Month: August 2021

U.S., Israel Working to Develop a 'Plan B' if Iran Nuclear Talks Fail

U.S., Israel Working to Develop a 'Plan B' if Iran Nuclear Talks Fail

The U.S. is working with Israel to develop a “Plan B” if nuclear discussions between the U.S. and Iran fail. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday that the countries are planning in case there is no deal. “The United States and Israel share intelligence information, and the cooperation with the United States in this…

Most Americans favor welcoming immigrants. Why don’t Christians?

Most Americans favor welcoming immigrants. Why don’t Christians?

(RNS) — For generations, members of the Christian tradition have told stories of wayward travelers, refugees fleeing persecution and migrant peoples traversing country borders in pursuit of a better life. Mary and Joseph themselves fled to Egypt with the infant Jesus to protect him from King Herod, according to the Gospel of Matthew. Presumably they were not impeded by an 18-foot border wall on their trip from Bethlehem. How we should act toward these travelers is laid out in passages such as Leviticus 19:34, Zechariah 7:9 and Jeremiah 22:3: It is our religious duty to treat immigrants with kindness. In his Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul tells us that we should ignore national boundaries: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female,” he writes, “for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
While we can’t expect the government to do the work our faith calls us to do, U.S. immigration policy is, to Christians, a religious issue. Our faith demands generous compassion for those in need — that we care for our neighbors as we care for ourselves. With a 250 million-strong Christian base, it’s a wonder that our country does not employ radical open-border policies. 
One group of Christians in particular consistently misses the mark in viewing immigration policy through a Christian lens. A 2018 PRRI poll of more than 2,500 American adults concluded that 75% of white evangelical Protestant Republicans, the highest percentage of any Republican group, believe immigrants are invading American society. 
And a PEW research poll also found that 68% of white evangelicals believe the United States does not have a responsibility to house refugees — a significantly higher percentage than the national average.
This is especially startling when contrasted with polling from March 2013, which found 56% of white evangelical Protestants supported a path to citizenship. This begs the question, are evangelical voters nationwide having a crisis of faith, or are they simply allowing the politicization of immigration policy to cloud their Christian duty? 
My colleagues and I at Vote Common Good recently traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border in search of the truth. It was in looking past the countless articles, data points and Democratic and Republican narratives that we found families — our neighbors — waiting for deliverance. A single trip to the border has humanized my entire outlook on our nation’s immigration policy.
A group of migrants mainly from Honduras and Nicaragua wait along a road after turning themselves in upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, in La Joya, Texas, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
At a shelter near New Galas, Mexico, I spoke with five women from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. They shared their individual stories of poverty, danger and civic unrest that led them to the border. Each noted that God had sent them on a mission to protect their children. They looked to us, a group of pastors and other people of faith, for assistance. I was heartbroken to be unable to provide immediate relief.
I ask evangelicals to reflect on the following: How can we fight for religious freedom while upholding regulations that stop people from fulfilling God’s calling? Any one of us, if called upon by God to protect our family and seek immediate asylum, would obey.
Our group was not alone at the border. Countless faith leaders have traveled to immigrant shelters to offer their support. Most claim that they’ve been called to this work by God and by their Christian duty. Our moral obligation to help our neighbors is being too easily overshadowed by Republican demands for “law and order” and xenophobic fear mongering. 
Most Americans favor a common good approach to immigration policy, one that welcomes immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers through a clear, fair, accessible path to migrate to the United States. This was apparent just last week, when thousands called on the Biden administration to resettle the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program applicants fleeing newly Taliban-occupied Kabul.
The common good means recognizing that this country does not belong to a select number of Americans. Our Constitution’s preamble begins with “We the People”: We, the people, are a nation of diversity with the largest immigrant population in the world. This remains our greatest strength. Just 2% of our population identifies as Native American or Alaska Native; the other 98%, it might be argued, have no greater claim to this land than the immigrants seeking to cross our borders today. 
Religious leaders have immense influence in their communities. While I do not expect an immediate change in tone from Republican evangelical leaders on issues of immigration, I call on them to join us in traveling to the border and bearing witness to those being detained.
Vote Common Good’s 3,200 mile bike ride along the border from San Diego, California, to St. Augustine, Florida, departs Sept. 10, and all are welcome to join.
During our travels, we will center the stories of those most impacted by U.S. immigration policy and share their experiences and treatment widely. We will look to those living on the border for answers, opportunities and changes to immigration policy, while connecting and learning from immigrants to deepen our nation’s understanding and ability to call for just action at our border.
Doug Pagitt. Courtesy photo
It is our Christian duty to fight for fair immigration policy. In traveling to the border, we hope to remind the public that immigration is a human story and encourage our nation’s 90 million evangelical voters to view it in this Christian light.
(Doug Pagitt is an American evangelical pastor, social activist, author and executive director of Vote Common Good, a group that works to inspire, energize and mobilize people of faith to make the common good their voting criterion. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

'Israelis Are Terrified' by U.S. Debacle in Afghanistan, Joel Rosenberg Says

'Israelis Are Terrified' by U.S. Debacle in Afghanistan, Joel Rosenberg Says

An author and Middle East expert who resides in Israel says Israeli citizens are troubled by the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s sudden takeover. Joel Rosenberg, an author and journalist who has dual citizenship in the United States and Israel, said Monday on TBN’s Huckabee that America’s chaotic withdrawal has impacted Israel….

