By Renee Roederer
My heart is heavy these days. It’s heavy as I think about separation.
Separation. . . I grew up in Southern Indiana. During my teenage years, I had a rich and meaningful experience in high school, filled with tremendous opportunities and memories I wouldn’t trade for the world.
But we were separated.
Separation was part of the experience. In some very real ways, it made those opportunities and memories possible. The student body at my high school was almost exclusively white. This was not the case at the other high school in the same public system — still a good school but with fewer resources. I don’t have any official numbers from those years, but I suspect that my high school was 99 point some-odd-decimal percent white. We had a few exchange students from time to time. But I did not have frequent interactions with people of color, and I did not know any first-generation immigrants.
Separation. . . I grew up in the most incredible Christian congregation. Truly, it would be an understatement to say that the love and belonging I experienced there changed the trajectory of my entire life. That community provided me with love and convictions I have not lost.
But we were separated.
Like most Christian churches in the United States, we were largely uniracial, and we approached the racial makeup of my high school. During my earliest years of Christian formation, my interaction with people of color was rare, and I did not have any significant relationships with immigrants.
This is actually pretty common. Among Christians the United States, most of the time with few exceptions, there are white churches, black churches, and churches of immigrants based around shared languages. By and large, we do not spend time with each other. We barely encounter each other. We do not know names, stories, or needs of each other. We do not know the gifts of relationship.
Separation. . . We do not know the value of each other.
And this is serious. It’s not only a diminishment — a profound loss of the particularity of relationship and a dim vision of what Church can be. It’s dangerous.
If we do not know the value of one another, our humanity is reduced. This increases the likelihood that we will say, do, and tolerate inhumane acts toward one another.
Today, I want to address the Christians that I know, a large portion of my audience.
We do not exist in a vacuum. We live in a context which claims to be post-racial, while abuses of power increase contempt and systematic oppression for people of color. It’s not so hard to see this, unless we decide not to see it. . . Unless we separate ourselves from black and brown fellow human beings. . . Unless we separate ourselves from the crucial, inner work required to ponder our social location in regard to others. . . Unless we separate ourselves from our Christian convictions themselves.
And this is important right now because real, human lives are threatened in this moment.
As I grew into my young adult years, I was fortunate to build friendships with people of color. I did come to know immigrants quite personally, especially in other church circles. Right now, they are experiencing increased vulnerability and threat.
Do we feel connected to them, or will we continue to separate ourselves?
Right now, both within and beyond the Church, immigrant families are terrified and traumatized at the prospect of violence and the possibility of being separated from one another indefinitely. College students born abroad but brought here as young children are discovering that they could be deported to nations they do not know. Children are being torn from their parents as they are being detained, recognizing in terror that they might not be united for years. To their horror, international adoptees are learning that their citizenship paperwork was never completed when they were brought to the U.S., and they may be cast out permanently. Last week, a woman sought refuge from domestic abuse, but was instead arrested because of her immigration status.
These stories are all real. Do these experiences matter to us? Is our vision of Church — both its belonging and our calling — large enough for this moment? Most importantly, do these follow human beings matter to us?
I am afraid that some white Christians will soon express more upset and concern about the rising cost of vegetables than the plight of immigrants themselves. Imagine that. Greater anger about the price of tomatoes than the lives of the immigrants who pick them.
What will we do? Will we increase our separation even more, or will we live our convictions at this vital time?
Renee Roederer is the founding organizer of Michigan Nones and Dones, a community for people who are “spiritually curious but institutionally suspicious.” This community in Southeast Michigan includes people who are religiously unaffiliated (the Nones), people who have left established forms of institutional churches (the Dones), and people who remain connected to particular faith traditions but seek new, emerging visions for their expression. Please visit Smuggling Grace to subscribe to Renee Roederer’s blog. You can also follow her on Twitter: @renee_roederer.