Millions of Lives Remain Suspended in Mid-Air as the Christian Community Remains on the Sidelines
Movies are a welcome escape for me. When the lights come down and the big screen lights up in front of me, I am transported to an artificial place that provides a respite from the reality of it all. Have you ever noticed the one thing that is certain from one movie to the next? No matter where the movie has taken you, when they turn on the lights, everybody’s still in the same seat they were in when the lights went off. This state of suspended animation keeps us in our places and keeps us quiet. It’s unreal!
For the Eduardo and Lola Lopez family, as well as millions of other undocumented Hispanics residing in the U.S., their position in our society remains in a state of Hispanimation: Each night Eduardo dutifully turns out the lights after tucking in his family of six daughters and one son for the night. As he lies down next to Lola, Eduardo drifts off to sleep and dreams of the day when this country will awaken to our responsibility to bestow the dignity, liberty and equality his family has earned by residing in Santa Ana, CA over the past twelve years. As the morning dawns, Eduardo’s dreams are interrupted again. He rises from his bed to see four daughters sleeping in one bunk bed, while two daughters and his son share the other. Lola rolls onto her side on the mattress they share on the floor. Eduardo closes his eyes for a moment to wipe away the tears with the back of his right hand. Nothing’s changed. Everybody is in the same position they were in when the lights went off. It’s real!
The mainstream Christian witness in the U.S. has become vastly too comfortable sitting in their seats, watching the social policy debates rage across our television screens, newspapers and radios. As a group, the U.S. Christian community has delegated their voice to pulpits, special interest groups and media outlets who supposedly represent our interests. We have succumbed to a state of Christianimation: We have become comfortable as armchair spectators in U.S. public policy debates rather than the passionate activists on behalf of the oppressed, impoverished and marginalized in our world, as fully-devoted servants of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Although many social justice issues may garner our intellectual and heartfelt interest, we remain seated, watching the entertainment roll by. We are in a state of Christianimation.
On December 1, 1955 an African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to stand, give up her seat and move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested and jailed. However, “God comes into the picture even when the church won’t take a stand.”[i] This one act by a marginalized woman provided the catalyst for the Christian community in Montgomery to rise from the seat of tolerating the intolerable, to following a vision only our God could design.
God has a vision for the mainstream Christian community in the U.S. One author characterizes it as follows: “Let me be very clear about God’s vision: It is probably not what you expect. It typically is counterintuitive because God refuses to be limited be his creation. It is not based on human consensus; his vision will stir intense emotion and debate, causing some people to seek other places through which they can serve him more comfortably while energizing others. His vision comes at a high cost because it demands significant personal change, fulfilled only with great effort, produces results in the long term, and necessitates teams of people working together rather than individuals doing their thing in isolation. And his vision is not based on incremental improvement of other’s ideas; his organizing concept for you is fresh and customized to your situation. Humankind cannot fathom the depths of God; neither can his vision be minimized by our limitations.”[ii]
A New Vocabulary
Rosa Parks injected a new word into the vocabulary of the embryonic stage of the U.S. civil rights movement: “No, I won’t. I’m taking a stand.” Needless to say, the public policy pundits become quite animated over the issue of illegal immigration. The “revision” of U.S. immigration policy by the present administration has effectively kept everybody in the same seat. I am convinced that politicians use terms that most people cannot understand for the purposes of: a) pretending to understand things they really don’t have a clue about b) if we can’t spell a word they’re using to describe a situation, we are going to believe they know better than we do, in terms of what the heck is going on. Politicians are empowered by this. Joe and Sally Christian become bystanders. c) This creates a scenario whereby most Christians become unwittingly excluded from the dialogue altogether, thereby elevating the possibility that we will leave it up to public policy professionals to figure it out for us.
My point is our focus on doing the right thing is obfuscated by the vocabulary that populates U.S. public policy debates regarding immigration, and other social policy issues. Consider a few of the following terms presently in use; “geopolitical tilt, national security considerations, political capital, constituency, multi-national economic integration, systematic policy integration considerations, socio-economic equanimity analysis, supply-side labor dynamics, equanimity, international cooperation, multi-national strategic geo-political encumbrances and, of course, a coalition of the willing.” Do you really know what these terms mean? If so, in regard to the implications for resolving the present deficiencies in U.S. immigration policy, can you tell me how we can balance our national security concerns with the geo-political economic instability we might create for the Mexican government? Of course you can’t! Guess what? Nobody can. This debate just keeps going round and round and everybody stays in the same seat. It’s all part of Christianimation: the dialogue is entertaining and maintains your position as an uninvolved bystander; a spectator…just like at the movies.
