Posts tagged ‘Haiti’

Persons, Nations, and Immigration

President Trump Meets With Bipartisan Group Of Senators On Immigration

What a week it has been in politics.  Immigration took center stage this past week with President Trump first holding a meeting with both Republicans and Democrats in front of the cameras, discussing everything from the DACA to a border wall to chain migration to comprehensive immigration reform.  This televised meeting, however, was quickly eclipsed by some comments the president allegedly made behind closed doors, where he expressed, supposedly in vulgar terms, dismay at accepting immigrants from places like Haiti and Africa and wondered out loud why the U.S. was not more interested in encouraging emigration from places like Norway.  The president has since denied that he made the disparaging remarks attributed to him, tweeting:

The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for DACA!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018

Whatever the president’s actual remarks were, his alleged remarks, predictably, ignited a firestorm of a debate over how we should view other countries and the peoples from those countries.  Some found the president’s alleged remarks to be simply a realistic diagnosis of the awful living conditions that plague third-world countries.  Others decried his remarks as racist.  Is there any way forward?

The famed poet Dorothy Sayers once wrote:

What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person.  A certain amount of classification is, of course, necessary for practical purposes … What is unreasonable is to assume that all one’s tastes and preferences have to be conditioned by the class to which one belongs.[1]

In the midst of a white-hot debate over immigration, Sayers’ insight is a good one for us to keep in mind.  The problem with making or defending disparaging remarks concerning whole countries with regard to immigration is that whole countries do not immigrate.  Individual persons do.  And individuals ought to be treated as unique, precious, and worthy of our consideration and compassion.

But, as Sayers also notes, this does not mean that we should dismiss any and every classification.  For instance, the Scriptures themselves use the classifications of “image” and “child.”  “Image” is a classification that applies to creation.  Every person, Scripture says, is created in God’s image.  “Child” is a classification that applies specifically to redemption.  When one believes in Christ, they are adopted as God’s child.  And though these two classifications are certainly not comprehensive, they can be instructive in that they remind us that the classifications we use, first, should be generous.  Disparaging classifications are generally not helpful or productive.

Scripture cautions us against both an arrogant individualism and a dismissive collectivism.  It is important for us to remember that we are not solely individuals who have only ourselves to thank for who we are.  We are who we are due in large part to our cultural backgrounds, our experiences with others, and the help we receive from others, among many other factors.  All of these things collectively shape us.  At the same time, we are still individuals, specially and preciously created and redeemed, one at a time, by God, and we are always more than the sum total of our cultural backgrounds, our experiences with others, and the help we receive from others.  This is why, in Christ, we come to realize that so many of the classifications we once used to define ourselves, and that others use to define us, are not ultimate or unabridged.  As the apostle Paul writes:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:26-28)

In the middle of a debate over what does and does not constitute appropriate classifications for nations, let us never forget who we are as persons.  And, by God’s grace, let us treat each other accordingly.

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[1] Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 24-25.

January 15, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Comfort in Stormy Times: Reflections on Hurricane Matthew

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The people of Florida are picking up the pieces.  Along with the people of Georgia.  And the people of the Carolinas.  And the people of Cuba.  And the people of Haiti.  As Hurricane Matthew churned its way through the Caribbean and up the east coast, it left a path of destruction in its wake.  In Florida, mandatory evacuations were issued before the storm.  Grocery store shelves were stripped bare.  Gas stations were pumped dry.

It could have been worse.  They eye of Hurricane Matthew skirted much of the eastern seaboard, sparing these regions from what could have been even greater damage.  But even if things were not as bad as they could have been, this storm was still a whopper.  For a brief time, Hurricane Matthew reached Category 5 status, making it the first storm to reach a hurricane’s most powerful potential since Hurricane Felix in 2007.

Whenever a natural disaster of this magnitude strikes, it presents a unique set of struggles and questions.  When we suffer a man-made disaster in a shooting or in an accident or even in a terrorist attack, we can point to the source of the calamity and explain that the person who created the catastrophe is unstable or incompetent or even evil.  When a hurricane strikes however, there is no one from whom we can demand a mea culpa, save nature and nature’s God.  And such a mea culpa is tough to come by.

So how are we to process this disaster?  Here are a few things to keep in mind.

We cannot control everything.

In an election year such as this one, it is easy to live under the illusion that we wield a great amount of power and authority.  We do, after all, have a say – even if it is a small one – in who the leader of the free world should be.  But for every bit of control we think we have, there are so many things that simply fall outside our hands.  Hurricanes are one of these things.  We can forecast them, but we cannot steer them.  They strike where they may.  They strike with the energy that water temperatures give to them.  The smallness of our power when compared to the scope of something like the weather should lead us to marvel at the bigness of God’s creation.  There is still so much we cannot tame.

We can help others.

Though we do not have power over all things, this does not mean that we can help in some things – like in hurricane relief.   My congregation, Concordia Lutheran in San Antonio, has set up a relief fund to help those in Haiti.  We are exploring opportunities to help those in other areas as well.  You can donate by clicking here.  Part of our calling as Christians is to be a neighbor to those in need.  Being neighborly need not be constrained by proximity, nationality, economy, or any other earthly barrier.  To help others is to love Christ!  Rolling up our sleeves by opening up our pocketbooks is a great way to get involved.

There is someone who is in control.

