Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

“Your Daughters and Your Sons”

This New Years’ Day many who struggle for justice and peace and the health of the planet are frustrated and discouraged.  The eight years of the Bush administration seemed to many to be one long assault on every moral value they held dear.  It was assumed that things would change with the election and inauguration of Barack Obama–and much has. But expecting bold change and getting baby steps and half-measures is frustrating, especially in light of the full-throated attack by the Right which has painted mild reforms as a radical Communist takeover (or Fascist–they can’t seem to decide or tell the difference)! And Obama has not only compromised and waffled, but in some cases actually betrayed the values he campaigned for:  Escalating the war and occupation of Afghanistan against all reason; continuing the gulag at Guantanemo Bay, Cuba; continuing the Bush civil liberties violations of warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detentions without trial (or rigged military tribunals) and threats of continued detention even if not found guilty; announcing a previously undiscovered presidential “right” to target U.S. citizens for assassination(!–even if not yet acted on this is horrible!) and more.  For this we elected a professor of Constitutional law?  The capture of the House of Representatives by Tea Party Republicans puts even the mild reforms we achieved in danger–plus threatends all-out assaults on Social Security, Medicare, minimum wage laws, immigrants, racial and sexual minorities, religious minorities, women, the poor, labor, and the environment.  And around the world there are other set-backs that are equally discouraging or even more so.  So, the New Year has not seemed to many to be a time for celebration. Many of my Facebook friends have posted videos or lyrics of U-2’s bleak song, “New Year’s Day.”

I understand. I share these frustrations, worries, and discouragements. But the inability of peace and justice folk (in this country, at least) to celebrate small victories and live out of hope and gratitude is a real impediment to success: It leads to both burnout and to repelling possible allies and recruits because of our reputation as always grim and somber.  It’s not so around the world: The oppressed sing in prisons and on picket lines and dance before the armed might of their oppressors.  That is also the biblical heritage.  We must be people of hope and gratitude and celebration to have strength for the long haul–for being faithful “in season and out of season.” 

To that end, I post the lyrics of  Tommy Sands’ 1985 struggle song, “Your Daughters and Your Sons.” 

Your Daughters And Your Sons

A song by Tommy Sands©1985 Tommy Sands

They wouldn’t hear your music
And they pulled your paintings down
They wouldn’t hear your writing
And they banned you from the town
But they couldn’t stop you dreaming
And a victory you have won
For you sowed the seeds of freedom
In your daughters and your sons

In your daughters and your sons
Your daughters and your sons
You sowed the seeds of freedom
In your daughters and your sons

Your weary smile it proudly hides
The chainmarks on your hands
As you bravely strive to realise
The rights of everyman
And though your body’s bent and low
A victory you have won
For you sowed the seeds of justice
In your daughters and your sons


I don’t know your religion
But one day I heard you pray
For a world where everyone can work
And children they can play
And though you never got your share
Of the victories you have won
You sowed the seeds of equality
In your daughters and your sons


They taunted you in Belfast
And they tortured you in Spain
And in that Warsaw ghetto
Where they tied you up in chains
In Vietnam and in Chile
Where they came with tanks and guns
It’s there you sowed the seeds of peace
In your daughters and your sons


And now your music’s playing
And the writing’s on the wall
And all the dreams you painted
Can be seen by one and all
Now you’ve got them thinking
And the future’s just begun
For you sowed the seeds of freedom
In your daughters and your sons

Chorus twice.

Happy New Year everyone.

January 1, 2011 Posted by | human rights, Just Peacemaking, justice, oppression, peace | Leave a comment

Link Love: Cynthis Nielsen’s Guest Post Series

Over at her excellent blog (on the intersection of philosophy and Christian theology), Per Caritatem, Cynthia Nielsen is calling for a series of guest posts by Christian writers on several questions related to violence, slavery, and the interpretation/authority of Scripture.  The essays should be 500-1500 words long (strict cut-off at 1500) and should deal with one (0r more, but a question at a time seems more reasonable in the space allowed) of the following questions:

  • How should a Christian community interpret the divinely commanded mass killings (genocide) commanded of the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 6, 10, etc.)?  Should we read these allegorically, literally, or what?
  • How should a Christian community interpret passages in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus and Leviticus) that at least appear to permit slavery?
  • How does a Christian community make sense out of seemingly opposed views on slavery (e.g. Philemon, and I Cor 7:23 verses 1 Peter) in the New Testament?
  • Does a Christian community’s theology of atonement make a difference as to  how it interprets the violent acts recorded in Scripture?  If so, how?

