Plan Integral de Justicia para Migrantes

Orientación
La orientación de la plataforma del Plan Integral de Justicia para Migrantes está dirigida hacia la justicia en lugar de cualquier conveniencia política.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Esta es la creencia de aquellos que planteamos en esta plataforma que la justicia puede hacerse únicamente cuando la injusticia del sistema actual es completamente y cuidadosamente expuesta. Nosotros enfatizamos que debemos trabajar en conjunto con metas claramente definidas. Estas metas están a continuación detalladas en un plan de rectificación.

Preámbulo
La Declaración de Independencia de los Estados Unidos, la Constitución de los Estados Unidos, la Suprema Corte de los Estados Unidos y la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas nos guían en nuestra forma de pensar sobre los sistemas que van en contra de la marginación, separación y opresión de los pueblos.

La Declaración de Independencia de los Estados Unidos dice que parte de lo que significa ser libre es la capacidad de buscar “vida, libertad y felicidad.” La Declaración de Independencia pone en claro que los gobiernos solo existen para proteger los derechos inherentes otorgados por Dios a las personas. Esto además dice que la autoridad de los gobiernos únicamente deriva del consentimiento de aquellos que están siendo gobernados.

La 14ª Enmienda a la Constitución de los Estados Unidos establece “la igualdad de protección bajo la ley.” En la interpretación de este principio, la Suprema Corte de los Estados Unidos ha dicho que “la enmienda incapacita al Estado de privar inmerecidamente a un ciudadano de los Estados Unidos, a cualquier persona sin importar quien sea, de vida, libertad o propiedad sin un debido proceso legal, o de negarle a esta persona la igualdad de protección por las leyes del Estado… [Esto incumbe a] todas aquellas personas quienes pudieran estar dentro de esta jurisdicción.”

En 1948, la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas, en su Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos, clarificó que esto significa hablar de libertad y derechos inherentes en el mundo moderno. En particular, las Naciones Unidas señalan que esto pudiera no pasar si nosotros viviéramos juntos “en un espíritu de hermandad.” Nadie, esto dice, “deberá ser sometido en esclavitud o servidumbre.” Nadie deberá ser “sometido a tratamiento de crueldad, inhumanidad, degradación o castigo.” Nadie deberá ser “sometido a arresto arbitrario, detención o exilio.” Nadie deberá ser “arbitrariamente privado de su propiedad.”

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

La Declaración de los Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas además enfatizó en qué consiste la libertad. Esta consiste en el derecho de una persona a “dejar cualquier país, incluido el propio y regresar a su país,” el “derecho a la nacionalidad,” “el derecho de no ser arbitrariamente privado de su nacionalidad o de negarle el derecho de cambiar su nacionalidad,” el derecho “a poseer su propiedad solo o en asociación con otras personas,” el “derecho de tomar parte en el gobierno de su país,” “el derecho a los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales indispensables para su dignidad y el libre desarrollo de su personalidad.”

 

 

Cada uno, las Naciones Unidas prosigue, tiene el derecho a “trabajar, a libre opción de empleo, a justas y favorables condiciones de trabajo y a protección contra desempleo,” el derecho a “pago equitativo por trabajo equitativo” y a una “justa y favorable remuneración para él y su familia.” Cada uno, tiene “el derecho a formar y unirse a sindicatos para la protección de sus intereses.”

En 2006, reconociendo “la urgente necesidad a respetar y promover los derechos inherentes de las personas indígenas los cuales derivan de… sus tierras, territorios y recursos,” las Naciones Unidas adoptaron una Declaración Especial de los Derechos de las Personas Indígenas. Esta estipuló que las personas indígenas tienen derechos “colectivos” como también individuales para el pleno disfrute de “la ley internacional de los derechos humanos” incluyendo el “derecho a la autodeterminación,” el individual “derecho a la nacionalidad,” y el derecho a “vivir en libertad, paz y seguridad como personas distintivas.”

Para que eso finalice, los miembros del Estado “proveerán de mecanismos efectivos para su prevención, y de arreglos para “cualquier acción la cual tenga el efecto de privarlos de su integridad como personas distintivas” o “despojarlos de sus tierras, territorios o recursos.” Más adelante, esta dice que “ninguna relocación tomará lugar sin el libre, previo e informado consentimiento de las personas indígenas involucradas y después de acordar en una justa y equitativa compensación y, donde sea posible con la opción de regresar.”

