A Hug for the World

by Richard Ochieng, St Clement Orthodox Primary School, Kenya.

I’ve been a follower of the World Council of Churches’ web site http://www.oikoumene.org/en and received messages from them in my Inbox for a decade or more. Ever since I began thinking more seriously about what it means to be a called and to take action as a “global citizen” in the world today I’ve learned, been encouraged by and been grateful for the work of 350 plus Orthodox and Protestant Church bodies worldwide, united for reflection and action by the World Council of Churches.

To cite one example of the value and importance of the Council’s voice, the U.S. would never have invaded Iraq in 2003 had Christians in this country heeded the warnings issued by the Mideast Council of Churches and published worldwide by the World Council. It is stunning how many of the dire effects of the Iraq invasion, the spread of the war to other nations being just one example, were all foreseen by the Statement issued by the World Council on behalf of the Mideast Council of Churches.

You will easily find the Spanish, French and German versions of the Council web site at the above address along with translations into thirteen other languages, Arabic among them. Here below is the Christmas 2017 greeting of the Council, like the work and mission of this movement truly a “hug for the world”. Consider it a wish for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all those active in “erasing borders” in their own communities this year and in coming years. First though is a beautiful Africa-themed video in celebration of the solidarity dreamed, advocated and made possible by the activities of the World Council of Churches.

Christmas 2017
28 November 2017

A greeting from the World Council of Churches

The World Council of Churches has as its basis that “we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.” This refers directly to the words of the Gospel, the good news that we read and hear at every celebration of Christmas. These words of a heavenly messenger are for all the people. The Gospel writer, Luke, continued telling the story of Lord and Saviour, who was “anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring good news to the poor … to proclaim release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19). He is the one who chose his apostles and “gave them instructions through the Holy Spirit … to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 2, 8).

This year the churches in the world have commemorated 500 years since the Reformation, an event that had an effect on all churches in the world ever since. The best way to commemorate this landmark was to manifest and celebrate that we share the same Gospel, the same good news about our Lord and Saviour. The best way to show that we are serious about this is to continue the sending and the mission by sharing the faith in the one who liberates, heals, and proclaims the time of God’s undeserved grace to come. A year of hope and new beginning is always the message of the Gospel.

In 2018 the World Council of Churches will celebrate our first 70 years in common service and witness to the triune God who creates us, saves us, and sends us to serve and witness. We cannot wait till we have found agreement in everything. Our ecumenical service, our diakonia, is needed every day. We are called to be moved by the Spirit, which is the theme of the WCC World Conference on Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania, in March 2018. We are called to liberate, to heal the broken, to raise up the oppressed, to share the salvation from sin that we can receive only in Jesus Christ.

Be not afraid! We are called to offer hope, but not in a superficial way. This is not the time to say that sin is an obsolete word in the world. Every day we see the opposite, everywhere. This is the time to receive salvation from sin and to go out fighting against all the negative effects of our misbehaviour and sins. We see them in climate change, in violent conflicts, in economic injustices, in abuse, even of religion. It is time to continue confessing our shared faith in our Lord and Saviour. We do that by continuing our Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace together and sharing the good news with all the people. Be not afraid!

May you have a blessed Christmas and a grace-filled new year in 2018!

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary
World Council of Churches

Watching Giant from This Side of the Wall

Director George Stevens’ 1956 movie of Giant focuses on racist stereotyping and exploitation of Mexican Americans

GIANT director George Stevens leaves no doubt where his political sympathies lie early on in the film. At the Thanksgiving dinner table at their grandparents’ home in Maryland, the three children under age five are wearing self made feathered head bands and commence bawling inconsolably when they learn the turkey is their beloved friend “Pedro”. The children identify with the Indians at the Thanksgiving meal but the film’s director identifies with the many Mexican workers at their ranch home back in Texas. The brutal living conditions of the Mexican-Americans along with the racist attitudes of the Texas ranchers are depicted glaringly and powerfully in the film. “It (GIANT), more than any other Hollywood film of its time …… directly addresses the great American dilemma, race, and its implications, and not from the familiar racist, white supremacist point of view” according to the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) biography of Stevens.

While watching the film for the first time this past week, I was stunned by the eerie relevance of the film’s graphic portrayal of the Texas ranchers’ views and behaviors, the grotesque lies and the dehumanization of both the perpetrators of racism and their Mexican-American targets. Throughout our viewing I became convinced that in throwing the covers off this racism and the ensuing conflicts within the life of one ranching dynasty family this film helps explain a lot about Texas politics today. In one example of its contemporary commentary, on her first visit to the workers’ village, the Maryland bred newlywed (Elizabeth Taylor) learns the fevered baby she holds in her arms would not be able to see a doctor. Sixty years after the movie was shot in South Texas, the State has the highest number of medically uninsured people in the U.S.

When the movie was shot in 1955, California was not a lot better than Texas in its treatment of Mexican American laborers and their families. That the State of the world’s movie making capital now can boast of recent progress toward medical care for the poor, protection of the environment, ethnic inclusiveness and welcome of the stranger can be in part attributed to the impact of Hollywood, its films and its fortunes, on the State’s and the Nation’s politics. The movie gives a happy ending to the story of what had been a lock step conservative dynasty’s grip on the future. It’s a thoroughly plausible ending that is yet to be seen reflected in Texas politics.