Byzantine-Era Gold Coin Depicting Jesus' Crucifixion Unearthed in Israel

Byzantine-Era Gold Coin Depicting Jesus' Crucifixion Unearthed in Israel

Israeli archaeologists working for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have discovered a Byzantine-era gold coin depicting Jesus’ Crucifixion. According to CBN News, the coin was one of several artifacts found during an excavation by Ramat Ha-Sharon, a city near Tel Aviv. The rare gold coin was believed to have been minted in 638 or 639…

10,000 People Forced to Evacuate as Wildfire Rages On Outside of Jerusalem

10,000 People Forced to Evacuate as Wildfire Rages On Outside of Jerusalem

Israel is asking allies for help as the country tries to battle a wildfire outside of Jerusalem that started over the weekend. Initially, Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service was able to gain control of the fire, but it then spread to burn about 5,000 acres of forested area near west Jerusalem. Some 75 firefighting teams…

Israel's Iron Dome Intercepts Rocket Fired from Gaza

Israel's Iron Dome Intercepts Rocket Fired from Gaza

The Israel Defense Forces Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted a rocket believed to be fired by Gaza terrorists on Monday afternoon. There were no reports of injuries or damage, according to the Israel Defense Forces. However, the rocket was the first fired from the Gaza Strip since May’s 11-day war between Israeli and Palestinian…

LDS church pushes leaders further, adds welcoming refugees to official handbook

LDS church pushes leaders further, adds welcoming refugees to official handbook

(RNS) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has added a new section to its official handbook for lay leaders, calling on members to support refugees in their local communities. In doing so, the faith’s governing body has enshrined the issue in one of its most influential texts, where it is likely to remain for years to come.In addition, authors of the General Handbook have added new language admonishing members not to let politics drive a wedge between them.
The insertion on refugees is brief. “Church members offer their time, talents, and friendship to welcome refugees as members of their communities,” it reads in part. Supporting the call to action are two scriptures: one from the Book of Mormon and the other the Book of Matthew, both centered on the need to care for the poor.
Announced Aug. 4, the addition marks the latest in a series of attempts by Mormon leaders to elevate the issue among its global membership. The faith’s First Presidency, the highest-ranking body in the church, called on members to seek local opportunities to assist in refugee resettlement in a 2015 statement. The following year, church leaders launched the “I Was a Stranger” campaign, an ongoing effort directed at connecting Latter-day Saints with local organizations serving refugees. 
“The focus has really been on refugees since then,” said Laurie Maffly-Kipp, a professor of history and religion at Washington University in St. Louis, adding that female leaders in particular have taken up the cause in earnest. 
“It’s been an effort, both at the grassroots and in the leadership from the Relief Society, to get women and families in particular involved in care of refugees,” she said, referring to the church’s women’s organization.  
Denise Swanson was 13 when her family fled Chile’s military dictatorship for Canada. The seven of them landed in Quebec, where they had no friends or family. As Latter-day Saints, they did have the church, however. Local members rushed to their aid, registering the children for school, providing hot meals and furnishing their new apartment. 
“I don’t think we could have done it without their help,” she said. 
Not every Mormon she’s encountered on her journey has been equally welcoming. In 2002, she married a Utah native and moved to the United States. Once here, she quickly observed a “disconnect” between the help some Mormons were happy to offer to individual refugees and immigrants in their own congregations, and their views toward refugees and immigrants as a group. 
“I hear people complain about immigration or immigration reform, but at the same time be willing to help immigrants in the ward,” she said. Some of the more conservative members she encounters aren’t even open to doing that much. 
Members of a U.S.-bound migrant caravan stand on a road after federal police briefly blocked their way outside the town of Arriaga, Mexico, on Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Swanson said it has warmed her heart to see the church become more active and outspoken in support of caring for refugees in recent years, even if she’s skeptical it will be enough to convince more resistant Latter-day Saints to come around on the issue. 
“I feel like in some areas the members aren’t really taking that message to heart,” she said. 
There’s evidence to support her pessimism. In March, the church added a section to the handbook encouraging members to “safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.” Five months later, the vaccination rate for Utah County, home to one of the highest percentages of Latter-day Saints anywhere in the country, is just 37% .
Meanwhile, a study by PRRI and Interfaith Youth Core found that only half of Mormons in the United States say they have been vaccinated or definitely plan to be.
Tucked amid these clear statements on highly politicized topics are other revisions aimed directly at defusing political tension among members. The latest version of the handbook discourages members from judging one another for their political beliefs or using church meetings as a setting for political advocacy. “All should feel welcome in church settings,” it states. 
According to Maffly-Kipp, statements like this one represent church leaders’ hope to “try and create some kind of middle ground” in an increasingly polarized society, particularly in the United States. “The question is whether both the right and the left will let them.”
Rob Taber is ready to oblige. Besides teaching history and government at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, Taber is the national director at Latter-day Saints for Biden-Harris. He called the new language “most welcome,” noting that in the past, he’s watched in alarm as some have used church buildings, lessons and resources such as membership lists for “electioneering purposes.” 
“Moving forward, I hope that we can focus on our shared testimony of Jesus Christ and the Restoration and what these truths mean for us, our family and our communities,” he said.
Tamarra Kemsley. Courtesy photo
Others are less thrilled. The way commenters on the far-right LDS Freedom Forum see it, statements like these are slowly stripping the church of its power and purpose. What’s left, said a user known as Chip, is “a zero-energy nothing-burger event.”
(Tamarra Kemsley writes on the intersection of faith and politics. Follow her on Twitter @tamarranicole. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Israeli Archaeologists Uncover Evidence of Biblical Earthquake Mentioned in Amos, Zechariah

Israeli Archaeologists Uncover Evidence of Biblical Earthquake Mentioned in Amos, Zechariah

Archaeologists in Israel say they have uncovered physical evidence in Jerusalem of an earthquake referenced in the biblical books of Amos and Zechariah that struck during the divided kingdom and after the reigns of David and Solomon. Zechariah 14:5, seen by many as a reference to the second coming of Christ, says, “You will flee…