This week the Christian tradition enters the fourth week of the Easter season. We celebrate the triumph of God in Jesus Christ who conquered sin, death, and the grave. It was four weeks ago, Christians around the world participated with the host of heaven, creation, and echoed the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“Behold your God! Behold the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him, He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are young” (Isaiah 40: 9b-10).
In this fourth week of Easter, Christians continue to celebrate Jesus Christ who used his might (power) and his rule not for the use of unbridled power and conquest. He used his might (power) and arm to gather people together in his presence. Jesus Christ gathers persons made in his image and likeness. He gathers various ethnicities, nationalities, economic, political, and social groups into this new community which is defined by love, sacrifice, and a shared vision of concern for all persons, especially those who are the poor and orphaned.
A faith which resides in Jesus Christ who uses his might and power to announce good news to the poor is significant. One can understand this living faith involves participation in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Table. Christians demonstrate faith as they join Christ dying in water and rising in new life. Secondly, they demonstrate faith gathering together around the table and ingest within their bodies the body and blood of Christ. Yet there is another demonstration of a living faith. A living faith which echoes the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ himself, a life which uses power to embrace the poor.
In James 2: 12-26, James the Just takes to task the notion of a faith which is exclusively a profession in God yet lacks the works addressing the needs of the poor. He has set the tone of his letter concerning the poor in two places,
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas 1:27).
“Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom…” (Jas 2:9).
James questions the inability of persons who have the resources to alleviate another person’s poverty condition. In Jewish thought, “a poor person is considered like one who is dead” (Devarim 15:10). Jewish commentators state, “so one who gives charity lights up the eyes of the poor and receives his blessing from him” (Devarim 15:10). What are we to learn then from this question and about ourselves? Our goods and our ability to use these goods to help a person experiencing poverty is similar to raising a person from the dead. Our charity and justice can be the very act which gives light to the eyes of people and in their raising up, we have the opportunity to receive a spiritual blessing from them.
As is usually the case, in America, and when addressing the human experience of poverty, objections arise. Even in the first century, in the infancy of the church, James had to address those who simply wanted to remain comfortable in the use of words and not the execution of action to help neighbors in poverty.
Are there any examples of persons using power and resources to help the poor?
I want call your attention to Job. He was a rich man turned impoverished which can convince us of the use of power for the cause of the poor thus demonstrating a living faith. So Job himself testifies,
“I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him. The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy and I searched out for the cause of him whom I did not know” (Job 29:13,15-16).
Why is this so important to the Christian journey? The incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ produces in his people an ethic to embrace every person because we are all men and women of the dirt. We are shaped out of soil and united with the imago Dei. We are neighbors. Men, women, and children who possess a shared humanity. Thus we are to work. Why? Anglican pastor Harold T. Lewis, writing on “Christian Social Witness” stated, “the God who is incarnate in Jesus Christ is,…a being who is at work in the world-not a remote deity, but a God who is close at hand and active in the lives of all humankind” (p.34).
This mass of humanity exists inside the Christian community and outside of this wonderful community. Inside and out, men and women who share the imago Dei are afforded the opportunity to work for the poor. Inside this community of faith, when one becomes aware of the needs of poor brothers and sisters Christians are to act and therefore confirm the professed faith and in a sense reenact a dying in baptism and unity around the table. Outside this community of faith, when Christians become aware of the needs of the poor, they are to act, confirming this professed faith to a watching world. In either case, Christians are demonstrating a faith which indeed saves the person's own humanity and offers people the life to say “Behold our God!”
But there is so much on my Facebook feed, my twitter feed, my IG, the television, and in the news, there is this need everywhere. I can understand that when we are exposed to so much suffering and poverty from across the world, we can be desensitized, and become numb.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks stated, “Our sense of involvement with the fate of others has been in inverse proportion to the distance separating us and them. What has changed is that television and the Internet have effectively abolished distance. They have brought images of suffering in far-off lands into our immediate experience. Our moral sense is simultaneously activated and frustrated. We feel that something should be done, but what, how, and by whom?” (Sacks, p.30)
A living faith for the poor expresses itself in actions which are the combination of verbal blessings and the sharing of our goods. The body of Christ animated by a living faith demonstrated in baptism, the Lord’s Table, and care for the poor offers the clearest picture of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians continue to celebrate this Easter season and head into the celebration of the promise of God’s Holy Spirit during Pentecost, we should be observing a professed faith and use of power to help the poor. As persons profess faith in Christ, they should wrestle with James the Just probing question,
“If you gain knowledge of a poor person or family and pray for them without giving them what they need, what good is that?”
