DACA Revoked, DREAMers Face Deportation. Will Southern Baptist Pastors/Churches Speak On Their Behalf?

DACA has been revoked with a 6 month hiatus. Congress can address this if they want to. It is their job to address this legislatively. So, here’s the deal:

  1. Evangelicals can speak on behalf of Immigrant DREAMers (those brought here illegally as children) and ask Congress to pass legislation to allow them to stay legally, or,
  2. We can do nothing, sit back, say it isn’t our problem, and whatever happens happens. If we do that, then DREAMers will lose their protection, lose their jobs, not be able to go to school, and will be eventually deported.

Those are the choices before us.

Dr. Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and I lay out why Evangelicals should now advocate for Immigrant DREAMers here.

You can join your voice with around 1000 Evangelical pastors and church leaders asking Congress to act on legislatively on behalf of DREAMers by signing on this letter here. This is the letter created by the ERLC and other Evangelical organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition, Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities, and others. I’m glad that the ERLC spoke clearly on this. But, as I’ve heard many times here and elsewhere. Russell Moore and the ERLC can’t speak for every Southern Baptist. Each Southern Baptist pastor and church is responsible to speak on their own.

You can speak and act on behalf of young immigrant DREAMers who were brought here illegally as children. I meet with Congressional and Senate Republican offices regularly. They tell me that if Evangelical pastors and churches would speak, then they would have cover to act on behalf of DREAMers. If they don’t, there isn’t much they can do. Now, we have 6 months to fix this or almost a million young people who grew up here will be deported. Most of the Congressmen who will make this decision are in districts with heavy Evangelical populations, including Southern Baptists, often with massive churches. If we speak and advocate Biblically, they will listen. If we don’t speak, they will hear that too and act accordingly. Time to get off the fence. Saying nothing is saying everything. Silence is agreement with deportation. The clock is now ticking. 6 months.

Now this goes to Congress. What will you do? This will all be decided soon. What role will the church play? It’s up to us.

Natural Disasters, God’s Judgment, and Our Response

My heart has been breaking over the scenes that have come out of Houston and the surrounding areas in Southeast Texas from Hurricane Harvey. I’ve kept up with friends there on social media and have prayed as flood waters have risen around their neighborhoods. I praise God for the thousands of rescuers, volunteers, and regular citizens who are helping their neighbors. And, I am incredibly grateful for those who responded quickly to people in need and didn’t pontificate over whether or not Hurricane Harvey was God’s judgment on Texas.

I remember standing in front of a crowd of tired, hot, utterly discouraged people in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti in late January, 2010. The massive earthquake hit two weeks before leaving hundreds of thousands dead, wounded, and displaced. I watched with horror on television as bodies were pulled out of the rubble, and through tears, felt that I needed to go. An opportunity arose for me to go with a medical relief team, and after making the journey across the mountains from the Dominican Republic, we made our way to the main part of the Port-Au-Prince where approximately 600,000 people lived in a tent city under bed sheets and hastily stretched tarps to protect themselves from the sun. The whole nation was afraid to go back into buildings until they were proven structurally sound again. Too many had died.

The crowd surrounding us that day was several hundred strong. We were giving away medical supplies and water in the midst of the rubble and I was walking the lines and praying for people. We began talking to the people about Jesus and the gospel with an interpreter in Creole and from the crowd, a man shouts out, “Did God do this to us because of our sins? Did God destroy our country because of the sins of Haiti?” The crowd grew silent and I looked at hundreds of eyes staring at me waiting for the answer.

My mind could have gone to some of the remarks I’d heard in America about this earthquake being God’s judgment because of the sins of the people. But, instead I thought of a story from the gospels where Jesus faced a similar question in Luke 13:

Luke 13:1-5  Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

When I thought of Jesus, I told them that we are all sinners and that we all need to repent. I told them that when these things happen because creation groans because of sin (Romans 8:18-25), we are to wait upon the Lord for salvation. I told them that the message from God through these things is that life is very short, that death waits for all of us, that we are all guilty of sin, and that unless we repent and turn to Christ, we too will all perish. I told them that the message for America through this earthquake was the same as the message for Haiti. Repent and turn to Christ alone for salvation! The crowd was very serious, asked me many questions, and they were very somber. We explained the gospel and called upon the crowd to turn to Jesus. A large number from that crowd did. Altogether, we saw over 300 people cry out to Jesus for salvation that week.

