Seeking Peace in Trump’s America

I’ll cut right to the chase: the world has seldom needed the peace witness of the Church of the Brethren more than it does right now. In two months, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States. The commander-in-chief of the world’s largest, most well-funded, and most-powerful military will be a man who has shown himself to be erratic and impulsive, especially when provoked.

During the Presidential campaign, the president-elect was not subtle about his disposition towards military force. He said that he “loves war,” and promised to be “the most militaristic” president ever. He campaigned on a promise to reinstate torture and has advocated for killing not just suspected terrorists, but their entire families as well. He has promised to “bomb the shit” out of middle eastern villages. He proposed sending ground troops into Iraq and Syria. He has advocated for nuclear proliferation in Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Japan. He has refused to “rule out” using nuclear weapons himself, even questioning repeatedly why we can’t use them.

This is to say nothing of Trump’s policies on refugees, on immigrants, on Muslims, on LGBT people, on people of color, on climate change, on police use of force, on healthcare, and a whole suite of positions that endanger people in the US and around the world. It’s to say nothing of his divisive and inflammatory campaign tactics, which inflamed racial and religious divisions, emboldened bigotry, and inspired hate crimes.

We must be clear: the world’s greatest threat to peace isn’t ISIS, or Russia, or North Korea, or Iran, or China. It is the United States under a President Trump.

Throughout our history, the Church of the Brethren has stood up to violence and been a voice calling from the wilderness for peace, diplomacy, and nonviolence. We follow a God of love and the Prince of Peace. We worship and disciple ourselves to a man who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. For as long as Donald Trump occupies the Oval Office, it is on each of us in the Church of the Brethren to mobilize and organize against his dangerous, reckless, and violent approach to public policy. Christ said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” It is time to get us some blessing.

This is not to say that we should not pray for Mr. Trump. We should. It is certainly not to say that we should attack, demonize, and mistreat his supporters. We should not. But the world is watching the United States with fear and anxiety in their hearts. And they’re watching the church, too. What we do matters. The stands we choose to take matter. Will we be a voice for the powerless and seekers of peace? Will we continue to be one of the world’s historic peace denominations? I hope so. I plan to show up, and I hope you do too.


podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Syrian Refugees: Let Them In

I’ll be honest: It’s not often that I think the Bible gives crystal clear, uncontradictory, wholly consistent guidance. On just about any topic. As such, it is perfectly possible for people on both sides of most debates to defend their viewpoints using scripture and to make the case that they are acting out of genuine faith principles.

The current debate about Syrian Refugees, and whether the United States and other Western, Christian-majority nations should let them in, is not one of those debates. As I’m about to lay out, from start to finish, the Bible gives clear guidance, time and again, that we are to welcome and love refugees.

I must caution you that what follows is an often sarcastic, satirical look at the way Christians have ignored scripture’s clear guidance on refugees. That said, here’s a list of scriptural references that I’ve borrowed from a United Church of Christ resource page about refugees:

Genesis 12:10 – “Now there was a famine in the land.  So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land.” Abraham, considered the father of the Judeo-Christian tradition, was once a refugee.

Genesis 19 – Lot takes his family and flees Sodom.

Genesis 23 – Abraham is a stranger and an alien in the land of Canaan.

Genesis 46:1-7 – Jacob moves his family to Egypt to escape the famine and reunite with Joseph.

Genesis 47: 1-6 – Joseph brings his brothers to Pharaoh and they are welcomed and given jobs

Just in the book of Genesis, we have ample examples of how our spiritual ancestors welcomed refugees, and how many of spiritual ancestors were refugees themselves. At the end of Genesis, several of our refugee ancestors have been welcomed into Egypt.

However, it’s not long before xenophobia sets in:

Exodus 1:8-14 – Joseph’s generation is gone, and the Egyptians oppress the Israelites.  “Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor.”

It seems like we’re confused on this point. We have a lot more in common with the xenophobic Egypt seen in Exodus than the welcoming one seen in Genesis.

Exodus 12:37-39 – Here again, the Israelites become refugees, running away from persecution in Egypt. It seems that the forerunners of our own faith are Middle Eastern refugees. That’s… inconvenient for those of us who wish to denigrate Middle Eastern refugees today.

Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22 – “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.”