Esto además dice “que las personas indígenas tienen el derecho a participar en la toma de decisiones en cuestiones que pudieran afectar sus derechos” y que cuando ellos hayan sido “privados de sus conceptos de subsistencia y desarrollo [ellos] están titulados a un justo y equitativo arreglo.”

Ellos tienen el “derecho a mantener y a fortalecer su propia relación espiritual con sus propias costumbres y con las tierras, territorios, aguas, costas marinas y otros recursos que han usado y poseído y de defender sus responsabilidades para futuras generaciones en este ámbito.” Finalmente, esta Declaración establece que todas estas especificaciones no son más que los “estándares mínimos”.

Cuando nosotros consideramos migración no autorizada a través de las especificaciones de estas prescripciones para “vivir en hermandad,” nosotros vemos que los derechos humanos básicos están siendo totalmente negados en cada ocasión. Nosotros enfatizamos en que las negaciones de estos derechos son además contrarias a la acordada ley internacional.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Existe una conclusión entre historiadores quienes analizan las políticas económicas desde la perspectiva de la gente pobre que el Tratado Norteamericano de Libre Comercio (TLNC) ha sido el principal factor de empuje detrás de la migración no autorizada de gente pobre e indígenas de Latinoamérica a los Estados Unidos. Este acuerdo por sí mismo admite que pequeños y tradicionales agricultores en México, por ejemplo, tuvieron que ser sujetos a competencia por corporaciones de granjas fuertemente subsidiadas en los Estados Unidos. Este admite que alzando las tarifas que las corporaciones de Estados Unidos previamente habían pagado en orden de transportar sus productos a México por ejemplo, y quitando los apoyos que el gobierno mexicano había ofrecido por largo tiempo a los agricultores tradicionales cuando estos rechazaron el artículo 27 de la Constitución Mexicana, que un gran número de estos agricultores serían forzados a abandonar sus tierras para emigrar.

Posteriores tratados de libre comercio, incluyendo el Tratado de Libre Comercio de Centro América (CAFTA), el Libre Tratado de China, y otros han tenido efectos similares. En octubre del 2011, el Presidente Barack Obama firmó adicionales tratados de libre comercio con Perú, Colombia y Corea del Sur. Debemos anticipar que nuevos tratados de libre comercio tendrán las mismas consecuencias de los anteriores principalmente creando más desplazamientos de gente y empujandolos a emigrar. Además notamos que los desplazamientos causados por tratados de libre comercio en una escala más pequeña tomarán lugar dentro de los Estados Unidos. La devastación de la industria textil de Alabama es un ejemplo de esta situación.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Una consecuencia a la firma del Tratado Norteamericano de Libre Comercio (TNLC) en 1992 fue la militarización de la frontera Estados Unidos – México. A la fecha, aproximadamente 5000 hombres, mujeres, niños y bebés han muerto como resultado de intentar cruzar esta frontera.

La militarización dió lugar a la prioridad de bloquear las áreas urbanas a lo largo de la frontera las cuales eran los caminos más seguros por los cuales los migrantes tradicionalmente habían entrado a los Estados Unidos desde Latinoamérica. La teoría llevada a cabo en la frontera suroeste de los Estados Unidos fue que los migrantes evitarían áreas urbanas militarizadas, serían empujados a cruzar a través de aislados y peligrosos lugares de la frontera, especialmente a través del desierto de Sonora, algunos morirían y se pasaría la voz hasta llegar a las comunidades de Latinoamérica, y los migrantes pararían de intentar cruzar. Esto fue implementado como una parte de la política de “impedimento.” En adición, muchos migrantes reportaron rutinariamente ser sujetos a tratamiento cruel y humillante a manos de oficiales fronterizos. Notamos que más allá de la militarización de la frontera Estados Unidos – México ha sido parte de cada plan para las “reformas integrales de migración” que ha traído antes el Congreso de los Estados Unidos en años recientes.

