Posts Tagged politics

Politics shaped by religion – Immigration

I’m breaking my rule by posting about something that’s come up in the recent news. I’ve written about immigration before, but with recent events, I feel that I need to write more. A couple of times I’ve tried writing about our foreign policy, but they never seemed to come together enough to post. Anyway, the need feels just too strong.

The US immigration policy is a terrible morass, and for some reason the people seem to think it isn’t strong enough. Xenophobia, being afraid of people who we don’t see as “us”, is settled in deeply, and the policies we’ve had toward immigrants reflect that. I wish the most recent moves were surprising. Unfortunately, it’s just another step in the direction we’ve been heading for some time. It’s not just the fear that “those people are taking our jobs” but also the fear that we may have terrorist attacks against us.

This ties in to our horrible foreign policy, making ourselves into the “policeman of the world”, destabilizing, threatening, and invading countries we believe have either slighted us or interfere with “our business interests”. This is a whole other post unto itself, but the point is that we feel we can do whatever we’d like in the world but are afraid that we’ll get hurt. When we do get hurt, our retaliation is far, far more disproportionate. If we get hurt by the thousand (which is incredibly rare), we retaliate by bombing and displacing by the million. This isn’t being a peacemaker, but a schoolyard bully.

Despite being a nation of immigrants, we’ve never really liked having immigrants. The longer we (or our ancestors) have been in this country, the more we feel like the first laborers in the vineyard who started work at the beginning of the day (from the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Matt 20:1-15). We get jealous of the people who seem to have just come in and are getting the same pay.

The US currently admits a million immigrants, legally, each year. It seems like a lot, but compared to the number of citizens (319 million), it barely a drip of a faucet, not a fire hose on full blast. While the numbers are higher than any other nation, as a percentage of the population, we’re only 11th in admitting immigrants.

For illegal immigrants, we have about 11 million. About half of these are border crossings from Mexico, at a rate of about half a million a year. For all of the Presidents’ talk of a wall, we’ve been working on walls and mass deportations for the entirety of the 21st century. The increases in border security and in deportations haven’t made of much a dent in this. Border security has high costs compared to other methods, and is rather easily circumvented.

A better option would be to begin more prosecution of employers who hire illegal immigrants, but there we hit a bit of a snag – we use them for a lot of jobs that we don’t want to pay a good wage. Just like the sweatshops we deride overseas, paying people pennies for repetitive, difficult, or even dangerous work, we’d rather keep these people faceless and nameless, only caring that we get our food, clothes, etc easily and cheaply.

These two forces, xenophobia and use of the faceless, are what drives our attitude toward immigrants. These attitudes transcend political leanings and parties, ages and income levels.

As a people, we need to do better. We should be doing more in helping the refugees we helped create. We should create protections for the people we use. We should be using our riches, our strength, our determination to succeed to help those around us, not squeeze tighter, afraid we’ll lose what we have. We should be sharing what has made this Nation great (and it has always been great, even when we don’t agree, have missteps, or are wandering in the wrong direction). Most of all, we should share our gratitude for the many blessings we have received, even those things we (mistakenly) think God had no hand in, that we achieved by our own “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, and work to make life better for everyone, not just “us”.

These are our brothers and sisters. We can do better than this. We can -be- better than this.

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Politics shaped by religion – Gun Control

A few months ago I had the opportunity to try and put into words some of my political beliefs and how those beliefs had been shaped by my religion. I’ve never registered for any political party, though I do occasionally wonder if I could try getting into politics to try and help make the world a better place. I usually come to the conclusion that I’m not articulate enough in being able to either express or defend my views, nor am I strongly enough in the camp of any political party that I would have any hope of succeeding in elections, so politics is not likely to happen for me. But I do feel occasionally that I need to get my opinions on these things out somewhere, even to my limited audience, to help me better clarify these things in my own mind.

My beliefs may or may not align with yours, my Country, or my Church, but they are mine and mine alone. I speak for no one but myself and am not an example of “the standard” of any group. I’m glad for discussions on these things, but know that they are not likely to shift my beliefs by much in any direction.

Gun Control

The 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution reads simply, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The interpretation of this has been a matter of quite a bit of debate over the centuries since it was written. I don’t believe there is any strong position of the Church on this. Not many people discuss “militias”, as the connotation is crazy people grouping together to wait for society to fall apart or the government to come and force them to do something they don’t want. I’m actually just fine with people having a hobby of training to be soldiers and preparing for the worst. People have all sorts of strange hobbies. The only problem I’d have is when they start to use their training to impose their ideals on others or use those guns to actually break the law. If they are built on hate or prejudice against a particular people, then their own weight will bring them down.

