Spotlight Interview with Senator James LankfordOctober 3, 2019
We have talked at length about the concern for refugees around the world. We have also talked about the moral obligation we have as Christians in a culture that fears the other and imagines that resources are scarce and space limited. Into these concerns men and women of faith are stepping forward. One such voice is Senator James Lankford (R-Okla).
Our conversation begins at 19:30
Carmen LaBerge: We’re thrilled to be joined this morning by Senator James Lankford from Oklahoma. Senator Lankford, welcome back.
Sen. Lankford: Thank you very much. Good to be back with you.
Carmen LaBerge: So can I start with just a question for our listeners? How can we pray for you? How can we pray for your staff and how can we pray for your colleagues on the Hill?
Sen. Lankford: You know what, thank you for doing that very much. It is a biblical mandate to be able to pray for those in authority, but it’s also a joy for folks to be able to pray and know that they’re participating in what God is doing around our country and around the world. There are a couple of things I would ask very specifically. One of them is pray the prayer that Nehemiah prayed. That is God give us favor. There are difficult issues, there are things we have to debate to be able to work through. And a Nehemiah prayed specifically that God would give him favor with the next person to be able to get accomplished because there are so many issues that are working through right now.
Sen. Lankford: Please continue to pray for our families as we’re separated and as we go through so many different issues. But then also pray for a spirit of wisdom. There’s a real sense in D.C. right now that everyone’s yelling at everyone. Everyone is just being caustic and mean at each other. That’s not true. But we do need a spirit of wisdom, and a sense of peace to be able to bring some calm to all of the noise of D.C. and to be able to actually bring, okay, what’s the right thing to do? What’s the right way to do it?
Carmen LaBerge: So we’ll close our time today with those specific prayers. And so thank you for sharing them. You know that I ask in earnest and so thank you so much. We’ve talked here about refugee resettlement. We actually talked last week with representatives both from a World Relief as well as an advocate on this topic. So our audience is at least familiar with the proposed 18,000 cap. And so I’d like to take a step back before we talk specifically about your letter and your proposal. I’d like to take a step back and just ask you the broader question. What do programs like refugee resettlement say about us as a nation and what is the proposed reduction communicate to the world about who we are and what we think?
Sen. Lankford: Yeah. Refugees coming into the United States are very different than asylum seekers or people illegally crossing or people coming in for work visas. These are individuals that are in the worst situations in the world. These are in war torn countries. These are in places that are facing religious persecution and these are very difficult situations, and it’s often families that literally flee from their homes at the last second to be able to escape. They ended up in a refugee camp somewhere in the world and they’re living with thousands and thousands of people in a refugee camp. They apply to be able to go through the process to be declared a refugee and be relocated. That means they’re giving up their home country and they go through extensive background checks. They don’t get to pick which country they’re going to, but once those individuals are designated to come to the United States, they go through this very extensive background check process to be able to make sure these individuals that are fleeing can come, that are legally able to do that, that don’t have a criminal background in any way.
Sen. Lankford: And then they go through a refugee settlement process here in the United States because again, these individuals escaped with nothing very often and they have nothing. Have no language skills, they have no background, but they have their own job skills. Many of them were business owners back in their home country. So they come through a refugee resettlement process here in the United States where we spend months helping them transition, become productive citizens. Refugees historically have become some of the most integrated individuals into our community and the fabric of the diversity of our nation because they’ve left everything and they’re just grateful to be able to restart their lives and their families all over again.
Sen. Lankford: So we as a nation have opened ourselves up to refugees in the past, typically around 50,000 or more a year that we have received from different parts of the world to be able to come in. And very often those are refugees fleeing from religious persecution, whether that be in Iraq, or whether that be individuals that are from Syria that are fleeing religious persecution that they often end up coming to the United States. Our integration there not only sends a signal to the world that we believe in religious freedom for every individual, but it’s also that we continue to take in those that are at some of their most difficult moments and help them become productive citizens in the days ahead.
Carmen LaBerge: I like that you made the connection there, Senator Lankford between refugee resettlement here in the United States and our global public witness related to religious freedom and our concern for those who are persecuted religious minorities around the world. I know that you responded to the proposed reduction of the refugee cap with with a letter, but you also led a letter with Senator Chris Coons back in August. Tell us, what you think the better way is here in terms of refugee resettlement.
Sen. Lankford: So then there was a conversation initially that maybe the refugee number would go down to zero because, and we’ve been around 30,000 which is lower already than it is typically and the concern was they’re going to drop it to zero because we have so many people illegally crossing our borders coming into the United States right now, to try to figure out how we’re going to process all of these individuals. But those are two entirely different programs. For those that are illegally crossing, we understand there is a legal way to be able to come into the country and refugee is one of those legal ways that individuals come into our country and become productive parts of our country. So this is legal immigration in this process. And so we initially said, “Hey, we don’t want it to be zero but also don’t think it should go lower than 30,000, because 30,000 is low even historically for what we’ve done as a nation.”