Wait, what? We’re not supposed to treat refugees like second-class humans? We’re supposed to treat refugees like they could be… members of our own family? Members of our own communities? How am I supposed to treat all refugees like one massive terrorist cell if I have to acknowledge that they’re image-bearers of God just like me?

Exodus 22:21 – “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that turning away tens of thousands of refugees and forcing them back into a brutal dictatorship, civil war, and terrorist insurgency would qualify as “wronging and oppressing” them.

Leviticus 19:9-10 and 23:22 – “You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and the alien.”

For those of us that think we shouldn’t let in refugees because they’ll take our jobs, and government benefits, and houses from homeless veterans: sorry, this whole notion of “us” and “them” doesn’t really fly in the Kingdom of Heaven. In this, the wealthiest country in human history, we have more than enough to care for our homeless veterans AND show compassion to Syrian refugees.

Leviticus 19:33-34 and 24:22 – When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”

Man, God just loves to remind us about how we were refugees once, too. It’s almost like we should show gratitude for our relative peace and security not by jealously hoarding the blessings of freedom and prosperity for ourselves, but by widening that circle to more people who desperately need a little peace and security.

Leviticus 24:23 – “With me you are but aliens and tenants.”

It’s a good thing that God isn’t a xenophobe. We’re all refugees in his kingdom, and if he treated refugees like we treat refugees, we’d be in big trouble.

Numbers 9:14 and 15:15-16 – “…you shall have one statute for both the resident alien and the native.”

Again with the treating refugees like equal human beings!? What do you think we are, God? Christians? Cut us some slack.

Deuteronomy 6: 12 – “Take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

When we forget refugees, we forget the Lord.

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

But… but… but God, I don’t want to love the stranger! I’m scared of the stranger. Why did you give food and clothing to the scary strangers, God? How can we justify denying the stranger when you’re always going about loving everyone?

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12-13 – These verses describe how tithing exists, in part, to care for refugees. Something tells me a refugee tax wouldn’t go over well here in America. It’s probably just because God doesn’t understand economics, though. Yeah, let’s just go with that.

Deuteronomy 24:17-18 – “You shall not deprive a resident alien…of justice.”

Does sending tens of thousands of refugees back into imminent danger count as justice? I hope so, or we’re going to have to reevaluate our priorities.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22 – Leave sheaf, olives, grapes for the alien.

But there are 50,000 homeless veterans that need the sheaf, olives, and grapes! Nevermind that we didn’t really care too much about sticking up for homeless veterans until it was a convenient excuse to hate Syrian Refugees. Or that we’re not actually going to use the funding we would have used to resettle refugees to care for the homeless.

We’re just going off of the Bible: Rhetorics 14: 23 – “Thou shalt use homeless veterans as a political prop to cast a red herring that distracts you from your own xenophobia and callous hearts.” What can we do but follow the Bible? Our hands are tied.

Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien…of justice.”

Ouch. Cursed? No need to be so judgemental, God. We’re just trying to keep our homeland safe.

Psalm 137:1-6 – “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept…How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

Yeah, but we were singing songs for Lord. Clearly, God only wants us to care about Christian refugees. Right?

Psalm 146:9 – “The Lord watches over the strangers…”

To make sure they’re not plotting anything fishy, amiright? We’re with you on this one, God. Increase surveillance on Muslims. That’s what this verse means, right? I can’t think of any other way that God might be watching over refugees. Surely not with eyes of concern and compassion.

Ecclesiastes 4:1 – “Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them.”

But who’s going to comfort us? That’s the real question! We’re really scared. We’re the victims, here. I didn’t read the bible to be challenged to comfort others, I only read the Bible to see how it can comfort me.

Isaiah 16:4 – “Be a refuge to the outcasts of Moab.”

Ok, but too be fair, Moab was in present day Jordan, which is like, hundreds of miles from Syria. Plus, it’s not like the Moabites and the Israelites often warred with one another, so welcoming the Moabites wouldn’t be a national security risk. Oh, wait, it was exactly like that?

Jeremiah 22:3-5 – “Do no wrong or violence to the alien.”

Right, but we’re not directly doing any violence to the Syrian refugees. We’re just casting them back to Syria, where  many of them will undoubtedly be subjected to violence. Loophole! We’re off the hook. That’s how you’re supposed to read the Bible, right? Ever vigilant of loopholes that absolve you of responsibility?

