Monday, November 22, 2010

My Brother's Keeper: People of Faith Confront Hate Crimes

On November 20, 150 people gathered at Grace United Methodist Church, 125 W 104th Street, New York City, for a hate crimes symposium to confront what it means and what it would look like to commit ourselves to the work of ending hate violence. The symposium, called My Brother's Keeper: People of faith confront hate crimes, was sponsored by the Conference Board of Church and Society, the NYAC Immigration Task Force, the NY chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, Methodists in New Directions, the Conference Commission on Race and Religion and the Conference Committee on the Status and Role of Women. The following are reflections on this event.

My Brother's Keeper by Shannon Sullivan

The symposium was so beautifully woven together with lecture, worship, discussion, and art. We began with worship, opening with a song whose lyrics were "I am not forgotten; God knows my name"--- a powerful reminder of that communion of saints for whom we gathered today to stand up against the violence that makes people "forgotten."

For there are indeed so many who are pushed into forgotten-ness. Dr. J. Terry Todd, Drew professor and member of the keynote panel "How is the Hate Sponsored in Church and Society? How is the Hate Countered?" along with doctoral biblical studies student Rosario Quinones and civil rights lawyer Fred Brewington moderated by Dr. Traci West, spoke about the three periods of anti-immigrant fervor in the USA, weaving political cartoons from the 1880s with pictures from Tea Party rallies to reveal how the same rhetoric gets repeated again and again. And though he began by focusing on immigration, he reminded us that it is not coincidental that the rise of the Klu Klux Klan coincided with the period of anti-immigrant fervor from 1880-1924.

He ended his part of the lecture with the 1972 adoption of what has become known as the United Methodist Church's incompatibility clause: "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." Originally, the Committee on Christian Social Concerns wrote a sentence to declare acceptance of people of all sexual identities, recognizing everyone's sacred worth, but on the floor the language was changed to "incompatible." Fred Brewington said during his part of the panel that the incompatibility clause turns the bible into a weapon. And that, we began to see, is hate speech.

The day really centered around showing us of the intersectionality of anti-immigrant, racially-based, and homophobic hate crimes, as you can see from the keynote panel. The literature also reminded us about those hate crimes against Muslims in the city this year, though it was not covered as much throughout the day. There was a theatrical performance brought to us by the Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja out of Long Island, that spoke to us of the real-life events of the murder of Marcelo Lucero, thus documenting how hate crimes happen. Here, we kept hearing the words so prevalent today in our own anti-immigrant fervor: "It's not about race, it's about rule of law." And we kept seeing the bodies of immigrants broken and bruised alongside these words, proving how empty those words really are.

The blood of those impacted by the hate is, like Abel's, crying out from the ground. We must move, as we prayed at the end of the symposium, to compassion, action, and justice to repent from this sin of fear.

You can Read the full reflection here at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today

Becoming More Fully You by Kristi Soutar

Then it was back to the sanctuary for a performance of "What Killed Marcelo Lucero?", a play written by a Long Islander about this hate crime against a Hispanic immigrant which resulted in the man's death in 2008. It was a very powerful play. I was particularly struck at the end when the cast members walked through the sanctuary with the coffin, which had painted upon it not just the American or Ecuadorian flag but flags from all different nations. I found myself wondering exactly how many immigrants from each of those countries had suffered hate crimes and abuse in our country. It was a very sobering moment.


So here I share with you something that I was pondering during this event. Some background here is that I have already been pondering exactly what is God's nature, who does God accept into the family, and what are the conditions, if any?

I wrote in my journal that day "How do we understand God? Is God this one that has been constructed throughout history? Or is God beyond this understanding and actually open, accepting AS YOU ARE, and God's goal is making you more fully you rather than more fully what the church says you should be? I mean, who decides what it looks like to become "more like God"? Isn't the picture we've been taught one that is in line with a mainline, patriarchal, white understanding of who God is and what God desires?"

I think the part that I want others to take with them and ruminate upon is the part that I want to continue to consider: what if God's goal for us is not for us to become more like this static idea of a "good Christian" but for us to become more fully ourselves? Who constructs the picture of "good Christian"? Do we truly believe that this idea of "good Christian" is constructed by God? I'm not convinced of this. I see a history of the church, especially in America, pushing people to become normalized into the mainstream culture of Christianity. Throughout our history, we see the church telling people how they have to look and act and think in order to be accepted. I'm not sure God cares about these things as much as the church does. What would it look like if we simply sought God and strove to be more fully the people we actually are? What if, instead of seeking to be more like the church wants us to be, we strive to understand who God has created us to be and strive toward that fully realized self? If we can understand God as not only accepting us as we are but also desiring to make us better and more fully functioning versions of ourselves, maybe we can open the church doors a little wider to let in those unlike us. If we can believe that God creates diversity (of thought, appearance, and lifestyle) and wants that diversity to become more fully realized, maybe we can let those who differ from our own idea of God into the family. If we can understand God in this way, perhaps at the very least we can open our ears to hear what someone with whom we disagree thinks.

I have to admit, I rather like this idea of God over the one in which I am expected to conform to a certain set of standards and appearances that may or may not fit the person I actually am. I have trouble with the idea that God created me the way I am simply to make me different. I know some of you will say to me, "The old is gone, the new is come!" (II Corinthians 5:17), and I'm not particularly throwing this verse out. I know many of us feel that we are better now than we were before coming to faith in God. What I'm saying is that sometimes we are told we have to change fundamental parts of the person we are deep inside in order to become real and good Christians. Maybe, in fact, God wants to tune and hone those fundamental parts of ourselves and more fully integrate them into our personhood, making them useful, even integral, to our lives in Christ. I think that "the old" here refers to destructive ways that damage the person God created us to be. "The new," on the other hand, would be a version of ourselves that is fully who we are, able to fly with the wings we've had inside us all along.

You can read the full reflection here at Musings and Ramblings

To educate yourself more about hate crimes and what people of faith need to be doing to confront them, visit the Center for Preventing Hate and join the conversation on the My Brother's Keeper Facebook page.

Kristi Soutar is an MDiv student at Drew Theological School. You can follow her blog at Musings and Ramblings. Shannon Sullivan is also an MDiv student at Drew. She blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.

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