We, the United States of America, are now charged with human rights violations by the United Nations. Apparently, deservedly so. Jeff Sessions, whose actively racist behavior previously prevented him from serving as a federal judge, now acts as Attorney General and charges people of color who migrate to our country with a federal crime under the name of an America First law enforcement initiative. This led to the active separation of family units with no declared intent or specified method of ever reuniting children with parents. Make no mistake: this is legalized, state-sanctioned terrorism against migrants. Though now stayed by an executive order, it leads instead to a different practice: indefinite detainment of migrants, practically exclusively people of color, in camps. Internment camps for Japanese Americans and concentration camps from WWII Germany to present day North Korea should ring loudly in our ears. Indefinite detention is a different type of human rights violation, one for which countries like China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran have been consistently critiqued. That is our company.
Per Sessions, this practice of separation began under the decree of Donald Trump, whose heart cannot be known but whose actions have declared, among other things: (1) a preference for consolidated power and wealth at the top social strata, the product of the most recent tax reform, (2) a disdain for peaceful protest, whether among millionaire professional athletes or common people in movements like Black Lives Matter, (3) an affinity for dictatorial modes of government where the masses sit up straight at the presence of a strong man, rather than provide critique as coequal members of society, (4) a confession of committing sexual assault, and (5) an erosion of support from the rights of LGTBQ+ people and communities, among many others.
The current practices of the United States government endanger the lives and threaten the integrity of people of color, people who lack access to financial resources, people who migrate here, people of all sexual and gender identities, and people who resist the dominant narrative of the administration. Fundamentally, this government’s practices are a threat to people, period.
I resist this government's oppressive behavior and policies entirely of my own volition, not claiming to stand for any other person or organization; yet, I do so in the legacy of Jesus, a person of color who came to proclaim good news to the poor, who survived as an undocumented migrant, who actively supported the rights and responded to the protests of racial and ethnic minorities, who supported women, who was conceived by an unwed mother and who gave us a new law, to love one another as he loves us. I stand in the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, disciple of Jesus, who refused to submit to the authority of a corrupt government and died as an active resistor. I follow the leaders of #blacklivesmatter (cofounded by women of color Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi) and Pride, the guidance of womanists and feminists, the convictions of liberation theology, the witness of Ghandi and Sojourner Truth, the organizational resistance of Nelson Mandela, William Wilberforce, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. It is a matter of both human dignity and Christian integrity that compels me to condemn the behavior
It is time for more than electing a different party in power or a different leader to run the system. The system is down, and the only feasible solution is a new way of life that constructs a new community. While a sort of new age Amish option sounds attractive, going off the grid is not an option, not if we’re called to love our neighbors. To love someone involves not only our liberation, but theirs as well. We must become like a virus, infecting the cells around us with the DNA of love that transforms our immigration policy, our concepts of black and brown bodies, our relationships with people who express intimacy, gender, and sexuality different from ours, our economic policies and our obsession with money.
Honestly, I’m not sure what this looks like. Dr. King and other leaders from the Civil Rights Movement developed particular trainings and utilized particular strategies to accomplish particular goals. That’s admirable and informative for how we accomplish change; yet, it also concedes much power to the system at hand, which will ty typically seek appeasement rather than transformation. Those with power and privilege rarely want to accomplish equality because, for them (and in many ways, as a straight, white, cisgenedered middle class male, I am one of "them") loss of privilege feels like active oppression. Incremental change is good, and specific accomplishments make progress tangible, but we need to ensure that this change is stemmed by the authoritarian gaze that declares, “Good enough for now.” A question that still haunts me is this: can we truly make the progress we need working within the system as currently constructed? I hope it is possible. I fear it is not. If we can't build the plane while we fly it, a phoenix must rise from the ashes of the crash.
I admit that this is not brave speech. This is delayed realization and response. I’m way behind siblings in Christ like Kwame Pitts, Elle Dowd, Lenny Duncan, Elizabeth Rawlings, and others at Disrupt Worship and #decolonizeLutheranism. Many are already organizing, demonstrating, speaking up and and acting out in ways that seek this change. I’m now, perhaps for the first time, overwhelmed with the need of it in light of the children who suffer without parents - parents who risked their own lives to provide a better chance at life for this children - because of the silent complicity of myself and so many others like me. Moreover, brave speech is only known by accompanied action of bravery. We must speak and must act, not to earn our salvation, but to share the abundant life God opens to all people.
We must speak up and act out. We must say clearly that God’s word does not condone oppression or terrorism, but instead, in the grand arc of scripture, calls us to redemptive, inclusive love. We must speak up that both in the Bible’s Eden and in the Bible’s eternity, there are no boundaries that prevent people from migrating toward one another. We must speak up that, in Jesus, we see the fullness of God’s intent for humanity: grace with a preferential option for those who’ve known mostly oppression and poverty, abuse and hatred, fear and want.
We must also act in ways that foster substantial change. Don't just settle for the other party when you vote when their platform still ultimately supports practices that restrict wealth at the top and refuse to release power to more people. Don't just settle for fair trade when you can instead purchase items from cooperatives owned by farmers and artisans in the Global South. We must admit the roles we have played in furthering systems of oppression and the prejudice that still festers in our own hearts while simultaneously using that privilege to lift up others rather than ourselves and choosing to act in ways contra to the prejudicial dispositions formed deep within each of us. We will only transform the world when we create equitable relationships with the people of the world, of all races and genders, ethnicities and financial means, of all sizes and abilities.
The system is down. We must speak up and act out to change it from the inside out.
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Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.