Marching, Protesting and Passionate Voices

Cars were replaced with feet pounding the pavement of the streets in Washington, DC this week.  There was the inauguration, then the Women’s March, and yesterday, the March for Life.  Lots of people, in many cases on opposite sides of an issue.  I’m sure that people who live and work in Washington are used to the traffic and disruptions, but this is the way we do things.  Exercise of our constitutional rights, especially to assemble for a cause, and free speech, well, that’s the way we do things, and that’s where the words get heard, and attention is drawn to the issue.

The March for Life is an annual event.  As it turns out, it is made up largely of Christians from a wide variety of denominations and groups, and it is a faith based movement rooted in the Biblical teaching that human life begins at the moment of conception.  It is, therefore, as morally wrong to end that life before it is born as it is to end it afterward, and a large majority of Christians share the belief that the unique combination of DNA which occurs the moment a child is conceived is irreplaceable in the community of humans, and is a divine creation.  Science has discovered all kinds of ways to manipulate conception and genetic development, but it has been unable to replicate the generation of life itself, a fact that supports the Bible’s teachings about when life begins.

The spark of life that is generated when the genes and chromosomes come together, and a human egg is fertilized, is a mystery.  It is an act that transcends the temporal, and comes from the divine.  Every time it happens, what is created is instantly different from any other creation of the same.  The Bible’s writers didn’t discover that on their own, it was revealed to them, and their interpretation of what they learned was that life is sacred, from the point of conception.

While the march was concluding in the early afternoon, another group was gathering in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.  Most of these people were Christians of every possible denomination and background, while others were Jewish, Muslim, a few Buddhists, and some people who don’t profess any faith in particular.  They were gathering for a prayer vigil in support of the sanctity of life, just like those in the march did earlier.  Their concern, however, was for those people in the Middle East, hounded by authoritarian, dictatorial regimes, and terrorized by war and its effects on their families and children, who were on the verge of being freed from their terror and mortal danger, but who will now have to find a way to survive because the President’s most recent executive order slammed the door on their exit.

Sanctity of Human Life is a broad umbrella.  Yes, it absolutely does cover human embryos and fetuses, but it also covers those already born.  Some of those gathered in the park were a bit baffled as to how the remarks of the Vice President at the March for Life Rally could be representative of an administration that had, on the same day, slammed the door shut in the face of those who are trying to preserve their lives by taking refuge in a country that the world knows is a haven for the oppressed.  Almost all of those seeking safety and refuge in the United States from the seven countries named in the order are fleeing the very “radical Muslim terrorism” from which the President claims to be protecting Americans.

The premise of this action is to put a vetting process in place that will prevent terrorists from getting in with the refugees and getting into this country.  We keep hearing that we are just opening the gates to a flood of refugees and immigrants from the Middle East, that there is nothing but confusion surrounding it, and that it should be stopped until there is some kind of stringent vetting process put into place.  But that rhetoric is not factual, nor is it an accurate representation of a vetting process that is the toughest of any country in the world, that takes about 18 months on average to complete, and which, contrary to popular belief, does not discriminate when it comes to the religious background of the refugees who are applying.  Oh, and if you want to measure how successful it’s been at keeping terrorists out of the US, well, how many acts of terror have been committed in the US by an Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, Libyan, Somalian, Sudanese or Palestinian refugee.  That’s not a rhetorical question.  The answer is, none.  The 9-11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, the UAR, Egypt and Lebanon.  The Boston Marathon bombers, the Tsarnaev brothers, came with their family as refugees seeking asylum from Russia.  The Orlando shooter, and the San Bernardino shooter were American citizens.

This is not the first time a presidential administration and the US government have attempted to prevent people, mostly of a single religious group, from entering the country.  Even though we were aware of the persecution of Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, an awareness that was supported by increasing evidence even before the US entered the war, the persecuted Jews of Europe were subject to restrictive immigration policy that limited their numbers and restricted immigration on the premise that terrorists and saboteurs would take advantage of generous exceptions for Jews, and would use the chance to come to the US to commit sabotage.  Anti-Semitism and prejudice against the Jews was behind that policy too.  Fear, and the eventual entry of the US into the war, kept Americans from letting their country become the refuge for oppressed and persecuted Jews, forcing those who could escape into European countries which eventually complained that “the lifeboat is full.”.  How many of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust that could have been saved by a more open US immigration policy toward them is debatable, but there were many who were turned away, including a whole ship full who actually got close enough to the shore to see the lights of American cities.  It’s fair to compare what’s happening now to American policy during the Holocaust.

