fuming

I just realized I had a column published today. It’s not my best, just a little response and analysis to some things that have happened recently in Milwaukee and how they relate to race relations. As always, when I am published, I check my respondtolaura@gmail.com address, which is solely for the column (because the e-mail address is published on the JS web site, it garners loads of spam). Here is a comment I received from Pastor Mike:

Good article Laura but I have read articles like these many times before. I visited Milwaukee last fall for the promise keepers conferance and was impressed by the downtown and the apocolyptic look of the Marquette interchange. Two thoughts: First you will loose the readers I assume you are trying to convince by refering to illegal immigrants as “undocumented workers.” It immediately conveys a politically correct, who needs immigration laws, open borders mentality. I almost stopped reading at that point because I have heard this seemingly self righteous sermon before. Money is also a factor. A rich black, hispanic, or white person’s murder will always get more attention because in this media culture people with money are “worth more” than people without money. That is tragic not just in Milwaukee but in the entire world as well.

Pastor Mike

Well, I am sure many of you could predict my response to this. I am sure he had no idea what he was getting into, but here’s what the poor guy just received back.

Hi Pastor Mike,

Interesting that your biggest problem with my column is with referring to “illegal immigrants” as “undocumented workers.” How, exactly, is that “self-righteous?” I would call it compassionate. I am married to a former “illegal immigrant.” These are real people, with real families, real struggles. I wonder what Jesus would call them. I find it highly ironic that a person whose website is apparently escapetograce.com would take part in dehumanizing hard-working people, children of God perhaps you might say, in the name of upholding unfair laws of our NATION. Your attitude, excuse me for being upset, is the reason I have left the evangelical church.

Laura Fernandez

I know I should be nicer, yes, I know that.

<<UPDATED @ 3:23 PM>>

Pastor wrote back:

Dear Ms Fernandez: I see that I hit a nerve. The Bible and Jesus clearly state what our attitude should be to the government. I studied history at the UW Madison and know a little about the Roman Empire and its attitude toward Jews and Christians. As an evangelical I must have biblical authority for my statements. In the gospels when Jesus is asked if the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar it was a politically loaded question. The Roman government was hated in Israel and it had a horrible reputation under the likes of Pontius Pilate. Yet Jesus’ response was “Who’s image is on the coin?” “Caesar’s they said.” “Then render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” So tell me who’s laws were more unfair. Rome’s or the United Sates? Latter in Roman’s 13 Paul reminds us that no government is in place except by God’s allowing it to be so I simply repeat the question. Finally I believe your problem is with the Bible and its proper interpretation not evangelicals. After reading your rather “judgemental” response I am glad you will not take my advice, nevertheless may God Bless you and your family as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Well, I wrote back from work anyway:

Pastor Mike:

I am very familiar with this argument. I strongly believe that God is loving and compassionate, also just. The Bible clearly backs up these claims. While there are hundreds of verses in the Bible where Jesus talked about the poor and helpless of the world and ways Christians should minister to them, there are, correct me if I am wrong, only a few places in the New Testament, two of which you quoted, that can back up your argument for putting law above the needs of people.

I do not believe God looks at an individual and judges them for making the difficult decision to leave their beloved country to come to the US to make a better life for their families. The idea that the law trumps (almost) all is quite an American interpretation of the Bible. Christians all over the world break laws in order to practice their faith and do what they feel is right in the eyes of God. We are lucky to have religious freedom in the U.S., but what would you do if you lived in a country where being a Christian was illegal?

I am not exactly trying to equate crossing a nation’s borders to escape a life of poverty with religious persecution, but Jesus helped many “undesirable” people in his ministry. Would you consider a prostitute an illegal person? Certainly their work would be illegal in the U.S., but Jesus spent a lot of time with people who had did what were considered unsavory or illegal things. He never judged them or dehumanized them.

You may view undocumented/illegal immigrants as people who are simply acting in a way that affronts the United States, but that leads me to believe you have never encountered a person working here from Mexico or wherever on a personal level. If you dig into their personal stories, as I believe Jesus would have, you would find that when most of them come to the U.S., it is out of desperation and the legality of the situation rarely comes into their minds.

I’m sorry that you find me judgmental, but I find you the very same way. Anyway, because of my background in the church, I simply cannot pass up a chance to challenge someone whose mindset is much like one I used to have. I’m sure you also realize that many churches, even some evangelical ones, have been at the forefront of pushing for rights for immigrants.