Sen. Lankford: So I have private conversations with the administration and with state department. Chris Coons and I led a letter in August to be able to talk about it. And then we continue to be able to nudge to the administration to say, “Hey, this is for individuals that want to be able to put illegal immigration and asylum seeking and refugees all into one basket.” Those are very different baskets and very different processes. We want to continue to be able to be a strong witness to the world and also to be able to go through a process that people can transition into this country. If they’re coming from war torn areas to be able to help them restart their lives.
Carmen LaBerge: I am talking with Senator James Lankford. You can find what we’re talking about at lankford.senate.gov. We’re going to take a quick break and then we’ll be right back.
Carmen LaBerge: Welcome back to Mornings with Carmen. I am in the middle of a conversation with U.S. Senator James Lankford from Oklahoma. He serves on a number of committees. He serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and state foreign operations and related programs. So Senator Lankford, I’d love to pivot here and have a conversation about what else is on your agenda. I know that immigration is a concern, a heart concern for you as well as a concern for us nationally. Do you want to give us a little update on what you propose might be some positive steps forward in terms of our immigration concerns, particularly at the southern border?
Sen. Lankford: Yeah, serving with the Homeland Security Committee. This is a key issue for us. Every country wants to have secure borders and every country wants to be able to go through a process of individuals crossing, when they’re crossing illegally. I with a smile say to people, there are lots of folks that come to my house. I just want to know who they are before they come through the door and that’s not an unreasonable thing with a country as well. I spend some time down at our southern border this summer visiting with the border patrol agents, the ICE agents, the Health and Human Services individuals that are helping our children, and just asking a lot of questions and seeing the different facilities. One thing that comes up immediately is with the reduction in support for ICE, people don’t realize the humanitarian crisis that’s caused at our southern border. We have thousands and thousands of people a day that are crossing our southern border illegally.
Sen. Lankford: Border patrol will arrest those individuals, will process paperwork and then we’ll hand them off to our ICE folks that they will actually go through the process of actually holding those folks in detention facilities because they’re set up for it. The border patrol stations are not set up to be able to hold people, but when ICE funding is cut, then that means the border patrol stations, which are kind of like police stations, they back up with thousands of people. So part of the crisis we have as odd as it sounds is we have funding in the wrong place. ICE is not getting enough funding, so they’re not doing really good housing for individuals. Border patrol has a lot of funding, but they don’t have the right amount of housing for them and they’re not trained to be able to do it. So we need to be able to fix that as we go through the process.
Sen. Lankford: We’ve got to resolve the issues like DACA and what that means. The president put out a proposal two years ago on how to be able to solve DACA and to be able to give an opportunity for those individuals to be able to go through and apply to get citizenship over a 10 year process. To be able to be in line, but to be able to get some final resolution there, but also wanted to be able to get additional border security. I thought it was a very reasonable proposal the president put on the table two years ago. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of lockup since then about the nature of fences or what we’re going to do in security and other areas. So the hard part about immigration, getting this resolved in Washington D.C. may seem really odd, but if there’s no deadline to do it.
Sen. Lankford: Congress works on a deadline. Our budget has deadlines, different things expire and they have deadlines. Immigration has no deadline. And so because the policy is difficult and because it’s emotional, the Congress continues to be able to push it off and say, we’ll do that another day, another day, another day. And it continues to get worse and worse and worse for those individuals that are here in limbo and in situations on the border. So my push along with some other individuals in the Senate is, let’s have the hard debate. Let’s work through this. Let’s make the decisions. Let’s do what’s right for the security of our country and to be able to get these things resolved in the best possible way.
Carmen LaBerge: So Senator Lankford, you know, one of the things that occurs to me is that there’s a word that I think sometimes we consider a dirty word among Christians, and that’s the word compromise. But compromise is an essential part of the process of coming to a point of resolution on these hard debates. Can you just articulate for us, what does compromise look like that doesn’t actually compromise the faith?
Sen. Lankford: Yeah, so one of the things that I try to clarify to people is, you’re right, when people say compromise, they assume that means compromise your values. I use the word common ground rather than compromise because I don’t believe I’m going to give up my faith. I’m not going to give up my core values. That’s not what I’m going to do. But there are areas where we do have common ground. If you want to do a basic math problem, then I may really like A and B but don’t like C, and somebody else really may like B and C but they really don’t like A. We both like B and so the common ground between the two is there is a part that we both like and we should be able to work through that and try to get that resolved while we’re still arguing about A and C.
