What can we learn from the Early Church in the Divided Age of Trump?

During my college and graduate school years, I spent many years in close fellowship with the Coptic Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. For those who may not be familiar, the Coptic Church was started by the Gospel writer Mark two thousand years ago in Egypt, and it is one of the oldest churches in Africa and the world. In the mid 1990’s, together with close Egyptian friends, I had the privileging of helping to create one of the first contemporary worship albums in the Coptic Church. As a highlight, we even played for the Coptic Pope!

One of the big things I learned from my Egyptian brothers and sisters is that, as a follower of Jesus, I don’t live in a theological, geographical, or historical vacuum. I may go to a local Latino Nazarene church in Southern California in 2019, but I live my faith in profound spiritual union with the global church today, as well as with all Christians who have walked with Jesus over the past 2,000 years. This is known as the “communion of saints.” We are the Body of Christ, and we need each other and belong to one another (1 Corinthians 12). Moreover, as we run the race set out for us by God, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, those who have gone before us are worshipping in Heaven and probably also cheering us on (Revelation 4:10-11, 5: 6-14; Hebrew 12: 1-3).

In the pain and trauma of this divisive historical moment, I fear that many of us have lost sight of this communion of saints, past and present. Our individual and collective trauma has led us to “silo” ourselves off as a protective mechanism. For those of us who carry deep trauma inflicted by the church in the United States, the creation of safe spaces and time away from a specific local church which has wounded us, can be vital. Simply put, we need time and space to heal from those who have hurt us. This is one of the main functions, for example, of Jesus 4 Revolutionaries—the creation of safe spaces for Christian activists to find community and heal. We cannot be agents of God’s healing in the world unless we first allow God to heal the trauma within ourselves ( a lesson I learned from Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra). This process of healing is essential and non-linear, and is greatly facilitated by counseling, spiritual direction, and community. I myself have benefited from Christian counseling since 2001 and meet regularly with a spiritual director.

Sheltering ourselves, however, is not an effective long term strategy, nor is it a destination in itself. We need the Body of Christ, global and local, past and present, in order to find our way out of the current mess. For all of our flaws, we the Church have lived in dialogue with the Holy Spirit and relationship with Christ for more than 2,000 years--through empire, dictatorships, persecution, racial division, sexism, classism, wealth, poverty, psychological trauma, colonialism, slavery, abolition, the civil rights movement, familial dysfunction, and every expression and permutation of personal and social brokenness one can envision. A treasury of spiritual wisdom and experience, which spans two millennia and seven continents, is there for us to learn from and build upon if we are willing to engage the messy, yet life-giving task.

The Early Church (origins of Christianity-325 A.D.), for example, offers an abundance of wisdom which will both inspire us, as well as confuse most of our 2019 political boxes.

The earliest followers of Jesus were defined by their love and concern for the poor. Love and justice were not a peripheral part of their agenda. On the contrary, love for the dispossessed of society was what made them stand out from the rest. Their rallying cry was not “you’re poor because you’re lazy,” or, “equal opportunity, but not equal results” as many Christians in America might say today. Instead it was, “Jesus commands us to love the poor and our neighbors as ourselves, and so we will do.”

In fact, as Henry Chadwick states, love for the poor was likely the single most important factor which accounted for the rapid spread of Christianity in its early years:

“The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success [in the early church]. The pagan comment ‘See how these Christians love one another’ (reported by Tertullian) was not irony. Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison or condemned to the living death of labour in the mines, and in social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war.”

Moreover, according to Chadwick, the early church recognized that the primary role of church finances was to provide for the special needs of the poor! As a pioneering force for social justice, moreover, the early Christians even protested the institution of slavery in the fourth century.

Ebherhard Arnold fills in this amazing picture of the early Christians by describing how they used to go street-by-street in search of the poorest and most destitute:

“[E]ven in the smallest Church community the overseer had to be a friend of the poor, and there had to be at least one widow responsible to see to it, day and night, that no sick or needy person was neglected. To inquire into and locate poverty and to impress on the rich the need to do their utmost was the deacons’ service, which was combined with the service at table. Nor was it an excuse for any other Christian that he had not learned to do this service or was unable to perform this task. Everybody was expected to seek out, street by street, the poorest dwellings of strangers, with the result that the Christians spent more money in the streets than the followers of other religions spent in their temples. Working for the destitute was, then, what distinguished the first Christians…What struck and astounded the outside observer most was the extent to which poverty was overcome in the vicinity of the communities.”

Did you catch that, “everybody was expected to seek out, street by street, the poorest dwellings of strangers” in order to minister to the poor! What an incredible and inspiring witness! Forgive us Lord for how far we have strayed from the early church’s example.

As a way of closing my brief discussion of the early church, I hope that you might be inspired by the following quotations taken from historical primary source documents. In the words of the early church itself, and its observers, these passages remind us of how important love for the poor was to those who were most closely connected to Jesus in both time and space.

“Happiness does not consist in ruling over one’s neighbors or in longing to have more than one’s weaker fellowmen. Nor does it consist in being rich and in oppressing those lowlier than oneself. No one can imitate God by doing such things. They are alien to His sublimity. On the contrary, anyone who takes his neighbor’s burden upon himself, who tries to help the weaker one in points where he has an advantage, who gives what he has received from God to those who need it, takes God’s place, as it were, in the eyes of those who receive it.” "Letter to Diognetus" (130 A.D.-late 2nd century).

"…If anyone among them is poor or comes in want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast two or three days for him. In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs…Their life is one of consecration and justice.” Aristides, “Apology.” Circa 137 A.D.

“We who formerly treasured money and possessions more than anything else now hand over everything we have to a treasury for all and share it with everyone who needs it. We who formerly hated and murdered one another and did not even share our hearth with those of a different tribe because of their customs, now, after Christ’s appearance, live together and share the same table.”

Justin, “First Apology.” 155-157 A.D.

“My child, flee from every evil thing, and from every likeness of it… Be neither money-loving, nor vainglorious, for out of all these thefts are engendered.” “Didache." 1st century A.D.

“And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him Who made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him who is in want, afflicting him who is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.” "Didache." 1st century A.D.

And in the ancient words of the liturgy of the Coptic Orthodox Church:

"Let us give thanks to the beneficent and merciful God, the Father of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, for He has covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us to Him, spared us, supported us, and has brought us to this hour. Let us also ask Him, the Lord our God, the Pantocrator, to guard us in all peace this holy day and all the days of our life.”


P.S., the beautiful picture is from the FB page of St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, Sydney, Australia. https://www.facebook.com/StMaryStMinaCathedral/?tn-str=k*F. Shokran.

Trumpism vs. Activism: Romans 8 and Hope for a Divided Church

I woke up this morning with my heart heavy and twisted in knots after a troubled night of sleep. I don't have exact words for it, but I am grieved over the state of the Church in the United States. On the one side, we find those who have dug in their heels and continue to conflate Trumpism with Christianity no matter how grievous his continued policies towards immigrants and all those at the margins, and no matter how much these policies violate more than 2,000 verses of Scriptural admonition. In response, I observe an understandable revulsion and turning away on the part of many other Christians who are keyed into the ways in which so many of Trump's policies are violently destroying the lives and families of thousands. What grieves my heart among the latter is that so many have distanced themselves from the local church and the global Body of Christ, and we cannot be the Church without being connected to, and relating to, the Church in all of its diversity. Nor can we be the Church by being primarily informed in our thinking by activist principles with a sprinkling of God's Word on top. As a professor of ethnic studies for nearly 15 years and a community organizer, I know that doesn't end well.

I find solace in being reminded that the Church's vocation lies precisely at the intersection of the pain of the world and God's love (N.T. Wright). Jesus Himself dwells at that intersection. Indeed, it is there that the Spirit of God intercedes for us, though we may not have the words:

"22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." Romans 8: 22-27

Thank you Lord, that you meet us precisely at our point of deepest wounding and confusion.


Evangelical Christian Racial Identity Development and Theology in the Age of Trump

Social psychologists speak of multi-stage processes of racial identity development among People of Color and conscientious white allies.  I have experienced this process myself (indeed it is continual), and it can be complicated, exciting, joy-filled, painful, and non-linear—all that same time. That being said, here are some common patterns:

  1. Conformity to dominant culture.  A POC like myself who grows up in a predominantly white community will first conform to white cultural norms and try to fit in.  

  2. Dissonance.  After reflection and further cultural exposure, a POC may grow an awareness of their cultural distinctiveness and begin to question their previous beliefs.  At this stage, a person starts to get “woke.”  

  3. Resistance and Immersion. Following a period of dissonance, one may reject dominant culture altogether and develop a sense of activist militancy. We immerse ourselves in our distinct cultural heritage(s), perhaps for the first time. It can be a beautiful rediscovery of our cultures of origin. The social justice journey is exciting!

  4. Introspection: After a period of resistance to the dominant culture and immersion in our unique cultural heritage(s), we come to realize the need for personal autonomy in our identity.  E.g.,”Yes, I am proud to be Chinese and Mexican, I love my culture and am profoundly committed to social justice, but I am also an individual with many layers of identity.” This is an introspective stage.