Laura

<<UPDATED – 4.9.07 AT 10:00 AM>>

Dear Laura: Yes I think anyone who read your previous e-mail would call you judgemental when you characterize my attitude as “unhuman.” I see you also make erroneous assumptions about me and the people my church comes in contatct with but that is not surprising considering your attitude. You talk about these people leaving their “beautiful” country to come to this one with oppressive laws and inhuman evangelicals. There must be something wrong with their political system or cultural approach to make them so desperate as to illegally enter the United States. Maybe we should do something about that?

When God made His covenant with Noah to establish human government He knew human governent would be flawed. We are all sinners in need of Christ’s redeeming work. You hit the point on the head that Christians all over the world break laws to “practice their faith.” That was Peter’s point in Acts when he said it was better to obey God rather than men. It has nothing to do with laws outside of the practice of one’s faith.

I do not get the part about a prostitute being an illegal person. She is a person who has committed and illegal act. When the Pharasiees brought Jesus the woman caught in adultry they said she was caught “in the very act.” Which means they let the man go. Jesus’s act of compassion was based on the fact that all are sinners and the “selective” prosecution of this woman. But when He released her He said “Go and sin no more.” Adultry was still a sin. Entering the country without documentation is an illegal act it does not make you an “illegal person.” Illegal alien means a person not native born has entered another county illegally. If I entered Mexico without documentation I would be an illegal alien it would have nothing to do with my race, religion, or education.

I never said that the law trumps the Bible. You however have decided that you can choose which laws should be enforced and which ones should not. In this country if you find a law “inhumane” then work to pass legislation that changes that law. An opportunity that was not available to provincals in the Roman Empire. (Not even citizens like Paul could do that!) Just for the record when I went to the UW Madison I was the object of people harassing me in class because of my beliefs even professors that trashed Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular, it was by no means persecution that deprives people of life, liberty and blood but there were consequences for not towing the party line. By the way I will make reference to our civil correspondence in my sermon on I Corinthians 13 on May 6th. It was a busy weekend so that is why it took a while for me to respond to your prompt e-mail.

<<UPDATED 4-13-07 AT 2:30 PM>>

I don’t want to continue this conversation forever, but I wanted to say I most certainly agree that the U.S. as a nation and probably the church should do something to improve the economic situation in Mexico. But the U.S. immigration debate has been all about the battle between legal v. illegal, and very few people of significance in the debate have stopped to consider that root causes for this problem.

Here is an explanation I recently wrote: “response to a response”

I’m not sure where you got the idea that I called you or evangelicals in general “unhuman.” I said that the terms “illegals” and “illegal immigrants” dehumanize people, not that you were inhuman. There is a very big difference.

I’m also not sure what is the difference between a prostitute selling her body for money (quite obviously an illegal act, at least in today’s society) and an immigrant crossing the border to work in the U.S. Is one person “illegal” because of these acts? Or was it just an illegal action? FWI, under U.S. law, prostitution is a more serious offense than crossing the border illegally.

Would you feel differently if the subjects were an African couple who were persecuted (beaten, raped, tortured) for their pro-democracy views and had subsequently entered the U.S. with false U.S. citizen passports? Impersonating a U.S. citizen for immigration benefits usually guarantees a person will never be able to immigrate legally to the U.S. So should they have been deported as well? They broke the law. Thankfully, mostly because of media efforts and the work of one most excellent nun, they have been granted refugee status. Still, had the laws been strictly followed, they should have been deported.

Also, it would be nearly impossible for you to enter Mexico illegally. You do not need a passport or a visa. Your U.S. Citizenship guarantees that you can travel almost anywhere in the world, you can certainly move to Mexico and live there for a long time with no hassle. Just so you know, it’s not like the laws are equal nation to nation. But the real question is, does God care about the unjust U.S. immigration laws? Does he not love and forgive all equally? Is his compassion not supposed to defy boundaries?

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18 Responses to fuming

  1. jennie says:

    Laura,
    I actually think you were a lot nicer than you had to be. (I think you showed a lot of restraint!) He’s the one that needs to focus on being nice.

  2. Catiana says:

    Hey Laura! I personally think you were too nice!! 😉 It seems fairly obvious that Pastor Mike knows all about “self righteous” sermons! His type is the reason many of us have left the evangelical church!! He probably has no idea what Jesus would call “undocumented workers” but I have a feeling he may give you his “righteous opinion” on that!! People with his attitude don’t have a clue what is really going on in this country and show a total lack of compassion!!!!

    Keep up the good work girl!! In this day and age, it is so refreshing to know a young person like you who is open to knowing the truth and getting that truth out to others!!!

  3. jennie says:

    Oh no he didn’t!

  4. Matt says:

    Not only does pastor Mike show a lot of ignorance in his views of immigration, but his letter has spelling errors in it!!

