Systems vs Personal Responsibility

I’ve been seeing posts like “Racism isn’t a bad habit. It isn’t a mistake. It is sin. The answer is not sociology, it’s theology.”

This quote is true. The gospel is the only way that the evil in all of our hearts gets destroyed by the Spirit who is given to all those who receive Jesus as the Spirit-conceived, virgin-born, perfectly obedient, crucified, risen, ascended, and glorified Lord and Savior.

Both Democrats and Republicans take a systems-based approach to things:
-Environmental justice; regulating oil companies, gas tax
-Regulating abortion, defunding Planned Parenthood
-Taxpayer funded access to contraceptives
-Gun control/gun safety
-Border control/immigration/ICE
-Police use of excessive force/war on drugs
-Government lockdown/infectious disease/economy
-Same sex marriage/wedding and private businesses

People in the black community who say they are victims of racial disparities are right and others in the same community say they can overcome the victimhood mentality and rise above their circumstances are also right.

There will always be a place to call people to repent and believe in the gospel, to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

But there is also a place to fight bad laws. William Wilberforce fought against the slave trade in the UK. Activists fought against institutionalized slavery, against child labor, against poor business practices in the meat industry which led to the FDA, and against lack of seatbelts in cars.

If Christians always said to “live quietly and preach the gospel,” virtually none of these legislation would have been passed unless people, whether a professing Christian or not, fought for them.

We need to balance the fatalism that says people will always sin and abuse their power with the realization that there are tangible steps we can take to better take care of the material needs of our neighbors, even through legislation, always efforts towards abolition were meaningless.

We have to balance the soul with the body.

We also need to balance the optimism of pragmatism that says we can eliminate systemic violence with better laws with the fact that there is evil in our hearts that no law can reach, but only the Spirit when one repents and believes in the gospel of Christ.

We have to balance the body with the soul.

We are embodied souls, so let us take care of both.

Separation of Church and State

How does Christianity relate to the political?

In 1930s Germany, Lutherans followed a two-kingdom approach to Christ and culture, in which Christians are not to bring their faith into politics. This eventually led to the disaster of Nazism which led to state-sponsored eugenics and mass murders.

In South Africa, Reformed Christianity believed Christians are supposed to transform culture. An orthodox Reformed theology, invoking the views of Abraham Kuyper, created a civil religion that supported apartheid.

In Justin Taylor’s article, he states “any simplistic Christian response to politics – the claim that we shouldn’t be involved in politics, or that we should “take back our country for Jesus” – is inadequate.”

Mr. Taylor states, “In each society, time, and place, the form of political involvement has to be worked out differently, with the utmost faithfulness to the Scripture, but also the greatest sensitivity to culture, time, and place.” I completely agree with this sentiment.

I have heard one well-meaning American Christian say, ” Abortion is never good. But Christians need to remember this is not a Christian world and not all have faith, and we’re called first of all to proclaim and to live the gospel, and not to make the laws of this world. Participate and be a voice of the Lord, yes, but to “rule”? – Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” to Pilate, and His kingdom hasn’t changed.”

While it is true that Lord Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” He also prayed to the Father, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

If Christians always thought that they should not make the laws of this world, they would never have succeeded in abolishing the slave trade in Great Britain as William Wilberforce did, abolishing slavery in America as the abolitionists did, or ending segregation in the civil sphere as Martin Luther King Jr did.

But of course, as we try to make the laws of this world, we may run into issues as we did with the Prohibition of the manufacture, sale, and use of alcohol, and legitimizing apartheid in South Africa. Yet, the solution to these valid problems are not to excuse ourselves from the political sphere, but to take care in how we exercise our authority.

If we fail to exercise our responsibilities and authority properly, we should make apologies and appropriate amendments, but we do not excuse ourselves from the awesome reponsibilities entirely.

What is Sin?

Sin is any motive, thought, or action construed by God to be dishonoring to Him. Sins are crimes against the authority of God, and they would be punished as harshly as treason would be by a king. Romans 6:23 states “the wages of sin is death.”

