On Refugees and Justice

Source: The Independent

Source: The Independent

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” – Ezekiel 16:49

How fickle and mutable is the public opinion concerning refugees and those in need. Just a few short months ago, the world stood witness to the body of a little boy, given up by the sea as his family attempted to flee a horrible situation. The sentiment towards helping refugees grew and the Western world seemed willing to spring into action. Faced with one of the greatest crises since WWII and with an enemy just as evil as the Third Reich, the Western world looked ready to unite and help those looking for a life away from constant danger.

And then Paris happened.

Suddenly, nations closed their borders, people abruptly lost their compassion, and the United States – historically a beacon for the sick, the tired, the poor – had 27 governors overstep their authority and say they wouldn’t allow refugees into their states. Never mind that of all the known attackers, every single one (with exception to one) was a French national, not a refugee. Of the one where little is known, he used a fake Syrian passport, meaning we don’t know his status, but most likely wasn’t a refugee.

But fear never lets facts get in the way.

Prudence requires an increase in screenings, in doing all we can to weed out potential terrorists as well as help refugees acclimate to the United States (so as to prevent disruption, resentment, and a reason to join a terrorist group). Justice requires us to seek a way to permanently fix this situation so the refugees can return home without worry of losing their lives. But mercy requires us to bring them away from danger and to a land of relative peace and safety.

Taking in refugees certainly is a complicated matter. After all, the average refugee will undergo some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (especially for those who came from areas of heavy fighting), has lost family members, and is coming to a part of the world with an entirely different culture, climate, language, and majority religion. Such a scenario will naturally breed a tense situation that, if not handled properly, could cause problems. If we add to it that representatives of local governments (such as governors) are openly hostile to refugees, we have a volatile situation.

As with most things in life, love can overcome hate. It’s amazing how far a smile, simple directions, or just learning how to say “hello” in someone’s language will go. It’s the government’s job to vet the refugees and find places for them to live, but it’s up to us to make them feel welcome. People who feel welcome, who feel like guests or, even better, feel like neighbors are less likely to radicalize or listen to fundamentalists. Imagine the refugee who comes to the US or who is even turned away from the US, with the words of ISIS coming to mind; “They will reject you, they will mistreat you, only under an Islamic Caliphate can you find true happiness and freedom.” Such words begin to ring true when we actually do mistreat and reject refugees. If, however, we welcome them, treat them as neighbors, and do what we can to love them, then the words of ISIS ring hollow and false.

The future of these refugees really does fall on how we, as a community, treat them. If we are open and welcoming then chances are we will gain great citizens and neighbors. If we instead make the mistake of so many before us and reject them, then we will have nothing but trouble in our future.

Just War and the Declaration of Independence

This is a paper that I presented last night at Southeastern Seminary in North Carolina. It was part of a Colloquium and the paper itself placed second. I was encouraged by someone to make this available to all and so that is what I am doing here. The bibliography is included for anyone who is interested in further study of this issue. 


The Declaration of Independence is one of the most significant documents in the history of the world, yet it can pose a challenge to modern Christians. One must question the justification of the Founding Fathers in taking up arms against their own government. Furthermore, were the colonial Christians following in the way of Christ by loading muskets and firing upon the British in the name of freedom? This paper will argue that the Founders and Christian colonials engaged in a just war (via armed rebellion), but that the act – as all acts of war – did not fit within God’s ideal for man.[1]

Of course, the issue of Christians and violence goes much further than the Revolutionary War. If the Founders were not justified in rebelling against their government, then one must ask if anyone is ever justified in such rebellion. If Christians were wrong to engage in warfare against their government, one must ask if it is always wrong for Christians to do so. The Declaration of Independence and the subsequent war provide a good test case to see if it is ever okay for Christians to take up armed rebellion against their government.

To answer the thesis and achieve the purpose of the paper, one must (1) establish that a just war exists, (2) that an armed revolution can constitute a just war, and (3) that the American colonials met the requirements for this just war.

The Conditions for a Just Rebellion

The claim that one can engage in a just war, but still contradict God’s ideal for humanity, seems like a prima facie contradiction, but this seeming contradiction hinges on how one views the word “justified.” For an action to be justified it merely need have good reason behind it. Many actions are justified, but still viewed as less than ideal by Christians. Examples would include divorcing an unfaithful spouse, lying to save the life of another human, causing disunity in a local church body over important theological issues, and so on.[2] One should see that when “justice” is delivered in a court by sentencing a criminal to prison, such an act is not in accord with God’s ideal; the criminal should never have to face prison because in God’s ideal the criminal would have never become a criminal. “Justice” becomes a necessary thing in a fallen world, and therefore is not ideal. Thus, to be “justified” is simply to have a “right reason” for an action in a given situation, not necessarily to follow the ideal set for humanity.

