New Laws, Shifting Demographics

New Laws, Shifting Demographics

NEW YORK PRIDE: Marchers in the weekend NYC Gay Pride Parade celebrated New York's legalization of same-sex marriage.

Calls and emails to numerous New York clergy went unanswered over the weekend as Urban Faith sought reaction to the passage of a bill that makes same-sex marriage legal in the state. Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law after it was passed by the Republican-led state senate Friday.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage  (NOM) told the Wall Street Journal the move was a “disaster for the Republican party,” and said NOM will spend $2 million to defeat legislators who voted for it.

Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree was widely criticized last week for speaking out in opposition to the bill in a video for NOM. Tyree said it is “doing God an injustice by not making his heart known” on the issue, and was especially taken to task for suggesting that if a gay marriage bill passes in New York, it will be “the beginning of our country sliding toward … anarchy.

In some truly disheartening relationship news, a new Pew Research Center study indicates that while only 9 percent of Americans said more interracial relationships are bad for society, 16 percent of white evangelicals did and 13 percent of white mainline Protestants, Christianity Today reported.

“The views of white Christians stand in stark contrast to two other groups: black Protestants and those with no religion. Only 3 percent of either group said interracial marriage was bad for society. Eight-in-ten respondents said the trend ‘doesn’t make much difference.’  Those who are not religious were more optimistic, with 38 percent saying it was good for society,” the article said.

Meanwhile, Terry Shropshire began a Rollingout.com review of Ralph Richard Banks’ new book Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone with this stinging rebuke:

“Malcolm X once warned African Americans that no one can exploit and hate on black people with the dexterity, efficiency and ruthlessness as other blacks. Case in point: a black Stanford law professor is gainfully profiteering off the collective marriage misery of middle-class African American women with a blog-level, contemptible book.”

The book advises black women to find love by marrying white men.

“While some intelligent points were sprinkled into the book at irregular intervals, overall, it answers none of the questions and relies on haphazard, shabby research and unsubstantiated theories wrapped in hollow, sophisticated rhetoric to make you give it a good look,” Shropshire concluded.

In other news, black leaders met last week in Washington to call for an end to the 40 year war on drugs, the Seattle Medium reported.

“This is a crime against humanity. [The] War on drugs is a war on Black and Brown and must be challenged by the highest levels of our government in the war for justice,” keynote speaker Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. told more than 200  people gathered at the Institute of the Black World event, the statistic and solution filled article said.

Among the statistics cited were these: “African-Americans are 62 percent of drug offenders sent to state prisons, yet they represent only 12 percent of the U. S. population” and “black men are sent to state prisons on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men.”

Among the solutions offered are these: “Ask Congress to create new and fully-funded drug treatment facilities rather than more prisons,” and “Encourage and support religious leaders to assist incarcerated persons and providing community and moral leadership.”

In related news, dark-skinned black women receive considerably harsher sentences than light-skinned black women in the North Carolina prison system, a new study conducted by researchers at Villanova University found.

“Black women who were perceived to have a light skin tone were sentenced to considerably more lenient sentences, roughly 12 percent less time in prison than those with a dark skin tone,” The Grio reported.

“The current study adds to a growing body of colorism research that underscores the complexity of racism in our society,” one of its authors told the outlet.

One can only hope that shifting demographic realities will erase this prejudice.

A preview of the final 2010 census report indicates that minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S. for the first time, but it also reveals that more African-American households are now headed by women — mostly single mothers — than by married couples, the Associated Press reported.

“Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury,” the article said.

Perhaps when that happens undocumented immigrants like Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas will have an easier path to citizenship. In a first-person essay in the New York Times, Vargas told his story of being sent from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in the United States when he was 12 years old. He described how his grandfather, educators, and employers at The Washington Post and The Huffington Post helped him keep his secret. Media critic Jack Shafer questioned the ethics of Vargas’ actions first on Twitter, then in his column at Slate.

