Thursday, June 22, 2017

Politics, Policy, and the Church

            One of the things that concerns me in these polarized times, when everything a person say is analyzed for its political ramifications—did you say a blue thing or a red thing?—is that we lose sight of the distinction between policy and politics.
            Politics is the up and down, who is winning the next election or poll, or which side scored a point on a talk-show or with a Facebook meme or Twitter hashtag.
            Policy is how our government is run, what choices those who represent us make, and how they will shape all our lives.
            In our society, the deal we’ve made between church and state, roughly put, is that the church isn’t political—we don’t endorse candidates, the Baptists ought not be the praying wing of the Republican Party and the Lutherans ought not be the praying wing of the Democratic Party. That said, there is no such agreement about policy—so looking at how politicians vote, what the consequences of policies choices are—is not out of bounds.
            Now this agreement, at its worst, can morph religion. There are politicians who would love to be endorsed by congregations—sometimes they try to get pastors to break this societal agreement (you might remember that back in 2014 investor and political activist Steven Baer offered me a $10,000 bribe to tell you all how to vote from the pulpit that year—which I, of course, didn’t do). More often they want churches to bend this agreement. You get these “Church Voter Guides” that inform people about issues/policy, but make clear they are really about particular candidates. In fact, I think some of the shibboleths of, most prominently, Evangelical Christianity, have more to do with overblowing the importance of particular policies to favor particular political parties, than having anything to do with scripture and faith. When done poorly faith can be corrupted or bent by this separation between Church and State.

            I say all of this as preface to what I will say now. The current immigration policy here in the US has hurt people we know and care about. Members of First Indonesian Seventh Day Adventist Church, who we share our building with, some of whom we know by sight because they worked with our Building Finance and Liaison committees, were sent back to Indonesia, where they will face persecution.

            So, let’s think about the politics and policy of all this.
            Back in the 1990’s, during the Clinton Administration, ethnically Chinese Indonesian Christians were being slaughtered—it was ethnic cleansing with a religious tinge to it. America’s policy solution to this problem was to give out travel visas to as many people whose lives were under threat as possible, with the understanding that they would overstay those visas without repercussions—doing things this way instead of taking them in as refugees was, simply put, easier and cheaper.
            During the Bush years there was occasional pressure to return. In fact, immediately after 9-11 all these folk had to register, were put on a list or two, and started checking in with ICE once a year. They did this gladly, many Indonesian Christians showed up in front of the ICE building at 2am the first morning of registration to make sure America knew they were standing with the country who saved them from persecution.
            During the first half of the Obama years there was a spike in deportations, with the assumption that increased enforcement would lead to comprehensive immigration reform. During this time some of these Indonesians went into hiding.
            Then we had the 2016 election in which immigrants were labeled rapists and refugees terrorists. This caused many immigrants to fear for their lives.
            To date the Trump administration has arrested 35% more immigrants than were arrested in the same time last year, and the arrest of “non-criminal immigrants” has doubled. Among those arrested and deported were members of FISDAC, the Massie, Timesela, and Kawuwung families—including fathers who are leaving behind a 13 year old, a 6 year old, and a 1 year old.

            We can speak up for them. We can contact the people who have authority over the policies that have sent these families away. We can make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
            We can contact Christopher Moriarty, the Community Relations Officer of ICE Newark (970 Broad Street, Newark, NJ, 07102), the person on the ground responsible for explaining the implementation of these policies to the public.
            We can contact John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C. 20528) who is in charge of implementing this policy.
            We can contact President Donald Trump (The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500) who holds the highest executive office in the land and signed the orders that activated these deportations.
            We can contact our Senators and Congresspeople, especially Representative Pallone (67/69 Church St., New Brunswick, NJ 08901) who has submitted a bill to give Indonesians with expired tourist visas a second chance at applying for Refugee status.

            None of this need be political, we’re seeking redress for a policy choice that is hurting families we’ve come into contact with. We’re seeking redress for policies that will send people back to a country in which they will be persecuted for both their ethnicity and their religion. This isn’t a red or blue issue—it is a matter of life and death.

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