Under the above understanding of “justified,” one must ask what constitutes a “just war” and if the Colonists met the criteria for a just war. The three criteria for a just war are jus ad bellum (right action before a war), jus in bellum (right action during a war), and jus post bellum (right action after a war).[3] For the purposes of this paper and defending the Founders in their initial rebellion, it is best to look to the criteria of jus ad bellum. The criteria for jus ad bellum are: (1) the war is called by a legitimate authority, (2) the cause must be just, (3) the ultimate goal must be peace, (4) the motive must not be hatred or vengeance, (5) war is the last resort, (6) success must be probable[4], (7) the means must be justified, that is, the ends cannot justify the means, (8) the means must do their best to preserve life, both of the opponent and innocent civilians, and (9) the means must meet international law.[5] Note that rebellions could fall within the just war premise under certain conditions (namely if the government is leading the people into multiple unjust wars[6] or if the government is attempting to rob the people of all liberty[7]). Suffice it to say that in a rebellion, as in all wars, war ought to be the last resort after all civil and nonviolent means be exhausted in order to be justified.[8]

A rebellion can easily fall under all the parameters for jus ad bellum even in light of the first criterion. A government derives its authority to govern from the will of the people.[9] This is not some deep philosophical thought or an outdated version of the Enlightenment, but merely a practical observation; a government is only effective so long as people choose to follow the government. If the people refuse to pay taxes and the soldiers/police will not listen to the government, then the government has no way of exercising its authority.

Since a government derives its power from the people, should the people decide the government has abdicated its role as a worthy government, they can choose to put a new government in its place. The assembly for the revolution cannot simply be an ad hoc gathering of disgruntled citizens, but officials the populace has placed their trust in (via elections). The elected body becomes the de facto government as the consent to be governed has been given to them, but not the ruling government.

A Just War is not Ideal

While war and revolution may be justified, one must understand that Christians ought to look upon war as less than God’s ideal. The Eastern Christian distinction between ακριβεια (akribeia ­­– God’s ideal) and οἰκονομία (oikonomia ­– what God will allow) help to explain how one can view war as justified (or necessary) while also viewing participation in that war as less than God’s ideal.[10] St. Athanasius states,

“…[I]t is not right to kill, yet in war it is lawful and praiseworthy to destroy the enemy; accordingly not only are they who have distinguished themselves in the field held worthy of great honours, but monuments are put up proclaiming their achievements. So that the same act is at one time and under some circumstances unlawful, while under others, and at the right time, it is lawful and permissible.”[11]

The quote demonstrates that even early Christians recognized that war was sometimes a necessity. Yet, one of the great Fathers of the Church, St. Basil the Great, writing hardly a generation after St. Athanasius advised priests to refuse communion for three years to soldiers who had killed in combat as a way for them to repair their relationship with God and their fellow men.[12] The two contrasted sentiments – one that honors the soldiers and the other that recognizes the reality of their conditions – demonstrates that the early Church believed that there was an ultimate ideal for God’s people, but that due to human frailty certain things were permissible and that ideal could not always be realized.

The idea of there being a duality to the war is not limited to the Eastern Christian tradition either, but is found in the Western theory of a just-war. According to the Christian theologian John Howard Yoder, “…[T]he just-war tradition considers war an evil but claims that under specific circumstances it is justifiable as less evil than the execution of some threat which it wards off or the continuation of some system which it changes.”[13] Yoder’s analysis of the just war position – of choosing the lesser evil – has quite a bit of Scriptural support. One can think of Rahab lying to the Canaanites about the Hebrew spies (Joshua 2:5) yet being considered righteous (James 2:25). One can even make the argument that the Mosaic Law was less than ideal and even advocated actions that God was against, but willing to tolerate given the circumstances.[14] War, then, may go against God’s absolute ideal (ακριβεια), but still be permissible due to human frailty (οἰκονμία).

Finally, while war might be justifiable and necessary in certain situations (οἰκονμία), it is less than ideal because it fails to fit within God’s plan for humanity (ακριβεια). Certainly God did not create the world with the desire for men to rage against one another. One of the biggest problems with warfare is that it opens the door for a multitude of sinful actions.[15]  While not every soldier in every war commits atrocious acts, it is true that even in the most just wars, soldiers can sometimes give into their more base tendencies and harm innocent people. Though the consequences do not render just wars unjust, it should be understood that with war, even just wars, the propencity to sin and commit heinous acts drammatically increases.[16] The reason for this is that war goes against human nature. While war might be necessary, forcing humans to go against their nature inherently causes additional problems for some engaged in the act of war.

