The following is a recap of posts related to a request I helped co-auther asking Fresno Pacific University to become a sanctuary campus for our undocumented students.
Published December 11 on Facebook
There’s been a lot of talk about undocumented students, immigration and a request to become a sanctuary campus at FPU. Though the request was denied by administration (https://assets.documentcloud.org/…/DACA-Sanctuary-Op-Ed-Fre…), last week provided many opportunities for discussion. This week I will use my personal Facebook page to tease out a range of topics related to the conversation, which at times has been contentious.
The young women sitting across the table from me seemed typical of many students on the FPU campus. Bright, engaging and thoughtful, these seniors are busy studying for final exams, making preparations to graduate in May and wondering about the things that often fill the imaginations of soon-to-be alumni — career, family, faith and their place in the world.
But these dear sisters face an added pressure that most FPU students know nothing about. To these ladies, I will never offer the trite platitudes old white guys like me so flippantly pass on as advice to a younger generation. No, I won’t say, “Everything is going to be okay,” or, “I know what you’re going through.” I won’t use the classic Sunday school answers of, “All things work together for good for those who love God,” and “You can do all things through Christ.” Simply offering a token “I’ll pray for you” isn’t enough this time.
I won’t forget the moment these young women told me and the others sitting at the table, “People say all the time that they’ll stand with us. But those are just words and they often don’t mean anything. We need people to help us by taking action.” That was the turning point for me. That day I committed to use my resources to help these and the other undocumented students on my campus.
I easily found other students, staff and faculty who were equally concerned about the lack of conversation regarding undocumented scholars at FPU. We had all heard the president-elect’s proposal to deport students, even as soon as his first day in office. Understandably, this created a very real and formidable anxiety in our Hispanic population, especially with the undocumented.
In talking with these students, we heard again and again of their fear — fear so substantial that we knew we should be concerned about the health, well-being and even physical safety of this population. In response, a small team of people began thinking about a statement that could be displayed publically so that others would have the opportunity to join and support.
We crafted a document that was loosely based on sanctuary movements seen at other Christian schools of higher ed (Fuller Seminary, Azusa Pacific University, Drew University, to name a few). Over 400 college presidents, including some CCCU schools (an alliance of Christian institutions of which FPU is a member) had already signed a statement advocating for their undocumented students and demanding the president-elect not rescind DACA (that list now has over 500 signatures).
The document we crafted emerged quickly, but went through many revisions and was ultimately edited, amended and reviewed by as many as 20 people. The final statement was posted across multiple people’s Facebook accounts on Friday, December 2.
That’s how we got to the place we’re at today.
Our team is proud of the document we produced, but there are a number of misperceptions that need to be clarified in the wake of last week. First and foremost, this has been identified as my project and I the leader of the movement. This is a huge mischaracterization. Certainly I have had a hand in its formation, but I am not the author of the statement, nor its final editor, though I have offered myself as a liaison to the FPU administration. I gave two very brief interviews to media (a subject I’ll address further on a different day), but so did others on our team. This was a group project requiring the experiences, skills and input of many people.
Another correction needs to be made. We have worked very hard to avoid the language of “petition,” which tends to imply an aggressive, adversarial kind of project. I shared very candidly with President Kriegbaum that we were soliciting interest publicly and would be submitting to him a request for his consideration. He invited this and even welcomed it, challenging us to bring him “a thousand signatures.” In contrast to some media outlets, no one on our team has ever spoken poorly of administration or acted in an antagonistic manner. We love our university and seek its best.
The statement, in fact, is the collective work of over 700 people who have put their signatures to it. They are the authors, supporters and owners of the document. The most recent list of endorsers, along with the statement, can be found here: https://goo.gl/forms/bMClBekB8zDbVDPh1.
Thank you to all who signed the statement. Especially to those undocumented students who risk so much by identifying themselves. You are my heroes.
Published December 12 on Facebook
This is a series of posts related to our recent request to make FPU a sanctuary campus, which has since been denied. Please read my initial FB update from Dec. 11 for context (https://www.facebook.com/timothyneufeld/posts/10154730673613604).
