Archive for July, 2007

Immigrants and Strangers

July 26, 2007

When I read the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats recently for Gospel Doctrine class, I realized it was relevant not only to our treatment of the poor generally, but very specifically to the recent discussion on immigration which has been such a hot button issue in our nation over the past few years.

“I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” The Savior didn’t specify “a stranger who is a lawful citizen of your particular nation or a legally processed foreign national.” Nor did he specify “a stranger who speaks your nations language and who holds job skills highly attractive to employers in your community.” No, the Lord simply says “stranger.”

Might it then be that he might judge us for how we treat those “strangers” who immigrate into our land for the greater opportunities available here, or how we advocate that our nation treat them?

The Hebraic law of Leviticus is very direct about how Lord would have his followers treat immigrants.

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).

As was Moses in his final messages to the Hebrews.

He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).

As the scriptures refers to the children of Israel as “strangers in the land of Egypt” in both verses, it is clear that they are using the term “stranger” to mean “immigrant, foreigner” (note also that footnote c in verse 18 explains that “stranger” could be translated as “alien”). We are warned specifically not to vex (oppress, trouble) the stranger, but rather to love them as one of us, help them find a place among us (“food and raiment”).

Doesn’t exactly sound like a call to evict them, criminalize them, or denounce them as Marxist Satanists who hate us and are out to destroy “Christian America.”

Let us put aside the provincialism and fearmongering when considering immigration. Instead, remember the counsel of the scriptures. These people are children of God looking for a better life, just like us and our forefathers who came here in the first place. We should craft a moral, charitable immigration policy which will help them do so.


Social Justice I: The Need to Help the Poor

July 23, 2007

When Christians, including Mormons, talk about the “threat” of homosexuality, they invariably fall back on the argument of Sodom and Gomorrah. They don’t want our society to face condemnation by encouraging the sin of homosexuality which led to the downfall of those cities. However, as I’ve noted before in a prior comment, the case for this interpretation is thin at best. The one incident leading to this conclusion, in which the men of Sodom call for Lot to send out the Lord’s messengers visiting him so that the men of Sodom could “know” them (Genesis 19:5) sounds more like prison rape—an act of violence to establish power and intimidation—than it does homosexuality.

From that one example most people assume a link between homosexuality and the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah. We can certainly assume that there was a percentage of the population which was attracted to and romantically pursued members of the same gender, just as there has been in every civilization in every age on the planet. But to make the claim that widespread homosexuality was the primary cause for the destruction of Sodom based on this one story is a bit dubious.

What then was the sin of Sodom? What stirred the wrath of God? Ezekial enumerates the sins of that city in condemning the same sins within Israel during the Babylonian Captivity.

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good. (Ezekial 16:49-50)

Sodom was proud, full of bread (materially wealthy? self-indulgent and concerned with self-gratification? Fat and sassy?), and unwilling to aid the poor and needy. Sexual sin may well have been widespread, but Ezekial asserts that it is was primarily due to selfishness, greed, arrogance, and lack of charity that the Lord eradicated Sodom and Gomorrah.

Among Jesus’ parables was that of the Sheep and the Goats, a metaphor for the final judgment at the end of this dispensation.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink.

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (Matthew 25:31-45)

The Savior does not list swearing, Word of Wisdom related problems, tattoos, number and location of jewelry, or sexually promiscuity—as grave a sin as it may be—as qualifications for goathood. No, it is our lack of charity and action toward our brothers and sisters in need which He claims will be the decisive factor in the final judgment. Why then do we as a culture get so wound up about the former sins, and so casual about the latter? What does it say about our moral priorities?

References to the importance of charity for the downtrodden and destitute are hardly obscure or isolated in the scriptures. Time and again the words of the prophets reiterate the importance of caring for the poor.

  • And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:10)
  • If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
  • Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. (Psalms 41:1)
  • He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. (Proverbs 14:21)
  • He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse. (Proverbs 28:27)
  • Is it [the purpose of fasting] not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isaiah 58:7)
  • Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity. (Daniel 4:27)
  • Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. (Mark 10:21)
  • The parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:30-35)
  • But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:13-14)
  • And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)
  • And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given. (Mosiah 18:27)
  • And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely. (Alma 1:27)
  • And it came to pass in the commencement of the ninth year, Alma saw the wickedness of the church…some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were thirst, and those who were sick and afflicted. Now this was a great cause for lamentations among the people, while others were abasing themselves, succoring those who stood in need of their succor, such as imparting their substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions… (Alma 4:11-13)
  • Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you. And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men. (Alma 34:27-29)
  • For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. (Mormon 8:37)
  • Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor… (3 Nephi 13:1)
  • Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not? (Mormon 8:39)
  • Behold, I say unto you, that ye must visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief, that they may be kept until all things may be done according to my law which ye have received. (D&C 44:6)
  • And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple. (D&C 52:40)
  • Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls… (D&C 56:16)
  • Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them? (Alma 5:55)

This is just a small handful of the scriptures referring to our duty to come to the aid of the poor. Evangelical minister Jim Wallis insisted in his book,God’s Politics, that he and his fellow students found several thousand verses in the Bible regarding our duties to the poor (p. 212)—and we Mormons have a further two books in our canon beyond his filled with the same admonitions!