For guns themselves I don’t believe we need much regulation at all. The only place I’d put regulations are in banning automatic weapons, autonomous weapons, and explosives. For all the various shootings, the attempts at any other regulations seem to be poor attempts at being seen to do something to stop such things happening. The rhetoric on both sides of the issue, unrestricted freedom to carry any kind of gun anywhere and removing all guns from everyone, seem to be rooted in trying to make sure “they” don’t hurt “us”. We may not be able to articulate who “they” are, but we are going to use guns to stop “them”. This is building nothing but fear and division, and will accomplish nothing but making our problems worse.

They problem is that “they” are part of “us”. The shooters, the victims, the hobbyists, the bystanders, the gun makers, the gun sellers, are all part of “us”. Every time something happens we quickly try to place people into a group that is part of “them”, but they are always “us”, our neighbors, our friends, our family. This is probably the core of all my political and religious views – what can we do to help “us” be better? Not looking at what we can do to make “them” be better, like taking away all guns or proudly carrying loaded guns to discourage “them” from wanting to shoot someone, but helping people to learn and grow and not want to shoot others (or themselves).

I’m not a hunter and am quite glad I don’t need to be to feed my family. I see guns as a potentially dangerous tool that should be used and cared for properly just like any other tool I might have in my home. I believe anyone who handles a gun should be trained on how to care for and use it properly, but I do not believe we should force anyone to take such care. I believe we can keep ourselves mindful of the dangers without needing laws to enforce compliance to good usage and care. Additional attention to and making available help for mental health issues would be of much greater effect in reducing death and pain from shooting than any gun control or open carry demonstration could ever have.

But that would be looking at “us”.

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An example of how to treat refugees from the Book of Mormon

As my health permits, I am one of the teachers for a class of 10 year olds each Sunday. We tend to have only 3-4 students, all boys, almost all with some sort of disability that makes it difficult for them to sit and learn. I can sympathize with them, as my own uniqueness makes it difficult to either sit still or pay attention to things around me. Anyway, last weeks lesson was on the people in the Book of Mormon called the “Anti-Nephi-Lehis”. It’s a mouthful of a name, but the people wanted a name that reflected their commitment to the gospel and their forefathers who came out of Jerusalem several hundred years earlier.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehis were Lamanites who had converted to Christ and wanted to disavow themselves of all of the violence and sin that had previously been a part of their culture. They went so far as to bury their weapons of war. When the Lamanites came to kill them, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis simply bowed down and let themselves be slaughtered. (In this instance, the attackers stopped the slaughter and were also converted, more joining the Anti-Nephi-Lehis than were killed.) To stop further potential massacres, the Nephites offered the land of Jershon, well within the borders of the Nephite lands, and vowed to protect these people with their armies.

This got me to wondering. Would this be a possible way to help at least a portion of the many refugees we have created in the world? Could we find a place somewhere in our vast country to put these people and let them build a community of their own? If they would be willing to be subject to the State and National laws, why could we not give them a place where they could govern and build themselves up? I’m not saying they would need to convert to some form of Christianity, as it should be the Spirit that guides them, not compulsion by support. I am also not saying there wouldn’t be many, many logistical and political issues that would need to be dealt with, as there will be many.

What I’m asking is, what would it take to give up a small portion of our vast lands and resources to help some hundred thousand people escape from a war torn land, a place where they face starvation, death, and many other privations through no fault of their own? I know it goes against the very American idea that the people should just buckle down and fix the place where they are, but that is nearly impossible when your children are starving and there are no safe places to work, much less start a business, if there were any money to do so.

What do you think? Can we take this example of charity in the Book of Mormon and apply it to our own times?

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Political ideals – Immigration

We have been told to make Zion wherever we are, but Zion cannot be found where people, where families, do not feel safe.

My ancestors, almost as far as 400 years ago, came to this continent as illegal immigrants. No, there weren’t codified laws as such, but the land wasn’t just theirs for the taking. Why should I deny this land to anyone else?

I want to address some of the objections I’ve seen.
– “They’re leaving families behind”
In doing family history work, I’ve seen many, many families that were separated for a time, some for their entire life) because of the need to go where the work is, to find a way to help the family survive. Some took jobs on the railroad, being gone for weeks or months at a time. Some widowers placed their children in orphanages to establish themselves in a job so they could afford being able to take care of them. Some went ahead in new territory to establish themselves and make a place their families could live with less hardship. These were the choices these people made for the circumstances in their own lives.
I sometimes wonder how others are judging my own choices in how I try to build my family and home, and try to remember that they’re not in a position to judge, just as I cannot adequately judge how they are managing their homes. Despite times when I have seen people actively working to try and abuse the generosity of institutions and people around them, I still have to believe that people in general are doing their best with what they have. I hope others can show me the same charity of judgment.
In addition to this, our Government (the United States) isn’t doing a good job of keeping families together when they to immigrate together. The system separates by age and gender, effectively making everyone, even those with families, into single, childless, orphans. If we need a system to work people through the process of sending them out of the Country, then it needs to treat families as whole groups no matter what their size or makeup. Treat them as people, not widgets.