All news outlets love a good fight, especially when it’s an internal one. And even more so when it’s between Christians. That’s the dilemma we face with our project to support undocumented students. We want people to know. We want to create awareness. We want to ramp up the tension so that others are exposed to the nearly insurmountable obstacles of the Hispanic community at FPU and the surrounding area.
But the last thing we want is for the media to turn our agenda into a three ring newspaper-radio-TV circus. That could end up being a win for outlets at the expense of undocumented students. This kind of objectification is unacceptable.
Undoubtedly, unexpected media pressure really changed the game. The team of people who crafted the sanctuary statement relied on social media to convey the message. That was a spectacular success. Within the first day there were hundreds of signatures. At the end of the first week more than 700 people had endorsed the statement and the original Facebook post had been shared close to 100 times. In my 18 years at FPU I’d never seen people respond so passionately to an issue. The exponential power of social media had worked.
But then the local media caught wind of our movement – in some ways helpful, in others downright malicious. Mackenzie Mays at the Fresno Bee heard about our situation and left a message for me on Monday morning (Dec. 5). I responded. She was easygoing and appeared genuinely interested in all sides of the story. I left her with three or four sentences and she selected a couple of those to include in her article. Mays was especially careful to report that our intent was not to be aggressive or combative with the FPU administration. I appreciated her piece, which I don’t believe was harmful or incendiary (though the title clearly juxtapositioned Trump against the university with a classic news flare). Most surprising, the piece appeared on the front page the next morning. I literally walked into my neighborhood gas station and discovered my name in the Bee’s lead article. Hadn’t seen that coming. You can find the article here: http://www.fresnobee.com/…/…/education/article119052633.html. Mays wrote a follow-up piece (for which I declined an interview) here: http://www.fresnobee.com/…/…/education/article120031738.html.
Liz Kern of KMJ (580 AM) also had a fair report, though brief. In an interview primarily with Dr. Jay Pope (psychology), she also asked me for a sound bite. Jay focused on the fear that the Hispanic community is facing right now and I addressed the need for advocacy on behalf of those who are the most vulnerable. The message: we love our undocumented students and are looking for proactive ways to support them. Kern’s interview is here: http://www.kmjnow.com/…/fresno-pacific-university-petition…/.
Dina Gonzalez-Pina, assistant dean of multicultural ministries at FPU, gave an extended interview with Univision. Cindy Jurado Hernandez and I stood by her side, but the whole thing was in Spanish and my ability there is “un poquito” at best. Univision has always been a friend to FPU and proud of the large Hispanic population that we serve.
Then a couple of radio talk shows picked up the issue and things got ugly. In the three days that followed I heard more derogatory, demeaning and salacious comments than I thought were possible. The vitriol flowed across the airwaves like the breaching of a dam, frequencies and amplitudes modulated to pierce through cement walls and tender hearts. The reigning moral principle at play seemed to be, “Everyone’s a racist but me.” Maybe I’m just not used to listening to those shows (this is shock-jock entertainment folks; there’s no news here). But I felt like I needed a shower. No human being should be degraded with those kinds of words. No way I’m repeating them or the names of those hosts and callers who uttered them. Even more devastating, many high-handedly proclaimed their Christian virtue while prooftexting their hate with Scripture.
But there was an exception. Pastor Paul De Pledge, from Kerman Covenant Church, called in to one show, and with grace and dignity helped the show’s host hear a different perspective. De Pledge skillfully and patiently traced the journey of Anabaptists through the Reformation and into the horrendous persecution they faced while practicing adult baptism in the sixteenth century. Their crime was basically disobedience to the state – they would not baptize their infants, and for this they received a death sentence. De Pledge reminded the host and his listeners that these memories of defiance, persecution and death are at the core of FPU’s theological DNA. But more on that in the coming days. Thanks, Paul.