In a world that seems shaky, it is important that we remind ourselves that just because we are not in control does not mean that everything is out of control.  Christian theologians will often describe God as omnipotent, a word that means “all power.”  In other words, God has all control.  When a storm like Matthew strikes, it serves us well to consider the many instances in Scripture that remind us that God, quite literally, guides the weather.  In the case of His disciples, Jesus saves them from a storm on the Sea of Galilee by calming it with just a word.  In the case of Jonah, God saves him with a storm that forces some sailors he is with to toss him overboard so God can send a giant fish to take the prophet where he needs to be.  In the words of the Psalmist, God can also save people through storms as they seek refuge in Him:  “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).  God, then, does not use storms in the same way in every instance.  Sometimes, He saves us from storms as weather patterns change.  Other times, he saves us with storms as these trials turn us toward Him.  Still other times, He gives us strength to make it through storms, even if they hit us straight on.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that no matter what storms – whether they be literal or figurative – this world may bring, we have assurance in them because of Christ.  When Christ was on the cross, the Gospel writers tell us that “darkness came over all the land” (Matthew 27:45).  In other words, it stormed.  But what looked like a storm of death became a storm that gave way to life three days later.   Jesus overcame the storm of the cross so that we would never be lost to the storms caused by sin.  For even if a storm takes lives, as did Hurricane Matthew, we can be assured that those who die in Christ go to a place where there is “a sea of glass, clear as crystal” (Revelation 4:6).  In other words, in heaven, the weather is a flat calm.  There, every storm has been conquered by Christ.

With the extent of the damage from Hurricane Matthew just now becoming clear, there is still a lot – economically, emotionally, and theologically – to sort through.  But this much is clear:  God does not abandon us in storms like these.  He is there.  And He cares.

October 10, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Where is God in Natural Disasters?

Credit: Charles Sykes, Associated Press

$30 billion.  That’s the amount of damage that Superstorm Sandy inflicted on just the state of New York.  New Jersey is still tallying the cost of the storm for them.  Of course, that is only the price of Sandy in dollars.  The price of Sandy in human terms is much higher.  More than 110 people lost their lives to the storm.  There is also the suffering of the survivors.  There is still no power in some areas.  Gas, though no longer rationed, is still in short supply.  People are still scavenging for basic supplies like toiletries and food.  And residents are still picking up the pieces of their shattered homesteads.

Whenever a storm of such magnitude hits, many people begin to wax metaphysical and ask, “Why?”  Why did this storm do so much damage?  Why did this storm hit in the first place?  Why did this storm hit me and ruin my life?  Why?

Over the years, Christians have had no shortage of answers – some good and some not-so-good – to the question, “Why?”  In Puritan New England, earthquakes were quite common.  In 1727, an earthquake of 5.5 on the Richter scale struck the Boston area.  In 1755, an even stronger earthquake of 6.2 struck.  The pastors of that day took these earthquakes signs of God’s judgment and called people to repent of their sins, specifically the sin of greed.  For these clergy, the answer to the “Why?” of natural disasters was quite:  God was angry at unrepentant Puritans.[1]

Blessedly, the theological answers given today are usually more nuanced and biblically sensitive, though this is not always the case.  (One thinks of Pat Robertson’s theologically inept comments following the Haiti earthquake of 2010 when he claimed the disaster specifically and Haiti’s poverty generally was the result of a pact that Haitians made the with the devil back in 1791.)[2]  Generally, however, Christians do not subscribe to such a tit for tat theory of divine retribution. After all, the story of Job unmistakably undermines such a crassly simplistic and moralistic view of retribution.

So what is the answer to the “Why?” of natural disasters, at least as far as God’s involvement is concerned?  Two points that will help us gain clarity concerning this question, even it is not fully answerable, are in order.

First, though it is treacherous to point to specific sins as causes of natural disasters, we can point to sin in general as playing a role in natural disasters.  This much is clear simply by turning the story of history’s first sin.  After Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God says to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you…It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Genesis 3:17-18).  Thorns and thistles, hurricanes and tornados, earthquakes and blizzards are all due to the sinfulness of this world.  Before the Fall, such things were of no concern.  In this way, natural disasters are not natural at all, but unnatural results of sin.

Second, we must remember that our Lord is concerned about and helps those who suffer the devastating effects of natural disasters.  I cannot help but think of the short, but poignant, story of Jesus’ disciples when they were caught in a violent storm:

Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed Him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey Him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

Jesus’ peaceful sleep while the waves are breaking over the bow of the disciples’ boat is a picture that grips me.  For, on the one hand, such a picture encapsulates the feeling of many when a natural disaster devastates their lives.  “Where was Jesus when this disaster hit?  Why didn’t He stop it?  It feels like He was sleeping on the job!”  The disciples of the first century, just like us disciples of the twenty-first century, wrestled with such quandaries.  But on the other hand, Jesus’ peaceful sleep can be of great comfort.  For it reminds us that Jesus is not rattled or roused by the storms and disasters of this world because such storms and disasters have no power over Him.  Quite the contrary.  He has power over them!  This is why, with one little word of rebuke, He can calm the raging wind and waves.

Because Jesus has prevailing sovereignty over creation, we can take refuge in Him, for we know that, even when natural disasters strike, Jesus has everything under control.  As the Psalmist reminds us:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

The earth may give way, the mountains may fall, the storms may come, but this is still our Father’s world.  He has it under His control and, even more importantly, He has it under His care.

Do not be afraid.


[1] For a brief history of the Puritan response to natural disasters, see John Fea, “Seeing the Hand of God in Natural Disasters,” Patheos Evangelical (8.31.2011).

[2] For Pat Robertson’s comments, see Ryan Smith, Pat Robertson: “Haiti ‘Cursed’ After ‘Pact to the Devil,’” CBS News (1.13.2010).

November 19, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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