I had the weirdest thing happen yesterday. There I was just minding my own business when an email comes through from the Oregon Department of Human Service. I’ve been leading a round-table group at Corban University and facilitating a discussion on anti-sex trafficking efforts in the state. The concept was to get all the players around the table – state agencies, local law enforcement, non-profits, victims, and the rest – and see if and where the Christian community could plug-in to support them in areas where there are gaps in the system.
We had an initial meeting in October of last year and a follow-up meeting in January. Certainly, not everyone around the table agreed, but the conversation was good and was really meant to brainstorm how to engage the roughly 1 million Oregonians who consider themselves Christians (24 percent of the population – one of the lowest in the nation, by the way).
Now I am the first to say that inviting the faith community to partner with the establishment is not always an easy endeavor. There are lots of trust issues, as well as political issues. And this might surprise the establishment, those issue cut both ways. Yet, I felt we were actually making some progress.
That is why the DHS email was a bit of surprise. Their attached letter said they wanted to remove themselves from our little group and made veiled accusations about how we were somehow endangering the establishment’s process. The letter was signed by someone I’ve never met, with whom I’ve never spoken, and who never attended any meetings. Certainly, it was drafted by the person who did come to one meeting.
Now, I’ve been in politics a LONG time and the letter certainly was meant to break my legs politically and somehow undermine what we are trying to do in the faith community. Honestly, it was no real surprise even if it was the height of unprofessionalism not just to give me a call and talk with me first.
As I thought about it, I knew a second email would be coming! There is one particular non-profit that I got a little sideways with during the one meeting they attended and I was sure they were in cahoots with DHS. Sure enough, at the end of the day Friday that email arrived also asking to be removed from the group, and again accusing the group of undermining existing efforts. And again, the person who sent that email had never attended a meeting, but I had met with her once and felt we had a great meeting!
Both emails were sent to the University leadership and the members of the entire group pretty much to smear me.
Personally, it matters very little if these people want to work with us or not. The gates of hell will not stand against Jesus’ church and the work it does against evil, including sex trafficking. We don’t need the establishment’s permission as Christians to do God’s work. If everyone left the group we’d still soldier on.
But here are a few things that I think as Christians we always need to keep in mind when trying to work in the secular world.
First, the accusations made in both communications were not just off base they were intentionally false. Jesus warned us that people would make false accusations about us and that we were to be prepared for that.
Second, people will go to war over turf. As Christians, it’s very difficult for us to break into established government and other secular groups, so we often have to begin our own groups in order to have a voice. But when you do that, people are going to be upset and claim you are undermining their efforts. The fact is it’s just a turf battle and the establishment doesn’t like things they cannot control…like the faith community.
Third, and this one bothers me more than the others, one of the people who bombed me claims to be a Christian. Simply put, Christian brothers and sisters don’t treat each other that way. If you have a problem with a fellow believer, scripture tells you what to do: Go to them and reconcile. The lesson is sometimes those who should be your allies are your worst enemies; be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.
Lastly, you don’t make friends and influence people when you rock the boat. The person from the non-profit who I definitely upset during our second meeting asked why the group wasn’t focusing on all the positive stuff that was going on? I explained that the point was not to focus on what was working but on what was not so that we could find gaps that perhaps could be filled by the faith community. In other words, we were looking at the establishment’s failures and they didn’t like it. As Christians, we are told to have a sober judgment of ourselves – be honest about our success and failures. But the secular world often doesn’t have that same view and is very uncomfortable being exposed. We Christians don’t always like it, but we embrace that kind of transparency and vulnerability because Jesus commands us to. Not so with the secular world.
As you can imagine, I had several emails and phone calls from other members of the round-table group who were pretty confused. They were in the same meetings as everyone else and just didn’t understand how these two groups have it so wrong.
My answer: It’s politics.
Everyone loves Christians when we’re feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and giving money to the poor. They don’t love us so much when we tell them what we believe and actually want to do something about it. I spent about half my adult life working in government at both the federal and state level. It was my experience that Christian organizations – churches and non-profits – are routinely discriminated against when they offer to partner and help.
I don’t know if the DHS and the non-profit people who sent me the nasty-grams are just mad at me, don’t want to work with Christians, or don’t appreciate non-establishment groups invading their turf. But I do know this: We will continue to do the work even if nobody else wants to work with us.
As Christians, we cannot run and hide when people push back against us. As Peter and John told the religious leaders of their day, “Who are we to follow, men or God?” Sex trafficking is a great evil that is a spiritual battle of hearts more than a law enforcement battle against pimps and Johns. They may not realize it, but the establishment actually needs the faith community if they truly want to make a difference in this issue. We have resources, bodies, facilities, programs, and most importantly, Jesus!
So, what they planned for evil I know God will use for good! We will continue to do the Lord’s work whether people like it or not.