  5. Integrative Awareness:  in this phase, we realize that cultural identity and participation is not a binary.  We can appreciate the value of multiple cultural systems, and become cognizant of their respective strengths and weaknesses. Though perhaps we live our lives mostly in one cultural framework, we can come to navigate both with integrity.   

Among conscientious whites, a similar process takes place, one in which “white guilt” often occurs.  

To be certain, these are not definitive models, and I am no social psychologist. They do, however, offer some valuable insight into the current process of racial identity development being experienced by many young adults who have shirked the evangelical religious label.  

In the current Trump era, I have observed many evangelicals of Color, as well as conscientious white evangelicals, proceed through this process of racial identity formation—some for the first time.  Some are at the stage of dissonance. They ask things like: “How can I be an evangelical Christian when most white evangelicals seem like they want to deport my mom and dad?  How can I be an evangelical Christian when most of my fellow students at my Christian college conflate Trumpism with being a Christian? How can the members of my church not “get” the reality of police brutality and the prison industrial complex?”

These are extremely valid questions, to say the least.  And such dissonance is in fact very biblical!  More than 2,000 verses of Scripture speak of God’s love of justice and concern for immigrants, the poor, and all on the margins of society.  Something is extremely wrong with U.S. evangelicalism when the vast majority of its adherents view Donald Trump with resounding approval.

While many young adult evangelicals are currently in this phase of questioning and dissonance, some have moved on to resistance and immersion…

This resistance and immersion takes many forms. For some it means attending an immigrant church, a Black Church, or connecting with Native American Christian expressions. It can also include exploring, for the first time, Black theology, Latina/o theology, Asian American theology, or Native American theology. This is fantastic! Reading authors such as Justo Gonzalez, Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Oscar Garcia-Johnson, Juan Martinez, J. Cameron Carter, James Cone, Willie Jennings, Kathy Kang, Soong Chan-Rah, Alexia Salvatierra, Richard Twiss, Randy Woodley, Sandra Van Opstal, Dominique Gilliard, (and many others), transforms our theological and ecclesial imaginations and gives us an expanded vision of what Christian evangelicalism can be.

For others, resistance means not attending any church for months and opting for “spirituality” instead of formal church participation. In other words, cutting off all ties to institutional evangelical Christianity of any kind.  

From my perspective as a theological (though perhaps obviously not a political) evangelical, I am observing some deeply troubling patterns among many formerly evangelical young adults. To underscore, I believe that the intentional decoupling of evangelical Christianity from current partisan politics is important, healthy, and necessary. That being said, I have one major concern:

In appropriately rejecting the evangelical political identity which surrounds them, many are also rejecting the crucial evangelical theological foundations which are allowing the immigrant church and the church of the Global South to thrive in the face of the emaciation of white, western Christianity. We are cutting off the theological branch upon which our families and communities of Color are seated. We are throwing the baby out with the bathwater because of the traumatic association of evangelical political identity with evangelical theology.

Here is where I show my cards (for those who know me this will come as no surprise). Jesus radically transformed my life when I was a law student at Berkeley in 1996. Nothing has ever been the same.  My life has forever been made new over the past two and a half decades by the love and mercy of Christ. Central to my transformation has been my personal journey with Jesus, my immersion in Scripture, and my participation in the local church. This adventurous journey of discipleship has brought me to this place of being an activist Christian professor of Ethnic Studies and pastor. In sum, I am an evangelical and I can’t shake it.  

My process of dissonance, resistance, and immersion—i.e., the detangling of my Christian faith from the racial politics of evangelicalism—has been difficult, complicated and continual, and yet, of ultimate value. I have been the recipient of much grace from God, my family, my local church, and the wider Body of Christ along the journey. In the present moment, I am deeply concerned because I observe many of my fellow sisters and brothers struggling through this same process of spiritual reconstruction, but not knowing where to look for guidance.  

To where do we turn? 

It won’t take long for a former evangelical to discover that many of the theological options out there are even “whiter” than those they may have left. There’s a straight line which points from the Enlightenment era of old white men in whigs in Germany to many of the theological alternatives which we will encounter.  After spending just 5 minutes listening to a podcast in Biblical Studies from a white male professor from Stanford or Yale, I find myself revolted by a deep intellectual hubris and whiteness which is enough to offend every theological bone I have inherited from my mother, father, abuelita, PoPo, and Gung-Gung. My grandparents did not face death in China for preaching this Christian message of white, male academic elites. It’s a crazy theological world out there. It leaves many deeply confused and spiritually fractured.  As a UCLA professor for more than a decade, I’m not trying to be anti-intellectual, and of course there are important things to be learned from the world of religious studies, as well as other theological traditions. That being said, to put it plainly, not everyone believes that Jesus was the Son of God who loves us and came to transform every aspect of ourselves and the world. Nor do most people find it credible that the Bible is God’s inspired Word and love letter to us. That is certainly their prerogative, but I could never deny the personal transformation I have experienced in Christ, nor the power and authority of the loving Word of God which has been my guide.

Another danger I see is the romanticization of secular activism on the part of many erstwhile evangelicals.  I have lived in the world of secular activism on a daily basis long before Donald Trump was ever elected president. There are many good things about it, and I have friends who are amazing organizers (Christian and otherwise) in this realm. I have learned so much from them, and secular activism has been the conduit of many incredible social justice wins like DACA.  That being said, as any seasoned organizer will tell you, this world of activism can be brutal and extremely divisive.  Indeed, I have been personally attacked by it because of my faith in Jesus. Love of enemy and non-violence of heart and action is not a method for many,  nor is the beloved community of all peoples and cultures usually the stated goal.  

I recently spoke to a friend of mine about the romanticization of secular activism which I see happening on the part of many Christian young adults. This friend is one of the leading Christian organizers in the nation, and this is what they told me (to paraphrase):

“What can sadly happen is that Christians go to the world of secular organizing, spend a short time there, and then get burnt out. They quickly learn that it was not all they expected and that it is even more brutal than the religious world they left. Then, at the end of the day, they are left with nothing. They have neither their Christian faith, nor social justice.”  Qué pena. My heart is grieved. What a tragedy before us.  



A Timeline of Migrant Family Separations

How cruel is the American soul in this historic moment? How can we let the separation of migrant children from their mothers and fathers continue? What would have happened if Jesus had been separated from his parents Mary and Joseph after they were commanded by God to flee to Egypt to escape political genocide? What if the infant Jesus were sent to the U.S. as a refugee in 2019, instead of Egypt?

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew 2: 13-15

What follows is a brief overview of migrant family separations in the United States since July 1, 2017. It's a winding and harrowing history, but worth the effort to understand:

January 2018. "Shithole Countries."

Meeting with President Trump and Congressional leaders to discuss protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal.

"Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?", Trump is reported to have declared. It is also alleged that Trump went on to tout immigration to the U.S. from countries like Norway.

April 2018. Trump administration "Zero Tolerance Policy."

Criminal prosecution for all migrants who crossed the border without papers and presented themselves to ICE to request asylum according to national and international law.

Adults were sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and put in detention facilities. Migrant children were separated from their parents and sent to the Department of Health and Human Services. Chaos ensued because ICE and HHS were not given forewarning of policy. Policy designed to punish families who were legally entitled to request asylum according to national and international law.

The enforcement of the policy led to the separation of an estimated 2,700 children from their parents. Parents deported to Latin America and children placed in U.S. foster care.

June 2018. Kids in Cages.

Disturbing images of migrant children in cages stun the world. Responding to outrage, on June 20, Trump signs executive order ending family separations, but continues "Zero Tolerance" policy. Federal judge orders that US immigration agents can no longer separate parents and children. 30 days to reunite families. Order applies to parents with children in custody on June 26, 2018. As of October 2018, 245 children under court order remained separated from their parents.

March 1, 2019. Legal advocate Al Otro Lado, together with clergy coalition led by Rev. Alexia Salvatierra (Evangelical Lutheran Church & Matthew 25/Mateo 25 Movement) and Rev. Sandy Ovalle (Sojourners Immigration), present 29 parents at Calexico port of entry to be reunified with children. Despite judicial order, border patrol first states that it lacks "capacity" to immediately process 29 parents. BP requests that parents get in line to enter the U.S. as part of illegal "notebook" policy. After clergy intervention and legal advocacy, 29 families are granted access to U.S. to begin reunification process with their children. Several days later, ICE separates some husbands and wives, and reunification process is delayed. As of today, most parents have not been reunited with their children, nor released into homes of sponsor families.

March 8, 2019. Expansion of reunification order. Protestations by Trump administration.

It is learned that potentially thousands of other children had been separated from their parents prior to June 2018. Same federal judge expands reunification order to include parents who were separated from their children since July 1, 2017. Trump administration argues against expanded reunification, stating that it would be difficult to identify families who had been separated, these children are longer in their custody, and that children in foster care would be emotionally harmed if they were removed from their current homes.

