Sunday, March 30, 2014

Opium Furthers the Kingdom of God

Bernie and Daphne Stresspool (not their real names) sit a few rows behind us at church every Sunday. Bernie holds two doctorates and has been a highly respected theologian since at least 1992, when I first heard his name. He was the first link in the chain that took me to becoming an editor years ago.
Daphne was a missionary in Taiwan before marrying Bernie. Though she has been stateside for two decades, her passion for missions never waned, and she was finally able to convince Bernie to join her on a trip to Asia over the Christmas break to see what he could do to help the believers there (as he currently helps more mature believers who attend the seminary he teaches at here). Relevant to what follows, she is also a Fox News conservative, the daughter of a still-feisty nintety-something Fox News conservative.
A few days ago, when I gave a talk at Bernie’s seminary, my asthma flared up and I was barely able to finish my remarks, having to stop dozens of times for coughing spells. Afterwards I was conversing with Daphne, who related a story the essence of which is this:
While Bernie and I were in Asia, we both got horrible colds that really slowed us down and that wouldn’t go away. We were staying with an elderly Chinese Christian man who told me he had just the thing to fix my cold. He went into the back room of his house and came out with a little bottle with a label that said, “Brown Liquid.” That was the name of it: Brown Liquid. Well, I took some of it, and three days later, Bam! Cold gone. So I told Bernie to try it. Same thing: Bam! Cold gone.
So I looked at the label to see what was in it. The first ingredient was trans-something-or-other, I don’t know. The second ingredient, in equal proportion to the first, was opium! [Exclamation in original.]
They have some really great medicines there that we can’t get here.
I also found out that restaurants in China put opium in their soups to keep the customers coming back.
Ya don’t say! Bingo twice.
Now you know why I’ve changed the names: they wouldn’t dare tell their story on Fox News. Actually, I shouldn’t say that: they are people of character, so they probably would dare, but Fox News probably either wouldn’t allow them to or would make sure their viewers didn’t draw the same conclusion I’m drawing from it.
I was castigated by Fox News conservatives for this post because I asked if local policemen use words I hear on the street every day I’m in Philadelphia; a member of our congregation is also a member of our local police department, and I had apparently besmirched his reputation. While I would tell the keeper of the Bridge of Death that the congregant in question does not use bad language or mistreat people from ethnic minorities when in uniform, I have also heard that he is not to be messed with when on duty, so I would also tell the bridgekeeper that said congregant would without hesitation arrest anyone he found in possession of opium.
So opium enables a world-class theologian to serve believers in Asia, but US evangelicals (almost all of whom that I know are either Fox News conservatives or Obama liberals) have no compunction about caging people who would sell it here. So what?
As I write, I am still almost incapacitated by my asthma. The only way I can get a medicine that I know works on it is either to go to the emergency room and pay emergency room rates or to wait until tomorrow morning, call my doctor, wait until he decides to phone in the prescription (assuming he doesn’t need to see me first, which will be impossible until the afternoon), and get it then. I could be wrong about what ails me and so what would relieve my symptoms, but given the option between trying something on my own and waiting another day or two to get the doctor, I’d prefer the former. It’s my body – shouldn’t it be my choice?
I hear two objections. First, “My body, my choice” is the mantra of pro-abortion mothers. My response is, I can’t stop abortions in China or Japan or Sweden; they’re not my people, it’s not my problem. In the same way, the kind of people in the US who would abort their children are not my people. (One exception, a married couple who will remain anonymous, aborted a child because “the mother’s life was in danger”; they are most assuredly my people.) The world doesn’t need more Democrats. If they want to kill their children, I say let ’em – they’ll only grow up to be looters. (Though if they ask me, which they won’t, I’ll give them every reason I can think of to have the baby.)
Second, self-diagnosis is risky: people die from it. That is also correct, methinks. But I also coughed my way through an advertisement last night that claimed that every 39 minutes or something someone dies from prescription drugs. See here (and yes, the Monitor’s objectivity on this subject would be suspect). You can’t eliminate stupidity just by making a law against it. Most importantly, the Bible nowhere tells us to cage people for stupidity.
I came to Christ in part because the House of Shalom in North Bend, Oregon, gave me a place to sleep on a rainy evening in 1972. They allowed me to read a passage from my copy of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures at their Bible study, and while their response was unenthusiastic to say the least, they didn’t try to take it away by force, and they certainly didn’t call the police. In short, they made me feel welcome and safe, and they were the first link in the chain that led me to my first prayer of repentance a week or so later.
The War on Drugs is evil. Evil, evil, evil, evil, evil. However well intended it is, it is evil. That the evangelical church in the US is behind it, proudly sending its youth to fight it, is – along with her admiration for those who drop bombs on women and children from miles, sometimes thousands of miles, away, and who cage desperate women – an indication of how far she is from the heart of God.
If we really want to see people come to Christ, we need to stop threatening stupid and desperate people (whom, let it be said yet again, the Bible nowhere tells us to threaten) and begin offering them the water of life that Jesus Christ has so freely given us often, and certainly in my case despite  our own stupidity.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