While verging on melodrama in its treatment of the James Dean character (the icon died before his Best Actor Oscar nomination for the role), GIANT is spot-on with its depiction of some of the characteristics of Mexican-American culture – its piety and close family ties, its love of country and willingness to sacrifice life and limb for it, its warmth and openness to all people, including the racist oppressors. The beauty and simplicity of the villagers’ little church brought tears to my eyes as an image chosen by someone with a deep love and appreciation of the character of its builders.

In summary, GIANT is a movie worthy of Jean Luc Godard’s statement that “cinema is truth shown twenty four times per second” (formerly the number of frames passing across the projector’s lens each second). There are some scenes in the film so true to the movie’s characters and to the life of human beings (the rancher family’s conversation in the hotel suite toward the end is one) we know this is film art that people will grow up with in the future. It’s the kind of movie that makes me, thankful to be retired and have the freedom to discover the courageous work of a great film maker, a true artist, who was devoted to realizing the potential of movies to bring people of all kinds and cultures together. George Stevens, like Charlie Chaplin and a few others, knew movies could play an important role in making this a more loving, peaceful world. This movie made me believe he succeeded.

POST SCRIPT: In the U.S. Army at the end of WW II, George Stevens filmed the Army’s liberation of Dachau and another German concentration camp. The film footage was entered as evidence at the Nuremburg trials of German war criminals and used in de-nazification trainings. Stevens’ bio on the IMDB web site notes that his War experiences “engendered in him the belief that motion pictures had to be socially meaningful to be of value”.

View a four minute sample of Stevens’ film record of the liberation of Dachau here:

Is the U.S. Ready to Grow Up?

This 32-foot high granite monument honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors has stood in St. Louis’ Forest Park since 1914. St. Louis may soon join the growing list of cities removing monuments to the Confederacy. On the State Line dividing the free state of Kansas and pro-slavery Missouri, Kansas City has no such monuments. (AP Photo/Jim Salter, File)(Jim Salter)

The election of Donald Trump as President of the U.S. has resulted in a flood of commentary in all types of media on the topic of “American identity”. Discussions of “American exceptionalism” (referred to in the last Erasing Borders posting) are just one direction the national soul-searching has taken in response to Trump’s election. Taking a different path, the New York Times columnist David Brooks preferred to discuss the varied “American narratives” in a May 26 column.

What all commentators have in common is the sense that this nation is more fragmented today than anyone has experienced in their lifetime. The consensus prevails that the U.S. is a divided nation and that the Trump election has deepened the lines of division and, it is widely agreed, made those divisions more volatile and dangerous.

In describing four disparate narratives of how the U.S. is seen by its citizens, Brooks comments on how varied they are, “we’re suffering through a national identity crisis. Different groups see themselves living out different national stories and often feel they are living in different nations.” Brooks, however, ignores the deepest division with a history longer than the founding of our nation.

The division between those in this country who, unconsciously or consciously, still cling to racial views and fears which originated during the era of slavery and those who defend equality and the equal rights of all is being addressed at this time like never before. How the white supremacist views used to justify slavery relate to the anti immigrant, “make America great again”, “America first” policies that helped elect Trump is also being addressed. We recall that it was not much more than one hundred years ago that there were Harvard professors, with mainstream followings, who argued that some races were intellectually inferior to whites. We all are more aware now that the coddling of southern States to induce them to join the 1776 union, through the electoral college and other provisions of the Constitution, has compromised our nation’s moral and political recovery following the horrors of the Civil War and the depravity and eventual decline of an economy built on slavery.

We are also more aware that there are white persons in the northern and southern U.S. who in one form or another

Former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, now Trump’s Attorney General, is one of many southern politicians whose political career has served to bolster the white nationalist ethos in the U.S.

still cling to the Confederacy’s propaganda for the Civil War. So it is both hopeful and timely that the Mayor of New Orleans firmly denounced sympathy for the South’s lost, bygone cause in a recent speech. If the U.S. finds itself in an identity crisis today, as Brooks says, this speech is the most hopeful sign in these times that we as a nation are maturing and emerging into responsible adulthood.

After the New Orleans City Council voted in 2015 to remove all the city’s statues honoring southern heroes of the Civil War, Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered the speech last month following the displacement of the renowned General Robert E. Lee’s statue. “The Confederacy”, the Mayor declared, “was on the wrong side of humanity”. The Mayor summed up what the removal of the statues meant for the City, the South, and the Nation with these words,

“This is however about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division and yes with violence.”

The speech included reminders of two facts of the city’s history for the audience and for the nation. First was a reminder of the founding principle of the Southern Confederacy.

“…..the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous ‘cornerstone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Secondly, he celebrated the variety of cultures represented by those who have built the city and called New Orleans “home”.

“You see — New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling caldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one.”

And then, like in a great sermon, the Mayor moves and convicts us by recounting a personal experience:
“Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too? We all know the answer to these very simple questions. When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us.”

As citizens of the nation founded on the “truth” that “all men are created equal”, we know in this era of Trump that we each of us are responsible for making real and living out this lofty founding vision of the nation. We remember that the man who wrote the words of the Declaration of Independence was himself a Virginia owner of slaves who also wrote these words,

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” – Thomas Jefferson

Is it possible that the country will in this time of political crisis finally address some of the ugly and brutal truths of our history and move on to “form a more perfect Union”? Is it possible that in this time we in the U.S. will join in efforts to “more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation” and move toward the “justice” Thomas Jefferson only dreamed about? The unity and future health of the United States depends on it.

