I came to the United States about fifteen years ago as a missionary to the Latinos living in this country. As an immigrant, I have a unique perspective and opinion on certain things—not always right, just different. For instance, I will never understand the need for a hamburger the size of my head or why we can only have fireworks on the Fourth of July. Some things in American culture will always be an enigma to me. Yet, there are other things that seem obscure to a lot of people but are clearer to me. Perhaps this is the advantage of looking at things as an outsider.
Over the past several months we have been made aware, once again, that there is a racial divide in the United States. People have taken to the streets to demonstrate that this is not a political issue but an issue of justice. We have been made aware that there are policies and practices aimed to diminish the opportunities of people of color. We have been made aware of the disproportionate use of force, abuse, and discrimination toward black and brown people. Yet, here we are asking the question: Should the Church do something about racial reconciliation? I am puzzled as to why there is even a debate about this. I am shocked that the question is being asked. If the Church is not engaged in racial reconciliation, then who is? Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is this: How does the Church participate in racial righteousness? No part of the Church is exempt from this sacred pursuit. This question is important to me, the pastor of an immigrant Latino church, but it should also be just as important to the rest of the Church, in America and around the world.
The Church is a new people, part of a new creation. Paul says as much in this famous passage: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17–18 NIV). This is not a verse about personal salvation but about the creation of a new order, God’s order. As this new humanity, the Church participates in, or better yet lives out, the righteousness, peace, and forgiveness of the new kingdom. When the Church fails to use its prophetic voice to speak to the powers and principalities of this world, when it sides with the powerful and even the oppressor, and when it forgets that its citizens are primarily citizens of heaven and not of any particular country, the Church begins to abandon its place as the new people of God. Social and racial righteousness is the work of the whole Church. For most, this may mean abandoning ideas of privilege and personal rights. For others, it may mean extending forgiveness and grace even if the offense goes unrecognized.
I do not say this lightly. I serve a lot of people who are on the margins of society—a lot of good people who are used as disposable pieces of a political game; a lot of good people who live in fear of losing the life this country has allowed them to build; a lot of people, brothers and sisters in the faith, who get criminalized and mistreated because of how they look and for their social and immigration status. Marginalized Christians are still the people of God. They have the same potential, same responsibility, and same power. How do we engage issues of social righteousness when things seem to be against us? How can we, the whole Church, participate in the ministry of reconciliation? Allow me to share three things that can help us all.
Humility. We must recognize we don’t know much about these issues. We like to think we do, but reality shows differently, so we come to this with a humble heart, a heart ready to listen and to understand. Unrighteousness grows out of pride, as does superiority. As a Church, Hispanic or otherwise, we must humbly sit down at the table with those of different perspectives; we must be willing to learn and to be taught by others. None of us are experts on this matter. Being humble in order to understand is the first step toward reconciliation.
Hospitality. There are very few things as powerful as being hospitable. When we feel afraid, attacked, or isolated, our tendency is to get into the safety of our homes and lock the door. We may get a sense of comfort when doing that, but the truth is we are falling right into the trap of those who seek to make us all strangers. Hospitality is a powerful step forward in the way of reconciliation. However, hospitality is more than opening our home to others. It is a virtue of our hearts. It means making room for someone else, offering a place in our hearts, and coming to the same table, both literally and figuratively. Hospitality will change us by making those strangers less threatening and by enlarging our hearts to accommodate our neighbors, and even our enemies.
Presence. The mystery of the Incarnation points to the staggering truth that being present and in close proximity to others is God’s way of transforming this world. Jesus became flesh to take us back to the Father but also to be with us. He walked with the poor and the destitute, the marginalized and the sick. He not only spoke words of life, He became the Word of Life. And He still invites His Church to do the same, to stand with the oppressed and to walk with those in the margins of society. We encounter humanity’s beauty and worth when we make an effort to be with.
In our neighborhoods and communities, we must move forward to join the mission of the God who seeks to reconcile all the created order to Himself. We need to go beyond the limitations of our ethnic background, our political affiliations, and our cherished traditions. At the core of our understanding is the recognition that without the Gospel true freedom and justice cannot be achieved. And through the proclamation of the Gospel—in word and deed—we participate with God in the ministry of reconciliation.