Thoughts on Immigration, Vegetarianism, and James Cone

Here is a buffet bar of thoughts from this past weekend:

1. On Immigration
The struggle for Illegal Immigrants right’s will be, as the LA Times wrote yesterday, the Civil Rights Struggle of our generation. There have been staged walkouts and then this past saturday a 500,000 person peaceful protest hit the streets of downtown LA to protest the upcoming “Illegal Immigration Act??? congress is trying to pass.


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(Images borrowed from the LA Times)

I didn’t know about the rally or I would have tried to go, it sounds like it was amazing.  Yesterday our church, Pasadena Mennonite, wrote letters to Diane Feinstein our senator, encouraging her to oppose the Illegal Immigration Control Act (HR 4437) that is being debated this week in the House.  It was great to be a part of a faith community owning this and taking some responsibility in helping our fellow humans.  This is what the whole church needs to be doing, and I certainly hope (and expect) the Quaker community is owning this as a movement to aid in as well.  I hope that for this Civil Rights Movement the church will not be so slow in realizing its responsibility to all those in need.  God is for the oppressed, the marginalized, the outcasts, widows, orphans, the poor and the alien.  His favor falls on their side, and so must the church.  The church is to only be concerned about one citizenship, and that is how they are representing Heaven and God’s Kingdom.  National citizenship means nothing when it comes to helping those in need and living out the kingdom of God.  We cannot, as the church, begin to distinguish ‘us from them’ either in ethnic distinctions or national ones.

If you have enough time to get your friends, family, church or small group involved and write a few letters to your rep I encourage you to do so.  I wrote recently about writing letters and offered a few links for resources on finding your representative etc.  I have also uploaded a copy of the letter we used as a spring board for our own letters at church.  Feel free to download it and use what you would like for ideas, I got permission to use this from one of our pastors Bert Newton.
Immigration Letter

2. Vegetarianism
I finished reading “Peace on Earth: Roots and Practices from Luke’s Gospel??? (Joseph Grassi) this past Friday.  Its a book about the practices of peace that overwhelm the Gospel of Luke.  I was really interested to read his points on vegetarianism as well.  Grassi Approached it from the perspective of Jesus’ care for the treatment of Animals.  Without going into much of his argument (its worth the read and its a short book), he says that Jesus was not a Vegetarian in the first century but today he very well might be one because of how poorly the animals we eat are treated.  For instance many most Chickens live in their own feces, with both alive and dead animals caged in around them.  Most animals we eat also live in extremely confined areas.

I would add that the grain that it takes to feed one cow, feeds upwards of 50 people in hunger stricken countries around the world.  One cow typically feeds only a few Americans.  Grassi argues that for a family to eat meat in the first century would be a huge sacrifice (literally) and would only happen for very special occasions.  Finally, the meat that was eaten was the flesh of their own beloved animal (like a pet) – consider the fatted calf in the prodigal story.  This being said, the animals that were eaten were “happy??? animals that were taken care of as pets and when they died it was as a sacrifice for some special occasion (like the son returning home).  I am not a vegetarian evangelist, I am not even a full fledged vegetarian, but I do care about the treatment of animals and the more I think about how the animal was treated that I may be eating (if I choose a burger verses a bean and cheese burrito), I find myself not wanting that burger anymore, out of my concern for those animals.  I am moving in the direction of only eating “happy??? animals – those that are cage free, well feed, organic, etc.  And because that is an expensive route to take, cutting down on meat intake is a great way to peacefully protest the treatment of animals.  Care for creation is yet another thing that the church should be more concerned about.

3. James Cone at Fuller
James Cone, father of Black theology, was at Fuller on Friday.  I got to listen to him while I manned the corresponding book-table.  He said one simple thing that will stick with me forever.  When asked by my good friend Jamie Pitts, what he would like to see white American theologians do to help with the issues of race in America he said, “One simple thing, if they are going to do theology, ‘christian theology’ then they must deal with the racial divide in America, in the whole world too, but especially in America.  Theology must be always written with this separation and these issues in mind.??? He is right, race is of primary importance to Christian theology, in so far as it deals with at least these three main things – helping those oppressed by other races, care for God’s whole creation and reconciliation.  If the church isn’t about these things, what good is the church?

4. Door of Hope
Finally, some of us in our small group went to Door of Hope in Pasadena to help out on Saturday and it was a great time and great place to go help. It was great to be in a place that is working with many poor and marginalized people and offering them hope. If anyone in the Pasadena area is looking for a place to serve talk to Jim, the director there, he is a really nice guy and their ministry is fabulous.  They help homeless women with children and husband and wives with children.

