Romans 11 – The Economic Benefits of Inclusion

11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring! (Read the rest of today’s chapter here!)

Paul’s plea for unity and inclusion

“If their loss means riches for the Gentiles,” Paul says, referring to non-Jesus believing Jews, “how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring?”  One of Paul’s primary concerns – one that often gets forgotten as the church has had a lamentable history of playing down Paul’s Jewishness – was establishing unity among the early believers.  He had to overcome each group’s, Jew’s and Gentile’s, suspicion of each other.  Making the case that uncircumcised Gentiles can be welcomed into the fold, or that Gentile believers should be respectful of Jewish dietary restrictions (whether they chose to follow them or not), and other mediations of that sort take up a lot of his letter writing.  Romans 11 is a gentle but insistent reminder to said Gentile believers that they are not to look down upon their Jewish brethren, whether believers or not, because God chose Israel, and through Israel we have Jesus, and when Jesus returns and the fullness of the holy kingdom is realized, God’s firstfruits (as Paul refers to the Jewish people) will all be holy.

Of course Paul’s primary concern was the inclusion of Gentiles into Jewish Jesus-following communities and vice versa.  But if we zoom out and apply it to modern issues, this is one of the best Biblical passages I’ve found for acceptance and inclusion.  Paul asks his listeners again,  “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”  Let’s apply that to today: what gains have we made on the back of slavery, with the oppression of indigenous peoples? This country’s wealth was bought with blood money.  Now, whether we realize it or not, we rely on indigenous peoples, who only make up 5% of the population globally, to protect 80% of the earth’s biodiversity.  Lives and livelihoods are still being lost to racial tensions.  What would acceptance be today but life from the dead, indeed?

Paul reminds his listeners not to be proud, for they were once as lost as the unbelievers they sneer at.  He reminds them to be kind, for God is kind to them.  He reminds them that we have received mercy through the grace of God, and no one is beyond God’s reach.  Aren’t those all reminders that we could still use, today?

Making the economic case for inclusion today.

The best way to America’s heart is through its pocketbook.  So is it possible to make the case that acceptance and inclusion are more than just lofty, feel-good spiritual goals, but actually concrete economic benefits?  Yes, a thousand times yes.  Let me be very clear,  I do not think we should include marginalized people only because it is good business policy, but sometimes you need to meet the people where they are.  Also, removing the discussion from a single individual’s beliefs and biases, and instead moving it into the less personal business realm, can sometimes diffuse a potentially charged exchange, and may win more hearts and minds that would otherwise be defensive.

As I started this blog writing about refugees, let’s start with the refugee example.  Here’s an article from the Brookings Institute that explains how welcoming refugees to a country does not take jobs away from existing citizens but actually boosts unemployment overall, as well as entrepreneurship, international trade, and investment. And here’s a 2017 report from New American Economy that shows refugees in America contributed $21 billion in taxes in 2015 alone, as well as earned over $77 billion in annual household income.  And yes, there’s no denying that refugees need assistance when they first arrive, but here’s my favorite statistic from the report: By the time a refugee has been in the country at least 25 years, their median household income reaches $67,000—a full $14,000 more than the median income of U.S. households overall – and that’s not because they’re all scamming the system, it’s because they’ve gained independent financial success through that initial leg up.  Here’s another study where Rwandan refugees in several encampments were given assistance in the form of cash. Every dollar received translated into $1.51-1.95 in the local economy. Forbes, The LA Times, and even Nature Magazine have also all written articles that expound upon how acceptance of refugees boost economic output.

Let’s move onto LGBT acceptance.  I’m not denying there is still much work to be done in this arena, but public support of LGBT peoples has grown so much that exploiting that support for economic or political gain has its own term: pinkwashing.  Pinkwashing occurs when a government or organization uses a veneer of gay-friendliness to mask other issues, such as Anti-Palestinian policies in Israel.

But this rather jaded realization aside, LGBT acceptance does us much economic good, just as refugee acceptance does.  This Atlantic article sums it up nicely, but I want to point out one small but profound example that stuck out to me: In 2014, eight men were sentenced to jail for three years in Egypt for participating in what looked like a gay wedding ceremony.  As the article’s author points out:

Those eight men sitting in an Egyptian jail, for example, will not be contributing to the economy for three years and instead create an avoidable cost for the government. Their skills and knowledge might be less valuable when they get out, and if future employers are likely to discriminate against people assumed to be gay, their options might be limited to work in less productive jobs.

