Emerging Voices: Jose Morales, Jr. — “Immigration, Fear, Cultural Idolatry and the Liberating Power of Faith

Posted: September 24, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Second in a series of blog posts that feature emerging voices.  This week, my friend Jose Morales, pastor, theologian, future PhD, and Disciples of Christ Rock Star (or top DJ/MC), offers his take on immigration and the culture of fear.   The debate over immigration reform has produced a high degree of rancor and contention. But is there more to this debate than mere political wranglings?  Jose helps us to reflect on this issue through another lens.

DJ JoseJose at lakeview

What is at the core of the issue? What is the driving force of the immigration debate? I say: it is fear.

What’s at the core of the debate, in my opinion, is a cultural fear that grows out of cultural hegemony and cultural idolatry. Namely, the fear comes from the “threat” of having large numbers of immigrants who refuse to assimilate easily, in a country where the cultural majority sees assimilation as a moral virtue and as a necessity for socio-political well-being. In other words, immigration is not a threat to national security; it is a threat to national identity. For since the first rounds of Native extermination, the cultural “norm” has been set by the cultural majority, namely, immigrants of Anglo stock.  Which is why I am convinced that “white” is a political designation, not a cultural one.  I am even suspicious of the intention of some white liberals who, by using “diversity” and “multicultural” language, are really attempting to maintain cultural control in the guise of diversity “management”.  This cultural control avoids the real task at hand: de-white-supremafication. As these gatekeepers of Anglo-American culture see it, their power to set and sustain the norm is being challenged by backwater, Spanish-speaking, indigenous, Catholic, pre-modern, brown people who are a drag on the economy. What these immigrants are a drag on is the cultural hegemony of white society. Just as post-bellum white southerners feared a black cultural revolution and thus acted in horrific, dehumanizing ways to squelch any inkling of Afro-cultural insurgency, the cultural majority today fears specifically a Latino-cultural revolution which will rob them of their power to set the “norm.”

The sad tale to this saga for me, as a faithful Christian, is that this cultural hegemony has been, and still is, sanctioned and sustained by religion. God-talk is employed to ignore cultural fear and to maintain cultural hegemony, which consequently leads to cultural idolatry. Below are three ways in which religion is distortedly used to these ends.

  1. The dominant culture makes an appeal to “obedience of the law” as a moral absolute without first determining whether the contents and intents of said law, in and of themselves, are morally right and just.
  2. The nation that concocts these laws is given divine origins and divine purpose. In short, to go against the state is to go against God.
  3. The “white” majority, who have written the history of the nation (so as to soften up things like Native extermination, slavery of African peoples, and subjugation of women), are given divine preference and set the “standard” by which all residents of the republic are judged.

The cultural fear of the cultural majority is fostered by appeals to religion–in this country, by appeals to their Christianity. And I will specify: their Christianity.  Statistics show that the majority of African, Persian, Asian, and Latin American immigrants are Christian; and yet, these forms of imported, un-Americanized Christianity are not good enough for this republic and its religion.  As a Christian, I challenge their cultural-civil form of Christianity because, as I see it, it is not Christianity. The Christian faith is one of liberating power from below, not oppressive power from above. This principal of liberating power is embodied in the Torah, where provisions were made to guard against economic exploitation, political oppression, and religious legitimation. The prophets remind the people of the socio-political mandate of the Law, for they had emptied the Law of its liberating power and had begun to use it for personal gain and exploitive purposes in the name of God–sounds awfully familiar! For Christians, the Christ event is the fullest embodiment of this liberating power. It is in the political execution of Jesus on the Cross where he is ironically yet profoundly crowned king, and where God’s liberating power was demonstrated and the culture’s oppressive power exposed.

Lest I am accused of theological rambling, I wish to point out how this re-appropriation of the faith is applicable to the immigration issue. First of all, the immigration laws of this country are unjust, and should be declared as such by people of faith. Before we are called upon to adhere to these decrees, we should consider and challenge the racist, classist, ideological, and religiously exclusivist demons that inform and shape immigration policy as it now stands. To adhere to an immoral law is, well, immoral. For this reason, I have no problem encouraging churches, synagogues, and mosques to “break the law” and serve as sanctuaries for immigrants. Secondly, a critique of cultural idolatry is in order. While God in the Tanakh is referred to as “the God of Israel,” God is not an Israelite–nor an American, for that matter. Cultural idolatry diminishes the beauty of the whole people of God and does not allow us to see diversity as a gift of God’s Spirit (Acts 2). Providing sanctuary is a bold affirmation of diversity and of diversity’s rightful place in the American cultural milieu. Thirdly, I believe that faith and “values” language–i.e. “God-talk”–has its place in politics, since it is the language of many people who are affected by the political process. Yet, God-talk should be employed only for the common good and not for private or denominational interests. Civil religion used to subjugate workers for personal gains is rebuked by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 58). Lastly, people of faith should be at the forefront in naming the fear, and illegitimizing it. For it is, after all, illegitimate fear. In fact, it is fear of the worst kind: fear of the “other.” And it is only by knowing the “other” and by loving them that fear is replaced by compassion and solidarity, which are core values of the sanctuary movement. As it is written, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

To be clear, love casts out fear, not immigrants.

