The Immigrant

In putting “America First,” President Trump has signed executive orders calling for the building of a wall along the United States – Mexican Border. He has also pledged to deny federal funds to so-called “Sanctuary Cities” that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation.

In putting “God First,” we disciples of Jesus live by Deuteronomy 10:17-19 with tells us:

The LORD your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords.
God does not play favorites or takes bribes.
God enacts justice for orphans and widows.
God loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing.

Finally, Deuteronomy 10:17-19 commands us to “…love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.”

The most recently available Census Bureau Data reports that 13.3 percent of the population of the United States are immigrants. In a country of 318.9 million, that equals 42.4 million people.

The United States is truly a nation of immigrants, and the evidence is clear that most immigrants come to this country in search of a better life, not to commit crime or to take part in terrorism. 


The New York Times reports that an analysis of census data from 1980 through 2010 show that among men ages 18 to 49, immigrants were one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States.

Across all ages and sexes, about 7 percent of the nation’s population are noncitizens, while figures from the Justice Department show that about 5 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons are noncitizens.

However, additional Justice Department analysis concluded that undocumented immigrants had crime rates somewhat higher than those here legally, but much lower than those of citizens.

So where does that leave us in this “America First” strategy? The tone and tenor of the President’s Executive Order blurs the line between who’s a serious criminal and who is not, and between documented and undocumented immigrants.

However, as disciples of Jesus our putting “God First” strategy is clearly defined for us in Leviticus 19:33-34.

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

In 1975 Neil Sedaka, the pop singer, pianist, composer and record producer, recorded a song in protest of the treatment of formal Beetle, John Lennon and others by immigration officials.

The song describes an America where strangers were welcome – a place where there was a sweeter tune, and there was so much room that people could come from everywhere.

When we put “God First,” we will treat the foreigners who reside among us as brothers and sisters, not as potential criminals. For as disciples of Jesus we live in the confidence that the Lord has given us an economy with unlimited opportunities of jobs and upward mobility for everyone along with a society that is safe for all of God’s Children, native born and immigrant. A land as Neil Sedaka describes where strangers are welcomed.

For God commands us to loves immigrants to welcomed them not to exclude them with executive orders. Ironically devised by a president who himself is married to an immigrant.

(Source material from this blog is from The US Department of Justice, The US 
Census Bureau, The New York Times and the Immigrant by Neil Sedaka.)

Marben Bland is the Pastor of Hall Chapel and Mitchell Chapel AME Churches in Sparta, GA

Praying For My President

Today is the last full day of the Obama Administration. For the last eight years, my biggest fears were either the President would be assassinated, or he would be involved in some scandal. I prayed everyday that these things would not come to pass.

People may differ about some of his policies – the Affordable Care Act, the opening to Cuba, the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence. In my opinion while by no means perfect this President and his family have been positive role models, for America.

Jesus, in Matthew 5:48 tells us, “Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (The Message Translation)

This time tomorrow, Donald Trump will be the President. His manner of being, and political agenda are in no way aligned with the way I think, act or live. My notion is to oppose him and everything he stands for.

However, Jesus tells me to love my enemies. Jesus tells me to seek to understand my enemies. Jesus tells me to let my enemies bring out the best in me, not the worst.

Therefore, tomorrow just as I have done for the last eight years, I will pray for my President.

-I pray for his safety.
-I will pray that he governs with wisdom.
-I will pray that he uses his position and powers to help the least of God’s people.
-I will pray for our nation to be at peace.

I will pray for my President – I will pray for President Trump.

The Details of a Radical Man

This week as I helped planned Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration services and a day of service at the church I pastor and the seminary that I attend, I found myself immersed in the details.

In those details I rediscovered that Martin Luther King, Jr. was and is a radical man.

The details tell me that during his time, Dr. King was not only radical, but also unpopular. An August 1966 Gallup Poll found that 63 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of King, compared with 33 percent who viewed him favorably.

A close examination of the details of King’s positions reveal his radical unpopularity.
– King believed that America needed a “radical redistribution” of economic and political power.
– King challenged America’s class system in general, and especially its racial caste system.
– King was a strong ally of the nation’s labor union movement.

– King opposed United States militarism and imperialism, especially the country’s misadventure in Vietnam.

If the true details of Dr. King’s positions were known, would he be viewed in a positive light by 94 percent of Americans? Would his name be on schools and on street signs? Would his birthday be a national holiday?

“The true detail is that most of us have been hoodwinked to believe that Dr. King was some saint who made a great speech that moved the white man, to pass a law in ’64 to give those blacks folk who ain’t got a little more.” 3

However, the true detail is this, King and his agenda was much more comprehensive because it included uplifting Whites as well. King realized that White Americans were just as injured by racism and segregation as Black Americans. He understood that racial segregation was devised not only to oppress African Americans, but also to keep working-class Whites from challenging their own oppression, by letting them feel superior to Blacks.

“The Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow,” King said from the Capitol steps in Montgomery, following the 1965 march from Selma. “And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food, that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than a black man.”

In the details of King’ radicalism I found that he was no original. King; he was radical because Jesus was a radical.

– Jesus was a radical from his humble birth, without the trappings of wealth, power and hegemony.
– Jesus was a radical for healing on the Sabbath.
– Jesus was a radical for praying, and forgiving his enemies.

Yes, the risen Jesus was a radical and King was His disciple.

In reviewing the details of my life, I realize that I am not a radical.

– I have lived a life of comfort powered by the civil rights movement, and paved with the blood of King and others.
– I have shunned difficult conversations, topics and moments so I could remain popular.
– I have not been radical because my Christian walk has been feeble, and my discipleship has been weak.

