Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Monday, December 31, 2012

Kwanzaa and Christianity

“Joyous Kwanzaa.” Holidays reveal our deepest cultural values.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, all reveal the deep underlying values of their celebrants.  In past blogs, I’ve tried to reclaim the biblical roots of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays( reflection.html)

I’ve tried to disentangle the western cultural bias from these important holidays in a way that is biblical, and in a manner which is faithful to my conscience as a follower of Jesus.  I hope that I have been able to do this.  If I have fallen short in any of these respects, I take full credit for the mistakes and pray that God will help me to see things with greater clarity. 

Kwanzaa reveals the deep cultural values of its 2 million adherents. It was established in 1966 by California State University, Long Beach professor, Dr. Maulana Karenga.

According to the website “African Holocaust”:

“Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, which is profound because it reclaims what was lost during the African Holocaust—that sense of an African connection. It replies to the ongoing mental slavery experienced from the Diaspora being culturally orphaned in the West.

Kwanzaa is an authentic African Holiday created in the African Diaspora. It is becoming part of traditional African American, and African diaspora cultural heritage. All holidays have the roots somewhere, and Kwanzaa is an indigenous African American creation… “

The seven principles of Kwanzaa, or “Nguzo Saba,” include:
“Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves stand up.
   Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
    Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
    Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.”
    Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
    Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

At the center of Kwanzaa is a deeply admirable sense of African cultural pride, and an abiding interest in social justice for the African diasporic community.  Kwanzaa rightly recognizes that African Americans possess an important and distinct cultural heritage flowing from Africa.  It also provides a meaningful philosophy of socio-economic and political empowerment for the African American community which continues to experience the detrimental effects of historical and contemporary racism in the United States. 

As an “Asian-Latino,” I can closely identify with Kwanzaa because of the ways in which my Asian and Latino cultures are often belittled in the media and mainstream culture. Kwanzaa also resonates with me because my Asian and Latino communities also continue to experience the lingering effects of historical and contemporary racism in the United States.

As a follower of Jesus, however, what saddens me about Kwanzaa is the fact that it is a reaction to 500 years of historical misrepresentation of Christianity. Western imperialism and colonization destroyed the global witness of Christianity.  Starting with Columbus in 1492, and well into the 20th century, numerous European nations, together with the United States, went around and ravaged the globe. They used their superior military power to conquer almost every nation in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.  As part of this colonial rampage, tragically, more than 12 million Africans were enslaved as part of the African Holocaust. To make matters worse, most, if not all of these western nations claimed to be “Christian.”  This historical misrepresentation of Christianity is what Kwanzaa rebels against. 

The destruction caused by colonialism was not limited to some time in the distant past.  We still feel the terrible consequences of imperialism in the United States and in most nations of the developing world.  African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans continue to experience extraordinary levels of poverty in the United States and to live in communities that are even more segregated than 50 years ago.  Our families and children continue to suffer from unequal public education systems, lack of affordable housing and healthcare, police brutality, unequal justice in the courts, and pervasive racist stereotypes.  Racist socio-economic, legal, and political institutions persist in Latin America, and harmful legacies of colonialism are alive throughout Africa.  Even  HIV/AIDS, the most deadly pandemic of our time is said to have gotten its start during the British colonization of Africa.  

As a result of the religious arrogance and social devastation associated with imperialism, millions of people of color throughout the globe have condemned Christianity over the past five centuries as a “white man’s, colonizer’s religion.”  “If this is what Christianity is all about,” they say, “then why would I ever want to be a Christian?”  “Why would I want to celebrate Christmas?”

This devastates me.  It devastates me because I know that western imperialism was a complete misrepresentation of Jesus and all that Christianity, and Christmas, represent.  As clearly articulated in more than 2,000 verses of the Bible, God is the author of Justice, and He cares for the poor and marginalized and oppressed more than we could ever hope for or imagine.  Jesus came, “to bring Good News to the poor…to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18).   This is what I celebrate this Christmas.  Joyous Christmas.  

Robert Chao Romero

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Shalom: The Revolutionary Hope of Christmas

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been brought up hearing a very limited view of what Christianity is all about.  Many of us have been taught what USC philosophy professor Dallas Willard calls the “gospel of sin management.”  It goes something like this:   “Jesus came to save me from my sins so that I won’t go to hell when I die.”  

Presented in this narrow fashion, Christianity is little more than eternal “fire insurance” which leaves most of life untouched by God’s love and redemption.  We believe in Jesus so that we can be forgiven and so that we can go to Heaven after we die.  Now, forgiveness is an amazing thing.  So is Heaven.  But the Good News of Jesus, and of Christmas, is about so much more.  It is “bigger and better” than what you’ve probably been told.

