Our Response to the Invasion of Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unjustified and evil. Putin is unleashing immense pain upon the Ukrainian people, upon his own Russian citizens, and has placed the entire world order in great danger. If nothing is done to stop the Russian advance, the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv will probably fall in the next couple of days. Putin ominously warned that if other countries attempted to stop the invasion, they would pay a “terrible price”, hinting at the use of nuclear weapons. Many European countries and the United States have begun to implement “severe economic sanctions” with the goal of forcing Putin to submit to acceptable international norms, but Russia’s immense oil and natural gas reserves give Putin great leverage with Europe. There are many key players who could take significant steps to reduce the pain, but they involve risk and cost. Here are some current options.

The United Nations should be the international police, yet it has structural weaknesses. The most obvious is that the five permanent members of the Security Council which includes Russia, have the power of the veto. By using this veto power, any one of these permanent members can thwart the wishes of the overwhelming majority of nations in the world. On Friday, the United Nations condemned the “brutal” invasion. Russia immediately vetoed that resolution. To complicate matters, this month it is Russia’s turn to preside the UN sessions. If the United Nations wants to be relevant in the future, it must get rid of this ridiculous veto power which has been so terribly abused.

NATO was formed to protect member nations. Its guiding principle was that an attack against any of the NATO countries would be considered as an attack against all the nations. “One for all and all for one.” The problem is that although Ukraine is friendly with NATO, it is not a member. Neither the United States nor any other member country is willing to send its own troops into Ukraine. It has been suggested that NATO declare Ukrainian airspace as a “no-fly zone” and prohibit Russia from dropping aerial bombs. It is possible that this would escalate the conflict into an all-out war, but it would probably save thousands of innocent civilians from bombing deaths. If Putin is not stopped now, other non-NATO nations in the region (like Moldova) would be easy targets for Russia’s expansion. Even NATO members (like Poland and the Baltic states) are vulnerable.

The United States and several European countries have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, first in an attempt to deter Putin, and now with the goal of punishing his immoral actions. Some of these sanctions are significant, but they are too little and too late. They might influence Putin to come to the bargaining table in a few weeks, but, in the meantime, many Ukrainians will perish. As of today, these government leaders have stopped short of really punishing Russia. For example, sanctions could be imposed that would prohibit Russia from participating in the international banking system (SWIFT). This would lead to a scarcity of oil and natural gas in Europe and would cause prices to skyrocket. Are Europeans and North Americans willing to pay higher prices to stop an immoral invasion and the thousands of deaths it would cause?

Many Russians are showing through their protests that they do not agree with Putin’s invasion. They have taken to the streets and hundreds have been jailed. I admire their courage. I hope that there are thousands of Russian soldiers who recognize that this is not a justified war. They should refuse to kill because there is a higher authority than Putin. It might cause them to be demoted, imprisoned, or even put to death, but those that believe in Just War Theory have the moral imperative to disobey an unjust military order.

Many Ukrainians have already demonstrated their bravery. It is likely that President Zelensky will pay the ultimate sacrifice for his love of his people. Many are fleeing from the war and taking their families to Poland, Moldova, or other neighboring countries. We who are far from the conflict should do all that we can to open doors for these refugees. These are desperate times and call for great courage and action.

The Biden Presidency’s one-year anniversary: Some criticisms are valid…some are not

One year into the Biden presidency: some criticisms are valid…some are not

Today, January 20, marks the one-year anniversary of Joe Biden’s presidency.  He has had his fair share of challenges: the Covid pandemic, the economy, foreign policies, etc. He has had some successes and some failures. As a result, his average percentage of public approval ranges from the low to mid-forties. His critics have identified his response to the Covid 19 pandemic, Afghanistan, the economy, the failure to achieve legislation on the Build Back Better and voting rights as his principal failures. Some of these criticisms are valid…some are not. I will comment on Afghanistan and the pandemic.

