Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Toothless Immigration Law

It is either fortunate or unfortunate, depending upon which side you are on concerning this new immigration law, that the undocumented workers in our midst do not realize that this new law is nigh unenforceable. First, the officers charged with enforcing this new law have had zero training on how to implement it. That means the average police officer knows about as much about this law as you do. Secondly, the restrictions on how to get "probable cause" to check documentation is very difficult. Allow me to explain.

This new law does not allow an officer to check documentation for the following reasons:

1. They cannot check documentation based on perceived ethnicity. That means that they cannot check simply because the person "looks Hispanic." No racial profiling.

2. They cannot check documentation due to an inability to speak English, or because of their accent.

That means if an officer pulls over an individual he suspects is of Hispanic origins who cannot speak English, he cannot check documentation based on these observations. So, what would lead to probable cause? That is, when the officer is summoned to court to testify, what will he say to the defense attorney that will satisfy the question of "Why did you ask for Mr. Garcia's documentation?"

How does the officer answer that? If he says it is because Mr. Garcia could not produce a valid driver's license, then that means you, my American friend, can now be detained for up to 48 hours until proof of your citizenship is attained if you lose your license and drive anyway. That may not sound too horrible, but consider this, However the officer answers that question can be directly applied to yourself. That means, inevitably, legal immigrants and even native born Americans can spend time in detention until they can produce proof of citizenship.

That's why I say that this new law is really toothless. No officer in Alabama wants to deal with the headache of accidentally detaining an American citizen because he did not produce a valid driver's license. No court wants to deal with the obvious problem of the officer who candidly admits, "I checked because he looked and sounded foreign." If he can't do this, exactly how are we going to enforce this law? I'm glad I am not a police officer in Alabama right now. This new law has certainly not done them any favors.

Don't worry about it overmuch. This isn't the first time that an anti-immigration law has passed that doesn't make any sense. In 1875, Congress passed a law that barred prostitutes from immigrating into the USA.

Perhaps we could help out our police officers by figuring out how they determined who was and who wasn't a prostitute in 1875. I think that would be an interesting study, don't you?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The execution of Troy Davis has once again put the issue of capital punishment in the spotlight. I confess at the outset that I am not sympathetic to the case. I believe that he received a fair trial and plenty of appeals. He was on death row for 22 years, and during that time his case was reviewed by 12 courts of appeal. He was convicted by a jury, and despite what is going around on the internet, there were multiple eyewitnesses who will still testify to this day that they saw Davis shoot a man in the middle of a parking lot in cold blood for interfering with the pistol whipping he was giving to another man.

The case made me wonder this: if the prosecution brought forward 34 witnesses to this deed, if a jury convicted the man, if the jury recommended the death penalty, if Davis lost every appeal, if the case was reviewed by 12 courts and once again at the order of the Supreme Court, and Davis was still executed, at what point would the critics of his execution be satisfied that due process was followed?

If someone is against capital punishment, I understand their never being satisfied with the verdict. It seems to me, however, that something different than that may be at play here. That is, if we live in a culture that has, by and large, rejected the idea of absolute truth. If we are allergic to objective truths by nature, then I wonder what sort of evidence is required now to prove anything "beyond a reasonable doubt"? It seems impossible to do so in a culture that is convinced the only reasonable thing to do IS doubt.

The PR team for the defense performed a near coup. They lost in the courtroom multiple times, but they seem to be winning in public opinion. How? They cast doubt on the judicial system. They said "seven of nine" eye-witnesses recanted. The public believed that, but is it true? There were 34 witnesses, not nine. None of the recantations made said that Davis didn't do it; they simply said they were no longer sure it was him. Actually, only two of the seven were supposed to have said that, but the defense never let them testify. Why not?

The defense also cast doubt on the officers who investigated the case by saying they coerced witnesses. Did anyone ask if the defense coerced the witnesses before the appeal? And, why are we ready to believe that the police stepped over the line without their being subject to a fair trial? The defense says that the witnesses said that they were coerced, and we just believe that? The courts didn't, and there are still witnesses to this day, even by the defenses account, that are willing to take the stand and say, "I saw Troy Davis shoot Mark MacPhail in the parking lot."

What does it take, then, to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt? Two eyewitnesses? Twenty? A video of the incident? DNA? Or could it be that we are simply so uncomfortable with saying, "This is the truth" that we can hardly pass judgment on anything anymore?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Primaries, Debates, and Figuring out who to Vote For

I believe that the Republicans have now held three major debates running up to the primary election. It seems to me, from reading commentary and the way the media portrays these debates, that the only function of these debates is to figure out which candidate to vote for. That is a terrible way to view the debate process, and because of this idea, it effectively silences all the candidates except the front-runners.