Jesus came to save, redeem, and transform every aspect of our lives and the world.

His salvation extends over all of God’s good creation which has become twisted and corrupted as a consequence of sin.  This includes everything messed up and broken in our world--whether personal, familial, social, or global.  It includes our personal emotional brokenness and dysfunctional family relationships, poverty, slavery, human trafficking, oppression of immigrants, warfare, lack of clean water, AIDS, gang violence, and lack of educational opportunity.  No aspect of life is untouched by the love and redemption of Jesus!

This is what we celebrate this Christmas and every Christmas.  As Christine and Tom Sine state in their wonderful book, Living on Purpose:  “Jesus Christ is interested in seeing the gospel transform every part of our lives and every dimension of God’s world.”

This comprehensive nature of Christianity is summed up in something called “shalom.”  The word “shalom” is used more than 350 times in the Bible, and it refers to “God’s desire to restore all things to the wholeness and harmony of relationship in which they were originally created” (Christine and Tom Sine, Living on Purpose).   “[Shalom] covers a wide range of meaning:  wholeness, without injury, undivided, well-being, a satisfactory condition, bodily health…If a person or a nation has [shalom], no lack exists in any direction, whether personal or national”  (Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom). 

“Shalom” is the revolutionary hope of Christmas.  Jesus is the Prince of Shalom.  This is what the world has celebrated for 2,000 years in commemoration of Jesus’ birth, and this is what we celebrate this Christmas.  In the famous words of Isaiah:

            ``The people who walked in darkness
            have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
            light! sunbursts of light…

The joy of a great celebration,
             sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.

The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
             all their whips and cudgels and curses—
 Is gone, done away with…

The boots of all those invading troops,
             along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
 Will be piled in a heap and burned,
              a fire that will burn for days!

 For a child has been born—for us!
             he gift of a son—for us!
 He’ll take over
             the running of the world.

 His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
             Strong God,
 Eternal Father,
             Prince of Wholeness [Shalom]

 His ruling authority will grow,
             and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
             Isaiah 9: 2-7 (The Message). 

            May you, and all who are dear to you, know the amazing Shalom of Jesus this
Christmas.  This is my sincerest prayer for you, and this is what this blog is all about.

            With much love,



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Chinese-Mexican-Midwestern Christmas: Biblical Reflections On Cultural Diversity

Greetings from Indiana.  My wife, two children, and I, have made our annual pilgrimage to the land of the Hoosiers. Each winter we travel the reverse course of the birds to visit my wife's family in small-town Indiana. Ironically, my wife's hometown is also a Latino immigrant hub, so it kind of works out.

Unlike many, I enjoy spending time with my in-laws.  They treat me well, and we've always had a great relationship. My kids love spending time with their Hoosier cousins, too.  I asked my two-year old daughter what she liked most about our time so far, and she said, "my friend [her cousin] Natalie."  There's also a part of me that identifies with small town life--the slower pace, friendly folks, and much more considerate drivers.  Every once in a while I'll get a look in public from someone that I'm not sure how to interpret. I think to myself: "Was that general rudeness, is someone just having a bad day, or is it because of my brown skin?" It's usually impossible to know, so I just give people the benefit of the doubt and move on.  It's not too often, so it's not too big of a deal.  Overall, my experience is pretty pleasant.

Without a doubt, though, my yearly trips to the Midwest remind me of my "Chinese-Mexican-ness." I was born in East Los Angeles (Boyle Heights to be exact), but raised in the suburbs of Hacienda Heights, CA.  My father's family are immigrants from Chihuahua, Chihuahua, in Northern Mexico.  Ironically, despite the association of the name with a certain breed of small dog, people from Chihuahua are known for being tall.  My Mexican grandfather was 6 foot 4, and I stand 6 foot 2.  The Romeros lost their fortune during the Mexican Revolution because they sided with the famous revolutionary Pancho Villa. It is said that my great-grandfather died of a broken heart while staring at an empty chest of worthless Revolutionary paper money.  The Romeros eventually made their way to East Los Angeles in the 1950's via El Paso, Texas (a common Mexican migratory path of the time).  My dad, and several uncles and aunts, are graduates of Roosevelt High.

My mother's family comes from Hubei in central China.  They came as religious/political refugees to Los Angeles in the 1950's.  My Chinese grandfather was a pastor and evangelist, and he started Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in China.  He was known as the "Billy Graham" of China, and Christianity Today magazine even did a story about him many decades ago.  My "Gung-Gung," together with my "Po-Po" and 8 kids, fled to the U.S. because he was on the communist "hit list."  As an interesting side note, my Chinese family descends directly from the founding emperor of the Song Dynasty--one General Chao.  We've actually got the documentation to prove it.