I will probably contribute to the series (perhaps more than once, one question at a time), but haven’t decided which question to tackle and how to begin, yet.  I think Cynthia hopes to get a range of different answers (conservative, liberal, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, etc.) on each question.  I think this is a worthy blogosphere discussion and urge all biblio-bloggers and theo-bloggers to contribute. As David Horstkoetter comments on his blog, Flying Further, this could lead to fresh engagement with the kind of passages Phyllis Trible has taught us to call “texts of terror.”

September 5, 2010 Posted by | Biblical interpretation, blog series, ethics, hermeneutics, oppression, pacifism, slavery | Leave a comment

Does the U.S. (and It’s Churches) Need an Exorcism?

I was reading Willard Swartley’s wonderful book, Covenant of Peace as part of my preparation for a sermon series on “Paul the Peacemaker.” In his section on “Principalities and Powers,” Swartley emphasizes (contra Walter Wink) that the NT writers didn’t just believe in semi-personal forces in and through institutions and political structures, but actual spiritual beings. We Westerners need to resist the temptation to demythologize too much if we are to understand Paul rightly–the Powers and Authorities did refer to governments, and other institutions, but ALSO to spiritual BEINGS–however much that troubles us.  Witness to the Powers could rightly include exorcism when Paul began to plant a church in a new city or new part of the empire.

So, while I’m reading this, the news is going on in the background and it’s more about the Islamophobia sweeping the U.S.–this time politicians are opposing a mosque NOT in lower Manhattan, but in Murfreesboro, TN! So, then it hit me that I’ve been thinking of the fear and hatred rampant in this nation since 11 September 2001 (calming down some from late ’06 to Spring of ’09, but now back larger than ever) as a kind of mass psychosis or group insanity.  But maybe I should think of it more theologically as possession.  Since 9/11, a Spirit of Fear (and hate follows fear) has possessed this nation (maybe especially in our churches).  So, maybe we need an exorcism (or several)?

The Spirit of Fear has led to two wars, to torture, unlimited detention (now bipartisan), Islamophobia, anti-immigrant hatred (especially toward Latino/as), a resurgence in OPEN, BLATANT racism of a kind not seen so virulently in years, fear of the poor, fear of any attempt by the government to help anyone (SOCIALISM!), fear that any action to help the environment is some kind of Communist plot, resurgent homophobia, etc., etc.  The U.S. churches seem to be caught up in this as much as, or more than, the rest of the nation. (I don’t presume to speak for other faith groups.) Last year, the Pew folks put out a study showing that those who attend church twice a week or more are more than TWICE as likely as the national average to support torture! (This is probably the greatest catechetical failure in basic Christian ethics since the majority of U.S. churches supported SLAVERY!)

Should Christian peace groups call for days of fasting and prayer to cast out the spirit of fear (of the Other) in our churches? Should we let it build for weeks?  Should such a campaign culminate in Prayer pilgrimages to sites that represent the Spirit of Fear? To the Arizona-Mexican border? To lower Manhattan near Ground Zero (inviting Jewish and Islamic groups to travel too)? To Congress? The White House? To the offices of major media outlets–and major fear mongering pundits?  To the Pentagon? 

This has gone beyond a political problem.  I wonder if we need to respond with spiritual weapons–the only weapons the New Testament authorizes for Christians in the first place.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | exorcism, liturgy, oppression, peace, spirituality, theology | 4 Comments

Recommended Works on Frederick Douglass

In my last post, I mentioned that there is a mini-scholarly renaissance in studies on Frederick Douglass.  Here are some of the better studies.

First, one needs to be familiar with the primary sources.  Douglass wrote 3 autobiographical works:  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845); My Bondage and My Freedom (1855); The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).  All 3 have been collected together as Frederick Douglass: Autobiographies, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Library of America, 1994).  Many of Douglass’ articles from The Liberator and from The North Star have been collected as Collected Articles of Frederick Douglass–A Slave (CreateSpace, 2010).  Another excellent collection is Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Philip S. Foner (1910-1994), abrided and adapted by Yuval Taylor (Lawrence Hill, 2000).  Two other excellent collections are The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader, ed. William L. Andrews (Oxford University Press, 1996) and Frederick Douglass:  A Critical Reader (Blackwell Critical Readers), ed. Bill Lawson and Frank Kirkland (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999).

