Friday, September 17, 2010

Forget tattoos — faith must be more than skin-deep

City Church in Anaheim, Calif., celebrated its first birthday — and its success in doubling its congregation to 200 worshippers — by having members get tattoos of the red-heart church logo.

Pastor Kyle Steven Bonenberger told his flock, according to the Los Angeles Times, that God “tattooed your name on his heart” and it was time for an everlasting commitment to him and the church.

Every Christian is indeed indebted to God, but the pastor’s statement is flawed and lacks biblical backing.
The Scriptures teach that an eternal commitment to God is made only through faith by believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection as an atonement for one’s sins.

While tattoos may be permanent, they are not everlasting. Christians believe the soul is the only part of a human that is immortal; when the body disintegrates, the tattoo will vanish.

In the early Christian church, some Jewish believers were incorrectly teaching gentile converts that they needed to be circumcised to be justified by God. The Apostle Paul taught that this external action — once mandated by Mosaic law — had no bearing on one’s salvation and, in fact, could pervert the gospel and make believers think they had a hand in their justification.

In Galatians 6:13-15, Paul says, “they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. ... Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

In his statement, Bonenberger also seems to be encouraging an everlasting allegiance not only to God but also to City Church.

The church is to be a bridge to God, but some people of faith elevate the establishment above deity. One of 12 City Church members who agreed to get inked was quoted as saying, “City Church has really done a lot for our family, so I thought it would be a nice way to pay them back.” Clearly she feels indebted to City Church but says nothing of gratitude to God.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with having an affinity for one’s church and committing to lifelong membership. Spiritual leaders encourage it. “Church-hopping” — jumping from church to church — is a problem. I never considered branding as a solution; it certainly would force one to think twice before “hopping” to the next congregation.

Many churches resort to gimmicks to increase and retain members. Gimmicks are temporary and do little to
cultivate deep faith.

The way to show a commitment to God is not through an external marking but rather an internal one. The Bible says that man is concerned with the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

People of faith can’t dodge immigration issue

Rep. Stephen Sandstorm, R-Orem, unveiled a Utah immigration bill last month that is similar to Arizona’s controversial law.

While the bill clarifies that law enforcement may not consider “race, color or national origin,” officers need have only a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is undocumented. Many worry this could lead to racial profiling and harassment, particularly of Latinos and those with accents, regardless of their citizenship status.

Clearly there are no simple solutions to the divisive and complex immigration problem. Legitimate concerns on both sides must be addressed. But the current patchwork solutions do little to fix an immigration system in need of an overhaul.

People of faith cannot ignore the sticky issue. In Exodus 22:21, God said to the Israelites, “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him.” In the New Testament, Jesus, a Jew, broke social norms and interacted with a Samaritan woman. In Matthew’s Gospel, he tells Christians to care for “the least of these among us.”

We are a nation of immigrants that always has been a refuge for those seeking a better life. We should not abandon our values because the immigration challenge seems insurmountable.

The scope of that challenge shows up in estimates pegging the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at about 11 million. In recent years, the number of deportations has risen sharply. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Murray branch says about 50 to 60 detainees are flown back to their original countries each week.

While some deportations result from an illegal immigrant committing a crime, the process can be launched after a simple misdemeanor or traffic violation.

Innocent victims of deportation often are children.

A child born in the United States is granted citizenship regardless of their parents’ residency status. If a parent is deported, family members usually remain in the United States because they have a more promising future here.
Another group that receives no sympathy are children brought to the United States illegally by their parents. These children grow up as Americans and may discover their illegal status only later on in life. But these individuals run the risk of being deported to a country to which they have no ties.

Amnesty is not the solution. Providing those here illegally with automatic citizenship would lead to a surge in illegal immigration and is unfair to the millions awaiting legal entry. But we cannot blindly deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our country. Besides being expensive and logistically impossible, this approach lacks compassion and does nothing to combat the problem.

We must call on lawmakers to find a more palatable solution: Comprehensive reform that addresses the reasons for illegal immigration, secures our borders, tries to keep families together and works with law-abiding individuals currently living and contributing to our communities to seek a path to citizenship.