TIME faith

Multi-Ethnic Churches Lament America’s Racial Injustice

Ferguson church rally
Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a rally for justice for Michael Brown at Greater Grace Church in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 17, 2014. Christian Gooden—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT/Sipa

The American church must do better in providing spiritual leadership toward a healing response.

Throughout this past week the attention of our nation has been rightly set on Ferguson, Missouri. Tragedy and tensions in this small town have served to highlight troubling trends elsewhere, too, in the United States, in what remains for us a very long and sad history of racial tension and strife. As followers of Jesus and evangelical pastors of multi-ethnic and economically diverse churches we lament and mourn the death of yet another unarmed citizen, in this case the death a young black man. Furthermore, we lament the fact that our country, and our world, remains deeply plagued by racial and systemic injustice.

At its core the scourge of racism presents a spiritual crisis with real life and death repercussions. And while government and educational programs, together with the efforts of countless individuals, groups and agencies, have long-sought to eliminate prejudice and the disparaging consequences of systemic racism still deeply embedded within our society, it is long-past time to recognize that systemic racism cannot be overcome apart from the establishment of local churches which intentionally and joyfully reflect the love of God for all people beyond the distinctions of this world that so often and otherwise divide. For not only does God require of governments and institutions the work of justice, we, too, the local church, the bride of Christ, have been ordained by God to this task. With this in mind, the American Church can and must do better in providing spiritual leadership toward a healing response. Indeed, we call immediately for it to do so.

As pastors representing diverse men and women who walk, work, and worship together as one, we today repent on behalf of the American Church for in no small measure contributing to the perpetuation of racism in society due to acceptance of systemic segregation within our own ranks. The fact that 86.3% of local churches throughout this country fail to have at least 20% diversity in their attending membership is one reason the American Church has been rendered impotent in attempting to speak on what is, perhaps, the most critical issue of our time: lingering, systemic, racial injustice in a supposedly post-racial society. More than this we believe the credibility of our message, the very Gospel, itself, is at stake, otherwise undermined when proclaimed from segregated pulpits and pews in an increasingly diverse and cynical society. It is for this reason that we lift our collective heart and voice to point the way forward, together. For when tensions, conflicts, and perennial misunderstandings along the lines of race and class persist silence is no longer an option.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is so extraordinary that it should inform and transform every aspect of daily life. Stated another way, we talk to and in our churches about race and racism because we believe in our message; the Gospel, itself. Through our daily experience in leading Gospel-centered, multi-ethnic, and economically diverse communities of faith, around the country, we have seen first-hand the hope of reconciliation, justice, and peace play out in our communities. Here and now we want to spread the message of our hope beyond the walls of our own churches so that it might soon transform the American Church, and society, as well, for the greater good and glory of God.

Having so labored, collectively, for more than sixty years we are not naive to think that the transformation of an otherwise homogeneous American Church into a multi-ethnic one will be easy. Still, our experience has proven that prayer, patience, and persistence, coupled with intentionality, can bring about significant progress in pursuit of cross-cultural relationships and competence that can bring us to a place of genuine love for others, for our neighbor, for those of varying racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Our call as ministers of reconciliation is to prophetically and pastorally call for Christ-like responses. We believe that this must be filled with two irrefutable elements of the Gospel; grace and truth. We want to encourage every church and pastor, indeed society, as well, to embrace justice, mercy, humility, and begin to move forward, together, regardless of race or class distinctions. Indeed our faith in Jesus unites our hearts towards a grace and truth-filled path.

Here are several ways we have addressed the current pain and tension within our own congregations:

  1. We have not ignored it. We have spoken openly and freely about it with our people.
  2. We have prayed for others: for peace, justice, and yes, forgiveness and truth.
  3. We have listened empathetically to one another and to the stories of others.
  4. We have continued to serve one another and our diverse communities.
  5. We have committed to engage our churches and our communities in a way that transforms, heals, and leads to a more just, humane, and loving life together.

Believing we have been invested with hope and called to lead beyond rhetoric to results for the glory of God, we will continue to respond to the question once raised by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where do we go from here; chaos or community?” We will continue to pursue the dream of building healthy multi-ethnic churches for the sake of the Gospel. We will continue to call upon pastors everywhere to join us on the journey. And we will continue to lament systemic racism in the local church and in society, as well, until one day they do.