There are abundant historical and social reasons to battle poverty and its causes (the most self-interested being that poverty leads to rising crime and violence; if given the choice between paying more to help reduce poverty and paying more for police and security measures to fight rising crime, I choose the former), and plenty of scholarly writings to explain those secular justifications. But for me, the most important reason is simply because our Lord requires it of us; because if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27), we must sacrifice and serve them. It is not acceptable to try to separate ourselves from the poor, to remove them from our communities, ban them from our streets, and pretend they don’t exist. Just because they are economically segregated from those of us living in our suburban bedroom communities does not mean they aren’t there, and that we don’t have an obligation to help them. It is clear from the revelation that active effort to improve the social welfare of the less fortunate is not just a good idea, not just something nice to do if we can get around to it—it is a fundamental aspect of the Gospel of Jesus.

As Rob Miller, vice-chairman of the Utah Democratic Party has frequently quipped, the Lord promises to bless us liberally, not conservatively. (I like to note further in teasing my conservative friends that the scriptures abound in references to the word “liberal” in the context of describing God, his actions, and his people. The word “conservative” is not to be found therein). One of the definitions of the word “liberal,” the definition used in those scriptural references, is “characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts.” The Lord wants us to be liberal in our relationship to the poor. The modern Liberal ideology, with its embrace of social justice, addresses this responsibility. It recognizes, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, that “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little (1937 Presidential Inaugural Address).” The methods by which to fulfill this responsibility—from the diverse private and NGO program options to government programs such as public health care, public education, food, housing, and employment programs, unemployment support, minimum wage, legal protection of labor and the right to unionize, et al—all have their merits and defects, and are subject to debate. Our divinely appointed duty is not.


Recommended Reading:

  • Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Ron Sider
  • God’s Politics, Jim Wallis

Jill Rauhn criticizes the World Bank

July 18, 2007

Jill Rauhn, a member of The Center for Concern, a Jesuit Catholic organization for social activism, is concerned about the disingenuous and unethical nature of the World Bank and other global financial institutions. Read her article, A Fox in the Henhouse.

Salt Lake City Council Officially Approves Xeriscaping

July 13, 2007

My wife and I have enjoyed long walks together the past few warm seasons, both to go places without jumping in the car, and just to get some exercise and fresh air (such as it is considering the growth of Utah’s summer air quality problems). And as we’ve wandered through the neighborhoods of the city, we’ve been fascinated and delighted to see the growth of xeriscaping in the yards around us. From simple Japanese rock gardens (also known as “zen” gardens); to lush, colorful forests of drought tolerant plants; to carefully planned terraces highlighting elegantly spare clusters of flora, we’ve seen a multitude of options for individualizing yards and making them more appropriate for Utah’s desert environment than the ubiquitous, bland, water-intensive lawns (see some examples of Utah xeriscaping here*). These citizens are “making the desert blossom as a rose” while still being good stewards of the land. We hope to follow their example when we ourselves become homeowners.

Its nice to see the Salt Lake City Council catching on, changing the city landscaping ordinances to officially permit this sort of landscaping. Hopefully cities throughout the state will continue to move in this direction, permitting and even encouraging ecologically-sound landscaping in our beautiful desert.

Want to learn more about xeriscaping in Utah? Tour USU’s Botanical Center in Kaysville (still in development, but with ongoing programs) and the associated Utah House, which shows off a colorful xeriscaped yard and garden. Or visit the University of Utah’s Red Butte Garden, with classes, demonstrations, and a wide range of xeriscaping examples.

*I’m linking to this site only because it provides good photos of a sampling of the xeriscaping options possible in Utah. I am not familiar with the company Xeriscape Design, and while I agree with their philosophy, I do not know enough about the company to endorse their services.

Al-Qaeda on the Rebound

July 12, 2007

This administration has insisted on pouring money and lives down the gaping maw that is the Iraq occupation on the rational that “winning” the battle for Iraq is crucial to winning the War on Terror.

And yet, despite the money spent and lives both lost and destroyed (ours and Iraq’s) in sacrifice to the administration’s strategy, a new intelligence report indicates that Al Qaeda—the perpetrator of the 9/11 catastrophe and the foremost global terrorist organization—is currently stronger than it has been since the 9/11 attack. The title of the report is chilling: “Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West.”