Take Ron Paul for example. He is definitely the weird uncle of the Republican primaries. I'm not going to vote for him, but I sincerely wish that he would get more time in the primary spotlight. Republicans need to hear the guy say what he says about Social Security, Medicare, and "preemptive attacks" on sovereign nations. Not necessarily because we need to adopt Ron Paul's views, but because we need to know that there are alternative view points.

Here is what is important to remember. Just because we elect Rick Perry, Barack Obama, or whomever America chooses, it does not mean that we have elected them whole-cloth, and that we can never oppose any of their agendas. Besides this, we may not completely agree with a certain agenda, but may simply wish it were more nuanced. Debates are supposed to help us do this with ideas. Debates are supposed to refine ideas and make them better.

Let's pretend that Rick Perry is your guy. You agree with him on 80% of what he says. But on the issue of Social Security, you actually like what Ron Paul says, with whom you agree with only 40% of the time. But to your dismay, Ron Paul is virtually ignored in the debates, and because Romney and Perry only want to talk about troop deployment, the serious issue of Social Security never even comes up. Worse, if Ron Paul drops out, you fear the subject will be virtually ignored. So you really, really want Ron Paul to stay in the race but you also really, really want him to lose because he is daft enough to say out loud that Iran should be allowed to have nukes!

The educated voter needs to have a good grasp of the issues. He needs to listen to the debates to see which ideas he likes the best. After he has his issues and ideas prioritized, then he can go about measuring the candidacy of each individual. This gives the voter the advantage of knowing his candidates strengths and weaknesses, and give him the ability to communicate to his preferred candidate his concerns should he get elected. It is our duty, as citizens of the United States, to respect our elected officials, but also to communicate to them our concerns in a respectful manner.

It is probably too early to have chosen a candidate for office. Unless, of course, you are a Democrat who thinks President Obama has done a bang up job, or you have followed the career of a particular candidate enough to know that this is your candidate no matter who else runs.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

You Can Never Go Back

A few friends and I had a conversation recently about how difficult it is to watch a football game now that is not in HD. We all laughed at how grainy old football clips are, even to the point of not being able to follow the football very well. The odd thing is that, at the time, none of us even noticed that the picture was grainy.

This phenomenon happens with just about every technology. Old pictures are far fuzzier than you remember when you first took them. We wonder how anyone ever played a game like "Pong" or "Space Invaders." And who doesn't notice the improvement of special effects in movies now?

I don't know of anyone who would trade HD for the old grainy TV. I hardly know anyone still using a "film" camera. We would never go back to those antiquated technologies. They simply do not capture reality as beautifully and as easily as modern equipment.

It is the same with the disciple of Jesus Christ. At each moment of our journey in Christ, we believe that we see our Lord clearly, and that we understand the beauty of His Word. Yet, with each successive day He comes into clearer focus, and His glory and worth becomes clearer. Sometimes, we will stumble across an old journal entry, or a note scrawled on a page, and we may chuckle at how we understood our Lord and His promises. We may marvel at our uncertainty, brashness, pride, or understanding. We see that, at that time, our picture of God was very grainy. We should be glad that the clarity has improved, and we should be grateful that we never have to go back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Life as an Alien and Sojourner

This year I have the privilege of coaching U-8 soccer. I have three Hispanic boys on my team, one of whom barely speaks any English at all. The English of his parents is even worse. I communicate with them in a mix of my terrible Spanish and English. I love these folks, and they seem to genuinely appreciate that I have taken an interest in their children.

I try to imagine what these parents must have gone through to get here, and how difficult life must be from day to day, surviving in a world of white faces. I know what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land. I lived for about three months in Brazil as the only "gringo" around. My Portuguese was fair at best. You cannot imagine how complicated it is to continually calculate dollars to reals. How much is this Coke costing me? The figures are meaningless to you. Is 5 reals for a Coke good or bad? It looks like you are giving them five dollars, but you aren't. And how much change am I owed? What are the coins worth?

You cannot ask the right questions. You don't know if you've received the right change. Everyone is looking at you because you are different; you feel isolated and out of place. You finally muster the courage to speak this strange tongue, and your inquiries are met with blank stares because you misspoke. They cannot understand you. You can't find the bathroom, and you cannot ask where it is. You think you got short-changed, but you can't be certain. If you add to this a general sense of hostility from the locals and the sinking feeling that you aren't wanted there, and you have a recipe for high stress to say the least.

This is how what the Hispanics go through here, every day, whether they are legal or not. If they are illegally here, it is much worse. The paranoia of getting caught must be overwhelming. Why did they come here? To flaunt American laws? Surely not! The vast majority came to find a better life. They came to escape the horrible drug lords and wars that are raging south of the border. Some came to escape a mass grave. Have you read the news about what's happening in Mexico? Would you stay with your family, or would you run for their lives?