I had to work through these things several years before as a young pastor in Montgomery, Alabama when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I am from New Orleans and grew up near the Gulf Coast and my hometown was devastated. I was reeling emotionally and knew I had to help people. My family and friends were there. While many Christians were supportive, I immediately began to hear Christians in Alabama and other parts of the country that were unaffected say that Katrina flooded New Orleans because it was such a sinful city. Lots of pronouncements were made that this hurricane was God’s judgment on sin. I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just told people that I didn’t know the mind of God on these things and yes, He can do what He deems just, but as for me, I was going to help people because God commands us to do that. The people pronouncing sure judgment on the sins of others tended to get quiet at that point.

The massive response from Southern Baptists in Alabama and across America as well as from other Christians during Katrina demonstrated that no matter what anyone thought about the cause of the disaster (if they thought about that at all), they were motivated by love to help those in need. The response was incredible. That is how it should be. Many of those being critical of New Orleans during and after Katrina, who blamed the people stranded on the roofs and overpasses for not evacuating, who turned their nose up against those suffering, who blasted the opposing political party, who sat around complaining about what they saw – those people often did little to help and ended up having hard hearts. The ones proclaiming God’s judgment on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast for its sins, seemed to feel justified in doing little to help, as though they didn’t want to get in the way of God. I didn’t have much time for that perspective, nor did the thousands of volunteers who flooded down to that area to help. I think we chose the better way.

One of the best things about Southern Baptists are that, organizationally, we respond to people in need in amazing ways as an expression of love from God. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief through NAMB and through state conventions like Southern Baptists of Texas are some of the best things we do. Right now, yellow hats and feeding teams are on site in disaster areas working with the Red Cross and helping those in need because of Hurricane Harvey. Christians and other people of good will from all over are assisting, neighbor is helping neighbor, and the love of God is being shown. Mercy is triumphing in the midst of disaster. And, that is how it should be as hope, help, and order are being restored out of the chaos.

I don’t claim to know the mind of God and I am beyond reluctant to pronounce judgment on a city or region because nature groaned in their path. As I’ve volunteered in disaster after disaster, I’ve seen the pain and the loss, heard the cries, and helped wipe the tears. I’ve cried a lot of tears myself. When people are in great need and have suffered much, the response should be mercy to them, sacrificial love and service, prayer, and the call of repentance to all of us – that we would ALL turn to Christ in repentance and entrust ourselves to Him because time is short and our need is great. The judgment from these disasters is revealed more through the hardness of heart of those who refuse to help, who sit back in scorn, or who go on in indifference as though nothing happened. If judgment is poured out, it is perhaps poured out not through loss of material possessions, but on those who sit in comfort and plenty and ignore those in need right before them and do nothing to help when they can. Indifference and hardness of heart is what we should fear more than a flood, earthquake, tornado, or fire.

As so many Southern Baptists and other people of good will respond to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, let’s not just sit back and watch. Let’s not make sport of it all and criticize others for not doing what we think they should. Let’s not stare into the face of great human need and let our hearts be hardened by indifference, thus incurring God’s judgment upon ourselves resulting in a hardened heart and bitterness. Rather, let’s see this as an opportunity to receive from God, to give of our own resources, to love, and to join with others in their suffering by serving them so that Christ is exalted and people are blessed in their time of need. We’ll be blessed to.

Judgment always begins with the House of God. This is our test. How will we respond? In mercy or indifference?