When I come to Indiana I become keenly aware of my distinct cultural heritage not only because I stand out like a sore thumb (a 6 foot 2, 220 lb. brown man with pierced ears and a shaved head), but also because, in a positive way, I get the chance to experience a culture that is very different from my own.  I joke with my wife that I'm familiar with about 80% of her culture by virtue of being American.  About 20% of her culture, however, is totally foreign to me.  Not in a bad way, but in a way like,"wow, what did they say? What was that? What was that word?  They didn't teach that word to my family in ESL class."  Sometimes I lean over to my wife and just say, "that's part of the 20%."

My Chinese-Mexican-Midwestern Christmases always make me think about God's plan for diversity, and a particular passage of Scripture found in Revelation 21:22-27:

"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp...The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."

In this passage, the Apostle John describes what it will be like when God restores all things back to the way He originally intended.  This final restoration culminates in the City of God,or, the New Jerusalem.  According to John, the "glory and honor of the nations" will be brought into the New Jerusalem.  The Greek word translated as "glory" in this text can also be translated into English as "treasure" or "wealth."  The Greek word translated as "nations" means the "ethnic groups" of the world. So, this passage could be read as, the "treasure and wealth" of the different ethnic groups of the world will be brought into the City of God.

But what is the "treasure" and "wealth" of which John speaks?  Surely it is not literal currency, or commodities traded on the stock market, or paper money. I believe that John is speaking of the cultural treasure and wealth of the various ethnic groups of the world.  By God's design, every ethnic group of the world possesses distinct cultural treasure:  food, music, art, architecture, song, dance, sports, poetry, jokes, humor, etc., and even unique cultural personalities (more on this in a later blog).  Every nation on earth is on an equal playing field in this regard.  Every ethnic group has its own unique and distinct cultural treasure, and no one's cultural treasure is more valuable than any other's.  It's all good.

This is why racism is wrong.  Racism says "my cultural treasure is better than yours." This passage from the book of Revelation corrects such racist thinking.  It teaches that the cultural treasure and wealth of every nation is so important to God that it will all find its way into the New Jerusalem for us to enjoy--forever.

It's important to note that just as every nation has its own distinct cultural treasure, each nation also has its own distinct cultural "impurities" as well.  This is directly implied by John when he says that "[N]othing impure will ever enter [the City of God]."  Every ethnic group of the world has its unique sinful cultural practices which will not enter the New Jerusalem and which will be banished from eternity.  We're all on equal footing in this regard as well.  No nation can afford to be self-righteous.  This is why "American exceptionalism" is so sickening.  American exceptionalism seeks to propagate the unbiblical notion that the United States has cultural "treasure and wealth," but no cultural "impurities."  Gag.  This is simply untrue and unbiblical.  The U.S. has distinct cultural treasure to be sure, but like every other nation it is not immune to sin.

With this theological foundation laid, now back to my travel diary.  Every time I visit the Midwest for Christmas, I literally get a taste of the "glory and honor" of Indiana.  Through food, music, art, architecture, swim meets, choir performances--and every person I meet--I experience this cultural treasure.  It's a wonderful thing. Some of it is so enjoyable that it even adds a few inches to the waistline!

Although every ethnic group has its own distinct cultural treasure and wealth, and is therefore equal in God's sight, I wonder if it's still o.k. for us to have our favorites?  I'm sure it probably is.  I'm sure God doesn't mind.  Me personally, I'm looking forward to heading back to Cali in a few days and enjoying the "glory and honor" of my Chinese and Mexican cultures once again  :)

Thankful for God's diversity,
Robert Chao Romero
FB:  "Jesus for Revolutionaries"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"The Parable of the Good Undocumented Immigrant": The Good Samaritan Revisited

A central teaching of Scripture is that we are called to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and also that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.  In the parable of the “Good Samaritan,” Jesus teaches that our “neighbors” include those who are culturally different from ourselves and those who are looked down upon by dominant society.  This story is told in Luke 10: 25-37:

What if Jesus were to have told this parable in 21st century America?  Who would be the unloving religious leaders in the story and who would be the “Samaritan”?   Imagine with me that Jesus is telling this parable, today, in Arizona

25 On one occasion a seminary professor stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus,And who is my neighbor?

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Phoenix to Tucson, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

31 A pastor of a “mega church” happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

32 So too, a church elder, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

33 But an undocumented immigrant, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on hydrogen peroxide and neosporin. Then he put the man in his own gardening truck, brought him to a motel and took care of him. 

35 The next day he took out $128 (two days worth of day laborer wages) and gave them to the hotel manager. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The seminary professor replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

May we go and do likewise.  May we fall in love with Jesus more and more each day.  May we learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan, and grow in loving those we believe to be most unlike ourselves. 

