Tragedy Should Never Be a Political Platform

For the last few weeks, those of us here in Iowa have been following the story of a missing University of Iowa student named Mollie Tibbetts. She was staying in her boyfriend’s home to watch his dog while he was gone for a few days to work. She went out jogging one evening this summer and never came back. There were rumors followed by rumors. One farmer in the area, a known stalker, became the primary focus of the investigation and was heavily investigated. I did not realize that this had become national news as well, but evidently, it had.

On Tuesday, a body was found in Poweshiek county and word leaked out that it was Mollie, even before the identification was confirmed. At 4 PM on Tuesday the investigators held a press conference at the Poweshiek courthouse and gave the details. Just before the presser word also leaked out that a suspect was in custody. At the press conference, the investigator went over the details of the case. The man who was under arrest was of Hispanic descent and was an illegal alien, Christhian Rivera.

I knew as soon as I heard that exactly what would happen. It did not take long for “The Five” on Fox to begin making hay from the fact that the murderer of this cute white girl was an illegal immigrant. See, we have to close the borders so that these illegals won’t kill our daughters. True, there have been some highly publicized murders committed by illegals across the country and when that happens FOX and others use them to beat the drums about how dangerous immigrants are and how we need to build the wall and deal with the immigration problem.

The family of Mollie Tibbetts released a powerful statement asking people not to politicize their daughter’s death after Donald Trump used the tragedy to fan the flames in the immigration debate. Mollie’s aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, said this on Facebook.

Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color. Our family has been blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship and support throughout this entire ordeal by friends from all different nations and races. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

I hope we heed her words and avoid painting all Hispanics, even those here without documentation, as evil and dangerous, just because one committed this heinous act.

I believe we need border security (not sure a wall is going to help, but that is a discussion for another day). As a sovereign nation, we have the right to control our borders and to keep people from crossing them illegally. And I believe that people here illegally who commit violent crimes should serve their time and then be deported. But it is wrong to use a situation such as this to create the fear that all illegals are violent criminals. This is a common political tactic. We use the misdeeds of one member of a group to paint the entire group in negative light. A Muslim commits a crime – all Muslims are radicalized. One illegal commits a violent act, all illegals are dangerous. It is a fear tactic exploited by politicians. Let’s call it condemnation by category. There’s probably another term for it. But when we condemn an entire race or people because of the misdeeds of one or two or even a small group, it is wrong.

We reject it when “they” do it against “us.” When there is a school shooting and the anti-gun folks begin chanting their gun control mantras, we say you shouldn’t penalize a law-abiding gun owner because of the misdeeds of criminal or some mentally ill person. Don’t condemn the whole group of law-abiding gun owners because of a few bad actors.

On August 17, an American “Missionary” named Jimmy Taylor was arrested in Uganda for a violent and racist outburst in a hotel. Here is a link to a site that has the video. Many left-wing sites picked this up and shared it because of the content. Warning, the video is rough – some very foul language. If you want to watch it, follow the link – I will not post it here.

Shaun King, a columnist and a promoter of Black Lives Matter, said this.

 Yeah – this is Jimmy Taylor, an American citizen, and “Christian Missionary” in Uganda. He’s now under arrest. To be real, he is a very honest depiction of much of American Christianity

A person who uses the Twitter handle @skepticNikki said,

Lol. The next time I hear “Christian is synonymous with good” I’m pulling out this gorgeous little gem.

Jimmy Taylor is not with any board or agency. He’s a self-appointed “missionary” and from all I’ve read, severely mentally ill. I have seen Christians behave very badly in my nearly forty years in ministry, but folks, even Pulpit and Pen doesn’t do stuff like this, do they? This guy is not a representative of evangelical Christianity but those who hate us choose to see all of us in his shameful misdeeds. They gleefully point a finger and say, “See?”

I don’t like it when they do that. If I don’t like it when the gun-control people paint all gun-owners as dangerous, unhinged nuts and if I don’t like it when the liberals paint a mentally ill and delusional man as a representative of all evangelicalism, I shouldn’t paint Christhian Rivera as representative of all Hispanics. We should treat people as individuals.

The condemnation by category thing – it really needs to stop.