Biblical Justice Demands Evangelicals/Southern Baptists to Speak on Behalf of Immigrant Dreamers

Once again, I heard disturbing news today. Immigrant Dreamers (those brought here illegally as children who have previously had certain protections under the DACA program) are going to lose their protections in the near future and become susceptible to deportation. But, even more than that, I’ve heard directly from the offices of Republican Senators and Congressmen who are asking Evangelical pastors and churches to speak up on behalf of Dreamers and help give them the moral backing to pass legislation to protect these young people. They want to do what is right, but they need support from the church. Unfortunately, they are telling me that, in their experience, most pastors and churches are remaining silent on this, even though polls say that up to 75% of Trump voters want legal status for Dreamers and less than 20% want them deported.

One pastor who will not keep silent is South Carolina pastor Brandon Sandifer. He recently wrote an OpEd for the Columbia, SC paper where he skillfully spoke out on behalf of Dreamers saying,

As a Southern Baptist pastor, I am called to both respect the laws of the land and show compassion for vulnerable people, including immigrant youth. Jesus commands believers to love their neighbors. These young people are some of our most vulnerable neighbors. I can no more forget them than I can forget the commands of the Bible.

I’m thankful for pastors like Brandon Sandifer. But, more voices are needed. So, here is the deal – and I’m saying this as clearly as I can. There are 1.8 million Immigrant Dreamers, who are victims of a broken system over the past 30 years. They are victims who were brought here as children, grew up here, were raised here, and most of the time have nowhere to go. They have lived their lives here and many have U.S. citizen children of their own. As Evangelicals, we pray for influence in our culture. Here is the opportunity. We have the authority and influence to speak on behalf of these young people from a Biblical perspective and help pass legislation that would protect them. If we speak up and intervene on their behalf as advocates, they will likely be able to stay. The Church can make the difference. If we say nothing, they will lose their temporary protection and most likely be deported.

The reality is that all undocumented immigrants are currently being deported piecemeal, not just the criminal aliens, as I reported here. That is the policy of our government now.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan said recently,

“There is no population off the table. We are not going to selectively say, ‘OK, we are going to take this population and we are not going to enforce the law against you.’ Once you start carving out populations and saying we are not going to pay attention when we find you, then the whole system erodes.”

So, when Dreamers lose DACA, then they will reenter the larger population being deported. Detentions of Dreamers are already happening. The story of a 22 year old mother of two children, Riccy Enriquez Perdomo, hit the news this week. She was brought here at age 9, has DACA, and is working. But, she was picked up and detained for deportation. After an outcry, ICE has released her, but only because they found out that she did, in fact, have DACA. This is a preview of what is to come when DACA is revoked in the Fall. As a matter of fact, we’re now hearing reports that President Trump will revoke DACA as early as next week. This means that Congress must solve this problem, but they won’t solve it if Evangelicals, and particularly Southern Baptists because of where we’re largely located in the Republican South, don’t speak on behalf of Dreamers.

Many in Congress want to act and are putting forward legislation like the Dream Act 2017 and the Recognizing America’s Children Act. Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from California, joined with other Congressmen in sending a letter to President Trump asking him not to revoke the protections these young people have. He said,

“These young adults were brought to America as children through no fault of their own and know no other country to call home, and we must continue pressing for immigration reform that will provide them with a pathway to citizenship. We have violent criminals preying on our communities, and our resources should be going toward their deportation instead of being directed toward the young men and women protected through DACA, who are working toward a better future.”

The church can and should speak on behalf of the vulnerable with moral clarity, compassion, and courage. In this case, Biblical Justice demands it. Theologian Paul Louis Metzger says about Biblical Justice:

Biblical justice involves making individuals, communities, and the cosmos whole, by upholding both goodness and impartiality. It stands at the center of true religion, according to James, who says that the kind of “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Earlier Scripture says, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Prov. 29:7).

Dreamers were brought here illegally at young ages and are victims of a broken system that had two contradictory signs at the border: a welcome sign and a keep out sign. By not enforcing our immigration laws for 30 years, we saw millions either come here or be brought here illegally. This system enriched many American employers and consumers who benefitted from them over the past 3 decades. How is it now just to deport the Dreamers when they did not choose to come here, but were brought here, grew up here, and now have no country to return to? Deporting them all now is not justice. It does not affirm the rule of law. It would be a travesty. It would only add human misery to a broken system and perpetuate further injustice upon innocent victims. It would be a modern day “Trail of Tears” in many respects.