Among the many secondary sources on Douglass’ thought, I especially recommend the following:

Reginald F. Davis, Frederick Douglass: Precursor to Liberation Theology (Mercer University Press, 2005).

Scott C. Williamson, The Narrative Life:  The Moral and Religious Thought of Frederick Douglass (Mercer University Press, 2002).

John Stauffer, Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (Twelve, 2008). 

James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican:  Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Anti-Slavery Politics (Norton, 2008).

Maria Diedrich, Love Across Color Lines:  Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass (Hill and Wang, 2000). 

William B. Rogers, We are All Together Now:  Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and the Prophetic Tradition (Routledge, 1995).

I’d also recommend Per Caritatem, the blog of theologian and philosopher Cynthia R. Nielsen, one of the few white theologians or philosophers who regularly interacts seriously with African-American scholars (and other non-white scholars).  Her work on Douglass is on a par with her excellent work on St.  Augustine of Hippo.

July 30, 2010 Posted by | book reviews, civil rights leaders, History, oppression, racial justice | Leave a comment

Garrison and Douglass: Friendship and Estrangement

The most famous white abolitionist in the U.S., and deservedly so, is William Lloyd Garrison.  The most famous black abolitionist, and deservedly so, is Frederick Douglass.  For over a decade (1841-1850), they were also close friends and co-workers in the American Anti-Slavery Society.  While not identical, their views on most topics of the day were close and each defended the other from attacks by critics.  Yet their friendship ended and the two men became estranged–a breach that was never healed in life.  Why?

Was it lingering racism on Garrison’s part, or an unconscious patronism that had difficulty when Douglass’ fame and leadership began to outstrip Garrison’s in the cause they both lived for?  Was it simply natural competition and resentment between two selve-made men from humble backgrounds–both strong-willed, ambitious, strivers?  Was it a growing “black nationalism” on Douglass’ part–an estrangement from the goal of an equal and integrated society?  Did the complex tensions of self-determination and integration break the two men apart in a way similar to the break-down of “black and white together, we shall overcome” in the face of militant nationalism and smoldering resentments in the Freedom Movement a century later?  Can we who seek a just and equal “rainbow society” today learn from both their friendship and its breakdown?

First, let us examine their very real friendship.  William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was older than Frederick Douglass (c.1818-1895) by more than a decade and began as a mentor to Douglass.  They met in an 1841 meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in which Garrison was the headline speaker but Douglass was unexpectedly asked to tell the story of his life during slavery and his escape to freedom. (Even his name, Frederick Douglass, was a pseudonymn to make it harder for slavecatchers to find and return him to slavery.) Riveted like everyone else, Garrison asked the crowd, “Have we been listening to the testimony of a piece of property or a man?” “A man!” they thundered in reply. “Can we ever allow such a man to be treated as property?” “Never!” “Can you doubt that such treatment is the grossest sin?” “No!” “Then will you pledge with us to end this sin and crime in which 3 million of our fellow beings are not seen as fellow citizens, but simply as property and tools of another to use as he will?” “YES!!”

Garrison and Douglass often shared a speaking stage for the American Anti-Slavery Society and they worked well together.  Because Garrison’s religious views had become more suspect (from hanging around Hicksite Quakers, Unitarians and holiness perfectionists) and Douglass was seen as more theologically orthodox, the tag-team often had Garrison keep quiet on-stage about the churches’ complicity in slavery while Douglass would thunder against the racism of the white churches.  Meanwhile, because Douglass was more vulnerable to reprisals by local, state, and federal governments, it would be Garrison who took the lead in criticizing the racism even of the free states.  This was a careful strategy since both men actually had radical views about the need for reform of both state and church.

Both were also strong supporters of women’s rights–although, after Garrison’s death, Douglass would strain his relationships with many white feminists by supporting the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution even though it protected the voting rights of black men but continued to deny the right to vote to women of all races. 

Garrison’s paper, The Liberator, first published Douglass’ story in 1845 as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.  Garrison has never received enough credit for this publication. It was a bestseller and most of the profits went to Douglass and to the abolitionist movement–Garrison was poor throughout his life and made no attempt to exploit Douglass’ story for his personal gain.  He also took quite a risk in publishing Douglass’ book and was charged with several crimes, but he faced the charges bravely. Moreover, he recognized that this publication placed Douglass in grave danger of being recognized and reclaimed by his former “masters.” Garrison solicited wealthy abolitionists for funds to enable Douglass to tour Britain on the lecture circuit in order to avoid capture.  Further, although Garrison was against schemes of ending slavery by paying off slaveholders (enabling them to profit from their sin of slaveholding) instead of compensating slaves for their free labor, he defended the morality of escaped slaves and free blacks purchasing their own or others’ freedom.  Just as in cases of kidnapping and ranson, Garrison argued, the sin is not in paying for freedom, but with those who receive such money for the crime the King James’ Bible called “man-stealing.”  Thus, against further criticisim, when he joined Douglass in England at the end of the lecture tour, Garrison helped him raise money and purchase his freedom so that he could return to America without risk of arrest under the Fugitive Slave Law.