The problem with all this is that Eduardo, Lola and their family are not characters in a movie. They can’t afford to go to a movie. We need a new vocabulary to inject into this debate that the everyday Christian can understand. Can you spell Eduardo? Can you pronounce Lola? Can you imagine waking up every morning as determined, heartbroken and hopeful that somehow, someway you can earn enough money today to feed your family tonight? Now imagine that you cannot talk about your plight for fear of being detained and deported back to a country that your children cannot even remember departing? You see, what we are talking about here are human beings, children of God, whose present status and future as legitimate, honorable citizens of this nation remains suspended in mid air.
It’s time to remove our heads from the cloud cover provided by the useless vocabulary of the public policy pundits. We need to develop and inject some meaningful language that captures the essence of the issues and allows you to identify who’s who in the debate. You can become a Christian who has regained his/her Spirit filled passion to act and advocate on behalf of the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized in this society, and our world. You can become a Christian who enters ‘recovery’ from the disease of Christianimation. Stay with me. I’m about to turn the lights on. Let me spell it out for you.
From a purely historical standpoint, the plight of undocumented Hispanic immigrants residing in the U.S. can be accurately characterized with the term Hispurgatory: A moment in U.S. history when approximately 5% of the U.S. population is caught in a state of legal limbo. Their standard of living is typically well below the official poverty level. Their daily existence is one of endurance and survival. They are motivated by the hope that their service to this country as upstanding, creative, contributing, law abiding residents will be rewarded someday by legitimate, official acceptance by the government of the Promised Land. The country they departed was, at least, economically oppressive. If the prospects for a better life for their families in their country of origin was without hope, then, that is hell. They were led by hope to our borders. We left the gates open and unlocked. Hope led them here. Hope keeps them here. They hope that we will awaken from our self-righteous indignation and accept them formally into this Promised Land. Until then, they remain among us in Hispurgatory.
For Eduardo and Lola, their city, Santa Ana, CA has just been ranked the #1 Toughest City in the U.S. to make ends meet.[iii] They can’t afford to move. If they did, or miss their rent payment, there are people lined up to inhabit the squalor they call home. They remain in the same seat.
However, undocumented Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. cannot raise their voices for fear of arrest and deportation. Who shall speak up for them? As one author points out: “There is no theme more deep in American consciousness than that of the transplanted person who comes to participate in the American experiment and who succeeds in the land of the free.”[iv]
The New Testament has some advice for those suffering from Christianimation. In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus has ascended into heaven. His disciples stood motionless. “10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11″Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?”[v]
This advice is as pertinent for His disciples today as it was when it was spoken: “Stop gawking at the sky and get on with what I have asked you to do.” We must change our posture.
Advocating and serving the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized in our society and our world is the overlooked opportunity for mainstream Christianity in the U.S. to rise from the lethargy of Christianimation. We must repent and renew our dedication to move outward from ourselves as the only vessels available to carry the love of Christ to a lost world. As one author says: “Obviously, we cannot be a demonstration to the past; and it can be only partially through our writings and our works that we leave a demonstration to the future, though there should be an accumulative demonstration, rolling up like a snowball through the centuries. But, primarily, every Christian is to be a demonstration at his own point of history and to his own generation.”[vi]
We were made to be accountable to our Creator. He’s asking; “How’s it goin? How ya doin? How’s everybody? What’s goin on? Wassup?” He’s not interested in responses that are full of superficial, impersonal niceties like; “Uh, we dunno, awful, fine I guess, Uh Oh, mediocre, okay, wonderful, awesome and fantastic?” Our God is interested in results. Consider the following from C.S. Lewis:
“Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in ‘religion’ mean nothing unless they make our actual behaviour better; just as in illness, ‘feeling better’ is not much good if the thermometer shows that your temperature is still going up. In that sense the outer world is quite right to judge Christianity by its results. Christ told us to judge by results…Our careless lives set the outer world talking; and we give them grounds for talking in a way that throws doubt on the truth of Christianity.”[vii]
How do you behave when you know somebody is monitoring your progress by virtue of the results you produce? You cannot graduate from high school or college without accumulating satisfactory grades and credits. You cannot have standings or winners and losers in sport unless somebody keeps score! Christians in the U.S. have wandered from the biblical truth that our results matter and, as Francis Schaeffer says, our Christian behavior is under constant scrutiny:
“It is the idea of the theater; we are on a stage being observed. He (Apostle Paul) says here that the supernatural universe is not far off, and that while the real battle is in the heavenlies, our part is not unimportant at all, because it is being observed by the unseen world. It is like a one-way mirror. We are under observation.” [viii]
In my community, a mega-church has an outreach ministry in a poverty ravaged, gang infested, predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. This church has a reported weekend attendance of around 10,000. On Tuesday’s, Hispanic children between the ages 8 and 12 begin placing their coats on the sidewalk in the “pick-up” area of their neighborhood around 3:00PM in the afternoon. They are reserving their place in line to be placed with a volunteer driver who arrives at 6:00PM to take them to a weekly Kid’s Club activity. On most days, there are more kids walking home with their coats at 6:20PM than there are in the cars with volunteer Christian drivers.