SBC & Politics: Why I Made a Motion to Exclude Politicians from the Annual Meeting (Dr. Marshal L. Ausberry, Sr.)

At the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention, I made a motion that beginning in 2019 the SBC would refrain from allowing elected officials to speak at the Convention. The exception was for the host Mayor or appropriate official to give a welcome greeting and to receive thanks from the Convention for hosting the Convention.

The reason I feel it is time for such a position for the Convention is multi-fold. It has nothing to do with Vice President Mike Pence speaking at the 2018 Convention. In my opinion, Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence are good godly people.

Though some were calling for the Convention to disinvite Vice President Pence, I felt it would have been inappropriate to disinvite the Vice President once the SBC leadership had agreed for him to speak. That move would have produced fodder for the news media and reflected poorly on our Convention. It would have been like inviting someone to your house for dinner and then publicly telling them not to show up. That’s not who we are!

Briefly, my reason for the motion is that the SBC members are not politically monolithic! In our SBC churches we have people that ride elephants; some ride donkeys; some ride both and some ride neither; some are fiercely independent; and some even sip tea. And that is just reality! However, when the optics appear that any political party is embraced at the Convention, no matter what is said by SBC leadership in an attempt to make it palatable, the results cause division and confusion in the body.

In addition, the SBC should be fiercely independent politically! Unfortunately, when politically elected officials are given primary platform time, the optics outweigh our words of being independent! I’ve heard some say that it looks like “The SBC is a wing of the Republican Party” and “The SBC is in bed with the Republican Party.” The SBC must be fiercely independent in order to speak truth to power and not give the appearance of being co-opted by any party.

Now I fully endorse SBC officials having a dialogue with an administration; being advisors and counselors to an administration; and praying for and with an administration. I think we see throughout the Old Testament God’s people engaging with pharaohs, governors, rulers, and kings. But always uncompromisingly independent!

In addition, I don’t know if a President Bill Clinton would have been allowed to speak; I don’t know if a President Barack Obama would have been allowed to speak; and I don’t know if a President Hilary Clinton would have been allowed to speak at an SBC annual meeting. The Bible will challenge us enough, we can avoid creating an environment that divides us politically and unnecessarily!

I hope and pray that my SBC will embrace that Convention time is not the time for politically elected officials. It is time that all Southern Baptists come together as one Body in Christ, our Lord and Savior.

I hope and pray that the leadership of the SBC sensed the concern in the body as they deliberate and make decisions for 2019 and beyond.

Marshal L. Ausberry, Sr.
President, National African American Fellowship of the SBC

Dr. Marshal Ausberry is the senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, VA and is the President of the NAAF. Among other degrees, he holds a D.Min. and Th.M. in Preaching from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. You can find him on Twitter at @MAusberry.

Unconvinced by Bart Barber’s Case for Prioritizing Strict Immigration Enforcement

Yesterday here at Voices, Bart Barber wrote A Non-Nativist Case for Strict Enforcement of Immigration Law. There are several reasons I approached Bart’s article with a lot of anticipation. One of which is the huge amount of respect I have for Bart. Another is that he’s helped me think through immigration-related issues before (here, here, here, and here, for example) in ways that have been really, really helpful. 

But yesterday’s post left me scratching my head. It’s not that I think Bart is wrong in advocating for the principle of strict enforcement of immigration laws. I’m for border security and better enforcement. I and many other Southern Baptists have signed the EIT Statement of Principles, which includes, as two of its six key principles, “Respects the rule of law” and “Guarantees secure national borders.”

So why did Bart’s piece not sit well with me? I’ve reflected some and I think there are two main reasons. First, I think Bart gives right answers to some of the wrong questions. Second, I think his main thesis fails under scrutiny because there are significant exceptions to the principle he lays out. Jumping from lax enforcement of bad laws to strict enforcement of bad laws may lead us to even greater injustice than what we’re currently seeing.

Agreement

Let’s start with where I think Bart is correct. (1) We want laws that accomplish just outcomes for everyone. (2) Lack of enforcement of immigration law can cause injustice in countless ways. (3) This one is huge and I really appreciate Bart highlighting it: We should reject the nativist, protectionist arguments often being advanced these days. (4) Our current system and lack of enforcement have unfairly disadvantaged potential immigrants, refugees, and others who don’t have access to a land border into the U.S. (5) Our immigration enforcement should take place without separating families at the border. 