The split between the two men began in 1848 when Douglass started his own newspaper, The Northstar instead of continuing as a lecturer for the AAS and a regular writer for The Liberator.  This cannot be seen as a racist attack on black-owned business by Garrison.  He had long been a supporter of black entrepeneurs.  He had even previously supported a black-owned abolitionist paper in New York (The Ram’s Horn).  But, while The Liberator had once had a virtual monopoly on abolitionist papers, there was now much competition and Garrison had to see The North Star as an economic rival, especially for black subscribers.  Black subscribers had kept the always-poor Garrison afloat during many hard times. Now that abolitionism was a much bigger movement, there was competition for subscriptions and The North Star’s success might come at The Liberator’s expense–or so it had to appear to Garrison.

The split continued when Douglass changed his mind over political activity.  He had started in complete agreement with Garrison that the Constitution so protected slavery that the legal overthrow of slavery would need “disunion” and a new Constitution.  But after founding The North Star, Douglass came to agree with members of the short-lived Liberty Party that the Framers had intended  the Constitutional compromises with slavery to be short-lived, that slavery was un-Constitutional, and that Congress had the power to end slavery.  He was thus a supporter of the new Republican Party (a “free soil” party) while Garrison continued to see party politics as a distraction from the work of abolishing slavery having it seen as morally abhorrent by the overwhelming majority so that the popular will would demand a new (anti-slavery) Constitution. 

The split widened when Douglass rejected his earlier pacifism to praise John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Garrison saw Brown as being more morally right than the defenders of slavery–and struggled to show non-pacifists that Brown should be seen in the same light as the American patriots who rebelled against Britain.  But he continued to see nonviolence as a more excellent way, still.  But Garrison also, reluctantly supported the Civil War (and saw one of his own sons enlist on the Union side) and black soldiers after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  But while Garrison abandoned his absolute pacifism reluctantly and returned to the struggle for a peaceful world that would outlaw war after the end of the Civil War, Douglass moved to support the concept of “defensive” wars.  And Douglass ended up being influential with Abraham Lincoln in a way that Garrison never was.  The differences caused resentments.

But was this racism on Garrison’s part?  Perhaps.  I am among those who believe that in a thoroughly racist society like ours, it is impossible to be completely without racial prejudices.  The best we can do is to try constantly to become aware of our lingering prejudices, confront them, and attempt a life as a “recovering racist.”  I don’t think Garrison would have disagreed. He worked his entire life to see where he fell short of holiness, repent, and become more sanctified.  But I also think that some kind of split might have happened even if both men were the same color–because when students surpass mentors in fame and influence it usually creates generational rifts even if the mentor is rightly proud of the student’s success.

It is also difficult in our competitive society for two men to work so closely together, share so much, and maintain a close friendship.  The failure in Garrison and Douglass’ case is a case study in the tragedy of so many men to be able to sustain close friendships over a lifetime, but we ought also to give praise to the way they were able to sustain such a friendship for over a decade in very trying circumstances.  Outside of military service during war, we have few examples of such close friendships among heterosexual males for any length of time.  Garrison and Douglass both worked for a society that would go beyond the patriarchy that works against close male friendships, so it is sad that they did not succeed with each other–friendships should be able to survive differences inviewpoints when two kindred spirits agree on so much of the “big picture.”

Douglass was probably the deeper thinker–and it is good to see today a renewed interest in Douglass by political scientists, moral philosophers, and theologians.  But Garrison deserves more credit in all those areas than he usually gets, too–and without Garrison, would we have ever known Douglass at all?

July 29, 2010 Posted by | biographies, civil rights leaders, History, oppression, racial justice, slavery | 4 Comments

“Papers, Please”: Arizona & Immigration in Christian Perspective (with updates)

Yes, friends, I know I have neglected this blog since Palm Sunday.  My deepest apologies. The truth is that, in addition to trying to catch up on paying writing and family responsibilities, I have been overwhelmed by many current events–and the activist in me supplanted the blogging theologian/public intellectual in me.  I would be mentally composing one column for this blog only to be distracted by new events. I shall try to make up for my absence this month, friends.