Lord, please grant us the compassion of the Egypt which welcomed you and your family, and which granted you refuge from death and political persecution. Lord, sanctify our nation from the racism which has marred our immigration history and led us to conform to the previous pattern of the Egypt and Pharaoh who enslaved your people and scapegoated them as a perceived ethnic threat in a potential time of war. Lord, as Egypt repented, may we also do the same. I ask that you would forgive me, and heal me, of the racism and prejudice which still mars my sou. Jesus, Lead us in national healing, and draw us closer to You and your vision of the Beloved Community. Thank You that your Beloved Community leaves no one out, and does not stay silent in the face of racial injustice which hinders the communion of all. In Jesus Name. Amen.

The Parable of the Undocumented Immigrant, Luke 10:25-37 (New Chicano Version)

The Parable of the Undocumented Immigrant, Luke 10: 25-37 [New Chicano Version]


25 On one occasion a theology professor stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A Trump supporter was going down from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A pastor happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a church elder, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But an undocumented Mexican immigrant, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on hydrogen peroxide and neosporin. Then he put the man in his gardening truck, brought him to a nearby Holiday Inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out $240 and gave it to the manager. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The theology professor replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Brown Church Poem

I am the Brown Church

God calls me mija/mijo

Brown, black, white, even yellow, are all within me

When Black and White come to talk, my voice is not heard,

I am not invited to the table

I share much with my Black sisters and brothers, yet my voice is distinct

I long, I cry out to be heard for who I am


Yo soy Montesinos, gritando, in 1511, “The Conquest is opposed to Christ!”

y Bartolomé de Las Casas, whose eyes like Moses were opened to the suffering of his people and never looked back

Yo soy Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz,

My heart burns for the treasures of wisdom which are hidden in Christ

Though machísmo assails me, aunque está bloqueado el camino, I do not relent

Yo soy Catarina de San Juan, “La China Poblana”

Stolen from Asia, enslaved by Spanish masters, I find freedom as the Bride of Christ

I too hold the keys of the Kingdom

Yo soy Padre Antonio Martínez de Nuevo México

Aunque robaron a Aztlán, I know no nation holds a manifest destiny to decimate the people of another, also beloved of God

In the time of Jim Crow, they called me “wetback,” “beaner,” “spic,” and sent me to “Mexican schools”

Yet, I am Méndez, Bernal, Perales, Calleros

My children are not cows; you cannot place them in a barn

Yo soy Mama Leo y Santos Elizondo, MUJERES, forged in tongues of fire

Nadie me detendrá; El Espíritu del Señor está sobre mi

I am Dolores Huerta and César Chávez

I was raised in the bosom of Abuelita Theology

And know that the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of God

Unos años despues, mis primos huyeron la tierra madre

The land of the Savior, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Centroamérica

Argentina, Peru, Bolívia, Brasil, y al resto del Sudamerica

Empujada por el huracán de violencia

Guerillas, Reagan, priest, all vied for me

Yet on Christ my eyes were fixed

I am Gutiérrez, Boff y Romero

Yo sé que el Reino de Díos trae liberación

Que el Espiritu nos libera

Como Protestantes, we also protested—

Porque “la ropa anglo-sajon” strangled

la Buena Nueva

Soy Padilla y Escobar,

Recobrando la misión integral del Señor

Yo soy los dos alas del mismo pájaro,

Puerto Riqueño, Neyorican, Cubano, y Dominicano también

Though the colonizers have changed, the cries of Las Casas still ring strong in my ears

I am a Dreamer; indocumentado; sin papeles

No human being is illegal. Jesús es mi refugio. I am a child of God.

I now seek my voice, thoughts of God my own

I also am among the 12

God calls me mija/mijo


Robert Chao Romero

The Rich Man and Lázaro, Luke 16: 19-31 (Chicano Contemporary Version)

The Rich Man and Lázaro

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in Brioni suits and Vacheron Constantin watches and lived in luxury every day. 20 At the gate of the White House was laid a refugee named Lázaro, covered with gunshots and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the refugee died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lázaro by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lázaro to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lázaro received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lázaro to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16: 19-31 (Chicano Contemporary Version)

Part III: 6 Key Tenets of Critical Race Theory in Christianity

This post concludes a three-part series on Critical Race Theory in Christianity. The goal of this final post is to articulate a formal framework for the study of Critical Race Theory in Christianity. No doubt, I am not the first to explore such a framework, as theologians and Biblical Studies scholars have been applying Critical Race Theory for quite some time. I propose 6 key tenets of CRT in Christianity: 1. Community Cultural Wealth and Social Justice; 2. Voice of Color Thesis; 3. Racism is Ordinary; 4. Christianity, Whiteness, and Colonization; 5. Disentanglement and Multidisciplinary Methods; 6. The Beloved Community.

This blog series first appeared in peer reviewed article format as part of the ChristianityNext Journal: Asian American Christianity & Dones and Nones by Young Lee Hertig: http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/young-lee-hertig/christianitynext-winter-2017-asian-american-christianity-dones-and-nones/paperback/product-23015444.html.

Thanks for following along these last three weeks!


To foster racial reconciliation, structural reform, and constructive dialogue, I present in this post a framework of Critical Race Theory in Christianity comprised of 6 Tenet

1. Community Cultural Wealth and Social Justice. From a biblical vantage point, every ethnic group of the world possesses distinct, God-given, cultural treasure/wealth. To use the language of Chicana educational theorist Tara Yosso, each culture possesses “cultural capital.” The inherent and eternal value of the various national cultures of the world is described in Revelation 21: 22-27 (NRSV):

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

This passage states that the “glory and honor of the nations” will be brought into the New Jerusalem for eternity. What is this “glory and honor” that John is speaking of? It is interesting to note that most evangelical Bible commentaries completely overlook this text. The word “glory” which is used in this passage can also be translated as “treasure” or “wealth” of the nations. Surely John is not describing literal currency or national government coffers. I believe that he is talking about the cultural treasure or wealth of the different ethnic groups of the world. This cultural treasure includes food, music, dance, literature, architecture, etc., as well as the unique cultural personalities of the world.

One important goal of CRT in Christianity is to employ multi-disciplinary theological tools to highlight the God-given cultural wealth of marginalized communities, and to leverage community cultural wealth towards the promotion of social justice and minority empowerment.

2. Voice of Color Thesis. Flowing from our unique God-given cultural treasuries and our peculiar histories and experiences of oppression in the United States, we Christians of Color form distinctive parts of the Body of Christ and uniquely reflect the image of God (1 Corinthians 12: 12-14, 18-19; Romans 12: 4-5; Genesis 1: 26-28). As such, one important role we serve is as communicators of racial issues to our white sisters and brothers of the Body of Christ who are unlikely to know about racial injustice from first-hand experience. It is necessary to state this clearly because our voices have so often been dismissed. Our perspective is not better than others, yet, flowing from our experience as unique children of God, it is distinct. To reject our perspective is akin to the eye saying to the hand, “I don’t need you!” or the head telling the feet, “I don’t need you!” (Romans 12: 21). At the same time, Christians of Color cannot reject membership and participation in the Body of Christ. Although sometimes tempting, it is not an option. To do so would be like a foot proclaiming, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body” or an ear saying, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body “(Romans 12: 15-16). No, God has placed us each in the Body just where He wants us to be (1 Corinthians 12:18). We belong to one another and need each other in order to “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Romans 12: 5; 1 Corinthians 12:21; Ephesians 4: 13).

3. Racism is Ordinary. Because of sinful human nature, racism is ordinary (Genesis 8: 21; Psalm 14: 2-3; Psalm 51:5; Romans 3: 23-24). Racism and ethnocentrism is the normal state of affairs for human beings. Left to its own devices, sinful humanity, through the means of physical and institutional violence, divides the various ethnic cultures of the world into categories of privilege and exclusion. This leads to the social construction of privileged and unprivileged “races,” and the inequitable distribution of God-given socio-economic, cultural, and political resources. Such discrimination violates the manifest will of God as reflected in more than 2,000 verses of Scripture (Matthew 25: 31-46; Luke 4: 18-19; Luke 6: 20-26; Galatians 3: 28-29; Acts 10: 34-35; Isaiah 58: 3-12; Psalm 140: 12; Psalm 146:9).

4. Christianity, Whiteness, and Colonization. During the era of European global expansion, colonial regimes created the legal category of “whiteness” as a means of divvying out socio-economic and political privilege to those of European origin and excluding People of Color from access to these same privileges. From the 15th through 20th centuries, Christianity became entangled with various colonial and neo-colonial projects of whiteness. Despite many biblical admonitions to the contrary, Christianity became racialized as the civil religion and religious property of whites. This destroyed the witness of global Christianity to a watching world.

5. Disentanglement and Multi-Disciplinary Methods. Through the implementation of multi-disciplinary theological tools, a second major goal of CRT in Christianity is to disentangle Christianity from its recent colonial heritage and guard it from neo-colonial racial projects of any form. A further goal is to highlight the historical and contemporary efforts of those such as Bartolomé de Las Casas, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Toyohiko Kagawa, Gordon Hirabayashi, César Chávez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Alexia Salvatierra, who have resisted the historical and contemporary racist hijacking of Christianity. As a multi-disciplinary project, moreover, CRT in Christianity encourages the development of multi-disciplinary theological methods involving history, law, literature, sociology, economics, and other disciplines of the humanities and social sciences.