I’ve heard many Christians over the years proclaim that God is withholding blessings of prosperity and protection from America, and that we are making ourselves subject to his judgment for our complicity in the sin of abortion.  I’m not sure that God’s promises, or his blessings are tied to anything but our own individual receiving of the covenant of grace which comes through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  If corporate, collective sin by the government, or the people of the country, has anything to do with judgment, then either the sanctity of human life applies to all, or it doesn’t apply to any.  It would not be consistent with the character of God, as he is described in the Bible, to judge and punish this nation for one sin, but let us off the hook for another that is equally evil.  Frankly, we need to repent from both.  I can’t get excited about a government that makes a vague, non-committal statement about the sanctity of life as it applies to the unborn, and at the same time ignores the sanctity of life when it comes to refugees.  We need to get this right, and this way of doing it isn’t working.


Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

Kids love holidays, especially during the school year.  Sometimes, they don’t understand that the number of days they must spend in school are controlled by their state department of education and mandated by law, and every day they aren’t in school means that there’s another day on the calendar that they must be there.  Being out of school is the big thing, and the significance of the holiday is usually lost on most of them.  Even as an adult, I must admit, having the day off sometimes gets ahead of the significance of the holiday.

Creating a holiday to celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King was not easy.  There are those who don’t have a clear understanding of the significance of the civil rights movement, and its leaders, and don’t feel that Dr. King’s legacy warrants a federal holiday.  Dr. King never served as President, or in any other capacity as a government leader, and there are those who feel that others should be further ahead in the line to receive this kind of commemoration.  And there are those who think that this was done simply to appease black voters, and it is a political move to create a holiday for African Americans.

When I taught at a Christian school in Texas in the 90’s, the school administration scheduled a school day on the MLK holiday.  They also scheduled school on Memorial Day in May, both, according to them, because it was necessary to fit the required number of school days within the dates allowed to being and end school by the state.  The school also only had a few African American students, so in their minds, there wouldn’t be enough interest to warrant taking a day off school.  On the other hand, the school did take a day off on the Friday when the county fair started, even though only a few students were actually involved in those activities.  African American students had to request, in writing, an excused absence in order to be able to attend the MLK celebration parade in Houston, and events at their local churches.

We were discussing this in a Bible class one day, at the Christian school in Texas where i was teaching, when a couple of the African American students pointed out that Dr. King’s civil rights work benefitted all Americans, not just African Americans, and it was a holiday for all Americans to celebrate.  I suggested that they go to the administration and respectfully ask for the day to be a school holiday, getting other students, not just the African Americans, to support them.  That wasn’t easy, but they did it.  Eventually, the administration relented, and the students were able to attend events without having to count the day as an absence from school.  Perhaps, in the long run, not many other students ever used the time to learn more about either Dr. King or the civil rights movement, but it wasn’t because the school didn’t give them the opportunity to do so.  It was the right thing to do.

The first time I ever visited the King Memorial on the national mall in Washington, DC, what I first noticed was that the majority of people entering it were African American.  I’d expect most African Americans would want to see it if they had the opportunity, but it’s not just a memorial for African Americans.  What Dr. King, and other civil rights leaders did,  benefitted all Americans.  If one racial minority group suffers inequality, bigotry and prejudice, no individual is free from the fear of persecution.  What does it say about a society that discriminates and disadvantages productive members of it because of the color of their skin and their racial origin?  And how safe are your rights, if those of a fellow American aren’t safe?

Christians should be particularly interested in the legacy of Dr. King.  He was, after all, an ordained minister of the gospel, the pastor of a large Baptist church in Atlanta with a long history of ministry in its community that made a difference in the lives of its residents.  Dr. King’s civil rights advocacy came straight from his Christian faith.  He wasn’t a congressman or a senator, a governor or a state legislator, he was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus, a pastor, and it was his preaching and his faith that motivated his push for civil rights equality for all Americans.  In the heritage that Christian influence has had on the founding of this country, and everything that has happened to it since, it is a legacy that has everything in common with America’s Christian heritage.

While visiting the King memorial, I noticed a couple of groups of students, mostly white, walking around.  They were clearly on a class tour of the city, and they were busy taking notes, answering questions that their teacher had given them to increase their observation of the memorial.  It would be difficult to walk through there, and see the symbols and read the words that characterized the work of Dr. King without seeing the clear influence of his faith in God, and his reliance on the gospel message of Jesus.  I hope those students were observant enough to see that influence.

So here’s a federal holiday that celebrates the life of a minister of the gospel.  It should be an opportunity for all Christians, not just those of one race, to determine that they can change the world around them by living out the gospel of Jesus.