Debating “American Exceptionalism”

The Reagan Administration talked up “American Exceptionalism” to avoid serious discussion of the lessons the U.S. might have learned from the War in Vietnam

When the “baby boomers” were being educated in the U.S. public schools in the 1950’s, we were encouraged to take pride in our country’s dedication to the peace and prosperity of all nations. And there were expenditures and overseas initiatives to back up the image portrayed of a generous, open handed benefactor nation. Following the vital support of the Marshall Plan in helping rebuild Europe post WW II, there was the Food for Peace exports to relieve hunger, federal backing for the Green Revolution’s implementation in countries like India, the Alliance for Progress in Latin America and other regionally focused development aid initiatives. When I hear politicians describe the U.S. today as “exceptional”, the generosity of our foreign aid programs is not mentioned.

In the year 2015, this country dedicated 0.8 % of its federal budget in development aid for poor nations. The UN passed a resolution a few years ago that challenged the industrialized nations to devote a minimum of 0.7 % of the Gross National Income (GNI) to economic development aid. The U.S. development aid has stood at around 0.18 % of GNI in recent years. That puts the world’s leading economy in 22nd place among advanced countries in the percentage of GNI spent on helping poor nations with agricultural development, entrepreneurship, health and education. Economic development aid to Mexico this year was budgeted at $49 million while “security assistance” for the Mexican army and police forces was set at $85.6 million.

The U.S. lags far behind other nations in its commitment to development aid and the ranking is not likely to change any time soon. When the current President ran on a platform of “Make America Great Again!” he did not have in mind that the UK gives nearly four times more in foreign development aid than the U.S. as a percentage of GNI. It was not a surprise that in his first 100 days Trump proposed a series of huge increases in military spending beginning with a pledge of an additional $50 billlion for next year. With a military budget already amounting to more than the defense spending of the next seven nations ranking below us, how much more does the military industrial complex of the U.S. need in order to make the U.S. “great again”?

In recent years visitors returning from Africa to the U.S. and Europe comment on the highly visible presence of the Chinese aid workers in countries across the continent. In the 1960’s the U.S. was considered as the best friend of the new nations of Africa, the friend which would enable countries like the Congo to share in the enormous wealth generated by its natural resources. China has now replaced the U.S. as the leading foreign presence in Congo repairing roads, building a rail road and planning upgrades to the Inga hydroelectric plant originally conceived, with the encouragement of the U.S., to provide power for much of Central Africa.

Those of us who were persuaded in the 1950’s and early 60’s that our nation was great or “exceptional” in its generous sharing of its abundant resources now question whether we as a nation have sacrificed the ethical, moral content of our nation’s self image on an altar of militarism. The Puritan vision of our nation as a “city on the hill” has become a city fortified today by walls, defended by the largest nuclear weapons infrastructure in the world, and paid for with federal expenditures dedicated to “national security” that dwarf the military spending of other nations.

There is little agreement now over what in fact makes the U.S. an “exceptional” or a “great nation”. Little agreement and some confusion it now appears. During his eight years in office President Obama put forward contrasting views on “American exceptionalism”. In a televised speech to the nation in September 2013 the President pronounced bombings of Syrian army positions as what makes the U.S. “exceptional”. He declared,”When, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our kids safer over the long run, I believe we should act… That is what makes America different. That is what makes us exceptional.” But in a 2015 speech, in the waning months of his presidency, President Obama declared, “Our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans. There is, you know, this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition that is probably our greatest strength.”

There can be little doubt that Trump’s idea of “making America great again” focuses on military buildup and deploying heavier weaponry like the “mother of all bombs” exploded in Afghanistan recently. That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists moved the doomsday clock closer to midnight, to two and a half minutes to 12, following Trump’s inauguration. But both Democratic and Republican administrations have led in building up the U.S. military and differ only in the degree and the bluster they use to justify increases in “defense” spending.

So is this really what the U.S. population wants? Is the military might of the U.S. what we want to set us apart and make us “exceptional” in the eyes of other nations and our own eyes? I don’t think so but under the current Trump administration another unique characteristic of the U.S., mentioned by Obama in the 2013 reference to the U.S. Muslim population, is under severe challenge. That “exceptional” feature of the U.S. will be lifted up in the next Erasing Borders blog posting.

Globalizing Resistance in Mexico

Upwards of 20,000 people in Mexico City on Sunday Feb. 12 protest the language and policies of the current U.S. administration

Upwards of 20,000 people protest the language and policies of the current U.S. administration

The week of Andrew Puzder’s withdrawal as nominee for U.S. Secretary of Labor also marks the fourteenth anniversary of the largest world wide protest in the history of our species. On Feb. 15, 2003 anti Iraq War protests in nearly 800 cities across the globe brought into the streets, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, between 12 and 14 million people. British Member of Parliament and peace activist Tony Benn described it as “the first global demonstration, and its first cause is to prevent a war against Iraq”. That day, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa met with then Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan and declared, “those people marching in all those cities around the world, we claim the United Nations as our own. We claim it in the name of our global mobilization for peace.”

This February week of 2017, in the aftermath of the weak responses of the Mexican government to the current U.S. administration’s threats, thousands of people marched in protest in twenty Mexican cities. “We are all migrants. We are all one. This is a time to build bridges, not walls,” said 73-year-old protester Jose Antonio Sanchez, who was marching with his nine-year-old granddaughter. With neither the U.S. nor the Mexican administration inclined or able to “build bridges” now, it is the protests on both sides of the border that reveal the common ground that unites our peoples.