6. The Beloved Community. The goal of Critical Race Theory in Christianity is the Beloved Community envisioned by Scripture and the biblical witness of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (Revelation 5:9-10, 7:9-10; Galatians 3: 28-29; John 10: 16; Ephesians 2: 14-21; Colossians 1: 15-20; Acts 10: 34-35). Done in the spirit of love and the empowerment of Jesus Christ, the ultimate goal of CRT in Christianity is the reconciliation of all people from every cultural and ethnic background. CRT in Christianity celebrates and embraces the diverse, God-given cultures of the world, but it is not ethno-centric. It seeks the shalom and reconciliation of all of humanity in Jesus Christ. This unifying and hopeful eschatological vision represents a distinct contribution to the broader field of Critical Race Theory.


Julio was a non-traditional student in my introductory course on Chicana/o history, identity, and culture. This course provides a historical overview of Mexican American history and explores such topics as the racial caste system of colonial Mexico, Manifest Destiny and the U.S.-Mexico War, Latino segregation and the famous case of Mendez v. Westminster, the Zoot Suit Riots, the East L.A. blowouts, César Chávez and the farmworkers movement, educational inequality, and undocumented immigration. Like many Latina/o students, Julio was drawn to the class because he was curious about his own cultural heritage and the various social justice issues addressed in the course.

Before coming to UCLA, Julio was a gang member for many years in South L.A. and spent hard time as an inmate at Pelican Bay, one of the toughest prisons in the nation. After his time of incarceration and rehabilitation, Julio attended East Los Angeles Community College and eventually transferred to UCLA. As a non-traditional student, he struggled both academically and financially. On New Year’s Eve, two weeks after the completion of my class, Julio searched for my email address online to tell me the bad news that he was going to quit school. Things had become too hard. As he was doing his Google search, he stumbled across Jesus for Revolutionaries. Since it was free, he downloaded it onto his computer and spent the next six hours reading and engaging with it. In the early hours of New Year’s Day, Julio committed his life to God, and, through the spiritual fortitude he received from Jesus, he decided to continue his education at UCLA.

Julio’s story reflects the non-traditional educational trajectory and urban life experience of thousands—perhaps millions-- of students of Color throughout the nation. They pursue their university education not just to make money and pursue the “American Dream,” but because they want to understand the structural inequalities which shape their communities and seek a profession which will equip them to bring about transformational change. Just as importantly, they desire a religious faith which will empower them to become agents of justice and social renewal. In the words of another student, “I don’t want to just do social justice activities on my own all the time. I have this void in my heart when I do that. I want to know that God is with me and that I’m fulfilling God’s calling and vocation.”

As this 3-part blog series has attempted to show, Students of Color like Julio live their lives in a spiritual borderlands. In their Ethnic Studies courses they gain vital knowledge about social injustice and structural inequality, but they are also often disparaged about the Christian faith of their abuelas, mothers, fathers, and comunidad. On the other hand, in most Christian spaces, they face tremendous pressure to conform to a white, middle class, American imaginary of faith, history, politics, and society. This is too much for many to handle, and, like Rosa of our earlier vignette, this quandary jettisons them into a downward emotional and spiritual spiral.

Drawing from my own experience in the Christian-Ethnic Studies borderlands, one goal of this blog series is to promote discussion about the role of religion within my own academic discipline of Chicana/o Studies. I hope to nurture more religious toleration in our classes, curriculum, research agendas, and professional spaces. A myriad of viewpoints about religion is crucial to the academic mission of the university. We need to have objective, critical conversations about the negative, indeed devastating, impact which the institutions of Christianity have had upon our Communities of Color. That is vitally important. At the same time, however, it is impossible to understand the experience of the Latina/o community without also considering the positive role which religion has played, and continues to play, in our families, communities, and movements of social justice. I believe we do our students a disservice if we do the former, but neglect the latter. Furthermore, the unbalanced disparagement of the spiritual lineage of our families and communities creates an intolerable hostile campus climate and stifles academic freedom of expression.

A second goal of this essay is to raise critical consciousness among Christian churches and institutions of higher education. Please stop trying to make us white. I know this is not what you are trying to do, but this is what you are doing nonetheless. Please take off your “color blind” lens and see things from the perspective of millions of Christians of Color in the United States. We are your sisters and brothers. Our deep concerns for structural change in education, politics, housing, healthcare, policing, mass incarceration, and voting are not going to go away because a white politician or conservative political movement forms a fragile alliance with the evangelical Christian community, or cries, even louder, that racism does not exist. Racial inequality is our reality. God is our God, too, and we know that Jesus has seen our affliction and given heed to our cry. He is aware of our sufferings and He is coming down to deliver us (Exodus 3:7-8; Luke 4: 18-19).

Lastly, I have proposed Critical Race Theory in Christianity as one framework to help advance a larger discussion of Race and the Church. Christianity has been abused historically as a powerful earthly institution of racial oppression, but it has also inspired countless social justice movements as a source of spiritual capital for the liberation of oppressed peoples. It is my prayer that CRT in Christianity can facilitate the disentanglement of Christianity with its colonial legacy and advance the biblical vision of racial reconciliation and liberatory praxis.

Critical Race Theory in Christianity Part II: An Introduction to Critical Race Theory

As a practical response to the spiritual borderlands of institutional Christianity and Ethnic Studies, I propose a new academic project—that of Critical Race Theory in Christianity. To those who may be unfamiliar, Critical Race Theory (CRT) examines the intersection of race, racism, and U.S. law and policy. In other words, it looks at how U.S. laws and public policy have been manipulated and constructed over the years to preserve privilege for those considered “white” at the expense of People of Color. For example, how did racism infect U.S. law and policy through slavery and Jim Crow segregation, and how does racism continue to cripple our legal, educational, political, corporate, and public health institutions? According to Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, “The critical race theory movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”

Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, and Alan Freeman were among the early progenitors of CRT, and the field has been developed in subsequent years by law professors Kimberle Crenshaw, Angela Harris, Ian Haney Lopez (my former prof at Boalt), Mari Matsuda, Kevin Johnson, Laura Gómez (my grad school mentor), and Cheryl Harris. CRT has continued to build as a burgeoning intellectual movement, and it has spawned offshoots within education, sociology, political science, and Ethnic Studies. Quite conspicuously, a formal movement of Critical Race Theory has not emerged within the realm of theology, though post-colonial theology may be considered a close second cousin.

CRT has much to offer theological studies in terms of its incisive observations about the operation of race in U.S. legal history and policy. According to Delgado and Stefancic, the basic tenets of CRT include the following: 1. Racism is ordinary: “Racism is ordinary, not aberrational—‘normal science,’ the normal way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.” 2. Interest convergence or material determinism: “Because racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class Caucasians (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it.” 3. The Social Construction Thesis: “[R]ace and races are products of social thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they correspond to no biological or genetic reality…” 4. Voice of Color Thesis: “[B]ecause of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, American Indian, Asian, and Latina/o writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know.” Beyond these basic tenets, other central themes of CRT include intersectionality, legal indeterminacy, white privilege, whiteness as property, revisionist history, and legal storytelling. Although scholars of religion have much to learn from the rich ruminations of Critical Race Theory, I believe that the disciplines of theology and religious studies also have unique insights to offer.

In her classic article, “Whiteness as Property,” Cheryl Harris persuasively argues that “whiteness” developed as a legal property interest in U.S. history and served as the basis for the inequitable distribution of socio-economic and political benefits. Those who possessed “whiteness” in the eyes of the law were viewed as full human beings and were entitled to citizenship, the right to vote, property ownership, etc. On the other hand, those excluded from the possession of whiteness by the courts were legally defined as “black” and viewed as chattel. According to Harris, “Slavery as a system of property facilitated the merger of white identity and property…Whiteness was the characteristic, the attribute, the property of free human beings.”

To build upon Harris’ analysis, one might also say that British, and other European imperial powers, misappropriated Christianity as an aspect of their legal property interest in whiteness. In their view, Christianity was their property, and to be Christian was to be white. They alone held the institutional and theological keys to the Kingdom of God, and that justified their colonial expansion over Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Near East. According to the Doctrine of Discovery, Europeans could violently seize the lands of non-Christian ethnic groups of the world for purposes of religious conversion. Indeed, People of Color throughout the globe were considered “fortunate” to receive salvation of their souls in exchange for the small price of their lands and temporal slavery.

From the springboard of the Doctrine of Discovery surfaced a slate of perverted religious doctrines used to justify European colonial expansion well into the twentieth century. These far-fetched theological doctrines included syncretistic Aristotelian notions of “natural slavery,” Manifest Destiny, mark of Cain theology, segregationist tower of Babel theology, and the manipulation of Kuyperian notions of sphere sovereignty to justify South African apartheid. At the core of all these twisted theologies was the implicit belief that Christianity belonged fundamentally to Europeans and their colonial descendants. As a consequence, the institutions of Christianity—individual congregations, denominational hierarchies, schools of theological education, and theology-- were their property as well. In exchange for the proclamation of a Eurocentric gospel and the salvation of colored souls they could rule both Heaven and Earth—so they thought.