Last August, Biden received harsh criticism for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan. He made mistakes on several aspects of that withdrawal, but an understanding of historical context is needed. The war in Afghanistan had gone on for twenty years. Back in February 2020, then president Trump negotiated with the Taliban leaders a deal in which U.S. and Taliban soldiers would not attack each other, but the U.S. would have to remove all of its military personnel by May 2021. The Trump administration excluded the Afghan government from even participating in these negotiations. So, Biden´s options were quite limited:

  1. Remove all U.S. soldiers by May of 2021 according to Trump´s agreement
  2. Negotiate a few extra months for the removal of the troops (this is what Biden did)
  3. Escalate the war by sending thousands of additional soldiers back into Afghanistan

Those who criticize Biden for removing all military personnel from Afghanistan have a right to their opinion. But unless they leveled the same criticism against Trump in 2020, they are inconsistent and guilty of hypocrisy.

A second area of criticism leveled against Biden has been in his response to the Covid 19 pandemic. Biden inherited a very chaotic situation from Trump. Infections and hospitalizations were so numerous that ICU space at many hospitals was totally filled up. To his credit, Trump did accelerate the production of vaccines with his Operation Warp Speed program, but his ridicule of mask wearing, his recommendation of drinking bleach as a cure, and his blocking and manipulation of scientific evidence were immoral and cost him the election. Early in his presidency, Biden made great progress against the pandemic, but (mistakenly) claimed victory over Covid. Then the Delta variant hit… and then the Omicron variant. Infections and hospitalizations have skyrocketed again. The Biden administration failed to order enough tests. The CDC has given confusing information and guidance about the spread of the pandemic. The President and his team have made mistakes in their handling of the pandemic, but we the people are also partly responsible. The growing scientific evidence tells us that the best ways to fight Covid are to get the vaccinations, test frequently and isolate when we test positive, wear masks in public spaces, and wash our hands frequently. If we have not followed these guidelines, (and if there are not extenuating circumstances), we citizens have contributed to the spread of Covid.

Vaccine mandates require special comment. The Biden administration mandated that health workers at institutions that receive federal funding (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) be vaccinated. It also mandated that employees at large private companies (with over 100 employees) receive the vaccination or be tested weekly. Mandates are points of tension between individual freedom and public safety. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Biden administration was correct regarding the health worker mandate but overstepped its authority regarding mandates for large private companies. The drinking of alcohol provides a helpful parallel. People can legally drink alcohol in their own homes, even to the point of getting drunk. The government, health agencies, and religious organizations can recommend that people don’t drink excessively, but adults legally have the right to do so in their homes. (Total banning of alcohol was attempted during Prohibition, but did not work). Nevertheless, governments appropriately mandate that people cannot drive their cars while they are under the influence of alcohol. Individual freedom is limited when public safety is at stake. Although there is a very slight risk with any vaccination, the evidence shows that not getting vaccinated against Covid is much more dangerous. Unvaccinated persons are 17 times more likely to become hospitalized than their vaccinated neighbors. This greater rate of hospitalization puts public safety at risk due to greater strain on hospitals (no available ICU space, needed surgeries are postponed, stress and burnout among health care workers, etc).

Vaccines are highly successful in fighting Covid. Are federal, state, and private sector mandates part of that successful battle? The courts will make their rulings as they weigh individual liberty versus public safety. Nevertheless, if more people voluntarily received the vaccinations, we would approach herd immunity and the pandemia could be reduced, and mandates would not be necessary.

The one-year anniversary of Biden’s presidency is a good time to evaluate the past and make the necessary corrections. Biden should do so…and so should we.

When the Giving of Thanks is a Sham

Thousands of years ago, there was a Rabbinic blessing that the Jewish rabbis would recite every morning.  ¨Blessed are you, O God, for making me a Jew, and not a Gentile, free and not a slave, a man and not a woman.¨ Although clothed in religious language, this ¨blessing¨ covered up some of the national and social prejudices of the time. In other words, their giving of thanks was a sham. In their specific context, Gentiles, slaves and women had inferior places in society. The free, male rabbis were thankful that they were the ¨winners¨ in their social context. Down through the ages, people have protested, fought wars, made speeches, taught classes in favor of the equality of all humans. We have come a long way…but we still have a long, long way to go.

The racial prejudice, machismo, and social sins of previous generations are quite evident to us today, who are the ¨enlightened¨ ones. Nevertheless, we have our own biases. In our politically divided United States, most of our citizens are clearly in one of two camps. Almost all areas of life: voting, Covid vaccines and mask wearing, education/PTA meetings, the Supreme Court and even our churches are increasingly politicized and polarized. Most of us are arrogantly thankful that we are morally superior to those in the other group. It comes across in the way we talk about people on the other side.  ¨All Democrats are baby killers¨ or ¨All Republicans are racists¨ even though these affirmations are obviously exaggerated and false. These exaggerations are shameful and shamful.  Many in the middle are increasingly frustrated with both sides.