Growing in loving,

Robert Chao Romero

P.S., please stay tuned in January for a 40-day series on the topic of undocumented immigration.  Join me then for the 40-Day “I Was A Stranger Challenge”:
Spread the word to your friends and networks!

Also, this contemporary version of the Parable of the Good Samaritan was inspired by “The Cotton Patch Gospel.”  In case you’d like to check out this “colloquial translation of the New Testament with a Southern accent”:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

WWDJ: What Would You Do To Jesus?

In my opinion, the most powerful testimony to God’s love and concern for the poor is found in Matthew 25: 31-46:
“When the Son of Man [Jesus] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

These words of Jesus present a stunning truth:  Jesus loves and cares about immigrants and the poor so much that when we love them we are actually loving him! 
Jesus identifies so closely with the struggles of the poor that he teaches that the barometer of a sincere relationship with him is whether or not we love the poor.  If we love him, then we will love the poor.  When we love the poor we are loving him.  
St. Augustine put it this way, Jesus is present “in the person of the poor.”  "Christ is needy when a poor person is in need" and "is hungry when the poor are hungry." "To come to the aid of the poor…is to come to the aid of Christ the Head who is present and in need in the poor.”  I love Mother Theresa’s summation of Matthew 25, too:  “Jesus appears in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
I like to describe these verses in Matthew as the “WWDJ,” or, “What Would You Do For Jesus” passage.  It’s common to see people wearing bracelets which say, “WWJD,” or “What Would Jesus Do.”   The sentiment behind these catchy bracelets is a good one.  The idea is that, when confronted with a difficult situation, the wearer of the bracelet will stop him or herself and ask, “What would Jesus do in this situation?”   “WWDJ” stands for a related, but different proposition drawn from the logic of Matthew 25:  If Jesus is really present in immigrants, the homeless, and the poor, then we should think long and hard about the way we respond in our daily lives to immigrants, homeless individuals, or the poor.  Would you ever call Jesus a racist name like “beaner,” “spic,” or “wet back”?  Would you ever spit upon Jesus and call him “lazy” and a “bum” if He asked you for money outside of your local grocery store?  Would you ever call Him a “welfare mom who needs to stop having babies and get a job”?
The fact of the matter is that if we really take the Bible seriously, then Jesus is present in the homeless person wandering our local neighborhood in search of food and a dry and safe place to lay her head;  he is present in the undocumented male immigrant cutting our lawn, cooking our meal and cleaning our dishes in the backroom of Denny’s;  he is present in the undocumented mujer who cleans our home and raises our children, and, as Cesar Chavez understood, in the farm worker who picks our fruit at minimum wage so that we can buy strawberries on sale for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s.  Jesus is also present in the “AB-540 student” who works 30- 40 hours a week, commutes 100 miles a day by public transportation, and who sacrifices food for books in order to attend UCLA.  He is present in the Mexicana who is deported and ripped apart from her young U.S.-citizen children and deported to Mexico because mainstream U.S. society is content to benefit from her cheap labor and at the same time blame her for all of it’s social ills; Jesus is present in the female Asian immigrant who was tricked into prostitution and who now lives as a sex slave in Monterey Park and in her relatives who labor away in sweatshops of Downtown L.A. so that a sixteen year old suburban teen can buy her trendy jeans on sale at Forever 21;  He is also present in the African-American and Latino youth of South L.A. who are denied equal access to quality public education, medical care, safe parks, and so many other things; He is present in all of the  inner city residents of the United States who suffer from the increased risk of a multitude of health problems because they live in “food deserts”; Jesus is present in the many African-American women who experience an increased risk of pre-term pregnancy and infant mortality because of the many expressions of racism which they continue to endure in white America. 
Jesus is present in all of the poor, disenfranchised, and “least of society.”  If we love him, we will love them.  WWDJ?

Friday, November 30, 2012

God’s EPC (Part III): Corporate Responsibility and Living Wages

Buenos dias.  Before continuing our discussion of the biblical basis for social justice, I want to thank you for speaking up on behalf of the African American family who was driven out of Orange County by racism.  Thanks for spreading the word about this terrible occurrence and getting in touch with the Yorba Linda City council to express your concern.  I received a thoughtful response from the city after writing them.  They expressed a sincere concern for what happened and said that they have launched an investigation.  No leads have turned up yet, unfortunately.  Let’s continue to pray for justice… 
         Before the Thanksgiving holiday, we had begun a multi-part discussion about the biblical basis for social justice.  Today’s post is part III of this series, and it will explore the biblical basis for corporate responsibility and labor rights. 
         The Old Testament “law of gleaning” speaks loud and clear about corporate responsibility.  Leviticus 19: 9-10 summarizes this important social justice law which is also restated in Deuteronomy 24:
9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God."