The Two Covenants

Now under the Mosaic covenant, the covenant made by God with His people after He freed them from Egyptian slavery, God created a theocracy in which “church” was the state. He gave the people the authority to enforce the death penalty against sins such as idolatry, blasphemy, breaking the Sabbath, dishonoring your parents, sexual immorality, homosexuality, adultery, incest, kidnapping, and murder.

In Jeremiah 31, the LORD promised: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.”

With the death, resurrection, and ascension of Lord Jesus, the Son of God, the people of God are now under the new covenant that Jesus mediates.

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”

(Hebrews 9:14-15)

Just as Americans were once under the Articles of Confederation before moving on to the Constitution, so too are the people of God were once under the Mosaic covenant but are now under the new covenant that Lord Jesus mediates.

Now under the new covenant, sins are still punishable by the death penalty, but now people have the option to believe in the Son to be their perfect substitute, where He died on the Cross for their sins or they may continue in their sins and eventually face due punishment from God.

A New Covenant Case Study

If we look at the apostle Paul’s case in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, we see something interesting. Effectively, Paul acts as a kind of “Moses,” in his epistles as he explains to his respective congregations the terms of the new covenant that Lord Jesus mediates.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul relates how the Corinthian church has a case of sexual immorality, where one of the congregants has his father’s wife. Instead of calling for the death penalty as the Mosaic covenant would dictate, Paul instead sentences the man to excommunication from the local church, and rightly so.

Paul later goes on to describe how the church should relate to “the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.” He tells the Corinthian believers not to associate with any professing Christian if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.

1 Corinthians 5:12-13

In the above passage, it would appear that Paul advocates for a type of “separation of church and state.” He is making a distinction between the community of believers and the outside world. If a professing believer acts like the outside world, then they should be excommunicated from the local church so they can join the world that they are acting part of.

Later on in the same letter, Paul states the following:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Here we see that actions such as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, and drunkenness are denounced as sins. But instead of being met with the death penalty by the community of believers, transgressors are encouraged to place their faith in Lord Jesus to be washed, sanctified, and justified in His name and by the Holy Spirit.

Given that the surrounding 1st century Roman culture at the time of Paul’s letter approved of idolatry, drunkenness, homosexuality and other forms of sexual immorality like prostitution, the state probably did not carry out penalties for all these things that are considered sins. It was into this kind of world that professing believers, who sin in the way Paul mentions, would be excommunicated.

In other words, the State at this time had laws that permitted things that God, through His Word and His church, would denounce as sin.
But note that the sins that Paul mentions do not inflict grievous physical harm to your neighbor. Idolatry, homosexuality, adultery, and theft are sins just as much as murder, abortion, and slavery are, but the former are not as life-threatening as the latter are.

They all deserve punishment by God, but the State only punishes some of them, especially the ones that threaten the safety, physical well-being and life of its citizens.

A person guilty of idolatry versus a person guilty of murder would both deserve death for their sins, yet they can find forgiveness and redemption in the blood of Jesus, but the convicted murderer would still face the death penalty while the idolater would not be punished by the State.

It is with this distinction in mind that Christians should consider how we ought to relate to our unsaved neighbors with respect to the government’s role.

The government should play a role, through appropriately defined laws, when the issue at stake involves the safety, physical well-being and life of its citzens. This would act as a form of God’s common grace towards believers and non-believers.

We should outlaw murder, slavery, segregation, and abortion because they are a severe attack against humanity. These sins are crimes because they threaten the safety, physical well-being, and life of our neighbors. While unwarranted gun violence is also sin, guns should not be banned from private usage, because they can be used to protect your neighbors and yourself. They can and should be however, be regulated as sensible as possible on the federal, state, and local level. In contrast, same-sex unions, while still sin, are not as life-threatening as abortion and unrestrained gun violence.

Government is by definition compulsory regulation. As Christians, we have to think wisely and carefully about how such regulatory power should be used. We have to consider whether a given issue warrants regulation, and if so, then how much and how so?

For any given issue, we have options of banning it altogether, regulating/permitting it, or writing no laws about it.

Abortion is the intentional destruction of a growing child in the womb.
Generally we should seek to ban any destruction of innocent life just as we already do with murder. Yet as much as we strive to make the laws rigid, absolute, unyielding, and uncompromising, we can and should tailor them to fit them as best we can to the moral complexities of life. Given that pregnancy is where the child and mother are intimately connected with each other, complications can arise where saving one will lead to the death of the other, especially in light of limited or absent medical technology.