Today, very few would make the bold claim that Christianity is the property of whites alone. After all, Christianity is on the decline in Europe and among whites in America. Moreover, the Christian faith is experiencing rapid growth in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and holding strong among Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans in the United States. The non-white numerical trajectory of global Christianity is not contested. At the same time, however, the institutional structures of Christianity in the United States remain firmly white. As in earlier times of de jure segregation, white male leadership continues to dominate over individual congregations, religious denominations, publishing houses, seminaries, and Christian colleges and universities. I do not doubt that the vast majority of these leaders possess good will, and in true sincerity do not harbor explicit racism. Some, in fact, hold a profound sense of racial consciousness and are aware of their white privilege. For many, however, their limited cultural lens does not allow them to see that the institutions of Christianity in America are still perceived by non-whites as largely the “property” of whites. These racial disparities, moreover, perpetuate the alienation of millions of Christians of Color in the United States.

Thanks for tuning in! Next week we’ll reflect upon an actual framework of “Critical Race in Christianity.” This series is based upon an article first published in the Christianity Next Journal in Winter 2017:  http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/young-lee-hertig/christianity-next-winter-2017-asian-american-christianity-dones-and-nones/ebook/product-23022614.html. 

Much love,


Critical Race Theory in Christianity Part I: The Christian-Ethnic Studies Borderlands

Sparked by the public statements of John MacArthur and some faculty members at Biola University, Critical Race Theory has been the subject of much controversy in some Christian circles. As a follower of Christ, pastor, and professor of Critical Race Theory at UCLA, I feel that it is important for me to chime in because much of the controversy flows from misunderstanding.    

This post is the first in a multi-part series on Critical Race Theory in Christianity.  This series is based upon an article first published in the Christianity Next Journal in Winter 2017:  http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/young-lee-hertig/christianity-next-winter-2017-asian-american-christianity-dones-and-nones/ebook/product-23022614.html.  May this blog series produce fruitful discussion and healing within the Body of Christ.  


The “Spiritual Borderlands” of Ethnic Studies and Institutional Christianity

I was once told by a colleague, “Some students of this department don’t like you because you are half-Chinese, some don’t like you because you are a Christian, and some don’t like you because your wife is white.”  Though painful to hear, this comment was true.  And, it helped explain the animosity I experienced on the part of a small, but vocal contingency of students who sought to challenge my prospects for tenure at UCLA.  

Notwithstanding the challenge I received during the tenure process by this small group of student detractors, in many ways, Chicana/o Studies is a good intellectual home for me.  For the most part, I am strongly supported by my colleagues and students with respect to my research in racial history and theory.  My inter-disciplinary research project of “Chino-Chicano,” or, “Asian-Latino Studies,” has been strongly received both my department and the broader field of Chicano/Latino Studies.  As a “Chino-Chicano,” whose parents hail from Chihuahua, Mexico and Hubei in Central China, I have come along and argued that the definition of “Chicano” must be broadened beyond the dichotomy of Spanish and indigenous to include the rich contributions of Asians to Mexican history, culture, and tradition.  Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian groups have been meaningfully present in Mexico and Latin America since colonial times, and in the early twentieth century, Chinese immigrants were the second largest foreign ethnic community in all of Mexico. Quite sadly, they were also the victims of a virulent sinophobic campaign which culminated in the expulsion of most Chinese from the country in 1931.  In light of this important history, I argue, we must incorporate the Chinese and other Asian communities into our understanding of Mexican racial formation or “mestizaje.”  Almost without exception, my project of “Asian-Latino Studies” has been favorably received.  

As a professor, my greatest sense of alienation, however, has arisen from the sometimes subtle, and sometimes outright, rejection of Christianity by Chicana/o Studies and the broader field of Ethnic Studies.   Along with many other professors and students of faith, I have lived much of my academic life in the “spiritual borderlands” of the academy and institutional religion.   In the world of Chicana/o Studies and activism our faith is usually discouraged or criticized.  We are told, “You can’t be a Christian and care about issues of racial and gender justice.  It’s the white man’s religion and it’s a tool of colonization.  It’s racist, classist, and sexist.”  As a result of such hostility, many Chicanas/os keep silent about their faith in activist circles for fear of persecution or ostracization.  Others lose their faith.  Some tenuously cling to a personal relationship with God but abandon institutionalized Christianity altogether.   In the words of Gloria Anzaldúa, Christian Chicanas and Chicanos are “left out or pushed out” of existing Christian and Chicano categories. 

This negative perspective of religion within Chicana/o Studies is understandable.  It is grounded in centuries of historical and contemporary misrepresentation of the teachings of Jesus.  In a very real sense, the history of Latinas/os in the Americas is one of systemic racism perpetuated by white individuals claiming to be Christian.  From the Spanish Conquest, to 19th century Manifest Destiny in the United States, to Jim Crow segregation and Operation Wetback, to the present day Tea Party movement, many individuals continue to perpetuate the stereotype that Christianity is a racist, classist, and sexist religion.  And so, understandably, the Chicana/o movement continues to reject Christianity as part of its party platform.   


There are a number of harmful consequences that result, however, from the wholesale rejection of Christianity in Chicana/o Studies and Ethnic Studies.  First, many students experience severe emotional damage.  This grave consequence should cause us to take serious pause, and is exemplified by the following critical race counterstory :

Rosa was excited about attending her first college lecture.  She was the first of her family to attend college and was the valedictorian of Roosevelt High School.   Her 4.2 grade point average had earned her a full ride to Pitzer College, one of the best liberal arts college in the U.S. according to U.S. News and World Report.  

Rosa’s Mom and Dad were deacons in their local church and had brought her up to be a Christian.  They told many stories of how God had taken care of them when they made the dangerous journey to the United States across the Sonoran desert.  Her dad worked two jobs—as a short order cook during the week and a gardener during the weekend. He also collected cardboard to raise extra money for the family.  Her mom was a nanny to a rich family in San Marino and also managed their family of four kids.  Church provided one of the few spaces of social respect for Rosa’s parents.  They had “dignidad” when they walked into church and were addressed as “deacons,” and “hermano” and “hermana” Ramos.  

Rosa’s first class was a Chicano history class, and her professor began his lecture by saying, “Christianity is the White Man’s religion.”  The professor went on to detail how the Spaniards used Christianity to colonize the Aztecs and the millions of indigenous people of the Americas.   Rosa also learned about how the Bible was used to justify ethnic genocide, murder, and the oppression of women.  Rosa left class devastated.  She didn’t know what to do.  Who was right about Christianity?  Was it her working class, immigrant parents who loved and followed Jesus?  Or was it her professor who had his Ph.D. from Harvard and had written many famous books over the past twenty years?  

When I met Rosa she was in her second year of college and undergoing clinical depression.  Rosa had been seeing a psychiatrist to help her with the deep loss and emotional conflict she was experiencing trying to reconcile the faith of her youth with the perspectives of Christianity she had learned in her classes.

In addition to creating deep emotional turmoil for many students like Rosa, another consequence of the wholesale rejection of Christianity by Chicana/o Studies is that thousands of potential students are unnecessarily turned away from the discipline of Chicana/o Studies.  If asked to choose between the faith of their family and Chicana/o Studies, they reject Chicano Studies.   I can understand this decision, and it keeps thousands of Chicanos and Latinos from coming to study Chicana/o Studies at the university.   

A third painful consequence is that objective research about faith and activism, and the role of faith in Chicano/Latino communities is squelched.   Even though the founding document of the Chicana/o movement, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, asserts freedom of religious expression within its membership, Latinas/os of Christian background have been historically marginalized by the academic discipline of Chicana/o Studies.    Microaggressions against Christianity and Christian Chicanos is common in the context of various academic settings, including the classroom, disciplinary conferences, and faculty gatherings.   As an example, I remember vividly attending one National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies Conference on a Good Friday and hearing Christianity blasted from the keynote speaker.   As previously discussed, I have also personally experienced discrimination as a professor based upon my Christian convictions.   In its most insidious forms, such microaggressions take the form of viewpoint discrimination and violate highly held principles of academic freedom.   Because of the inherent bias against Christianity in Chicana/o Studies, the objective study of religion is squelched despite the fact that faith is central to our families and communities and has been a key source of community organizing for centuries.  Although Latinos are transforming the landscape of religion in the U.S. , as will be discussed, Chicana/o scholarship on this topic is severely lacking.

The wholesale rejection of Christianity by Chicana/o Studies is regrettable because it ignores not only the contemporary religious landscape of the Latino community, but also the central role that Christianity has played in social justice movements among Latinas/os in Latin America and the United States.  From Bartolomé de las Casas to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, to César Chávez and Católicos Por La Raza, to the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980’s and contemporary organizing among undocumented Latinos, faith has been at the center.  Despite the central role played by faith in the life of César Chávez and the broader Chicana/o civil rights movement, the role of religion as a motivating factor for social change has been largely neglected by the field of Chicana/o Studies.  