CONTEXT OF IMMIGRATION
In 2012, President Barack Obama published an executive branch memorandum which authorized persons, specifically children, who were brought into the United States through no fault of their own. The memorandum titled “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children” was issued within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security led by Secretary Janet Napolitano. This memorandum provided a new label to these men and women as DACA Recipients who arrived in this country under the age of sixteen, who have lived in the country for five years without break, and not above the age of thirty years old. Two years later, President Obama chose to expand his memorandum to include any persons who did not access the legal means for immigration. During this same presidential administration of issuing the memorandum and expansion of DACA, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) reported 409,849 persons were deported during FY 2012, 368,644 persons deported in FY2013, and 577,295 persons deported in FY2014. The USICE department was clear in each instance deportation was related to crimes committed by these persons.
In 2015, Donald J. Trump a Presidential candidate for the United States announced, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me. I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” As we all know, Donald Trump became President in November 2016 by winning the electoral vote over Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary R. Clinton. Since his presidency, President Trump has offered much commentary in the form of tweets and interviews concerning immigration. A fair summary of his comments is his focus on what he identifies as the murders, drug dealers, and sex traffickers coming across the border.
Our current context and perspective on immigration and those persons who have specifically arrived here through means other than the Congressionally mandated process falls in to one of two descriptions, illegal or undocumented. If one possesses a strict understanding of immigration as a violation of federal law a description of these persons leads with the designation of “illegal” immigrant. Whereas, those persons who are strictly focused on the human needs and situations of these persons use the descriptor of “undocumented” immigrants. Where a person starts offers an insight on what policies he or she favors.
Finally, to conclude the context in which we exist regarding immigration and how it relates to the state of Arkansas, let's turn briefly to sanctuary cities. A sanctuary city refers to any municipality which limits through ordinance, resolutions, proclamation, or policy its cooperation with federal authorities charged with immigration enforcement. The Center for Immigration Studies, which is nonpartisan, reports the following cities, counties, and states which possess this identification: states (8), counties (143), and cities (34). The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2018 reported a more extensive number of sanctuary jurisdictions at 564. FAIR reported sanctuaries grew from 11 during the presidency of George W. Bush in 2000 to 40 sanctuaries during the presidency of Barack Obama to 338 sanctuaries in 2016 and 564 sanctuaries in 2018 during the current presidency of Donald Trump. This is an increase of 5,000% over an eighteen year period.
THE ARKANSAS PAST
In 1868, the Arkansas Legislature debated passage of a law which would give Negroes the opportunity to participate in the voting process. During the debate, J.N. Cypert of Searcy located in White County, gave testimony against the enfranchisement of Negroes -supported by Republicans - on the basis of racial characteristics in comparison to Caucasians. Mr. Cypert stated, “They(Negroes) pick up more quickly whatever knowledge reaches the child through the natural organs of sight and hearing. But the mind of the Caucasian race expands, looks to the future; it leaves edifices behind it, it builds governments and kingdoms, it rears structures that stand forever as monuments of the race. When was that ever done by the African? I mean, the negro” In this discussion of citizenship and suffrage, Mr. Grey, a Black man of Phillips County rose up as representative of the freed persons in Arkansas. His response was multifaceted as he addressed the determination of citizenship among African descendants, the intelligence of poor Whites, and what he perceived as the inevitability of Negroes gaining citizenship and suffrage. Mr. Grey addressed the racism of Mr. Cypert,
“Settle once and forever the question of human rights, by giving us equality before the law.
Then, and not till then will peace come to our borders. I have no antipathy against the white people of this country, and am not surprised at their strenuous opposition. But time has a softening influence on all human prejudices. I am willing to forget the past, and to wrap the winding-sheet of oblivion over the sod that contains the bones of my wronged and oppressed ancestors…Give us the franchise, the right to protect ourselves, our wives, and children, and we are content”(p.159).