I am not a moral relativist. All options are not ethically equal. Truth is important and so is distinguishing right from wrong. I am happy when I shed morally or intellectually inferior options in order to choose better ones. But these wise decisions are accompanied by the temptation of pride. That pride and arrogance are dangerous for us individually and as a nation. Therefore, I recommend the following suggestions for my/our interaction with those on the other side.

Before, during and after we critique others, we must remember that

  1. All of my ¨opponents and rivals¨ are as important as I am.
  2. I must appreciate and recognize the aspects of goodness and truth in positions that I reject.
  3. I need to be rigorously honest in my use of information about others and about my side.

Let us go forward in truth and grace.

Dear Republican Friends: Believe the Facts from Arizona

I have many friends and relatives who are registered Republicans. Recent polls suggest that a majority of Republicans do not believe that last November’s presidential election was essentially clean and fair. They believe that substantial fraud took place in the tabulation of votes in states like Georgia and Arizona that voted with their ballots (and therefore their entire slate of electors in the Electoral College) in favor of Biden. This blog is for you.

I have tried to be patient with these friends. I have hoped that they were not just “sore losers” who did not want to admit that Biden defeated Trump. But news coming out of Arizona should answer any doubts about the election in that state.

A little bit of background. Arizona has been a competitive state with Republicans having a slight edge over Democrats in the presidential elections. Nevertheless, with the significant growth of urban areas where Democrats tend to be stronger, the Democrats have been narrowing the gap. Here are the presidential results from the last 20 years.

Presidential elections (according to Arizona Presidential Election Voting History (270towin.com)

               Republicans                                      Democrats                         Republican margin

2020      Trump-R              49.1%                   Biden-D                49.4%                   – 0.3%

2016      Trump-R              48.7%                   Clinton-D             45.1%                   +3.6%

2012      Romney-R           53.7%                   Obama-D             44.6%                   +9.1%

2008      McCain-R            53.6%                   Obama-D             45.1%                   +8.5%

2004      Bush-R                 54.9%                   Kerry-D                44.4%                   +10.5%

This gradually growing Democrat strength is also evidenced in the U.S. Senate races. Republicans won all of the races in the 21st century until 2018 when Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally (a Trump supporter) 50% to 47.6%. In that same 2018 election Democrats won 5 of the 9 congressional races in the state.

Therefore, it was widely expected that the 2020 presidential race between Trump and Biden would be competitive. Prior to election day, 11 of the 16 news agencies making predictions gave Biden a slight lead. The other five considered the election to be a toss-up.  

According to the official results, Biden defeated Trump by some 10,000 votes 49.4% to 49.1%. Significant factors in Biden’s victory were a 3% increase in the number of Latino votes and a ringing endorsement by Cindy McCain (John McCain’s widow) which persuaded many traditional Republicans to vote for Biden.

Even though Biden’s victory was certified by Arizona’s election authorities, Trump claimed the election was fraudulent. Even after Biden’s inauguration, the Republican controlled State Senate in Arizona authorized the formation of the Maricopa County Presidential Ballot Audit to de a recount of the votes in that county. This was an extremely partisan endeavor carried out by Trump supporters who wanted to find extensive fraud. The final report of the audit was released two weeks ago (September 24,2021). The hand tabulated recount revealed that Biden had actually received 99 more votes than originally reported and Trump 261 fewer votes. (See Schwartz, David; Layne, Nathan (September 27, 2021). “‘Truth is truth’: Trump dealt blow as Republican-led Arizona audit reaffirms Biden win”Reuters. Retrieved September 28, 2021.

My plea is that those who have claimed fraud in Arizona would admit the truth. If the state election authorities found no fraud, and if a Republican appointed private auditing firm could not find fraud, what evidence would persuade these “unbelievers”? There comes a point when the facts are overwhelming, when we must accept the truth even when we don’t like it. The truth is good for us. It can set us free.

Afghanistan – Let`s Learn from the Mistakes of Four U.S. Presidents!