         This law from God Himself, commanded landowners, business owners in our language today, to leave some of their potential profits for immigrants and the poor.   In those days when landowners sent out farm workers to pick their fields for sale in the marketplace, some of the harvested grapes and produce would fall to the ground.   In this passage, God commanded agricultural business owners to leave this fallen produce, or “gleanings,” on the ground so that immigrants and the poor could have something to eat.  In addition, this text orders them to leave the “very edges of [their] field” alone, so that immigrants and the poor could harvest the edges for food.  
         The law of gleaning imparts a very important principle which stands in opposition to the corporate greed which we see rampant in America today:  Corporations and other businesses have a moral, indeed divine, obligation to reserve some of their profits to help immigrants and the poor.  Corporations should not squeeze as much profit as they can from the hard work of their employees (i.e., the farm workers employed in the above passage) and keep it all for themselves, their stockholders, and their highly overpaid CEO’s.  This is immoral.   Every business and corporation has a moral obligation to give back and not to hoard wealth when millions in America and around the globe are starving.  Period. 
         The Bible is also clear that corporations and employers have a moral obligation to pay just wages to their employees.   If they make themselves rich by failing to pay their employees fairly, then, as James, Jesus’ younger revolutionary brother tells us, they face fiery divine judgment:
“Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.

2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags.

3 Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment.

4 For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

5 You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter.

6 You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you.”  James 5: 1-6

         WOW!  If you’ve never read the book of James before, you’re probably stunned after reading this passage.  Whoever makes the false claim that the Bible stands opposed to social justice must never have read the book of James before.  I’ve been criticized for sounding too “angry” in my writing about social injustice—I will now reply, yes, I am righteously angry just like Jesus’ brother!
         This passage of Holy Scripture is abundantly clear about the moral responsibility that employers have to pay fair wages to their employees.  If they fail to pay their workers, and by implication if they fail to pay their workers fairly, they face the danger of God’s righteous judgment.  God gets very upset when corporations and employers hoard wealth and fail to justly compensate their workers.  He is enraged when workers cry out to Him about such injustice.  The picture here is that employers who engage in such unjust labor practices are like bloated and overfed cows awaiting the slaughter of God’s judgment.
         This passage makes me think about the disturbing trend of inflated CEO salaries and unlivable wages for incredibly hard-working, blue-collar employees.   Many CEO’s make millions of dollars a year while their hard-working employees don’t earn enough to feed their families.  They benefit from lavish benefits packages and housing and car allowances, while their employees can’t take their children to see a doctor because they lack health care.  This is not right.  This is biblically immoral according to the book of James.
         For example, in 2011, Walmart CEO Mike Duke earned $16.27 million, but how many of Walmart’s employees could not feed their families or take them to see a doctor?  In 2011, the average, full-time Walmart employee earned an annual pay of $15,576.  This salary was about $7,000 less than the 2010 Federal Poverty Level of $22,050 for a family of 4.  And these numbers apply only to full-time employees at Walmart.  What about the many employees who are hired on a part-time basis?
         Do you like to travel and stay at hotels?  I know I do.  Starwood Hotels CEO Frits van Paasschen earned $16.66 million in 2011. How many minimum-wage Latina immigrant moms work at one of the company’s hotels like the Westin and the Sheraton, but don’t make enough money to provide for their family’s basic needs.  Be sure to tip big to the cleaning staff when you stay at a hotel.
         And do you like the shirts with the little horsey on them? Ralph Lauren earned $43 million in executive compensation in 2011.  How many sweatshop workers are suffering in the world today because of those little horsey shirts?
         The Costco corporation is a wonderful counter-example to the rampant corporate greed in America.  It is not a perfect company by any means, but Costco gives healthcare benefits to full and part-time employees and pays an average of $17 per hour!   In fact, Costco shareholders were so alarmed by the high wages paid by their company that they actually sued—unsuccessfully-to try and lower compensation rates.  They lost their lawsuit because Costco was able to prove that their fair employee practices lead to higher corporate profit.  I don’t think that it is an accident that Costco’s fair employee compensation policies were spear-headed by former Catholic CEO, Jim Sinegal.  Mr. Sinegal probably read the book of James. 
In sum, the Bible is very clear:  It is immoral for corporations, businesses, and employers to hoard wealth at the expense of  immigrants, the poor, and their employees.  They have a moral obligation to reserve some of their profit to assist immigrants and the poor, and, for fear of fiery divine judgment, they also have a moral duty to pay fair wages.  Like Jesus’ revolutionary younger brother, let’s speak out.

In solidarity,
Robert Chao Romero
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Driven Out: A Black Family's Battle with Housing Discrimination in the O.C.