On the Mexican side, the end to government subsidized gasoline prices recently led to a twenty per cent increase at the pump. On the U.S. side of the border, big oil is riding high under the new administration with endorsement of the Dakota Access Pipeline and an EXXON executive as Secretary of State. In the recent auction of Mexican oil deposits, BP, who brought to the U.S. Gulf waters the Deepwater Horizon disaster, was one of the big winners. The major oil companies all claimed victory back in 2013 when the Peña Nieto administration announced as part of its Energy Reform the sale of the prized off shore Mexican oil fields. Ali Moshiri, president of Chevron Africa and Latin America Exploration and Production, told reporters shortly after the 2016 auction. “Everybody in the oil and gas sector is interested in Mexico, especially the deepwater.”

For Mexicans, in addition to the nearly $3.50 per gallon cost of gasoline, the privatization and

Widespread opposition to the new U.S. administration and to the EPN administration in Mexico is helping bridges to U.S. resisters.

Widespread opposition to the new U.S. administration and to the EPN administration in Mexico is helping bridges to U.S. resisters.

loss of control of their formerly nationalized oil production has been seen by Mexicans as akin to pawning the family jewelry. For U.S. residents, raising tariffs on Mexican exports would mean an increase in our food prices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture figures 71 % of tomatoes sold in the U.S. come from Mexico and 93 % of Haas avocadoes. Availability of Mexican produce has helped change U.S. diets in the last fifty years with Mexican mango, avocado, broccoli, and lime sales up well over 1000 % since 1970. Mexican industrial farming won’t be alone in paying for that border wall. So will we U.S. consumers.

Mainstream and moderate Mexican political commentators are calling on Peña Nieto to stop appeasing and stand up to the U.S. threats but given the Mexican President’s woeful approval ratings that’s not likely to happen without more mass demonstrations. For a more humane, peaceful and equitable world, we all need more manifestations of global resistance like the February 15, 2003 anti Iraq War mobilization. The day after that historic wave of protest and resistance, the New York Times referred to the people’s rising up as “the second superpower”.

One of the New York City movement organizers, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, summed up what the demonstrations achieved with these words: “Our movement changed history. While we did not prevent the Iraq war, the protests proved its clear illegality, demonstrated the isolation of the Bush administration policies, helped prevent war in Iran, and inspired a generation of activists. February 15 set the terms for what ‘global mobilizations’ could accomplish.” Such mobilizations remain the most powerful deterrent to the threats to world peace, health and sustainable development posed by the current U.S. administration.
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With gratitude for the Phyllis Bennis article on the Institute for Policy Studies web site at
http://www.ips-dc.org/february_15_2003_the_day_the_world_said_no_to_war/

God as a Refugee Appeals for Solidarity with the Poor

From 64 % of the U.S. population in the 2010 Census to an estimated 49.7 % in 2044 the White Non-Hispanic population in the U.S. is shrinking and many ignore increasing ethnic diversity as the history of the nation since the arrival of the first settlers.  Chart from Brookings Institution based on U.S. Census data.

From 64 % of the U.S. population in the 2010 Census to an estimated 49.7 % in 2044 the White Non-Hispanic population in the U.S. is shrinking and many ignore increasing ethnic diversity as the history of the nation since the arrival of the first settlers. Chart from Brookings Institution based on U.S. Census data.

“It is not easy to put in practice such a solidarity when conflict abounds, and when a bewildering array of opposing projects spill forth from a divided national and regional culture. It becomes still more challenging in a context of apparently triumphant individualism and a combine of reigning forces that would compel us to see the other as a virtual enemy.”

Written and published over a month before the presidential election in the United States, these words from the following reflection on the meaning and aims of “solidarity” in the context of Nicaragua emphasize that our task as citizens of Nicaragua (or the U.S.!) has not been altered by the election results. Written by the Executive Director of Nicaragua’s Interchurch Center for Theological and Social Studies (CIEETS), the essay measures how far we humans have to go while proposing guidelines and tools for achieving “solidarity in community”. Its universal message should be hailed as a sign that while our national agendas vary in the details, there are means for progress that can, indeed must, unite us across national boundaries. It is, for example, enticing to contemplate what might be the effect on Central Americans’ migration to the U.S. of our government’s focusing its future foreign aid on the kind of community development projects in solidarity with the poor organized by Msc. Jairo Arce’s organization across Nicaragua. To learn about CIEETS’ work go to http://www.cieets.org.ni or write them at cieets@cieets.org.ni

“The word ‘solidarity’ is intimately bound up with the concepts of unity and community. Its application calls for visible signs of love such as the struggle to identify with those who suffer pain and poverty and defy the apparent human incapacity for lasting solutions to the conditions and basic elements necessary for survival. In our time a call for solidarity has been issued by the thousands and millions of our brothers and sisters who have passed through the shadow of death on their journeys throughout the earth on a search similar to Abraham’s and by God who also has been a refugee among us.

A theology dedicated to unpacking solidarity must start with the conviction that God is concerned about poverty and is in solidarity with every human being alive today. God in human form, God incarnate, is the highest expression of a God who is in solidarity with humanity. Solidarity then gives us practice in those values and fundamental principles that unite us and strengthen the social fabric and the creative dynamic which are the foundation of community while constituting also an appeal to defend those values and principles and ensure that they are guidelines for daily living.

– Solidarity brings grace to our life in community and counters the violence that destroys the life of the planet and our ecosystem.

– Solidarity assures every man and woman that they are chosen now to present and strengthen the ethical foundation of community in a time of neoliberal obfuscation.

– Solidarity assures each of us that in our roles and with our personal histories we are responsible for the world and the nation that we live in. The awareness that issues from solidarity demands that we all work for comprehensive progress within our nations.