In speaking with one of the volunteer drivers, tears trickle from beneath his sunglasses as he asks: “Don’t they know Jesus is weeping about this? Where is everybody? What are those kids thinking as they grab their coats, hang their heads and return home? Are we really doing something constructive for Christ here or are we shooting Him in the heart? Don’t our people understand that He is watching all this?”
As stated in the quote in the first paragraph of this section, how can the Christian community in American society today respond to the statement that our progress can be characterized as an accumulative demonstration, rolling up like a snowball through the centuries? As individual disciples of Christ, have we lost sight of the importance of the biblical truth that “faith without works is dead?” Have we succumbed to the illusion that the grace, mercy, forgiveness and the love of Christ that provides us with a free pass to eternity in heaven is all that really matters? KABOOM!
This article is designed to provide you with the essential KABOOM! required to turn your attention to the voice of Jesus whispering: “You matter. Your life matters. I have more in store for you as My disciple than you have been led to believe. Follow Me. Allow Me to reveal dimensions of Myself to you that will reinvigorate your thirst for Me, transform you and the world around you. I am the God of More, much More. I need you to serve Me in ways I can teach you, if you’re willing. Come to Me my child. Join Me to personally and more deeply participate in the progress of My kingdom. The harvest is plenty but the workers are few. It is time to awaken and rediscover your willingness to rekindle your love for Me. Together we can participate in the joyous triumph of creating an accumulative demonstration, rolling up like a snowball through the centuries.”
Eduardo is forty eight-years old. After sundown, you can find him scavenging dumpsters behind his apartment looking for cans, bottles and cardboard that he can take to a local recycler. He had a stroke last year brought on by untreated diabetes that raged out of control. He has numbness on his left side preventing him from the ordinary course mobility and stamina most of us take for granted. He cannot afford ongoing medical care. It’s not unusual for him to be without insulin at certain times of the month. He goes without insulin so his family can eat. KABOOM! There are likely hundreds of families like the Lopez family within any urban community who would truly appreciate a helping hand.
For Eduardo and Lola Lopez, the immigration policy paradox has implications within their own family. Three of their daughters were whisked across the border with them twelve years ago. Since that time, they added three sisters, born in the U.S.. Thus, you have three sisters that are legally considered Chillegals (children of undocumented, illegal immigrants) and three are U.S. citizens. All six children come from the same two parents, yet their legal status and prospects for contributing to mainstream American society are distinctly different. Their oldest daughter recently graduated from high school in the top 3% of her class. By virtue of her Chillegal status, she cannot get a legitimate job to help pay her way through college, cannot participate in paid internship programs in her field of study, is unable to join her classmates traveling by air to conferences, cannot get a drivers license to get to campus, and does not qualify for any sort of student loans. Imagine your six children walking to school together. Three of them are carefree. The other three keep looking over their shoulders wondering if Immigration and Naturalization Service field agents are in the neighborhood. KABOOM! This is not the level playing field described in Scripture. It is an opportunity for the Christian community to become actively involved in ridding this society of biblically proscribed oppression.
As stated in Scripture: Zechariah 7: 8And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: 9″This is what the LORD Almighty says: `Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’ 11
As it relates to U.S. immigration policy, on one side of the debate are the proponents of intimmigration. Their arguments are filled with themes of legality, protectionism, blaming the individual, fear, misplaced patriotic fervor, self-righteousness, economic considerations and national security concerns. The following are some terms that characterize the essence of their position and will assist you in identifying who they are by what they say. They are typically the loudest voices, yet are careful to veil their arguments behind more moderate intonation in the mainstream media. These are the voices and viewpoints that you hear most often, if you listen for them. As you read the following, try to identify the voice of Jesus as He speaks about the alien, the poor and needy, and the oppressed in the New Testament. If you’re like me, I don’t believe you will be able to recognize His voice.
Latillegals – “These people are criminals by virtue of their unauthorized border crossing. It’s illegal. The entire immigration policy debate begins and ends with this one fact. Period!”
Hispanicriminals – “These illegals are robbing us blind! Most are disproportionately represented in gangs, drugs and alcohol abuse. They even drive illegally without any insurance coverage. We must do everything in our power to protect ourselves from these people.”
Latimmorals – “Entering this country illegally is immoral. These people are going to infect American society with the influences that contribute to the ongoing moral decay of this nation.”
Hispanationalsecurity – “The potential for terrorists to be among their lot is an absolute certainty. It’s just a matter of time before they attack us. I’m scared to death of these people.”