All these stories involve complex spiritual and moral challenges that the church must continue to wrestle with. What is the appropriate Christian response to the legalization of gay marriage, to the 40-year “war on drugs,” to colorism, to African American marriage prospects and disheartening statistics, and to the plight of undocumented immigrants?

A Mom’s Desperate (School) Choice

A Mom’s Desperate (School) Choice

OUTLAW MOM: Kelley Williams-Bolar spent ten days in an Akron, Ohio, jail.

The jailing of an Ohio woman for lying about her residency to get her kids into a better school says tons about the sad shape of public education in America. But in our eagerness to sympathize, it’s easy to overlook the fact that what she did is wrong.

Forget about “waiting for Superman.” When it came to getting her daughters into a good school, this Ohio mother pulled a Batman and took the law into her own hands. Now she’s paying for it.

I was alerted to the story of Kelley Williams-Bolar by Seattle pastor and One Day’s Wages founder Eugene Cho, who insisted via Twitter that “this is not a story from The Onion,” echoing the common Dave Barry refrain, “I’m not making this up.” Such is the palpable sense of outrage and disbelief across the blogosphere regarding the news of her conviction and subsequent jailing.

Ms. Williams-Bolar of Akron, Ohio, was recently convicted of two felony counts in connection with her misrepresenting her children’s residency in order to enroll them in an exclusive school district. Most of the protest over this development stems from the sympathy generated over a mother who wants the best for her children, as well as the bitter irony that her conviction will prevent Ms. Williams-Bolar from successfully completing her teacher certification (she had been working on an education degree, and serving as a special-needs instructional assistant).

Though there are those who want to see this primarily as a story about race, I’ve read fewer accusations of the R-word than I expected to see. It seems as cooler heads are prevailing. Yet, even when viewed strictly through the lens of class, it’s hard not to be uneasy about seeing a mother being prosecuted over where she sent her children to school. It’s hard not to wonder what’s wrong with the schools in her area if a mother’s got to go through all of that rigmarole and subterfuge to ensure a quality education for her kids.

But let’s ignore the big societal issues for a moment. Let’s just look at this from the perspective of the mother trying to secure an education for her children. Were her only two options to either break the law or send her kids to languish in substandard schools? Somehow, I think not.

People often refer to looking at the opposite side of an argument as “playing Devil’s advocate,” which is ironic, because for once I’d like to advocate for God. (Not that He needs it, but just go with me.)

It’s beyond cliché to ask the hypothetical question, “What would Jesus do?” Instead, let’s ask a more difficult-yet-salient question, “What does Jesus want right now?” That is, assuming we as believers in Christ were in a situation similar to Kelley Williams-Bolar — and many of us who are African American and live in dense urban areas already are — what is the proper Christian response to this kind of challenge?

At the risk of sounding flip, I must say — this kind of law-breaking isn’t it.

And it’s not because God doesn’t care about our children being educated. As a matter of fact, it’s precisely because God cares about our children that we must be careful. Jesus had some pointed things to say about those who mislead children and cause them to sin. And the apostle Paul also instructed his protégé Timothy to oppose teachers of false doctrine. What this shows us is that God holds to a higher standard those in the position of providing moral guidance, as both parents and teachers do.

So what kind of message does it send for a teacher to skirt the rules for the benefit of her family? How can she tell other students that the rules are for everyone, when she acts as though certain rules shouldn’t apply to her or others in her situation?

More to the point, God wants us to have faith. Not in district reassignment, or voucher programs, or tax redistribution, but to have faith in Him, and His ability to supply our needs. I have no idea if Kelley Williams-Bolar is a believer in Christ or not, but I know many people in similar situations who chose differently in light of God’s providence in their life.

Maybe she could’ve been up front about where she lived and could’ve gotten scholarship assistance from a third party. Maybe there would’ve been people in her faith community who could’ve helped her find a place within the boundaries of that exclusive district. Maybe she could’ve asked her father to share custody of the girls. Maybe all of them could’ve moved in with their father. Or maybe she could’ve challenged her girls to do their best in the less-demanding schools in her area, and done her best to find additional educational resources to help close the performance gap.

