Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hospitality To Illegal Immigrants - A Contrarian View

This is one those posts that will not be popular with some, but I would hope to receive a fair hearing in any case. Immigration, that is, illegal immigration, is a hot button issue in our country and some church leaders have had something to say about what is to be done.

There are two separate though interrelated issues regarding illegal immigration. On one side of the political spectrum the focus is on securing the border; the other side focuses on those who have already crossed into the US and are living here now. The latter has gotten the attention of some in the church who are genuinely concerned about the plight of the "alien and the stranger".

And the Bible does speak about how we treat strangers in our own land. "You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 22:21) That's clear enough. We should not oppress the stranger which would be easy to do. Is expecting them to obey our immigration laws a form of oppression? How about deportation - is that oppression?

Let's look at some more scripture regarding 'the stranger'. "One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.’” (Numbers 15:15-16) You will notice in reading through the scriptures that deal with the stranger that over and over again the stranger was to fall under the same laws as the Israelites.

Does that not include immigration laws? We are a nation of immigrants - legal immigrants. We used to have no restrictions as to who could immigrate here. Now, we do. Is it right that we have immigration laws and enforce them? I think it is. Some might object and say that we should not deport people because it might be a hardship to them, but there are negative consequences when one breaks a law.

Some imply that we should have open borders - no restrictions on immigration. After all, aren't we supposed to show hospitality to all? I will say 'no' to that and here is a Bible example: Ezra, in the book that bears his name, forced the Israelites to divorce the pagan wives that they had married and to send the children of those marriages out with their mothers. That does not seem so hospitable to me. (Ezra 10) It seems that 'hospitality' had it limits. Strangers were expected to integrate into Israel and obey Israel's God and His laws. Strangers, like Ruth, joined Israel and were welcomed. Others, like these pagan women, were not permitted to stay. They were sent back home.

Does our government not have the right, and responsibility, to do the same? Can we not judge who may enter and stay, and who may not? Our laws say that immigrants who marry a citizen automatically are permitted to stay. Under the Law of Moses, there was no such right.

How should the church treat the stranger? The same way that we are to treat others. We are to help the poor and feed the hungry and clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. But we are not to shield them from the consequences of disobeying the law. We all have to obey the law.

Additionally, some have confused the role of the church and the role of government. I like what Martin Luther said along this line. The church is to preach the gospel (among other things) and the government is to enforce the law and keep order. We often mix up the two. The church is called to turn the other cheek when persecuted. The government cannot do that if the country is attacked. The government has a responsibility to defend its citizens. We cannot take the rules that Jesus gave his followers and apply them to the government. We can, though, insist that government officials use moderation when enforcing the law.

Unfortunately, some in the church have accused the government of injustice when dealing with illegal immigrants. I even heard one person imply that we were starving children who came to our borders. The evidence is just the opposite. We feed them and house them, then, hopefully, send them back.

This seems cruel to some. But think about this. Suppose that I am very rich and live far from poor people. I have taken many people in, but must limit how many I take in or I would be overwhelmed. Poor families send their kids to me so that I will take care of them. What should I do? I could take them in, but I might not wish to take so many. What I would do is put them up temporarily, feed them, tend their wounds if they have any, find out where they are from, and send them home. That seems like a compassionate way of handling things. They might be going back to a less than ideal situation, but they, as I, must make their way in life.

Others would make another argument - about fairness. Some are born in rich countries, like ours, and others are born in poor ones. Why should our children have such an advantage over others? Do the children in poor countries not have the same rights as the children of rich countries? Should we not take them in on that basis alone?

Think about what is implies. There are billions of children in the world and I would guess that most of them are disadvantaged. Is it even possible for us to take in every poor child? Some come here because they happen to live near our border. Those who live far away have almost no chance of getting here. Is that fair? It is the circumstance in which we are born. Except for one's siblings, no two people are born into the same circumstances. Are we supposed to even it our for everyone if that were even possible?

At this point, someone will accuse me of being coldly rational, or just plain cold-hearted. I have only written the truth, however. To make the world "fair", if it's even possible to do so, would, no doubt, mean that we would have to take the rights of some to benefit others. In other words, "fairness" would be the result of oppression, which is the most unfair thing of all. There will be no "fairness" until Jesus returns. (This does not mean, however, that we should toss out any idea of fairness. We should always try to make this world a better place. We want to be a blessing to others. We may, however, set the terms by which we will show compassion.)