– Solidarity demands that we root out the logic and pattern of individualistic and egocentric interests lodged in our hearts and reject the use of aggression and force as easy ways to resolve conflicts while devaluing or ignoring those who are different.

It is not easy to put in practice such a solidarity when conflict abounds, and when a bewildering array of opposing projects spill forth from a divided national and regional culture. It becomes still more challenging in a context of apparently triumphant individualism and a combine of reigning forces that would compel us to see the other as a virtual enemy. In spite of all this, we have the gift and shared destiny that remind us that our nation’s future is in our hands, that its future belongs to us and that the humanity that we share with others is not an abstract concept: it is cause for our earnest suffering and for vibrant hope.

The true criteria for solidarity are all founded on the principle that the society in which we live must protect, cultivate and preserve values such as respect for life, liberty, justice, transformative tolerance, human rights, work with dignity, truth telling, and the protection of the weak, among others. Without such a foundation for solidarity, it will be hampered in enabling a life of joy for all and the peace and security of the nation’s citizens.

Solidarity calls for the personal ownership or, at least, a growing appropriation of a social personal ethic, be it publicly or privately expressed. We will all be affected in the process of ethical formation through the leadership of men and women who do take into account the social consequences of their actions. Our contribution to solidarity lies in ensuring that every individual and social institution will go beyond empty appeals to “unity” and will defend life in its diversity and will find through dialog and political action the constructive means to deal with personal and social conflicts. There is no doubt that to emerge from the grip of violence in which we live and make human, peaceful solidarity possible, a serious educational task at different levels is necessary to establish the ethical principles of human community and break the hold of forces that cloud the future.

Jesus invites us to accept differences. He tells us that “the Father makes the sun shine on the good and the bad and makes rain fall on the just and the sinner”. Nothing can justify in the 21st Century discrimination and exclusion or, in a word, racism which is the practice of exclusion in its many and varied forms. Jesus of Nazareth noted that wheat and weeds grow next to each other and by this reminds us that every human being has the right to life and the liberty to go his or her way. To guide us, the Apostle St. Paul invited us to conquer evil by means of the good. Jesus’ concern and care for the little ones, the sick, the weak and those whose life is threatened show us the importance of the values of uprightness, truthfulness and honesty as the basis for our participation in the civic dialog. Jesus’ embrace of his ministry makes clear our responsibility for the creation’s well being in preparing the way for solidarity in community.

Jesus’ call to live by the golden rule, “Do not do to others what we would not want them to do to us” becomes an indispensable ethic for life in solidarity and true community. Similarly, Jesus’ relationships with public authorities insist on an exercise of power free of arrogance and in service of others. Through the life and words of Jesus, with respect for the cristological context, we can find guidelines for a social ethic which forms the basis of a human solidarity lived out peacefully and committed to peaceful life in community.

The life of Jesus can always serve as instruction, as a fruitful path for humanity regardless of our individual religious affiliation. By means of the rich lessons disclosed by his life and his words, we are challenged to find additional means to heighten the ethical behavior of all in their daily lives. It is then on behalf of solidarity that we stand and declare “affirm life and oppose the forces of death”, the task that demands the best of ourselves. Through our work we can always participate in forming the ethical awareness of others and it is in this task that our spirituality is grounded and grows. Solidarity is the pathway by which we seek and find the hopeful message that celebrates the dream and bolsters our affirming and imagining a world for everyone, without barriers and borders, without the threat of death for those who would seek better conditions in a different setting.

God acted on behalf of the community of Israel in biblical times, on behalf of Abraham’s family and even to the extent of becoming a refugee among us. God loves, defends and gives life. And what about us? What about we Christians?”

The View from México

Rev. Lisania Sustaita Martinez on right speaking to the U.S. Women to Women delegation visiting México in 2013.

Rev. Lisania Sustaita Martinez on right speaking to the U.S. Women to Women delegation visiting México in 2013.

“I think you just got the President of the U.S. that Mexico has had for many years” Rev. Lisania Sustaita Martinez comments in the interview below. Lisania completed her studies at the Ecumenical Seminary of Puerto Rico in 2013 and returned to her hometown of San Luis Potosí. She now serves as Associate Minister of the downtown Central Christian Church and Education Coordinator in charge of leadership development with the Roundtable of Congregational and Disciples of Christ Churches in México. In this interview, she describes what gives her hope as a young woman working in the Protestant Church for a more just social order in her nation and the continent of North America.


What has been Mexico’s reaction to the election of Donald Trump as President? What are the greatest concerns in Mexico resulting from his election?

Mexico is also shocked by the elections in the U.S., the election of Trump in particular. Mexico is shocked and concerned about the things that he said, talking about Mexicans, talking about Latin people in general, talking about not just Mexicans in Mexico but Mexicans, Latin people living in the U.S. The general opinion of the people around me is that what he is saying cannot be done because many Latin people have been working in the U.S. for many many years so it would bring problems to the economy. We are concerned because even if he doesn’t do everything he has promised, his words and pronouncements have encouraged other people to be aggressive with Latin people, with Mexicans and with other people who are not male, white, adult. We are concerned because violence is always the result of such pronouncements.

We have been made more aware of the deep divisions in our country caused by racism and economic inequality in our culture through the election contest this year. How about in Mexico? What divides people in Mexico today and how does the culture, the political realm and the Church respond to those divisions?