I was asked to be on a couple of different radio shows, but knew better. The trap had been set. Nothing good would come of that. Media attention was not our goal and we never sought it out. In fact, we tried to deter others from engaging. FPU’s administration, however, did seek out a voice in the media, releasing President Kriegbaum’s statement to news outlets. You can read that here: https://assets.documentcloud.org/…/DACA-Sanctuary-Op-Ed-Fre…. As a result, the delivery of our document has become a moot point. We had planned to do this on Thursday or Friday, but the definitive word – “Fresno Pacific won’t become ‘sanctuary campus’” (the Fresno Bee’s headline) – was published on Thursday afternoon. I learned of the decision by reading the Bee’s website.
Navigating media is tricky. Morgan Housel has said, “Gathering information is a science. Filtering out noise is an art.” The accessory we might need most these days is a good set of cultural noise-cancelling headphones to filter the hate, screen the animosity and sieve through the “anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive language.” The alternate is much better: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and above all, love. Love. LOVE. Check it in Colossians 3.
Kind of makes me wonder if St. Paul’s Colossae was familiar with talk radio?
We’re still taking names from FPU students, staff and alumni here:https://goo.gl/forms/by5ZOXKUADeQsX6j1
Published December 13 on Facebook
This is a series of posts related to our recent work with undocumented students at FPU. It is not an official position of the university, but rather the opinion a group of students and staff I am working with. Please read my initial FB update from Dec. 11 for context (https://www.facebook.com/timothyneufeld/posts/10154730673613604).
#3: Jesus never broke the law?
An expert in the law tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what must I do to be a good Christian?”
Jesus replied: “Good Christians never break the law. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Good Christians pay their taxes.”
If I said the imaginary passage above could be found in Timotheus 3:20, I think half of America would believe me. (The verse right before it says, “God helps those who help themselves,” and the one immediately after says, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”)
Variants on the “Good Christians don’t protest or break the law” axiom are, “Jesus never broke the law,” and “The Bible says we have to obey the government.”
I’m not going to spend anything close to the time this topic needs, but here are just a few reasons why this interpretation is skewed.
First, for those who believe that Jesus never broke any laws, which set of laws are you talking about? Jesus broke plenty of Jewish laws. In fact, he’s constantly tussling with the authorities about this issue. The people he gets most angry with aren’t the sinners or the tax collectors or the prostitutes. He saves his righteous fury for leaders, those in power who were the religious legal experts of their day. In contemporary vernacular, Jesus targets the pastors, priests, elders, teachers, moderators, presidents, executives and others in charge of shepherding God’s people. (That’s me! I’ve held those positions.) And these religious leaders become so furious with him that they eventually begin to plot his death. Why? In part because Jesus breaks a whole bunch of their laws. He heals and harvests on the Sabbath. He approves of unclean food. He touches unclean people. He doesn’t wash properly. He harbors traitors and revolutionaries. He talks to and teaches women. He associates with prostitutes. Wait. Back up. That’s PROSTITUTES! Absolutely scandalous. NOTE: Please do not hang out with prostitutes. You will not be a good Christian.
But what about Roman law? Well, they didn’t exactly have quaintly labeled statutes such as California Vehicle Code Section 22350 (guilty!) or 18 U.S. Code 1657 (arrr, not me matey). But Jesus was saying some pretty treasonous things, daring to defy Rome by speaking of another kingdom. The implication of his message was consistent and relentless: Caesar is not your Lord. Sedition! The plaque on top of his cross proclaiming “King of the Jews” was not a sarcastic poke at Jesus during his final hours of life, but rather a damning indictment by the Romans. A hill of bloody crosses was Rome’s way of reminding the Jews that, while they were allowed to practice their religion, ultimately Caesar was the supreme deity. And though Pilate chose to wash his hands of Jesus’ death, the Jews’ charge of treason against the empire stuck. Even some of the disciples, his closest confidants, believed that their rabbi had come for political revolution – Peter draws a sword; James and John ask for seats of power; Simon the Zealot finds a sympathetic welcome. No wonder the Jewish leaders were upset. Jesus’ treasonous pronouncements of a new kingdom were upsetting the delicate balance of Jewish-Roman relationships as well as threatening to displace their systems of authoritarian control. (Umm, I just realized that if I substitute “Jewish” with “Christian” and “Roman” with “American” in the last two sentences…. Never mind, we know that would never happen here.)