In cases such as ectopic pregnancies, saving the life of the mother will usually lead to the death of the child because we currently lack the medical technology to protect and nourish the child at that developmental stage after separating the child from her mother.
Laws should be written that take this into account, so healthcare professionals are free to take care of their patients without fear of prosecution from excessively oppressive laws.

Unrestrained gun violence is a danger to our neighbors. There should be sensible regulations in place to minimize the loss of life from those who wish to seek to do harm to others. Banning all automatic rifles would be too extreme, but asking for things like requiring licensing exams before possession of a gun, having gun safes at homes away from the reach of young children, and other similar measures would be great.

Slavery, while an affront to humanity, was not always as life-threatening as it was during the antebellum period of America. While slavery was not great for quality of life, at least the people were alive. The slavery back in the days of the Mosaic covenant and in the days of the Roman Empire were more like indentured servitude and employees.

God allowed slavery in the Mosaic covenant, but He regulated it to prevent and minimize it from becoming excessively cruel.

The apostle Paul had commandments regarding slavery, yet he asked Philemon to receive his slave Onesimus, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16). At this time, Paul wanted Philemon to think like an abolitionist not out of compulsion but out of his own accord.

In the above case, slavery was evil and commonly practiced in the Roman Empire, yet Paul wanted Philemon to choose to free his slave in spite of the legality of the institution.

Here in America, we outlawed slavery. We are not simply regulating slavery, but we banned it altogether. While it would have been nice if the slavers in the Southern States chose to free their slaves on their own accord, the issue became enough of a problem back then, that it warranted government compulsion to protect African Americans from the cruelties that came with being seen as property in the eyes of the law.

Next we have same-sex unions. Should our government outlaw or at least refuse to recognize it? If we outlaw same-sex unions, would that mean dissenters would be thrown in jail or pay a fine? Personally, I would prefer that the State just simply refuse to recognize the unions. People seeking to be married to a same-sex partner would not be punished by the law, but they would not have a formally recognized civil union.

Same-sex marriage is a sin, but it is not as threatening to life in the way that murder, abortion, gun violence, and slavery are. It is much more similar to the idolatry of Paul’s day, where it was a sin that was practiced and recognized by the ruling State. Here I believe Christians can make a pragmatic compromise and let the world act like the world.
Same-sex marriage is considered legal, but we can still share the gospel with our neighbors and by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit can then transform the desires of our neighbor’s heart where they will choose to reject same-sex marriage in pursuit of holy joy in God.

In Paul’s case, he asked Philemon to voluntarily free his slave in spite of the legality of slavery.
In our case, we can share the gospel with our neighbors and hope that they will voluntarily reject same-sex unions in spite of their legality.
It may be argued that there should not be government compulsion involved in the case of same-sex marriages.

The case might be comparable to how God hates divorce, but still permits it because of people’s hardness of heart. He allows the dissolution of a legitimate union, and perhaps we could allow as a society the formation of an illegitimate union. If God was willing to allow divorce for apparently pragmatic concerns, perhaps we could do something similar for our unbelieving neighbors.

We tried to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and use of alcohol, but that excessive regulation led to more harm than good. We now permit and regulate alcoholic beverages, but we encourage moderation and punish drunk drivers.

If we try to prohibit same-sex unions we may encounter the same problems as we did with Prohibition, so perhaps we should permit them for now and simply share the gospel with our neighbors and hope the Spirit changes the desires of their hearts so they reject the union on their own.

There should be government compulsion, however, in cases of abortion because we are talking about physical threats to the very lives of unborn children. Pro-choicers say, even if abortion is wrong, we should let mothers decide to reject that option on their own. But precisely because abortion represents such a large threat to the life of an unborn child, the government should get involved just as much as it already does in protecting its citizens from murder.