By now almost no one in the United States has missed the controversy over the state of Arizona’s new immigration law–which has re-ignited the stalled movement to reform federal immigration laws.  Many overseas have watched the story, too, with various degrees of comprehension.  But before I give biblical-theological reflections–never mind calls to political action–I want to sketch some historical and contemporary backgrown for broader perspective.

The U.S. had no immigration laws at all from the time we ratified the Constitution in 1789 until 1875.  Officially, at least, we favored open borders and welcomed all immigrants.  We were a “land of opportunity” built on waves of immigration.  When the French sculptor Bartholdi constructed the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York harbor, the poet Emma Lazarus (an American democratic socialist) wrote a poem (The New Colossus) to raise money for the statue that is engraved at the base–and represents the best of U.S. ideals on immigration. It reads:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


But if that famous poem of welcome represents our highest ideals, the reality of our policies has often fallen far short.  A Native American perspective would undoubtedly see all the rest of us as “illegal immigrants” who came–without permission–here, conquered, repeatedly broke treaties with the indigenous nations, stole ever-more of their land, spread disease (often intentionally, such as when smallpox-infected blankets were given as gifts in an early–and devastatingly effective–form of bio-terrorism), massacred millions, forced Native American children into missionary-run schools (paid with federal funds in a huge violation of the “no establishment of religion” clause of the 1st Amendment) where speaking in their native languages led to beatings, etc.  The crimes of the rest of us immigrants against the First Peoples of this continent continue to this day–and demonstrate both the hypocrisy of the anti-immigration feelings of the dominant “white” culture and that securing borders CAN BE necessary for the survival of a nation (or group of nations) or cultures.  Without security in one’s own land, the very existance of a people (or peoples) is threatened–as the genocidal near-extermination of Native Americans shows.

The history of African-Americans shows another tragic face of our bizarre contradictions in this country as they intersect the subject of immigration. Of all the non-indigenous people-groups in this country, persons of African descent are not “immigrants” in the usual sense.  They did not come here voluntarily, but were kidnapped and enslaved–stacked in overcrowded slave ships (often bearing blasphemous names like “The Grace of God,” or the “Jesus,”) whose conditions were so bad that historians estimate that somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the human cargo did not survive and were simply thrown overboard.  Historical records indicate that sharks followed the slave ships for free meals.  No one knows how many millions of African slaves were kidnapped from their homelands and sold throughout the Americas, but sub-Saharan Africa had 200 years of virtually ZERO population growth, so the effect was horrendous.  And when the freed slaves finally had the status of citizens at the end of the U.S. Civil War (and the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution), they were immediately forced into competition and conflict with new waves of immigrants for both “homesteads” (in areas recently stolen from conquered “Indians”) and unskilled and semi-skilled jobs.  African-Americans have sometimes held anti-immigrant views because they feel, rightly or wrongly, that every time they begin, as a people-group, to move up the economic ladder, they are undercut by the arrival of new groups working for less money.  (On the other hand, anti-black racism among some immigrant groups that came shortly after the end of slavery–such as the Irish who are a large part of my family tree–is at least partly traceable to the fact that newly-freed slaves would work for even lower wages than poor immigrants looking for a foothold.)

The U.S. is a “nation of immigrants,” built on waves of immigrant labor.  The Chinese and the Irish in the late 19th C., along with African-Americans, built the transcontinental railroads that linked the far-flung nation together.  Numerous other examples could be given.  And, at our best, we have celebrated that heritage as Emma Lazarus did in her poem.

On the other hand, each wave of immigration (always including both legal and illegal immigration–my Irish ancestors met closed doors of a quota system at Ellis Island and so went to Canada and then snuck south into this country!) was met with suspicion and hostility by many.  Especially during economic hard times, immigrants have made convenient scapegoats for problems. I well remember the hostility to the Vietnamese “boat people” refugees during the recession of the late 197os, as well as to Haitians.  Often, our immigrants have been refugees from war–including wars in which the U.S. was a player: Here in Kentucky, recent waves of immigrants have included many from the former Yugoslavia, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, and Sudanese.