In his farewell address, President Obama said this about race, “After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”

As an African American Pastor, race will be a major factor in my ministry. Of the various challenges that will face churches in my charge, I can be assured that race will factor in most of them.

As God’s envoy, I must be radical – not because it is the in thing to do, but because as King and many others have found out – the details of true discipleship demand it.

Arrested for Justice

This weekend as we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We often recall his soaring speeches, taking us to new heights as we shared his dream.

However, we should also celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. the social activist, who was arrested some 30 times.

From his first arrest in 1955 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to his last arrest in1965, for demonstrating without a permit in Selma. Dr. King model the social activism of Jesus – who advocated for the poor, looked after the widow, orphan and foreigner, in addition to standing up for all who found themselves on the margins of life.

Jesus was arrested for His activism, and so was Dr. King.

In April of 1963, Dr. King was arrested in Birmingham for violating an Alabama judge’s ruling against holding protests and demonstrations.

On the day of his arrest, a group of concerned white Birmingham clergy issued a letter asking three things from Dr. King and his followers:

1.Dr. King and followers should go home. They were not from Birmingham, and therefore have no right to interfere with their affairs.

2. The clergy thought the demands of King and his followers were too grand. Therefore, the white clergy asked the black citizens of Birmingham for more time for negotiations with the local white power structure.

3.The clergy were dismayed that Dr. King and his fowlers were willing violate the law, by holding demonstrations against a judge’s order.

While in jail, Dr. King wrote back to the concerned white Birmingham clergy. His response simply known as “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, is a remarkable primer on the principals of social activism, and a treatise on why there is no shame in being arrested for justice.

Using the language of the early Christian Theologian, St. Augustine and Scripture, Dr. King’s responses can inspire us to greater activism.

Clergy: Dr. King and followers should go home. They were not from Birmingham, and therefore have no right to interfere with their affairs.

King: I am in Birmingham because injustice is here …I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one, directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider …

Clergy: The clergy thought the demands of King and his followers were too grand. Therefore, the white clergy asked the black citizens of Birmingham for more time for negotiations with the local white power structure.

King: We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. 

Clergy: King was easily willing to violate the law by holding demonstrations against a judge’s orders.

King: One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that, “An unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality …

This weekend of celebration and commemorations reminds us that King like Jesus, was and is a radical revolutionary, demanding systematic change.

If we are to be true disciples of Jesus, we also must be radical revolutionaries, willing not only to say provocative yet prophetic things, but to put our bodies on the line, in volunteerism, in activism and sometimes in civil dissent. This means we must be willing to be arrested for justice.

Jesus was arrested for justice, and so was King. Hopefully, you and I will be willing be arrested for justice as well.

Source material for this blog is from: Letter from Birmingham Jail
Copyright © 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. All rights reserved. Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community. Leah Gunning Francis, Chalice Press, 2015.

 

How to Make the Most of Our 2017 Opportunities

Nearly ten years ago, a Harvard student invited five people over to his dorm room to discuss a business opportunity. But, only two of the invitees showed up.

That Harvard student was Mark Zuckerberg, and the business opportunity was Facebook.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr., author of the New York Times best seller, “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” sums up the opportunity of the Zuckerberg’s billion-dollar meeting by saying:

“Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.” 

As we start the second first full week of 2017 the question before us is this: how can we make the most of the opportunities that 2017 will present?

Like Zuckerberg’s classmates, none of us can fully understand the impact of the opportunities ahead in 2017. However, we can understand that opportunities are about making choices, and making the right choice requires wisdom. True wisdom only comes from God.

Scripture states it clearly, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV).

This passage begs the question, “For which opportunities should we be asking God’s wisdom?” The answer is simple, we should pray about everything.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us three things to do, which can be applied to our lives and opportunities in 2017.

First, we are to rejoice always – in good times and bad.

Second, we should pray without ceasing, and

Lastly, we ought to give thanks to God in all circumstances.

Wisdom is defined as the appropriate use of experience, intelligence, common sense and the opinions of others, to make the right decision for a given problem, issue or opportunity.

Having the wisdom to make the right choice, instead of making the best decision will be the leading factor for our 2017 success.

Proverbs 3:13-18 reminds us that God blesses the person who finds wisdom. Eugene Peterson in the Message Translation of the Bible, calls wisdom the very tree of life.

“You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom, when you make friends with Madame Insight.  
She’s worth far more than money in the bank; her friendship is better than a big salary.
Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth; nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her. 
With one hand she gives long life, with the other she confers recognition. 
Her manner is beautiful, her life wonderfully complete.
She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
Hold her tight—and be blessed!”
        
God’s will for us is that we seek the wisdom of the Lord; this will allow us to make the most of our 2017 opportunities.

Oh by the way, the two people who had the wisdom to meet with Mark Zuckerberg are now billionaires.

Happy New Year!

Marben Bland is the Pastor of Hill Chapel and Mitchell Chapel AME Churches in Sparta, GA. He is also an entrepreneur in addition to being a writer and speaker.

Starting From Scratch

A new year brings into focus the endless opportunities we have for growth, development and change. Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us, to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.

Regardless of the activities we undertake in 2017, we do not have to start from scratch when we include God.

Therefore, in 2017:

Go ahead and do the mundane; but, necessary tasks of our lives.
Go ahead and gather the courage; and all the things necessary to follow your dreams.
Go ahead and have a life of love, laughter, and significance.

However, whatever you do, don’t start from scratch. Take God with you!

Marben Bland is the Pastor of the Mitchel and Hall A.M.E. Churches in Sparta, GA