After “Jesus never broke the law,” the second most common misuse of Scripture I’ve heard in the debate about undocumented immigrants goes like this: We need to obey the government because Jesus told his followers, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Yes… but not for the reason that’s commonly stated. Jesus did tell the Pharisees to pay their taxes, but he was responding to a series of traps that they and other leaders had set for him. The story is well known because it’s found in three of the Gospels (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 20). But in each telling of the story, Jesus adds something I don’t hear quoted much. Here’s the full statement: “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matt 22:21). The whole point of Jesus’ instruction is that God’s economy is different. The kingdom of God is upside down – it favors the poor, the oppressed, the suffering, the lowliest and the least. It’s as if he’s saying, “Don’t forget – there are two kingdoms. Give to earthly governments what belongs to earthly governments, but always remember that my kingdom has a higher law.” Not convinced? Jump down a few verses in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts. Jesus trounces the experts in religious law with one final proclamation, the greatest two commandments: Love the Lord your God with everything you have, AND love your neighbor as yourself.
I don’t have any problem with people pointing out that Jesus told us to pay our taxes. (And by the way, why are so many people who use this verse to support the notion we must always obey the law the same people who complain about paying taxes?) I just want us to read the entire chapter. Right down to the part about love.
“Love your neighbor.”
Not “love your neighbor when…” or “love your neighbor if…” or “love your neighbor after….” There aren’t any conditions or stipulations. And it’s not a suggestion. It’s a command.
Love your neighbor.
In God’s kingdom, the rule of love preempts the rule of law.
Published December 14 on Facebook
I’m continuing my daily posts related to our recent work with undocumented students at FPU. These are my opinions. Take ’em or leave ’em. Please read my initial FB update from Dec. 11 for context (https://www.facebook.com/timothyneufeld/posts/10154730673613604).
#4: The hands and feet of Jesus
Most Christian traditions play favorites. Really. Here’s a question to test that theory: Which person of the Trinity does your denomination or church favor? In general, faith traditions commonly give weight to one over the others. Though not necessarily correct, it’s a reality. Orthodox branches of Christianity do a great job reflecting on the mystery and grandeur of God the Father, the wise and engaging Creator who is constantly renewing his creation. Pentecostal traditions remind us of the power of a Spirit that is present and responsive in the most mundane daily situations. My tribe, the Anabaptists, has a rich tradition of believing in and acting on the life of Jesus and considers his teachings as literal instructions for living. We’re relentless on this one, almost to a fault. We constantly go back to the Gospels, with specific emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes function as a kind of mission statement. “Blessed are those who…” is a guiding ethic. (See Matthew 5)
Fresno Pacific University, the institution at which I teach, was founded with this theology at its core more than 70 years ago. The parenting denomination, Mennonite Brethren, is an offshoot of Anabaptism, and takes its name from Menno Simons, a sixteenth-century Dutch reformer who denounced his Catholic priesthood in favor of a radical, emerging theology. Shunned as a heretic for his new faith perspective, Simons joined with others as a champion of re-baptism (Ana-baptism), a practice that is common across evangelical traditions today. But back in 1536, when he was baptized as an adult on his own voluntary confession of faith, the act was consider treasonous. Re-baptizers were essentially rejecting their infant baptism, which was as much an entry into state citizenship as it was a spiritual rite of passage. To discard the first baptism was to snub the empire, a capital offence. Taking cues from Jesus’ own departure from the law of his day, Anabaptists suffered great persecution, often imprisoned and tortured, ending in brutal and horrific deaths through drowning, burning or beheading.
My Anabaptist forefathers sacrificed their own lives for a tradition that has become normative in today’s world. This is the spiritual DNA I have inherited. The model of Jesus led these radical reformers to question the laws of their era and now provides inspiration for a whole new generation of Neo-Anabaptists – those who don’t have any Mennonite heritage but are committing to a theology of adult confession, volunteerism, biblical interpretation in community, peace, simplicity and selflessness.
