Dr. Kermit Gosnell (pictured above) is on trial for the deaths of four infants and a woman who came to his clinic shortly after her arrival in the United States. This week, the jury began its deliberations on the case. (Photo credit: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News).
Each society and culture has its own barometer for measuring its psychological health, sense of priority, and collective wellbeing. The Maasai tribe of Kenya, for instance, use the traditional greeting, “How are the children?” when acknowledging one another. The expected response between tribesmen is, “All the children are well.” This exchange signifies that because the children are being protected, taken care of, and provided for, all else in their world is as it should be: peace prevails, and society is fulfilling its obligation by ensuring posterity and future survival. What of our country? Are all of our children well?
[Kermit Gosnell] regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy—and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. (Report of the Grand Jury used to indict Kermit Gosnell)
Something is happening in our midst right now that is almost certain to become a watershed moment in our history. Kermit Gosnell, a man who took a professional oath to keep his patients from harm, who is part of what we call “the healing arts”, and in whose hands women placed their medical wellbeing, is on trial in Philadelphia for murdering four live babies after failed late-term abortions and killing one female patient. Remarkably, many people still are unaware of this trial or the history of the Women’s Medical Society abortion clinic run by Gosnell for almost 40 years. This stunning lack of awareness is due primarily to the deliberate and intentional absence of national mainstream, and initially, even Christian, media coverage of the Gosnell proceedings. If CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and their colleagues don’t want people to know what’s going on, and if even Christian media is reluctant to address the trial, we have to ask ourselves, “Why?”. Could it be that they all perceive the effect that honest, unbiased exposure of Gosnell’s reprehensible and illegal acts would have on the abortion debate? In the end, their reasons don’t change the fact that we cannot let media disregard of this story force us to miss what’s really at stake—the sensitivity and responsiveness of our individual consciences and the preservation of our country as a civil society.
Gosnell had a simple solution for the unwanted babies he delivered: he killed them. He didn’t call it that. He called it “ensuring fetal demise.” The way he ensured fetal demise was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that “snipping.” (Report of the Grand Jury)
Sometimes it takes a jolt to the senses to snap us out of complacency and moral largesse. In 1963, during a critical juncture for the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and local leaders in Birmingham, Alabama decided to include children in a major planned protest, later dubbed the “Children’s Crusade” by Newsweek magazine. Ed Gilbreath, founding editor of UrbanFaith and author of the forthcoming book, Birmingham Revolution, describes how published media images of children being sprayed with fire hoses, and attacked by trained police dogs, brought added pressure both nationally and locally: “The campaign was faltering. As the nation began to see the images…the true spotlight was shone on Birmingham when the kids got out there. [President] Kennedy had been trying to placate Dixiecrats but he did have concern for civil rights. The images of the kids forced his hand [and] also put economic pressure on Birmingham merchants. Kennedy began to recognize the hypocrisy of us presenting ourselves as being against communism, but right here in our own nation we had this cruel apartheid, [contrary to and] against the virtues we preached.” A teacher resource covering the Birmingham civil rights campaign adds, “Shocking photographs that accompanied the nightly television footage helped stir the nation’s conscience and provoked critical comment around the world.” Will we allow our consciences to be similarly stirred on behalf of the children whose lives were snuffed out by Gosnell? Can we use this moment as a turning point of common allegiance and opposition against such brutality and indifference to human life?
Baby Boy A…was breathing and moving when Dr. Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal. The doctor joked that this baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.” …Baby C was moving and breathing for 20 minutes before an assistant came in and cut the spinal cord just the way she had seen Gosnell do it so many times before. (Report of the Grand Jury)
Women of all faiths, political affiliations, and ideological positions should be appalled that another woman’s children were degraded and discarded in this fashion. This is a time to recover our communal lament over the condition of our nation as reflected in its sanctioning the brutal practice of abortion. The words of Jeremiah 9 ring true in this regard: Consider all this, and call for the mourners. Send for the women who mourn at funerals. Quick! Begin your weeping! Let the tears flow from your eyes. … For death has crept in through our windows and has entered our mansions.