  5. Laura says:

    So will you be there for his enlightening sermon on May 6th?
    Poor guy, he was persecuted for his faith at UW-Madison! Cry me a river.

  6. laurafern says:

    I know Laura, I feel really, really sorry for him…. I’m shedding tears in fact, it’s so tragic.

  7. Angela says:

    I don’t think I understand his reaction to the prostitution. If that woman is committing an illegal act and he refuses to call her an illegal person the same goes for Illegal alien. They commited what is considered an illegal act….doesn’t change them as a person. Laura you are a great writer and if I ever attended a church with such a judgemental pastor I believe I would quit attending church. My church knows all about my husband and our Bishop backs me up and says that if I ever need anything to let him know and he will help out.

  8. Abby says:

    I do not believe that you have properly listened to pastor Mike’s arguements. I think that your background has given you a bias that is unwilling to listen to reason. I think that the story of the prostitute is an acceptable analogy for what he is trying to say. Prostitution is illegal. Crossing a border without government permission is illegal. Period. Yes, it is unfair, BUT God has placed us to make an impact. I think to say that they are seeking a better life may also reflect on their priorities. Are they trusting God to provide? No, they are breaking the law. No matter which way you want to put it that is sin, it is dishonest, it is corrupt; some would call it stealing.

    I understand the frusteration that is felt when someone mentions an african couple who is persecuted for their beliefs and can escape and claim refugee status in the United States. I believe that there is a distinct difference between someone seeking shelter and someone seeking monetary desires.

    God is a God of order. Earthy governments are not perfect but they are here to establish order. As Christians we should make every REASONABLE effort to support our government in keeping order and obeying the laws.

    By the way, I’m NOT evangelical, Bush-loving, patriot. I just simply think that you are misguided and blinded by your fervor.

  9. laurafern says:

    “I think that your background has given you a bias that is unwilling to listen to reason.”

    Perhaps, I do care more about people than I care about keeping order and obeying laws. This would be a 100% true statement.

    “God is a God of order.”

    Really? Please, I’m serious, explain further, how this statement is true, and how you back it up? I think American Christianity values order, but I don’t think you can make that statement as though it’s a universally accepted idea. Jesus most definitely did not follow the order of the day. He most definitely said revolutionary things, definitely not an orderly life.

    “Are they trusting God to provide? No, they are breaking the law.”

    My husband’s family literally struggled for their very basic needs almost the entire time he was growing up. When he was born, they lived in the mountains of Puebla, without electricity, water, gas, stove, refridgerator, plumbing of any kind. Essentially, he was born in between four brick walls in a field.

    Eventually, they moved to a very rural town nearby, and his dad started his own very small business, which still could not support them, these are standards we, in the U.S., cannot imagine. At the time, there was no birth control in Mexico, they had a total of eight children eventually. This is not uncommon. Both parents worked ridiculous hours and still could not earn enough to provide for themselves. There were no opportunities for education for indigenous people.

    By the time him and his siblings were school-aged, there were decent schools in this town. My husband was one of the best students and the only one who went to a university in a large city. But college is not cheap in Mexico, and there are no student loans or other assistance. The rich there do not care about the “indians.” He had to drop out because he couldn’t afford to pay tuition and remain living alone in the city.

    As many do, he looked around and realized the only thing he could do was go north. I would challenge you to think about, if you or your family were in this situation, what would it mean to trust God to provide? Would it mean letting your family continue to go hungry? Would it mean taking whatever work he could do, knowing that there would never be advancement, that his children and his whole family would remain in dire poverty?

    It’s pretty easy in American to make statements about how poor people in other countries don’t trust God to provide. Even our poorest have televisions and food and opportunities if they choose to take them. Many nations there is simply no such option.

    “I believe that there is a distinct difference between someone seeking shelter and someone seeking monetary desires.”

    These are not issues of “monetary desire” — they are issues of very basic survival. I wonder what your father or husband or you would do had your family no money, no food, no education nor opportunity for it, no employment opportunities, no medical care, and a relatively high cost of living. Today, for example, many foods and household items cost the same in Mexico, or perhaps 10 or 20% cheaper than the U.S., and people make ridiculously less money. My husband, who speaks fluent English, has some college education as well as a degree from a U.S. technical college, is a very hard-worker, could perhaps get a job today doing back-breaking work in his town, 70 hours a week, six or seven days a week, making $100 a week. $100 a week. So please, don’t insult.

    By the way, the African couple was not persecuted for religious beliefs, they were political beliefs. Are you suggesting that a professional African couple who decided to speak out for democracy and therefore put themselves in danger is more deserving than starving people looking for work?

