I have never felt so impassioned to write. I have never felt a deeper urgency to write until this moment. And so this blog is born.
I recently gave a talk to a Christian group about the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. I shared about the brokenness of our immigration system, the current power struggle between states and the federal government over the issue of undocumented immigration, and about how unauthorized immigrants are caught in the middle of this political firestorm. Drawing from scripture such as Psalm 146:9, Deuteronomy 24:17, and Exodus 23:9, I argued that it is unjust to scapegoat undocumented immigrants and to discriminate against them. In particular, I talked about how state legislation such as Arizona SB-1070, Alabama HB-56, and Georgia HB-87 are mean-spirited and unbiblical pieces of legislation which unfairly target undocumented immigrants.
Nothing could prepare me for what happened next.
Although the overwhelming majority of those in attendance were open-minded and sympathetic to the perspective I shared, I was profoundly disturbed by the presentation of another speaker and by the attitudes which were shared by several people during the group discussion which followed. People spoke of the criminality and sexual promiscuity of undocumented immigrants and other Latinos, and about the supposed threat which undocumented Latino immigrants pose to national security. They asserted that all immigrants need to assimilate, shed their God-given cultural identities, and speak English in order to be accepted in this country. I even heard a romantic and historically false claim that America, in its wonderful beneficence, has always accepted the “huddled immigrant masses.”
In response, I brought up painful counter-examples which have affected my own Chinese and Mexican communities, as well as other communities of color. I mentioned the genocide of millions of Native Americans, Manifest Destiny, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the massive deportations of hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans as part of historical campaigns like Operation Wetback. I was told that it wasn’t good to keep bringing up past examples of historical racism. Even worse, I heard some downplay some of the most horrible racist actions perpetrated against people of color in our nation’s history. One person tried to minimize the genocide of millions of Native Americans by saying that most of their deaths were caused by diseases like small pox (and therefore unintentional). The claim was also made that “there weren’t many people here” when the Europeans arrived. Disgustingly, someone even minimized the rape of Native American women as part of European conquest by saying that “rape happens all over the world.”
When I tried to make the argument that history matters and that present racial inequalities in the U.S. are the direct result of historical injustices, I was told “well neither I nor my father were a part of those wrongs, so I can’t be blamed.” Someone also remarked that minorities were to blame for the poverty and socio-economic degradation of their own communities because of things like promiscuity and the breakdown of the family.
We also had an interesting conversation about the appropriateness of the term “illegal alien.” The question was first posed by a sincere individual who did not understand why the term is offensive. I and others explained that we found the term offensive because it dehumanizes immigrants and essentializes them to a legal status, thereby stripping them of their humanity. Someone in the other camp insisted upon the continued usage of the term “illegal alien,” arguing that it was an accurate way of describing the political relationship of some immigrants to the state. When I shared that I and millions of other Latinos were incensed by Mitt Romney’s repeated use of the term “illegal alien” as a cuss word intended to elicit the support and strong emotional reactions of voters on the far right, I was told, “How do you know that he meant it that way?” After clarifying again that I was not alone in my sentiment and that millions of other Latinos interpreted Mitt Romney’s comments in a similar fashion, this individual continued to insist so vociferously upon his position that the moderator had to walk over to him in order to intervene.
As you can imagine, on many levels I AM DEEPLY DISTURBED BY WHAT I EXPERIENCED. On a personal level, I am deeply wounded and will need much grace from God to forgive. With God’s help, I will.
MOSTLY, HOWEVER, MY HEART BREAKS BECAUSE I KNOW THAT THIS TYPE OF FOX NEWS CHRISTIANITY HINDERS MILLIONS OF STUDENTS IN THE UNITED STATES FROM COMING TO EXPLORE A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST. These individuals from the conference were unable to get past their own cultural assumptions, and, as a consequence they were incapable of giving a fair hearing of a perspective other than their own. As a consequence, to myself, and the other Latinas and Latinos in the room, they came across as being deeply closed-minded at best, and racist at worst.
If these misguided perspectives are all that students of color and consciousness hear from the church in America, they will be led to believe that Christianity is a racist, classist, and sexist religion. I wouldn’t blame them. Tragically, if this is the only viewpoint they are exposed to, it is unlikely that they will ever come to know the real Jesus who is the author of justice and compassion, and who loves them more than they could ever hope for or imagine. When I think about this my soul weeps. Then my blood boils. Then my soul weeps again.
MY SOUL WEEPS BECAUSE I KNOW THAT THESE CLOSED-MINDED PERSPECTIVES MISREPRESENT THE TRUE JESUS OF HISTORICAL AND BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY. JESUS IS THE AUTHOR OF JUSTICE, ADVOCACY, AND COMPASSION. He cares more about immigrants, the dispossessed, and the poor than we can ever even begin to imagine or comprehend. He’s been given a bad rep.
As a follower of Jesus, and as a member of the church in America, I realize that I have to take ownership of these terrible misrepresentations of Christianity, too. I know that I am culpable as well. I apologize to the millions of students of color and socially-conscious individuals who have already been hurt and wounded by such racist and insensitive statements. I apologize for those who call themselves Christian but who misrepresent the name of Jesus in such profound ways when it comes to issues of race, gender, and social justice. I apologize for the ways in which they, and I, and the church in America have hurt you. Please forgive us.
I believe now, more than ever, that something has to be done to change this situation. Thankfully, there are many socially conscious Christians who agree with me (even many who were in that room with me last weekend), but a new space has to be created in our colleges and universities where issues of race, social justice, and faith can be freely explored and examined without the baggage of institutional Christianity. No more Christianity wrapped up in the American flag (or any flag for that matter).
I hope that this blog can be one small, but meaningful step in this direction. Will you join me?
Join me on a journey of learning together about Jesus and His heart for justice, racial reconciliation, and the poor. Let’s create a space where we can talk. Where we can share. Where we can form community. Let’s START A REVOLUTION. Together.
CALLING ALL REVOLUTIONARIES!
Robert Chao Romero
Follow me on Twitter: @ProfeChaoRomero
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