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

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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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

God's Equal Protection Clause: The Biblical Basis for Social Justice

The Equal Protection Clause (EPC) is the prime guarantor of civil rights in the United States Constitution.  It reads:  
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The EPC was originally created to protect the rights of newly emancipated African American slaves after the Civil War.   Basically, the federal government was afraid that states would treat blacks unequally following the abolition of slavery by passing racist policies and laws against them.   The EPC was constructed, at least in theory, to prevent the states from denying African Americans “the equal protection of the laws.”  As we know from history, states blatantly disregarded the EPC, discriminated against African Americans in every horrible way imaginable, and found legal loopholes to justify their racism. 
Although originally designed to protect African Americans, the reach of the EPC was eventually extended to protect Asian Americans, Latinos, and other minorities from governmental discrimination.   In the present-day, the EPC guarantees the civil rights of all people (including whites), based upon race, national origin, gender, and religious affiliation. 
One controversy surrounding the EPC is that it has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court to offer little protection to the poor.  Poverty is not a "suspect classification" according to the highest court in the land, and the result is that the federal government, states, and cities can pass almost any type of law which discriminates against the poor and it will be found constitutional.  With the current conservative shift of the U.S. Supreme Court it is likely that the same might become true for the civil rights of undocumented immigrants as well. 
         Thankfully, the Bible has a very different view than the Supreme Court of the United States.   The Bible is very clear that any discrimination against the poor and immigrants violates God’s Equal Protection Clause.   In fact, the Bible is also abundantly clear that God’s equal protection extends to every individual regardless of race, nationality, gender, or socio-economic status.  More than 2,000 verses of Scripture establish the biblical basis for God's Protection Clause. 
         A summary of biblical teaching on the civil rights of the poor and immigrants (God’s Equal Protection Clause) 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. 

As expressed by this 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.   

Tune in in a few days for a specific discussion of the Scripture which forms the basis for the biblical EPC... 

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In solidarity,

Monday, November 12, 2012

Proud, Unburied, and Deported: Latino Veterans in the U.S. Military

I come from a proud line of Latino war veterans.  My father and two uncles are Vietnam War vets, and I have a relative who lost his legs in combat during World War II.  I also have cousins who were West Point grads, Green Berets, Army Airborne, and National Guardsmen.   As a Latino, I’m not alone in having a long tradition of family military service.   More than 1 million Latino vets are alive and well in the United States today, and Latinos comprise 11% of the U.S. military. 

Beginning with the American Revolution (yes, the war with the wig-wearing Brits more than 200 years ago), Latinos have bravely served in the U.S. military.  Latinos have fought in every war since, including the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean “conflict,” the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Shield/Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom.  Much to my surprise, Latinos even fought in China (and won a Congressional Medal of Honor) as part of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900!  I wonder, did one of my Mexican ancestors fight in China one hundred years ago having no idea that one of his own would end up marrying a Chinese woman in Los Angeles 70 years later?  :)

A higher percentage of Latinos fought in WWII than any other ethnic minority group.  Latinos also won more medals during WWII, including Congressional Medals of Honor, than any other ethnic minority group.  This led many of us to shake our heads in disbelief when Ken Burns failed to honor the specific military service of Latinos in his famous WWII documentary series which came out in 2007.

As proud as us Latinos are of our brave history of military service to the United States, there’s also a bit of tension which many of us experience when we talk about it.  This is because, historically, though we’ve fought our hearts and souls out on the battlefield, we haven’t always found open arms when we’ve returned home. 

The Felix Longoria incident is a tragic example of this which deserves commemoration this Veteran’s Day.  Felix Z. Longoria, a Texas native, was killed in action in the Philippines in 1945.  After fighting and dying bravely on the battlefield for his country, his body was transported back to his south Texas hometown of Three Rivers for honorable burial.  Unbelievably, an Anglo funeral home in Three Rivers refused to allow his family to conduct funeral services for him there because of his Mexican ancestry.   This raised a national controversy and spurred the political intervention of then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and Dr. Hector P. Santiago, founder of the American G.I. Forum (a Latino veterans organization created to advocate for the civil rights of Latino war veterans).   Justice was served , and Private Felix Longoria was granted an honorable burial in the Arlington National Cemetery. 

