible for yourself and free your mind from religious mis-education.

 

 

 

 




When Church Unfriended Me

As messy and painful as God’s people can be, Jesus and His people are a package deal.

I was too exhausted to roll out of my bed and cover my puffy eyes with concealer. It was too much to force my throbbing feet into heels with my Sabbath best. The last place I wanted to be was a place where my current spiritual reality was unwelcome or misunderstood.

I simply wasn’t feeling the corporate worship vibe. That hollow feeling stretched from one week, to two weeks, into months. And just like that, I found myself rarely attending worship.

I cannot deny that even now that as a Worship Pastor the desire to commune with other Christians languishes sometimes. Don’t get me wrong. I love God, and love to worship Him, but sometimes I struggle to love spending time with His people.

Searching for Love Among 4,000 Imaginary Friends

I suspect that I am not alone. Churches of all sizes are emptying out. A 2016 Pew Forum report on church attendance reported that only 32% of Americans attend weekly. A Gallup survey then asked the group that seldom attends the reason for low attendance, and 44% of Americans said they prefer to worship on their own.

Yet, we know everyone wants to belong, to feel connected. We can just look to the booming world of social media to know that. As of June 2017, according to the Pew Research Center, 2.01 billion people have a Facebook page, and 79% of Americans use this social media platform daily.

I have 4,665 Facebook friends, most of whom could be imaginary, since I’ve never met the majority of them. Having thousands of Facebook followers is considered being well-connected and friendly. But unlike real relationships, when people conduct themselves in a manner we disapprove of, or find uncomfortable, we effortlessly “unfriend” them.

Click Community

It’s simple to opt out of online friendships because of the emotional detachment in relationships only accessible by WiFi. Detachment to our faith community is serious, though. When we feel disconnected from people there, we should courageously oppose the desire to remain in that detached space. True community is worth the fight!

It was Jesus who prayed, “…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one” (John 17:20 ESV). Here are three actions I intentionally undertake when I sense that twinge of disengagement threatening my connection with the body of Christ.

Fall in love with Jesus to fall in love with His people.

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV).

Often my lack of desire for community is a byproduct of my feeble passion for the Lord. And when my love for God is faulty, my lack of love for his people follows. But as messy and painful as God’s people can be, Jesus and His people are a package deal. They cannot be separated. So when I’m struggling to find true connection, I spend more time with God to inspire me to spend more time with His people.

When I pursue meaningful moments with God, I see how He’s merciful, patient and gracious to me and the people from which I feel disconnected. I dust off old prayer journals to refresh my memory of the specific things God has done for me, and those for whom I’ve prayed.

Remembering my initial love relationship with the Lord rekindles the flame. I also aim to bring the habits back that kept the passion alive. It may not happen overnight. By God’s grace, as my love for God grows, my love for His people grows exponentially.

Move from anonymity to accessibility.

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near,” (Hebrews 10:25 ESV).

Social media affords us the luxury of hiding behind our profiles. We can limit our interactions, and the amount of information we share. But, when we desire an authentic space for connection, we have to intentionally burst our anonymous bubbles. When we make our lives accessible so that we can be held accountable, we can be encouraged and truly loved.

Similarly, we as digital natives can’t compartmentalize our identity and expect to be fully known by those we worship with on a weekly basis. To fight this, I do one of two things. I go to a church event, and with the Holy Spirit’s prompting I share. Instead of keeping to myself, I intentionally unpack parts of the real me to a minimum of three people each week.

I may talk about how I messed up my first attempt at vegan mac and cheese. Or, I mention how YouTube University rescued my protective natural hairstyle experiment from failing. I may even get more serious and talk about just how difficult it was to make it through the week. I have also opened my home to have someone over for a common meal. When I commit to this, I have found that it’s difficult to disconnect and disappear when people know the real you.

Never forget that church goes with you wherever you go.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 ESV.

Through Jesus’s example, we know the pinnacle of the gospel is achieved by denying self. My role, as the church, correlates strongly with my willingness to serve others wholeheartedly. I can’t expect to experience Jesus’ love within a faith community if I have not done all that I can to help others experience Jesus. Therefore when I am feeling far away from the family of God, it’s imperative for me to find opportunities to serve. I need to be the community someone desperately needs. You will be surprised how your perspective quickly changes when you’re serving others.
The concept of community was birthed in eternity between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We were created to replicate this beautiful image on earth.

So, with the help of the Holy Spirit, when we feel unfriended in our own churches, may our prayer be: “Lord, may these feelings of disconnection lead me to strengthen my desire for community simply because it is the will of God concerning us.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 




Feverish Fear of The “Caravan”

An Old Story of The Hard Heartedness of An Ancient People And Their Pharaoh

It’s not just left-leaning writers, like Nicholas Kristof, who are attempting to diffuse the paranoia of an “invasion” of impoverished refugees. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith calmly and succinctly called out the fearmongering for what is. David Thornton of the unapologetically conservative website, The Resurgent) tried to disarm the disinformation campaign as well.

