Love the Immigrant as Yourself

Progressive Christian Social Action

Parkside Church in Sacramento

Love the Immigrant as Yourself

“you shall love the immigrant as yourself…” Leviticus 19: 34

As tears flow around the country and world for immigrant children who have been separated and incarcerated by the Trump Administration, support for the president’s harsh policies among white Evangelicals continues. Even politicians and TV news anchors are visibly moved by the plight of these children and their parents, while Attorney General Jeff Sessions quotes scripture to justify these cruel immigration policies.

As a follower of Jesus, I am appalled by the deliberate distortion of scripture to justify policies that are antithetical to the love of God and neighbor.  The Bible is consistent in calling for mercy and justice for the most vulnerable people, characterized in biblical times as widows, orphans, and immigrants.  Yet the United States is enacting cruel immigration policies that violate international law.  By separating children from their parents, incarcerating them, and deporting their parents, our country has essentially left these children orphaned, many of whom may never be reunited with their families.

Consider this:  According to the infancy narrative in Matthew, the Holy Family fled into Egypt as migrants seeking safety from King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15).  How would that story have turned out if the baby Jesus had been separated from Mary and Joseph at the border?

Jesus was descended from immigrants, including Ruth (Matthew 1:5), a widow who immigrated to Israel with her (also widowed) mother-in-law Naomi.  They survived by gleaning before Ruth and Boaz married.  They were able to survive because the laws of Israel required that after the harvest landowners had to leave some the grain in the fields and grapes on the vine for immigrants and the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10).  How would the story have turned out if Ruth and Naomi had been imprisoned or deported instead?

When Jeff Sessions quotes Romans 13:1 (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities”) to call for us all to submit to the Trump Administration’s cruel immigration policies, he is ignoring the overall “scope and tenor” of scripture, which is mercy, justice, and love. Sessions has left out the clarifying passage in Romans 13:10 that “love is the fulfillment of the law.”

More than 600 United Methodists recently brought charges in the church against Mr. Sessions (a United Methodist) for violating church principles on child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and “dissemination of doctrines” contrary to those of the United Methodist Church. I am happy to support their action, regardless of how it turns out.

Many people are familiar with Jesus’ teaching to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but not everyone realizes that Jesus was quoting those words in Leviticus 19:18, and that what follows in Leviticus 19:33-34 is a command to “love the immigrant as yourself.” Here is the full passage:

“When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the immigrant.  The immigrant who resides with you shall be as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Love the immigrant as yourself.” “Love is the fulfillment of the law.

 

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In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

Progressive Christian Social Action

In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

For the past several weeks, I have been going to Sacramento on Mondays to join in the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrations at the California State Capitol. Similar demonstrations are taking place across the country at over thirty state capitols and in Washington, D.C. The campaign’s website summarizes its goal and purpose: “The Poor People’s Campaign:  A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.” By uniting these interrelated issues, this campaign is helping to create the diverse and broad coalition that we will need to transform the system that underlies them all.

Last Monday’s action at the California State Capitol with the Poor People’s Campaign was about human health (including a call for health care for all) and the health of the environment (including air, land, water, climate justice). It included strong leadership from Indigenous brothers and sisters, some from Standing Rock. They covered the statue in the capitol rotunda (of Queen Isabella giving Columbus the world) with a parachute that said, “All Nations, One Fight.” After the police took the parachute, thirteen people surrounded the statue and were finally arrested and taken to Sacramento County Jail. There was lots of singing, a strong spirit of unity and people power, and great diversity. Next Monday the focus will be on economic justice.  I will be there.

During this forty-day kick-off, hundreds have already been arrested for nonviolent direct action, including in Sacramento.  These “moral witnesses” have been willing to put their bodies on the line to call attention to the violence and injustice of today’s Domination System, the interlocking network of political, economic, military, police, and ideological institutional “Powers” that rule the world today.   This coming Monday it will be my turn.  Some of my grandchildren will be with me.  I want them to know in their bones that their grandmother loved them enough to take whatever (nonviolent) action that might be necessary to bring about systemic change and to secure their future.

I have been preaching, speaking, writing, organizing, and taking action for peace, justice, and environmental sanity for years.  I have been arrested many times.  I practice prayer and other spiritual disciplines to stay physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fit so that I will be ready and “awake” when the time comes for me to act.  I seek the Spirit’s guidance in discerning not just what needs to be done but what I am called to do.  I especially look for those instances where there is an outbreak of Spirit, those times when there is an uprising of people power, those historical moments “when the impossible becomes possible.”  Now is such a time.