In conclusion I would say that we, as a country, have a choice. We can either open our borders to all who wish to come, or we can enforce the law as it is. Of course, we can change the law as well, but we need to enforce the law. Non-enforcement of the law encourages disrespect for the law and that is never a good thing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Holy Spirit as Teacher of the Church

When I first began reading and studying the Bible, I noticed this Person called the Holy Spirit. Now it was not, to the best of my recollection, about Gifts of the Spirit or the Baptism in the Holy Spirit or even the fruit of the Spirit. It was about the Holy Spirit as the Teacher of the Church. This idea derives mainly from the last sermon that Jesus delivered to his disciples before the cross. In my mind, that makes it important. People who are about to die generally only say things that are very important while they still can.

Now you may not have heard this expression, "the Holy Spirit is the Teacher of the Church" before, but it's a concept that I have learned and relied upon. "When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you." (John 16:13-14) Also, "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:26) I expect the Holy Spirit to do just that and He has always done it.

These have been two very important scriptures in my life. I do not talk about them much and I do not even think about them all that often, but they are foundational to both my personal devotions and to my study and teaching of the Word. I rely on the Holy Spirit in everything, but especially when I am in the Word.

Of course, as I say this some may be thinking that I turn off my brain when I read the Bible. That is not exactly correct. I understand it the best I can while leaving myself open for the Spirit to show me something. Have you ever had the experience of reading along in the Bible and something just jumps out at you and speaks to you? I don't know of anyone who has not had that experience. It is the Holy Spirit interpreting and applying what He wrote through the human authors of scripture long ago. If you keep a teachable Spirit and stay in close fellowship with the Lord, there is no limit to what He can show you.

Also, He will guide us into all truth. So this is not just some sort of individualist thing or private interpretation. The Holy Spirit has showed a few things to others as well. So we need to be a little humble and allow our "revelation", if that what it is, to be compared to what others say as well. I do not like to teach something that I have never heard another teach because we can all be mistaken. Let me give this warning: if you are the only one who truly hears from the Spirit, the spirit you are listening to is not holy.

Reasons to listen to the Holy Spirit: The main reason to listen to the Holy Spirit is that your little brain cannot figure out the Bible all by itself. Sorry, but none of us is that smart. I have heard too many Christians say that we should listen to the best scholars and use reason alone to figure out the Bible. (The "best" scholars are always the ones who agree with them.) Scholars have their place, but I think that we have given them too high a place in the church sometimes. We need people with great learning and ability, but many times those of great intellect tend to rely too much on their intellect and can fail to listen to the Spirit.

Another reason to listen to the Holy Spirit is that we view the scripture in light of our own thinking and experience. We are, frankly, biased. I remember interacting on the internet with some postmodernists. Postmodernists are people who do not believe that we can know truth objectively since we are bound by our own culture. There is not objective truth but only subjective truth. What may be true for you may not be true for me. They concluded that the Bible then could not be absolute truth. In fact, even if it were absolute truth, we could not truly understand it. I told that that was why we need the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit lifted those who wrote the scriptures above themselves, so to speak, to write the truth in the language and expression of their own culture. We also need the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible so that we do not end up simply with our cultural or religious understanding.

I know what some will say (because I have heard them say it). What about when people run around proclaiming some so-called Spirit-inspired revelation that is contrary to the written Word of God? This is a good question, but like many good questions it has a good answer. We need to "test all things; hold fast that which is good". That, of course, is the apostle Paul who was admonishing the Thessalonian church to not despise prophecy. (The revelation or illumination of the Word by the Spirit is not precisely prophecy, but it is similar enough that we can apply the same principle.) Why was prophecy despised? Simple. There were people who thought they had a prophecy and were delivering to the church or to individual members and they were mistaken. It was not the Holy Spirit. However, notice Paul's response. He does not rebuke those who prophesied mistakenly, but rather chides those who now were turning against a gift of the Spirit because some got carried away. Paul gives a simple solution: test everything and keep what is good. In other words, if some prophecy or revelation does not line up with what we know about the Word, then don't accept it. If you are not sure about it, then you can set it aside until you are able to judge it. Notice 1 Corinthians 14:29 - "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge."

With all this said, I want to encourage you to rely on the Holy Spirit. You may be surprised of the understanding you receive. You can also pray for this as well. There is a prayer in the scripture for this very thing. "Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come." (Ephesians 1:15-21) A Bible teacher who I respect very highly said that he prayed this prayer over and over for months until the Holy Spirit began to teach him, and correct him, in a way that transformed both his life and his ministry. Perhaps you might give it a try.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Trade-Offs ... Or Why Things Are Not As Black and White As They Seem

The last few posts have been about the Bible and economics. This post is along those lines but it is really on how what is called "the economic way of thinking" can help us analyze issues in our society. Some are under the impression that the field of economics is just about business or the stock market or about the federal budget. It's more than that. It's about human behavior, especially in regard to choices that people make that has to do with money. That covers a lot, including those decisions that we make as a society.

