Category Archives: Muslims

Real Questions, Thoughtful Answers, Part 3: Our Immigration Mess: A Hospitable and Secure Way Forward

I was in an airport restaurant recently and my server told me her family’s story of emigrating to the USA from Albania. After a decade of paperwork and hearings, and lots of hard work, most of the family members are now legal residents, and some are citizens. She asked me, “Why does the government tolerate the mess at the border with Mexico or let any Afghan into the country? We worked so hard to come legally, and they are giving more benefits to the people coming in illegally. Why?”

Here was a single mom, working 60 hours a week and grateful for her hard-earned citizenship upset about the chaos with “asylum seekers” and the “undocumented.” She also commented that she and her family had never taken a dime in welfare. How do we answer her honest query?

We start solving the current mess four ways: 1) learning from our history; 2) cultivating hope that solutions are possible; 3) finding courage to enforce current laws and reform broken systems; and 4) expose the nefarious motives of those who prefer anarchy over substantive solutions.

First, reckoning with our history helps us avoid arrogance as we see a rather challenging set of narratives. All nations and empires are founded with primary “tribes” and then learn to integrate others. In this essay, I am not focusing on the African slaves or treatment of Native American populations – those narratives are exceptional and warrant separate essays (coming soon in 2022!).

In the mid-19th century, the Irish potato famine sent many to our shores and they were often met with hostility by the WASP majorities. They, along with other Roman Catholic populations, were subject to marginalization and persecution. Over time, they found ways to assimilate and maintain their cultures, but as late as 1960 millions of American feared a Roman Catholic President for fear that JFK would be more loyal to the Pope that the USA.

The famous Ellis Island surge of the late 19th and early 20th century was a commendable moment in our history, yet there was extensive screening involved and not everyone was admitted. Many of these immigrants faced tremendous hardships, but America was the promised land for people fleeing poverty and persecution.

While Ellis Island welcomed millions, on the West Coast, The Chinese and Japanese immigrants were treated abysmally, especially the Chinese. The very people who labored on the transcontinental railway were subject to internment, severe economic restrictions and significant harassment. The scandal of the Japanese internment camps of World War II is well-documented, with justice too late in coming for many. A century later, both populations have flourished and consider themselves fully American while celebrating their cultures.

From the 1920s to the end of WWII, the USA closed her doors to most immigration and xenophobia was the order of the day. Even full knowledge of the Holocaust could not sway the State Department. When I share about the Middle East, this narrative will be prominent. We utterly failed as the land of liberty.

Since the 1960s, immigration policies have varied greatly and many more have found homes in our land. It is important to note that many Democrats, who today want unfettered immigration, opposed welcoming the Vietnamese refugees fleeing communism after the 1976 takeover of Saigon. It is stunning reading the words of apparently inclusive politicians. Of course, having thousands of hardworking immigrants that are living witnesses to the terrors of Marxism is quite uncomfortable for some. We do welcome legitimate groups fleeing violence, though the selectivity has varied with the administration in power. For example, it is currently much harder for Christians to flee persecution in Muslim nations than for Muslims emigrating from many nations.

Our border with Mexico has its own complex history, with alternating moments of hospitality and xenophobia. People of all political persuasions have avoided comprehensive reform out of economic (cheap labor) and political (assuming voter loyalty to one party) motivations. Those who desire more selective immigration policies are branded racist and those wanting easy pathways to entry are also offering more help to the undocumented than some of their own citizens.

Concerning points 2 and 3: We must cultivate hopeful realism that solutions are possible while being honest about the mess created since the 1960s. Enforcing current laws and screening immigrants for criminal backgrounds and COVID are reasonable steps.  Walls define borders – they can still have many hospitable gates. The massive amount of drug and sex trafficking, potential terrorist infiltrations, and disrespect for the rule of law and nature of a nation must be confronted.

Finally, comprehensive change will require courage to confront the cartels on the border, and the corrupt regimes allowing massive groups to march toward the USA. Courage is also needed to reaffirm the goodness of borders, national identity, and the privileges of citizenship, while offering reasonable pathways for millions of undocumented neighbors. There is no place for racism and xenophobia; likewise, voting must be only for citizens. The undocumented, while treated with compassion, should not receive more government help than US citizens. Illegal felons in prisons should be deported and enforcement increased. Dreamers should be placed on an expedited pathway to citizenship.

Avoiding globalism and xenophobia, securing borders, welcoming those who will contribute – all are possible if we have courage, humility, and wisdom. I welcome the faith and family-oriented friends that want the USA to be home…and I think we can screen out many threats to our civil life. May we find the way forward that is inclusive and wise.

The Path Forward, Part Two: Back to the Future: Seeing the Tapestry of History

How we understand our personal, cultural, and national history is vital for our own sense of self and for building a flourishing future. In this moment of competing narratives and agitation propaganda, embracing the complexity and contradictions of historical narratives has never been more important. Leaving aside the dangerous and foolish mythologies of blood and soil supremacy (and they are found in almost every culture), how we understand the past has profound consequences for present actions and future visions.