All three are in agreement that there’s no need for a massive troop build-up at the U.S.-Mexico border. Like its prequel in April, 2018, there’s not likely to be much of a caravan left by the time a few of them make the 1,000-mile trek on foot. There’s also no evidence of Middle-eastern terrorists masquerading as Central American migrants. But I guess brown is the new black and they all look alike, right?

Embed from Getty Images

Why is this feverish fear so contagious? It has politicians “concerned” about people exercising their right to vote. The civil rights’ era label of “outside agitators” has been pulled from the recycle bin to apply to voting rights activists. It has lawmakers wanting to revoke the citizenship of people born in this country. It has conspired to disenfranchise the Natives of this land from casting ballots.

 

Exodus of the West?

Could the book of Exodus give us a clue to what’s going on in the minds of some Americans, who consider themselves the Americans? Let’s consider the following excerpt:

Joseph and his brothers and all that generation died. The Israelites, however, were fruitful, increased greatly, multiplied, and became extremely strong, so that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power over Egypt. He said to his people, “Look at the Israelite people, more numerous and stronger than we are! Come, let’s deal wisely with them. Otherwise they will continue to multiply, and if a war breaks out, they will ally themselves with our enemies and fight against us and leave the country.”

So they put foremen over the Israelites to oppress them with hard labor. As a result they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread. As a result the Egyptians loathed the Israelites, and they made the Israelites serve rigorously. (Ex. 1:6-13, NET)

Deliberate Disinformation

Let’s dissect a couple of things here. First, this king had a case of selective memory and strategic forgetfulness. How is it that he could know about a foreign people living in his land, but not know how they got there and where they came from? He referred to this rapidly growing demographic as Israelites, in other words, the offspring of Israel. Doesn’t referring to them as Israelites beg the question, Who was Israel and how did his offspring come to reside in Egypt?

The truth is, this king didn’t want to know about Joseph’s role in making Egypt great. Pharaoh wanted to deny or diminish any people or accomplishments that would credit outside agitators with meaningful progress to Egyptian science, politics, economics. To borrow from Rage Against the Machine’s “No Shelter,” this king’s agenda was for everyone to see through…

 

[Egyptian] eyes, [Egyptian] eyes

View the world through [Eyptian] eyes

Bury the past, rob us blind

And leave nothing behind!

 

It’s much like American amnesia regarding people like Peter Salem, Paul Cuffe, Benjamin Banneker, Charles Drew, Garrett Morgan, Alice Ball, Dorothy Vaughan, Patricia Bath, or Michelle Alexander. Hebrews in Egypt could’ve identified with Public Enemy’s line, “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.

Irrational Anxiety

Not only was there deliberate disinformation going on, there was also irrational anxiety. As Proverbs 28:1 says, “A wicked person flees when no one is chasing him” (NET). Why would this pharaoh imagine that a people whose ancestors had helped Egypt prosper during a catastrophic famine join ranks with a foreign army? Could it have been the unrestrained greed and unresolved guilt of the Egyptian leaders that aroused their fears of the Hebrews? Did his legacy of subjugating others to get ahead make him dread his chickens coming home to roost?

Embed from Getty Images

Pharaoh’s ignorance and fear led to increasingly oppressive policies. The harsher the Egyptians treated the Israelites, the more they despised and feared them. What the pharaoh and his followers didn’t realize is that retribution wouldn’t come by the hands of the Hebrews themselves. God’s hand would hold His cup of wrath to their lips until the last drop of His indignation was swallowed. The more pharaoh hardened his heart against human cries for mercy and Divine calls for justice, the fuller the bitter cup of vengeance became.

Siphon Up – Trickle Down

Pharaoh could have saved his empire and family a lot of devastation by humbling himself before God and changing his ways. However, it seems almost impossible for rich, powerful bullies to repent. They fear that if they repent, then they might have to repay (Luke 19:1-10). Such people are rare as a camel walking through the eye of a needle. Most prefer to keep siphoning up surpluses, while stingily allowing droplets of sustenance to trickle down.

Just as ancient Egypt had its chance, 21st century pharaohs have their chance to reverse course and be agents of reconciliation, peace, and prosperity for the people under their authority. However, Revelation lets us know that just as with Egypt, worldly powers in the last days are filling up God’s cup of wrath by serving themselves at the people’s expense. Soon a global series of plagues will eclipse the severity of Egypt’s tribulation.

 

Exorcising the Demonic Forces of Fear

As in Exodus 12, there is a way for the people of God to escape, and it’s not by colonizing the moon or Mars. Jesus is our Passover Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world (1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29). This Lamb dedicated Himself to be our sacrifice before the world even began (Revelations 13:8). However, our profession of faith in Him has to be more than meeting under a steeple or having cross tattoos and jewelry (Matthew 7:21-23).