La razón por la cual los migrantes cruzan ilegalmente arriesgando su dignidad, su propiedad y sus vidas es porque los Estados Unidos no les permite cruzar legalmente. Estados Unidos tiene dos sistemas de entrada legales. Uno para Canadienses y Europeos del Oeste quienes pudieran cruzar la frontera de Estados Unidos únicamente con un pasaporte, otro es para latinoamericanos, africanos y asiáticos quienes deben tener una visa adherida a su pasaporte. Esta gente debe calificar demostrando que ellos tienen ambos dinero y un título de propiedad para poder cruzar nuestra frontera legalmente.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

La excepción a la prohibición de los Estados Unidos a personas pobres e indígenas es la H2A o H2B visa para trabajadores temporales. Sin embargo el Centro Sureño de Leyes para la Pobreza (SPLC) ha aclarado que el Programa de los Trabajadores Temporales esta “cerca de la esclavitud” como su reporte en la visa fue titulado. La visa legalmente somete al trabajador al empleador que lo importa. El trabajador no puede legalmente dejar al empleador aún cuando el trabajador es abusado. El SPLC describe con precisión que el programa es como “servidumbre por contrato” y “trata de personas.”

Hemos notado que la mayor extensión de visas para trabajadores temporales ha sido parte de cada plan para la “reforma integral de migración” que ha traído antes el Congreso de los Estados Unidos en años recientes.

Los números desproporcionados de aquellos que son forzados a abandonar sus tierras a consecuencia de los tratados de libre comercio y sus políticas pertenecen a la gente indígena.

Muchos observadores señalan que pueblos enteros en las zonas indígenas son ahora ciudades fantasmas o ciudades pobladas solamente por mujeres jóvenes, niños y ancianos.
Los estudios indican que un número desproporcionado de los cuerpos de migrantes recuperados en el desierto de Sonora provienen de las zonas indígenas del sur de México y Guatemala, por ejemplo.

También notamos que el requisito de tener un título de propiedad no es válido para los indígenas que viven en tierras comunitarias siendo esto es un impedimento para venir a los Estados Unidos legalmente.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Millones de personas han sido desplazadas en América Latina, en particular debido a las políticas económicas de los Estados Unidos, especialmente el TLCAN. Los Estados Unidos y demás signatarios, Canadá y México, claramente sabían de esto cuando se firmó el tratado. Este conocimiento previo se indica tanto en el tratado como en la Estrategia Fronteriza del Suroeste. Ahora millones de estas personas desplazadas se encuentran en los Estados Unidos.

Ellos viven bajo la constante amenaza de deportación. Notamos que aproximadamente 1.5 millones de personas fueron deportadas durante la primera administración del Presidente Obama. El Congreso de los Estados Unidos ha autorizado un fondo monetario para deportar 400,000 personas al año, y para hacer esto ha incrementado el fondo monetario para el Departamento de Seguridad Nacional.

Los Estados Unidos también tienen un creciente interés de lucro en su sistema penitenciario con lo que está haciendo enormes sumas de dinero de las deportaciones. El fuertemente financiado sistema de deportación causa un gran sufrimiento a aquellos que son deportados. Además se están desintegrando familias Estadounidenses al ser deportados los cónyuges y los niños son separados de sus familiares que muchas veces son ciudadanos estadounidenses. Esto además ha forzado que miles de ciudadanos vayan al exilio, cónyuges e hijos que siguen a sus deportados o de otra forma esperar el regreso de sus seres queridos repatriados. Muchos de estos ciudadanos americanos en el exilio se convirtieron en aquellos que viven sin ningún estatus legal en el país natal de sus seres queridos. Las barreras legales que enfrentan cónyuges e hijos de aquellos que han sido deportados dejan a muchos sin ninguna esperanza de vivir en algún lugar legalmente como familias.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

En suma, a muchos les es negado el debido proceso garantizado por la 14ª Enmienda a la Constitución de los Estados Unidos y son sometidos a discriminación racial y étnica, detención por meses sin cargos, audiencias secretas y “racionalizados” procesos judiciales, de los cuales la Operación Streamline de Arizona es un ejemplo de ello.

