The Forgotten 93 Percent


    Today, Governor John Kasich added Ohio to the list of several other states that are refusing to accept even one refugee from the war torn areas of Syria and other nations.  This announcement is purely political and is entirely lacking in common sense and human compassion. 
    Judging by the Facebook posts I’ve been reading for two days, I’ve just offended many of my friends. 
I don’t care.
    Why? Because if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are completely ignoring nearly every instruction that Jesus ever gave.
Let me explain.
    It is obviously apparent that terrorists have infiltrated the flood of refugees landing in Europe and elsewhere.  But while estimates of how many terrorists might be among them range from a few to as many as 15 percent, most estimates go no higher than 7 percent.  Still, considering that there are hundreds of thousands of refugees, 7 percent is a lot.  Allowing 10,000 refugees into the United States could mean admitting 700 terrorists.
That is unacceptable.
So why do I think that Governor Kasich and a whole host of other politicians have it wrong?
    Because closing the doors on legal immigrants, even in the face of this enormous threat, conveniently ignores too much human pain and suffering.  Before I get around to Jesus, let’s first take a look at who these refugees are and why they are fleeing to other countries.
    The civil war in Syria isn’t just about one group of radicals who are fighting against the government.  We think that way because we think of the Confederate States fighting against the Union, but that example is just wrong.  In Syria, there are literally dozens of armed factions that are warring, not only with Syria’s government, but against one another.  And so thinking that this is like the Rebs against the Yankees doesn’t really do it justice.  Instead, imagine that every church that you passed this week represented the headquarters of a different armed group.  Imagine that, in your community, the Baptists are fighting the Lutherans, the Catholics are killing Pentecostals, and the Republicans are at war with Democrats.  Not only is your neighborhood a war zone, every week or two, another group tries to capture it from the group that captured it the last time.  Some towns have been blown up and shot up multiple times, churches have been burned, women raped, and entire towns lined up in the streets and murdered.
This is daily life in much of Syria.
    And so, not surprisingly, a lot of people, both Christian and Muslim, have left their homes, their families, and all that they own, to literally walk across several entire countries in hope of finding something better.
Are there “bad guys” mixed in with the “regular” refugees?  Yes.
But those of us who claim to follow Jesus are called to see the world in a different way.  Not through the lens of Democrat or Republican, but through the lens of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
    If we look at what Jesus taught, we won’t find words like revenge, retaliation, or retribution.  We won’t find instructions to hate our neighbor or to fear the foreigners.  Instead, what we find are instructions to be merciful, compassionate, loving, and helpful.  Our mission is to rescue the lost, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and help others find hope and a future so that they too might hear the message of the Prince of Peace.
    We have every right to be concerned about the possibility of allowing hundreds of jihadi terrorists into our country, but that fear cannot allow us to slam the door on the 93 percent who are only looking for a place to live that won’t get blown up next week.
    It is convenient and easy for politicians to preach from a pulpit of fear and xenophobia.  But as Christians, we are not called to follow the teachings of John Kasich or any other politician.  We are called to follow the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t expect us to be stupid or act foolishly.
We remember that Jesus teaches love, mercy, and compassion, but he also said, 
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”(Matthew 10:16 NIV)
We are called to be merciful, but to be smart about how we do it.
Governor Kasich and other politicians are looking for easy, and popular, solutions but in doing so they sell Ohio, and the people of the United States short. 
We are smarter than they give us credit for.
We are more than capable of sorting through the refugees and discerning which ones can be allowed in safely.
It won’t be easy.
But we can do it.
And it’s the right thing to do.