Even in cases where soldiers perform amicably and in virtue, they still must face the horrible reality of war, which can destroy their souls.[17] The violence that is inherent in warfare contradicts the imago Dei; violence goes against man’s telos. In some ways, warfare could be called a sin against the soul, in that even when a soldier is just and blameless in his actions, his soul is still tarnished by what he sees and does.[18] Thus, just because one holds to the idea of a just war theory, one should never consider war as a good thing, but always as an evil that goes against God’s ultimate desire for man. Continue reading

The True Impact of Memorial Day

For many people, Memorial Day functions as a day off work. In fact, many people hardly know why we celebrate Memorial Day. Thankfully though, in recent years, people have slowly become more aware of what Memorial Day stands for. But I do wonder if we recognize the true importance of this day.

There is a line from the movie Amistad, where the character of John Quincy Adams says, “Freedom is not given to us, it is our right at birth, but there are times where it must be taken.” The sentiment of our rights being God-given is not only within the Constitution, but essential to our Constitution. That there exists those who would seek to take away our freedoms shows there are times where such freedoms must be taken or protected by force, and with this force comes a loss of life.

We cannot deny that war is evil, but what makes it completely evil is that it is unnecessarily necessary. What I mean is that were it not for those who seek to control men with an iron fist, were it not for those who desire to eradicate freedom and instead place a certain ideology in charge of the government, there would be no need for war, no need for a loss of life. But because such evil men exist and because freedom is something worth dying for, war remains necessary, but also evil.

It is through such sacrifices that our won freedom has been preserved. We celebrate Memorial Day because, to put it quite bluntly, there are those who gave their lives so that we wouldn’t have to, those who paid a debt to the bank of freedom so that we might enjoy the payout. We remember those who fought bravely in the American War for Independence and the subsequent War of 1812, where our freedom was first won and then secured.

In the Civil War soldiers from the Union fought to preserve our nation and fought to abolish slavery. Young men, boys by today’s standard, stood in a line and took round after round, giving their lives, so that our union might be preserved and an entire race of people might find freedom. Some of them were so young that they wouldn’t even qualify for a driver’s license in many states today. Were many of these soldiers alive today they would be busy playing video games, getting ready for the school dance, or taking a summer job. Instead, so many years ago, these young men gave their lives so that freedom might prevail over the tyranny of slavery.

In WWI American lives were spent attempting to secure peace in Europe and to finally end the wars of expansion. In WWII – the most justified war America has ever entered into – American lives were sacrificed in order to turn back Hitler. Had we not entered the war Hitler still would have lost to the Soviets, but how much of Europe would have fallen under the command of the Soviets? When the young men of America stormed the beaches of Normandy, freedom once again showed that it would always prevail over tyranny, but it came at a cost. Freedom was secured, but it was paid for by the blood of these men and by the tears of the numerous widows, children, mothers and fathers back home.

In the Pacific Americans fought and died in order to prevent the expansion of Imperial Japan, the same empire that tortured and harassed the people under their rule. Many Americans lost their lives in the Pacific so that many Americans today could enjoy the freedom to live without fear, to go where they please, and to enjoy having their own government rather than that of a foreign occupier.

In Korea and Vietnam American lives were given in order to secure freedom for far away lands. Many would argue that these were unjust wars, that we should have simply avoided conflict. Yet, many Americans still answered the call of the government to serve and subsequently gave their lives. We see this happening today both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There have been numerous conflicts where Americans have given their lives. Not all of these conflicts have been just (look at the lives lost in the wars with the Native Americans). As a rule, however, we should be forever thankful for those who have willingly sacrificed their lives for our freedom. That I can sit here and type out a thankful note, or alternatively that I could criticize America, is not a freedom that should be taken for granted; rather we should recognize that someone else paid the price for our right to speak freely, to move about the nation freely, and so on.

Finally, in recognizing the freedoms secured by the loss of life, we should seek to preserve those freedoms rather than throw them away and make the sacrifice of the many in vain. Today we see Americans capitulating to fear and surrendering their freedoms. We see Americans giving up their freedom of speech in order to avoid offending someone. We see Americans giving up their freedom to bear arms in order to “prevent crime.” We see Americans giving up their right to due process in order to board a plane because we’re so afraid of death that we’ve forgotten how to live. Our fear of death and of terrorism has forced us to unwittingly surrender the very freedoms we’re supposedly fighting for.