Ezekiel 47:21-22 – “The aliens shall be to you as citizens, and shall also be allotted an inheritance.”

Sigh. Ok, but can’t they at least be like second-class citizens? They are scary, after all.

Malachi 3:5 – “The messenger will bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien.”

Something to look forward to in the December issue of the Messanger, apparently.

Ok, ok, ok. I get it. God cares about refugees and show should we. Blah, blah, blah. But all that crap was from the Old Testament. Conveniently for us, we don’t have to worry about the Old Testament at all, right? Everyone knows that God portrayed in the Old Testament is just a big old softy. Thankfully, God gets a whole lot less forgiving and merciful and grace-giving in the new testament, right?

Matthew 2:13-15 – Jesus and parents flee to Egypt as Herod tries to murder their child.

Oh, right. I forgot about that whole Jesus fella. You’re telling me that Jesus was a refugee? That when we put little porcelain nativity scenes on our altars, we welcoming a Middle Eastern refugee family into our home? How well vetted are these nativity scenes?

Matthew 5:10-11 –“Blessed are those who are persecuted.”

Something tells me Jesus isn’t talking about Christians being persecuted by red Starbucks cups.

Matthew 25:35-40 – “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'”

I chose to quote this whole passage because I think these words from Christ, the refugee that we worship, are so vital to understanding what we Christians should be doing in regards to Syrian Refugees. Jesus isn’t just speaking figuratively. He really was a stranger. He really was a hungry baby lying in a manger. He and his family really were in need of love, and compassion, and mercy, and grace, and generosity. There really were people who showed that measure of care to him and his family. When we encounter “the least of these” in our lives: in our communities, in our churches, in our schools, in our political discussions, we would do well to remember that the same nativist, know-nothing rhetoric coming from some people in the United States today would have delivered the baby Jesus straight to the genocidal tyrant seeking his death.

Romans 12:13 – “Mark of the true Christian: “…Extend hospitality to strangers…”

Silly Paul, always using that no-true-Scotsman fallacy. You’re saying that if Christians don’t welcome refugees, they’re not really acting like Christians at all?

II Corinthians 8:13-15 – “It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need…”

Ok, but to be fair, who really has the abundance, and who really has the need? We’re the richest country in human history, true. But doesn’t anyone consider our needs? Like how we need to be coddled about our irrational fears?

Ephesians 2:11-22 – “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Hmm. Until we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we too are refugees. It’s such as shame that 31 of the Governors in God’s Kingdom decided that they don’t want to bring in refugees anymore.

Hebrews 13:1-2 – “…show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels…”

You mean, not every Syrian refugee is a terrorist? Some of them might be good people? Some of them might go on to do great things? No! Surely not.

James 2:14-17 – “What good is it…if you say you have faith but do not have works?”

If we say we’re Christians, but we don’t act like Christ, what good is that?

I John 4:7-21 – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…”  We love because God first loved us.”

And this is really the point. Our spiritual ancestry is full of refugees. Abraham was a refugee. The Israelites were refugees coming out of Egypt. Jesus was a refugee. Yet, through God’s mercy and blessing, we have found peace and security, prosperity and joy. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love Syrian Refugees because they haven’t been blessed like we have. To the contrary, God is desperately seeking to use us to bless the Syrian refugees that need our help. Just as God has shown us mercy, so must we be merciful.

And remember, we’re all refugees of a broken world seeking asylum in God’s Kingdom. What if there were nativists and racists and xenophobes there, who didn’t want to let us in? What if there were people there who were concerned about national security and the vetting process who didn’t want to let us in? What if there were people there jealous of their own prosperity and fearful that we might dilute the wealth and security that they had grown to love?

Luckily for us, it doesn’t seem like the Kingdom of Heaven would act that way. Why, then, should Christians here in the United States act any different? Let them in. It’s what we were made to do.


 

Emmett Eldred - Hollidaysburg COB, Middle PA District

Emmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter@DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email Emmett at dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.