Despite the important role played by religion in the lives of millions of Latinas and Latinos, little Chicana/o Studies scholarship exists on the topic.  With few notable exceptions, including the work of Mario García, David Carrasco, Elisa Facio, and Luís Leon, few academic studies examine the Mexican American religious experience.   As professor of Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Mario García has pioneered the field of Chicana/o Religious Studies in recent years.   His books, Católicos: Resistance and Affirmation in Chicano Catholic History (2010) and Mexican American Religions: Spirituality, Activism, and Culture (2008), have laid the academic groundwork for the examination of religion in Chicana/o Studies.    According to García, “Despite the fact that the vast majority of U.S. Latinos claim to be religious or spiritual, little has been written on Mexican American/Chicano religions from a multidisciplinary perspective.”    In addition to being an understudied topic in Chicano/Latino Studies, the topic of Chicana/o religions and spirituality has also been largely overlooked by the broader field of religious studies.  

Curricular and textbook offerings on the role of religion in Chicana/o communities are also generally quite limited.  In my own department of Chicana/o Studies, for example, only one permanent course offering exists with respect to religion.  The classic Chicano history text, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rudy Acuña leaves out discussion of the role of faith in Chicano history.   The more recent text, Crucible of Struggle: A History of Mexican Americans from the Colonial Period to the Present Era likewise tells the history of Chicanos in a way which is detached from the faith life of the community.  Ironically, this text is published as part of the American Academy of Religion Aids for the Study of Religion Series.  

The flipside of the spiritual borderlands experienced by professors and students of faith is the strong sense of alienation we feel in some institutional religious spaces.   We often feel out of place in church, seminary, and parachurch ministry circles because our strong concern for racial justice is not understood.  When we share our concerns about issues of educational inequality or the need for compassionate immigration reform, we are met with blank stares or even outright opposition.  We are told, “those are political issues which are separate from faith.”  “How can you be a Christian and not support the Republican candidate?” As a result, we often walk away from church and formal religious institutions.  We may cling tenuously to a personal faith, but our activism becomes divorced from institutional Christianity.  

Two examples from recent memory are illustrative.  As a pastor, professor, and immigration lawyer I am passionate about comprehensive immigration reform.  Seeing that my local church was not doing much in this area, I wrote and told them, “Immigration is the cutting civil rights issue of our time.  It’s like slavery of our day.  Why isn’t our church doing anything about this?”  In response, I had a meeting with the pastor to explain my concerns.  Unfortunately, I was met with defensiveness and pushback.  I left devastated.  I felt discombobulated for days.  To soothe myself on my drive to UCLA the next day, all I could do was blare Latino music in my car and allow the beats, rhythms, and melodies of my culture to comfort me and overwhelm my senses.  I thought to myself, “My brown skin and Latino-ness is welcome to improve the superficial appearance of diversity in the pews, but my viewpoints and perspectives which flow from my brown experience are not welcome.  They want me to be Brown on the outside, but White on the inside.  My Latino-ness was not truly welcome.  I could not attend this church and be Latino.”  I left the congregation in search of a church where my Latino culture was truly welcome.   Much to his/her credit, the pastor eventually apologized to me.  He/she still did not invite me to engage the church in immigration issues, however.

Story two.  In 1997 as a 3rd year law student at Berkeley School of Law, I received my call from God to become a professor.  The vision-- complete law school, pursue a Ph.D. in Latin American history, and as a professor speak and write about issues of race and ethnicity.  Instrumental to my calling was a talk I heard by noted Christian speaker Os Guinness at a parachurch ministry event in 1997.  Flash forward a decade.  I’m a professor at UCLA and this same parachurch ministry comes to campus and gets wind of my story.  They ask me to moderate an event featuring Os Guinness.  Since I was sincerely grateful for the role played by their ministry in my life, I agreed to serve as moderator and to allow my story to be featured in their newsletter.  Fast forward a few more years.  I decide to write my first Christian book, Jesus for Revolutionaries:  An Introduction to Race, Social Justice, and Christianity.  The idea behind Jesus for Revolutionaries was simple:  Write a book, in conversational style, which would provide a biblical, historical, and sociological introduction of Christianity to activists.  As another important goal, the book would introduce readers to the little-known world of Christian community development and social justice.  

Excited about the close relationship I had recently forged with the aforementioned para-church ministry, I decided to float my book manuscript to them for potential publication.  What a potentially good fit, I thought. They had played such a meaningful role in my life, they have a book series featuring professors, and one of their main goals was to foster engagement with the academy.  In addition, social justice was an explicit topic featured on their website.  Enthusiastically, I presented my book manuscript to them.  One month later, I received a polite rejection:  “Our book series is small and we’re publishing only on a limited number of topics at this time.  Unfortunately yours does not fit in.”  I was devastated and deeply angered.

I thought to myself, “So it’s ok to use me as a diverse, Chinese-Mexican poster boy for fundraising, but when I seek to publish a book about all that God has taught me about race and social justice since being touched by your ministry the answer is no? What else could I do to make myself qualified to publish a Christian book?  I have two doctorates, one from Berkeley and one from UCLA.  I am a tenured-track professor of Chicana/o Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA.  I’m a lawyer.  I’m a pastor.  I’ve ministered to activist students throughout the country for a number of years now.  What else could I do?”  As we say in Spanish, ni modo.  

After this disheartening experience, I tried, once again unsuccessfully, to float Jesus for Revolutionaries by another Christian publisher.  I felt good about it.  One week after submitting my manuscript to them, my first book, The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940, won a national book award.   About one week after that, I received tenure at UCLA.  I was sure to let the publisher know about all these special events that had occurred in my life and academic career.  Guess what happened?  I never heard back.  I was rejected again.  

These rejections caused me to pray and reflect.  How did God want me to proceed? What was my next course of action?  My conclusion:  God wanted me to self-publish Jesus for Revolutionaries so that I could make it available for free.   After all, students of Color don’t have much money and often have to choose between buying school books and eating.  They work multiple jobs and struggle valiantly to cover the basic expenses of their education.  How could I ask them to pay $25 for a book called, Jesus for Revolutionaries?  That would be deeply hypocritical.  And so, I self-published the book under the imprint, “Christian Ethnic Studies Press.”  I offered Jesus for Revolutionaries as a free e-book and a low-cost paperback.   I decided to donate 100% of the book proceeds towards scholarships for undocumented students and the operating expenses of our non-profit organization, also called Jesus for Revolutionaries.   

These are just two stories among many I could tell.  I believe they clearly demonstrate the predicament faced by many of us as Christian professors and Christian students of Color.  Although many Christian churches, universities, seminaries, and publishers claim to care about issues of race and justice, most are not willing to go beyond a superficial level of engagement.  They are not willing to give voice to the actual stakeholders of social justice controversies.  Perhaps a token voice here, or a token voice there.  For the most part, however, they are not willing to “to go there.”   Push back and closed doors usually come when we professors and students of Color speak frankly about our experiences of discrimination and racial injustice.  The end result is the further spiritual and intellectual alienation of thousands of Christian students and academics of Color.

More next week...

"Who do the crowds say I am?" Luke 9:18-20 (Contemporary Chicanx Version)

“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his Latinx disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say a good teacher like Gandhi; others say the white god of the colonizer; and still others, that you care about us personally, but not about the injustice we suffer under Donald Trump.’
‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
Rosa answered, ‘God’s Messiah, our Lord who loves us more than we could ever hope for or imagine, and who loves us just as we are, not as we should be. Our Lord who cares deeply about the injustice we suffer, and who came to make us and the whole world new.’” 
Luke 9:18-20 (Contemporary Chicanx Version)

Donald Trump (Pharaoh), the Book of Exodus, and the Latina/o Immigrant Community

A modern day translation of Exodus 1: 8-14 (Contemporary Chican@ Version).

Now a new president arose over the United States, who did not know César Chávez. Donald Trump said to his people, “Look, the Hispanic people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of an escalated war on terror, join our enemies, fight against us, and take back the land that was once theirs. Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Los Angeles and New York, for the president. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the white nationalists came to dread the Latinos. The white nationalists became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Latinos, and made their lives bitter with hard service in construction and domestic service and in every kind of field labor (making California the top agricultural producer in the world). They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them…Exodus 1: 8-14

Asylum at the Border: Presidential Violation of the Rule of Law and American Baptist Churches v. Thornburg (1991)

The Trump administration is deliberately, and systematically violating well-established asylum law at the border. It is doing so by creating "policies" and "guidance" which break the law. For all who care about the "rule of law" and Romans 13, now is the time to speak up. This administration is violating the law with impunity because it also controls the federal law enforcement mechanisms which have been established to prevent such violations. As a consequence, slow, lengthy, and expensive lawsuits are one of the few recourses available for concerned citizens. 

The same thing happened in the 1980's. Fleeing the violence of civil war in Central America (Guatemala and El Salvador), thousands exercised their legal right to come to the border and apply for asylum. As a side note, the U.S. signed on to such asylum laws in the wake of WWII in order to safeguard against the repeat of racial holocaust. Then, as now, the U.S. federal government denied due process to asylum applicants. It did so because the U.S. was supporting the military dictatorships which were killing hundreds of thousands, and causing their families to flee. 

