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Two weeks ago as I was packing my things to go to the Texas Baptist Women in Ministry Conference, and as the threat of immigration raids became more tangible, I considered packing a copy of my U.S. passport. (Even though my skin color is fairly light, and I can pass easily as a native U.S. citizen, as soon as I speak my accent reveals my foreign status). “You are just driving to Abilene, Texas,” I told myself, “but what if …?” I felt a sense of fear, and I did pack a copy of my passport, just in case.
But what about the immigrants who do not have a passport? What about the immigrants who are not light-skinned like me, and who are victims of racial profiling (stopped and questioned just because they have darker skin or a physical complexion that exposes them)? Fear is not only present, but terror!
I can only imagine ….
What I know is that undocumented immigrants are becoming again the invisible community — one that lives in the shadows. If they come out, they face the threat of detention, deportation and ultimately extended separation from their families and loved ones.
So, they hide in their houses. They do not go to work or church (yes, many of them are faithful Christians like you and me). They do not send their kids to school. They travel the back roads of their towns and of life.
These are challenging times! We are witnessing new things that I never imagined could happen in “the land of the free” — the travel ban, the raids, the construction of the wall, the silencing of people, the use of unconventional facts and unreliable data, and an environment where bullying seems to be acceptable and welcome. All these things are creating so much anxiety and suffering in different communities.
As I reflected on this, facing my own fears and empathizing with others’ fears and suffering, I was reminded of theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez’s questions: “How are we to talk about a God who is revealed as love in a situation characterized by poverty and oppression? … How are we to acknowledge that God makes us a free gift of love and justice when we have before us the suffering of the innocent?” (On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, p.xiv).
Now, at this point some of my readers may argue that these undocumented persons are not innocent. On the contrary, they are criminals because they broke the law by entering the country without proper documents, or by extending their stay without the right permission.
Did they have another choice? What would you do if you and your family were starving? What would you do if you and your family were constantly in a situation of extreme violence, where rape and death were always around the corner? Perhaps you would have gone, too, with documents or without them, to a foreign land in search of a better future for you and your loved ones. Perhaps you would have thought, also: “It is better to get out of here, even if we die in the process — because if we stay, we would die anyway.”
In addition, the fact that a law is a law does not make it a good and just law. Let’s not forget that at certain points in history it was rightly lawful to have slaves. Was it right because it was the law? Of course not! It took much work and suffering to change this law, but it eventually happened. Comprehensive immigration reform is what is needed, not raids.
So the question comes again: How do we talk about God in the face of suffering? Gustavo Gutiérrez suggests the use of two necessary and inseparable languages: Contemplation and prophecy (On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, pp.16 and 17). The first one calls the Christian to a deeper experience of God’s love. As we contemplate God, we will identify a God, who is full of mercy, compassion and justice, and who has a special concern for society’s oppressed, vulnerable, and marginalized. Certainly, today’s immigrants, refugees, foreigners, widows and orphans enter into this category (Leviticus 19:33-34 and Isaiah 1:17). Furthermore, Jesus, as God’s most complete revelation (Hebrews 1:1-3), gave the same message and lived under the same concerns and values.
But this deeper relationship with God is not only about knowing God better; it represents, too, a call to action. Thus, Gutiérrez speaks about a prophetic language that moves us, in God’s name, to do something about the suffering of the people. On the one hand, it is a call to protest injustice, and to challenge oppression and unjust regimes, laws, policies and practices. On the other hand, it is a call to stand in solidarity with the suffering people in our society, exactly as Jesus would do it. What does this look like? In the last weeks, we have seen some good examples. I am thankful for:
- Pastors, churches and towns that are protecting undocumented immigrants and their families.
- Pastors who are challenging oppressive views and practices through their preaching.
- Students who are calling their schools to protect undocumented students.
- Writers, poets, artists, singers, who are helping us to verbalize traumatic experiences, as well as assisting us in charting a way forward with our feelings, emotions and strategies.
- Those who are guiding the immigrant community by teaching them what to do in the case of an unexpected raid, or an attempt of a home invasion.
- Those who are marching and protesting.
These are challenging times, indeed! As we discern the demands of these new times, let us contemplate with devotion the God who loves the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor and the oppressed. As we contemplate God, we will discern our call to action, too. While my specific call as a mother, professor, speaker and writer may be different from yours, the general biblical call for all Christians remains the same:
What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? — Micah 6:8
Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. — Proverbs 31:9
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. — Zachariah 7:9-10
Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. — Jeremiah 22:3
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. — Matthew 25:35-36
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. — Luke 10:27
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. — Matthew 7:12