It's pretty late on Black Friday (at least for me).  I feel compelled to write this post because of two things:  1. A terrible act of racism which recently occurred in my parents' home town of Yorba Linda, California; and 2. The new movie, "Lincoln," which I just got back from seeing with my wife on our date night. 

Driven out:  in a terrible act of racism reminiscent of the 1920's ands 30's, an African American family was just driven out of my parents' town of Yorba Linda.  They moved to Yorba Linda in 2011.  Both the father and mother are police officers and they have two children--a college-aged and  six year old son.  They moved to Yorba Linda last year hoping to enjoy the peace and quiet of this suburban O.C. town of 65,000.  Their ambitions were shattered by deplorable acts of racism which they experienced.  Racists threw rocks through the windows of their house and slashed the tires of their two cars.  Their six year old child was told by other children at school that they would not play with him because he was black.  Their college-aged son was called the N-word and other racial epithets when he road his bike to work at the local Home Depot.  The last straw was when someone shot acid pellets at the father's car when he was pulling into his own driveway! Before this final act of racial violence had occurred, the family had filed two complaints to the police department, but the police did not feel it was appropriate to categorize the racially-tinged acts as hate crimes.  The mayor of Yorba Linda seemed sincere when he said on Wednesday that city officials "deeply regretted" what had happened and that they did not condone what had occurred. 

"Deep regret" and "not condoning" does not seem adequate in this case, however.  How about "deeply condemn"?  That seems more appropriate in this situation where racists acted violently and with impunity against an African American family of police officers and their two children.  I am enraged by what this family has suffered, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for the past day and a half. 

As I process what occurred, I am reminded of my historical studies of Yorba Linda and the state of California during the first half of the twentieth century.  During this time period, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans were segregated in housing, parks, pools, education, and even in death and burial.  In fact, Yorba Linda was one of the worst offenders, even then.  Many cities segregated people of color, but Yorba Linda would not even allow a segregated Mexican community to exist within its borders! 

It gets worse.  When California state legislators outlawed race and gender-based discrimination in housing as part of the Rumsford Fair Housing Act in 1963, guess what happened?  By a 2-1 margin, California voters repealed the Rumsford Act with a ballot initiative (Prop 14)! It wasn't until the National Housing Act was passed by Congress in 1967 that racial discrimination in housing was outlawed in California once and for all.   

Lincoln:  I went to see the movie,"Lincoln," with all of this spiralling around in my heart and mind. I was greatly surprised, however, by the spiritual insight I gained about these events from watching the movie. There was a line in the movie where President Lincoln said something to the effect of, "Slavery had for centuries hardened the hearts of Americans against the biblical truth that all human beings are made equally in the image of God."  That's a very rough paraphrase (with some Robert Chao Romero artistic and spiritual license thrown in).

I realized that Lincoln was absolutely right.  250 years of slavery had darkened the collective heart and mind and soul of America.  Many Americans convinced themselves--absolutely contrary to all biblical teaching--that some human beings were made more in the image of God than others.  Africans, Native Americans, Mexicans, Latin Americans, and Asians were viewed as unequal to whites, because, presumably, they somehow failed to reflect God's image or reflected God's image in a diminutive fashion.  This unbiblical logic made it ok for whites to enslave blacks for 250 years, kill millions of Native Americans, and seize Native American and Mexican lands based upon the far-fetched theological concept of Manifest Destiny (the idea that God had ordained for Anglo-Saxon Americans to seize control of all of North America so that they could propagate their brand of Protestant Christianity and democracy).  This twisted logic also provided the immoral basis for racial segregation and apartheid.   

It is my belief that a residue of this unbiblical reasoning continues to darken the collective heart and mind and soul of America to this day.  We've definitely come a long way since the abolition of slavery in 1867, but the  deep residue of racial sin in the United States still remains.  The evil ouster of an African American family on the eve of Thanksgiving in 2012 evidences this.  So does all of the anti-immigrant and "blame the poor for being poor" rhetoric that we heard from political campaigns this past year.  A lot of people will not like me for saying this, but I also think that all of the harsh anti-ObamaCare and anti-affirmative action rhetoric of recent months also falls into the same category.  Despite the fact that 50 million human beings made in God's image are suffering in the United States for lack of adequate health care, and millions of students of color have limited future financial prospects because of inequality in our public education system, so many people in this country are unwilling to give up even a small amount of privilege in order to help those who are less fortunate than themselves. 

I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus 2,000 year ago: 
"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-25.

In 2012, almost everyone in America can agree that slavery was wrong and that it was right for Abraham Lincoln to forcefully pursue its abolition.  But that was not what many people believed in his day.  Many condoned slavery and were "darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that [was] in them due to the hardening of their hearts."  America's collective heart was hardened by slavery and the sin of racism which had permeated American culture ever since the earliest English settlers set foot on the continent. We've been recovering ever since.  We've made some good progress, but we have a long way to go.  I've got a long way to go.