Throughout their history, Mennonites have been a hunted and persecuted people, often running from oppressors, as immigrants to new territories where they’ve found religious freedom. Their resistance to take an oath or swear allegiance to anyone but Christ has put them at odds with many governments over the last four centuries. Often hardworking and staunchly communal, their history of suffering has inspired them to have compassion on other victims of both physically and spiritually oppressive circumstances. One of the highest calls for an Anabaptist is to be the literal hands and feet of Jesus.
The stories and principles of Anabaptism have slipped away from most people (even the ones who have inherited the tradition), but the ghosts remain and are easily revived. I’ll offer more about this noble movement in future posts, but conclude now with the words of Menno Simons.
“True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.”
— Menno Simons, 1539
Published December 15 on Facebook
Continuing the conversation. See my previous FB updates for context.
#5: Kingdom, Culture and DACA
In an average year, FPU has 30 or so undocumented students studying with us in the Traditional Undergraduate Program. That’s almost one out of every 30 regularly enrolled students on the main campus. About 25% of our total student body (across all programs) is Hispanic (down from 35% in 2013). Approximately a quarter of our student population is Catholic, by far the biggest denomination represented. The large enrollment has earned us a “Hispanic-Serving Institution” designation by The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and we were the first institution in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, an international organization, to receive this distinction. It’s an accolade we are proud of.
In many ways, the student body at FPU reflects the larger demographic of California. And California provides a good glimpse of where the rest of the U.S. is headed. For some, that will be exciting news. For others, the unfolding scenario creates more fear and anxiety.
California ranks #1 for having the largest Hispanic population in the nation. In 2014, Hispanics made up 39% of the state and 52% of all K-12 students. The average age of this group is young, just 28 years old. With the White population at 42% in decline (average age is 45 years old and getting older), there is now no majority ethnic group in California, or to put it another way, California is the only state in the contiguous U.S. to have a non-white majority. In Fresno County, where I live, the Hispanic population has been growing steadily – from 35% in 1990, to 44% in 2000, up to 52% in 2014. These numbers reflect massive shifts in the Central Valley, California and the U.S. Soon, Hispanics will be the majority ethnicity not only in my county, but in the state.
This provides FPU with some wonderful opportunities for working with our Hispanic brothers and sisters. One of the ways we do this is to partner with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. To take advantage of the initiative, undocumented students have to apply; typically, they came into the country as small children with their parents, though not all are accepted to DACA due to some precise requirements about family status, travel patterns, etc. Those who are accepted are eligible for Cal Grants, but do not receive any federal funds or loans. The program is largely subsidized by private donors who designate money directly to these students. Even though it’s just a tiny fraction of other program budgets, such as athletics, the support is considerable for those who benefit from it. In addition, there are a number of pro bono legal services available for these students in an attempt to help them gain legal citizenship.
If you have read my other updates, you know that a group of us, including students, staff and alumni, posted a letter requesting sanctuary status at FPU (here: https://goo.gl/forms/f4WdPUJu0b0wCt3u1). Out of the 700-plus signatures, 25 identified themselves as undocumented (either current students or alumni). It’s a bold move to do so. These students and their families have often been the victims of vitriolic language and threatening actions – they’re not dangerous, they’re in danger. These are not nameless, faceless objects on our campus. They are dear family members – some of the smartest and hardest working of us – and productive, contributing members of our community. They’ve been student body presidents, scholars and honors students. They have gone on to become legal residents, have joined the workforce and have raised families in the area. They will be our doctors, lawyers, politicians, city officials, business owners and so much more (they already are!).
As the majority culture continues to shift, I suspect it will look much more like the kingdom of God, full of diversity, culture and songs of worship in different languages. It’s a blessing to know these DACA students and the entire Hispanic community that studies with us at FPU. I’m confident there’s more ahead.
Extra: Just this week, our Pacific Magazine profiled several Hispanic students. We’re so proud of them. (Don’t miss the interview with one of our Muslim students as well!)
Published December 20 on Facebook