Aside from remembering those lost in our wars, Memorial Day should also teach us that some freedom is worth dying for. That maybe it is impossible to prevent all terrorist attacks in a free society, but that a free society with a threat of terrorism is better than a totalitarian society that is absent of terrorism; for is a life lived in a police state a life worth living? Is such a lifestyle worth protecting? I would submit that it is not. Rather, having a life of freedom is worth dying over, it is worth protecting, and if we should ever forget that then we should be honest and cease to celebrate Memorial Day. If we are willing to trade our freedoms for a bit of false security or personal peace, then we shouldn’t value those who gave their lives for the very freedoms we are willing to surrender, lest we insult their sacrifice. After all, rather than surrendering their God-given freedoms when someone threatened to take them away, they stood their ground and fought to take back those freedoms. That we should do the same is the ultimate memorial to their sacrifice.

Random Thoughts for 9/28

* There is a ‘See You at the Pole’ event, but why not a ‘See You at the Homeless Man’s Corner’ event? Or a ‘See You at the Corner Where the Young Pregnant Mother-to-be Looks for a Place to Live Because Her Pastor Father Kicked Her out of the House’ event? Praying for the recovery of our nation is useless unless we work at it too; God will not wave a magic wand and turn everything into a Christian Utopia.

* Why is it when Christians – liberal or conservative – describe what Jesus would do or how Jesus was, it’s eerily similar to how the person is? Could it be that we’ve ceased to be challenged by Christ? Could it be that rather than conforming to the image of Christ, we’ve conformed Christ to our image?

* How do we know that we’re being challenged by Christ? Easy – we are uncomfortable in our beliefs and convicted in what we do (or don’t do). If we feel at ease in all that we believe and all that we do, then we are worshiping an idol and not Christ.

* What is government to Christians if not a foreign agency? Why do we swear allegiance to a flag when we would turn against the nation if God required it? We must pray for our leaders, but realize they are not our true rulers. We must submit to the government, insofar as their laws coincide with God’s laws.

* As Christ is so shall we be; is there a more comforting reality?

* Christianity is losing it’s absolutism, most likely because of cultural shifts in our society. Thus, we see the danger in tying Christianity to culture; as culture changes, so does Christianity. Christianity is supposed to be the absolute foundation that the sand shifts around, the one stable element that adapts to the culture, but does not reflect or assimilate into the culture. Instead, it has become an aspect of the culture and is subject to major trends.

* People don’t like the idea of God judging us, but if He is loving, won’t He judge? If there are not ultimate consequences in life, how are victims vindicated? How are the oppressed justified? If no justice comes to those who perpetuate evil acts in this world, then how can we say that God loves the victims?

* We like the story of the Good Samaritan, but we miss the impact it had on the audience because of the original audience. Change the Samaritan to an illegal immigrant or an Afghan and you’ll have a similar feeling the original audience have (and the meaning will stay the same).

* Since when did we begin to label things as “White” whenever we see them as evil or wrong? Colonialism is a “White” ideology. A church is evil if the membership is all white (but not if they’re all Asian, black, or Latino). Rather than eradicating racism, we’ve simply changed the target of racism.

* America is losing her influence in the world and within the next few decades will no longer be a superpower. This will enrage quite a few Americans, but if they are Christians it should mean little to them. Christianity has survived the collapse of empires and kingdoms before; cling to Christ, not your flag, and you will be okay.

I don’t get it

When a man walked into church and killed George Tiller in cold blood, some in the media, most notably on the political left, were quick to discredit all pro-life advocates. Anyone who spoke against abortion and called it murder was immediately branded as co-equal with Tiller’s murderer whether or not the pro-life advocate agreed with the actions taken against Tiller.

We see the same thing occur for Christians as well. Fred Phelps’ actions are reflected upon anyone who disagrees with homosexuality as a lifestyle. The Religious Right is seen as an attempt at a theocratic nation even though most Christians have no desire for theocracy or to associate with the Religious Right when they take political stands. But none of this matters – conservative Christians get branded for certain beliefs.

All of this might be explained as a case of collectively jumping the gun or creating a bias, but then we face the situation in New York with the proposed Islamic Community Center (or Mosque…the developers haven’t been very clear on what it is). We are told by the political left that Islam is a religion of peace and that they have a right to their religion as the next person. Yet, these same people will fight against radical Christians getting protest rights at homosexual rallies or abortion clinics (both are activities I would never engage in, but people do have rights). They will defend a religion that worldwide has caused more deaths than we can possibly imagine. In Pakistan honor killings are the norm. In Saudi Arabia all non-Islamic religions are persecuted out of existence. In all Sharia countries women must look out if they are not Muslim because they can be raped.