Is this what we saw and heard this week coming from the 92nd General Assembly? Are one group of people described with such racial antipathy?
THE ARKANSAS PRESENT
The 92nd General Assembly of Arkansas concluded this week. During the state legislature, Senator Gary Stubblefield introduced SB411, “An Act To Prohibit Municipal Sanctuary Policies.” The bill was introduced February 26, 2019, passed out of the City, County, and Local Affairs Committee on April 3, 2019, passed out of the Senate on April 5, 2019 with a vote of Yeas (24) , Nays(5), Nonvoting (5), and Excused (1). SB411 was then referred to the House Committee of the same name and passed out of committee on April 9, 2019, and passed out of the full house on April 10, 2019 with a vote of Yeas (71), Nays (24), Nonvoting (4), and Present (1). SB411 awaits Governor Asa Hutchinson signature.
The question I have for myself and for Arkansas is the following, “Was the SB411 rooted in racism similar to the opposition of Black citizenship and suffrage in Arkansas post-Reconstruction? Did politicians in the Arkansas Senate and/or House express racist thoughts and intentions regarding immigrants in Arkansas?”
Reviewing testimony on SB411 from the House and Senate which you can review much can be learned from the testimony and questions of the participants. During the House City, County, and Local Committee Hearing, SB411 sponsor Senator Stubblefield opened his testimony to address the bill’s foundation involved following the law and not discrimination against a particular ethnic group. Senator Stubblefield outlined three important elements of the bill to include sanctuary policies preventing law enforcement from protecting citizens, fulfilling oaths, and defying federal laws. Being consistent with his starting point of the legality of the immigration process, he did seek to justify his bill by appealing to crimes committed by persons who are identified as “illegal” as a need for this bill. Finally, Senator Stubblefield addressed all are immigrants, he believes the process should be followed, and welcomes all people.
In the Senate testimony, racial profiling was mentioned multiple times. Racial profiling involves targeting persons on the basis of racial characteristics, rather than an individual behavior. Those who were against SB411 made allusions to the state being racially insensitive or not a welcoming a place for entrepreneurial persons who are immigrants. In the same Senate testimony, those who supported SB411 proceeded from a law enforcement perspective. Therefore, in both the Senate and House Committees groups supported and opposed SB411 spoke passionately, clearly, and offered facts and anecdotes to support positions.
ARKANSAS MOVING FORWARD
It is very important we as Arkansans not repeat the mistakes of our past. The Arkansas Legislature post-Reconstruction testified with racially charged language consistent with the culture of the defeated Confederacy. I would hope to believe the state of Arkansas has matured from that period, matured from its failures under Faubus and the Little Rock Nine, to a point in which its capital city is led by a Black Mayor. When the charge of racism is leveled against a person or group-without fact- instead of engaging with the substance of an argument the opportunity for learning diminishes. To announce someone’s thoughts, policies, or legislation as racist resurrects horrible periods of our history to include lynchings, cross burnings, and segregated schools.
There is much we need to learn from each other regarding immigration. On both sides of this important debate are men and women who are talking past one another, placing important value in what it means to be a citizen, and desire to see persons have a new opportunity. Somewhere in the middle is the solution and we can only arrive at these solutions if we engage in honest and humanizing discussion. Clear or veiled charges of racism will only cause persons to double down on a position. Characterizing a group of people only in terms of legality, not their humanity, causes persons to double down on a position reinforcing a bias which may in fact may not be true.
I have served Arkansas immigrants for the last twelve years in my nonprofit work. These men and women have hailed from many backgrounds. I understand the perspective of those who advocate from the undocumented perspective. At the same time, I have sought to understand the perspective of those who hold the illegal perspective. There is a sincere desire for persons to abide by the law. Which is equally necessary in order to protect the humanity of all regardless of citizenship.