Some significant dates in U.S. immigration history:

  • The Naturalization Act of 1790 declared that “any alien being a free white person may be admitted to become a citizen of the United States.” (Notice the racism of this earliest immigration policy.)
  • 1875, The U.S. Supreme Court declares that regulation of U.S. immigration is solely the prerogative of the federal government (on this ground alone, it seems clear that that Arizona’s new law is unconstitutional).
  • 1882, The Chinese Exclusion Act, reacting to fears of the “yellow menace” of Chinese immigration, stopped, for a long time, the legal immigration of Chinese to the U.S.
  • 1885, 1887, laws prohibited certain laborers from immigrating to the U.S.
  • 1891, the federal government assumed the task of inspecting, rejecting, admitting, and processing all persons seeking immigration to the U.S.
  • 1892, Ellis Island is set up as the federal immigration center in New York harbor on 02 January 1892.
  • 1903, for the first time, immigrants crossing the border from Mexico are legally inspected–although informally (and probably illegally) the Texas Rangers and similar groups in other Western states permitted whites to raid Mexican ranches and steal horses and cattle while killing any Mexicans who attempted the same.
  • The U.S. Immigration Act of 1907 reorganized the states bordering Mexico (Arizona, New Mexico and much of Texas) into a Mexican Border District to stem the flow of immigration from Mexico. This had the effect of breaking up many families who had long traveled back and forth visiting relatives.
  • 1917-1924, a series of very harsh immigration laws set strict quotas of immigration–encouraging more Northern Europeans (light-skinned and Protestant), placing strict limits on Jewish immigrants, immigrants from Southern Europe (darker-skinned and Catholic) and banned all Asian immigrants except the Japanese.
  • 1924 Act: Greatly reduced the number of U.S. visas permitting any entrance to the U.S.–a reaction to the refugees from post-  WWI Europe in the America of the Roaring Twenties.
  • 1940, The Alien Registration Act established “green cards.” For the first time, all non-U.S. citizens in the U.S. legally (“aliens”) had to register with the U.S. government and receive a registration card.
  • 1950–The modern Green Card which allowed legal residents (non-citizens) to move and work in the U.S.
  • 1952–Modern immigration system with per-country quotas.
  • 1968–Immigration based on race, place of birth, sex, and residence is struck down. It also officially removed the banning of Asians.
  • 1976–Immigration preference to those from the Western Hemisphere was abolished. This had the unintended effect of making LEGAL immigration from Mexico, Central America, and South America much harder than previously.  The contemporary problem of massive illegal immigration from Mexico has its roots in this law signed by then-Pres. Gerald Ford which was intended to be fairer to African and Asian people seeking immigration.
  • 1980–In response to the crisis of the Vietnamese “boat people” and the Haitian crisis of the late 1970s, as well as refugees from Cuba, a law was passed that formalized the acceptance of all refugees, signed by Pres. Jimmy Carter. Later, Pres. Ronald Reagan would distinguish between “political refugees” and “economic refugees” to claim that those fleeing the military dictatorships in Central America, especially Guatemala and El Salvador, were not “real” refugees and not entitled to entry. In protest, church groups created the “sanctuary movement” harboring thousands of refugees from U.S. backed military dictatorships in South America. Throughout the 1980s, the federal government raided numerous churches and paid people to become members of sanctuary churches and spy on their activities for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  (Full disclosure:  Although never a member of a “sanctuary congregation,” I visited several of these congregations throughout the nation during my seminary days in the 198os and wrote papers and articles on them–advocating resistance to the government’s policy and urging lawmakers to take a wider definition of “refugee.”–so that asylum was not simply granted or rejected based on whether the government of the originating nation was friendly with our government.
  • 1986–In response to the crisis of immigration in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan granted a widespread amnesty to illegal immigrants in this country–in return for a law which tightened restrictions still further on future immigration and gave stricter penalties to letting visas expire, etc.
  • Realizing that the current system was broken, Pres. George W. Bush (in one of the few moves of his I supported) tried in 2007 to get a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration law that would allow far more legal immigration, punish companies that knowingly hired or recruited undocumented workers (usually illegal immigrants), would help reunite families, grant partial amnesty to longterm resident illegal immigrants who had broken no other laws and give them a path to citizenship, while strengthening border protections.  It was initially supported by most Democratic politicians and several Republican ones, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), but was blocked by a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the Republican party.  A federal solution to the problem of immigration has languished ever since–and with border crime and violence, especially from the Mexican drug cartels, on the increase, border states have become increasingly hostile to all immigrants, legal or illegal, and of all persons from South of the U.S. border–even while Mexican tourism is a major source of income.