Afghanistan – Let’s Learn from the Mistakes of Four U.S. Presidents

               Last week, our twenty-year war in Afghanistan came to an end. At times, it was quite chaotic. The country is back in the hands of the Taliban. Even the most optimistic political spin cannot this war into a total success. What should we do now? Let us learn from the mistakes of the four U.S. presidents who oversaw this war.

George W. Bush [#43] took us into war in Afghanistan in 2001. Our country was reeling from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and citizens wanted revenge. The Taliban controlled Afghanistan at that time and sheltered al-Qaeda which was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban refused to turn over Osama Bin Laden, so Bush began dropping bombs on October 7. Within a short time, the Taliban was defeated…temporarily. Bush prematurely announced total victory. In November 2003, the president declared, “Our military went to Afghanistan, destroyed the training camps of al-Qaeda, and put the Taliban out of business forever.” That claim was arrogant…and turned out to be false. Although al-Qaeda was temporarily beaten, Osama bin Laden would not be killed until a decade later, and in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

               Bush made several mistakes, but possibly the biggest was that he led us into a war that had no “exit strategy”. Those who understand Just War Theory (and sadly, most people do not) know that a just cause is not sufficient to declare a justified war. Other criteria, such as just cause, last resort, and the realistic probability of success including an “exit strategy”, must also be met. (Back in the 1st Gulf War, then President George H. W. Bush [#41] pushed the Iraqi soldiers out of Kuwait in 1991, but the U.S. did not invade Baghdad at that time, because there was no “exit strategy”. The son should have learned this lesson from his father.) We the people of the United States should have learned a similar lesson from the failed war in Vietnam.

President Bush also allowed the war to morph from a limited objective of destroying the al-Qaeda camps to an ambiguous, nebulous goal of “nation-building”. Pentagon leaders were also at fault by misleading the president and the public by claiming that we were “winning” the war and that the new Afghan government and military were able to stand on their own. Based on their counsel, Bush affirmed in 2004, “as a result of the U.S. military, the Taliban no longer is in existence.” Four years later, Bush lied to us and denied having uttered those words, “I never said the Taliban was eliminated. I said they were removed from power.” We must learn to be suspicious of the cheap military claims made by our presidents.

Barack Obama [#44] campaigned on the promise to get our soldiers out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Although he did withdraw our troops from Iraq, he increased our military presence to 68,000 troops in Afghanistan in February, 2009. Although the capture and killing of Bin Laden in May of 2011 restored Obama’s popularity at home, the quagmire in Afghanistan continued. The Afghan people lost confidence in their own national government. When Obama left office in January 2017, he had not fulfilled his promise to end the “endless war”. We should learn to question the overly optimistic campaign promises and military predictions of our presidents.

Donald Trump [#45] also campaigned on the promise to end the war in Afghanistan. With his policy of “America first”, he criticized the “endless wars” that Bush had started. Nevertheless, when he talked about pulling our troops out, his military leadership continued to mislead him and the public with claims of us winning the war and the excellent training our military had given to the Afghans. In February of 2020, Trump totally ignored the Afghan government and negotiated a special deal with the resurgent Taliban (?!!!) to end the war. Trump began to withdraw the 15,000 troops down to 2500 and promised to leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, if the Taliban would not attack U.S. soldiers. Although this was an attempt to keep his promise and to end the war, it also meant that the death of 2,400 U.S. soldiers (and over a hundred thousand Afghans) and the 2 trillion dollars spent on training the Afghan army were largely in vain. Trump’s agreement was a clear signal that he had lost confidence in the Afghan government (even though the White House continued to proclaim the Afghan military was well equipped). Here again, the lack of a serious, good exit strategy guaranteed a bad exit. The lesson to be learned is that unjust wars should not be ended by bad agreements.

