God, Football, the American Flag, and Nationalism.

pray lewis

1.19.13: One of my favorite views of Baltimore City right now is entering into the downtown area from the 395 off-ramp. Our city is painted with Ravens spirit-purple lights dancing on skyscrapers, “Go Ravens” posters taped to city windows, and, my favorite: the billboard that simply said “WOW” after the Raven’s win last Saturday. In fact, as I sit down to write this at the Towson Public Library, a woman just pointed out that the bookshelf next to me contains an entire collection of books with purple covers, complete with a border of purple stars cut out of construction paper.
Purple has become a unifying topic bringing complete strangers together in conversation. All week at work, I’ve asked patients, “You see the game last Saturday?” or I’d see someone wearing a purple scarf and fist bump in the air an amiable, “Go Ravens!” (and often hear, “I know, that’s right.”) I think this is one of the beautiful things about sports: its ability to bring people together, irrespective of socioeconomic status, race, or political beliefs.
But I can’t help but notice something else too.

When did “football” become so analogous with “God” like “God” and “America?” (i.e.
“God Bless America” bumper stickers, etc.) Faith and football, faith and flag. Is this what God is all about? In comments sections of Ray Lewis’ exhortation of “No Weapon Shall remain” are statements such as, “God was with our team.” Is God not with the team who loses? “God blessed our team.” Is God not blessing the teams who lose? Is God up in Heaven writing out the play by play of who will pass to who, and who will miss the ball, to make that person score, to make this team win?

Don’t get me wrong.

I’ve prayed throughout competitions. Not so much to win, but to focus my mind on something bigger than myself to draw upon for strength. I’m not saying people should or shouldn’t pray or talk about their faith in the arena of sports.

But what I am questioning is the amount we partner “God” with “football.” In a nation with “In God We Trust” written on our currency, and in a nation in which “God Bless America” is uttered in many speeches, auditoriums, and pre-game concerts, I wonder at what point we’ve made a show out of God being on “our side.”

What would it look like to live in a world in which we had murals about praying for peace, rather than praying for football? What would it look like to talk about God in correlation with social justice as frequently as God is talked about with America and football? What if we had prayer rallies not for our team to win, but for no children to be trafficked at the Super Bowl? As Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott stated prior to the 2011 Superbowl in Arlington, Texas,

 “The Super Bowl is the greatest show on Earth, but it also has an ugly underbelly. It’s commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”

Something tells me we are off kilter when we pray for teams to win the Superbowl, while forgetting about 14 year old girls sold off as “Superbowl Specials.” Because when you look at Jesus’ priorities, it was always for those on the fringe to be brought into inclusion, while nationalism and religiosity were shunned.

So bring on the purple. Pray about anything and everything. But let’s realize that God is much bigger than football. God is much bigger than America. God cares about more than blessing solely either one of those. Let’s remember that God loves and blesses all people, and for those who do not experience such blessings due to poverty and war, let’s be conduits of peace and justice. And win or lose, let’s know how deeply God loves our opponents, our enemies, and ourselves, showing no favoritism while at the same time cheering each of us on to become more and more into the likeness of our Creator.

So, what do you think?
What does America most often couple God with? Love? Justice? Homophobia? Sports?
Do you believe that God shows no favoritism while at the same time cheers us on as we seek God’s heart?

For Where Your [Treasury] is, There Your Heart Will be Also

April 30, 2012

With the same dollar that says, “In God we Trust,” America funds exploited foreign labor of men and women from developing countries in American combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. While attending an International Justice Mission advocacy workshop a couple of weeks ago, righteous anger filled my heart as I learned about this and the many horrors of labor trafficking stemming from U.S. government contracting. Volunteers imbued to do something about human trafficking took to Washington D.C. on April 16 to lobby for three specific bills that will address trafficking.

The one that grabbed my attention most was the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act introduced in March 2012 by 11 senators and congress members from both political parties to address the deceptive and dehumanizing practice of foreign worker exploitation. Currently, the United States uses three main defense contractors (KGB, Fluor, and DynCorp International), who then subcontract to other subcontractors, subcontracting even further to reach global subcontractors, many of which are on the human-trafficking noncompliance list.1 These recruiter agents then go to countries such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and other developing countries to recruit locals, eager for employment. Individuals are promised a job in a big city like Dubai upon paying an exorbitant recruiting fee (an average of $3,000) to pay for a visa and travel. Since many individuals cannot afford this fee, they will go to a loan shark, where they are charged 35-45% interest or use their house as collateral.1 The individual is then given a tourist visa (not a permanent visa), and instead of arriving at a five star hotel in Dubai, they find themselves in the middle of a U.S. Combat Zone on a U.S. military base. Known as “third country nationals (TCNs),” these workers serve in occupations such as janitors, cooks, and hairdressers serving American Army men, women, and families, making half of the money they were promised, living in a dangerous environment.