Let’s not gloss over these areas of agreement. There is a lot here. A lot of substance. And I wish that all of those involved in this debate could start from this foundation. 

Problem #1: Wrong Questions

With that foundation in place, I think Bart’s argument answered questions that most people aren’t asking at this point. Maybe they should be, but I don’t think that’s where the conversation is. I understand Bart to be saying we have two options to even out the inequality between border/non-border situations: Either we ease access for non-border countries or we restrict access* for border countries. 

The only conversation seemingly taking place at this point is restricting access. There is a push from the far right and this administration to severely limit all immigration, not to potentially expand immigration from non-border countries. That’s why I say this may be the right answer (making sure access is equitable) but in our current situation that’s going to be nearly universally understood as an argument for restriction. 

Another fear I have is advocating for “strict enforcement” in this climate possibly communicates an approval of the harsh tactics currently in the headlines. Bart, to his credit, expressly denounces the deterrent strategy of separating families. Also, “strict enforcement” of the laws may actually point to a more humane way of treating asylum seekers than the family separation practice recently implemented (and more recently potentially reversed) by the Trump administration. I’ve seen some argue that asylum seekers are promised due process that would be more, not less, compassionate. But I don’t think that’s how Bart’s headline would normally be interpreted. Wish that everyone who saw the headline would stick around long enough to read Bart’s last paragraph! 

Problem #2: Exceptions to the Thesis

I understand the heart of Bart’s argument to rest on his fifth paragraph:

Rather, I’m arguing for the strict enforcement of immigration law (and I’m open to the improvement of the laws on the books) because I believe that these laws provide justice for immigrants themselves. When our immigration laws go unenforced, the result is injustice for immigrants.

Bart makes a great case that unenforced immigration laws cause injustice to certain immigrants – particularly immigrants without access to a U.S. land border. No argument there. But what needs to be said in addition is that in our complex, confusing immigration system, there are times that strict enforcement of the law can create a different kind of injustice – one that could be worse than the first. 

As an example, I watched this documentary about a year ago. One thing I haven’t been able to forget is the first-hand accounts contained where immigration laws were enforced but clearly led to injustice, rather than fair, common-sense outcomes. If you’re short on time, jump ahead to the 27:00 mark and listen to the story of Bruce and his family. 

Moving from lax enforcement of bad laws to strict enforcement of bad laws potentially puts us in a situation where we’re still dealing with the problem of injustice – maybe of a different kind and possibly even more severe. We have injustice now? Yes. The answer isn’t trading for another kind of (potentially worse) injustice. 

The logical progression that I understand from Bart’s post could be expressed this way:

Lax Enforcement -> Strict Enforcement -> Fix the Laws

I believe a better paradigm, a better general strategy would be to swap the second and third steps:

Lax Enforcement -> Fix the Laws -> Strict Enforcement

 

Of course, the reality is more complicated. We are not going to choose only enforcement or only fixing laws. We should move forward on both fronts. The question comes down to emphasis or priority. Which comes temporally first? Which comes logically first? My argument here is that fixing the laws ought to take temporal and logical priority. But again, we don’t have to choose either/or.

If we moved strategically, we could move forward in both areas without increasing injustice. Securing the border with a physical barrier (or other effective means) would be a step forward in enforcement with no (that I can see) potentially greater injustice associated. While the border is being secured in that way, let’s focus our other energy on improving existing laws so they really are more just and fair. Then, with the border secure and better immigration laws in place, we move fairly into a mindset of strict enforcement. 

Moving from ‘where we are now’ directly into a mode of strict enforcement skips important steps that safeguard human dignity and compassion. We have better options available and, especially as the church, we should make every effort to get to our destination making sure people are treated fairly in the process.

And I think when you get down to it, Bart’s position is probably not much different than what I’ve tried to argue for here. And that gives me hope I’m not too far off base.

 


*Please note when I talk about access here, I’m talking about legal accessibility. This is not an argument against a physical barrier. The point of the physical barrier is to force people trying to enter to go through an established legal process.

