This year, our spring devotional blog will lead up to Pentecost Sunday, celebrated June 4. In past years we had a blog that covered the season of Lent as we moved towards Easter. This year we will focus on the themes of Pentecost: God’s power to bring all people into his eternal kingdom. The theme verse for this blog is from Isaiah 2:2-3.
In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." (NIV)
In summary, the blog will focus on the multi-ethnic nature of the kingdom of God and how this relates to the current debates about immigration in America. This is an important topic for a number of reasons. First, City Reformed is a church located in the university community of Pittsburgh and we serve a very diverse population. People come to Oakland from all over the world and as a church we are committed to caring for people from different backgrounds. We currently have members from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and many who have immigrated to the United States. Our own congregation is made up of people “from every nation”. Second, we have a long commitment to supporting ministries that cross ethnic barriers. We support missionaries throughout the world and local ministries like P.R.I.S.M. (international students), YWAM (refugee care), and Ambassadors in Sports (significant refugee ministry.) All these ministries require constant energy and effort. We need to keep reminding ourselves why these are important investments.
The third reason is a bit trickier. Over the last couple of years, racial and ethnic issues have emerged as areas of significant concern and controversy. Immigration policy has been controversial throughout American history, but it has emerged with greater tension in the past election cycle. Border security, undocumented immigrants and deportation have become majorly divisive political issues. Furthermore, since 9/11, Americans have been uncertain about how to engage with immigrants from Muslim countries. Worldwide conflicts, especially in Syria, have also produced massive numbers of refugees from the Muslim world.
These topics are often highly controversial. They are also highly complex and require deep analysis and nuanced reasoning. Unfortunately, they have become politically polarized. As a result, Americans find it difficult to talk about these things with those who have differing viewpoints. In my opinion, both the political right and the left are guilty of reducing these complex issues to simple statements which they lob at their opponents like hand grenades. This doesn’t help us to understand these issues any better, and it can be destructive to communities where people have different beliefs. As Christians, we are committed to seeking the peace of our city (Jer 29). In this case, it requires us to talk about difficult things.
I know that this is a challenging issue that is important to many people in our congregation. Our end goal is not about trying to push the battle line closer to the right or the left on this issue, but to chart a course that is uniquely Christian. (More on that in the coming weeks.) I realize that some people may encounter this blog and be tempted to write it off before they even start to read. Perhaps some are tempted to think that they know in advance where we will be going and are skeptical about our intentions. In our current climate, that sort of cynicism is perfectly understandable. With those possible objections in mind I would like to lay out some guiding principles and our proposed format.
- Guiding Principles
- Immigration issues are massively complex and not all Christians will agree on all of the details. It is legitimate to have disagreements about immigration policy. It is our goal to present blog posts from various points of view. In some cases we will not attempt to resolve the issues, but will place a priority on listening carefully to other points of view.
- Although specific immigration policy is not prescribed by the Bible, the Bible says a lot about how we treat foreigners and immigrants. It also calls us to focus on the big picture in which God is building a kingdom made up of people from every nation. Even now, we see “all of the nations” streaming to the house of the Lord.
- Government has a role to protect its citizens from harm. Concerns about terrorism cannot be dismissed. Furthermore, the economic impacts of immigration are real and can negatively affect some people more than others. Someone who has concerns about border security or immigration policy should not be labeled racist or xenophobic.
- Above all, Christians are called to be reasonable in their discussions. In this situation, we have an opportunity to model a different type of engagement. As fellow citizens in God’s eternal kingdom who are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we have hope to discuss challenging topics in constructive ways.
- Format (Partnership)
- I have asked Kevin Soo to join me as a co-blogger. Kevin was born and raised in Malaysia. Although his country is predominantly Muslim, Kevin was raised by Christian parents. He immigrated to the United States for educational purposes and is currently enrolled in the PhD program at Pitt. He is married to Evelyn Yarzebinski – who has offered to lend technical support to our blogging and who we hope to rope in for at least one blog entry. Through all of these experiences, Kevin has been forced to think deeply about matters of ethnic identity and what it means to be an insider or an outsider of various groups. He combines this life experience with deep theological reflection and a commitment to promote a church community which transcends our political ideologies. I am delighted that Kevin can help.
- Once we get out of the first week (laying foundational ideas), Kevin and I will start each week by writing an entry. Then we will post submissions from other people. We will lean heavily on the input of other members of our congregation, but we will also draw on voices from outside the church. In some cases it may be appropriate to hear the perspective of people who are not Christians.
- We hope to promote discussion, but we will seek to limit and control the way in which that happens online. Our current plan is to NOT provide space for comments after each post. We believe that the best forms of discussion will happen when people engage with each other directly. You can email the author or pursue engagement with members in other settings.