Immigration: A Christian Dilemma


    Should we build a wall at the border, or should we let everyone through?  As I scroll through my social media feeds, I see posts by friends that seem to support both extremes.  Some say that, as a matter of security, out nation must seal the border.  Others say that as a matter of Christian compassion, we must care for the foreigners among us and allow them in. 
So what should a faithful Christian believe?
Is there a “right” answer?
Honestly, I don’t know. 
    What I do know, is that both extremes miss the mark.  I recognize that both “sides” are represented by people of faith who believe in the message of the gospel.  But at the same time, each group ignores vital and valid points that are made by the other.
    In the interests of full disclosure, I am the product of an immigrant family.  My grandparents came here from Germany, as did my Mother-in-law.  Our family is certainly sympathetic to the cause of immigrants.  But even so, I understand that the discussion pulls us in different directions.
Here are some points of discussion worth considering:
1)      As followers of God, we are called to be the voice for the voiceless (Proverbs 31:8) as well as to care for the foreigners among us (Exodus 22, Jeremiah 22, Ezekiel 22, Zechariah 7)
2)      There are limited resources with which to care for them and a limited number of volunteers who can provide care.
3)     Border crossings that avoid official checkpoints, cross deserts and other  inhospitable territory.  As a result, men, women and children die crossing the border.
4)      Unscrupulous people, who are hired to guide others across the border, often abandon their charges or sell them into various forms of human trafficking.
5)      Whenever the chance of success is higher, or the rewards for success become greater, more people attempt to cross the border.
6)      Is it fair, or just, to those who are following the law and applying for proper documentation, to allow undocumented immigrants to flow across the border?
7)      Is it fair, or just, for native born citizens to compete for employment against undocumented migrants?
8)      There are valid local and national security concerns related to some of the people who are crossing the border.  Is it justice to put others at risk by allowing known criminals into the country without a background check?
   Clearly, we are called to be compassionate and to care for the foreigners among us, but the most compassionate, caring, and just thing to do may not be found at either extreme.  Building walls and returning undocumented migrants results in injustice, but opening the floodgates and allowing everyone in creates a different kind of injustice.  Making it easier to cross the border will increase the number of people who die crossing it.  And the failure to regulate who is crossing, will drive migrants into the hands of human traffickers. 
    When the waiting list for legal documentation can drag on for years, how are those applicants harmed by migrants who are given such documentation after crossing the border in the dark of night?
    We have seen similar waves of immigration.  There were waves of Irish, Germans, Czechs, Chinese, Vietnamese, and others.  Perhaps with this wave of immigrants from Central America, we might reconsider an old idea.  What if we built a new “Ellis Island” on our border with Mexico?  It would be a place where migrants would be welcomed, cared for, and kept safe, but also a place where they could be documented, we could conduct background checks, and verify that they met other requirements. 
    At Ellis Island, migrants were tested for disease, and were required to provide documentation that they had employment and a place to live in their new country.  While most migrants passed through Ellis Island in a day or two, my grandfather was detained for a week because the man who was supposed to verify his employment was delayed.  He was finally approved for entry after that man sent a telegram which verified his status.
Once again, I don’t know what the answer is.  Most likely, there is no single answer.

But each extreme carries us toward injustice. 
Justice and compassion demand that we try to find a way between these conflicting demands. 

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Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

Question: Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two part series answering two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?”

Part one can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

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    Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion. 
The bishop refused.
    Eventually, John Wesley took it upon himself to ordain Thomas Coke as a bishop (even though he technically did not have that authority), who then travelled to the colonies and ordained Francis Asbury.  In this way, the Methodist Church was born.  No one intended for the Methodist movement to become a church, but it did.  As a result, the Methodist Church structure, belief and doctrine are similar to the Church of England (which today is known as the Episcopal Church in the United States).  We are not a congregational organization, but an ecclesiastical one, which means we have a hierarchy where pastors answer to a bishop. 
    Because of the way that our church has separated from the Catholic Church, our structures and beliefs, although quite different, are also sometimes strikingly similar.  Even so, there was a lot of bad blood between the reformers (like Martin Luther) and the Popes.  Remember that in that era, the Pope controlled the Holy Roman Emperor who, in turn, controlled the Army. 
    In those days, there was no separation of church and state.  For generations, anyone who even hinted at problems within the church could be arrested, their property seized, they could be tortured or even put to death for believing anything different than what they were told.  Nations who chose (actually their kings chose) to become Protestant, were attacked by the Empire’s Army.  For hundreds of years, wears were fought between Catholics and Protestants.  In the 30 Years War (1618-1648), part of Germany fought against other parts of Germany with support thrown in from the kings of France and Spain, as well as from the Empire.  During that time, 25-40% of the entire German population was killed.
    There was also much bloodshed in England.  Although Catholics and Protestants often got along with one another, their rulers were not so kind.  As England’s Kings and Queens changed from Catholic to Protestant and back again, everyone, including the priests, were forced to convert.  Those who did not, were forced from their homes or worse.  There was much bloodshed on all sides.
    In any case, by the time of John Wesley, there were bad feelings between the Church of England and the Catholic Church.  This is evident in John Wesley’s writings as well as Catholic writings of the time.  But today, 200 years later, those bad feelings have faded and Catholics and Protestants get along quite well (particularly here in the United States).  Technically, according to some Catholic doctrine, anyone who is not a part of the “official” church of Saint Peter is going to hell.  For our part, we deny several key Catholic doctrines and emphasize that salvation if through grace alone where the Catholic Church believes that both grace and works are required.
    Despite our differences, we there are a great many similarities.  We have a similar structure (although we do not have any “rank” higher than bishop and we do not have a Pope).  We have bishops who are in charge of particular geographical areas, and we have one set of rules that govern all of our churches. 
    Today the “bad blood’ that once existed isn’t what it used to be.  Most of us have both Catholics and Protestants mixed among our families and our friends and many Catholics and Protestants are married to one another.  I had a professor in seminary that did his doctoral studies in a Catholic University.  There have even been times that modern theologians, now having the benefit of being a few hundred years distant, suggest that Protestants might reconsider some of the Catholic teachings that were thrown out during the Reformation.  Recently, the Pope has invited evangelical leaders to be his guests in Rome to discuss how we might work together. 
    During my last pastorate, I became friends with Monsignor Mark Froelich who was the local parish priest.  He and I were the only people in town who were members of both the Kiwanis and the Rotary clubs and so we had lunch together twice each week (and it didn’t hurt that he was a Cleveland Indians fan).  I think we are finding that our differences may now be less than they were when our churches split during the Reformation.
    In the end when we consider what the differences are between the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church, the answer is both, “A lot” and, “Not much.”

