Thursday, July 11, 2019

Praying for Social Change: The Immigration Edition

For those of you distressed about the immigration situation at the southern border of the U.S., this Friday is an important date.

I found myself thinking about what I'd do if I lived in one of these border towns that held a detention center.  I tend to think about those towns as hot and dusty and in the desert.  Then one morning I realized that one of those centers is in Homestead Florida, which is one county away from me.

These past few years have given me many reasons to revisit what I thought I knew about the years leading up to the Holocaust.  As a younger person, I always wondered why German citizens did nothing.  Now I know that they did do things, but a powerful government has efficient ways of crushing opposition.

I am pleased to see resistance movements still going strong in the U.S., but I wish I could do more.  I've thought of driving down to Homestead--but then, to do what?  To stand in silent witness?  I know that this administration might be energized by that witness to do more evil.  I'd like to deliver supplies, but I know those haven't been accepted.

Friday night there will be candlelit vigils across the nation.  Some of those will be at the detention centers, but there will be other options.  Some will be prayer vigils.  Some will be educational.  Some will be rallies.  All will end in candles.

If you go here and scroll down, you'll see all the locations.

If you're in South Florida and you can't get to the Homestead site, let me offer my church in Pembroke Pines, Trinity Lutheran, on Pines Blvd, just to the east of the South campus of Broward College. We're a congregation that embraces radical hospitality--all are welcome. 

I know that many have been wounded by The Church, but not all churches are like the ones that have done harm.  My church has welcomed a huge variety of people, from the man who was transitioning to a woman, to a Muslim woman, to several homeless people, to doctors, to educators--I could go on and on.  We are one of the few ELCA churches with a diverse racial and cultural population that mirrors our community.

The larger question might be:  what is the good of all of this?  Why pray?  Why light candles?

I have several answers to this question.  It's good self-care, for one.  It's hard to be a witness during these times.  It's hard to be an activist.  We need to remind ourselves that we are not alone.

It's important to remind those with power that we have demands that this power be used responsibly, and we are not going away with these demands.

It's good to show the wider world that we do not support the evil that this administration does.  We are not approving these human rights violation.  We need to let later generations know too.

And we pray because we believe in a God that has an expansive vision, but God has given us free will.  If God intervenes, it's because we lament and demand action.  Will God comply?  That's a larger theological question than I have time to answer this morning.

I return to the work of theologian Walter Wink. 

For those of you who would sneer at the idea of resistance working in our evil, evil world, I would say that nonviolent resistance can bring mighty social change.

Walter Wink, writing in 1993, notes, “In 1989 alone, there were thirteen nations that underwent non-violent revolutions. All of them successful except one, China. That year 1.7 billion people were engaged in national non-violent revolutions. That is a third of humanity. If you throw in all of the other non-violent revolutions in all the other nations in this century [the 20th], you get the astonishing figure of 3.34 billion people involved in non-violent revolutions. That is two-thirds of the human race. No one can ever again say that non-violence doesn't work. It has been working like crazy. It is time the Christian churches got involved in this revolution because what is happening in the world is that the world itself is discovering the truth of Jesus' teaching, and here we come in the church, bringing up the rear.” And of course, more lately we can point to a variety of revolutions, in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, some of which have fairly peacefully gotten rid of dictators who had been in power for decades.

Maybe we are not up for the task of resistance, which can be scary and can lead us to unexpected places. At the very least, we can pray. We can pray for those people who are doing the heavy lifting of resistance. We can pray for those who are transforming their societies for good, whether they live in our country or on the other side of the planet. We can pray for the softening of the hearts of the hard ones. We can pray that we have the wisdom to recognize evil when we see it. We can pray that we have the courage to resist evil in whatever forms it comes to us.

Let's all do this on Friday, July 12.

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