With this background came the AZ law.  The authors of the law may not have had pure motives.  There is strong evidence that AZ State Rep. Pearce and the orginazation FAIR that he used to help write the law, have very racist ideologies, including ties to the eugenics movement.  Gov. Brewer does not seem to have such far-right ties and I initially thought she signed this law as a harassed governor simply desperate in a no-win situation. But, as Secretary of State, Brewer did purge the AZ voting rolls of Latinos in a fashion that would have made Katherine Harris, former FL Sec. of State in 2000, blush with shame at the audacity of it. So, she may be motivated as much by a desire to suppress Latino voting in her state as by desperation over border security.

Now, to examine the law itself. The AZ law, which was SB 1070, claims to forbid racial profiling (which is unconstitutional) but the details of the law make this a contradiction in terms.  It DEMANDS that local police stop any person who “seems illegal” and ask for proof of citizenship and/or legal residency status.  It leaves up to the officer the decision as to what makes someone “seem illegal,” and what would constitute proof of legal status– in most cases simple driver’s license and Social Security card would be insufficient. I doubt I could pass muster were I to drive through AZ: I only have a photocopy of my birth certificate (the original was long ago destroyed in a fire) and don’t keep it in my car.  Who “seems illegal?” I sincerely doubt that the AZ police will be stopping busloads of Japanese tourists or “snowbirds” with Canadian license plates. Since the law is designed as an answer to the problem of a porous southern border, and especially violent crime from Mexican drug lords, police HAVE to target Hispanics. So, they will listen for Mexican accents and look for brown skin (though anyone who has spent time in Mexico, as I have, knows that Mexico has just as wide an ethnic diversity as does the U.S.–from blonde hair and blue eyes to brown skin and brown eyes, to persons of African descent, etc.). And if they don’t, the law allows any AZ citizen to sue the police for failure to comply.

The law is probably unconstitutional on several grounds: 1) The 1875 Supreme Court decision which says that immigration policy and enforcement is a strictly federal matter. 2) The racial profiling violates civil rights of individuals including freedom of movement. By presuming people are guilty of being in the country illegally until and unless they can prove otherwise, it violates the “due process” of the 5th Amendment–which, among other things, guarantees that everyone, citizen or not, is presumed innocent under the law until proven otherwise–not the other way around.  3) The 14th Amendment applied the Bill of Rights to the states.

But what should we think of this law, not just as Americans or people of good will, but as Christians?  I suggest that we who are Christian should be even more horrified than others about this law.  The Bible promotes fair treatment for foreigners, immigrants, and resident aliens throughout.  The practice of “hospitality to strangers” is made normative in both testaments.  Consider just a few texts:

“Do not oppress an alien.  You yourseves know how it feels to be aliens; for you were aliens in Egypt.” Ex. 23:9

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born.  Love him as yourselves for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Lev. 19:33-34, emphasis added.

Christians are to consider themselves not really at home in ANY earthly country, but as “aliens and strangers on the earth.” Heb. 11:13.  This theme goes back to the founding of ancient Israel. God did not, as commonly said by many, GIVE the land of Canaan to the Israelites. Rather, he let them use the land–a land God claimed for God’s own and in which the Israelites were to consider themselves God’s guests (Lev. 25:23). Actually, this theme has even deeper roots–in Abraham’s call to leave Ur to follow God in faith to some other country “that I will show you.” Wars, famines, plagues–and the call of God–have always led to migration.  (This reminder that the land never BELONGED to Israel would also give a different shape to Mid-east peace talks, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Finally, we must remind ourselves that we meet Christ in the stranger–including the stranger from another land (Matt. 25:35). So our treatment of immigrants and resident aliens, including our perspective on immigration laws, should flow from a desire to treat the resident alien we meet as we would treat Christ–Christ who was, because of Herod’s massacre, a refugee in Egypt for some of his childhood according to Matt. 2:14-16.

In an age of terrorism, it is, perhaps, unreasonable to have completely open borders.  I do not advocate only amnesty.  But I do think the AZ law is an unjust overreaction that no Christian should support.  We need comprehensive immigration reform that brings most undocumented workers out from the shadows and gives them a path to citizenship. We need to remind ourselves that ending wars and working for economic development and a just political order globally reduces many of the reasons people flee to the U.S. (Next time someone gets angry at aid to Mexico, remind them that if they want most Mexicans to stay in Mexico they had better help them form a stable and just nation.) We also need easier LEGAL immigration–importing the skilled and unskilled workers that we need–and making it easy for people to keep their families together, too.