Join me in speaking out against this 21st century Jim Crow racial prejudice in Yorba Linda.   Let others know about what occurred and write or call the Yorba Linda City Council.  Let's express to the city council how deeply concerned we are about how this family was treated.  Let's share with them that we are hopeful that they will act to right the wrong and act to ensure that it does not happen again: 

Yorba Linda City Council
(714) 961-7110

Let's also pray.  Pray for the family who experienced the injustice.  Pray that the city council would have wisdom to act in an appropriate way. And, pray for those who committed the injustice as well--that God would change their hearts.  

In solidarity,

Robert Chao Romero


 P.S.,  Here is the letter which I just emailed to the Yorba Linda City Council:

November 28, 2012

Dear Yorba Linda City Council:

My name is Dr. Robert Chao Romero and I am an Associate Professor at UCLA.   I recently read about the disturbing  racist events in Yorba Linda which led to an African American family being driven out of town.  As a former Yorba Linda resident, and as someone who has six family members who are current residents, I am deeply disturbed by what occurred.   When I lived in Yorba Linda I also experienced some racial tension, and one of my family members has also told me about experiences of racial discrimination at the local supermarket as well.  I am concerned for my family members and for other African American, Latino, and Asian American residents of Yorba Linda.

 I am sure that you are deeply disturbed by these recent events, too.  I am hopeful that you will act to right the wrong which occurred and act to make sure that this hostile racial climate does not continue in Yorba Linda. 

I have been so disturbed by what occurred that I have spoken to my UCLA class of 400 students about it.  Sadly, I was told by one of my students that she was not surprised by what happened.  She says that she has Latino family members who live in Yorba Linda and that they have also experienced a hostile racial climate, specifically at Canyon High School. 

In my personal capacity—not as a representative of UCLA—I have also written about what occurred in my personal blog:

Thank you for your attention to this serious matter.  I am hopeful that the Yorba Linda City Council will act with all of its power and authority to remedy this hostile racial climate.   The eyes of many are watching. 

Should you have any further questions, please contact me by phone or e-mail at:  xxxxxxxxx or xxxxxxxxx.


Robert Chao Romero, J.D.,Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Chicana/o Studies & Asian American Studies

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Revolutionary Thanksgiving Reflection

I am very thankful.  I received tenure this year and we bought our first house.  Much more importantly, I’m thankful for my amazing wife and two beautiful, healthy children.  They are God’s most wonderful gift to me.  I appreciate the opportunity that Thanksgiving gives for me to take stock of the many blessings in my life.  I’m keenly aware that I do not merit any of these good things on my own, and that they are all God’s gracious gifts to me.   I’m glad that we, as a country, can pause for at least one day a year to thank God, too (followed by a wild outburst of excessive materialism and consumerism—but that’s a topic for another blog and another day).

I’m not so happy, however, with the romanticized historical narrative which often accompanies the celebration of Thanksgiving in America.  It goes something like this:   “The pilgrim’s came to America in search of religious freedom and established a unique colony of heaven.   These momentous beginnings were commemorated with a happy, happy meal with the Native Americans, and for the next three hundred years America was a godly ‘city on a hill’ and a ‘Christian nation.’  Until the 1960’s happened—oh how we need to get back to the way the United States was in the 1950’s.”

As an Asian-Latino American I am turned off by this romanticized—and historically inaccurate--view of Thanksgiving.   How can I celebrate an event which led to the dispossession and decimation of more than 10 million Native Americans? How can I say that the United States was a godly “city on a hill” when it enslaved millions of African Americans for 250 years, seized half of Mexico in what Abraham Lincoln called an unjust war, and justified western colonial expansion by saying that it was God’s will and “manifest destiny.”  My Asian American side is quite perturbed by the traditional Thanksgiving narrative as well.  From 1882-1943 the United States banned the immigration of Chinese laborers as part of the Chinese Exclusion Act.  After the Chinese were banned, Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans were all cut off from immigrating to the United States as well.   Italians, Poles, and other Eastern and Southern Europeans were not spared either.  African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians were all subsequently segregated in housing, education, and employment until well within my parents’ lifetime as well.   The 1950’s were not a good time for my Asian and Latino ancestors in America, and I would never want to return to it. 

I’ve noticed that I’m not alone .  In fact, a know that thousands of people (if you’re reading this blog it’s likely that you’re one of them) have the same ambivalent feelings towards the Thanksgiving holiday.  Some even call it “Thanks-taking,” and others celebrate “Anti-thanksgiving.”   

