The last section of stories in my book are about my work as an Activist; the last story about immigration.
My role on the steering committee of the Boston New Sanctuary Movement was to develop and promote educational material and forums. Soon after our conference, “A Faithful Understanding” I got an email from a staff member of the Massachusetts Council of Churches asking if I would be willing to meet with her and the leader of the Boston Faith and Justice Network to talk about how we might work together on immigration issues. I asked if Anthony, who was known by both of them, could join us. Anthony is now a Franciscan Capuchin Friar.
We met several times, planning a gathering of faith leaders in the Boston area, with the hope that we might develop a united front in support of immigrants. I suggested that at this gathering, someone should do a presentation summarizing the present situation; what we called the “coyuntura” on our Nicaragua delegations; the present political/social/cultural reality with respect to immigration.
Anthony and I were assigned to develop this presentation.
I went home excited. At my church I had convened a group to study U.S. immigration policy. We had each researched different periods of U.S. immigration history and taught each other what we had learned. This work resulted in a workshop: Our Faith and U.S. Immigration History. With this material and Anthony’s input I developed the following outline of a fifteen minute talk.
1. Introduction: Anthony, 1 minute:
The need to understand the present situation in the context of history and with a perspective of our Christian values.
2. Historical context of present situation Newell, 5 minutes:
Present Situation: There are two conceptual systems that dominate today’s world, and immigrants are the ones who pay the highest price for the contradictions between these systems. They are:
- Neo Liberal Global Capitalism, which uproots people and forces mass migration
- Nationalism, which erects punitive barriers to the migration of people.
Historical context: There have been two large waves of immigration into the United States; the first from Europe, peaking around 1900, and the current wave of immigrants from the global south. The liberal economic policies of the 2nd half of the 19th century spurred the industrial revolution in Europe which resulted in the first wave. The current Neo Liberal economic model has spurred the industrialization of the global south, producing the second wave of immigration into the U.S.
Five hundred years ago the fundamental political system throughout the world was the dynastic realm which was hierarchical rather than boundary oriented.
Today, the dominant political system is the Nation State, with fixed patrolled borders. As late as 1914, dynastic states made up the majority of the world political systems. The people in the first wave of immigration to the U.S. moved across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean facing physical hardship, but with few political or legal barriers. That is no longer the case.
3. Christian response to the suffering of immigrants. Anthony, 3 minutes
The bible is full of stories of the people of God migrating, and from this experience we are directed, in both the Old and new Testaments, to value the alien, to love them as we love ourselves.
4. Where do we direct our efforts? Newell, 1 minute
Using the story of the man rushing to save the babies floating down the river, ask the question, who’s upstream throwing them into the river. Answer: it is we.
5. Systems are expressions of our values: Anthony, 2 minutes
The systems which are causing mass migration are an expression of our values – materialism, self interest. We must find a way to phenomenalize our Christian values, to create systems which do not destroy the earth and our communities and families.
6. The Challenge, Newell, 1 minute
Using John Dominic Crossan’s words, Empires always define what is meant by civilization: that which threatens the empire threatens civilization as we know it. Divine revelation is the radicality of God breaking the norms of civilization. By being submissive to the cultural norms of Global Capitalism and Nationalism, we are complicit in the suffering of immigrants. Instead we need to critique these norms with our religious perspective. It is an incredibly difficult challenge for us: personally and as leaders in our faith traditions, for we are all thoroughly imbedded in the current systems. But along with responding to the suffering of immigrants, that is the challenge before us today.
I sent this outline to Anthony. He responded:
As Christians who are citizens of the U.S., we are all responsible for crucifying the peoples of Latin America… The turn from policies to values is the key. The economic and political systems we have built and consecrated phenomenalize our values. Our values bring us unmerited privilege, and they are literally killing others. We do have to answer for the unjust economic and political systems we have built. The blood of our immigrant brothers and sisters cries to God from the ground.
Sounds a bit radical, doesn’t it? But I think that if anyone can carry this message across to other Christian leaders in a spirit of charity and ultimately forgiveness, you can. If we believe God can change this broken world, then we must believe in our ability to repent.
I sent the outline to the others. There were a few emails about the church where we were to hold the meeting not being available and missed deadlines. No one called for another meeting of the four of us. Nothing further happened. But it would have been something to have delivered that presentation.