 

Part One of this series can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.

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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor

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Why I Would Argue for the Earliest Definition of Life


    In my last two blogs, “Abortion: Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Both Right?”and “Abortion: Why Both Sides Will Lose in the Supreme Court (Again)” I explained why the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was not a clear win for either pro-choice or for pro-life supporters and why I thought that both sides would once again be disappointed if a modern Supreme Court consented to review the case. 
    But while my reading of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, modern medicine, and our current political climate lead me to believe that a review of Roe would not be substantially different than it was in 1973, I do think that there are compelling reasons that argue for a dramatic change.  Instead of beginning with biblical, theological or doctrinal reasons (which I obviously have), let’s begin with reason and logic. 
    As I have explained, Roe v. Wade was a decision that attempted to find a balance between two rights guaranteed by the Constitution, a right to privacy on the part of the mother, and a right to life on the part of the infant.  In my reading of the court’s ruling, it seems that there was never a question that both rights existed and the both deserved to be protected.  The question was, if two rights are in conflict, which has a superior claim and when (or if) does that superiority change?  I have a right to privacy in my own home, but if I were to commit criminal acts, particularly those that harmed other human beings, my right to privacy is superseded by the other person’s right to life and liberty.  This delineation is well accepted as both moral and legal.  This same question, when brought into the realm of abortion, becomes a question of a) is a pre-born infant a human being, and if yes, b) when does it become one?  The Supreme Court answers to these questions in 1973 were a) yes, and b) at the earliest point at which the infant is viable (with medical intervention).
    In 1973 the womb was something of a “black box.”  We knew that an infant developed in the mother’s womb and developed from a fertilized egg, we had all sorts of microscope slides and fetuses in jars that had been aborted at various stages of development.  What we didn’t have were the spectacular images that we have today.  Today expectant parents can sit in the office of their OB/GYN and see live 3D images of their child.  They can see that preborn infant scratch its nose, cough, sneeze, and suck its thumb.  So real are these images, that 78% of women who were considering abortion changed their minds after they had seen them.
    I’m not saying we were ignorant in 1973 and we are now “enlightened,” but what we know and what we have learned, seem to make it much harder to draw a line in the sand and say that “this” is a person with Constitutional rights, and a moment earlier “that” was not a person.  Does an infant become a person because it’s larger than it was yesterday?  If so, do tall people have more rights than short people, or do adults have a stronger right to life than children?  Does it suddenly become a person because it is no longer in the womb?  The human rights of any other “person” do not change based on location.  A person in Detroit, Michigan has no more or less rights than a person in rural China.  Location cannot, logically, convey basic human rights or take them away.  Is a preborn infant not a person because it is dependent upon its mother?  If so, then do adults on life support surrender their right to life?  We are all, in one way or another, dependent upon others for our lives.  Simply because an infant needs its mother cannot imply that it somehow has fewer rights than an infant only days or weeks older.  At other times in history, groups of people were declared a separate “class” of human being so that their rights could be denied, Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, and others.  Can we, in good conscience, declare a group of human beings, with measurable human DNA, to be a separate “class” of humans that are not entitled to human rights? 
    Biblically speaking, we know that God loves all of his children equally.  All human beings are of sacred worth.  The redemption of every person on earth was purchased by Jesus Christ at the cost of his own life.  We cannot gamble that God cares more about an infant more today, simply because yesterday it was in the womb and today it is not, or because today it is one day older than yesterday.
    I have heard various arguments from the position that Old Testament references did not consider an infant to be a “person” under the law until after it was born.  While this is arguable on a number of points, it assumes that people who lived four thousand years ago could have known any differently.  Asking this question would seem to place an unfair moral burden on ancient cultures.  How would any culture with little understanding of fetal development, no ability to detect a fetal heartbeat, no ultrasound, and no modern medical understanding of neural development have fairly ruled that a preborn infant is equal to one who independently draws breath?  Their decision on personhood was, much as it was in 1973, based upon viability.
    Please understand that I value my privacy as much or more than anyone, but regardless of my feelings or personal opinion, privacy has always taken a backseat to more important rights, and the right to life is among these.   Legally, I understand that declaring an infant to be a person too early can create other difficulties, such as the potential for criminal investigations against women who have miscarriages and certainly I understand those who struggle with knowing at what point an infant ought to be considered to be a person, especially in the earliest stages of development.    For me, however, I have few such doubts.  I believe that morals, logic and scripture declare in chorus that an infant is a person, and if an infant is a person at any point, it must be one from the very beginning.
To me, these arguments seem reasonable and logically sound.  If you can find error in the logic, I am interested in hearing your viewpoint.
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Abortion: Why Both Sides Will Lose in the Supreme Court (Again)