This is not simply an economic issue. This isn't about an over-burdened tax system and non-contributors. This issue is about people. It is about children. It is about families. Yes, it does present a challenge to us and to our schools. But our first concern should not be the budget's bottom line. Any decision we make must be seasoned with compassion for a fellow human being, even if that decision is inevitably deportation.

Christian, you ought to have compassion for the alien and sojourner in your midst. You ought to remember that we are all aliens and sojourners here: this is not our home. You ought to remember that you are called to be a servant of the nations. Does this mean that you can't have a strong opinion on deportation of illegals? No, it does not mean that. It does mean, however, that you cannot treat law-breakers as sub-human money sponges.

Show compassion to your neighbor. Have mercy on the alien and sojourner in your midst. Treat them like beings made in the image of God. To do any less is unthinkable. Remember, the Lord your God is the Lord of All, and he loves the aliens and sojourners in your midst, and He is swift to take the side of the poor. We ought to be like Him.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday is for Fallacies

Fridays are fun days, and as such I have decided to post overheard logical fallacies. For fun and to show off, you can name that fallacy in the comment section.


Wife: I'm telling you, that man is no good. Women's intuition is better than a man's; you can tell because we're right more often.

Husband: I couldn't agree more, dear. You could use our marriage as an example.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Prophetic, but Not Inspired: The Difference Between Prophecy and Inspiration

As the argument over the use of the miraculous sign gifts continues, I want to quibble a bit with my cessationist allies. Often in the conversation over whether or not "prophecy" is still a continuing gift, cessationists will talk as if a prophecy should be "added to the canon." I think that this is a careless way to talk about the gift of prophecy because there is a difference between prophecy and inspired Scripture. They have many similarities, but they are not the same thing.

As a caveat, I confess that I do not know how God inspired the apostles and prophets to write Scripture. I do know that prophecy came in various forms: audible voices, dreams, visions, and apparently even in song. The act of writing inspired Scripture, however, remains a mystery. Nevertheless, it is important to note that both are direct revelations from God, regardless of the means in which they are delivered.

As far as similarities go, both prophecy and Scripture are divine revelation, and they are both 100% correct and binding. This may make them appear to be analogous on the surface, but it doesn't. Prophecy could be far more limited in scope than inspiration, and it was often not universally binding. Scripture, however, is always universally binding when applied correctly.

Here is what I mean. Nathan was a prophet who spoke prophetically to King David. His most famous prophecy involves his confrontation of King David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. By revelation of God, Nathan uncovers David's sin, and lets David know that though he will not die, God is going to punish him. This story is both prophetic and inspired. It is inspired because it is written down; it is prophetic because it was direct revelation from God.

However, Nathan's prophecy to David does not apply to the reader in the same way it applied to David any more than Jonah's prophecy to Nineveh directly applies to Russia or the United States. As the inspired canon, these prophecies fit into the great whole to teach us lessons about God's sovereignty and forgiveness and severity, but we cannot go about telling cities that God will overthrow them in forty days or that God will deal with adulterers in the specific ways outlined to David.

We know, for instance, that there are prophecies that were not inspired. I can say that all prophecy is given by direct revelation of God, but not all prophecy is inspired. (You might say it this way: Not every teacher can pastor, but every pastor must teach.) I'm using the word "inspired" technically, meaning the infallible word of God written down and applicable to all people. One example is found in 1 Samuel chapter 10. There, King Saul prophesies with a group of travelling prophets. We know that he prophesied, and we know that there was a travelling band of prophets. We do not, however, know the content of their prophecies. We know that they were revelation from God, and that they were applicable and binding on someone, but they were not inspired for the world.

I only write this in an attempt at caution, lest the cessationist wind up overstating his case. Prophecy is not necessarily inspired canon, and it should not be considered as such. Prophecy was and is binding on those for whom it was meant, and so it is serious business. After all, false prophecy was a capital offense.

I do not believe that the prophetic ministry has continued from the days of the apostles. The apostles and prophets never uttered an 'iffy' prophecy, and they never wondered whether their word came from the Lord. They never prophesied with the caveat of "sometimes I'm wrong." No modern day 'prophet' has the chutzpah to prophecy like that, and the reason is because whatever it is he is doing, it isn't what the apostles and prophets of old were doing. If it were, he would not be confused or shy about it. He could say, on pain of death, "Thus saith the LORD!"

There, my small point is over. I'm sure that this minor addition to the conversation will inevitably lead to an end to the entire imbroglio.