Yet more evidence that the policies of this administration in specific, and the eager recourse to force by the political hawks in general, are futile and self-defeating.

Some of My Favorite Summer Events

July 6, 2007

I love summer in the city. Salt Lake City is full of great, dynamic cultural and social events through the summer months, most of which are free. July is particularly well stocked. Here are a few of the upcoming offerings which my wife and I enjoy.

Tonight and tomorrow, we’ll be taking in the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival. I’m no huge fan of jazz music specifically, but I love broadening my musical experience at this acclaimed festival. Many national music critics have noted that this is one of the better music festivals in the nation—and unlike many of its peers, its free! Last year we took in a fascinating Japanese Jazz fusion with a choreographed Odaiko (a Japanese drum) performance and extensive use of the Koto (the surfboard with strings). Very fascinating.

We are able to take in a lot of music here during the summer. Starting last night (though we were unable to attend) was the Twilight Concert Series at Gallivan Plaza. They showcase a wide variety of musical styles, all free of charge, every Thursday night at 7:00 through Aug 23. Last year we were impressed by a very good Pink Floyd cover band, a Latin band, and a wild zydeco band.

And you have a choice for your Thursday night music experience. The Sprague branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library hosts the Sounds of Summer concert series on the patio every Thursday night at 7:00. Smaller and more intimate, the Sounds of Summer series concentrates on local groups and individuals playing folk, classical, and traditional acoustic music. The Anderson-Foothill branch hosts the similar concert series, Concerts by the Creek, at their creekside amphitheater on Wednesdays.

Evenings aren’t the only option for your musical entertainment. Through September 14, you can take your lunch at Gallivan for the Lunch Bunch concert series.

If you like movies, you don’t need to pay big bucks to go to the local megaplex. Gallivan Plaza again hosts the Sundance Outdoor Film Festival, showing selected films every Monday at nightfall.

Like the Blues? It costs $5, but the Summertime Blues concert at Gallivan is a great opportunity to take in some great national blues talent here in SLC.

Everyone in Utah knows about the Days of ‘47 parade. But that is hardly the end of the city’s celebrations. We’ve made the Native American Celebration in the Park a tradition. A number of bands of various ethnicities and genres perform at various stages, fun festival food abounds, and members of Native American tribes from around the region hold an intertribal powwow in full regalia. Hang around until dark, and you can watch the local fireworks. Its always extremely hot, but very enriching and a great way to freshen up the traditional pioneer-oriented celebrations.

Want something a little more exotic? How about the Kismet Belly Dancing Festival at the Utah Cultural Heritage Center, August 17-18? The Charge is only $5, quite a bargain for this exhibition of an ancient art form.

We were a bit disappointed with it last year, but in years past we’ve rather enjoyed the Salt Lake American Muslim Festival, August 25-26 at Washington Square. Focused both on developing mutual respect and understanding between the various ethnic and religious communities in SLC, and on improving awareness of and support for low-income service providers, the festival hosts a number of performers and boths which potentially can host some fascinating dialogues.

And I could hardly neglect to mention the local farmers markets. There are many around the state and county, but the one with which I’m familiar is the Downtown Farmer’s Market. You can purchase not only locally grown produce, but also locally (and typically organically and otherwise progressively) produced soaps, breads, jams, honeys, and even arts and crafts. Even if you have no intention of purchasing anything, it is a great place for a walk to see the sights and people watch.

Why mention these events? Why bother with them? We have all sorts of modern entertainment opportunities right in the comfort of our homes. With TV, cable, satellite service, personal CD and DVD collections, Netflix, the internet, MMORGs, X-box, Game cube, Wii, et al, already in our plush, air-conditioned houses, what reason is there to leave the comfort of home to be entertained?

It is precisely because of all those marvelous technological innovations that we need to be reminded of the importance of social recreation. As much as I enjoy my online friends and the opportunity to get to know people across the nation and even planet, virtual relationships can never provide the connections which face to face interaction with tangible people do. As Robert Putnam pointed out in his book Bowling Alone, the ties which held us together in communities are fraying as we rush to take advantage of modern communication, transportation, and entertainment developments.

This is not how we are made to be. Humanity is a social species. We have typically gathered in communities, rather than seek out isolation. Religiously speaking, God does not call for his followers to disperse to live as hermits in solitary contemplation. Whenever he has manifested himself, in prior dispensations and modern, he has called on his followers to gather together, to become a family. As we go out and socialize, participating in community service or recreational events, we strengthen those ties, meet others with whom we might never normally associate, hear different viewpoints, broaden our persectives, and learn to grow in empathy and love.

There are simply too many wonderful experiences out there waiting to happen to sit here writing this blog (scintillating as it is). Things to do and people to see, you know! Check with your local community and see what catches your eye. And if you have a particular social event you love, post a comment. I’d love to hear about some new gem.