A lawsuit was filed by churches and other religious organizations called, American Baptist Churches vs. Thornburg. The lawsuit, which was connected the original Sanctuary Movement (of churches, synagogues, and religious communities in the 1980's), asserted that the legally established due process rights of asylum applicants had been violated by the presidential administration. In a stunning victory, religious advocates won! As part of the settlement, the presidential administration agreed to review, "de novo," 500,000 asylum applications which had been passed over in violation of legally-protected due process. Several years later, green cards were issued to these 500,000 asylum applicants as part of the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act! 

We are at this place again, in 2018. Concerned Christians and religious advocates won then, and, by the grace and empowerment of God in Christ Jesus, we will win again!

#FastforFamilias: A Prayer for Families Separated at the Border

Join us today, June 29, to #fastforfamilias who are separated at the border.  Learn more, sign up, and spread the word!  http://fastforfamilias.com.  

Lord Jesus, as the Latina/o community, we come to You. It is You alone who save and deliver from racism and injustice, just as it is You alone who have saved us from our own sin and are transforming us day by day to be more like You. As You delivered the Israelites from slavery and the abuse of Pharaoh, please deliver us today. Our mothers, fathers, and children are suffering as we are targeted by a tyrant who says, like Pharaoh, "'Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous" (Exodus 1: 10). Like Pharaoh and Herod, he is also targeting our children. Jesus, please part the waters of our broken immigration system with your power, mercy, and grace. Lead us through our Red Sea, deliver our families at the border, our Soñadores, and our millions of familias, hermanas, and hermanos who still find themselves on the run with Pharaoah's army at their backs. Only You can do this. Deliver us, Precious Christ, and glorify Yourself.

At the same time, as You taught us to do, we pray for our enemies and ask that they would come to know You and be transformed by Your love. This is how You prayed for your Roman oppressors, and it is our model, too. We pick up our crosses and follow You. Lead us in the power of your radical love and non-violence of heart and action.
Lord, hear our prayers.

What If Jesus, Mary, and Joseph Fled to the U.S. for Asylum?

What if Jesus, Joseph, and Mary fled to the U.S. in 2018 for asylum, instead of Egypt 2,000 years ago...

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to the United States. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for the U.S..." (Based upon Matthew 2: 13-14).

But when Joseph arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border legally to apply for asylum according to international agreement, Jesus, Joseph and Mary were separated from one another. Though the Holy Family had a valid asylum case, they were shuffled through Border Patrol, not allowed to speak to an attorney, and denied due process. As baby Jesus was placed in a cage, the Patriot Front distributed flyers outside of the immigrant concentration camp which read, "Keep America American! Report any and all illegal aliens. They are not immigrants, they are criminals. Bloodandsoil.org" Although 75 churches could be found within a 20 mile radius of the camp, only 2 were speaking out publicly on behalf of the infant Jesus and his parents. 

After a hasty hearing before a judge together with 30 other asylum applicants, Joseph and Mary were ordered deported. Jesus was left behind. Screaming for their son Jesus, Mary and Joseph were shackled by ICE and forced on a plane. Upon arrival in Nazareth of Galilee, Joseph and Mary were killed by Herod. Jesus was sent into foster care to live with a white family who were members of a local church that overwhelmingly favored Jeff Sessions' "zero tolerance" policy.  #matthew25socal#notwithoutmychild #familiesbelongtogether

The Diversity Problem of Christian Higher Education: A Personal Reflection

Earlier this year I was invited to apply for a senior level administrative diversity position in a Christian university.  After much prayer and reflection, I thought I should at least put my hat in the ring.  I was excited by the opportunity to integrate my past 13 years of experience of teaching and leadership within the secular academy with my pastoral experience of training and mobilizing students, professors, campus ministries, and local churches in issues of race, diversity, and Christianity. I thought to myself:  What a dream it would be to live an integrated life of ministry and academic vocation, and to help shepherd a Christian university in issues of diversity and inclusion from a Christ-centered and biblical perspective!

I have had the privilege of participating in leading academic diversity programs, and was inspired by the prospect of bringing such models to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, and integrating them with a Christian worldview.   I myself am the product of the Ford Foundation Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Fellowships, as well as the U.C. President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program. Through these longstanding, and outstanding, diversity programs, I have learned best practices with respect to both professorial and graduate student diversity development and mentorship. I have also acquired a broad network of connections to diverse leading scholars from throughout the nation at colleges and universities ranging from Harvard, Yale, Brown, and U.C. Berkeley, to the Claremont Colleges and the CCCU. With respect to diversity and inclusion research and scholarship, I have published widely on issues related to race, history, law, education and Christianity, have a nationally award-winning book, and am an InterVarsity Press author.  I hold a Ph.D. in Latin American history from UCLA and a J.D. from Berkeley.  I am an attorney and have served on the editorial boards of the top academic journals in law, history, and ethnic studies in the nation.  I am a national speaker in issues of race and Christianity.  I say these things not to boast, but to help the reader understand what is about to be shared.  

As I talked about this opportunity with friends from Christian colleges and seminaries, I was often met with hesitancy.  Many had bad experiences trying to engage the Christian world of higher education in issues of race and systemic transformation. The boards of trustees, faculty, and administrators of the Christian universities and seminaries they worked for were overwhelmingly white and male, and had expressed resistance to structural change.  I heard their concerns, but I wanted to give this Christian university the benefit of the doubt.  As I moved along in the process, I was told repeatedly by the search firm that this university was serious about change and had been building up to the step of a serious diversity hire for many years.  It wasn’t just talk or window dressing. They wanted real change.  And I listened.  And I believed them.  Daily, for four months, I and my family prayed about this opportunity and how it might reshape everything about our life and ministry.  Even though I was on sabbatical with the Louisville Institute to complete a new book project on Latino Christianity, I largely put my academic commitments on hold for this time as well.  We gave it our all because this was a game changer for us, and we needed to be sure that this was God’s will. Before long I was a semifinalist, and then, not too long after that I became one of the two finalists for the position.  Was God opening the door? It was hard to contain my excitement.  My intensive on-campus interview went very well as far as I could tell. All the signs and signaling from those at the university—from faculty to administrators at the highest level-- seemed to indicate that it was going to happen. 

And then, several days later, I received a sheepish call telling me that the position had been offered to the other finalist.  It seemed to be a surprise to everyone, including the search firm.  After the initial shock set in, I was devastated.  What happened?

In hindsight, there were some serious warning signs during the interview—some of which I can share publicly, and others which I do not feel it is ethically appropriate to share.  Something just didn’t smell right.  

In a conversation with a high ranking administrator I mentioned to him/her that, although the level of student body diversity was strong on the campus, the issue of faculty diversity was a significant concern.  I told him/her that UCLA’s faculty was actually twice as diverse as the faculty at this Christian university. I also shared my ideas for faculty diversification based upon my positive experiences with programs like the Ford Foundation and U.C. President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.  How amazing would it be to create a pipeline of recruitment for faculty of Color in the CCCU based upon these models in the “secular world” which have been producing positive results for decades.  In response, I was told, “It is my belief that faculty diversity will naturally flow from a diverse student body.”  Every bone in my body knows that this is not true.  

Another warning sign.  This university recently had a diversity audit conducted by a leading national university.  Since I could not track down the findings of this audit online, I asked the search committee for a summary of the audit.  I was told that the faculty and staff did not even know the details of the audit because the findings had not been publicly released.  

A third concern:  when I met with Students of Color during the campus interview, there was much pain in their eyes and the stories they shared.  They expressed concerns of a racial climate which was largely inhospitable to their perspectives and experiences.  

A final concern:  members of the senior administration with whom I met were almost exclusively white.  To give them the credit they deserve, they also seemed to be earnest about the desire for increased racial diversity in the university ranks.  Some were “woke,” most acknowledged that diversity was a needed biblical goal but were seeking guidance, and only a small minority seemed resistant. One person made a negative and uninformed comment about critical race theory, but I was willing to let that slide.  I was also bluntly honest with them, and told them, “If you are not really open to ‘going there,’ please do not hire me.  It would be a travesty for me to leave UCLA to come to an institution that was not serious about change.”  One  administrator replied, “We cannot afford to not go there.”  And a board of trustee member seemed to concur.  

And yet, based upon the sum total of my experiences, something seemed off.  

The writings of (St.) Brené Brown offer instructive perspective:

“When the culture of any organization mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of the individuals who serve that system or who are served by that system, you can be certain that the shame is systemic, the money is driving ethics, and the accountability is all but dead.  This is true in corporations, nonprofits, universities, governments, faith communities, schools, families and sports programs.  If you think back on any major scandal fueled by cover-ups, you’ll see this same pattern.  And the restitution and resolution of cover-ups almost always happens in the wilderness—when one person steps outside their bunker and speaks their truth.” Braving the Wilderness, 78.  

This post is my clarion call from the wilderness.  I hold no official position in the Christian world of higher education, so take it for what it may be worth.  Nevertheless, it is an invitation to dialogue for the Christian university and seminary world.  

And true dialogue requires honesty.  