Christians can’t allow media silence to silence us. Will we cooperate with the media’s attempt to harden our hearts and chill our souls as evil is ignored, justified, or blacked out? These were defenseless children, whom Scripture summons us to protect.
And what about Karnamaya Mongar, the refugee woman who was left to die after post-abortion neglect?
Karnamaya Mongar… received repeated unmonitored, unrecorded intravenous injections of Demerol, a sedative seldom used in recent years because of its dangers. … After several hours, Mrs. Mongar simply stopped breathing. When employees finally noticed, Gosnell was called in and briefly attempted to give CPR. He couldn’t use the defibrillator (it was broken); nor did he administer emergency medications that might have restarted her heart. … Doctors at the hospital managed to keep her heart beating, but…by that point, there was no way to restore any neurological activity. Life support was removed the next day. [She] was pronounced dead. (Report of the Grand Jury).
What does it say about us that there isn’t widespread alarm, shock, grief, and outrage over this trial and case? Have we finally been persuaded that protection of human life is secondary to a government-created “right”, and that killing innocent babies is ok?
Decency, regard for human life, dignity, and respect for the rule of law should be public values – even for those who do not claim Christianity. All of us together, believer and non-believer alike, must take stock of our tolerances because they foreshadow our societal trajectory: either upward toward grace, kindness, respect, restraint, and national honor; or downward toward violence, cruelty, rampant evil, and national reproach. Accepting the murder of live babies is just one point on a spectrum of debased behavior evident in other parts of our society—escalating violence against and among young people, sexual violation and humiliation of children and women, abuse, disregard, and neglect of the elderly, infirm, and disabled. We are becoming increasingly unmoved by even the most heinous and vile encroachments on human existence. We should be careful. Just because we might pretend not to see what’s going on doesn’t mean that God doesn’t see. And now we can’t say we didn’t know.
HOLDING HER OWN: Tara Wall, a conservative pundit and strategist for Mitt Romney, is a CNN panelist, a columnist for the Washington Times, and a defender of traditional values. She has debated a variety of progressive leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton (left) at a 2007 National Urban League convention. (Photo: Robert Cohen/Newscom)
Last month, when Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign hired veteran GOP operative and conservative pundit Tara Wall as its senior communications adviser, many assumed the former Massachusetts governor was preparing to get serious about his outreach to the black community. But Wall, one of the most high-profile black conservatives on the media circuit, says her primary job will be to shape the presumptive GOP nominee’s overall communication strategy — her ability to appeal to blacks, women, and other groups will presumably be a side benefit for the Romney team.
Still, as Gov. Romney takes on the nation’s first black president, it would be silly to think he wasn’t making a play for the black vote by bringing Ms. Wall onboard. As reported in The Washington Post, Romney’s plan is not so much to battle Democrats for the Black vote (he knows that would be a losing game), but to demonstrate to independent and swing voters that he “can be inclusive and tolerant in his thinking and approach.”
Ms. Wall will have her work cut out for her. Romney’s infamous quote that he’s “not concerned about the very poor” and his lack of clarity on the immigration issue have left him looking out of touch on social justice matters. And then a recent visit to a poor black neighborhood in Philadelphia to talk about education was greeted by unfriendly crowds — and some harsh criticism from Philly Mayor Michael Nutter. But, as Ms. Wall observes, Romney did show up, and he’s eager to demonstrate his willingness to interact with diverse communities.
If Philadelphia is any indication, it’s going to be a long, brutal road for Gov. Romney if he’s serious about breaking down the walls between the GOP and non-white communities. But Wall likes their chances. She recently spoke to UrbanFaith’s news and religion editor Christine Scheller about the challenge of being a black Republican, why Barack Obama is a likable guy, and how Mitt Romney’s policies will be good for the African American community. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
URBAN FAITH: Can you tell us about your journey from television journalist to columnist to CNN contributor, to adviser to the GOP, and now adviser to Governor Mitt Romney?