– “They should stay where they are and find work there”
We keep forgetting that we’re not just one Country; we’re a collection of States. When I graduated college, I wanted to move from Utah to Washington, where the jobs in my field would be. Should I have stayed where I was? Possibly, but the work that I was trained to do, the work that I wanted to do, wasn’t really there. How would it feel if you moved to another place and the reaction was “we don’t want your kind here”? Would you want them to welcome you to their community, to enjoy the unique contributions you bring, or would you prefer they keep you in isolation so you don’t “contaminate” their culture? If your response is “we’re all Americans, American culture is the same everywhere”, then you need to do more travelling and really look at the differences region to region.
If you think that illegal immigrants are taking your jobs, then you need to look harder at what jobs you’re willing to do. I’m a fan of Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs) on this; there is lots of work out there if you change your ideas of what you “deserve”. Yes, this is coming from someone who isn’t physically able to go out and dig ditches all day, but that’s why it was important for me to get an education; so I wouldn’t have to. If you are willing to use what you have (and to build up what you want) there are plenty of opportunities around.

– “Those people are just lazy and wanting to milk the system”
This is a cross between plain racism and classism. If you ever classify “those people” or any specific group as being all the same, you need to take a good look at the groups you are a part of but may never have seem it being unfairly labeled. “Mormons are polygamists” – “Women are too emotional” – “I’m glad for the charter school, cause it doesn’t have so many Mexicans” – “Gun owners are dangerous hicks” Some of these generalizations sting more than others. Some hurt deeply, even if they weren’t meant to do so. They are not all the same in effect, but they should all be removed from use, in deed, word, and thought. This is not censorship, this is warning you of the poison that it is to your own soul. If you make these kinds of judgments, expect pushback. I may not even be nice about it, because this kind of thinking is dangerous and hurtful not only to others, but to you. If I push back, it’s because I want you to be better.
As I mentioned, I do know those who “milk the system”. For one reason or another they believe they deserve what they can get. For them, no one “deserves” anything. It doesn’t matter what it is, a relationship, living expenses, whatever, it needs work or it isn’t going to happen. I’ve been glad for the help I’ve been given, and I know that at any time that help cold not be available to me, so I will keep working to find ways to make life work without help. Hopefully, I’ll then be more able to help others in need. Now, while there are some who take advantage, it is a very, very small percentage of those who actually need the help. We should not punish everyone for the crimes of the few; we should punish the few for their own transgressions.

– “We just don’t have the room/resources”
We’re a rich country. We lead rich lives full of luxuries of which many in other countries could not even dream. But no matter how much we have, we never think we’re rich. Do you have a home, food, clothing? You’re doing a lot better than a lot of the world, especially those who tend to be immigrants. We are so wasteful with our resources, food, water, “luxuries”, that it would only take a little improvement to make room for someone else.
Ok, let’s say you’re -not- rich. Does that mean you’re exempt from giving help? To put it Biblically, “God Forbid.” Christ didn’t give caveats to the boon of helping the poor. No matter how little you have, there are those with less. And, if your only “more” is being a citizen, why refuse that gift to someone else?

I could go on, but that’s enough for now. There are people in need, and our response should not be putting up a wall so we don’t have to see them, nor should it be shoving them into a machine as if they were not human beings.

Those of us who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) should be better than that. Far better.

Official Church Statement

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The Separation of Religion and Politics

One of the biggest issues coming out of the gay marriage debate is the role that different religions have in influencing people one way or another, some decrying a lack of separation between “The Church” and “The State”.

Historically, we Americans tend to love having religion, so long as no religion becomes big enough to tell anyone what to do. We have had anti-Catholic riots, anti-Mormon mob killings, and various other anti-religion demonstrations of varying degrees of force. Currently we continue with anti-Muslim sentiment (because “they” must all be the same and want to take away my rights) and a renewed anti-Mormon sentiment (because “they” told their followers to be against gay marriage).

I don’t pretend to know what the founding fathers were thinking when they put in the First Amendment of the Constitution “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” nor do I know how the Supreme Court defines the “Separation of Church and State”. What I want to know is – how do you separate someone’s religious beliefs, no matter what religion they belong to, from their political beliefs?

To me, religion can’t directly influence politics. People are extremely free to go in and out of any religion if they don’t agree with what the Church as a whole believes. If a Church declares that it is against Gay marriage, and directs its members to work against it, each person has to decide if they believe the same as that Church, or if they do not. You do not have to believe what anyone tells you to believe, and if you don’t believe what your Church believes, why be part of that Church?

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