Latinomas – “Round em up and send em back where they came from! Every last one of em. You know, the internment camps during World War II did provide the country with a sense of comfort by virtue of the fact that we had our arms around the situation.”
Hispaniconomic – “They’re taking our jobs, overwhelming the jails, prisons, healthcare, affordable housing and social welfare institutions that our tax dollars are supporting. This is an outrage! No wonder this country’s economic recovery is retarded.”
Latinomo – “Build the damn wall! From the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the only way we’re gonna stop the ongoing incursion by these insurgents!”
Hispanitsyourowndamnfault - “Their lot is what they deserve.”
Latinotonmywatch – “Establish a road to residency for these people? It’s not gonna happen on my watch! There isn’t a politician in the country who’s dumb enough to advocate for this. What’s this world coming to anyhow?”
Hispaniconstituency – “Just imagine if we give these people the right to vote. That will be the day when we can all pack up and move to Canada. All hell’s gonna break loose. Our nation will be overrun with foreigners.”
Latillerates – “These people are stupid and lazy. They’re sure to drag our economy down and further the decline of the U.S. in the world from a competitive standpoint. There has always been an underclass in this country that has served a purpose for the majority. They should just accept their position in our society and be grateful we don’t round em up and send em back where they came from.”
Something must change. If you have read this far in this article, I only hope that you recognize what it is that must change. It is you, it is me, it is us. We must change. Until we recognize the essence of the vocabulary that inhabits the dialogue of the debates on public policy issues in the U.S. that involve the poor and needy, and contrast those voices with the truth revealed in Scripture, we shall remain victims of Christianimation. We cannot hope to contribute our voices and actions to the chorus and efforts that must be heard and seen to have the hopes of the families like the Eduardo and Lola Lopez family realized. U.S. immigration policy won’t change until the Joe and Sally Christians of our nation raise their voices on behalf of the millions of undocumented immigrants residing in our country whose lives remain suspended in a state of Hispanimation. We have the keys to release the oppressed from Hispurgatory. Yet, we must rise from the posture of complacency to free God’s children from their cells.
We need a new posture within the Christian community in the U.S. Our future depends upon it, as one author says: “The future depends on God and on His people who will hear Him, believe Him, and obey Him.”[ix]
The purpose of this article is to expose the disease of Christianimation that has infected the Christian community in the U.S. Our advocacy on behalf of, and service to, the poor and needy within our respective communities represents the litmus test for our obedience to the cause of Christ. It is an important ingredient in our inoculation for this disease.
Furthermore, I have attempted to clarify the voices that populate the dialogue of the U.S. immigration policy debate. Do these voices sound like the voice of Jesus Christ? I think not. We are the one’s who are responsible for ridding this country of what one author has characterized as “man’s inhumanity to man.”[x] It is up to us to expunge the contradiction that Christianimation in the U.S. shouts to the world, and solidify the reputation of our faith and our country as “the land of the free, the home of the brave, with liberty and justice for all.
I conclude with the words of former President Theodore Roosevelt:
“Until we put honor and duty first, and are willing to risk something in order to achieve righteousness both for ourselves and for others, we shall accomplish nothing; and we shall earn and deserve the contempt of the strong nations of mankind.”[xi]
The Eduardo and Lola Lopez family are deeply grateful to you. Speak up. Get involved. They can’t. Become a Christian who is ‘in recovery’ from Christianimation.
KABOOM! He’s counting on you. The Good News is that the Christian life is not about just changing, but changing for the better. Progress begins with Him and includes you.
Isn’t it about time you re-dedicated your life to this truth?
Branch, Taylor Parting The Waters – America in the King Years 1954-1963
(c) 1988 by Taylor Branch, A Touchstone Book published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. p. 215.
[ii] Barna, George A Fish Out of Water © 2002,Integrity Publishers Brentwood, TN p.77
[iii] Montiel, Lisa – Nathan, Richard – Wright, David An Update on Urban Hardship, August 2004 (c) 2004 by The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, State University of New York p. 4 www.rockinst.org
[iv] Wells, Ronald A. History Through the Eyes of Faith © 1989 Harper San Francisco – Christian College Coalition p.184
[v] Acts 1:10 – Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Bible NIV. Copyright (c) 1994, 1995, 1996 SoftKey Multimedia Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[vi] Schaeffer, Francis True Spirituality Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL © 1971 p. 64
[vii] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco – A Division of HarperCollinsPublishers, (c) 1952, pp. 207-208.
[viii] Schaeffer, Francis True Spirituality Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL © 1971 p. 60
[ix] Blackaby, Henry What The Spirit is Saying to the Churches, Copyright (c) 2002 by Multnomah Publishers 2002 Sisters, Or. P. 29
[x] Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, InterVarsity Press Copyright (c) 1968 p. 136
[xi] Allies to Punish Turks Who Murder, New York Times, May 24 1915, p. 1