“Compliant Victims” of Human Trafficking

In an ongoing discussion I’m having with a good friend about police crackdowns on prostitution in our area, The question is asked: What about “compliant victims,” those who “seemingly willingly enter into trafficking”? After all, “in these instances, it is difficult to determine whether a victim is being trafficked, or entering into their circumstances of their own volition.”
The question pretty much gives away the answer. If you can’t tell whether a person is being trafficked, it’s not clear what to do, is it? Shouldn’t the first question be, Is this person being trafficked? If so, the first priority is to set that person free from captivity; only after that – but I would want to see it immediately after that – should action be taken against the trafficker.
Governing the entire process should be the ethos that people are innocent until proven guilty and that innocent people’s lives and property – even those of people in professions we wish there were no market for – are sacred. The idea that we can stop trafficking by going after those who (as far as we know) would patronize only legal merchants if given the chance is just wrong.
For one thing, the Bible nowhere tells us to put prostitutes and those involved with intoxicants in cages. If you think it even allows us to do so, tell me this: how long does the Bible tell us a 17-year-old first-time prostitute should spend in jail? Should she also have her name in the paper? Should she also be mutilated so she is no longer a desirable product?
Consider, please, the possibility that the lack of biblical guidance on the subject, far from being a license for libertine social planner wannabes to do what is right in their own eyes, is an indication that this is an instance of “‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord, ‘I will repay.’”
The introduction of “compliant victims” doesn't change the basic situation: either people are being coerced or they aren’t. One of the articles linked to above tells of a bunch of do-gooder thugs who raided a brothel in Nicaragua and afterward admitted that they couldn’t tell the difference between “compliant victims of human trafficking and legal prostitutes.” They hassled each equally, disrupting legal business, but without necessarily rescuing victims of trafficking, since they didn’t know who they were! This is madness.
I asked my friend where, if he wanted to traffic a prostitute, he would do it. Would he do it in Elko, Nevada, or Bangkok, where prostitution is legal, or would he do it in Philadelphia, where it’s not? He replied Philadelphia – there would be no market for slaves in the other places. If you want to know why, after trillions of dollars and countless lives have gone down the drain, trafficking of drugs and prostitutes is worse than ever, you need look no further than the unbiblical laws against them. Repeal the laws against them, and they won’t go away, but we can stop wasting money dealing with the symptoms of man’s rebellion against God and get down to the root.
One good way to do that would be to take the resources we currently spend on hassling druggies and prostitutes and equip them to make decent livings in ways we approve of.
Again: if we Christians want to do effective work in Jesus' name to make disciples of all nations, we need to stop doing things he hasn't commanded us to do – like caging women so desperate they resort to prostitution and people who grow plants God planted in Eden – and start doing what he has most definitely charged us to do, specifically securing the release of those unjustly imprisoned (Matt 25:36) by kidnappers – and by governments.