Ebola Fighters Provide an Important Alternate Definition of Heroism

Like many in the Church of the Brethren, I was pulling for the kidnapped Nigerian girls to be named Time’s Person of the Year. If you don’t know, many of those girls are members of the EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. The EYN has been particularly devastated by the terrorist organization Boko Haram, which operates in Northern Nigeria. To learn more about what Dunker Punks are doing for those girls and the EYN, and how you can get involved, you can click here. Even though they didn’t win, just the fact that they were in the running means people are still hearing about them and learning about what’s going on in Nigeria, so I’m thankful that they were at least considered.

However, one of my next top choices was the Ebola Fighters, and I am beyond thrilled that they were named Time’s 2014 Person of the Year. My reason is simple: I think there are few people who are more heroic than the Ebola Fighters. My other top choice, by the way, was Malala Yousafzai, another example of true heroism.

Christians in the United States live in fear. We’re afraid of a lot things. We’re afraid of terrorism. We’re afraid of people who don’t look like us, speak like us, or practice the same religion as us. We’re afraid of the boogey man. We’re afraid of our shadow. We’re afraid of being struck by lightening, while being attacked by a clown, who is riding a great white shark, who is wishing us “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” We’re a timid bunch.

But more than anything, in 2014 we were afraid of Ebola. Ebola was everywhere. In our streets, in our schools, in our water, in our churches, in our homes. Hide your kids, hide your wives, hide your husbands, because everybody was getting Ebola in 2014.

If you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. To be clear, I am glad that we took the threat of Ebola seriously in the United States. The worst thing that we could have done would have been to not take proper precautions against the spread of Ebola. And even though we only had four cases of Ebola in the United States and one death, even one death is a tragedy and should be viewed as such. However, there is a huge difference between taking something seriously and being absolutely terrified of something. To the point that living in fear takes Ebola less seriously than dealing with it calmly and courageously.

The problem with living in fear of Ebola in the United States is that Ebola is a gravely serious and deeply tragic issue in other parts of the world. It is a genuine threat, not a manicured threat like it was here. There are countries in Africa that have been crippled by Ebola, and continue to face grave projections for the coming months. These countries do not have the resources, technology, personnel, or medical infrastructure needed to effectively deal with Ebola like the United States did. In the three most affected countries, there have been nearly 12,000 deaths and over 18,000 cases of Ebola, and some projections have indicated that hundreds of thousands or even millions may eventually be affected.

Living in fear of Ebola in the United States draws crucial attention away from countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea that badly need the help of the international community, especially the United States. If we choose to worry irrationally, unnecessarily, and excessively about our own safety, we will be less willing to do what it takes to provide for their safety.

How do I know? Because a legitimately considered response to Ebola, supported by many influential people in the United States, was to restrict all travel between the affected countries and the United States. Many people who feared Ebola thought the proper response was to shut out those who so badly needed our help. Additionally, now that Ebola is no longer a threat to the United States, we hear less and less about it each day, though it continues to ravage parts of Africa.

When we make things about ourselves, people suffer. When we live in fear, we turn a blind eye to those who are in great need. And Christians in the United States are at least as guilty of this as the rest of the country, thought I suspect we are far more guilty.

That’s why the Ebola Fighters are heroes. They saw a terrible disease, and instead of fearing it, they chose to do something about it. Instead of making it about themselves, they made it about the people who actually needed help. They left their homes, families, and livelihoods to do what was right. They risked their lives to heal people. And I shouldn’t put this in the past tense. They continue to do these things.

Not all of the Ebola Fighters are Christians, I’m sure. But they all model Christ better than we Christians in the United States do. Jesus showed us how we are to lead. He was unafraid yet gentle. He didn’t compromise his values, yet he treated others with love, dignity, and respect. He didn’t consider his safety or social conventions when he brought others healing. He didn’t give people what they deserved, but what they needed. He had the courage to speak out against power and speak up for the powerless. He brought a message of hope, not fear. He was willing to die to bring life to everyone, but he was not willing to kill anyone.

Christians need to observe a new definition of heroism modeled after Christ, not empire. If it is “heroic” to pick up a gun and risk your life to fight for your country, how much more heroic is it to put down that gun and risk your life to heal others? If it is “courageous” to stand your ground as a police officer against an unarmed black teenager, how much more courageous is it to stand your ground as a young Pakistani girl against the Taliban for your right to an education? If it takes “leadership” to make the tough decision to use torture, how much more leadership does it take to make the right decision not to use torture?

