2001 Covenant Conference
Morning Worship, November 2, 2001
Accepted and Rejected
Deut. 10:17-20; James 2:1-10
Pastor, Iglesia Presbiteriana de la Mision
In 1993, I came back to California after three years studying at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. At that time here in California there was a propaganda against immigrants and especially against undocumented immigrants. Soon I founded myself involved and learning about immigration issues to defend the rights of immigrants. I noticed and I felt the anti-immigrant sentiment, not only in society but also in the church. A lot of people were driven to vote for the well-known proposition 187. This proposition stipulated schools would not enroll students, even in elementary schools, if they were children of undocumented immigrants. This proposition stipulated that hospitals were not going to give medical attention to undocumented immigrants.
The promoters of proposition 187 used videos showing undocumented immigrants crossing the California freeways, some of them with children in their arms, to confuse the minds of millions of Californians. When I saw that advertisement on TV, I felt moved to compassion for them. I asked questions about the efforts they were making. I wondered how much they paid searching the American dream. I understood why some of them were taking such a risk, I shared their feelings and understood how desperate they were to leave behind families, friends and properties.
But many people didn’t see what I saw. They only saw a whole bunch of “Mexicans” trying to come here and take jobs away from them; they saw a whole bunch of “Illegals” coming to their country to take away their medical services. And their vote was in favor of that evil proposition.
How wrong we can be when we judge people for how they look or for what they are. James tells us that if we say that we have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must not discriminate against those who we believe are different from us. Our faith is vain and empty if it is not the source of love and justice to others.
In our society, we all like to be accepted. People need to know that they are part, that they belong. This is one of the reasons why many people want to become part of a particular group, like the church for example.
In my experience working with immigrants and being an immigrant myself, I found that many of my parishioners come to church because the church is the place where they feel they belong. Church is the place where they are part of a community of believers who are worshiping God in fellowship and love. Church is the place where we are supposed to be accepted. What a beautiful picture. And I say what a beautiful picture because, when we take pictures we usually take our best position, we show our best side.
Churches and denominations, even ours, are trying to show the best side, the best position. But the problem that I see is that when we go deeper trying to understand how in reality the church is dealing with certain groups of people, we find many incomprehensible issues. We question, why the church, the body of Christ, is rejecting a group of Christians? Christians who want to serve God. We have been called to be the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ and for us Presbyterians this means the inclusive church as our Book of Order states.
Many people take the Bible, the Word of God, and use it for their own convenience. The Word of God has been used to manipulate and even to reject people who are different. I pray to God to open our eyes and allow us to see how through history we have been using God’s Word to say that slavery is okay, the Bible approved. Through history we have used the Bible to discriminate and eliminate those who are different. Through history we have used the Bible to tell women that they do not belong in the pulpit. Through history we have told those who behave different than us and who we believe are sinners that they don’t have a place in the kingdom of God. The Bible has been used as a weapon to combat innocent and defenseless people. The Bible has been used to colonize and to take the lands of native people only for the wrong belief that God has given the colonizers the land.
When are we going to stop the use of the Bible to approve our behaviors against others and our actions against the one we believe is different?
The church, the welcoming place has become for many the most unwelcoming space. Yes, we want people to come to our churches, but with our conditions we want people to behave in a different way, the way we want them to behave.
As an immigrant, I felt welcomed when I came to this country, but soon I discovered that racism was there outside of my house. I was afraid for my children, I didn’t want them to go through my own experience. I didn’t want them to be confused and treated as undocumented immigrants even though they were born in this country. I named my son Richard because I didn’t want to give him a Spanish name. I started to see that there were places that I could not go because it would represent a danger for my family and me. I started to know what my sisters and brothers, African Americans and people of color living in this country, have been suffering for many generations.
When I first came to this country I went to a church (not Presbyterian) where they told me that I needed to change and if I didn’t change it was because I was not doing the will of God. When I was trying to be myself I was told that I was wrong. I felt accepted but then I felt rejected. What a relief when I learned that God called me the way I am, that God never intended to change my personality, what I am, because God created me in that way and that way was OK for God. It was then that I realized that God’s love is much greater even than my own feelings and the feelings of those who were around me. Believe me, what a relief I felt when I understood that I was called by God as I was, a sinner. Now I live my life thanking God for what God has done. This is called gratitude.
But what is happening with the church today? Why are we still discussing about race, about gender, about sexuality? What is happening with the church today that we are classifying people, making categories for each of them? When are we going to understand that there are not races but the Human Race? When are we going to understand that before God we are all sinners? When are we going to read the Word of God with different lenses that allow us to see clearly? God is a God “who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the stranger providing them food and clothing.”
I believe that every Christian would agree with me if I said that God is love, of course, the Bible says that. I believe that every Christian would agree with me if I said that the message of the Bible is love. If we really believe God’s Word, why we are still classifying people? This is exactly what James is telling us.
I asked myself the question, who are the rich and who are the poor in our days, according to James? Of course we still have poor people and we need to take care of them. But in some congregations those who “are different” are being treated as the poor in James’ letter. We are telling them, “You stay there”; you cannot serve God in the church. James reminds us to see that God has chosen the “poor” to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that God has promised to those God loves.
I am happy to be here today among all of you who think differently. We are here because we know that there are injustices in the Body of Christ. We are here because somebody is feeling rejected. We are here because there are some people who are being discriminated against by others. We are here because of our faith in Jesus Christ. We are here because we want to fulfill the royal law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the best way to show our gratitude to God for our salvation.
We need to remind those who are walking in the path of hate, in the path of misunderstanding the Word of God, in the path of rejecting others, that they are committing a terrible mistake, they are showing partiality. James says this is a sin and the law convicts whoever do this as transgressors. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fail in one point has become accountable for all of it.”
Yes, society will accept us but also will reject us, the Church is going to accept us but also is going to reject us. Let us work to transform our society, our culture, our church. Amen.