Thankfully, things are much better today for our Latino veterans.  Our country has indeed come a long way since then.  I’m proud of that.  But, unfortunately, many Latinos have recently come back from service in Iraq and Afghanistan and have not been given their just recognition.  In fact, thousands of Latino veterans have faced deportation proceedings in the past two years in the United States.  In 2011, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) reported that 3,000 veterans were in deportation proceedings!  This is a modern-day Felix Longoria travesty.   May we remember Private Felix Longoria and these 3,000 veterans facing deportation on this Veteran’s Day. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Obama is still the 44th President of the United States.  President Obama slid into home base last night with an overwhelming victory in the electoral college due in large part to the Latin@ vote (303-206 at last count).  One huge lesson emerges:  You can't stomp on 52 million Latin@s in your campaign and expect to win the Presidency.  In the Republican primary race, Mitt Romney went out of his way to be mean-spirited and harsh towards undocumented immigrants--repeatedly using the offensive term "illegal alien" as a cuss word intended to rile up the Republican base.  52 million of us were listening.  You can't make fun of our moms, dads, abuelitas, abuelitos, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, friends, madrinas, and padrinos, and expect to gain our support.  Moreover, whether you have undocumented family or friends, or not, most compassionate people favor a balanced form of comprehensive immigration reform.

It doesn't work to politicize the painful struggles of undocumented students--or "Dreamers"--either.  While criticizing President Obama for not passing the Dream Act, Mitt Romney had the audacity to go on to the presidential debate stage and advocate for a version of the Dream Act which only involved military service.  Apparently, to Mitt Romney, we're good enough for cannon fodder, but we don't deserve to go to college or medical school.

Think I'm just making this up and stuck in my Chicana/o Studies/ethnic studies bubble?  71% of Latin@s voted for President Obama yesterday.  Mitt Romney would have won last night if he could have garnered the same amount of support as George W. Bush did among Latinos.  What's more, 50,000 Latin@s turn 18 every month in the United States.  Buenos dias, America.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Student Stories from the Revolution