Before evaluating two current trends in American history, it is important to note that every civilization or significant nation begins with a dominant group and then expands to include others (with variable notions of equality). This is NOT a defense of racism – just the opposite. Racial injustice (and its twin, tribalism) is a universal phenomenon of a fallen human species. People with agendas cherry pick historical data and avoid the uncomfortable facts that do not fit their narrative. For example, the legacy of Western colonialism from about 1800-1960 is seen as an era of oppression…and it was. Muslims in particular critique the control of their ancient lands by “Crusaders.” Infrastructure, religious toleration, education, and economic developments are all ignored. I am not defending the terrible history of conquest and control. What is ignored are the centuries of Islamic conquests and oppressions from the 7th to the 17th century. In other words, history is complicated.

On the popular level (there are many historians doing good work on complex issues no one will ever hear about!), American history is often presented as either the progress of a divinely-ordained nation or the tragic story of White oppression. The recent 1619 Project bring to public attention the neglected narratives of African American and Native American oppression. The problem is not with highlighting the tragedies of systemic racism. The 1619 project is marred by reducing the American story to racism and seeing everything through this lens. In contrast, many conservative and religious groups see the USA as exceptional, and while acknowledging the many imperfections, the story is one of almost unbroken progress. The 1776 Initiative sought to counter the extremes of the 1619 project, but it has been cancelled by the new administration because it was created under the old one.

The path forward concerning American history and hope calls for maturity that can hold several narratives in tension simultaneously, celebrating trends of liberty and justice, lamenting deep injustices, and calling for more research on ignored and marginalized voices. For example, religious conservatives downplay the profound missed opportunity of the early 19th century as every denomination split over race and slavery (and only reunited in the Civil Rights era of the 1960s). Imagine the different trajectory of our American story if the churches had discarded their racism! The same willful ignorance applied to the horrendous treaty violations and violence toward Native American tribes from the 17th to the 20th century. Imagine if the Quaker voices were heeded and European settlers and indigenous people shared the development of a grand experiment in mutual respect and love. Lest progressives become proud, their refusal to include the positive record of both Christian and secular leaders working for justice and the devastations of the modern welfare state on the groups it was supposed to help, is willful blindness that keeps us from progress.

Seeing history through the four-fold lens of the Grand Narrative of the Bible is helpful so we have hopefulness and realism, and hold the tensions of the human soul and social contracts in proper balance. The biblical story begins with the divine design for worship and work, with humankind enjoying God and creatively and ethically stewarding a beautiful world. Men and women are equal image-bearers and the marital bond is celebrated. But. Human rebellion (the root of all sin) brings disaster as the divine image and purpose are defaced and distorted. Yet divine deliverance is promised. A redemptive history of grace, liberation, and holy love, culminating in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, offers hope and power for positive change. And the fourth chapter reveals an eternal destiny in a renewed earth and heavens, where worship and work are fulfilled with love and justice and the original design finds its fulfillment. All four chapters are real today and will help us be positive and wise as we navigate so many problems.

The more we study all the historical narratives, the more we find saints and sinners, progress and regress, opportunities missed and seized, and systems in desperate need of change. Let’s grow up and embrace the complexity of the past so we can distill its wisdom for the future.

Inconvenient Insights, part 2

The American and European public squares are replete with extremism, polarizing language, and moral cowardice. Yes, that is correct: moral cowardice. Political correctness and an unwillingness to confront facts are deceiving millions into buying into false historical narratives and feeling paralyzed about making any absolute statements. Here are some paradoxical realities that deserve critical thinking and deep reflection, not platitudes and soundbites.

Islamic jihadists do not believe in fostering a pluralistic society, with liberty of conscience/religion, free speech and diverse worldviews learning civility and common good unity. While the vast majority of Muslims live peaceably with neighbors of all faiths or none, the agitators are proposing either a gradual or abrupt takeover of the West (and the rest) in the name of their faith. Extremists defend the subjugation and even extermination of all opponents of Islam and in chilling Orwellian fashion, declare that true “freedom” is only found in submission to their version of Islam.

What makes the above particularly nefarious is the cozy relationship between the pagan-secular Left and radical Islam. The political Left will persecute artists and bakers for refusing to endorse same sex weddings but turn a blind eye to the jihadist’s oppression of women, anti-Semitism, and blatant denunciations of gender and sexual liberty! This is moral cowardice where hatred of Jewish and Christian morality triumphs over history and reason.

Abortion kills babies. While a tragic necessity in rare cases of the mother’s survival or baby’s unviability, “pro-choice” advocates are now celebrating the termination of life at all stages, from early gestation to infanticide. And anyone who disagrees is depriving women of reproductive rights. The missing part of this “pro-choice” extremism is the choices men and women make that lead to conception and the irresponsibility of fathers in particular to care for the fruit of their intimacy. While incest and rape may be presented as exceptions, the vast majority (97%+) of abortions are elective due to economic or emotional issues. This is moral cowardice.

The refusal of many conservative Christians to face the realities of emotional and sexual abuse, racism, and sexism within their histories and current structures is also moral cowardice. In a convoluted desire not to bring shame to the church or the gospel, leaders that cover serious transgressions or make excuses for a lack of justice actually do greater harm to Christian witness. Regardless of ecclesial traditions, no person should feel disempowered or marginalized by any church. Becoming intentional about lamenting our tragic history of racism and sexism can lead to new friendships and true reconciliation. Victims of abuse must be heard and helped, and perpetrators brought to justice.

Moral cowardice can be overcome with humility and love, intentional repentance and resolution, and fostering new friendships across the barriers we create, and Jesus died to destroy and transform.