 

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The Spirituality of Resistance

Progressive Christian Social Action

The Spirituality of Resistance

Sharon Delgado’s article, The Spirituality of Resistance, appears in the May 2018 issue of Sojourners Magazine.   It is a book review of Principalities in Particular:  A Practical Theology of the Powers that Be by Bill Wylie-Kellerman.   

For decades, pastor, activist, and scholar Bill Wylie-Kellermann has kept alive and furthered a theology of the biblical “powers and principalities” (Romans 8:38; Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12), in the tradition of William Stringfellow and Walter Wink. Principalities in Particular is a compilation of his essays, rooted in applied struggle and practice, on these invisible but embodied forces that shape and often dominate human life.

Through stories of engaging specific principalities over time, Wylie-Kellermann brings an abstract concept to life. He explores racism, nuclear weapons, sports, family systems, corporate globalization, slavery, the drug powers, war, the Trump presidency, the global economy, and other principalities, immersing readers in a worldview that perceives not only their outer manifestations, but their inner realities as well.  One example is the corporate-friendly system of emergency management that has replaced democracy in controlling the author’s home city of Detroit and other black-majority cities in Michigan.

Wylie-Kellermann portrays local community struggles as fighting (nonviolently) for the soul of the city. He describes a statue called “The Spirit of Detroit,” which stands near City Hall, providing a focus and gathering place for community activists. In a similar vein, he tells of an interfaith group that drafted letters to “The Angel of Detroit,” calling the city back to its better nature and true vocation in service of life.

Wylie-Kellermann claims that “half of any struggle is a spiritual battle.” What is at stake is not simply a specific desired outcome, but also human healing and liberation. “We are complicit in our own captivity. … The healing of the planet and the healing of ourselves, inside and out, are one.”  Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom.

Principalities in Particular inspires and equips readers to rise to this challenge. The author invites readers into a process of inquiry, especially related to principalities in one’s own neighborhood, and to engagement that may lead to both personal and social transformation: “The struggle before us remains necessarily two-handed or two-edged, fusing social analysis and institutional reconstruction with discernment, prayer, and worship-based action.” Such activism calls for discipline and creativity: “Prayer and fasting and public worship and singing and signs of imagination are among the tactics of any movement that knows it wrestles not merely with flesh and blood.” This book illustrates the difficulties, but also the triumphs, of such engagement.

One of Wylie-Kellermann’s insights is that we humans fall into the trap of seeking justification through the powers, rather than by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). For example, Christians may find identity and worth through their participation in and loyalty to a church. But as the author points out, the church itself is a principality, as prone as any other to seeking its own survival by enlisting human beings in its service. Consequently, churches may endorse belief systems, practices, or policies that further “the powers of empire.” On the other hand, “to be church as exemplary power in this present moment is to be freed of white supremacy, patriarchy, idolatrous patriotism, heterocentrism, mammon, militarism, consumer materialism, all the divisions and ideologies of domination.”

Particularly dangerous, warns Wylie-Kellermann, is justification offered through “the devotion of national populism,” currently exemplified by the presidency of Donald Trump. “Trump’s theology frames justification, mediated by the nation and its leader, as conferred upon ‘the patriotic people’… This justification … goes hand in hand with the unleashing of the dominating spirit. Notably, it is the offer of salvation without repentance.”

The motivation to refuse complicity and resist the powers is a spiritual effect of reading this book. Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom: “Death appears to reign. But it is undone. Live in the freedom of the resurrection. In short, dear friends: Be not awed by anything but the God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”

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Guest Post: We Will Not Be Controlled

 

Progressive Christian Social Action

Good Friday Guest Post by Mark Davies, see the original at One World House:

We Will Not Be Controlled

In our desire to leap past Good Friday to Easter, we tend to forget that Jesus was a human person. He felt pleasure and pain. He had hopes and fears. He had moments of laughter, and he wept. He had friends and family whom he loved deeply. When he died, he had so much to live for.

Yet Jesus could not keep from speaking out for love. He could not keep from turning over the tables of corruption and injustice. He could not keep from calling out hypocrisy and greed. He could not keep from spending time with persons with whom “respectable” religious leaders were not supposed to be around. He could not keep from proclaiming good news for the poor and oppressed, and good news for the poor and oppressed was not seen as good ness by the wealthy and the oppressors. He could not keep from challenging the power of the empire with a different kind of power, and for this, the empire brutally and publicly murdered him.