I hope better things for our state and our nation. I hope we see the progress we have made and at the same time recognize the work before us. Arkansas has the potential to be a great house and it will take all of us to recognize who we are as humans, agree to standards which protect this great house, and continue to create opportunities for all of us to flourish as Arkansans.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
8 Debates and Proceedings of the Convention which Assembled in Little Rock January 7, 1868, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo1.ark:/13960/t6sx6w64j;view=2up;seq=160;size=125 (p.151)
9 Ibid., p.159
Presented on April 4, 2019 at the Pi Alpha Sigma Honor Society
One of the most influential thinkers, economists, and historians of American history is Dr. W.E.B. Dubois. The first Black American to graduate with a doctorate from Harvard. In his influential text, The Souls of Black Folks, he offers a provoking critique and prophetic vision for Black life in America considering the direction of not only American Blacks but the whole race of persons in the twentieth century. “It is, then, the strife of all honorable men of the twentieth century to see that in the future competition of races the survival of the fittest shall mean the triumph of the good, the beautiful, and the true; that we may be a able to preserve for future civilization all that is really fine and noble and strong, and not continue to put a premium on greed and imprudence and cruelty” (Dubois, 1903; p.118).
Our American Place
America has always been a curious place to me. I have wondered about my place in this country as I read back over the founding of this nation, the ideals upon which it was founded, and I’ll admit with much curiosity, “What would the founders think about America today?” I mean if you have started anything, you have some level of imagination of what you want a thing to be versus what it actually becomes. I mean what would they have thought about the Civil War, women voting, public education, career politicians, and the numerous wars? What would they have thought about a Black man serving as the President for two terms?
Our American household has periodically demonstrated a schizophrenic mentality concerning human dignity socially and politically. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal….” Then I see Public Enemy stand up and shout, “Picture us coolin’ out on the fourth of July, and if you heard we were celebrating that’s a world-wide lie” (Louder than a Bomb; 1988). A document written and stated the national independence of men by virtue of being ontologically equal simultaneously supported a social culture which practiced enslavement, disenfranchisement, and the legalization of dehumanization. America has always been a curious place to me as one part of the nation asserted liberty to own people while another part of the nation asserted liberty to free people but offer little to no assistance to those freedmen and women.
What is this American place to me? It is a place of powerful movements in our short history. Movements which seized upon those epic words about the equality of men and women to secure the vote, expand educational opportunities, increase access to better housing, and produce some great technological feats in recent memory. What is the American place to me? It is a house with a schizophrenic mind which has the address of 1776 Freedom Place but has so many locked away. It is a house which has children playing in the yard and learning to pursue life as so many Black babies are disproportionately aborted. It is a home which has prosperous dinners and the best furniture so one can pursue happiness and yet so many languish in poverty.
What is the American place to me?
Our American People
“I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.”
We are a diversity of people in this American place. Mr. Langston Hughes identified in this place called America was a population of diverse and scarred people who were united by suffering. Yes different groups have tasted different degrees of suffering, many times at the hands of their own government, yet nonetheless, America is made up of people. People bound together by language, customs, and above all, this dream of opportunity.
Our American people have made great strides over the generations. I celebrate those Whites, Blacks, Native Americans, Asians, and others who have seized opportunities shaping this place in a variety of ways. Yet there are still among us those persons Langston Hughes describes as fooled, scarred, disconnected from a home, and holding onto a thread of hope. What about the 13% of Americans in poverty and the 18.8% of Arkansans in poverty? So Dubois stands with Hughes. They both stand looking at this place called America and seek to provoke its people to practices which are good, beautiful, and true. Practices which will move people socially and politically towards activities which embrace what is noble and reject what is undignified.
In 2007, I and my family launched an organization called “The City of Hope Outreach” or CoHO. Our mission is to provoke hope in a holistic manner-one person, one family, one community- over time for the glory of God. It is distinctly Christian and in keeping with the principles of the faith all are welcome to participate and serve. Why? I firmly believe on the basis of Trinitarian thought we are all made in the image and likeness of God. By virtue of the imago Dei, every human being from rich Bezos to poor Bob have intrinsic dignity and worth. All of you possess such a majesty, remark-ability, and glory that no man, woman, or ideology can erase from you. Systems have tried. Constitutions have been framed to say otherwise. Yet the truth remains. We are majestic in every way possible.