What divides us most in Mexico is the economy. We have extreme poverty and we have a small group of rich people, entrepreneurs who own and control the economy. And it also has to do with our government. I think you just got the President of the U.S. that Mexico has had for many years. If I compare and contrast Trump and our President Peña Nieto, I have to say it is the same thing. A person who doesn’t know about working with people, a person who doesn’t know about how a nation develops and grows, a person who doesn’t know anything beyond the economy and its industry.

They both don’t know about working with people in need and rising up from the bottom. Peña Nieto and his government have been focused on the economy at the highest levels, industry in particular, and he doesn’t talk about agriculture and education. They only know about their world and they don’t know how to work with people in need, people who have been excluded from their economy.

I think the Protestant Church, the evangelical churches and the Catholic Church as well have felt the urgency, the importance of walking with the people since our governors, the government, don’t know how to walk with the people. I think the church has tried to walk with these people. Walking with the hungry, with the poor, with people in the hospitals and helping to grow micro enterprises, to give attention to children, to women, to the elders. Since we have such a bad government we have to stand up for these people.

We can’t say we have a good country because of our President. We can’t claim to be good because we have a black President. We have to stand up for black people, we have to stand up for dignity, for equal rights because our president is not black. And now you have to do as we have done since we have had this President and because it’s become worse and worse with each President in Mexico. So you all now have to say that in spite of this President, in spite of Trump, we are good people. In spite of what he has said, we take care of our people, we respect our differences, not as boundaries, but as diversity, a good thing. In spite of our President we stand up for diversity and taking care of people in need.

For example , the Theological Community of Mexico City (ecumenical seminary in Mexico City) has had many programs encouraging churches to open their doors to people who are suffering because of the crime, because of the poverty, because of the natural disasters in the country. So I think we have to do that since we can’t count on the government.


We hear in the U.S. that the generation now named “the millennials” are rejecting “established” churches, or, put another way, “the establishment church”. What issues are “the millennials” in Mexico most concerned about and how is the Disciples of Christ Church responding to their concerns?/strong

Well, we don’t use the word “millennials” in Mexico much; it’s not frequently said. But we have found that the new generations of youth here are also looking for other kinds of experiences of faith, new expressions of faith. They are finding the new in Buddhism, in oriental faith practices, in yoga and science, in agnosticism and atheism. The new generations have to study and work and they are looking for ways to earn money not just in industries or in traditional ways of working. So as they experiment with new ways outside the traditional to earn money they are as well seeing the traditional church as the church that tells you, “don’t do this or that. Don’t, don’t.”

So they are looking for churches who are capable of walking with them and who understand that they have to work and

Youth at the annual Huentepec Camp held between Christmas and New Year's Day

Youth at the annual Huentepec Camp held between Christmas and New Year’s Day

study at the same time and can’t be the people the traditional church expects or wants them to be. Some of the new generation are struggling with their sexual orientation, struggling with broken relationships, broken families and others are struggling with what the new science about our earth is saying. And so churches are seen as old and traditional when they can’t respond or haven’t responded to these realities, these new realities. So we may not talk about the millennials but we know how the new generations are looking to be their own boss, looking for what I can sell, what I have to contribute to my people, what I can do for better life today. So we are not just talking about traditional church but traditional everything.

What is most encouraging, what brings you hope about the church’s part in God’s mission in Mexico today?

I think those who are looking to create the new bring me the most hope. Those people who are looking for a new experience of God walking with them gives us opportunity to rethink the Bible and rethink theology and rethink church. And I have to say this is a hard time for us because rethinking is never soft, rethinking is rough, rethinking is contrasting, rethinking is debating and arguing. So it is hard to destroy, and I have to use this word because we are talking about rebuilding. So it’s harsh but I think it is necessary.

This new generation with this new way of thinking may be what the youth, women and children need today. They feel the need to stand up for the sectors of people who have been pushed away from God and they feel the need to give them some kind of answer. So I think this can be good as youth and other people are asking “why” and the answer “because the bible says so” is not enough. So they need a different kind of answer. This gives me hope because people are thinking; people are asking questions; people are trying to understand; people are looking for a genuine faith of their own not one given to them because they’ve been told they need it. They need a faith that is their own. This gives me hope in this time of transformation, this time of crisis when you are closing an epoch and opening another.

If the church doesn’t rethink itself it will get old and become obsolete. But now new generations and people are starting to find and explore what they don’t understand about the Bible, and about theology and God and the church and that brings me hope. With this rethinking we are transforming ourselves.

A Malnourished Democracy ??

During the decades of segregated baseball in the U.S., which lasted until 1947, many of the all black teams went to Mexico to compete during the winter months.

During the decades of segregated baseball in the U.S., which lasted until 1947, many of the all black teams went to Mexico to compete during the winter months.

Dear Friends,

In the United States, we are all trying to decipher the messages sent us by the resounding election victories of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. While the election’s handwriting on the wall will continue to be interpreted in different ways as in chapter 5 of Daniel, one area of the message is certain. As much as we try to ignore or put it behind us, mistrust, fear and abuse of the Other (persons of other races and nationalities) continue to threaten the rule of democracy in the United States.

Here in Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates the African American baseball players who never made it to the major leagues of the “great American past time” not because they didn’t have the talent but because of their exclusion from U.S. professional teams until the year 1947. The Kansas City museum also honors the memory of those white players who in the winter off season during the years of segregated baseball played on teams outside the country with black players.

Surprisingly, some of those white players, like the brothers Paul and Dizzy Dean, had grown up in the fiercely segregationist southern states which enforced separation of the races in their territory. For some of the whites like the Dean brothers, the wintertime move to Mexico, Cuba and other nations of the Caribbean was motivated by the desire to play baseball against and with the best U.S. players, whether black or white.