This article was originally in For You Were Once a Stranger: Immigration in the U.S. through the Lens of Faith, a primer on immigration by the Interfaith Worker Justice of Chicago.  The primer is available online: http://www.iwj.org.

  1. JP Paulus says:

    i think there are couple of issues that are ignored by ALL sides in this debate, which i think involve structural justice (if that phrase makes sense):

    1) The verbal amnesty given to AMERICAN criminals…specifically those who systematically manipulate illegal aliens to make them money. SO i am not talking about a person who pays a guy 20 bucks to mow his lawn once in a while. i’m taling about those who will do things like threaten to turn someone in INS if they don’t accept deplorable work conditions, for example. For those kind of American CRIMINALS, what deterrant is there to stop them from exploiting people? If they get caught, what happens? Other than paying lawyers & a fine, have people been truly punished? Subtract that from what theyhave earned from others who really did the work — did they even lose anything? And if they don’t get caught…?

    My personal wild & crazt idea: ship the worst of the Americans hiring illegal immigrants to Guantanomo Bay for 6 months. Bet that would significantly reduce the problem.

    2) The fact that the illegal immigrants are coming from areas in need. I mean, how often do we hear about CANADIAN illegal immigrants? So in the solution, we need to think about how to help the areas that illegal immigrants come from. As churches, for example, helping sponsor misisons and/or economic development in the areas where their members (or members of sister churches) are from.

    So to sum it up, i think a huge part of the problem is unbalanced addressing of the issue. One group is being dealt with while others are being ignored (which either benefits or harms that group, though both are unjust)

  2. Jose Morales Jr says:

    Thank you, JP, for your thoughtful comments.

    In a blog conversation, I was once asked about about my proposal for a more humane immigration policy. The points below is what I came up with. Point “C” addresses your point of economic development in the country from which undocumented persons come.

    Admittedly, this is not my area of expertise, so I know I will create more questions and leave some loose ends. Nevertheless, these are some considerations that, I belief, should be taken into account. Some of them will not be a direct part of immigrant policy but will favorably affect immigration.

    A. Path to Citizenship
    I do not use the term “amnesty” because of its criminal undertones. There are people here, many with children here, who have lived here long enough to be considered “American.” Their children only know “America”. Thus to deport them will mean to uproot them from their homeland, to rip them from what’s familiar: the U.S. I think we should create a path to citizenship for these families, regardless of how they got into the country.

    B. Family Reunification
    If there are persons who were born here or were naturalized, and whose immediate relatives are undocumented, these relatives should be given preference to a path to citizenship. Ripping families apart to prove a political point is demonic.

    C. Equal Economic Partnership with Mexico
    The U.S. should seek to support and encourage economic revitalization in Mexico. The U.S. should increase importation from Mexico, and establish joint economic ventures with Mexico. Thus, this will create stable markets and more job opportunities in Mexico and consequently do the same in the U.S. Most immigrants don’t come here because they think Mexico is worse than the U.S. They come here because they’re hungry and cannot land a job in Mexico.

    D. Tax Incentives for U.S. corporations that keep jobs in the U.S.
    Mexicans are not taking our jobs. Corporate America is taken our jobs and importing them to cheaper labor overseas. As Vijay Prashad says, “the American working class lives in China.” The U.S. should in encourage the maintenance of “low-skill” jobs on U.S. soil. Also, corporations should be required to save a percentage of job openings for persons who live in the economically-deprived neighborhoods nearest to their sites of operation.

    E. Move to Bilingual Education for all Students
    Most 3rd-graders in Europe and Africa speak at least two languages. We should move to being a bilingual country. This is not a deterrent for a good economy. Switzerland is doing okay with three official languages. In Chicago, there are four elementary schools that are running a bilingual pilot program, which, if it is successful, will be implemented citywide.

    F. Fairer and Easier Immigration Process for Prospective Immigrants
    The process by which immigrants are deemed “worthy” of entry into the U.S. should be loosened. Documented immigrants can contribute greatly to both the economy and the cultural milieu (e.g. taxes and tacos). If more immigrants were allowed into the country, less of them would be driven to come in by other means. Plus, the U.S. has enough. We really do.

    G. Required Language Education for Immigrants
    The government should partner with educational institutions (and churches!) to offer language courses for immigrants. Fluency with the common language(s) helps immigrants to find work and manage life in a strange new land. We, at Iglesia del Pueblo, encourage recent immigrants to learn English and to not forget their Spanish. And if we move to bilingualism, these immigrants will be “ahead of the game.”

    H. Secure yet Humane Borders
    Yes, I do believe that a sovereign state has the right to secure its borders. Yet the answer is not by building a wall or bringing in a military with tanks. Rather, the aforementioned actions should be taken first. U.S. tightened its borders should supplement the aforementioned actions. So, yes, we should do proper screening of all applicants (whether they “look suspicious” or not). Yes, we should control the number that comes in (though I think the number can be much, much, much higher), and with plenty of jobs (though the incentives given to corporations), numbers will be welcomed. And yes, we should be concerned with terrorism; for as we all know, the 9/11 terrorists crossed the border to get in–the Canadian border, I might add.

  3. Frank Kim says:

    Applause, applause, applause. Thanks so much for speaking out.

  4. […] featuring young emerging leaders of color.  I was thrilled to give my friends Vince Campbell and Jose Morales a platform for their work.  In the coming months, expect to see more emerging leaders with […]

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