What does this have to do with the Bible? Well, it might not have anything directly to do with the Bible, but it does have do with how Christians might want to influence things like public policy. Much is made today about various issues regarding things like the poor and the environment and the influence that Christian have, or ought to have, with regards to public policy.

Before we get to some examples, we need to know how economists examine issues. What they do is look at choices as trade-offs. That means that if you do one thing that you cannot do another. For instance, if I want to live in New York that means that I cannot live in California. I have to make a choice. I weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each possibility and decide what I would prefer to do. Now before you say 'no kidding, Brian, I know that if you do one thing that it excludes another and I know that there are advantages and disadvantages to making decisions'. Okay, there is no great insight here, but it is amazing how often in discussing public policy, Christian and non-Christian alike don't do this. They act as if their solution is obviously the just one and any other is evil or selfish or sinful. They somehow think that there can be no negative consequences to our choices simply because we want justice or something.

Let's take the recent issue of coal in Kentucky. The eastern part of Kentucky has coal-fired electrical plants. These coal-burning plants pollute the air and not a little. The EPA wants them to be shut down. They speak of both pollution in general and of climate change. (I am not discussing here whether or not I think that climate change is a big problem. That is not the role of the economist. The economist just clarifies the choices.) Those on one side of the political spectrum support the EPA in this. On the other side of the political spectrum, there are those who oppose this plan because it will raise prices and this will negatively affect the poor as well as anyone else who buys electricity. It will make the poor poorer.

So where does the Christian or anyone who cares about "social justice" issues say about a case like this? It seems to me that there is no one correct position on this. There is an issue regarding the poor as well as an environmental issue - and they are on opposite sides. We will hurt the poor by helping the environment and we will hurt the environment by helping the poor. We, naturally, don't like these kinds of dilemmas. We don't like choices that will hurt one way or another. That is why advocates for something always talk about solutions, not trade-offs. Their side has the solution to all our problems.

It is very rare that we ever have "solutions", trade-offs are almost always involved. And if you think that this particular kind of trade-off is rare, think again. Whenever environmental regulations are put in place, it almost always makes things more expensive for the poor (and everyone else). The thing is that we must be willing to look at all of the consequences of the options and make a decision.

Another example: outsourcing jobs. To some this is a justice issue. It is wrong, some say, when a business closes a factory here and open one in a poor country to save money. It's just raw greed is the claim. (Whether or not greed is involved is irrelevant according to our previous analysis. We will simply examine the case.)

Let's look at a company who manufactures children's shirts. Before the outsourcing happens, the shirts cost $10 a piece at Walmart. But now the company is getting pressure to lower its prices. It moves its plant overseas where the wages are one-tenth what they are in the US. Let's say that 200 US workers are put out of a job. Obviously, those people will suffer. Who benefits? Just the greedy business owners? No, they hire initially 200 workers overseas to make the shirts. The cost of the shirts drops so they can sell them for less. They are now $5 at Walmart. A single mother comes into Walmart to get shirts for her children. She finds that instead of $10 a piece that they are only $5. She can now either buy more shirts for her children or she can spend the other %5 on other things her children need. This happens millions of times all over the US. Poor people benefit from outsourcing and the company sells more shirts, so many that they increase production and hire another 400 workers overseas.

Summary: Who loses - obviously, it is the 200 US workers. Who wins - the company, poor shoppers in the US, 600 people overseas who are now making more than they ever have. Is there really an injustice here or should we only say that those who lost out are unfortunate? I think what people who don't like this is the fact that nobody can stop a business from doing this. It seems to me that the overall outcome is better. And please do not think that this scenario is fantasy. It is how it actually works. Sometimes we do not like how things actually work because we want all our decisions to turn out for the best for everyone all the time. Sorry to bust your bubble but we are living in a fallen world where decisions do not always make things better for everyone.

Additionally, we need to stop demonizing those who would make a different decision by claiming that the other side "doesn't care about the poor" or "doesn't care about the environment" or "doesn't care about the working man or woman". And please stop acting as if you are God's voice for justice when you do not know all sides of the issue and realize that there may be no "just" solution to a problem.

[BTW, check out the website run by the Cornwall Alliance, an evangelical group that understands the economic impact of environmental regulations on the poor. They are people who truly care for both the environment and the poor. ]

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Refutation of Olson's "Capitalism: An Economic System that Requires Us to Think and Act As If God Does Not Exist"

I was going to post on another subject, but I found a blog by a theologian who said that capitalism "requires us to act as if God did not exist". It is a little hard to reply to such a statement because it is so absurd, particularly the word, "requires". How on earth does the free exchange between individuals and other economic entities or the private ownership of capital "require" anyone to act as if God did not exist? An individual can certainly act as if God does not exist whether he acts as an economic agent (e.g., a consumer) or in politics or in science or in anything else. Does our political system "require" that a political actor do things without reference to God?