For the African American players, leaving their home country to play baseball brought benefits the whites took for granted in the U.S. As the black player Willie Wells said of playing ball in Mexico, “We live in the best hotels, go to the best restaurants, and can go anywhere we care to. We don’t enjoy such privileges in the United States.” In short, Wells and the other African Americans found “respect, freedom and democracy. In Mexico.”

Today of course, professional sports teams in the United States are fully integrated and black players excel. But the recent election provides additional evidence of a strategy to restrict if not suppress the rights and the impact of African American and other voters in U.S. elections.

Anti- democratic voiding of the ballots of several thousand black voters in Florida in the 2000 presidential election put us on notice. Since then we have learned of defective voting machines, closing of polling places, new voter identification requirements, redrawing of voting districts in the states, and new voter registration procedures all implemented within states, in the south and the north, controlled by Republican legislatures intent on limiting the impact of the increased numbers of persons of color in American elections.

One of the most troubling aspects of the past election is summed up by the observation made by one U.S. political scientist who said, “this is the first election held in this country without the full protections of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965”. One way to better understand the importance of this statement is offered by viewing the 2014 film “Selma”.

This film recounts the history of the struggle for African Americans’ right to vote in southern states. For decades since the Civil War southern politicians had devised various ways to deny African Americans the right to vote. Now in our day, the 1965 Act that prohibited such practices has been weakened through devious legislative maneuvers in many states of the U.S.

What might the long term effects on American democracy be if such practices continue and a wall is built between persons of color and the U.S. polling place? Let me share a story, a kind of parable, that suggests what we might be in for.

In the mid 1970’s a friend here in Kansas City played basketball for one of Kansas’ community colleges. The team had black and white players on it and had a couple of games against teams in the southern State of Texas. When they got to the small town’s biggest restaurant the black players were told, and this only forty years ago, that they would be served in the room behind the kitchen.

My friend and the other black players went to the back room and enjoyed meeting the entirely black kitchen staff and eating what they cooked for them. Their portions were more than ample and the kitchen help offered to make the leftovers into sandwiches for the team’s trip north. That night some of the white players got to sample what their black teammates had eaten. When they returned after the next day’s game to the same restaurant all the white players told the coach they wanted to eat the better food and bigger portions provided in the back room too.

The story suggests what this country will lose if the campaign continues to limit or exclude the human rights of segments of the population. Not only will citizens of the nation, of all ethnic backgrounds, be deprived of the best a democracy offers. The image of the U.S. as a bastion of democracy world wide will be malnourished. And this means we all will suffer the consequences.

Border Convergence in Nogales

Mural on the outskirts of San Salvador includes the quote: "Whether they shoot me or however they kill me I will rise in my people".

Mural on the outskirts of San Salvador includes the quote: “Whether they shoot me or however they kill me I will rise in my people”. Photo by Jorge Dan Lopez for Reuters

On March 25, 1980, during my lunch break from teaching English in Guadalajara, Mexico I strolled past jacaranda trees in bloom and while waiting for my tacos to be prepared bought a newspaper. On reading the bold headline I knew that the news would somehow deeply afffect my life.

I had followed the rise of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and their overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. On reading “Archbishop Romero Killed in San Salvador” I knew the armed struggle against the oligarchy in El Salvador would now rage more intensely in that small country. I also knew that the U.S. CIA, diplomats and the Army’s School of the Americas had played a major role in preparing the Salvadoran army and intelligence officers to defend the rule of the Salvadoran elite.

What I did not know or anticipate was that the war in El Salvador would cause thousands of young men to flee conscription by the guerrilla forces or the government’s Army and arrive in Tucson where I would be living three months after reading the news of the Archbishop’s death. Helping organize Tucson First Christian Church’s aid and refuge for the Salvadoran refugees brought me greater understanding of what is driving migration to the U.S. in these times and guided my return to the wellsprings of Christian faith.

Since graduating from seminary and ordination as a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) thirty years ago this year, I have kept these words of Archbishop Romero near my desk: “I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation, the affirmation of God who loves us.”

This month hundreds of people gathered on the Mexican border south of Tucson to express solidarity and compassion for those forced to flee their Central American homelands still wracked by authoritarian rule by the elite. Among other things they paid tribute to the courageous young Honduran woman Berta Cáceras who had organized opposition to transnational corporations threatening the environment and the people of her country. Like the Archbishop she was assassinated early this year.

The following report on the gathering at the border in Nogales, Arizona is by Scott Nicholson who serves the Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (House of Hope and Peace) in Nogales, Mexico. Scott’s volunteering is made possible by the Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ.

BORDER CONVERGENCE October 26, 2016

Hundreds of people gathered on both sides of the border wall that separates Nogales, Sonora from Nogales, Arizona on October 8 and 9. The convergence was organized by SOA Watch to protest the militarization of the border that is causing so much suffering and death for our migrant sisters and brothers.

This militarization was started by Bill Clinton and has been further escalated by Barack Obama. A “crisis” of unaccompanied minors that were fleeing violence and poverty in Central America and seeking refuge in the U.S. occurred during summer 2014. The response of the Obama administration was to pressure the Mexican government to further militarize its southern border with Guatemala. Millions of dollars were given to implement Plan Frontera Sur (Southern Border Plan) which placed more immigration agents and checkpoints in southern Mexico.

The binational organization "Dreamers'Moms" marches at the Convergence in support of their children's dream of getting an education in the U.S.

The binational organization “Dreamers’Moms” marches at the Convergence in support of their children’s dream of getting an education in the U.S.