I’m not saying these other issues of law and politics and inequity are invalid. They’re very important, but for parents trying to raise their kids, these issues are beside the point.

The point is, God has a whole universe of resources to work with, and if we come to Him with devoted hearts, He will cause all things to work together for good. We don’t need to second-guess His providence by making morally questionable decisions and using situational ethics to justify them.

That’s the lesson I hope Christians walk away with. Just as obedience is better than sacrifice, we must also remember: the wrong thing for the right reason is still the wrong thing.

Video and screen-capture image from WEWS, newsnet5.com.

We’re All Outsiders

Person in Exile for Urban FaithAs Christians, we are exiles who follow an alien, undocumented, migrant Messiah. Shouldn’t we, then, have a more compassionate and unified voice in the immigration debate?

There’s a scene in the film Food, Inc. that reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of U.S. immigration policy: In Tar Heel, North Carolina, Hispanic workers at a Smithfield Foods packing plant are rounded up by ICE agents (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in a pre-dawn raid. A politician running for office would narrate such a scene by saying that these men and women, while perhaps hard workers, are in the U.S. illegally and if the rule of law is going to mean anything in this country, they must be picked up and sent to a detention center where the legal process can run its course.

But the film tells the true story: After NAFTA caused cheap American corn to flood Mexican markets, putting even prosperous Mexican corn farmers out of business, many fled to the U.S., desperate for work to support their families. Many others were actively recruited by corporations like Smithfield to work dangerous jobs in American factories. Government raids, like the one depicted in the movie, are carried out in collusion with the senior management of companies like Smithfield to “send a message” (to Americans, to the undocumented) while never really interfering with the company’s production line or, more importantly, its bottom line.

The dominant narrative — the one about illegality, rule of law, blah, blah, blah — is persuasive because it provokes and exploits the one emotion that has driven American politics since 9/11: fear. We’re told by critics and commentators that Americans have never been so angry, that our public discourse has never been this strident and dangerously uncivil — all the red-faced name-calling, the ugly race-baiting, the shrill, snarky meanness.

But much of the anger — at least the real anger, not the feigned rage of opportunistic politicians — is symptomatic of Americans’ deep-seated xenophobia. This fear has been carefully cultivated since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was crucial in rallying the country to support two insupportable wars. As a political strategy it was brilliant; it worked so well that now many Americans fear their own duly-elected president. They hate him too, of course, and they’re mad as hell at him, but all that hate and rage start with an irrational anger that continues to be stoked shamelessly by that most misnamed of all political groups in a purportedly civil society: the Tea Party.

The anti-immigration bill signed into law recently in Arizona is an unsurprising outcome of this ongoing collective fear of outsiders. When I heard the news, I was reminded of a book published last year, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate. Authors Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang deftly link legislation, work visas, border patrols, ICE raids, and green cards to the Hebrew scriptures’ insistence that “Israel’s very identity was tied to how they treated the foreign born” and to the truth that the New Testament’s “most notable refugee was Jesus himself.”

In a review of the book I noted that Soerens and Hwang challenge any reader who claims to follow Jesus to consider immigration through Scripture’s insistence that we see ourselves as a people in exile: sojourners in a foreign land who live not by claiming “our rights” over and against so-called outsiders, but solely by the mercy and grace of a generous, hospitable God.

We are exiles who follow an alien, undocumented, migrant Messiah. As Edgardo Colón-Emeric notes (in the sermon linked above), “Jesus did not have a valid birth certificate. Mother’s name: Mary; Father’s name: unknown. In fact, Jesus had no papers in his name, no title deed, no rental contract. Nothing. ‘Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.’ ”

A phrase formerly associated with interrogators of the Third Reich — “let me see your papers” — will now enter the lexicon of law enforcement in Arizona. Jesus — in the guise of the brown-skinned “other” — will be asked for documentation he doesn’t have. And unless his followers practice the kind of perfect love that casts out all phobos (1 John 4:18), fear, on both sides of these encounters, will have won the day.