Joe Biden [#46] also campaigned to end the war in Afghanistan. Even when he was Vice-President during the Obama administration, Biden was in favor of bringing the troops home. Although he moved the Trump negotiated date of withdrawal back four months to August 31, 2021, he had decided to withdraw our troops (and some 70% of the U.S. people agreed with him).  The Taliban quickly extended their control over the country. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15 and the city of Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban. Biden had to send 6000 soldiers back into the country to oversee the safe withdrawal of U.S. citizens and thousands of Afghans who had helped the U.S. At times it was chaotic. A suicide bomber killed 13 American soldiers and some 170 Afghan civilians. Although Biden had promised that all U.S. citizens who wanted to leave would be able to do so, as of today there are about 100 Americans and thousands of Afghan allies still in the country. Biden made promises that he could not keep.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight vision, I would have temporarily kept the U.S. soldiers in the country even as I would have started processing the Special Immigrant Visas for the Afghan civilian allies earlier in the summer.  Even this action would have been criticized, because it is likely that Kabul would have fallen even earlier than it did.

               Upon seeing the chaotic departure, some people have argued that the U.S. should have stayed in Afghanistan for many more years. Unless these people also criticized the Trump withdrawal plan, this is blatant hypocrisy.

What should we do now?

  1. We should learn from our mistakes and not jump into bad wars so quickly. Invasions of other countries for ¨just¨ causes are rarely successful, especially when the invading army does not understand the target culture. When you bet on the losing side in a civil war, the exit will be messy.
  2. We should encourage peaceful means to reduce the poverty, hunger, and oppression of women in war-torn Afghanistan. This means working with the United Nations and other countries in the region.
  3. Congress should immediately increase refugee limits so that, upon appropriate vetting, Afghan civilians can be received into our country without delay.
  4. In our communities, we should work with groups like World Relief to help settle these Afghan refugees.

We Have Met the Pharisees and They Are Us

Most people have heard of the Pharisees. They were a religious group of leaders within Judaism during New Testament times. Although Jesus agreed with them on some doctrinal issues (like the resurrection of the dead), he challenged them on many of their practices. He criticized them for their religious arrogance, for their hypocrisy and for their self-righteousness. I have never wanted to be like the Pharisees because I have not wanted to receive that same type of criticism from Jesus.

Nevertheless, I am more similar to the Pharisees that I would like to admit. Explore with me the inner thinking of the Pharisees.

  1. They were proud of their knowledge of the Scriptures. I too am proud of my knowledge of the Bible.
  2. They used this knowledge to benefit themselves and to put down others. I have, on occasion, used my knowledge of the Bible and other topics to elevate myself and to criticize others.
  3. The Pharisees were arrogant and thought that their group was always right. I, and most citizens in my country, think that our group, our political party, our church, and our nation have been right (almost always) and that the ¨Other¨ is wrong.

What are the tragic consequences of this modern-day Pharisaic behavior? Many people are rightfully rejecting institutions due to the hypocrisy of their leaders. This is especially true about younger generations. Young adults are abandoning their churches at record rates. They are skeptical of political parties. The hypocrisy of many Boy Scout leaders has led to its bankruptcy. The behavior of some police officers has caused a crisis of credibility.

What is the cure to this Pharisee-itis? Before we just assume that we are “right”, we need to dig deep into our heart and ask tough questions about our motives. In the words of Jesus, we need to take the beam out of our own eye before we take the speck out of the eye of our neighbors.

Let’s begin the slow, long road towards greater moral integrity.

Proud to be an American?

An acquaintance recently sent me a message on Facebook that read, “I’m proud to be an American”. He then asked that if I agreed with the statement, I should re-send it to everyone on my friend list. This phrase is very common, but it is also problematic. Given that we are entering Memorial Day weekend, I think it is important to unpack the phrase…and make it better.

First, we need to clarify the name “American”. Many people from the United States use the word to refer exclusively to people from our country. Many are unaware that this comes across as very arrogant to others in the Americas. My wife is a Brazilian. Brazilians are Americans. I have lived many years of my adult life in Mexico and Costa Rica. Mexicans and Costa Ricans are as much “American” as I am. Those who are from Canada southward to Chile and Argentina can all claim to be Americans.

A little bit of history helps. The wars of independence broke out in Spanish America in 1810 in Venezuela, Mexico, and Argentina, then quickly spread to other colonies. Much hinged on the word “Americano”. On the one side were Spaniards born in Spain but had moved to the colonies in the Americas and received special privileges. They were known as “Peninsulares”. On the other side were the “Americanos”, who were Spanish by ancestry but who were born and raised in the Americas. They were treated as second class citizens. (This is similar to life up north where the Anglo colonists suffered “taxation without representation” at the hands of their British relatives.) The founders of the new nations in Latin American paid dearly (some with their lives) for being “Americanos”.