So what is a revolutionary to do?  I think we should disassociate this great opportunity to thank God for what we have from the inaccurate historical narrative that often accompanies Thanksgiving.   We can still give thanks without endorsing the historical inaccuracy.  As Paul tells us:  “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  And, as Jesus’ revolutionary younger brother James said: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). 

And so, for all the ways that God has loved us and been good to us this past year,  LET’S GIVE THANKS.


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Thursday, November 15, 2012

God's Equal Protection Clause (Part II): "Trickle Up" Justice

Last week we talked about how more than 2,000 verses of Scripture speak of God’s love and concern for the poor.  Drawing a parallel to the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, I argued that this large body of Scripture forms the basis of  “God’s Equal Protection Clause (EPC).”   I proposed that God’s EPC might be summed up in this way:
All persons born in the world are made in My image, and subject to the jurisdiction of Heaven… No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of immigrants and the poor who are made in My image; nor shall any state deprive them of life, liberty, or property, without consideration of My rigorous ethical standards; nor shall they deny any immigrant or poor person the equal protection of the laws.  Those who violate My Equal Protection Clause will be subject to divine judgment. 

Our goal in the next several weeks is to explore some of the key scriptural texts which make up the biblical EPC. 
As expressed by my reiteration of the Equal Protection Clause, Scripture teaches that oppression of immigrants and the poor is offensive to God.  At the same time, the Bible is also clear that such injustice is the defining reality of a humanity which has chosen to turn its back on God.   As King Solomon states in the famous book of Ecclesiastes (5:8-11):

8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 

9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. 

          10 Whoever loves money never has money enough;
           whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
           This too is meaningless. 

          11 As goods increase,
          so do those who consume them.
          And what benefit are they to the owner
          except to feast his eyes on them?

In a broken and sinful world, we all fail to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  As a consequence, we also fail to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Because we fail to love our neighbors as God intended, human greed and selfishness rule, and the poor are often oppressed and mistreated.  Thankfully, the Bible is also very clear that God loves the poor and defends their cause. 
As we’ve previously discussed, more than 2,000 verses of Scripture speak about God’s love and concern for the poor, immigrants, and the dispossessed of society.  This topic is the second most common topic in the “Old Testament” second only to that of idolatry.  (This is because every time people in the Old Testament fell into the worship of anyone or anything other than God, they began to oppress immigrants and the poor.)
In the “New Testament,” the topic of the poor and money is found in 1 out of every 10 verses of the “Gospels” (the first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—which are basically biographies of Jesus).   In Luke, it’s actually 1 in 7 verses.  Jesus speaks much more about his love and concern for the poor and the devastating consequences of greed than he ever does about heaven and hell (and he does talk about those topics, too). 
In fact, the Bible is written from the perspective of an oppressed people group.  The Old Testament was written by former slaves (the Israelites) who came to know God by being delivered from slavery and oppression in Egypt.  The New Testament was written by “triple minorities” who experienced an intersectionality of three layers of oppression. Not only did they inherit the history of deliverance from slavery in Egypt, they were oppressed and colonized by the Romans and persecuted by the religious leaders of their own ethnicity.  An accurate understanding of the Bible must take this important historical context into account. 
Here is just a small sampling of what the Bible has to say about God’s love and concern for justice and the poor (it would take many volumes to present and interpret the thousands of verses from the Bible which speak of God’s love and concern for immigrants and the poor):
In Isaiah 1:17, the prophet Isaiah declares emphatically, “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow”(Isaiah 1:17).  Later on in the book of Isaiah, the Lord Himself says, “Is not this the kind of fast I have chosen:  to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”  Isaiah 58:6-7.  In words similar to those of Isaiah, the prophet Amos cries, “But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  Amos 5:24
I love Psalm 140:12 which states unequivocally that God fights for the oppressed and upholds their “causa” (cause):
“I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor
   and upholds the cause of the needy.”

In proclamation of his public ministry, Christ declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18. As Rich Stearns, President of World Vision says about this passage:

“In the first century, the allusion to prisoners and the oppressed would have certainly meant those living under the occupation of Rome but also, in a broader sense, anyone who had been the victim of injustice, whether political, social, or economic. The proclamation of “the year of the Lord’s favor” was a clear reference to the Old Testament year of Jubilee, when slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, and all land was returned to its original owners.  The year of Jubilee was God’s way of protecting against the rich getting too rich and the poor getting too poor.”  (Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel, 22)

Can you see where I’m heading?  This doesn’t sound like blame the poor for being poor, or the political mantra of “trickle down” economics and “equal opportunity not equal economic results.  It sounds a lot like “trickle up” justice. 
          This is also not some radical communist saying this, either.  It is the Bible and the president of one of the most important evangelical Christian organizations on planet earth. 

In Solidarity,

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