Paul wrote to Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” In Christ, we have tremendous power. It is the power to heal, not to kill. It is the power to create, not to destroy. It is the power to love, not to hate. It is the power to build God’s kingdom, not Earth’s empires.

The Ebola Fighters fill me with tremendous hope for the world. It is the same hope found in Christ. When I see headlines that read “Ebola in America” I see a society that has lost the imagination it takes to live outside of fear. But when I see a group of doctors willing to risk everything to save the lives of people they’ve never met in a country they never thought they’d visit, I catch a glimpse of the Kingdom.

Everyday, as I learn more about the EYN and their tremendous courage and leadership in Nigeria, I have an example of who I must strive to be as a Christian. Sadly, Christians in the United States have lost sight of what the word Christian means. We worship a version of Jesus who would be unrecognizable to the twelve disciples.

I hope we take a lesson from the Ebola Fighters. I hope we stop living in fear. I hope we stop succumbing to fear by choosing hatred and violence, but choose instead to overcome fear with hope and compassion.

Dunker Punks, let’s be leaders. Let’s be courageous. Let’s fight diseases, and poverty, and hunger, and racism, not wars. Let’s learn from the Ebola Fighters. Let’s show the world what Jesus really looks like.


Emmett Eldred - Hollidaysburg COB, Middle PA DistrictEmmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook. Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.

Not Playing Around: 1000+ Letters for Nigeria

nigeria

Do you remember the 276 school girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram? Does #BringOurGirlsBack ring a bell? Many of those girls belong to the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. The EYN is suffering terribly at the violence of Boko Haram.

Yet, what makes their story so inspiring to me is not the bad, but the good that exists despite the bad. The Church of the Brethren (including the EYN) is one of three historic peace churches. While we in the United States never face a real threat to our love of peace, the EYN is confronted with that challenge everyday. In spite of all the evil, hatred, and violence that the EYN has endured, they choose to respond with courage, love, and nonviolence.

Midway through August, the Church of the Brethren observed a week of prayer and fasting in solidarity of the EYN.

I believe that fasting has the potential to be so powerful because it recognizes that when we make space in our lives for Jesus, his love can shine through us in some pretty amazing ways.

I decided that I wouldn’t just fast for that week, but I would extend my fast for an entire year by salvaging hours of my time that I waste playing computer games to do something better with that time.

I am going to use that time to write three letters every day about the EYN for the next year.

From today, September 1st, 2014 every day until September 1st, 2015, I will write and mail three letters to public figures.

This includes:

  • Elected Officials
  • Other Government Officials
  • Philanthropists
  • Media
  • Celebrities
  • Religious Leaders
  • Anyone who will listen

I will share with them the story of the EYN, and I will ask them to get involved however they can. This may mean sharing the story of the EYN on their social media and programs, donating to the EYN compassion fund, or setting aside aid money for the EYN.I want to emphasize the role that their creativity can play in making a difference.

I also want to emphasize that the only way to honor the EYN’s commitment to peace and nonviolence, is to explore and support solutions that also emphasize peace and nonviolence. From government officials, the only aid I will seek is humanitarian, nonmilitary aid.

I cannot do this alone.

The cost of sending over 1000 letters is well above $500.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Contribute to help me pay for stamps and envelopes
  2. Send me donations of stamps and envelopes
  3. Write letters of your own
  4. Pray
  5. Share my campaign and the EYN’s story with others
  6. Contribute to the EYN compassion fund

Contribute monetary donations at http://www.gofundme.com/dszfc8

(GoFundMe.com is a completely safe and secure website. It is among the most reputable and successful crowd funding platforms. If you have questions or concerns about donating through Go Fund Me, please visit http://www.gofundme.com/questions/)

All donations will go directly to purchasing stamps or envelopes, except for the Go Fund Me service fee. Any funds left over after 365 days of letter will be donated to the EYN compassion fund.

Send donations of stamps and envelopes to:

Emmett Eldred
Carnegie Mellon University
SMC # 2046
Pittsburgh, PA 15289

Write letters of your own!

Fill out this pledge form to commit to writing one letter a month or more on behalf of the EYN. If I can write three letters a day, you can write a few letters too!

Click here to donate directly to the EYN Compassion Fund.

The EYN gives me hope. They inspire me. So I’m not going to stop talking until I get people to listen. Join me. Support me. Pray for me and for the EYN.