Crime and violence, such as currently rocks Arizona and other border states, must be suppressed–but not by a presumption of guilt by anyone with an accent, with a Latino/a name or certain skin-color, eye-color, hair-color. 

A personal final word: I resent it when people refer to Latino/as as “prone to crime,” lazy, of loose morals, etc. Not only does this insult many of my friends, but it was said about every other immigrant group when they first came to these shores.  The sweeping generalization (i.e., “lie”) hasn’t improved any with time.

UPDATE:  It seems I gave Gov. Brewer too much credit in hoping that she was motivated to sign this draconian law mostly out of fear of cross-border crime.  But the Arizona Republic has done some old-fashioned investigative journalism, today.  They found that, contrary to claims by Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan and by John McCain, it’s NOT about the violence since there is no increase in violent crime along the AZ border in the last decade!  So, for Gov. Brewer, this has to be a continuation of her voter suppression efforts  (of LEGAL Latino/a citizens in AZ) as AZ Secretary of State in order to make GOP electoral victories easier.  And for State Rep. Pearce, this is part of his continued efforts for white supremacy as documented above. 

Racism is alive and well and rampant in AZ–and trying to come to a state near you as more states seek to copy AZ’s law.  So, we have to step up efforts to push Congress for Comprehensive Immigration Reform–this year, before the November elections.  Take voter registration cards to every rally for immigrants’ rights.

UPDATE II: The Washington Post has a good, brief, article on Five (5) Myths About Immigration that is well worth reading and sharing with others.

A CALL TO ACTION:  Join in any local marches for immigration reform and solidarity with immigrants that you can. Bring voter registration cards to every march or rally.  Write, call, & email your senators urging comprehensive immigration reform THIS year.  Support the Schumer-Kerry framework.  Boycott AZ, especially tourism in AZ, until the racist law is removed.  I cancelled our family’s planned trip to the Grand Canyon this summer as soon as Gov. Brewer signed the law.  Contact Gov. Brewer’s office and the AZ Bureau of Tourism and let them know that you are boycotting their state.  Write letters to your local paper against the AZ law.  Contact the Dept. of Justice and urge them to block enforcement of the AZ law as unconstitutional.  If you are clergy, please preach on the “hospitality to strangers” theme that should undergird Christian perspectives on immigration and condemn the racism of most anti-immigrant views.  Thank-you.

UPDATE III:  Arizona’s legislators and governor are not even PRETENDING that this is about illegal immigration anymore. It’s about turning Latino/as, especially Mexican-Americans, into permanently Second Class Citizens.  The state legislature has just passed (and Gov. Brewer signed) 2 more “anti-Brown” laws.  1) No one who has a “foreign accent” will be allowed to teach English in the public schools!  2)All courses in Latino studies are hereby banned.  Neither of these laws has anything to do with immigration. They are blatant attempts to promote white supremacy and a legal (nonlethal) form of ethnic cleansing! 

May 2, 2010 Posted by | civil rights, ethics, justice, oppression, racial justice | 6 Comments

Freedom Sunday

This is the First Sunday of the Season of Lent.  It is also Freedom Sunday, promoted by organizations in the “New Abolitionist Movement” to highlight the problem of human trafficking and modern slavery.  I found out about this too late to urge my congregation to participate and it is too much to hope that all slavery and human trafficking will have ended in a year’s time–so I can urge both my congregation and yours to put Freedom Sunday on your annual calendars.  I also urge us all to find out more about human trafficking and modern slavery (including sex slavery, but also the way that much of the clothes we wear is produced by slave-labor in sweatshops in the global south) and what we can do to end it.

I think this is appropriately on the calendar for the First Sunday in Lent. No matter whether we observe some form of Lenten fasting or other spiritual disciplines, they are only a means, never the end in themselves.  As God says in Isaiah, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?” Isa. 58:6.

Here are some resources on human trafficking and the New Abolitionist Movement.

Race Traitor (online journal of new abolitionism)

Human Trafficking.org

Anti-Slavery International

Not for Sale campaign

Coalition Against Trafficking in Women

Child Trafficking. com

Captive Daughters

Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST)

Hagar International

Coalition of Organ-Failure Solutions (Fights the trafficking in human organs for transplants, including the kidnapping and trafficking of persons for theft of their organs.)

February 21, 2010 Posted by | justice, Lent, liturgy, oppression, slavery, worship | Leave a comment