‘When necessary, use words’

‘When necessary, use words’ September 8, 2017

Two very different groups of American Christians put out statements this week. (Yes, again. More statements.)

The good news is that these two are Good News. They’re both strongly worded affirmations of justice — what seminary types might call prophetic. They’re not precisely addressing the same thing, but they are congruent and in concert. They reinforce one another nicely.

First there’s this, from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops: “USCCB President, Vice President and Committee Chairmen Denounce Administration’s Decision to End DACA and Strongly Urge Congress to Find Legislative Solution.” That title is a mouthful, but the statement itself is brief and to-the-point.

The cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible. It causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families. These youth entered the U.S. as minors and often know America as their only home. The Catholic Church has long watched with pride and admiration as DACA youth live out their daily lives with hope and a determination to flourish and contribute to society: continuing to work and provide for their families, continuing to serve in the military, and continuing to receive an education. Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.

The Church has recognized and proclaimed the need to welcome young people: “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37). Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country. Today’s actions represent a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future. DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth.

We strongly urge Congress to act and immediately resume work toward a legislative solution. We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth.

As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.

The second is like unto it. It doesn’t address DACA specifically, but the bigger-picture problem of the ideology and theology that undergirds the cramped, resentful inhospitality behind DACA repeal. This statement tackles the main reason why, as the bishops put it, “our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond.”

This “Theological Declaration on Christian Faith and White Supremacy” doesn’t come from the princes of the church, but from “a diverse group of theologians, activists and ministers of our respective parishes, congregations, networks, churches, faith communities and educational institutions.” Evangelicals, mostly.

It’s a fairly academic statement, reading more like a (sometimes clunky) paper presented at a conference than like a ringing sermon. But the substance of it? That’ll preach.

It’s quite long, but here’s how it starts:

We are bound together by the confession that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Church.

We publicly declare that what we hold in common in this confession is threatened by the festering infection of Eurocentric white nationalism and white supremacy. Fueled by flawed interpretations of Old Testament purity laws and conquest, churches and denominations in the United States have been deeply shaped by and at times created to sustain European purity and colonization of land, people, and culture. The colonizing spirit declares the self to be uniquely fully human — to have the exclusive right to rule the world. It’s strategy is the creation of racial and gender-based human hierarchy — forsaking God for the idols of domination and control. Eurocentric Christian churches have often been the prime creators, carriers, sustainers and protectors of this malevolent force, which manifests overtly in acts of racial and gender-based violence and covertly in systems, structures, principalities and powers, both beyond and within the walls of the Church.

We acknowledge and lament that white churches’ complicity with the spirit of colonization and conscious or unconscious belief in white supremacy has hindered the work and witness of Jesus Christ within the Christian church as a whole. In response to colonized theology and church structures, systems, and cultures that reinforce white supremacy, life-giving communities of worship have emerged from this malevolent use of Christianity by white churches. African Americans, Native Americans, Latinx communities, Asian American, Native Hawai’ian, Pacific Islander, and Christian Palestinian communities all articulate a theology that broke that culture and sought new ways to subvert the colonized gospel and found life and hope in communion with the colonized, yet liberating Jesus.

This is much more than just another applause-seeking denunciation of vaguely defined “racism.” Nor is it one of those open letters that seeks to find some lowest common denominator of “Can we at least all agree for the record to say some bare-minimum thing?” It’s attempting a deeper diagnosis, something more fundamentally unsettling.

That sets this apart from the larger genre of mass-signatory evangelical declarations, statements, manifestos and proclamations. It’s not drawing boundary lines or laying the groundwork for a direct-mail campaign. It seems, rather, intent on starting a conversation. I hope it succeeds in doing that, even — or maybe especially — if that conversation takes the form of a heated argument.

Anyway, I have many further thoughts about both of these statements — about both the substance and the nature of them. But let’s just start with what we’ve covered here: 1) Two recent statements from Christian groups. And, 2) They’re both pretty good.

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