So I had a mostly-written article on immigration that I started over the weekend and then on Monday evening came news from Ferguson, Missouri of the the grand jury’s decision. I opted to scrap much of what I had written and lean into the heat of the Ferguson situation, as I see them both in much the same way. News sources and the internet are ablaze with fruit. There is little talk of what is at the root of all of it. Because my audience is largely Christian, my appeal in all of this is to seek the roots for Jesus’ sake. Not only “what would Jesus do?”, but “what did Jesus do?”.
As is unfortunately usual, most Christians fall right into the laps and traps of anger-mongering newscasters bent on pedaling their version of truth. We argue the specifics of what’s going on (fruit) and deflect any conversations that address the why’s (root). Allow me to suggest a better path… likely not easier… or more simple, but better in that it deals with the root.
Position Not Pigment
This first part is huge. For better or worse I don’t think the primary issue is simply the color of one’s skin anymore. Racism has evolved into classism. Don’t believe me? Follow your Twitter feed or Facebook timeline and watch what is being said about these two issues (left or right). Better yet, who is doing the talking? The voices that are being pedaled seldom come from a position of poverty let alone proximity to Ferguson or immigration. Because most people on the street do not care about the voices of people on the street. We want to know what our favorite famous talking head is saying. And it happens equally from both sides of the aisle. So if this is the offense, what are we to do about it? Jesus was constant in message and practice that our focus should be on the least and the last. What if we applied that reach to these two issues? What would need to change?
Do Ask Don’t Tell
American Christianity is primarily focused on results. Ask pastors what is the first question they are asked by other pastors at “________ Really Awesome Christian Conference”. I guarantee the answer to that question has something to do with a focus on outwardly visible and measurable results. Because of this reality, much of our approach as Christian leaders has been to come up with a plan that fixes said problem and produces the kinds of results that are visible and measurable.
When it comes to these types of conversations I am deeply stricken with my own lack of knowledge. I don’t know. I don’t know what it feels like to grow up in daily legitimized fear of the police. I don’t know what it feels like to risk everything to leave my country of origin in hope of a better way of life for my family. My results-orientation has often forced me to pretend that I do know. I must come up with some kind of solution.
I think we need to stop trying to tell the disadvantaged how to think/act/be. What if, instead, we adopted a position of asking. Yes, I realize that this removes us from a position of authority and jeopardizes our grasp of tangible results. The hardest part of this for most of us is that we don’t really know anyone in either of these two categories. That would be a good first step. Get to know someone that experiences the things that you and I do not. Ask them what they think needs to be done. Listen.
Penitence Over Politics
One of the truths that I have been changed most by in recent years is this… if Jesus matters, he has to matter in context. My observation is that in discussions of this nature, Christians – like anyone else – are most likely to go to their respective political corners before returning to the middle of the ring to duke it out. This is backwards. I’m not saying our politics do not play a role in our faith, but it is our faith that should inform our politics, not the other way around.
Asking “what does the law say?” is not necessarily a bad question. I just don’t think it’s always the most important question. The most important question for a Christian is always “what does Jesus say?” Certainly Jesus did not address either of these issues specifically or as we understand them in our American context. He did, however, often speak about and act upon seeing all people through the same lens… his children in need of his redemption. That’s me, too.
A Better Path
Often my default response is silence and inaction. But what if we began to head in a different direction than our basest impulses? What if we sought a better path? Certainly this would be more difficult than following the masses. Certainly it will be hard work. Certainly following the aforementioned types of suggestions are in keeping with the spirit of Jesus. Ready. Set. Go.