Despite having a zero tolerance on human trafficking, more than 250,000 people have been victims of labor trafficking on U.S. government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years2; combat zones that we (the U.S.) created. Instead of starting our own war and dealing with the implications of that (that’s a whole other story), we are now suddenly bringing other countries’ citizens into our war, without their prior knowledge, through deceitful forced labor. Hidden in some contracts to TCNs are consent to work “seven days a week, twelve hours per day.”1 Additionally, there have been cases of harassment and repeated sexual abuse. 1 Some workers were housed on soiled mattresses with twenty five other migrants from countries around the world. Not only faced with harsh living conditions and paltry pay, workers face the risks of mortar fire, rocket attacks, and explosive devices. One woman interviewed in the New Yorker recalled that “a Kevlar helmet and bulletproof best sat at the foot of her bed.” Hardly the beauty salon in Dubai that she had been promised.1 Worse off, in an attempt to disrupt U.S. supply chains in 2004, Sunni militants kidnapped, blew up truckers, shot and even beheaded TCNs to send the message that they should be punished for working with the U.S.2 Many of these workers find themselves unable to escape their situations because their passports and other forms of documentation have been sequestered from them. For the few who do make it home, many encounter difficulties paying off their loans to the loan shark.

The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act addresses these problems by promoting prevention, accountability, and enforcement. Contractors with contracts of over $1 million must implement compliance plans to prevent trafficking abuses such as confiscating passports, misrepresenting work location, and activities supporting the procurement of viable sex acts. This bill will improve accountability by requiring a contractor to notify the Inspector General if they receive “credible evidence” that a subcontractor has engaged in prohibited conduct. Investigations of such cases will be required and findings must be reported to the public. Finally, the bill will strengthen enforcement of polices by taking action against violations, including the removal of employee(s) or the debarment of the contractor.

While I think this bill is progress, I think there is a bigger issue at hand: Why are we creating policies to manage injustice rather than dismantling such systems? Why are we putting global citizens’ lives at risk in the first place? Why are we (the U.S.) paying men and women of developing countries unlivable wages, subjecting them to harassment, long work hours in dangerous conditions to begin with? Just to save money? Just so the casualties these workers are subjected to won’t be the death or injury of an American life? If Americans were hired for government work, labor polices would be in effect, including at least minimum wage, benefits, and liabilities. But we must not see third country nationals as deserving of such liberties, or else we would have already done so. We would have already made outcry and spoken instead of passively ignoring the issue with silence. It is our silence on such issues that sustain systems of corruption and injustice.

Whenever we value money over people, we will fail as humanity time and time again. When your priorities are power, defense, and capital, there is little room for respect and dignity. When we print, “In God We Trust” on our currency, are we trusting that God will bless our effort of military might and power, while ignoring our lack of dignity towards those of other countries? Do we trust that God supports our policies, however biased they are towards preserving American quality of life at all costs, simply because we sing “God Bless America” and have American flags in many of our churches? What does it say about the heart of America when our treasury funds a hierarchy of whose safety, well-being and labor “does” and “does not” really matter?

“For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Imagine a world where our time, money, energy, and priorities, are spent on love. Imagine a world where we don’t trust in the little gods of flags and patriotism, but we trust in the God of the Nations. Imagine a world where a Nepali life is valued as much as an American life. Imagine a world where we might be able to consider asking for God’s blessing because we not only love our neighbors, but we love and do good to our enemies. Imagine a world less focused on its borders and boundaries and a world that realizes that no matter which part of the Earth we reside, we are all ONE- humanity and life itself unite us, not our flags and fences. It seems to me that if we’re a nation that “trusts God,” then we should start trusting in the Kingdom values— That when Jesus talks about storing up treasures in Heaven, he meant that we are to invest in the attitudes and practices of the Kingdom of God: LOVE. What we spend our time, money, energy, voice, and very life on reveals what’s important in our lives, reveals what we stand for. Better than bills, greater than policy change, is loving and serving others (no matter the race or nationality), treating each person as you would like to be treated. THAT is worth placing our treasure in, and our hearts will be always and forevermore be changed.

So, what do you think?—

Are the lives of people in other countries valued as much as the lives of American people?

How can we support fair labor practices, not just in government contracting, but in our everyday purchases/expenditures?

Edmund Burke once said, “All that’s necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women!] do nothing.” How do you feel about this?


To learn more:
1. (2011, November 2). Are government contractors exploiting workers overseas? Examining enforcement of the trafficking victims protection act. http://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/11-2-11-Subcommittee-on-Technology-Information-Policy-Intergovernmental-Relations-and-Procurement-Reform-Hearing-Transcript.pdf

2. Stillman, Sarah. (2011, June 6). The invisible army: For foreign works on U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, war can be hell. Retreived from www. Newyorker.com/reporting/2011/06/06/110506fc_fact_stillman

3. http://www.wartimecontracting.gov/

To act:
-Support the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012 here: https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/112/hr4259

Email, call, fax, or meet with your representatives and ask them to support anti-trafficking initiatives. Thank your legislators that do. Many organizations already have pre-filled email submission forms requesting support for legislature that individuals can sign for the organization to deliver. Check out the email campaigns of IJM.org and one.org.

-Write an op-ed to your local newspaper explaining key trafficking issues, pieces of legislature that address them, and encourage community participation in any local anti-trafficking events. Create your own event if none exist. Changing the world is easier than you think 🙂