The LGBTQ population in the US measures somewhere between four and ten percent, depending upon what report you’re looking at.  That’s up to 32 million Americans who need to eat, buy clothes and cars, and enjoy going out with their friends – just like everyone else.  Economically speaking (again, that’s not the only reason for inclusion, but it seems to be the one that changes everyone’s mind) it just doesn’t make sense to exclude that much of the population.

Let’s quickly list some other examples of how inclusion and acceptance increases the bottom line: Companies investing in increased accessibility means they get more business from the disabled community – of which we’ll have more and more as the baby boomers (with all their money) continue to age.  Reducing the incarceration rate means less burden on the state (and the tax-payers). Companies offering multi-lingual services, such as signs, packaging, or customer service representatives capture more of the business from the 40-some million Americans for whom English is not their primary language. Investing in the “bad” parts of town with new infrastructure, street lights, and neighborhood revitalization efforts reduce crime and boost citizen morale.  These effects are a little harder to measure directly in the economy, but I think we can all agree that less crime is less expensive, and more people being able to get to work via safe roads, sidewalks, or new public transportation options is also economically beneficial.

Get educated, get involved, get out there!

Individual attitudes are important, for sure, but the more I read, the more I have come to believe that if we want to see real progress, we need to be thinking bigger than our personal actions.  We need to see changes in businesses and in government if we’re going to combat everything from institutional racism to climate crises.  That’s why legislation like the ADA and Civil Rights Act have been critical to societal change, and why boycotts and “voting with your dollar” are still so necessary.  I’ll be writing more about this in weeks to come, but for now, remember to call your representatives, get involved, and more than anything else: get educated.  My hope is that my brief overview of the facts above may arm you to speak up when that one family member starts talking about “those dirty Mexicans taking all our jobs,” or to go ahead and vote “yes” for slightly higher taxes when an infrastructure project is proposed on the next ballot.  But don’t stop here, find the cause that speaks to you, and dive in. There is lots more to learn, and lots more to do.

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Hosea 06 – Mercy, not Sacrifice

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

(Read the rest of the chapter, here!)

 

Yes, that is where this chapter leaves off.  There are some funny breaks between chapters in Hosea. Kind of a cliff-hanger, right?  We’ll get to the rest of Hosea’s woe-filled charges next post.

Jesus quotes v. 6 of today’s reading twice, in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7.  That got me to wondering, what parts of the Old Testament does Jesus quote? I found a list that looked pretty comprehensive, and according to this, Jesus quotes the OT 45 times.  Of those quotes, almost a third of them – thirteen, by my count – deal with mercy, love, and correcting the excesses of legalism (which would lead a person to follow the letter of the law but not the spirit of it, meaning they have a deficit of mercy and love in their hearts).

“An acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” is what God desires in the second half of verse six.  And really, most of this chapter is God lamenting how the people come to him with empty words, how their love is fleeting “like the morning mist,” even though God’s love is as reliable “as the sun rises.”  Isn’t this something we are all guilty of?  Perhaps we go to church, sing the hymns, maybe put some money in the offering plate, and feel like we’ve done our duty.  But being Christian needs to mean so much more than that.  We need to live God’s values day in and day out.

Yes, a large portion of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and even more especially these prophets, details humanity’s sins against God in great length.  But God always forgives us, we are always reconciled with God.  If God can forgive us time and again, if God loves us “as surely as the sun rises,” then, to again quote Jesus, who are we to cast the first stone against someone else, for any reason?  God does not call us, anywhere that I have seen so far, to judge anyone for their deeds or misdeeds.  We are to leave that to God.  So political beliefs, sexual orientation, station in life, race or ethnicity simply should not matter when it comes to caring for anyone.  We are to show mercy.  Mercy and love.

Just to be clear, you do not need to be a doormat.  If you have been abused, you can forgive your abuser from afar.  If you are in any way being taken advantage of, you do not need to put up with that shit for the sake of God.  Remove yourself from that situation, please, because you are also a child of God and deserve better.