Whatever one thinks about what happened to Jesus on the Sunday after Good Friday, may we never lose sight of the person Jesus was – a person who lived and loved so fully that he could not give up on turning over tables for the most vulnerable in his community. May we never lost sight of what led him to the cross – the corrupt power of a colonial empire threatened by the radical Beloved Community of justice that Jesus called for with his life.

If we focus too much on the resurrection and lose sight of Jesus as a person who lived, laughed, cried, hoped, feared, loved, suffered, and died; then we run the risk of missing what the radical vision of Jesus can bring to this life by focusing too much on the next. Jesus reminds us that we are to love, be present with, and seek justice for the poor, the sick, the hungry and thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the prisoners, the outcasts, the vulnerable, and the oppressed in this life.

Empires like for their people to focus on the afterlife as a way to maintain control over them in this life. Jesus lived and loved for so much more than what life will be after we die. He did not simply live to be a human sacrifice for our sins.

When the empire murdered Jesus they thought they had controlled him. They thought they had killed the movement of love and justice he created, but Jesus would not be controlled. The Empire, however, never stops trying to control those who follow this way of radical love and justice in this world…. On this Good Friday, may we live and love in resolve that like Jesus, we will not be controlled.

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Never Again: Protest is Our Prayer

Progressive Christian Social Action

Never Again!  Protest is Our Prayer

United Methodist Building, Washington, DC

On this Monday of Holy Week, reflections on the events that led to the death of Jesus merge with events that are taking place today.  As in Jesus’ day, today’s ruling Powers are entrenched in control by domination and violence.  People who seek to change the dominant system and make it more compassionate are maligned and persecuted, as Jesus was.  He was put to death after he drove out the money changers from the Temple, challenging the economic system upon which the Roman occupation of Jerusalem was maintained.

Today it is our youth.  Some are congratulating them for their activism, but they are also being insulted and called names for marching for their lives, standing up to the ruling Powers, and demanding reasonable gun laws and safe schools.  When these demonstrations of active democracy are maligned or called naïve, while our political process is dominated by corporate front groups like the NRA, we are in dark times indeed.  Meanwhile, gun manufacturers and their political advocates accept very minor gun-control policies that they know will increase gun sales. (See the March 2nd Time Magazine report:  Gun Maker Says Sales are Plunging.)

Nevertheless, young people are stepping into leadership, raising their voices, and calling for an end to gun violence, including shooting deaths (often of young black men) by police.  They demand that adults act and that lawmakers establish policies to protect them from being shot and killed in their own schools.

In my own community, many students joined in the nationwide school walkout, some with support of teachers and administrators and some on their own.  I’ve talked with several of them.  One student told me that their school let them make signs, but they couldn’t have words or images related to guns.  Another told me that the teacher said that since it was raining, they could march around the halls, but later relented and they did go outside.  One girl told me how she overcame her personal self-doubt when the marchers she was with turned around and she found herself in the lead.  She didn’t feel like she should be leading the march. She felt like fading back and letting someone else take the lead, but she stayed the course, letting her values guide her instead of her fear.

Many people, including me, believe that there would be less gun violence if there were stricter gun control laws, background checks, mental health services, and (not often mentioned) greater economic and social equity.  Some people are feeling more hope for the future because of this uprising of student activism. I, too, applaud the spirit of these young people and rejoice that they are awakening to what is at stake and coming into their own power.  Every so often there is an uprising that catches fire and kindles a spirit of hope and activism for the sake of a better world.  Every so often a time comes around when “the politically impossible suddenly becomes possible” (Naomi Klein).  This is such a time.

But adults, now it’s on us.  Youth can take the lead, and they may well be the ones who will change the world.  But we can’t just cheer them on.  We must act as their allies, acting in solidarity with them.  We, too, must show courage.  We, too, must speak out, in our homes, at work, in our places of worship, no matter how entrenched these institutions are in the status quo.  We, too must demand action in our communities, in public spaces, and to our legislators. The kids shouldn’t be the only ones to say “Never Again.” They shouldn’t be the only ones to say “We call B.S.” to the conventional wisdom that weapons of war should be easily acquired or to challenge the paralysis of lawmakers because they are in the pockets of the NRA.

Adults, too, need to extend their support, experience, expertise, and resources to this movement.  We need to join with our young in taking action that will make true the call, “Never again.”

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