"Jesus Moves Into Our Neighborhood", "people on the move", American Christianity, author, blog, Christian, compassion, faith, felt needs, jamesbcarroll, Matthew 25:40-45, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, social ministry, the Church, theological tuesday
This blog post was originally shared in mid-October of last year during the Cape Town 2010 event in Cape Town, South Africa. While the interview it describes is dated, the insights offered are timeless and worthy of sharing again. On the first anniversary of the Cape Town Congress and the interview described herein, the following is a repost of my response to that interview.
There comes a time in every Christian’s life when they must come face to face with the fallacy of their own prejudices and presuppositions. Such was the case for this writer in the preparation for, and the participation in, a recent Cape Town 2010 Bloggers Network interview with Ruth Padilla DeBorst, one of the leaders of the Ephesians study that begins each day of the Cape Town event. However, in the course of the interview, those wrongful assumptions were challenged and my spirit was quickened by the truths she shared.
As I began to read her bio, my prejudice towards a theologian from Latin America began to surface. She challenged that prejudice in all of us that equates Liberation Theology and Latin America, explaining it as “that is what has become known, what is taught that comes out of Latin America.” Pointing to the reality of other rich theological strands, she challenges North American Christians to become knowledgeable about the present-day reality of theologizing in Latin America and enter into dialogue with others in a manner that is enriching to both sides. She proposes that in such dialogue, we are more likely “to help one another, identify our blind spots, see what things we have been dismissive of . . . and seek greater faithfulness to Jesus in our particular places.”
In reading “Jesus Moves into Our Neighborhood”, an address she presented at Urbana 09 (a student ministry convention sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship), my presupposition towards her perspective as a Latin American theologian seemed to be bearing fruit. Based upon a plea offered in that paper for us to be representatives of God’s Kingdom as “. . . border-crossers, border-benders, border-breakers”, I felt compelled to ask her about her perspective on illegal immigration. In retrospect, following her opening remarks about her journey of faith and the larger context of the paper, I realized that my question was being addressed in my mind before I ever shared it. In revisiting the quotation, I was convicted of my unwarranted presupposition in my reading of the entire plea and the context it offered to the border reference: “Lord, by your grace you have made us members of your transnational family, which transcends geographical, historical, cultural, racial and gender barriers. Give us courage to live as expressions of a Kingdom that is not of this world yet has already broken into it, as reconcilers, border-crossers, border-benders, border-breakers.”
Her scriptural insight based upon a context of personal experience in Latin America offers some of her greatest challenges to each of as Christians today. She reminds us that the stories of Scripture are stories of “people on the move.” In that context, we should be challenged in our interaction with modern-day “people on the move” to be sensitive to their issues of having been uprooted and their life experiences which include a lack of physical or emotional permanence, “having multiple belongings or no belongings.” Recognizing the suffering they experience, she suggests we move beyond compassion and “recognize how God is working in and through the people we consider least likely. . . (those) trying to find new belongings.” Finally, she challenges us to move beyond sensitivity to their plight and recognition of God’s presence in their lives to considering them among those whom Jesus identified as “the least of these” (Mt. 25:40, 45), even to immigrants and refugees.
The degree to which any of us are willing to recognize and claim our own prejudices and presuppositions is as varied as the diversity of circumstances and life experiences we enjoy. One of the blessings I have realized in participating in this interview with Ruth Padilla DeBorst, and reflecting upon the insight she shared in her responses, was the challenges it offered to my practice of faith. It is my hope and prayer that this sharing of a moment of private struggle in my journey of faith will challenge you to (1) question your own prejudices and presuppositions about those whose journey in life and faith may be different than your own and (2) be open to the Spirit’s leading in your interaction with “people on the move”, those whom Christ would count among those He identified as “the least of these!”