Faith in Jesus means walking in the light of truth and love with Him (1 John 1:6-7). As we walk with Jesus, He infuses us with a love that casts out fear and brings us into fellowship with others we wouldn’t normally gravitate to (1 John 2:6-11 and 4:18). Instead of seeking to take the life of others, Jesus’ love moves us to live sacrificially for their benefit (1 John 3:16-17, Romans 12:1). Living out the gospel in this manner gives us confidence, rather than fear, when judgment comes (Proverbs 19:17; Matthew 25:31-46). It also give us peace of mind in this life (2 Timothy 1:7).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




What’s Really At-Stake with Our Border Crisis

How What We Tolerate Regarding The Treatment of Migrant Men, Women and Children Can Determine The Fate of Other Vulnerable Populations

Children pulled mercilessly from the warm embrace of their mothers. Children locked behind chain link fences. Children staring at the cameras, their piercing eyes revealing a haunting sense of hopelessness.

Such were the heart-wrenching images that sparked national outrage over a zero-tolerance immigration policy ripping families apart. For many Americans – regardless of political, racial or religious affiliation – it crossed an invisible boundary.

But as we protest, as we march, as we peacefully petition our government denouncing oppression in our name, it is not just the lives of the innocent victims at stake – but also the very soul of our nation.

Vulnerable People

Swapna Reddy is co-director of the New York-based Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), which provides pro-bono legal services to unaccompanied minors in deportation proceedings. She said the number of children trapped in the U.S. legal system has increased significantly since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy, audaciously quoting scripture as justification. The children, mostly from Central American countries, range in age from toddlers to teenagers.

“Basically, what we’re doing is we’re pretty much attacking a very vulnerable population,” said Reddy in an interview with Message. “We’ve started down a treacherous road with our immigration policies and are starting to do things that were unthinkable just a few years ago.”

Reddy said the Trump administration’s family-separation policy sets a precedent that could negatively impact other groups in the future.

“And so, while it’s immigrants now as a sort of targeted and vulnerable population,” she said, “ I think this certainly could be looked at in the future as the beginning of, perhaps, targeting other groups who are particularly vulnerable and don’t necessarily have the same protections as others do.”

Biblical Morality and Immigration

The Rev. David Vásquez-Levy serves as president of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California – a multi-denominational seminary and center for social justice. He describes the zero-tolerance policy as “a pivotal moral issue for us as a nation.”

“Though a country of immigrants, the United States has a history of cruelty toward various groups of people, millions of them brought to America by way of slave ships,” Vásquez-Levy said. He likened the plight of immigrant children being separated from their parents to the pain that African American and Native American families endured in previous generations.

“For us as a society with so much power, affluence and resources, to use such force against families and children, it has drawn attention to what’s happening more broadly with our immigration practices,” he said. “What it does is it dehumanizes a particular group, and that’s resonating for us in various communities.”

People on The Move

Vásquez-Levy believes Christians, in particular, should be outraged by the government’s anti-immigrant posture. He considers it an affront to Scripture, which calls on people of faith to embrace foreigners in their midst.

How do we balance Biblical precedent with the today’s tough immigration interests without compromising?

“When you think about Biblical stories, most of them are about people on the move,” he said. “People moving because of hope and promise, like Abraham and Sarah, pursuing a dream with nothing but trust. Because of that, one of the most common commandments in the Bible is about protecting the stranger and remembering that we were strangers ourselves in Egypt.”

The story of the Israelites in bondage – another migration story – contains many similarities to what immigrant families in the U.S. and across the globe are experiencing today, he said.
“Joseph is in Egypt as a famine developed in the land of Canaan,” he said. “Then his family comes into Egypt. They settle, and the Book of Genesis talks about how good it was that they settled and then they grew and they were strong.”

Compounding Injury

K. Drew Devenport is an immigrant attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law. He said recent immigration policies could have a chilling effect on the idea of America as a melting pot and a country that embraces all cultures and ideas.

“This country is founded on the principle and belief that you could come here, realize your dreams and live in a free society,” he said. “And now we’re seeing it become more conservative and restrictive.”

Reddy, of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, said children who flee bad circumstances come to the U.S. with an intense amount of trauma.

“First, they’re traumatized by whatever caused them to leave the country, traveling hundreds and thousands of miles,” she said. “Then, there’s the journey itself, which is dangerous and scary. And, now, they’re separated from their parents in the United States, which just compounds the trauma.”

Stay Focused on Needs

Reddy said she has been heartened by the incredible and sustained response of Americans of all backgrounds who stood up on behalf of children caught in the system.

“A lot of times people’s attention turn quickly to other issues,” she said. “But what’s amazing is that this has been going on now for a few months at this point, and people are still pushing back. I think it’s a very good sign that these are ideals that many Americans hold dear no matter who they are or where they were born. They are fighting to keep them intact.”

Yet, it’s important to stay vigilant, holding government accountable at all levels, she said. She recommends contacting members of Congress to make sure they’re on the right side of the issue and continuing to protest against anti-immigrant policies that victimize the most vulnerable in society.

“We’re not saying that all of these children are eligible to stay in the United States,” she said. “But we are saying that they all should have a fair chance to make their case for U.S. protection so we as country are not sending children back into grave harm or even, potentially, death. And that’s what our asylum laws uphold.”