Rescued from Politics, Refocused in the Pulpit

There was a time in my young adult life I was very involved in politics. VERY involved. I was a pro-life lobbyist in Kentucky. I worked long and hard for Jim Bunning way back when he was a congressman (even marched with him and his precious wife Mary in the March for Life in DC). Almost took a job in Senator Mitch McConnell’s office. Had numerous friends that worked in Washington congressional offices. Was partly responsible for starting a multi-county “Young Republican” club in Eastern Kentucky. While President of that YR club, I (along with my team) organized and hosted the Young Republican State Convention in Kentucky one year. I was ecstatic when Gingrich’s Contract for America swept the November elections of 94. I was active in our city government and was being groomed, so to speak, to run for local office and then maybe eventually something higher. I even met my wife Michelle because, as the Student Activities Coordinator at our local community college, she was the one with whom I had to meet to organize a “College Republican” club on that campus.

All that to say, I was once the guy so eaten up with politics that I could not see past the rightness of “the Right.” I was the guy that argued that the Republican Party was not just the Party of Lincoln, it was the Party of Jesus. I’m so terribly embarrassed by that myopic viewpoint now that it is hard to admit these things publicly.

When I submitted to the pastorate things changed for me. It was not a speedy adjustment but a significant and substantive adjustment. My desires changed and my heart took a beating down like the wet clay on a potter’s wheel. I began to see things differently. By the year 2000 (at age 27 and 3 years into my first pastorate), I became convicted that my allegiance to a political philosophy overshadowed (at best) or dictated (at worst) my interpretation of scripture’s truths.

My shift away from partisan politics was so significant and the swing was so hard that I am on record for arguing (early in my ministry) that we should move away from the notion of the SBC having a “lobbying” arm. In the early 2000’s I told whomever would listen (no blogs back then and I didn’t have MySpace) that we should jettison the idea of the ERLC (formerly called the Christian Life Commission) so that we could make a clean break from feeling beholden to, or inadvertently being identified with any political party (by that I meant the Republican Party in particular). It was clear to me that the southern, evangelical, white church had become inextricably enmeshed, to the point of identity confusion, with the Republican Party, while at the same time, my African-American brothers and sisters seemed similarly trapped on the other side through having been courted and wooed by the Democratic Party. I just wanted us to be out of the sticky, miry quicksand of partisan politics.

Today I find myself, at this point in my ministry, thankful to God that we haven’t set aside the ERLC because I am now convinced of the importance of the prophetic voice it has to challenge us from within our own tribe. Whether deliberate or not, the ERLC is serving as a voice to call our convention of churches to reflect on, give critical examination to and maybe call us to retool our thinking about partisan politics on BOTH sides of the aisle. I’m not sure everyone is listening but I sure wish they would. This is good stuff. Let me also just say, this does not mean I am in agreement with every point of everything that is written or espoused at the ERLC but I receive with anticipation and appreciation any challenge or encouragement I get from those who’ve been entrusted with this charge.

In place of our churches seeing things through elephant or donkey shaded lenses, should we not be submitting our opinions to a biblical framework which, whether you like it or not, will not always snap into any one particular political grid? This was a long, difficult journey for me but boy was it “liberating” (see what I did there?) Seriously, it was freeing to see something that I was previously blind to. I just didn’t know. My motives were altruistic and sincere but I was blinded by politics. I had good intentions, but we all know where that leads.

I call upon my white brothers and sisters to set aside your possibly unrealized penchant for the religious right of the Republican Party and upon my black brothers and sisters, who’ve for too long looked to the Democratic Party for empowerment, to set aside those loyalties and come together to work on a better hermeneutic. One that is scripture-based where we agree that Jesus is the only “right” we need and he’s all the “empowerment” we will ever want. Let’s remember, that in Christ, there is unity, not division.

By the way, I have a small bust of Newt Gingrich and a few books signed by he and Rush Limbaugh that I’m still trying to offload if anyone is looking for a few novelty items. P.S. I’m keeping the small bust of Reagan (cause it’s Reagan) and my baseball signed by Jim Bunning… the guy threw a no-hitter in both leagues!