    As I stated in my last blog (Abortion: Pro-Life/Pro-ChoiceBoth Right?), many people on both sides of the abortion debate would like to see the Supreme Court revisit their 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion in many states.  Some hope that the court would ban abortions altogether and others hope that the court would clarify and broaden Roe v. Wade so that all abortion is legalized.  At the same time, others would prefer that this not happen because, as is often the case, once the court opens the case for arguments, anything can happen.  Based on what I have read, I think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  I think that if the Supreme Court is ever willing to reconsider Roe v. Wade, both sides will be unhappy with the outcome.

Why?  
     In the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the court affirmed that a woman had a constitutionally protected right to privacy until the second or third trimester[i].  The court later abandoned the trimester “framework” but affirmed that a woman had a right to abortion until the infant was viable.  Wikipedia says that “The Roe decision defined “viable” as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid”, adding that viability “is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.”[ii]
    For the court, the argument was never whether or not a woman had a right to abortion, but about how to discern when one right can be superior to another when two constitutionally protected rights, life and privacy, are in conflict.  For the court, there was never really a question of whether or not there was a right to life or a right to privacy.  The question was how to choose which holds a superior claim and when.  For the court in 1973, viability was the measure that worked.  When the baby was developed enough that it could survive, even with “artificial aid,” then the right to life held the superior claim.
    Neither “side” could declare a clear victory in 1973.  Abortions could be performed but could still be restricted and regulated by the states after the point of viability.  If the court were to reconsider Roe, I suspect that both sides would again be unsatisfied with the results.  Here’s why I think so: Science.
    In 1973 the court chose to use viability, even with artificial aid, as the point at which an infant secured a right to life, but the tools available to the courts, and to medical science, were limited.  It wasn’t until 1975 that ultrasound technology began to be introduced to obstetrics.  At that point, two years after Roe, a fetal heartbeat could be detected and ultrasound could show the skull and a general body shape.  Today, the available technology is dramatically different.  Now, ultrasound technology can provide three dimensional images of the fetus and parents can go home from the doctor’s office with “photographs” of their baby months before birth and long before “viability.”  While the 1973 court looked to viability as a means to determine when life began, medical science is now pushing against that boundary.  While infants in 1973 were considered viable at 28 weeks and possibly to 24 weeks, infants today routinely survive at 25 weeks and as early as 22 weeks.  While there were limited options in determining the beginning of life in 1973, today’s technology can detect a fetal heartbeat at 22 days gestation, brainwaves at six weeks and a fully functioning nervous system at 20 weeks (and some argue for an even earlier date).
    Based only on the court’s 1973 ruling, the present capabilities of medical science, and the current political winds, I think that it is very likely that a rehearing of Roe v. Wade would uphold a right to privacy (and thus a right to choose an abortion) but would also uphold more restrictive definitions of what constitutes life, when life begins, and the point at which an infant secures a right to life. 
Once again, both sides would win…
…and lose…
…and neither side would be happy with the outcome.