Here goes:

The message that was (implicitly) sent to me by the decision makers of this Christian university was:

“Despite your pastoral and academic background, we don’t trust you. At the end of the day, you are still not one of us.  We’re afraid that you will rock the boat too much.  We want some change, but not to the extent you’re talking about.  Our politically conservative donors, and some of our board of trustee members will feel threatened by you, and probably oppose the type of change you represent.  And then what will happen when we can’t pay the bills? We’re not exactly convinced of your evangelical credentials either, because, after all, you are a UCLA professor.” 

To be clear, I do believe that those charged with leading the search were sincere, and that they were convinced that the university really wanted change.  Otherwise, there’s no other explanation for my promotion to the top of the search list. I was a non-traditional candidate in virtually every respect, and my reputation is one of bridge-building leading to change.  My experience with the search process was, in fact, extremely positive-up until the end.  But, when the final decision was made, when those with real power were left to make their decision--they flipped the script. 

I have been hesitant to pen these words, and in fact had even shelved an earlier post on the topic because I wanted to be sure that I was writing from the right place in my heart.  I don’t want this to be just a rant, but an honest space of sharing and invitation to dialogue.  At the same time, I am aware that no matter how sensitively I attempt to phrase my words, my honesty will turn off some who are not ready to listen to my perspective.  They will put me in the category of the “angry Brown man,” or seek to dismiss what I have to say as “sour grapes.”  

The recent events at Fuller Seminary last week made me realize that my experience was not a solitary one, and gave me the courage to finally make my experience public.  I also realize that the publication of this post may jeopardize my chances of ever being hired by a Christian college, university, or seminary in the future, but I believe that this moment is too important not to speak up.  Too much is at stake for the Body of Christ which I care for, and am firmly committed to.  

If a Christian university would treat me with so much disrespect even though I am a tenured professor at UCLA, pastor and attorney, what must be happening behind the scenes with other students, staff, faculty and administrators of Color at Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries throughout the country?  

I was deeply moved by the recent student action at Fuller Seminary, and I am inspired by their bold example.  On June 7, Black Seminarians at Fuller carried out a powerful and historic protest to challenge the exodus of Black faculty and limited curricular offerings related to race and theologians of Color.  This peaceful protest was conducted in the spirit and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after several formal student requests for change had been presented to the Fuller administration to no avail.  It was carried out in radical love and nonviolence of heart and external action.  And it was FIRE.  Holy Spirit fire and prophetic witness.

You can find the full video on our Jesus for Revolutionaries Facebook page and also on Twitter:  #toxicfuller #seminarywhileblack #blackexodus

This blog post is an offering of solidarity for my Black sisters and brothers at Fuller.  It is also an invitation to dialogue for Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries who are sincere about racial diversity, equity, and inclusion, and who are willing to follow this conversation to the tough places.  May its honesty be received in this spirit with which it is intended.  True racial reconciliation in Christian institutions of higher education will not occur until the deep structural concerns highlighted by the Fuller protests and my personal narrative are meaningfully addressed.  We need new wineskins for the new wine of the Holy Spirit in the 21st century.  In the words of an important new book penned by a new generation of leaders in the CCCU, Diversity Matters (Karen A. Longman.  Diversity Matters: Race, Ethnicity, and the Future of Christian Higher Education, 2017).

Diversity matters because it is God’s idea and we are the Body of Christ. We need one another and our God-given cultural diversity in order to “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4: 13. 

As further expressed by Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many…

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  1 Corinthians 12: 12-21.

The current structure of Christian universities and seminaries unintentionally, but effectively, tells professors, students, and administrators of Color, we don’t need you.  We don’t need your unique perspectives, gifts, and talents which flow from your distinct, God-given cultural backgrounds and the image of God which you preciously bear (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139: 13-16; Revelation 21:26).  White Christian faculty, staff, and administrators have got it covered.  We’ll allow a few People of Color to rise up the ranks, but only if they conform and assimilate to our cultural perspectives and viewpoints.  After all, our perspectives are simply objective and based on the Bible.  We don’t mind a sprinkling here and there of your “contextual theologies” and ethnic ideas, but our views of Scripture, theology, and education are mostly unbiased and should be the standard for a good Christian education.  

Borrowing language from the Supreme Court of the United States in Grutter v. Bollinger, Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries have a “compelling interest” in maintaining diverse student bodies if they want to partake of, and benefit from, the many educational benefits which flow from the human diversity which God has created.  Every ethnic group has its distinct cultural treasure or “glory and honor” which is of eternal value (Revelation 21: 26), and for this reason student and faculty diversity enriches the educational experience and learning of all (for a detailed discussion of ethnic culture and the image of God, see, Jesus for Revolutionaries: An Introduction to Race, Social Justice, and Christianity; available as free e-book).  At the same time, each of our cultures is also tainted by sin and in need of Christ’s sanctification (Revelation 21: 27).  This latter point is what distinguishes Christian models of diversity from secular ones, and Christians are right to emphasize the distinction.  Scripture is how we differentiate the “glory and honor” from those aspects of each of our ethnic cultures which are corrupted by sin.  

All of that being said, God made us diverse, and unique reflections of Himself, for a reason.  As distinct reflections of the image of God, students and faculty of Color (as well as students and faculty from Euro-American backgrounds) have unique contributions to make to the system of Christian higher education.   The greater the diversity of our colleges and universities, the more every student stands to profit, because this diversity is a gift from God. 

In fact, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”

With deep love and concern for the Body of Christ,

Robert Chao Romero



The "Christian-Activist Borderlands" and the Brown Church

Angel was raised in an immigrant Latino community in Santa Ana, California.  He grew up in church and was the leader of his church youth group throughout his high school years.  His working-class parents were elders and deacons, and church provided one of the few social spaces where they were treated with dignity.  As a Chicana/o Studies major at U.C. Berkeley, Angel learned about the many injustices experienced by Latinos in Latin America and the United States over the past 500 years.   He learned about the Spanish Conquest that led to the decimation of 90% of the indigenous population of Central Mexico—more than 20 million people.  He discovered that the conquest was justified by many in religious terms, based upon the belief that God had ordained for the Spanish to slaughter the indigenous people so that they might become converted to Christianity.  

Angel was also taught about the unjust Mexican-American War which led to the violent seizure of half of Mexico and which was justified by Anglo-Americans based upon a belief in “manifest destiny.”  He learned that these same settlers created a segregated American society in which those legally defined as “white” received special socio-economic and political privileges, while Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans were segregated and treated as second-class citizens.  Angel also studied the structural inequalities in education, healthcare, and law which persist to the present-day in many Latino communities and which have their roots in this historic discrimination.   As his “praxis,” Angel got involved with the activist student group MEChA and became a leader in the struggle for undocumented student rights.  

While home for summer break, Angel tried to talk with his pastor about all that he was learning at Berkeley.   He hadn’t gone to church in six months and was struggling to reconcile the faith of his family with what he was learning about the historical abuses of Christianity.  He was also greatly angered by his church’s apathy toward the unjust deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants.  In response, his pastor told him, “Don’t worry about those things.  Those professors and students are liberals.  The ‘gospel’ is about a personal relationship with God and doesn’t have to do with that so-called social justice.”  Unsatisfied with his pastor’s response, Angel walked away from church and declared himself a Marxist.

As reflected in this critical race counterstory, Latina/o millennials who care about faith and justice occupy a “Christian-Activist Borderlands.”   In many institutional religious spaces they feel out of place because their concern for social justice issues is not understood and rejected as “political” and unspiritual.   On the other hand, in the world of Chicana/o Studies and social activism, their faith is usually discouraged or criticized as well.  They are told, “You can’t be a Christian and care about issues of racial and gender justice.  It’s the white man’s religion and it’s a tool of colonization.  It’s racist, classist, and sexist.”  As a result of such hostility, many Latinos keep silent about their faith in activist circles for fear of persecution or ostracization.   Others, like Angel, lose their faith after some struggles.  Some cling tenuously to a personal relationship with God but abandon institutionalized Christianity altogether.  

This negative perspective of Christianity within Chicano/Latino Studies is understandable because it is grounded in centuries of historical and contemporary misrepresentation of the teachings of Jesus.  In a very real sense, the history of Latinos in the Americas is one of systemic racism perpetuated by white individuals claiming to be Christian.  From the Spanish Conquest, to 19th century Manifest Destiny in the United States, to Jim Crow segregation and Operation Wetback, to the present-day evangelical movement that helped elect Donald Trump, many individuals continue to perpetuate the stereotype that Christianity is a racist, classist, and sexist religion. 

This is just half the story, however.  Over the past five centuries, in both Latin America and the United States, Latina/o followers of Jesus have risen up to challenge the most horrific injustices of their day.  They have fought such great evils as the Spanish Conquest and Spanish colonialism, the “sistema de castas,” Manifest Destiny and U.S. settler colonialism in the Southwest, Latin American dictatorships, U.S. imperialism in Central America, the oppression of farmworkers, and the current exploitation and marginalization of undocumented immigrants.  In every instance of racial and social injustice in Latin America and the United States over the centuries,  Latino Christians—both Catholic and Protestant—have arisen to challenge the religious, socio-economic, and political status quo.  Collectively, they may be called the “Brown Church.” 

Next week we'll look at the spiritual praxis of César Chávez as a stirring example of the Brown Church.

Robert Chao Romero


FB:  Jesus for Revolutionaries