TARA WALL: Politics and journalism have been a part of my life since I was a kid. I always knew I wanted to be a reporter, and I always knew I wanted to be civically engaged, so I always did things in that vein to bridge the gap between people of different cultures and backgrounds. I told my pastor I wanted to do both and he said, “You can’t do politics and reporting. You have to pick one or the other.” At the time, you really couldn’t. Now it’s a little different. The worlds do meld. Throughout my career, my interest always went politically. I had been covering Governor Engler as an education reporter and literally got recruited by someone who worked in his administration to come work as a liason in his Detroit office. I loved it, and by virtue of doing that, I also worked on the first Bush campaign. I really believed President Bush’s message and wanted to support him. My story about becoming a conservative Republican is a whole other tier, but I always knew that I had conservative values. I was raised that way.
But you didn’t always identify as a Republican?
When I first went away to college at Florida A & M, I joined the school newspaper and I joined a political organization. The only political organization there was the Florida Young Democrats. Somebody asked me why I was a Democrat. I didn’t know that I was; I didn’t know I was anything at that point. I didn’t like that I didn’t know the answer to that question. So it wasn’t until I started examining both sides that I knew I was more aligned conservatively. I also credit the fact that I had the benefit of hearing people’s full speeches when I covered political events. At the time school choice was huge and I covered that extensively. I found myself agreeing with education reform, welfare reform, and less government.
ON MESSAGE: As Mitt Romney senior communications adviser, Tara Wall will shape the campaign's overall communication strategy.
In the 1950s, when it was perfectly acceptable and expected that some people would need welfare, my grandmother had to raise five kids on her own after my grandfather left her. She didn’t want welfare. She wanted to raise her kids on her own and she did. She went back to school because she didn’t want the government taking care of her kids. I grew up with that mentality. My parents worked very hard. I am middle class and worked from the time I was 14 years old. We were people of faith. We went to church. Those are some of the things that shaped me.
I never thought I would be a mouthpiece for the party, because as a reporter, I liked being independent. I liked having the ability to disagree, but I remember being at a rally with President Bush and it struck me how humble he was and how he spoke so highly of his mother and her impact on his life and his faith. That struck a chord with me, and so I definitely wanted to help the campaign after that. I did that for a year and then I got right back into TV in St. Louis. Then 9/11 happened, and everyone got laid off, including me. I thought maybe God was trying to tell me something, that maybe this business wasn’t for me anymore. I decided to go back to Detroit because 9/11 was devastating for everyone, including me, and I just wanted to go home. I had my own TV show in Detroit, which I loved, and had no plans to leave. Then I got recruited by the Republican National Committee to help get President Bush reelected. Had I not had Ed Gillespie on my show, I probably would not have gone. But I grilled him. I asked him, “What are you going to do to be inclusive and build the party?” I was so struck and so awed by his response. I just felt like, “This guy really gets it. He really understands what’s needed and how to communicate on this level.” About a month later I got the call from the RNC. It was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make, but I kept telling myself that someone has to deliver this message and maybe I’m the person they need help do it.
Is your public service grounded in your faith?
It’s grounded in a lot things. It’s grounded in faith and family. A lot of what continued to develop from a civic standpoint was born out of my faith and the principles we were taught in that regard in church, but I fell in love with civics when I was in fifth grade. I was one of those kids who watched cartoons and the news. In high school, I watched C-span. I always felt a moral responsibility and a moral obligation to be the underdog and tell peoples’ stories. I know what it feels like to be bullied. People always say, “How can you do this? How do you take on so much? You’re anomaly.” But my dad raised to have a thick skin. I think we’re all here for a purpose. Not to sound too cheesy, but I feel like this is what my life destiny is. God gave me the ability to be in front of a lot of people, to have a great career doing TV, and then to use those abilities to help others articulate their messages.
I hope to help do that with the campaign. The issues that are presented to us cross racial barriers. There are racial disparities that exist, but there is more than a one-party solution to those issues. I just want folks that look like me to know that there are other options. There are more ways to address these issues and I’d like them to give us a chance. As Governor Romney goes out and speaks about some of these issues in our communities, I think he’s very sensitive to listening and I think that’s very important. I’m here to assist in that area.
What will your strategy be for helping to make Governor Romney appealing to communities of color?