    I fully support what happened with the Bakalas, and it is not frustrating for me. I think it’s wonderful that an exception was made for them, and I fully believe they should have been granted asylum many years ago, but the fact is, the only reason their case was eventually approved was because of the media. They would never have succeeded had the nun and a number of reporters and other activists not taken a special interest in their case.

    I’m do not have all the answers, obviously, but I still stand by my belief that God values people over laws. I used to believe very much the way Pastor Mike and you feel about laws and order and all that. When I started traveling, my mindset about such things was completely shattered.

    I have had all the opportunities in the world, and that is wonderful, but I will not forget what I have seen, and what you see changes a person. I have to come back to the number of times that Jesus talked about compassion, the poor, loving our neighbors as ourselves and giving to others. There are hundreds of such verses, and just a few that talk about law. I think, rather than assuming that American views of law and order come from God, a Christian should more carefully inspect the things Jesus said on the issue.

  10. abby says:

    When I said that God is a God of order, I was referring to the basic concepts of the western God. I suppose if I were going to reference a particular person, I would go with St. Thomas in his Summa Theologica.

    If God was not a God of order then we would have no basic laws or principles. If God doesn’t value law then when someone jumps out the 14th story window God would just suspend the law of gravity. Alright, that may be the WORST example that I could have come up with, but all I’m saying is that our world reflects design, order, and laws that God has established. Now, I understand that laws of nature and laws of man are not exactly the same thing. Man has created our own laws and as Christians I believe we are called to obey those laws (Titus 3:1, Romans 13:6).

    I do want to apologize emphatically if I seemed callous to your situation. You are right, I have never traveled to these places and personally experienced their hardships. All of this is not to say that we as Christians should throw our hands up and say that is the lot God dealt them. It is quite the opposite. Given our laws, the church should be THE FIRST to reach out. If we were to turn our backs WE would be sinning. Luke 9:48. I believe that the answer is not to break the law, but to reach out to the international church for needs to be met.

    Please let me clarify when I spoke of monetary desires. I was unfairly generalizing a group of people. At a former job I came in contact with many illegal immagrants spending their money on pricey designer clothes many times sent back to family. So please excuse MY unfair bias.

    I know pastor Mike pointed out the verse of rendering to Ceaser what is Ceasers. He did an excellent job of expanding on the verse. However, even in its simplest form we could say that the money paid to illegal immigrants is for the most part not taxed. Is it or is it not a sin to deny the government what is theirs?

    I know that you have pointed out that there are many verses which tell us to love our neighbor and help the poor but I am at a loss and would like to know where it is okay to break the law for a good cause.

    Lastly, after reading your response I had a question that I want to ask with a completely humbled attitude, please do not think that I am asking this to attack you or your husband. I truly want to know your opinion on the matter.
    How will the crisis of poverty improve if those educated leave to seek opportunities elsewhere?

    Please do not take offense to my response of questions. I pray that this is not fostering bitterness but is helping us search God’s will and possibly find truths applicable to all aspects of our life.

  11. laurafern says:

    “Now, I understand that laws of nature and laws of man are not exactly the same thing.”

    Abby — not even close to the same thing. Look at what has gone on in Africa, in Iraq, in North Korea! State-supported killing, genocide even. These are places where “laws of man” have been created that are completely inconsistent with anything God would condone. In fact, I would argue that in at least half of the world, the laws of man do as such. Does that mean there should be complete chaos and anarchy? No, but again, I think it’s very easy for people in the West, who live under a mostly functioning, fair system, to imagine that the godly thing to do everywhere is to obey laws.

    “However, even in its simplest form we could say that the money paid to illegal immigrants is for the most part not taxed.”

    This is absolutely not true. The only money that is not taxed is that paid in cash, and most undocumented immigrants are paid by check, with deductions, just like the rest of us. They pay Social Security taxes, state, federal and Medicaid, yet they will never see a return on their social security. Billions of dollars funnel into Social Security every year from the work of people with false social security numbers. I’m not suggesting we give it back, just that this is not fair and almost never talked about. The government knows full well that these social security numbers are not real, but takes the money nonetheless.

    I think you would also agree that any company who pays their workers in cash without following the proper channels to pay taxes should be, at least somewhat to blame. Who is at fault in this system? The workers, who have essentially been lured here, or the companies, that attract them, hire them, often knowing they are working illegally? Why is all the blame on the worker? Why are the companies whose businesses have evolved to depend on these workers not punished?

    This is a very serious and important question in my mind. I often feel very cynical about the American church because there seems to be so much of a bias toward big business. I mean, I really don’t understand how Christians can side with corporate interests over the needs of individuals who are trying to feed their families. I know, Abby, that you are not putting yourself out there as a representative of the church, but I can’t help wonder where your interests lie.