The Church can and should speak to stop this and ask for a better way to be agreed upon.  A large number of these young people are Christians and are members of our own churches and attended our Vacation Bible Schools as kids. Will we turn our backs on them now? We can call upon Congress to develop policies that take into account the realities and consequences of the failed, broken system of the past, secure the border for the future, and deal with the victims of the broken system with wisdom, justice, and compassion. Evangelicals were instrumental in electing a Republican President as well as Republican House and Senate majorities that have the power to fix this. After giving them power, will we now be silent while decisions are made that could devastate the lives of up to 1.8 million people?

Southern Baptists can speak on behalf of the vulnerable right now by giving support to Senators and Congressmen who are waiting to hear from the the church on behalf of these young people. Pastors and churches can speak. Our Republican politicians that WE elected are waiting for us to counsel them with the moral clarity and courage to do what many of them know to be right. How can we stay silent?

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

 

Denouncing Racism Is Easy, Loving Racists Is Hard

As the nation watched in horror this weekend, racial violence emerged yet again, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia, as white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK and others met to “Unite the Right.” The whole scene was evil and anti-Christ. Saturday’s violence and the terrorist attack that took the life of Heather Heyer got a great deal of the attention, as it should have, but the marching with torches and Nazi chanting on Friday night gives a good picture on what this was all about.

Friday night around 10pm in Charlottesville, the crowd was chanting: “One people, one nation, end immigration” & “blood and soil.” The German and Nazi “Blood and Soil” mantra was used over and over again throughout the weekend. This was a mantra focused on empowering the German “Volk” of the early 20th century and was adopted by the Nazis as a way of saying that the land belonged only to the ethnic German people. This ideology was used as a way of dividing the rural “Volk” from the urban and cosmopolitan Jews. In other words, when you hear “blood and soil,” you’re hearing Nazi ideology.

The torches are also meant to be reminiscent of Nazi rallies in Germany in the 1930s and cause any Southerner who knows his history to think of racist mobs and night riders who terrorized the black population in the 19th and 20th centuries. Any notion that this was a benign, peaceful crowd is most assuredly false. By the symbols, slogans, dress, signs, language, and the very nature of what they were doing was meant to antagonize, intimidate, and strike fear in the hearts of those who would see it.

But, at the core of all of this racism and fear is a frantic panic to promote, protect, and defend one’s “way of life.” Beneath the sin of racism is this incredible fear that white people might lose their position, their wealth, their power, or their place in society. There is a consuming desire for power, prominence, and prosperity. I see it all the time with the growing xenophobia toward immigrants. The fear of immigrants and refugees and anger toward them isn’t really about economics, safety, or even culture. It is about a fear that native born people might lose their place or their “way of life” might be threatened somehow by the inclusion of others who are different from them. So, the idea goes, we have to push them away, denounce them, and separate ourselves from them lest we die somehow. It is all rather primal and carnal. And, completely natural and human. This is how we live without God.

The way to counter this fear is not to assure white people that they will maintain power. The way to counter it is for an alternative community of Christ followers to demonstrate how to live without worldly power as we trust in God alone and love one another sacrificially.

I should not have to establish how utterly evil this all is. What we are seeing now is a symptom of our flight from God as a people. This is what Southern Baptists denounced at the 2017 convention in the Alt-Right resolution. But, for Southern Baptists in particular, and Evangelicals in general, we not only have the call and ability to denounce this evil, but we are also called to live out and demonstrate the better way of Jesus in sacrificial love. The better way of Jesus does not involve finding your identity in your race or political ideology or your economic status or your real estate address. It doesn’t involve violence or grasping for worldly power or trying to live only among “your own kind.” The better way of Jesus rejects racism and protecting one’s “way of life” (if it isn’t fully immersed in Christ) and it rejects fear, anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, and racial supremacy. It also rejects turning away from those caught up in these things and watching silently as their lives are consumed by hate and anger from the inside out. Jesus loves the man waving the Nazi flag dressed in Klan robes and He died for his sins too.