I think we all know that 90 percent, if not more, of blacks are Democrats and will vote for President Obama. So, people need to know that we do have a message and that the Obama campaign doesn’t have a lock on the black vote. Our goal is not to take any vote for granted. We also have to make sure that we’re continuing to reach out broadly to our base, our base of black conservatives, Republicans, moderates, those who have supported us in the past and those who may have voted for Obama, but are looking for us to say, “Come back home.”
Do you think Governor Romney’s recent visit to a Philadelphia charter school was a mistake, or was his visit to that predominantly African American school reported inaccurately?
PHILADELPHIA STORY: On May 24, Gov. Romney greeted students in a computer class at Universal Bluford ES, a charter school in West Philadelphia. His visit to the neighborhood sparked criticism and debate. (Clem Murray/Newscom)
It was unfortunate how it was characterized. That an elected official [Mayor Michael Nutter] decided to come and bracket an educational event was a little absurd. He certainly has that right, but Governor Romney was welcomed at the school. Parents and teachers who want choice absolutely welcomed his message. They were happy he was there. I think that this goes a long way in showing that Governor Romney is open to listen to and from those folks who know what’s best for their schools and for their kids. He has a great message about closing the gap between minority and non-minority students. What has President Obama done to help bridge that gap? We see one-in-three young black kids right now have no work. We see the unemployment rate in the black community at a staggering 13 percent and we’ve had 40 months of unemployment. Those are things that need to be the focus, not these distractions.
Why are Romney’s ideas good for the black community? For example, how will his ideas and policies impact the high unemployment rate in the black community?
He has outlined a number of things he would do his first day in office. Some of the things we have to look at are the reasons people are out of work. It’s harder to find jobs because job-killing regulations are costing this economy billions of dollars. President Obama wants to raise taxes on Americans, particularly small start-up businesses that employ half of all private-sector workers. They’re not able to do that. They’ve been hindered from [hiring new workers] because of the tax burden and regulations. Mitt Romney thinks reforming the tax code is fundamental. Lowering the tax rate to 25 percent, making the R&D tax credit permanent. That in itself fosters innovation. Working with congress to lower individual tax rates by 20 percent across the board. That helps the small business, because a lot of times, these small business folks are being lumped in with corporations and it’s not right. I run my own small business, so I know what it’s like. It’s stifling. I’ve heard from small business owners who say in 40 years, they haven’t not been able to hire this way. They can’t do anything because they feel so hindered by all of this.
That’s one part. The other part Governor Romney has talked about is repealing regulations on day one and capping annual increases and regulatory costs at zero dollars. That also adds thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the economy. This is his number one focus as opposed to President Obama, who doesn’t seem to be able to focus on the economy right now. He’s focusing on everything else, visiting celebrities and going on shows. If we could just focus on getting the economy back, it’s going to help African Americans and those who have been disproportionately hurt by this entire economic situation.
Why aren’t we talking more about black unemployment? Black joblessness? We are, but I have yet to hear anything substantive from this administration. And, God knows, I’m sure President Obama means well. He’s absolutely a likable person. I’m sure folks feel compelled every time they hear him speak, but what has the soaring rhetoric resulted in? When you have 40 straight months of job loss, what has that done to the black community? What has that done for black job growth and entrepreneurship?
Is there any hope of shaking up the traditional alignment of Black Christians with the Democratic party and white evangelicals with the Republican party?
Black conservatives, particularly in the South, will cross party lines to vote on certain initiatives. While they overwhelming still vote Democrat, they’re more conservative from a faith perspective. I don’t know how that will translate this election. I suspect that, at least from the folks that I’ve heard from, there are those who are disappointed from a faith perspective in some decisions that the president has made, but some of them will probably still vote for him. There are others that say, “I’m not sure. I’m still pondering how much that means to me.” I don’t know that it’s going to cause people of faith in the black community to overwhelmingly come to our side. I think black conservatives, yes; black moderates who are on the fence, maybe yes; but black Democrats who may disagree with him, I don’t know that that’s necessarily going to be a game changer for them. That would be just me pontificating, and that doesn’t mean we won’t speak out and court all those who value the platform that the party and the candidate stands for. Hopefully we’ll reach those that we might be able to find some bridges with.