Below are my concluding thoughts:
-All sins deserve the death penalty from God
-God provided Jesus as a means for people to escape the due penalty of their sins and find forgiveness and eternal life in Him.
-Some sins, especially those that are life-threatening are punishable by the State, but some others, such as those of sexual natures, are not.
-In Paul’s day, we could see that all crimes are sins, but not all sins are crimes as in the case of idolatry for example.
-For Christians then, we should strive to make laws that protect and promote the safety, physical well-being, and life of our neighbors as we do for murder, abortion, slavery, segregation, and gun violence.
-In cases where life or quality of life is not as threatened such as availability of alcohol, contraceptives, and same-sex unions, we could make a pragmatic compromise and create laws that permit and/or regulate these in the interest of living peacefully with our unbelieving neighbors even as we seek their eternal well-being through the gospel.

Rebuttal to Reverend Jim Martin

“Why do people hate migrants and refugees?”
-Wow, what a great way to start and frame the discussion.

“Some conservative Christians argue that they’re breaking the law by coming across the border.”
-Well this is true, we have procedures in place for migrants to come ask for asylum into our country, but some of the asylum seekers have not followed these procedures.

Consider your own house: when a stranger comes knocking on your door, do you just automatically open your door up to let him in as a guest? No, I would think you would at least keep the door closed at first, look through your peephole, and ask what business do they have with you.

If the stranger asks for hospitality from you, you might naturally be inclined to welcome them in, more so if they came asking at your front door.

However, if they do not come at “port of entries,” that would be like if the stranger jumped across the fence into your backyard and then knocked on your glass door for you to let him in. (Side note: I am open to the possibility of having more ports of entries available, but I haven’t seen that proposal being pushed.) It would be one thing if the stranger did it out of ignorance or desperation, which is a possibility, and you could kindly ask the stranger to come to your front door instead. But jumping over the fence into your backyard should naturally raise some suspicions that should not so easily be dismissed.
Other things you might have in mind as you process the situation would be:
-what time of day the stranger arrived; coming at night raises more suspicion than coming at day.
-how legitimate their request is
-can you trust this person to be who they say they are and not someone trying to take advantage of your kindness
-do you have any resources to provide for yourself, family members who may be living with you, and the stranger

“Seeking asylum is a human right.” This is true. But again we have procedures in place for screening applicants and welcoming them in just as most homeowners naturally would do if a stranger comes knocking on the front door.

“The law is not the only judge of morality. There are unjust laws. Like abortion and same-sex marriage. So why are they being so selective?”
Yes, there are unjust laws. Laws are codified ideas. Not every idea is equally good. Some are very bad, others very good or they could have varying degrees of goodness. Since not every idea is equally good, we have every right to be selective to choose the idea that provides the best public good.
-Abortion: taking the life of the unborn
-Same sex marriage: governmental recognition of the civil union of individuals with same-sex attraction.
-Slavery: treating another human being as property
-Refugee laws: screening a stranger to see if their claims for asylum is authentic.
The topics of abortion and same sex marriage can be discussed at another time, but for now, I just want to let my readers have the take-home point that behind every law is an idea that needs to be examined, because not all of them are equally valid.

Also since the topic is on immigration/refugee laws, the idea being discussed is essentially “screening a stranger to see if their claims for naturalization and asylum are authentic, and if bringing them in at this time would be good for them and our citizens.”
I really fail to see what’s so inherently bad with this idea as opposed to slavery which meant treating your neighbor as property.
“Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders use Bible verses and talk about things being “biblical” to defend their positions.”

This is not a necessarily bad thing to do. Abolitionists used Scripture to justify their position just as pro-slavery advocates used Scripture to justify their own. Both of them used the Bible to defend their respective positions, but their arguments were different in weight. In other words, the key thing to keep in mind is which side has stronger support for their position when you examine their arguments.

Calling something “biblical” has similar moral weight to saying something is “constitutional,” which is really just saying that something is consistent with the legal and moral thrust of an established document.

“But they must know that the whole thrust of the Old and New Testaments when it comes to migrants and refugees, is that we’re supposed to welcome them.”
This is half true, the Bible does encourage us to take risks in the way that we love, but we have every right to count the cost of such compassion.
Taking risks in the way that we show compassion is morally different than having an open door policy.  When a stranger comes knocking on your door and asks for hospitality, the Bible would encourage you to consider uncommon compassion by welcoming them into your home and providing them a place to stay and eat. But you have every right to consider the costs of letting them in, as already discussed above, like if you have enough resources to provide for them, how long they can stay, if they are who they really say they are, etc.
Open door policy, on the other hand, would undermine this thought process, because you would already be letting everyone who comes to your door in, and you have no way of knowing whether they are good or bad people. That would be reckless and dangerous to both yourself and the people who may share your home with you.