Sister Guadalupe; of the Hermanos en el Camino shelter in Ixtepec, Oaxaca; told us that the militarization in southern Mexico has forced migrants to pass through more isolated, and dangerous, regions. She said that nine of every ten migrants arriving at the shelter have been assaulted, and more than half the women have been raped. Mexico is now deporting more Central Americans than the U.S., and this repression and violence have reduced the number of people arriving at the U.S. border.

“I very much appreciate Mexico’s efforts in addressing the unaccompanied children who we saw spiking during the summer,” said Obama in January 2015. “In part, because of strong efforts by Mexico, including at its southern border, we’ve seen those numbers reduced back to much more manageable levels.”

The Nogales Wall was first built by the Clinton administration in October 1994 – just three months after he visited the site of the former Berlin Wall. The Obama administration built a taller, and stronger, border wall in the summer of 2011.

“We celebrate unity,” Clinton had said in Berlin. “We stand where crude walls of concrete separated mother from child, and we meet as one family. We stand where those who sought a new life instead found death. Berliners, you have proved that no wall can forever contain the mighty power of freedom.”

The Clinton administration created the Border Patrol’s first national strategy in 1994, “Prevention through Deterrence.” The goal was to “Raise the risk…to the point that many will consider it futile to attempt illegal entry… Illegal traffic will be deterred, or forced over more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing.” Since then, the bodies of more than 6,000 people have been found in the southern border region. The actual death toll is much higher because many bodies are never found.

Last month, we commemorated the 15th anniversary of the attacks of September 11 and I found myself reflecting on how we define terrorism. It seems to me that terrorism involves the use of violence, targeting civilians, to achieve a political objective. Thousands of civilians have now died after being forced over hostile terrain along the border in order to deter people from entering the U.S.

“No más, no more, tear down the border walls!” we chanted during the litany for those victims at the end of the convergence here in Nogales.

In Love and Solidarity, Scott Nicholson

Scott’s report is from the web site of Global Ministries: http://www.globalministries.org/border_convergence

For an excellent article on the background to Archbishop Romero’s assassination and the recent beatification of the Archbishop by Pope Francis go to:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/05/why-its-such-a-big-deal-that-oscar-romero-was-declared-a-martyr-by-pope-francis/

Answering the Wall with Solidarity and Compassion

Praying at the Mexican border.  Photo from United Church of Christ News.

Praying at the Mexican border. Photo from United Church of Christ News.

This coming week a mass demonstration will be held in solidarity with the thousands of children and adults who have been detained and brutally treated as a result of the unprecedented border security policies of the current U.S. administration. There will be calls for recognition of the causes for the migration from the south of the border, and our U.S. role in many of these causes, along with proposals for immigration reform in the next Congress. Following is the announcement (edited slightly by Erasing Borders) of the gathering at the southern border in the United Church of Christ News of September 7 written by Connie Larkman.

“At Border Convergence in Nogales, Arizona/Senora, Mexico, UCC congregations will join the School of the Americas Watch, immigrants’ rights groups and interfaith partners during the first week of October to demand justice for immigrants and laws that address the root causes of migration.

Thousands of activists are expected to gather at this vigil to push back against militarization of the border, against criminalization of migrants and refugees, and to name the root causes of migration. As the denomination’s October multimedia initiative, the UCC National Collaborative on Immigration has identified goals that also include a commitment to immersion education, and work to stop deportations.

The Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ is hosting the denomination’s delegation, along with Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz. General Minister and President the Rev. John Dorhauer will be speaking at the bi-national interfaith service and vigil.

“Jesus put his body on the line for the sake of justice and to save others,” said the Rev. William M. Lyons, designated conference minister. “The Southwest Conference is calling the Body of Christ, the Church, to stand on the line between the U.S. and Mexico October 7-10 to bring attention to the injustice of militarizing rather than economically revitalizing our border communities, and who will build bridges rather than walls between privileged and marginalized people.”

“It is important for the United Church of Christ to have a presence at the School of the Americas Watch convergence in Nogales because it allows us to be witnesses to the injustice at the U.S./Mexico border, but it also allows our church to be in solidarity with the throngs of people from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and beyond that have been violently pushed out of their countries of origin and pulled into the United States,” said the Rev. Randy Meyer, pastor of Good Shepherd UCC and member of the UCC’s Collaborative on Immigration. “It doesn’t take a genius to follow the root causes of that push and pull. Without much effort you begin to uncover that the United States has a long history of manipulating foreign economies to its favor while in the same breath propping dictators and their officers who create terror and repression. As people of faith we can no longer stand by as our nation helps ignite the fires that are ravaging Latin America and pushing its humble masses to our border.”

Thousands of people are expected to attend the event, including members of more than a dozen UCC congregations representing six different conferences. A few days before the weekend program, which includes a march to the border wall between the United States and Mexico, the UCC participants will have the opportunity to take part in an immersion experience, with a desert walk with Samaritans, theological reflections on border ministry and a strategic discussion on immigrant justice.

“As a follower of Jesus and faith leader in the United Church of Christ, I am grieved that current U.S. border security policy targets human beings and violates everything I know of what it means to be a Christian,” said Lyons. “If even one person in our land can be targeted or labeled illegal, every person runs the risk of being targeted or labeled illegal. No one should ever be put at such risk.”

“Walls and security will never be the answer to the problems of fear and greed.” said Meyer. “Instead we must search our hearts and recognize our wrongs—and build a world that is free of suffering and violence—a world where all have opportunity.”