Can the GOP leverage politicians of color like Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Nikki Haley to attract a more diverse constituency or will it always appear that these politicians are tokens?
LISTENING TO THE PEOPLE: During his Philadelphia trip, Romney participated in a roundtable discussion on education issues with Kenneth Gamble (glasses and hat), chairman of Universal Companies, the non-profit that runs the charter school Romney visited. (Clem Murray/Newsocm)
I think [Gov. Romney] already is attracting a more diverse constituency, and I reject the notion of tokenism. It’s long been discounted. These are sitting elected officials who are Republicans. So that’s absurd. There are many in the black and Latino community who have voluntarily come out and supported Governor Romney: Condoleezza Rice, former Education Secretary Rod Paige, who is on his education advisory panel, Representative Tim Scott, Marco Rubio. These are folks who support the ideals and the leadership that Governor Romney represents and that’s what’s important. You don’t have to go that far to find many others like them, despite the narrative the media puts out there.
It was ironic at the Philadelphia event that it was the same day or the day after Secretary Rod Paige was announced as an education advisor and no one even picked it up. No one interviewed him or talked to him about his support for Governor Romney and why he was helping him to craft some positive solutions relative to schools and school choice.
What is the biggest misconception that women and people of color have about Mitt Romney?
The problem with perceptions is that they change day-to-day. One day he’s up; one day he’s down. Right now he seems to be up. His numbers have gone up a little among women. Obviously you never want to fuel perception any further if it’s completely inaccurate and you definitely want to correct mistruths. It’s up to pundits to decide about perceptions. They’re going to hash that around. The campaign is focused on insuring the message gets out to women, to minorities, and to others across the country, what his record is, what he believes are the best tools to move this country forward, and reminding voters of the abysymal record we’ve seen these past four years with President Obama.
You’ve been a Republican adviser for nearly a decade. Have you been criticized by other people of color for your party affiliation or are we at a place where people can respect differing political convictions?
I wish we were at that place. Do you want to see my emails?
What kinds of things do people say?
Very nasty, hateful horrible things that I can’t even repeat to be honest with you. But I don’t focus on that. I go back to the fact that my dad raised me to have a tough skin. I know that not everybody can speak out the way I can. For every one of me, there are 50 more that aren’t as brave as me. I don’t mean that in a bad way. They’re secret Republicans or closet Republicans because it’s not worth it for them and their families to put themselves on the line that way. Not everyone can do that. I accept this as my cross to bear, if you will, because someone has to speak out. Someone has to be that person, until those attitudes and ideas change and until we do get to a point that we can have a civil discussion about where this country needs to go. There are varying opinions even within the Republican party.
Black Republicans are not monolithic. Sometimes we disagree amongst ourselves, but that’s part of the healthy, natural debate. It’s getting better, but there are certain things we haven’t broken through and certain ideals we haven’t broken through. Anytime you have a majority of one race voting one party, it doesn’t serve us well. It shouldn’t serve anyone well if the party is taking any vote for granted. That’s not the way politics was designed. It was designed to be a debate and discussion and a sharing of ideals. We shouldn’t be giving our vote over to one party, whatever that party is. We should examine the issues. I want to see more parity, from a party perspective. It would be great if we could have 50 percent down the line on each side of the aisle, or maybe one day there will be a purple party.
I heard [former Democratic] Rep. Artur Davis recently speak. He said that his ideals and beliefs are not welcome in the Democratic party. I feel that way. That doesn’t mean I don’t go to organizations and events that are highly Democratic, but a lot of times I feel out of place. I feel like my viewpoint is not represented on the stage or in a panel, and I don’t think that’s right.
Does your status as an African American Republican woman help you identify with Governor Romney when he is criticized for his Mormon faith?
I just think that’s another diversion. People of faith have embraced Governor Romney. They respect that he’s a man of faith period. From Evangelicals to Catholics, people have come out and said, “This is a man of faith.” That’s what counts to most Americans, knowing that he has a belief system and values. He’s a man of character and integrity. He’s a family man. Those are the things that matter to Americans.