Over a twelve year period CoHO has become an expression of social and political engagement. Social engagement in the sense we want to clearly communicate to every person we interact with they matter as a human being. Our role is to gather as many persons around poor Whites, poor Blacks, poor Latinos, and whoever else. In that gathering we work hard to communicate collaboration over nonprofit colonialism, partnership over paternalism. Secondly, we want to engage with the political process in so far as we desire to raise awareness about the positive activities occurring among the poor and the contributions these men and women are making to society. Our political leaders need to know there are many poor persons who are making a difference. Borrowing from Martha Nussbaum, “ politicians play a critical role in either creating barriers or tearing down barriers for the persons they represent. In essence politicians have been granted the opportunities to address life which is entrenched with social injustice and inequality.”
How then are you engaging in this American Place which is diverse and offers you the opportunity to engage with political leaders for the sake of others? I must admit, I have become a bit jaded as we have been complicit to participate in the polarization and demonization of the other, whether on the basis of ethnicity, gender, faith, or political ideology. We are becoming more tribal creating a Balkanization which can not bode well for our future. We practice a refusal to listen and learn. We are choosing practices which stimulate argumentation and strife through IG, Facebook, or Twitter. We have allowed the talking bobbleheads on television to shape our perceptions of those who think differently than us.
What is American to me? To you?
Dr. Dubois calls out to us to pursue those things which are good, beautiful, and true. We are being called to reject the practices which created the America which Langston Hughes so powerfully described. Nussbaum asks us to identify barriers to freedom which foster injustice and rampant inequality.
So the question becomes, “Where do we go from here as American people in the 21st Century? What are the good, beautiful, and true practices we can implement to secure human flourishing for more people?” (use blog post from MLK)
To answer this final question, I would like to turn to Reverend Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and apply future practices in the context of Dr. Dubois’ vision of goodness, beauty, and truth. Providentially, a sort of baton was passed from Dubois to King, as Dubois died on August 27, 1963 and King gave his prophetic “I Have A Dream” on August 28, 1963. It was King who offered America a series of final exhortations in his text, “Chaos or Community.” I refer to this book in my conclusion because we as Americans stand on the precipice of creating a community of brothers and sisters regardless of class and race, or descend into chaotic upheaval because we prefer racial strife and political ideological tribalism.
We must practice living as a healthy family in one house. We are a family. We are a family of human beings with dignity, purpose, creativity, and the innate desire to be known as a human being. As human beings, we are a variety of ethnicities, religious faiths, political ideologies, and other social distinctions. Just as a family possesses diversity, a healthy family manages such diversity for the larger goal of generational viability. Regardless of our distinctions, we exist as a family within this vast house called Arkansas and this larger house called America. A family should practice celebrations, practice lament, and practice encouragement which moves both the strong and weak members of the house forward. This is our house and we have an individual and collective responsibility to steward this residence for ourselves and future generations.
Secondly, we must practice good actions which are for the uplift of the individual and the greater society. In the 21st Century we must ask ourselves, “What are the good actions which will serve others?” Good actions are like the sun rising and giving energy to a bed of flowers to open on a spring day. I believe there are many of you who possess great ideas to transform Libertarian, Conservative, and Progressive ideologies. There are men, women, and children in our state who need bold social and political ideas which will offer them the opportunity to blossom in this new morning. Poverty continues to be an unsightly hole in the roof of our house. The economic situation of many in Arkansas reveals their impotency to make meaningful choices to impact their lives. Dr. King stated, “if democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity.” It is time we stand in the warmth of our new morning and create new opportunities to improve the economic situation of the disadvantaged. Therefore, shine like the sun in the lives of others.
Finally, in the 21st Century we can practice compassion by engaging socially with others. Our state has some relational tensions to address as it relates to race. While I cannot control how one is born ethnically, I can control how I perceive the other person. You are my brother and sister. We are tied together by the same infinitely valuable character which offers us all dignity and worth. I have my faults as you have your own. Dr. King stated, “there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Therefore, let us practice compassion and serve our “enemies”because we are members of the same household. We are a family in need of one another. We are in need of good acts. We must practice beautiful compassion towards the other.
We need to walk into this new morning with an intense desire to love the other with such a fervency that heaven itself will stand and applaud.
Copyright Arrowmakers 2019