Signed:

Dr. Gabriel Salguero, Lead Pastor, The Lamb’s Church, New York, NY

Dr. J. Mark DeYmaz, Lead Pastor, Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, Little Rock, AR

Rev. Le Que Vu-Heidkamp, Lead Pastor, Mercy Vineyard Church, Minneapolis, MN

Rev. Jeanette Salguero, Lead Pastor, The Lamb’s Church, New York, NY

Rev. Bryan Loritts, Lead Pastor, Fellowship Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee

Dr. David Anderson, Lead Pastor, Bridgeway Community Church Columbia, MD

Rev. Eugene Cho, Lead Pastor, Quest Church, Seattle, WA

TIME Religion

Faith Leaders on Kids at the Border: Give Us the Children

Immigration Overload Numbers
Central American migrants ride a freight train during their journey toward the U.S.-Mexico border in Ixtepec, Mexico on July 12, 2014. Eduardo Verdugo—AP

Dear government and faith leaders: What if we adopted Mother Teresa’s compassionate response to the unaccompanied minors at the U.S. border?

Mother Teresa inspired millions at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., when she told attendees how she responded to mothers with unwanted pregnancies. “We have sent word to the clinics, to the hospitals and police stations: “Please don’t destroy the child; we will take the child.”

Mother Teresa’s eyes barely peeked above the podium, but she spoke with powerful resolve and appealing love. “Please give me the child,” she asked.

Today, there are thousands of children who are unable to be cared for by their communities or their governments. They are showing up like refugees at the southwest border of the U.S., often risking their lives on what is called the “el tren de la muerte” (the train of death), as they travel north through Mexico.

As the leaders of two Christian organizations doing relief and development work in the U.S. and Central America, we are asking government and faith leaders: Instead of seeing these children as a political crisis or legal dilemmas, what if we adopted Mother Teresa’s compassionate response? Give us the children.

Right now a boy named Chava (a pseudonym) is riding el tren de la muerte after fleeing El Salvador, where he lived until four weeks ago.

It’s amazing that Chava didn’t leave years ago. For the last four years he has been moving from city to city in El Salvador running from the gangs. It started when Chava refused to join one. “They tried shooting me several times. I just ran and saved my life, but I was forced to leave my hometown and moved to a different community.”

Chava thought he was safe because the gang he fled wasn’t active in the new community, but instead a different gang tried to recruit him. “They kill for a living, that’s what they do,” he said. “They do not respect anybody and try to enroll everyone, especially youth.”

Instead of attending high school the last four years, Chava has been running for his life. He only has a middle school education. He has few employment options and hasn’t been able to settle down in a community before the gangs catch up with him. “Many youth are in the same situation, we all have to move from one community to another to be safe and not get killed.”

Now that Chava has left El Salvador, returning home is even more dangerous. “If I go back, the gangs will kill me.” With two brothers already living in the U.S., Chava wants to join them.

Chava’s story illustrates why a comprehensive response is essential. Unaccompanied children arriving at our border must be treated fairly and humanely, but we must also address the root causes of the crisis—the conditions marked by violence and lack of economic opportunities in the children’s home communities in Central America.

These children are not merely seeking better jobs but are fleeing an intolerable situation. With this understanding, we are calling on the presidents of the U.S., Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador to work closely together to strengthen child protection systems and reduce violence in migrants’ home countries as well as to ensure the humane treatment of children arriving in the U.S.

We believe that our governments together with our relief agencies can find ways to address comprehensively the issues of widespread gang-violence, extreme poverty, corruption, and other root causes of the massive immigration of children and young families.

We also call on our own Christian communities to do more to respond to the humanitarian crisis that is taking place all the way from the U.S. border to Central America. Already churches are taking in children in the U.S., ministering to migrants en route, and tackling the long-term causes of violence, poverty, human-trafficking, and corruption that are at the root of the crisis.