Romney Calls Education Gap ‘Civil Rights Issue of our Time’
Mitt Romney suggested class size has little bearing on educational outcomes at a West Philadelphia charter school Thursday, The Philadelphia Enquirer reported. “Calling the gap in education performance between black and white students ‘the civil rights issue of our time,’ Romney said quality teaching and parental involvement were the keys to classroom success. He made his comments during a roundtable discussion in the library at Universal Bluford Charter School, an elementary school named for astronaut Guion Bluford and one of five schools run by a nonprofit founded by music mogul Kenny Gamble,” The Enquirer reported. Romeny cited analysis that was done of 351 Massachusetts schools when he was governor to back up his claim, as well as a study by McKinsey Global Institute, but both educators in the room and experts contacted by the paper disagreed, the article said.
Hecklers, Mayor Taunt Romney
Outside the school, the candidate was met by hecklers, The Washington Post reported. “Seeking to broaden his appeal heading into the general election, Romney was venturing for his first time in this campaign into an impoverished black neighborhood … But here in the streets of West Philadelphia, the emotion surrounding his contest with the nation’s first black president was raw, as dozens of neighborhood residents shouted, ‘Get out, Romney, get out!’” the article said.
Some protesters were organized by the Obama campaign, according to The Post. Whether Democractic mayor Michael Nutter was among them is anyone’s guess, but Nutter told MSNBC host Martin Bashir, “If you want to come to Philadelphia to talk about education, or if you want to talk about issues in a presidential campaign, then your record is going to be examined.” Nutter also said, “I’m not going to let him or his folks come into our town and dupe people into thinking that he actually knows something about education.”
Romney Promises Federal Funds to Disadvantaged Students
Romney’s visit to the school “gave him the opportunity to see firsthand the type of urban charter school he advocated for” in speech delivered to a Latino business group Wednesay in Washington D.C., Annenberg Digital News reported. “Romney promised that if elected, he would tie federal education funds directly to low-income and special needs students to allow them to attend ‘any public or charter school, or…private school, where permitted'” in that speech, the article said. “The reaction to Romney’s visit to this mostly African-American community” in Philadephia “should not be too surprising,” however, the article said, because, according to an Associated Press GfK poll conducted this month, “90 percent of blacks would vote for Obama in November and just 5 percent would support Romney” and “just 3 percent of blacks said Romney ‘understands the problems of people like you’ better than Obama does.”
Update: The Romney campaign has hired Tara Wall, a former Bush administration official as a senior Romney communications adviser to handle outreach to African Americans, The Washington Post reported. Wall previously worked as a television journalist in Detroit, as a Republican National Committee adviser, a columnist and editor for the Washington Times, and as a CNN contributor, according to the Grio. She told the Grio that “her role would not be just outreach to blacks, but women and other groups, as well as shaping Romney’s overall communications strategy.”
What do you think?
Does Mitt Romney understand the problems of Black urban voters or was it a political misstep for him to highlight an apparent disconnect?
Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier: ‘Immigration is a trauma. Even if you came here and you are a citizen, immigration is still traumatic.’
“Conversations on immigration are more often politicized than humanized,” marketing text says for the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier’s new bilingual book, Listen to the Children: Conversations with Immigrant Families. In the book, which is a finalist in ForeWord Review’s 2011 Book of the Year awards, she attempts to change both the reality and the discussion by sharing immigrant families’ stories and by offering parenting advice to those in the midst of immigration journeys. Conde-Frazier is vice president of education and dean of Esperanza College in Philadelphia. She is also is an ordained American Baptist pastor with more than ten years ministry experience. UrbanFaith talked to Conde-Frazier about the book and about how Christians should think about illegal immigration. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
UrbanFaith: Why did you write Listen to the Children?
Elizabeth Conde-Frazier: I wrote the book while I was professor at the Claremont School of Theology in California. Part of my job was working with students from the Latin American Bible Institute. A lot of them came from families that were a mix of persons who had or did not have citizenship and it led to conversations and to my doing workshops around the country. And so, I started to understand the issues of the people, of the pastors working with the people, of the Sunday school teachers, of the social workers and so forth.