The principle I am trying to convey is behind the point Lord Jesus made when He said,
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
He says we live in a world of wolves, and there are people who will love to take advantage of our compassion, so as we strive to be as innocent as doves, we also have to be as wise (prudent) as serpents.
So again, taking risks with our compassion is a big moral difference than open door.
”So why are so many Christians still against migrants and refugees?”
This is a dishonest and unfair characterization of our position: what’s so wrong with asking to hold on and wait as we screen the people who come to our borders to see if their claims for asylum are legitimate? Open door is reckless and dangerous, closed border is cold, but a semipermeable border with screening checkpoints is sensible. The cells in your body follow the same principle, and people who advocated for gun safety had a similar thought. I do not see why we cannot apply the same to our borders. If we asked for a more streamlined and humanistic screening process, I would think most of us could agree to that, but that’s not what’s been being proposed these days.

This speaker says refugees have been demonized and dehumanized. He states the president the other day said they were infesting the country, as if they were vermin. The speaker then compares the statement to those made by the Nazis regarding Jews or by the Hutu about the Tutsi. He then compares the refugee crisis to Japanese American internment.

The speaker ends his thought with: “It is much easier to treat people as dirt if they’re seen as animals.”
-The speaker is conflating a lot of moral issues together.
-There are many false moral equivalencies being made.
Nazis treated Jews who were legal German citizens as less than human.
Japanese Americans were legal American citizens being criminalized unjustly.
Illegal immigrants/refugees are strangers, not legal citizens, that we do not have perfect knowledge of, and who we need to screen to let into our country.
If a stranger comes knocking at your door, and you happen to refuse to let him in, should your neighbor call you unkind for doing so? No, what if you simply did not have the resources to take care of yourself, your family and the stranger and you would all suffer together? What if you found out the stranger has a criminal record, or the stranger appeared at a time when you heard that a shooter was recently spotted in the area? I mean these are some of the considerations that need to be taken into account when we’re discussing immigration policies. There’s a time to welcome people into your home, and a time when you should not.

“I think the only solution is for people to come to know the stories of migrants and refugees.” This is not a bad solution, but it fails to address the fact that we need sensible border control. I would advocate for a border that maximizes the number of migrants and refugees that we allow into our country while minimizing the number of dangerous criminals like MS-13 members into our country. But in order for this outcome to happen, we need a comprehensive immigration reform, but since a package deal is unlikely to happen through our current Congress, we would have to accomplish comprehensive reform through single issue bills.
I do not doubt that some of the people coming to our borders are fleeing warfare, rape, famine, and drought. Some of them are fleeing their homelands, at great risk, to find safety for their families. Some of them are hardworking, inspiring, and faithful; but the thing is, some of them are not. Even a small minority can cause a whole lot of damage to our society. Therefore we have to have a screening immigration policy in place that maximizes public safety as we seek to show public kindness.

We do not think of immigrants or refugees as animals infesting our country, we just want sensible border control, so we can control the stream of migrants that enter our country. Just think about hosting a party. When you send out a list of invites to guests, and you ask them to RSVP, you’re basically controlling the stream of guests that you expect to welcome into your home. You have to consider if your home can accommodate your guests in terms of space and food availability. Border control follows the same principle. If it doesn’t, then by all means, we can work together to change it so it does follow this principle.
The speaker ends the video with: “Ask yourself what you’re going to say at the end of your life when God asks you, “How did you care for your brothers and sisters who were refugees and migrants?”
To this question, I would say as we seek to help refugees and migrants, which is definitely a noble goal, we also have to consider helping our brothers and sisters who are legal immigrants, not the “white supremacists” the media constantly talks about. Sometimes the way we help refugees and migrants can needlessly endanger our fellow American neighbors (and I am not talking about just those with fair skin), so it is all the more necessary that we consider how we can best help both parties.