We know that faith-based organizations have a unique role to play in resolving this situation. In Honduras, youth leaders are rising up through a Bible-based curriculum called Channels of Hope that teaches young people about healthy life choices, how to handle sexual pressure and avoid pregnancy, self-esteem, and communication. This World Vision-backed program is turning into an alternative social support structure for youth who refuse to join the gangs. “We gathered weekly, and God was the center of everything,” said Ernesto, one of the leaders.

The network of youth groups have grown to include eight neighboring communities, and despite conflict with the gangs, they launched a summer camp. In an area where shootings are a daily occurrence, this group of nine youth networks is raising up future community leaders who are seeking to build a healthy neighborhoods. “God has a purpose for everything and we trust that Channels of Hope is leaving a big mark in the transformation of our lives. New children and youth with the desire to change the community have entered the network as I did at the beginning,” says Ernesto.

In addition, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) is partnering with its congregations in the United States to provide shelter and care for children fleeing violence into the United States. NaLEC has also partnered with Esperanza and the Alianza Evangélica Latina to ensure we bolster church-sponsored sustainable programs for children and families in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Unfortunately, much more is needed across Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to provide children with hope for the future within safe communities. We need compassionate leaders who, like Mother Teresa, have the courage to lead this great nation to say, “Please, give me the child.”

Richard Stearns is president of World Vision U.S. Gabriel Salguero is president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition

TIME politics

Evangelicals Must Take the Reins on Immigration Reform

Immigrants And Activists Protest Obama Response To Child Immigration Crisis
Young children join immigration reform protesters while marching in front of the White House July 7, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

The church cannot be silent as angry groups of people stoking the flames of fear yell at buses filled with helpless immigrant children and women.

Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez is dead. Immigration reform is dead. These headlines are a tragic consequence of two parts of the world still incapable of finding a way to address comprehensively the issues of gang violence, extreme poverty, corruption and other root causes of immigration. This narrative repeats itself thousands of times all over the world. We can and must do better. All of us must be part of the solution.

Gilberto was an 11-year-old Guatemalan boy who died near the Southwest border of the United States, most likely in a desperate search for water. I am a father of two young boys. I wept. Jesus weeps. The church, nation and world mourn. As an evangelical pastor, I must speak of all the grief and loss associated with death just as surely as I hold to the hope of resurrection. We must find a way forward that saves as many Gilbertos as we can.

In meetings with President Obama, members of Congress, and immigrant voices last week, one thing was abundantly clear: this is a crisis. Everyone agrees that something must be done. The question remains: How do we move from political ping-pong with children’s lives to real regional and global solutions?

I told my congregation last Sunday, “Fear cannot be our basis for action. Fear is never the humane way forward.” If we are to move forward, we must work together in hope. Hope requires sacrifice and courage. This hour in American history will tell how strongly the evangelical church in America holds to these virtues. Will evangelicals step forward and asked for increased resources for security, education and sustainable development in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua? Will we refuse to allow people to blame children for the broken immigration systems? The church cannot be silent as angry groups of people stoking the flames of fear yell at buses filled with helpless immigrant children and women. Intelligent and well-meaning people can disagree on the best way forward to this humanitarian and immigration crisis. All will agree that screaming at children caught in an inescapable web of international relations, corruption, human traffickers and stagnation on immigration reform isn’t the way forward.

There are no easy answers. Everyone has to put his or her best foot forward. Governments in Latin America must be held accountable for the security and safety of its most vulnerable citizens, particularly children. “Coyotes” and human traffickers who exploit the vulnerabilities of millions must be brought to justice. Any corruption that risks the lives of these children must be decried and eliminated. Governments, non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations and congregations must increase our efforts to serve our brothers and sisters around the globe.

We in the United States must also remember that our commitments and foreign policy in Latin American aid, security, environment and development have a direct impact on whether Gilberto and those like him remain safely at home or dies in the desert. In addition, we must, for the sake of our shared humanity, act on immigration reform. Legislative inaction has too high a cost. And when they come to our shores seeking refuge from the tempest-tossed realities of violence and poverty, we cannot allow screaming crowds to be the voice of who we are as a people. For when we as a nation query Jesus, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or needing clothes, or sick, or in prison and did not help you?” Jesus will reply, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” What we do for Gilberto, we do for Jesus.

Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero is the President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and Pastor of The Lamb’s Church in New York.

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