    As far as immigrants having nice clothes and cars, etc, they are being marketed to, more than ever, just as Americans are. The Spanish-language marketing machine is a growing market, another way that our entire system has evolved around these people, and they feed and grow our economy. You can hardly expect them to live here and remain exactly as they were in Mexico, when they are surrounded by the wealth and plenty of the U.S. I’ve frankly never heard of anyone sending designer clothes to Mexico, in fact, I recently tried to send my husband a CD, two books and a card and it was confiscated by customs, so I seriously doubt that claim. But it doesn’t matter. Who are we to judge what others do with the money they are working for?

    “Given our laws, the church should be THE FIRST to reach out.”

    Sure, but it isn’t, and they are not. No one cares about the economics in Mexico. So many Americans, such as Pastor Mike and to a degree, yourself, can only focus on the “illegality.” If the church cared, they would be doing something, no? In the absence of any significant work of the church or anyone else to rectify these inequalities, what do you suggest people do? Wait around for more charity? Starve?

    As far as educated people leaving Mexico for other opportunities, this is a good and complicated question. The fact is, the system there is so unjust and there is so much unemployment and relatively little money being invested in local economies and businesses that create good jobs, that there are simply no opportunities. Many people have lots of ideas for businesses, but there is no capital, and there are no small business loans. So what is a person to do? They feel trapped.

    Going north for many involves the decision to leave behind the land they love, their families, etc, in order to save up enough money to return to Mexico and start a business. This used to be the way it was. Border crossing was relatively easy and cheap, and therefore, many migrant literally came part of the year, worked and returned. After a few years they had enough money saved to start their own business, build themselves a home, etc. As the border has become more militarized, more people have entered the U.S. never to leave, which was a very unintended consequence of the last ten years of securing the border. This is why we have so many more people here settling down and building lives here. They bring their wives and children and have more children here. They put roots down because there is no reasonable means for them to go back and forth and then eventually resettle in Mexico.

    I do not believe that the majority of people want to be lawful permanent residents or citizens, they want to be guest workers. They want to live in Mexico long-term but work in the U.S. I think many Americans can get behind this plan, but they cannot see past the “illegality” issue, and look at the human side of things.

  12. laurafern says:

    I also want to add that if we are going to have free trade, where American corporations can go to Mexico and build factories and sell American goods at more or less American prices, it seems only fair to allow Mexican workers to benefit from our economy as well.

  13. Braden says:

    Just as a sidenote to an otherwise very entertaining exchange, one doesn’t necessarily have to interpret Jesus’s words as implying an agreement with government authority. In fact, it is explicitly mentioned that the Jewish scholars asking Jesus the question about government authority were attempting to trap him into denying the authority of the Roman Empire (and thus providing the Roman authorities with a reason to arrest him). Jesus’s answer is illuminating when viewed in this context because Jesus is actually saying that everything belongs to God, not that we owe allegiance to Rome. “Give unto Rome what is Rome’s” is a clever way of saying give nothing to Rome, since what is due to God is pretty much everything. It would be really odd if Jesus implied otherwise, because his teachings and public gatherings were actually in violation of Roman law. Of course, everyone thinks that this passage supports Roman law because, well, the Romans took over the Christian church and it would be really unfortunate if a large number of early Christians thought it would be OK to oppose Roman law.

    Laura, I love your arguments about immigration, and I think you have a really good take on the hypocrisy that comes with combining Christianity with nationalism.

    Also, really great Isthmus article! I don’t think I’ve ever read a news article from you, but I must say to hell with that whole opinion/news divide, Tom should have definitely drafted you!

  14. laurafern says:

    Yes, it’s wonderful how life has led me back to writing in a most unexpected way. Thanks for the compliment(s). They mean a lot!

  15. Heidi Estrada says:

    I really like your website by the way, Laura, and I’m glad that I’ve gotten to know you a bit by reading so much from you on here and the i2us.net forum also…
    I am an evangelical and so is my husband Hector (hectorswife)…Our take on immigration does not, however, reflect what most of our fellow believers think. We have NEVER been treated badly by our church family, but I know that many people of our same faith would have a lot of negative things to say about Hector’s previous status as an undocumented worker… I thought that you would be interested also… http://www.churchworldservice.org/Immigration/bible-as-handbook.html

  16. […] offer (and there can be waits for 5-10 years in many of those situations as well). I got into a few very interesting e-mail exchanges and received a few strange snail mail letters (yes Mom, I know I should unlist my address and phone […]

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