In fact, Islam is a very violent religion. Yet, the level of tolerance shown for Islam is baffling. Not that I think Muslims should be rounded up or disallowed their right to worship because many American Muslims are very peaceful, but that’s because they aren’t devout. Devout Muslims, those who adhere to the Qur’an and take the teachings of the Imans seriously, worry me and they should worry you. A quick study of Islam will show that it didn’t spread through good works, but rather through war. People didn’t convert to it because of how compelling it was, but rather their conversion was at the tip of a sword.

Whether or not Muslims have the legal right to build near Ground Zero or whether or not such an idea is wise, the amount of tolerance shown towards Islam as opposed to Christianity boggles my mind. The central focal point of the Christian message, outside of loving God, is to love humans. When we see Christians bashing others and condemning them to Hell (which the Bible does forbid Christians to do when it comes to non-Christians) we can turn to the Scriptures and ask that Christians live like Christ. When Muslims fly planes into buildings, rape non-Muslim women, or murder innocent civilians we can’t turn to the Qur’an. We have nothing to turn to because when they do such things, they are simply following the Qur’an. Yet Islam gets the pass of tolerance while Christianity doesn’t?

Someone please explain this to me.

The priorities and consequences of an empty culture

As I write this, major newspapers are accepting the idea that we are heading into a great economic depression. Though we don’t know how bad the depression will be, the fact we are heading into one becomes more and more apparent each day. Likewise, we currently have an administration that simply is not adequately tasked to handle a depression. Though we must continually pray for President Obama and show respect towards the office of the presidency, we must admit that Mr. Obama has shown himself inadequate to deal with crises, whether they be domestic or foreign.

In light of the economic collapse, we have all but lost the Gulf Coast to oil. Fishermen cannot fish, tourist attractions are shut down, and the economy is being hit even harder in our Southern states. We are now sitting almost four month out after the oil spill and the well has yet to be capped, which prevents clean up. Where is the Federal Government to help protect our shorelines, to help protect our borders? Where is the public out cry that the Federal Government has failed to secure our borders once again, which is their Constitutional imperative.

We are shutting down parts of Arizona because our government has failed to prevent drug traffickers and human traffickers from coming across our border. By being inactive we have become complicit with the action that enslaves thousands of humans every year. Believe what you will about illegal immigration – for those that follow this site they understand that I am in high support of immigration – it is the duty of the government to protect the borders and they have failed in that duty (and this is not just Mr. Obama’s fault, this spans back through multiple administrations).

We are facing a justice department that is out of control, threatening to violate the Constitutional right to be protected from double jeopardy just so the administration can pander to a voting base. This same justice department is suing Arizona for the belief that Arizona is overstepping its Constitutional bounds (which I do believe Arizona is doing that), but then doing nothing to fulfill their own duty to protect the borders.

We have multiple states on the verge of bankruptcy and in fact our own nation is on the verge of bankruptcy. We have citizens who’s entire lifestyle is based upon what has been loaned to them. They do not truly own most of their toys and were the economic rug pulled out from under them, they would have nothing to fall upon.

We are engaged in two wars with the potential for two other major conflicts to open up (Iran and Korea). Our diplomatic currency is so low that we are struggling to negotiate peaceful terms with either nation. Were war to break out, we would not be in a position to aid our allies or prevent a greater evil. Continue reading

The misery of being against all things religious

It seems that anytime a public display of religion occurs, there’s someone somewhere who finds a way to sue over it. Take, for instance, southern Illinois. About fifty years ago, a group of farmers got together to raise money to put a cross on southern Illinois’ highest point. The action was faith-based as they wanted to cross to cause self-reflection and incite a need for Jesus. As time has gone on, the cross has become much more of a tourist attraction due to its immense size (bringing in money for the state) rather than something that causes conversions.

Since the law of entropy is still in effect (and doesn’t seem to be relenting its hold on the material world anytime soon), in the last fifty years, the cross has slowly decayed. Since it does bring in revenue for the state (due to tourism), the state decided to give $20,000 to the estimated $500,000 needed for renewal. This has caused an atheist in Illinois to sue the state to get the money back, citing separation of church and state.

Now the lawsuit is, in a lot of ways, absurd. For one, let us assume in a possible world that the Greek parthenon was located in the United States. Let’s say that the Native Americans worshipped ancient gods in this parthenon. Furthermore, let us also assume that we still had the first amendment. As time went on, the parthenon began to decay. Even if some people in the US viewed the Parthenon as religious, would the US be wrong to give money to the parthenon to have it restored? The answer is no. They’re not supporting a religion by doing so, instead they’re helping to solidify what would be a tourist attraction and a historical landmark.

Continue reading