Part of the problem is due to our limited vocabulary. We have words like Canadians, Hondurans, and Peruvians, but we would need to create something like “United Statesians” to achieve greater precision. “North Americans” is somewhat better, but as seen with NAFTA, Canadians and Mexicans are geographically also in North America. To communicate more accurately, I choose to use “U.S. citizens” or “people in the United States”.

Even more problematic in the phrase “I’m proud to be an American” is that it appeals to our emotions, but it does not clarify what “American” attributes we should be proud of. Should we be proud of our pursuits of Manifest Destiny even though European settlers took lands that were under the stewardship of indigenous people? Should we take pride in our history of slavery or repent of it? Which side of the current cultural wars should we be proud of? There is room for reasonable disagreement and debate on specific issues and attributes but a blanket statement of pride to be an American does not advance that debate.

So, where do I stand? I am proud of the American belief that all men and women are created equal before the law, but I lament our historical failures to put that belief into practice. I am proud of the invitation to immigrants etched on our Statue of Liberty, but I am horrified how we closed our doors to Jewish refugees who tried to flee Nazism. This Memorial Day, let’s reflect on our national past, learn from our mistakes, and contribute our words and deeds to making our country better.

Republican Leaders and the January 6 event – Amnesia or Cowardice?

On January 6, 2021 there was a crowd of Trump supporters who went to hear the president speak about the election being “stolen”. He then urged these followers to march on the Capitol and to stop Congress from certifying the election results. Some of the protestors were peaceful, but many were not. They confronted the police and took over the building. Some shouted “Hang Mike Pence” and took possession of many congressional offices. (Many of us witnessed these events on television as networks, left and right, broadcast these actions live before our eyes) After several hours, control was restored. Later that night, Congress came back into session and certified the election victory of Joe Biden.

Most senators and representatives, including the top two ranking Republicans, were rightfully angered at Trump and made clear denunciations of the president’s major role in the insurrection. Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, affirmed, “The violence, destruction and chaos we saw earlier was unacceptable, undemocratic and un-American.” Mitch McConnell, the number one Republican in the Senate later condemned Trump, “There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of that day.”

Congressional leaders, Republicans and Democrats, were unanimous in their desire to find out who the protestors were, the role of Trump in the event, how the Capitol police were so unprepared for the event, and why the National Guard took so long to arrive on the scene. Over the past four months leaders on both sides of the aisle have tried to form a “9/11” type of commission to investigate the actions that took place on January 6. Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy demanded three requirements of such a commission: (1) equal representation of Democrats and Republicans, (2) equal subpoenaing power by both sides, and (3) no predetermined outcome. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, finally agreed to all of McCarthy’s requests. Republican representative, John Katko and Democrat Bennie Thompson were charged with drafting the language of the bipartisan bill. It seemed that the commission would finally be formed, but then some Republicans acquired amnesia…or became cowards.

It was assumed that, with time, Trump’s influence on the Republican party would diminish due to his role in the insurrection and his other erratic behavior. Nevertheless, he still has a lot of influence among the Republican faithful. Liz Cheney, the number three ranking Republican in the House, who openly denounced Trump, was ousted from her position last week. Republicans faced a dilemma. They could try to restore their party to its core Republican values without Trump or they could cuddle up to the former president and stay in his favor. Most chose the latter because they were afraid they couldn’t win in the 2022 election if Trump opposed them in their Republican primary race or withheld his blessing in the general election.

So, McCarthy urged his fellow Republican colleagues to vote “no” on the bill that would form the commission. Nevertheless, on Wednesday, 35 brave Republican congressional representatives voted “yes”. Now it is time for the Senate to weigh in. Ten Republican senators will need to vote in favor of forming the commission for the bill to pass. I believe that our country is stronger and that we will obtain more of the truth if both major parties actively participate in our public debates. For the good of our country, may Republicans vote to form the commission so that we can find out what really took place on January 6.

René Padilla, a Giant of a Theologian Graduated into God’s Presence

On Tuesday of this week, Latin American theologian C. René Padilla passed into the presence of the Lord. He was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the world. He was known as the ¨Father of Integral Mission¨ in which the purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel in word as well as in deeds, especially serving the poor.

