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 09 – Stewardship Callings

5 What will you do on the day of your appointed festivals,

    on the feast days of the Lord? (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

Kind of a rough start to a blog entry the week before Christmas, right?  But this chapter does ask us an important question: what will we do on the day of our appointed festivals? On the feast days of our Lord?  Will we participate in hollow ritual, whether that be religious or secular in nature, or will we remember our true callings?  Throughout these recent chapters – indeed, a major message that comes from numerous prophets – is that God does not want lip service, God wants our hearts and minds, our true dedication.

But what does that mean, exactly?  For me, it means stewardship.  I believe the best way to show our love of God is to care for what God cares for: Xyr creations.  The Earth and all its inhabitants.  So stewardship can take many forms, as you might imagine.  That’s one of the beautiful things about it: you can find what makes you passionate and follow that path.  And no one path is “better” or “right.”  There are many, many problems that need to be addressed in this world.

For example, my two major motivators are environmental stewardship and combating racism/xenophobia.  Those are broad topics, and I’ve explored them further I’ve zero-ed in on what really, really interests me.  First, within environmental stewardship is the issue of food waste.  Did you know that somewhere between 162-218 BILLION DOLLARS of food waste is generated in America each year?  That’s food that is thrown out at grocery stores and restaurants, by individual consumers, and the stuff that is left to rot in the field because it doesn’t meet harvesting standards (but is perfectly edible).  Just one third of that wasted food would be enough to feed the 50 million food-insecure individuals in this country.  Instead, it is in landfills producing methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. It is a sin of excess compounded by a sin of carelessness.  Did you also know that there are two bills that have been introduced to Congress that would go a long way towards combating this waste….but they have languished since being introduced.  (It’s the Food Recovery Act and the Food Date Labeling Act, both introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine, you can read more about them here.)  You can bet I call my reps about those bills, and spend a lot of time sharing facts like the ones above to spread the word.  And while I’m far from perfect, I try to combat food waste at home, as well: buying only what we need, using leftovers in the next meal’s cooking, and composting as a last resort.

Second, racism and xenophobia, which need to be attacked from so many levels.  The issue-within-the-issue, if you will, that really gets to me is governmental policies towards refugees.  We are a country of plenty – as illustrated above by the sheer waste we are able to generate – and there is no reason we can’t reallocate resources to help those in need, including incoming refugees.  I wrote more about why this issue is important to me last year, in this blog post.  Again, I call my representatives, speak up on this blog and other forums, and donate when I can to organizations like IRC and RAICES.

But that’s just what I’m passionate about.  And it’s OK if that’s not what you’re passionate about.  My plea today is to just find what makes you passionate.  Some other quick examples:  My priest in Charlottesville cares deeply about healthcare in rural communities, as well as the rights and well-being of those in institutionalized care (such as the elderly or mentally ill).  I have friends passionate about criminal justice reform.  Others are dedicated to plastic-free lifestyles and spreading the word on the benefits of that, both personal and environmental.  Many of my favorite accounts on Instagram are devoted to fighting fast fashion with it’s exploitative nature and environmental impacts.

Like I said, there’s a whole world of problems to be fixed.  And that can be scary, when you think about trying to fix all of them. But God does not ask that of you.  God simply wants you to be a part of the larger picture.  When we are selfish, greedy, careless, we turn from God, as the ill-fated people in this chapter.  But if we turn towards eachother, towards stewardship, we can avoid the horrors of this chapter, and that is something to rejoice.

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Hosea 07 – Children are STILL in Cages at the Border

2 but they do not realize
    that I remember all their evil deeds.
Their sins engulf them;
    they are always before me.

“They delight the king with their wickedness,
    the princes with their lies.

(Read the rest of the chapter here!)

 

I missed recognizing the start of Advent and the first anniversary of this blog.  As often happens, life got in the way: we didn’t finish with poultry processing until the first week of December (several weeks longer than usual), and I had a (not so) merry-go-round of illness run through the kiddos.

I forgave myself a while ago for times I cannot post as regularly as I’d like to. What I cannot forgive myself for though is the fact that children are still in cages at our border.  I know it is not personally my fault, but my very first blog post, now a little over a year ago, was on welcoming refugees.  I made a small donation, called my representatives once, but I must admit I have done nothing significant since.  And a year of silence while so many suffer is truly unconscionable.

God has put the fate of these refugee children before me several times in recent days.   Let’s start with today’s scripture:  “Ephraim mixes with the nations,” reads v. eight, “Foreigners sap his strength,” reads v. nine.  I worry that all of vv. 8-13 could be taken as Biblical reasoning for cruelty towards immigrants.  On top of that, the pictures of the Guatemalan boy who lay dead on the floor for hours in ICE custody before being found earlier this year have been circulating in my newsfeed lately.  Finally, the nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in California, which shows baby Jesus and his parents as refugees in separate cages, went viral a few days ago.

If we celebrate Christmas but forget our Christian duty of mercy, then we are no better than those who Hosea accuses of gathering together for grain and new wine while turning away from God.  Christmas is a season for celebration, and I don’t want to take away your joy: go to your Christmas parties, exchange gifts with your family and friends, but don’t forget the reason we are celebrating, either.  Jesus was made man to save us from our sins, to bring us a message of love for all.  And what have we done with that message of late?  Our kings and princes (aka, our president and congress) are delighted with wickedness and lies.  They – and we, with them – turn a blind eye (at best) or willfully forget those less fortunate, including the families and children in detention for No. Damn. Reason.

It is also a busy time of year, but once again, I encourage you to take a little time to call your representatives and ask them to change border policies and close the detention centers down.  I ask you to consider giving to organizations like the IRC, ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, KIND, RAICES, or Save the Children, among others who are actively fighting for the children detained.  Additionally, it is important to record and report any interaction you may have with immigration officials, so the agency can be held accountable.  Attend marches and protests in your area, and simply don’t stop talking about it.  There’s a more comprehensive list of twenty ways to help refugees at the border here.  And yes, I donated (to the RAICES Texas Bond Fund) and called my representatives (Wittman, Warner, and Kaine) yesterday afternoon.  I will continue to let you know what actions I have taken – not to brag, but to hold myself accountable.  I hope you will consider doing the same.  Christmas is a time for families to be together, not separated in cages.  Please, join in the fight to help make it so.

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