Sen. Lankford: When you go through different bills on immigration, there’s wide support for border security. There’s wide support for how we handle our work visas. There’s wide support for even things like DACA and what that looks like, but we end up arguing about the things that separate us, immigration as well as a lot of other issues. We need to find that common ground that we have and the areas that we’re still in disagreement on set those aside. And say we’ll continue to be able to discuss those so we can get to common ground, but in the meantime, let’s not do nothing. Let’s do the things that we know we both agree on and keep moving.
Carmen LaBerge: Again, I’m talking with Senator James Lankford from Oklahoma. Thank you, sir for being so generous with your time this morning. Let’s conclude with a conversation about how you would have those who are listening talk with and about their political rivals, because I think that training up Christians in how to talk about these things is essential and important.
Sen. Lankford: It is actually and quite frankly, it’s what Peter was writing to the church 2000 years ago when he wrote the book of First Peter. He wrote that chapter that we’re all so familiar with. In chapter two of First Peter where it talks about, “Live such good lives among the people who don’t know God, that they will see your good deeds and glorify God on the day that he visits us.” People are very familiar with that passage, but they forget that the very next verse is Peter’s first of four illustration saying, this is a way that you can live a life that will stand out in culture so that you’ll have an opportunity to share your faith.
Sen. Lankford: The very next verse says, “honor authority.” Now that’s jarring to people when they see it in context there because I think what Peter is calling them to is say, “Hey, live a life that will really stand out in culture.” And one of the ways you do that is when you honor authority when no one else does, then you’ll have an opportunity to be able to share your faith and make a difference in culture and that doesn’t mean you agree with everything that authority does or that government does, but we can speak about people and issues in a way that’s honorable and respectable.
Sen. Lankford: I have to keep in perspective when I talk to people, that’s a person created in the image of God. They have value, they have worth in the eyes of God and though we may disagree on an issue. I can still disagree with him in a respectful way. A basic rule of thumb for me is end debates where with someone, if I become so personal in my debate, in my argument with someone, that I can’t at the end of it also share my faith with that person and be received. I’ve gone too far. I’ve become personal. You can disagree on issues without having to disagree personally on things, but this society and our cable news networks and Twitter and Facebook, they kind of draw us into the snarky us most caustic way of attacking someone else.
Sen. Lankford: That’s not a biblical way to be able to deal with issues. It begins first with honoring that individual, with honoring authority, but standing up for also what is right. You can be clear and you can be frank without having to be personal and attacking someone. That gives us the opportunity to not only win the argument longterm, but to also win that person over to what it means to really be able to know God and know what we have experienced in the forgiveness and grace of God.
Carmen LaBerge: Amen. My brother. James, can we pray for you before you go?
Sen. Lankford: Absolutely.
Carmen LaBerge: Father, I come before you with my brothers and sisters in Christ and we we bare up our brother James. We thank you for his service to our country. We thank you for his family. We pray for them today for the times that they are separated and we pray for a sweetness for the times that they have to be together. We do pray with him the prayer of Nehemiah, that Lord you would give James and his colleagues in the U.S. Senate and on the Hill your favor in the difficult decisions that they’re making every day that impact each of us and all of us. Give them a spirit of wisdom as they gathered together and father, give them a perfect discernment in your will forward for us as a people in Jesus Christ name we pray. Amen.
Carmen LaBerge: James Lankford, thank you so much for being with us today. Man we really, we appreciate who you are, what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
Sen. Lankford: Well, thank you. I appreciate that very much.
Carmen LaBerge: Okay. So I hope you’re joining me today in praying for James Lankford and others on Capitol Hill and engaged in government at every level here in the United States of America and frankly around the world, right? We are people who possess access to the very throne room of the living God. And that access was won for us by the obedient death on the cross of Jesus Christ. I mean the barrier that existed was torn in two from top to bottom, not just metaphorically when the curtain was torn in two, but literally, God opened the way for you and I to enter directly in to his presence by the power of the Holy Spirit because of Jesus. And so in the name of Jesus, you and I can go before the father and we can plead today. We can not only confess our own sins and acknowledge the sins of the people of which we are a part. But we can go before God and we can say, give us wisdom, give us discernment, give our leaders an understanding of not only the times in which we live, but the power, the power of this experiment of democracy called America.
Carmen LaBerge: And may we be people not only of justice here, but who export truth and peace and justice around the world. May those be the principles and the characters of the king and the kingdom that we make known to others as we show them forth in our own common life. And as we show them forth in our conversations with others around the globe. So it’s one thing for us to be advocates of religious liberty and freedom in other places. It’s a whole other thing for you and I to be people who walk those freedoms out in the world today in the spirit of Christ. And so live today in the fullness of your faith and in the full freedoms that you enjoy and robustly live your Christian life in public today. We have the freedom to do so. Let us therefore exercise it. All right. Thanks for being with us today. Have a great day and God bless.