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

14 thoughts on “Thoughts on Immigration, Vegetarianism, and James Cone”

  1. Immigration and immigration reform is without a doubt a serious problem in this country. It is hard to bring this issue out of the “gray” and into a place where we can cleary designate “black and white.” On one hand you have the virtuous spirit of those pursuing freedom at all costs and on the other you have the unfortunate reality of overcrowding, abuse of cheap labor, violence, and attempt to recieve the same treatment as those who have citizenship in this country. From a christian perspective, we must certainly feel the “pull” to help the helpless and promote their pursuit of a better life that is full of opportunity and freedom. However, we cannot be blind to the unfortunate realities of the immigration problem. Certainly the idea of a militarized border is uncomfortable, largely because wholesale slaughter will not prevent the overload of illegal immigrants (to say nothing that it is a morally reprehensible choice), but it is impossible to welcome every one who desires to reside in this country. America must remain a beacon of opportunity, but it cannot blindly open its borders. The harsh reality of the world is such that we have to be continually vigilant and that will unfortunately force us to choose some over others. America must give the priority to its citizens over those who are not.

    Perhaps I am talking in circles. I’m sure someone will accuse me of that, but it is a serious issue and perhaps we have yet to ask the right questions.

  2. I’d just like to point out that many of the problems of immigration, abuse of cheap labor, violence, etc. are exacerbated by the fact that people are considered illegal and unworthy of protection under the law. Not to mention the ongoing problems that are created by not welcoming immigrants and their children into our educational and health systems on a proactive, preventive care basis.

    I’m not at all sure that the United States could not simply open its borders. I wonder if the first Native Americans to encounter the English and the Spanish thought, there’s not enough room and resources for all these people, see what a mess they make?

    And the Christian perspective, as I understand it, is that there is neither Greek nor Jew in Christ Jesus, we are all brothers and sisters, all children of God.

  3. Wess,

    Thanks for bringing this issue up. IT is very important, and very much an issue that should concern us as a church. I hope to blog on this one of these days given how my family (from Southern Italy) faced similar immigration issues. Many of the same concerns that people raise (Kevin mentions of few of these) were said of immigrants back then, they were “legal” aliens, too!

  4. It is well said that in Christ there is neither Greek, nor jew, etc. However, I think you use the term “children of God” in the wrong context. There is no passage in the Bible that refers to all of mankind as “children of God”. Only believers are referred to as “children of God.”

    I definitely appreciate your comments about this difficult issue. I find it troubling to exclude anyone from the freedom and opportunity that this country provides. As a believer it breaks my heart and I take no pleasure in the tough realities they face on a daily basis. I would much prefer that we could welcome all of the suffering and opressed with open arms. Unfortunately, this reality will never be experienced on this side of grace. Also, we do not live in a theocracy. We live in a sin-drenched environment that unfortunately neccesitates decisions that are not only unsavory, but that at times seem to contradict the very heart of the Gospel that we as believers so desperately pursue. This goes along with the issue of war as well. Because of the evil in the heart of men, violence must sometimes be used to repel the force of oppression. Now I know many do not agree with this and I too do not agree with war as something that is ever virtuous. However, the fallen realities of this world will force us to make choices that are not only difficult but ones that we would never wish to make. We have to be prayerfully active for God to intervene on our behalf that we may be people of justice and peace in a environment that is daily growing to become an even greater enemy of the cross.

  5. This is a issue that is certainly worth more of a conversation in Christian circles. I’m struggling to find my own view on the matter. On the one hand, I of course agree it is right and good to treat all people with respect, with honor, with care. That is why, among many other reasons, I think there are good things to be said in such rallies.

    However, I struggle with another issue. Global ethics, it seems, has missed a key point. It’s not all about America. America is not the only moral agent in this world, and American policies do not exist in a vacuum.

    I consider the Irish immigration a century and more ago. And you know what. England was the villain in that. They forced policies on Ireland which caused the underclass there to starve, and have to flee, and leave their homes.

    The villain in all of this, that I never here called out, is Mexico. How is it that so many people are so desperate in this supposedly Christian country that they will risk everything, break the law, so that they can live and work in America to feed their families. That is the criminal, unethical, and I dare say evil quality in this.

    Cardinal Mahoney will speak against American policies, but it is a predominantly Catholic country with a starving underclass that has law breaking as their seeming official policy of social welfare.

    These are people who walk by churches in Mexico to come here. Do they want to leave home? Do they want to risk this much? Why should they have to? Why should Christians on both sides of the border not call out those who have responsibilities south of the border to reform their country so that people can stay where they are born, where they indeed would rather stay if only they could feed and clothe their families.

    This is, in my estimation, not the next Civil Rights issue, it’s much more like the child labor issues, or union issues, where a whole class of people are being forced to work for low wages, and in harsh conditions because governments and businesses find it much more economical to keep it this way. It is Mexico that has to find it’s Christian heart, for its own people, for the people who should and do love the country of their birth.