We have an incredible opportunity to once again BE the hands and feet of Jesus if we would enter into this maelstrom with the love of Christ and confident in our identity in Christ and not in our ethnicity, nationality, political party, or social status. But, we have to receive God’s love in a way that actually enables us to find our identity in Him and not our flesh (2 Cor. 5:14-21). We must put to death the anger, rage, malice, slander, and attacking of other human beings and get to laying down our lives for people – even loving our enemies … especially loving our enemies. We have to lay our own lives down. We can’t take the gospel to this people and culture as long as we’re trying to protect our own way of life and we’re angry and afraid of people. We can’t expect anyone to believe the gospel of a crucified king when we refuse to inconvenience ourselves or suffer even a little bit of loss by loving our neighbor. We invalidate our own message by our fear, anger, and dismissal of the concerns of others.

The Dragon of White Supremacy is awake once again and is flying overhead, seeking to devour people all around us. We can only counter it through the Cross and the Sacrificial Love of Jesus that is more than just a message. We are called to incarnate and embody the love of Jesus for others, even for those getting caught up in white supremacy and white nationalism, which means we significantly care about what happens to our neighbors and we enter into their lives to love and serve them, even if it costs us everything. Because, that’s what Jesus did for us. Until we’re ready to do that, we can denounce white supremacy, but we show we’re not ready to love the white supremacist enough to show him Jesus.

These young men being caught up in white supremacy need to encounter the transforming love of Jesus. We won’t bring Christ to them if we are unaware of the damning nature of this hateful message against those of other races and ethnicities that God created and loves. And, we won’t bring Christ to them if we despise them or fear them. We must see them as Jesus does, with hearts moved by compassion because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:35-39). I’m not excusing anyone. I’m portraying the real situation. Their ideology is evil and damaging to their communities and our nation, but the people marching with Confederate and Nazi flags are not powerful. They are sad, weak, and fearful, and worthy of our pity. Hatred and fear has overtaken them and warped them to the core. But, they are still people that Jesus died for and wants to redeem.

The scandal of the Cross is that Jesus loves and died for the white supremacist just as much as He loves the victim of white supremacy. And, he loves the victim of racism as much as he loves the Alt-Right advocate. And, He has given us the ministry of reconciliation by calling all people to Christ. I’m reminded that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector were both called by Jesus to be His disciples. Simon was likely a Jewish Nationalist who advocated for the overthrow of the Roman Empire. Matthew, as a tax collector, would have been a collaborator with the Empire in cheating and oppressing his own people. But, Jesus called them both to forsake their old lives and identities and find their new life in Him. This is what the church is supposed to be. A gathering of Simons and Matthews laying down their anger, fear, and pain and finding new life together in Christ. This is just gospel truth. But, we can’t recognize it if we ourselves are clinging to old worldly identities. We have to lay down our racial, political, economic, and social identities as well and find our new life in Christ to be core to who we really are. Then, we can love our neighbor sacrificially, even if they hate us.

At the root, this growing dragon of white supremacy is a problem growing on the watch of white evangelicals, in part. It is growing in our communities and would even seek to infiltrate our churches once again, if we are not aware. We can and should denounce this evil. But, words are easy. Actions are hard. Can we then turn and love the white nationalist enough to enter into his fear and pain and take Christ to him? Can we show him the better way of Jesus through how we love one another and love our neighbors who are different from us? What would it look like for Southern Baptists to really engage white supremacists, white nationalists, and the Alt-Right with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ?

Maybe that should start in our own churches. Maybe that starts with us. Instead of falling for the temptation of “blood and soil” as the Germans meant it, we should recognize that the only blood that defines us is the blood of Jesus and the soil we need is the good soil in our hearts that receives His Word and bears gospel fruit of sacrificial love to all people a hundred fold.

 

For a fuller, more in depth treatment of racism, the sin beneath racism, how we often seek to promote and protect our own “way of life,” and the power of the Cross to transform our lives and communities, see When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus. NewSouth Books, 2014.