Rev. Loren McGrail
May 2, 2010
Some people want to keep a gospel so disembodied that it doesn't get involved at all in the world it must save. Christ is now in history. Christ is in the womb of the people. Christ is now bringing about the new heaven and new earth.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dec. 3, 1978
It is Immigrant Rights Sunday in our denomination. It's also a time to lift up workers---their contributions and struggles. It is a time to dance around maypoles and celebrate the greening again of our fragile earth. It is a time to celebrate revolution in Mexico. And it is a time to mourn, to lament, to weep out loud, to make powerful statements like the one Rev. Linda Jaramillo made a few days ago about Arizona's new immigration legislation. She said "this law is nothing less than a modern day Jim Crow law" then calling the work for immigrant rights the contemporary civil rights struggle.
This sentiment was certainly evident yesterday across our nation as people took to the streets to reclaim their rights, their dignity, and their right to be seen as human beings. The streets of our nation were full of people marching, praying with their legs as the late great Abraham Heshel used to say. As we walked the long walk from Martin Luther King Park down to the Convention Center, there was one chant in particular that took hold of me and continues to haunt me this morning because I think it has something to say about these lectionary passages, about our life together as Christians, about how we work together to make a new world. The chant goes like this, "Obama, eschucha, estamos en la lucha." It's catchy. It rhymes and it has multiple meanings depending where you put the emphasis. "Obama, listen, we are in the struggle." "Obama, listen, we are in the struggle." "Obama, listen, we are in the struggle." And so the question is, who is in the struggle? Are we in it together? If not, is this a threat or an invitation? Can it be both?
And so I go back to our texts: "An injury to one is an injury to all." "If one member suffers, all suffer with it." "We are in the struggle together, caught in the same interrelated web of life, ìan inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny", said the late Martin Luther King, Jr. What is happening to our immigrant brothers and sisters in Arizona affects us here in Minnesota. The same 287g contract that gives Sheriff Arpagio his power to racially profile people is the same 287g contract here that allows our highway patrol to pull people over and check their status. Before we demonize Arizona let us take the log out of our own eye. Racial profiling is racial profiling and it is a social sin no matter where or how it occurs.
Yet this Senate Bill 1070 goes a bit further and makes it illegal for anyone including family to be in the company of an undocumented person. To be in the company of? Like out walking with your family? Like going to school? Going to work? Like taking communion at your church?
This means that churches like Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita are in danger of breaking the law for providing humanitarian aid to migrants. It means that to love your neighbor is illegal in Arizona or as Jim Wallis, from Sojourners, put it, " It will force us to disobey Jesus and his gospel and we will not comply." "We will not comply." Another world is possible, a new heaven and a new earth are possible not only because we can imagine it but because we have the God given power to embody it. We embody it because God has made his home amongst us, inside us, all of us--- black and white and brown alike. No human being is illegal in this kin-dom. "Eschucha. estamos en la lucha together." So the question today is how do we not comply? And is this our only choice?
For this I turn to another time in history when a certain class of people were targeted and asked to show their documents, to Nazi Germany. During this time period a number of churches began to see that the Nazi supported German-Christian movement espoused beliefs that they felt were contrary to their understanding of Christ. They met in Barman, Germany and drew up a document that stated that they rejected the subordination of the church to the state. They were known as Confessing churches and one of the main theologians who helped draft this document was Dietrich Bonhoefer. Bonhoefer was a German Lutheran who started an underground seminary and wrote many books including a book on the Cost of Discipleship and essays about the relationship of the church to the state. In his essay. No Rusty Swords, he outlined three ways the church can act towards the state. I think these three ways are still applicable today especially for those of us who do not see heaven and earth as separate realms or who feel the call to action in helping to build a new Jerusalem, a Beloved Community.
The first way is hold the state accountable to itself. It can ask whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its own moral and ethical principles; its own statutes, its own values. Is it living up to its responsibilities?
The church does this by reminding the state through things like letter writing campaigns, congressional visits, or even May 1st demonstrations. When we sent our postcards over the Christmas holiday to our senators asking for comprehensive reform we were reminding our senators and the administration to make good on their promise to fix this broken system. When we send a letter to our senators next week to ask them to ask the Obama administration for the suspension of enforcement activities during the taking of the census we are asking the state to be accountable to its own responsibility to get an accurate count.
The second way is to help or aid victims of the state-- "To do good to all people." Our newly developed Visitation Project at Ramsey County Adult Detention Center seeks to offer emotional support to detainees who are often lonely and isolated as they await their court or deportation hearing. Training people to become visitors is one way we can alleviate some of their suffering. Good Shepherd's efforts to provide humanitarian aid falls into this category too. Eschucha, when the church is forbidden to give aid to people in need it forces the church to disobey its own moral laws. This is one of the reasons why Wallis calls the church to non-compliance.
The third way is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel but to put a spoke in the wheel, to stop it from running over people. We do this through resistance and direct action. We do this when the state is failing its function of creating law and order by either too many laws or too little laws or when a group is being deprived of their rights. This is what is called the "confessional situation". It is a time to say no to certain acts of our government, to obeying unjust laws. King called this moment when "silence betrays us." The confessing moment needs more than statements or words; it needs our bodies on the line. There is no middle ground.
The abuse and mistreatment of immigrants in our country has been a part of our nation's history from the beginning and from time to time it is even written into our laws like the guest worker program of the 1930ís called the braceros program. This program provided laborers for the fields with little to no rights. As the name brazenly declares we were only interested in their labor, their arms, not their personhood. Boycotts and other forms of direct action became and continue to be active ways people resist the exploitation of laborers and support their organizing campaigns.
In response to the new law in Arizona, UCC Pastor Randy Mayer pledged religious resistance to the law saying, "We will resist ---our churches, sanctuaries and sacred spaces will continue to be open to all people, at all times. We will not be asking for papers at our doors." In a letter to President Obama and other officials, the Southwest conference of the UCC promised political non-compliance and fiscal action including the moving of the conference's annual gathering out of Arizona.
"Eschucha, estamos en la lucha" To work towards making another world possible, to give birth to a new heaven and new earth, we must begin by seeing ourselves included in the struggle, in the suffering. We must accept that we are loved and saved already. We must see the Christ light in all we call "other". A larger more inclusive definition of who is "us" is necessary for another world to become possible. Another U.S. is possible only if there is a transformed us. Let it be so and let it begin with us.