Carlos was raised in an immigrant Latino community in Santa Ana, California.  He first came to know Jesus when he was a child at a local church in Orange County.   As a Chican@ Studies major at UCLA he learned about the many injustices experienced by Latin@s in Latin America and the United States over the past 500 years.   He learned about the Spanish Conquest which led to the decimation of 90% of the indigenous population of Central Mexico—more than 20 million people.  He learned that the conquest was justified by many (though there were notable exceptions) in religious terms based upon the belief that God had ordained for the Spanish to slaughter the indigenous people so that they might become converted to Christianity.   Carlos was also taught about the unjust Mexican-American War which led to the violent seizure of half of Mexico and which was justified by Anglo-Americans based upon a belief in “manifest destiny.”  Manifest Destiny was the idea that it was God’s will for Anglo-Saxon Americans to conquer and colonize North America from “sea to shining sea” in order to spread democracy and Protestant Christianity.  Carlos learned that these same settlers created a segregated American society in which those legally defined as “white” received special socio-economic and political privileges, while Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans were segregated and treated as second-class citizens.  Carlos also came to learn about the structural inequalities within education, healthcare, politics, and law, which have their roots in this historic discrimination, and which persist to the present-day.   Sadly, Carlos fell away from the faith of his youth because he came to understand that many of the injustices just described were perpetrated by self-professed “Christians.”   As a result, he believed that Christianity was a “colonizer’s religion” and that it was a tool of oppression used by white men to perpetuate social, economic, and political hegemony. 
         Elena, a Chicana single mom, was another student of mine with a similar experience.   As part of a faith-based inner city training which we led for students, she confessed her internal wrestling with God:  “The need to be a part of urban justice is huge to me.  Being a Chicana/o Studies major many injustices have been brought to light for me.  I’ll be honest, I have cried many times in class while watching videos or reading books and I have often asked God why…I would like to understand through His words/teachings.  [I hope to gain][u]nderstanding and hopefully an answer to the many ‘why’s’ I have.  I can cry all I want but my tears won’t bring understanding nor change.  I recently started going back to church so I’d like to be surrounded by others who also have faith in Christ.”
Francisco was a student in a small Christian liberal arts college in the Midwest.   He came from a mixed-race Guatemalan-Middle Eastern background.   Similar to Carlos and Elena, Francisco was passionate about promoting change for the socially marginalized.  Being a natural leader, he made the decision in his junior year to run for student body president of his predominantly white Christian campus.  Tragically, Francisco’s main opponent, a white male, opposed him on racist grounds.  His racially-tinged rallying cry against Francisco was: “don’t vote for Francisco; if you do he will do all these radical things for minorities.”   These scare tactics apparently worked because Francisco lost the race.  As you can imagine, Francisco was also deeply wounded by the hateful rhetoric which was waged against him.    Unfortunately, the hostile racial campus climate did not stop with that election.  To make matters worse, the following year one of his professors devoted an entire chapel session (a weekly church gathering on campus with students, faculty, and staff), to challenging the findings of an outstanding Christian book called, Divided By Faith.  This path-breaking and well-researched book by professors Michael Emerson (Rice University) and Christian Smith (Notre Dame) examines the different perceptions of white and African American Christians with regards to race.  Drawing upon extensive interviews and solid methodology, they found that, although most African American Christians recognize the existence of racism in contemporary U.S. society, most white evangelical Christians do not.       
When I met Francisco at an annual meeting of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), he was actually preparing to hold a public debate with his professor!   In a unique act of divine providence, Francisco got a chance to meet with author Michael Emerson at that CCDA conference, and Emerson gave him some coaching to prepare him for the debate!  Despite this encouraging turn of events, Francisco was quite demoralized when I met him and it took great effort on his part to hold on to his faith and remain enrolled at his Christian college in the face of such racial challenges.   
Carlos, Elena, and Francisco have all had their belief in God shaken because of what they’ve learned about history, and because of the present-day misrepresentations of many self-professed followers of Jesus. They’ve learned the hard cold truth that many of the worst acts of oppression against people of color over the past 500 years have been committed by “Christians.”  Sadly, they’ve had this message reinforced through encounters with living and breathing Christians who, intentionally and unintentionally, perpetuate racism through their actions. Tragically, they are not alone.  Thousands of students in the United States and throughout the world have had the same experience and have lost their faith in Jesus. 
I’m sympathetic to this negative perspective of Christianity.  For reasons that will be explained in upcoming blogs, I don’t agree with it, but I do understand it.   In fact, if I had not had my life totally transformed by Jesus 16 years ago, I’d probably feel the same way.  This view of Christianity as a racist, classist, and sexist religion is unfortunately backed up by about 1700 years of historical misrepresentation on the part of many self-proclaimed followers of Jesus.  As a person who supports his family as a historian, and as an avid watcher of cable news, I am all too familiar with these kinds of misrepresentations.   Almost every day I hear about someone somewhere in the U.S. who claims to be a Christian but who says racist things or publically advocates for some sort of social policy which has a discriminatory impact upon people of color and the poor. 
As a historian, however, I know that sincere followers of Jesus have also led some of the most transformative social justice movements of world history.  This inspires me and makes me hopeful.  I’ve also found an encouraging principle at work in global history:  Every time Christianity has been misrepresented to the world as a racist, classist, and sexist religion, sincere followers of Jesus have forcefully challenged the misrepresentation and declared emphatically that God is a God of justice and compassion.  Just as important, they have acted upon these convictions and changed the world.  An important aim of this blog is to highlight some of my Christian heroes who have championed racial, socioeconomic, and gender justice over the past 2,000 years. 
This blog is for Carlos, Elena, Francisco, and the thousands of students and individuals of conscience like them who have never received a proper introduction to Jesus, the Ultimate Revolutionary.  This blog is intended to be a manifesto and concise manual for them and the many others who care passionately about issues of race and justice, but do not know how to reconcile faith with a deep concern for social change.    It is also my bold hope that this blog will launch a global student movement of faith, justice, and racial reconciliation.