I will trust that my readers will quickly realize that the "capitalism "requires us to act as if God did not exist" statement as ridiculous, but I will respond to some of the claims that were made about capitalism.

First, Roger Olson, the author of the blog post, said that Hugo Grotius asked that we set aside our religious beliefs in the public arena. I am not an expert on Grotius but I am aware of what he said about free trade between nations. He said it was the will of God that trade be free. That does not seem like setting aside one's religious belief other than implying that Christian nations should freely trade with Muslim or Buddhist or pagan nations. I happen to agree that we should. Free trade opens doors and makes nations interdependent and, therefore, less likely to go to war. Also, in his day, missionaries relied on merchant trading ships to go to new places to preach the gospel.

And those facts refute Olson's claim that there is no "invisible hand" that causes even transactions motivated by *greed to benefit society. The Dutch East India Company certainly had a profit motive when it opened up much of the Far East and India to trade. But they also willingly took missionaries with them who introduced the gospel. Today, trade keeps the peace between many nations who rely on the goods and resources of the other to survive.

Another error made by Olson was calling free market capitalism a form of "economic anarchy" and "Social Darwinism". Of course, we have clearly shown why this is not the case in my previous two posts, Is Capitalism Biblical?, parts 1 & 2. Property rights, rule of law and the right of free (uncoerced) exchange make these kinds of claims null. No, what economic anarchy and social darwinism would mean from an economic system would be the strongest just take what they want from the weak by force. Any taking by force is contrary to free-market capitalism though it can coexist with crony capitalism, monopoly capitalism, or interventionist capitalism.

Here is a claim that some would agree with: "Capitalism is a system that naturally encourages the strong to oppress the weak." The first question about this is whether the strong ever oppress the weak? The answer is yes. In what society is it that makes this impossible, or even harder. I would argue from both a theoretical (economics) and a historical perspective, that free-market capitalism is the one that has the least amount of oppression and makes it harder to oppress. Free markets means that people can enter freely into transactions or not. When choice is limited, then oppression can occur. Think of our non-free public school system. Do not be fooled into thinking that because you do not pay directly to have your children attend public school that it is free in the sense we are speaking of here. You are not free as to where you get to send your kid. The state determines that. If your school is not what is best for your child and you cannot afford private school, then you are coerced into sending your child to a bad school. You have no choice. Lack of choice is oppression. School choice would be freedom from oppression. Also, public schools would have to compete for students, making them responsive to their 'customers', that is, parents.

I will hit on one more thing in this article. Olson decries what he calls "unfettered consumerism". Let's do a little word study. The word 'consumerism' has been bandied about, but what does it mean? According to Wikipedia, "consumerism refers to economic policies placing emphasis on consumption. In an abstract sense, it is the consideration that the free choice of consumers should strongly orient the choice of what is produced and how, and therefore orient the economic organization of a society." On other words, we have an economic system that responds to the desires of those who want to buy stuff. That does not seem so horrible to me. The market responds to those who participate in it.

I think what Olson is concerned (and rightly concerned) about is materialism, making things our god instead of the true and living God. Once again, though, is this unique to our society or is it just human nature. The latter, I believe. If you read sermons that go back many centuries, you will find that one major theme that is consistent is the problem of materialism. Apparently, every generation and in every economic and social system, there is a persistent problem of materialism, seeking security and comfort in material things. Sounds more like a 'fallen human nature' kind of thing rather than a problem with the free-market.

The other word here is "unfettered". Now I have noticed that the word "unfettered" as in "unfettered capitalism" is becoming quite common in the media. What does the word "unfettered" mean? Well, fetters are chains. They are used on slaves and dangerous people who cannot be trusted. I am thinking that, in general, fetters should be used sparingly. I much prefer freedom to fetters. I want to be "unfettered" as does everyone else. I think that I have shown that markets and consumers should remain unfettered except in those things that harm society - drugs, prostitution, extortion, bribery, etc. I want us all to be as unfettered as possible. "unfettered" is just another word for freedom.

*[Note: When I use the word 'greed', I am using it in the sense of economic self-interest which is generally a good thing. As far as covetousness is concerned, any economic transaction may be tainted with it, but that is in the individual's heart. The outcome of identical transactions, one which may be infected with greed and another which may be done by the pure of heart, is identical. We are concerned with outward effects in economics, not with what is in the heart. That is the province of God and conscience. What we want to limit are transactions that have negative social consequences like illicit drugs, prostitution or slavery of any kind. We need not make such transactions legal to have a free market.]