But beyond those extreme situations, we can do better.  We can abolish the death penalty.  We can change the justice system into one that rehabilitates instead of one that penalizes.  We can extend medical care to everyone.  We can make sure that everyone has enough to eat, a safe place to sleep.  These are simple acts of human decency that shouldn’t be that revolutionary, if we are honest about what our Christian values call us to do.

And really, what better way to lead people to Jesus?  Let us demonstrate his kindness in action.  Let us heal, as Jesus did.  Jesus brought a message of hope and redemption, and we grossly pervert it when we turn Jesus into a tool of oppression and condemnation.  No one wants to follow such a mean-spirited god.  I worry that by loudly demonstrating our faith instead of truly focusing on helping others, we are metaphorically guilty of giving God the empty burnt offerings instead of the true acknowledgement Xe really desires.  We can leave the proselytizing behind, and let our actions speak for themselves.  We do not need to shove Jesus down people’s throats.  Let people find their own way to Jesus: we can pave that path for them through heart-felt care, love, and mercy.

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Psalm 139 – Thoughts for Pride Month 2019

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

I’m taking a one-post break from Matthew right now because I didn’t want Pride Month to pass me by without mentioning it, and it’s almost the middle of June!  Also, this seemed like a natural break since I finished Chapter 10 last week, and read Chapter 11 back in December, so we’ve got a gap.

Pride month is rapidly becoming one of those odd events where we focus on the celebration and not the underlying cause, kind of like Memorial Day.  All the barbeques and sales of Memorial Day and beginning-of-summer-fun mentalities seem a little tawdry when you consider we’re supposed to be remembering those who died in service of the country.  Just an example.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good party.  But the original Pride Parade was a commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, when tensions between police and the gay community reached a breaking point at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

But now, Pride Month is a profitable, cool thing to do.  Businesses of all stripes are on board. Lots of straight people attend (selfie-ing away in rainbow tees).  And while this isn’t inherently bad, I have several gay friends who make a point to remind people each year that this hasn’t always been some big giant block party.  It came from a real place of pain and inequality, and people have been fighting for fifty years since Stonewall to end violence, increase awareness, and promote equality for our LGBTQ siblings.

So, in the effort to find an appropriate Bible passage to recognize Pride Month, I Googled…well… “Bible passages for Pride Month.”  Psalm 139 was my favorite hit.  “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well,”  the author says.  And really, that is something we can all say, for we are all children of God.  God made each and every one of us perfect, and knows us even before we know ourselves: “You have searched me, Lord, and know me.”  God creates us all, and knows Xyr creation, and loves each and every one of us.

This goes so much farther than just Pride, too.  I found this psalm intending to use it for Pride Month, but it immediately made me think of my Autistic daughter.  My biggest concern for her is that she will not be accepted into society the way she is.  As she gets older, her differences are becoming more and more noticeable.  She doesn’t talk to people, but her echolalia (repeating things over and over and over) is pretty constant.  I actually love it, because I get to hear her voice, and not all moms can say that about their special needs children.  It also gives me a way to interact with her, because I know the “script,” if you will, and we can do a call-and-response sort of thing.  Additionally, she has trouble regulating her voice and reactions appropriately in certain social situations and can sometimes be extremely anxious – if she’s getting overwhelmed she will scream at (and sometimes try to hit) unfamiliar people who try to talk to her. We’re working on things to make navigating this world easier for her, but I am in no way looking to “cure” her.  She is smart, beautiful, funny, and completely cherished.  God made her the way she is (not vaccines or any of the other bullshit people sometimes throw out there related to Autism), and she, too, is fearfully and wonderfully made.  As are we all.

As the psalmist says: even the darkness is not dark to the Lord.  God knows all, and knows us.  Isn’t that a wonderful thing?  We are not perfect, and yet we are:  we are perfectly loved and perfectly formed by our God.  Let’s honor that fact by loving others, no matter how they may have been formed – Christian or not, gay or straight, abled or disabled, man, woman, or somewhere in between: we are all children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made.  Happy Pride, everyone – God loves us all.