Born in Ecuador in 1932 to humble parents, he obtained three degrees from Wheaton College (a B.A. in philosophy and Greek in 1957, an M.A. in theology in 1960, and an honorary Doctorate in 1992). He met his future wife and partner Catherine Feser at Wheaton. He also earned a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Manchester under the mentoring of F.F. Bruce in 1965. I met René through the ministry of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES / known as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the United States). He served in this ministry in Latin America for 25 years in which he articulated Christian responses to the burning questions of the day on how followers of Jesus should respond to rampant poverty, illiteracy, oppressive dictatorships, war, and environmental degradation.

Although he had a gentle demeanor and a mischievous grin, René was known for speaking clearly the “difficult” truths of the gospel to friends and foes alike. He became internationally famous for his plenary “speech that shook the world” at the 1974 Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization. He pointed out that most Christians have experienced a truncated gospel, either emphasizing a verbal proclamation or a social gospel. René urged that God’s plan was to bring together these two dimensions in an “integral” or “holistic” mission.

René promoted this holistic understanding of the gospel through public speaking events, a multitude of books and articles, and the founding of numerous organizations that implemented this vision. René and I co-authored the book “Terrorism and the War in Iraq: a Christian Word from Latin America” in which we argued how and why most Latin American Christians opposed the war in Iraq because it did not meet the moral criteria of a “Just War”. History has demonstrated that those followers of Jesus had the correct moral conscience years ago.

Those who want to honor the legacy of this theological giant can do so by demonstrating faithfully the love and truth of Jesus in all areas of our lives.

Kids at the Border – Three Humanitarian Crises

Let´s be honest. The large number of unaccompanied children (about six hundred per day) trying to enter the United States at our southern border reveals serious problems. Nevertheless, problems can be transformed into opportunities when they are faced head on.

Although the Biden administration does not want to call this situation a crisis, it truly is. In fact, there are three principal crises.

  1. The crisis in the “Northern Triangle” countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
  2. The crisis in our own broken immigration system, especially regarding the kids at the border.
  3. The crisis on the Mexican side of our border.

Let’s look briefly at each crisis and then analyze the pros and cons of the difficult options before us.

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are three of the poorest countries in the Americas. They also have some of the highest rates of murder and gang violence in the world. Their governments are guilty of more than their share of mismanagement and corruption. Many U.S. jobs have been outsourced to the area, especially to El Salvador, but this has barely put a dent in the rampant poverty. Powerful hurricanes have added to their economic woes. The United States has not been an innocent bystander. Dictatorships and authoritarian governments have emerged in these countries, all too frequently with support from the U.S. government. This violence and poverty are a significant push factor of migration, thrusting Central Americans to flee their countries. If you or I were parents of young teenaged sons who were pressured to join a gang or daughters likely to be raped, we would do almost anything to change the situation or to try to escape.

The U.S. immigration system has been broken for decades. The 1986 immigration bill backed by the Republican president Reagan and the Democrat controlled congress was good legislation, but it was not sufficiently enforced. Latin American immigrants (documented or not) were welcomed to fill many jobs in the boom economy during the Clinton administration (1993-2001). After 9/11, there were several attempts to bring about comprehensive immigration reform with leadership by presidents George Bush and Barack Obama, but there was not sufficient bipartisan support in Congress to get it passed (sounds familiar). Obama became known as Deporter-in-Chief, having deported more undocumented immigrants than any of his predecessors. President Trump implemented an even tougher policy, where undocumented immigrant parents were separated from their children at the border to provide a “deterrent” to more immigration. In my eyes, and in the sight of most North Americans, this was inhumane. Detainment camps that housed thousands of Central Americans sprung up on the Mexican side of the border. It is still a horrific crisis, but because it takes place in Mexico, it is “out of sight”, and we mistakenly believe it is not happening or that it is not our problem.

As is quite evident, the U.S. has given “a mixed message” to our Latin American neighbors. “Do not immigrate to our country unless you do it through the very limited legal process. But if you come without documents, you will probably find employment on our farms or in construction or landscaping. Even with low wages and few or no benefits, life is probably better here for your than in your countries of origin.”