In North Carolina, I did a five-hour presentation with this community, which allowed me time to be with the parents. When we sat down to eat, a lot of children were sitting at the table with us. There had been a roundup of persons at a particular place of employment, and I looked at the reaction of the children to the conversation about this. They recoiled; they became very fearful; they left the table; they began to cry. This was hard enough for the adults. But, for the children it was even more so.
Having been a teacher myself, I realized the children were not able to articulate their feelings. And so, I later spent time sitting on the floor in this room where they were playing. Rather than asking them questions, I began to use felt puppets to tell the story of Ruth and Naomi and how they had immigrated. Then I allowed the the children to retell me the story with the same figures. In doing so, the children used the figures to tell their own stories. I began to see how they were feeling. When I finished my time with that community, they came to me and said, “Where is your book on all of this that you have presented to us? We need you to write a book.” That to me felt like a call, and so that’s what I did. But I wrote the book not so much from the perspective of the adults, but for the children and their needs.
What are the primary challenges these children experience?
Immigration is a trauma. Even if you came here and you are a citizen, immigration is still traumatic. Let me create a metaphor for you to describe it. If I take a bunch of dominos and I stand them up and create a pattern with them, that is life the way we know it, where we are sure about the different institutions and how life is, how the culture names things, what our traditions are that create parameters around our identity and so forth. If I take my fists and bang them on the table, the dominos fall apart and the patterns that are there fall apart. Some of the dominos may even fall on the floor. That’s how immigration feels. The patterns of life and everything about life as you know it falls apart. You may try to rebuild, but there are pieces that you lose in the process.
Then, on top of that, if I take a bunch of marbles and I roll them out on this same table with the dominos, now you’ve got all these elements of life that you have no idea how to manage. You have to take the dominos, which are the things that you think you know how to manage and you have to use them in new ways to keep all these marbles from falling all over the place. In the midst of your trying to do that, I can continue to come back and bang my fists again, and the things that you thought you had begun to construct again once more fall apart.
When children are living in the midst of that, it is very traumatic. It says there’s no routine, there’s no structure, and the most important thing that children need in life is routine and structure. The routine creates the structure. Not having work creates chaos and poor families don’t have a sense of structure. That affects the child’s intelligence. That affects their ability to organize their thoughts, it affects how their brains are formed and so forth. Putting together life parameters, relationships, and so forth becomes twice as difficult.
Children also have a sense of abandonment. The adults can leave them at any point. They have no control over any of those things. Trust cannot be built. When families are separated for long periods of time, you see how difficult it is for children to reconnect to parents and parents to children. And so, there’s this continuous sense of loss that people are experiencing, but they can’t quite put their finger on it.
How can those of us who may be in relationship with immigrant children support them and their families?
In everyday life we are on committees in the community perhaps, we have food banks, we may be in the PTA, wherever we are, we can find opportunities to help change or expand the agenda of that place so that it is sensitive to those who may be alternately documented.
If a church has a program to the community and is serving these persons, then they need to be aware of how their program can address these needs, or how they can partner with others so that rather than being limited only to what their program has to offer, they have a network of other programs to pull from in a moment of crisis.
Advocating for the laws at this time is very important. Writing to our different legislators does make a difference. Legislators do listen to that. What does it take to have a night where you serve soup and bread? I say soup and bread, because it’s a very simple meal and it’s probably what persons who have just arrived here are going to have to eat. In solidarity, what we do with this evening is we pray, we have this meal, we write these letters, we talk about the issues, and we send the letters out. It forms the compassionate heart of a people of God who do justice. And what does God require of us in Micah? Whatever it takes that we can internalize persons who are different from ourselves, whose lives are different, that’s what we want to do as the faith practice of the church.
Given your target audience’s transience, how will readers find the book?
Remember that there is the network of churches and families. That is a network that’s beyond marketing. They pass it along. For example in the summer, I teach in Texas. People come from both sides of the border to learn. They’re pastors and lay persons and they’ll use the book. They’ll take it back across the border. The section on preparing children for border crossing or separation is helpful not only to people who might be thinking of immigrating, but it is also helpful to persons who may have already done so. It allows them the opportunity to reflect on what they did or didn’t do, so that then they can ask themselves, “Oh, what do I need to do at this point, because I did it this way or that.”