O, Arizona

O, Arizona for Urban Faith

One Latino pastor’s open letter to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona before the passage of the state’s strict new immigration law.

The following open letter to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, by New York pastor Gabriel Salguero, appeared at Sojourner’s God’s Politics blog prior to the passage of Arizona’s controversial new immigration law. Needless to say, Gov. Brewer was not persuaded by the letter. But Rev. Salguero’s points are still helpful to consider as the debate over immigration reform intensifies in our nation. — Editor

Esteemed Governor Brewer:

My wife and I are both Evangelical pastors who have unrelenting commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our parents are ministers and from an early age we were taught that a fundamental tenet of the Gospel is to love your neighbor and be hospitable to the stranger. It is with this commitment in mind that I write to you asking you to veto SB 1070.

The bill navigates dangerously close to an enforcement policy which lends itself to the very dangerous and undemocratic practice of racial profiling. In this country we have not required or insisted on people carrying documentation to prove their citizenship. If this law passes I run the danger of being arrested or detained for DRIVING WHILE BROWN in Arizona. This is not in keeping with the highest and most noble of U.S. ideals. If this law were enacted, my 90-year-old grandfather who is a World War II veteran could be detained without cause. Worse still, clergy and all people of good will who are called to serve all people regardless of race, gender, or birth origin would be exposed to being arrested and detained for following their call as servants of God. As Christians we cannot refuse to serve and love the immigrant, legal or not. The Gospel requires more of us.

What seems to me most troubling about SB 1070 is that it threatens to divide children from their parents and underline enforcement without providing any real common-sense and workable solutions to immigration challenges. Governor, by vetoing SB 1070 you have the opportunity to show real courage and leadership in a way that history will judge with honorable distinction.

Enforcement without comprehensive immigration reform is not the way forward. Comprehensive immigration reform is the way forward in ways that Arizona and the rest of the country win. Some time ago I blogged on The Washington Post website about why comprehensive immigration reform is what is best for this country. I send you some of my thoughts from that blog here, praying that it will influence you to do the wise and humane thing and veto SB 1070. Perhaps your veto will once again spark the conscience of this country to remember that the truest test of America’s character is how it treats the stranger, widow, and orphan.

• The economic question: They are a burden on our tax and economic system; why don’t they go home? Studies show that the close to 12 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom already pay taxes and Social Security, want to continue to contribute to the system. Comprehensive immigration reform should require these immigrants to pay back taxes, learn English, and wait in line behind the people who entered legally. The system as is does not allow for this integration nor does it address unscrupulous employers who exploit cheap labor. A new system that requires these immigrants to integrate and employers and employees to pay taxes will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. The status quo does not in any way address this challenge; reform does. Reform can help the economy. The U.S. can and should have the creative genius to make this a win-win for all.

• The moral question: How do we balance respect for the rule of law and compassion for all people? This is a fair question. I think we should respect the law and that’s why any reform should include requiring the following: paying back-taxes, penalties to employers who may have circumvented the system, and borders being controlled and supervised in humane ways. Nevertheless, what do we do with the 12 million men, women, and children that are already here? Deportation is not reasonable and it remains beyond our economic capacities. In short, reform must include both respect for the rule of law and a way that integrates all people in common sense ways. Enforcement only is both a drain on our local law enforcement and economy and does not in any competent way address the issue of the millions of people here. THE LAW IS BROKEN. LET’S FIX IT.

• The faith question: What does the Church or my faith have to do with it? Simply stated, as a Christian I am mandated to love my neighbor as myself without prejudice to origin, color, or creed. Jesus himself reminds Christians to “welcome the stranger” in Matthew 25. In addition, the Torah of the Hebrew scriptures reminds us continually to be kind and merciful to the stranger, widow, and orphan. In the end a nation is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable among them. My faith compels me to speak for and with the immigrants and their families. Love thy neighbor does not have a border limitation.

Immigration reform is a moral issue that requires us to live up to the highest of our values. If Christ welcomed me unconditionally, should I do any less with others?

Sincerely,
Rev. Gabriel Salguero