Christian Conflict Resolution……An Unfortunate Contradiction In Terms

The following article was written on Facebook by my friend Darrell Ritchie and is reprinted here with his kind permission.  Darrell’s descriptions coincide very well with my own experience.  My only disagreement would be that I think there are four steps described in scripture with walking away actually being the fourth step.  This way we are reminded that we need to try three times in three different ways, before we give up on a relationship with another Christian brother or sister.  I have been guilty of this and have had others walk away from me but God’s not finished with me yet and I’m still trying to do better.
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Christian Conflict Resolution……An Unfortunate Contradiction In Terms
By Darrell Ritchie (Lawrenceville, Georgia) on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 8:06am ·

    You know, I never cease to be amazed by the average Christian’s inability to resolve conflict. It is almost as though many of us check our courage at the door when we accept Christ and from that moment forward we opt to avoid anything resembling confrontation, instead choosing to run like a river when the snow melts whenever something happens between us and one of our fellow Christians that might actually require some work on our part.

     And yes, I think I am qualified to speak on this subject, having been raised in the church, having been a Christian most of my life, and having spent over twenty years in music ministry where I have often had the dubious privilege of seeing and hearing a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t as the result of being the guest artist in a given church.
     What is it that makes us so incapable of handling conflict? Disagreements? Issues? In the vast majority of cases I see where Christians have an issue with somebody, the single most common response is to simply cut ties with that person altogether and walk away. Of course I’m still waiting on somebody to demonstrate to me where that is Scripturally sound, but I digress.
     In my time on the road, I have seen people turned out by their Christian brothers over decisions they have made that crossed the line into sin. These people instantly became like lepers to their church, or depending on their level of visibility, to the Christian community as a whole. Now nobody is excusing or endorsing sin, but are these actions really in line with the Savior who sat down and had dinner with sinners (Matt 9: 10)? Or the one who told the woman caught in adultery “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”? (John 8: 1-11).

     I have also seen minor issues destroy marriages, ministries, and relationships, simply because one party or both were too filled with pride to be able to say, “Hey, I was wrong. Can you forgive me?” Or the other party was unwilling to grant the forgiveness requested of them. Or both.

     So what is the Scriptural admonishment for handling conflicts? Matthew 18: 15-17 is very clear on the matter: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

     Are you listening? Yes, there is a time when you cut your ties and walk away, but only after taking the two previous steps. Firstly, we have an issue with someone; we go to them and bring it to light. Hopefully they hear us, the issue is resolved, and the relationship is restored. If they do not listen, we aren’t off the hook just yet….we go back to them a second attempt, this time bringing witnesses. If that doesn’t fly, we bring the issue before the church, and if they still refuse to listen, at that point, and only that point, are we granted permission to walk away from them and don’t look back.
    Unfortunately, we are far too often guilty of skipping right over the first two verses and going right to the last part. For whatever reason we are either unable to take the necessary steps toward reconciliation (which is pretty bad), or we are unwilling (which is inexcusable).
     How we as Christians treat each other is a powerful testimony before the world. What does it say about us when, instead of seeking healing and restoration, that we choose to go our separate ways in bitterness and resentment? How does it make us look when minor disagreements or issues prove beyond our ability to overcome and heal? And what does it tell the rest of the world when the example set is that everything will be okay just as long as you say and do everything correctly? Who in their right mind would want to be a part of any body of believers that lived by that kind of deal?

     We need to be willing to confront, to hear, and to do the right thing. It may be hard to go to somebody and tell them you messed up, but do it anyway. It is the right thing to do. I firmly believe that in most cases, the other party will be all too willing to listen, and that is the point where restoration begins. Then again, they may not hear you, but you can walk away knowing you did the right thing, and you’ll be surprised at how much lighter the load is.

     What if you’re on the other side and somebody comes to you and says, hey, I screwed up, I apologize, and will you forgive me?  I don’t know about you, but that is one of the few situations in life that I don’t have to even pray about. We are commanded to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, and Christ doesn’t put conditions or trial periods or any other stipulations on forgiveness. When we repent and ask Him for forgiveness for our trespasses, He grants it freely, and tosses it as far as the east is from the west. Why then should we do any less when someone makes the same request of us?

     It isn’t often talked about, but I wholeheartedly believe that the lack of conflict resolution is one of the biggest problems facing the church today. It is my prayer that more of us will develop the courage, the fortitude, to face these problems head on, coupled with the desire to see healing and restoration among our churches, marriages, and relationships.

     I’ve said it before, and I close with it now….as Christians, we are all family, and at the end of the day we are going to be spending eternity together. With that little nugget in mind, how then do we defend the practice of holding grudges or ill will towards anybody else while we are here? What say you?

[Note: Darrell can be reached for musical engagements and other things at billydritchie@gmail.com or on Facebook by clicking here: Darrell Ritchie]