How would you respond theologically to those who may criticize you for providing helpful information to people who may be planning to do something illegal?
First of all, the theological piece has to be informed by a political piece, because theology is not done in a vacuum. People need to realize that the laws of our country and the free-trade laws are taking land away from people and making it impossible for many of the farmers [in Latin American countries] to survive. Those countries do not have the safety net that we so far have. And so, I would love to see those critics find themselves hungry, with nothing to feed their children, with no way of having a job and prayers that seem to go unanswered. I’d love to see how they would stay within the confines of what they call law.
What Christians need to ask themselves is: “When is the law unjust?” If it is unjust, then it is not a law according to the purposes of God. Our response to that should be that the church is called to denounce unjust law. Corrie ten Boom was a Christian. We glorify her story because she saved the Jews. She broke the law of her time. Today, after the fact, we say, “Oh how wonderful!” We’re also okay with those who break the law in China because they become Christians, but we’re not okay with people breaking the law because they’re hungry, or because the law is unjust?
I recall from research I did for an article I wrote in 2006 that the number of legal immigration slots for Latin American countries is the same as that for countries with whom we don’t share a border. Is that still the case?
Yes, it is. And the thing for people to look at is the following: The United States has a history of always needing cheap labor. Ever since we had enslavement, we have needed cheap labor. It’s just which immigrant group gets to be the cheap labor. That changes. In order for us to ensure that cheap labor what we do is we create an underclass of people with the law. So we say, on one hand, “We need you to come and work,” but on the other hand, we create laws that say, “If you come, we can’t give you citizenship; we can’t give you your benefits and your rights as a human being.”
Matthew 25 speaks about what human rights are. It speaks about it in the language of the kingdom of God. And so, for someone to eat, to drink, to dress, to be sheltered, to have human companionship, those are the things that are important for sustenance, and the kingdom of God is about sustenance. When we have laws that do not provide for the sustenance of a group of persons, then we are the ones who are against the law, but it’s the kingdom law that we are against.
There’s a discussion in the book about the “worthiness” of immigrants and you advocate using terminology like “alternately documented” and “uncertain” or “precarious” status instead of “illegal alien” and “undocumented.” What’s wrong with using language like “illegal alien”?
The most important thing for Christians is to recognize the Imago Dei, the image of God in all human beings, because to do so is to honor God. To fail to do so and to shut our wells of compassion is to dishonor God. How we call one another needs to reflect what we truly believe. I don’t believe that you are the only one who is in the image of God just because you happen to come to my church or you look like me, or you’re a citizen like me. All human beings are. When we do mission work—and these churches are very happy to go out and do mission work—is it only because it makes them feel good? Or is it because they believe in the image of God in others?
And so, the theological and biblical roots of worthiness come from there. Worthiness also comes from the laws in the Old Testament about how we are to treat those who are foreigners in our midst and how we are to treat the poor and the widows in our midst. There should be no one who is poor in our midst. There should be no on who is discarded in our midst. The words we use have to reflect honor. Rather than using words that reflect distance from others and categorizing them as not being a part of ourselves, we should use words that demonstrate the ministry of reconciliation. In 2 Corinthians 5, we’re called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. “Illegal” and “alien” are words that reflect disconnect with others and say they’re not my neighbor, so I don’t have to watch over them. They are words that go along with a current in our country, and around the world really, that categorizes human beings politically as being far away from us, and not deserving of any type of rights as the rest of us, whereas in the eyes of God, that is not how to do it. And so, we need to use words that allow the space for worthiness.
Ever since Chris Brown’s taped apology was released on Monday, people have been questioning whether or not he deserves the public’s forgiveness? Call me crazy, but I forgave Chris Brown for beating then-girlfriend and fellow R&B singer Rihanna nearly six months ago when the story of his violence first made headlines. While most of the media raked him over the coals for his actions, culminating in a series of domestic violence shows on Oprah, my heart softened for the boy who became the poster child for teen violence.