Upon taking office in January, President Biden reversed many of Trump’s policies with more “humane” approaches. Although the immigration authorities immediately deport most adults and families at the border, unaccompanied children are allowed to stay in detention/processing centers on the U.S. side of the border until they can be placed under the care of their relatives (with or without documents) in the United States. Biden did not believe it was right for these kids to be turned away and forced to make the difficult journey back to Central America, nor to be dumped on the Mexican side. This is another mixed message. The border is generally “closed” for adults and families, but it is “open” for unaccompanied minors. This has created the large numbers of kids at the border, where even 20-year-old young men and women try to pass for minors (under the age of 18). The detention centers are already filled to maximum occupancy and are not legally permitted to be long-term care facilities. As a consequence, the Biden administration is scrambling to find government and non-governmental (NGO) alternatives.

We are facing difficult situations. These are true crises. The following is my humble attempt to address the options before us.  Sincere people of good will can and do disagree on these issues but let respectful and thoughtful debate characterize us.

  1. Do nothing regarding Central America. I am very aware that neither I individually nor my country’s government can solve all the poverty and violence problems throughout the world, not even in a relatively small region like Central America. Even when there are good intentions, they frequently become tainted by governments and corporations that seek their own interests more than the wellbeing of others. But my commitment to follow Jesus will not let me just wring my hands in despair. I must, and can, do something.
  • Long term solutions must be implemented in Central America that reduce the “push factors” that force people to leave their countries. It is possible for well thought out policies to be implemented that truly improve most people’s financial wellbeing, health and safety. Making education, potable water, and health care (like Covid-19 vaccines) more available are good examples. This is primarily the responsibility of Central Americans and their governments, but the actions of those in other countries make the situation better or worse.  The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), similar to the NAFTA agreement, had serious flaws that actually worsened the situation for many Central Americans. In order to not let corrupt politicians siphon off funds destined for good projects, I personally prefer giving greater emphasis to nongovernmental organizations that promote fair trade coffee or other products. See Fair Trade Handmade Gifts & Crafts from International Artisans – Ten Thousand Villages.
  • Central American immigrant children could be put on buses and returned to their home countries. This policy has been implemented for years in Mexico where unaccompanied minors have been taken into custody and returned to Central America. I personally witnessed this in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala where busloads of Guatemalan youth were brought back to their country, dropped off at an NGO immigrant center until they could be reunited with their families. The kids were perceived as “failures” because they did not make it to the promised land of “el Norte” where they could find work and send back very needed money to their families. Mexico and the U.S. could continue this policy, but it does not solve the real problems of Central Americans. In fact, it lowers the self-esteem of these youth, making them even more likely to fall into the lure or threat of gangs.
  • The Biden administration could turn away these unaccompanied children at the border and have Mexico deal with the “problem”. Mexican relief agencies would not have the language barriers that many U.S. organizations have, but their lack of resources means that thousands of youth would remain in detention camps on the Mexican side of the border. This is just passing the buck to others.
  • The Biden administration is beginning to re-implement the Central American Minors program that was suspended by Trump (See Restarting the Central American Minors Program – United States Department of State). This program provides a safe, legal way to reunite children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with their parents or guardians who are legally present in the U.S. This is a good partial solution. I would expand it to include other relatives who are lawfully in our country, such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents. A bolder, but more comprehensive, solution would be to extend the TPS (Temporary Protected Status – currently granted to some Nicaraguans and Hondurans) to undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala. Our government would need to act quickly but granting this legal status to them would permit them to receive the immigrant kids. Some critics would balk at “rewarding” these undocumented immigrants, but I believe it to be the “lesser of the evils” and it would fairly quickly reunite the majority of the kids at the border with loving relatives.
  • There is a desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform so that the 10-12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. come out of the shadows, pay their fines and taxes, get on a pathway to legality, and become fully participating citizens in our country. This legislation might need to be broken down into different components in order to achieve the necessary 60 votes in the Senate. For example, the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens (Republicans and Democrats) are in favor of the Dreamers (those undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. when they were children) obtaining legality. The Dreamer bill might come before Congress in the next few weeks.
  • The situation at the border will not improve quickly unless many people provide sensible alternatives. Relief organizations can provide funding and temporary housing. Our political representatives can approve the extension of the TPS and have the guts to reach an agreement on a comprehensive immigration reform.

There are tough options before us. Option 5 seems to me to be one of the better short-term solutions. Let us not step away from the costly love required of us.