    I am more than happy to have people come here who want to come here. But to have a whole issue like this come up because people are being strangled by their own government is shameful, and it’s a bit shameful in my estimation to only blame those who understand this much immigration does indeed cause problems all throughout society.

    Heal Mexico. Heal Latin and South America. Let the Church that has been there for five hundred years be the real Church for its people. Why does America alone have to be Christian?

  6. Immigration, I think, must be put in context. We want to help the poor and the marginalized, but if possible in a way that doesn’t hurt the poor in this country either. My concern about immigration is simply that the system, as set up, seems to help those who enter, but above all those in the economic elite, at the expense of the poor and working class in this country. The classic example is the claim that immigrants do jobs “that Americans don’t want”–it would probably be more accurate to say that immigrants do jobs “that Americans don’t want at the pay that is offered.” Reseach has apparently found that immigration does drive down wages (see a paper by two Harvard economists: http://www.aeaweb.org/annual_mtg_papers/2006/0108_1015_0302.pdf) at least to a degree. The challenge, then, is to construct a system which recognizes our obligation to the poor abroad but also doesn’t hurt the poor in this country. In other words, immigration reform needs to be matched with economic reform to address income inequality in the US. To do the former without the latter will, I think, only further a system which allows the wealthy to exploit the poor.

  7. I had a friend from Australia who got kicked out of the country because he violated his VISA status and worked under the table at a guitar store. When he tried to come back again and he got turned around at the border, we didn’t protest – we laughed at him for being such a moron. Even his girlfriend thought he was an ass for trying to pull that stunt (he didn’t tell her he was coming back).

    Last year I lost one of my favorite interns at the church because he needed to go back to Hong Kong to get his VISA renewed correctly. I was disappointed to see him go, but both he and I realised that he needed to go back for him to feel like he was living right.

    I have no problem with people being deported for breaking immigration law – even if they’re my friends.

  8. To touch on another subject you brought up, have you read the piece called The Chief End of All Flesh by Stanley Hauerwas and John Berkman? I thought it was interesting, though it didn’t convert me to complete vegetarianism (I’m a demi-vegetarian — I eat fish).

  9. My compassion is for US citizens under the age of 18 who’s parents have illegal immigration status. A failed economic system, convuluted immigration laws/enforcement/systems, country of origin poverty, and a culture that no longer has the social capital to develop good solutions, has created this issue. For instance, you can’t solve immigration issues without tackling agricultural issues. You can’t improve agricultural systems without working on trade issues. My prayer is that the final law includes a flexible visa system that is enforced, a sensible amnesty, and the continued appraisal of economic policy that promotes increased growth in the total percentage of livable wages. What I find most offensive is the possiblity that the Church workers would face legal proccedings for aiding illegal immigrant human rights due to failed government policy and an imperfect economic system.

  10. Wess, here’s another point from Cone’s lecture that stuck with me. He spoke about how blacks learned to hate themselves for not being white, for not matching the social norm, and made the connection to violent activity. I believe he addresses the subject in more detail in God of the Oppressed, but in brief, we learn to hate a part of ourselves, and then lash out against that element when we see it in others around us. Hence black-on-black violence at an epidemic level, which indirectly feeds the system of whiteness even more. Particularly in this case, it contributes to systemic injustice, and the numbers from the prison system would back him up.

    This isn’t the primary manifestation of self-hatred that I see first and foremost, since my eyes tend not to focus on those markedly different from me. But i see the same thing going on in the ‘white community,’ with the whole body-image culture that has developed. Women in particular learn that a certain (unrealistic) standard imaged in pop icons is the norm, and devote enormous resources to pursuing this standard of beauty. Violence here isn’t towards other persons, but is inflicted upon oneself. A person hates herself for not being, say, Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson, and attempts to cover or change those parts of her body that are most closely linked to the insecurities: eating disorders, plastic surgery, the list goes on.

    I was having a cup of coffee earlier in the day with a friend who was a youth pastor in South Korea prior to emigrating, and asked him about his situation, if there was any correlate in his culture. The examples he gave of beauty were drawn from nature, and the standards were roses and tulips. How far removed from that are we, and where do we get our standards of beauty?

    That’s the additional application of Cone’s work that I saw, which could be a huge help (in an area that i tend to look at and say ‘where in the world do we start?’). Think it’s a legitimate link?

  11. Wes, I just found your blog, wow: first, dylan thomas is my fav white poet; second, getting at immig., vege., and cone in one post is amazing; third, have you read Dominion? Its a good read- you know i’m vegan; fourth, so mad i missed the cone lecture- heard he was great notes aside!; last, i will be checking in here- just getting my blog going, i’d love to see you there!

    b blessed
    russ

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