Trabajadores en los Estados Unidos, México y otros lugares cada vez más están siendo sometidos a un nivel de presión que van desde el “derecho a trabajar” y leyes para criminales, lo cual hace más difícil para ellos negociar colectivamente afectando así otros medios para conseguir salarios justos, buenas condiciones de trabajo y beneficios.
Trabajadores no autorizados son victimizados por prácticas abusivas que incluyen redadas en los lugares de trabajo y sistemas electrónicos legales de verificación de empleo [e-verify].

Una importante amenaza a la vida de migrantes e inmigrantes incluyendo niños en los Estados Unidos es la aprobación de la Responsabilidad Personal y Oportunidad de Trabajo y Ley de Reconciliación (PRWORA) en 1996. Señalando que había “un urgente interés del gobierno para eliminar el incentivo para la migración ilegal proveído por la disponibilidad de beneficios públicos”, por primera vez, la ley de 1996 vinculó la elegibilidad de los inmigrantes legales para recibir Medicaid de acuerdo al tiempo de residencia en los Estados Unidos. Estas restricciones, además aplicaban los Programas Estatales de Aseguranza para Salud de los Niños (SCHIP), el cual fue establecido en 1997. PRWORA y SCHIP abarcaron la mayoría de los inmigrantes, incluyendo residentes permanentes legales y a otros migrantes los restringieron a cinco años para su elegibilidad.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Conclusión:
Lo que nosotros vemos en esencia es el crecimiento del número de personas prácticamente sin nacionalidad, quienes no tienen el significado de ciudadanía en ningún lugar, los esfuerzos para protegerse ellos mismos, sus familias y sus maneras de vivir les están siendo arrancados sistemáticamente. Derechos humanos fundamentales incluyendo el derecho a vivir, libertad y la búsqueda de la felicidad, les son prácticamente arrebatados. Derechos humanos fundamentales incluyendo el más específico derecho al significado de nacionalidad, a cambiar de nacionalidad, a mantener una identidad étnica, a cruzar fronteras legalmente, a no ser tomados como esclavos, a no ser sujetos a tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes, a no ser sujetos a arrestos arbitrarios, detención o exilio, de no ser privado de propiedad, de tener una propiedad colectivamente o individualmente, de tener la libertad a tener un empleo y favorables condiciones de trabajo, el derecho a pago equitativo por trabajo equitativo, el derecho de formar y de unirse a sindicatos, y el derecho a procesos justos que están siendo negados por el sistema. Hemos notado también, que cuando esos derechos son rechazados por acuerdo internacional a personas que estaban tituladas a esos derechos, les fueron negados sus derechos a compensación.

Plan de Enmienda:
Nosotros proponemos el siguiente Plan Integral de Justicia para Migrantes.
En particular, pedimos que las muertes de migrantes a lo largo de la frontera Estados Unidos –México paren inmediatamente.

1.- Crear una económica y rápida obtención de visas que permita a la gente, incluyendo a las personas de bajos recursos, personas indígenas que vivan y posean tierras comunitarias sin importar sus conocimientos o perspectivas de salario, venir los Estados Unidos de Latinoamérica, África y Asia.

2.- Desmilitarizar la frontera de Estados Unidos-México.

3.- Detener las deportaciones hasta que estas puedan ser desligadas del Departamento de Seguridad Nacional, de la industria de prisiones con fines de lucro y de cuotas.

4.- Abolir el H2A/H2B Programa de Trabajadores Temporales.

5.- Detener la firma y aplicación de los tratados de libre comercio y retroceder en aquellas partes que están en vigor actualmente.

6.- Restaurar procesos justos.

7.- Crear un estatus legal para personas sin estatus legal en la actualidad en los Estados Unidos, incluyendo pero no limitando a su vez un camino a la ciudadanía.

8.- Ayudar a los indígenas a recuperar las tierras que tradicionalmente les han pertenecido en Latinoamérica y la repatriación a esas tierras a aquellos que lo deseen.

9.- Fortalecer el derecho al trabajador local, extranjero y transnacional para organizarse y negociar colectivamente (sindicalización).

10.- Levantar las barreras legales que han sido impuestas a los deportados y habilitar el regreso de repatriados a los Estados Unidos, barreras que seguido obstaculizan a cónyuges e hijos de ciudadanos americanos su derecho a regresar.

11.- Proveer de una remuneración a las familias con ciudadanía americana de deportados para cubrir los gastos relacionados al dejar los países a los cuales ellos hayan sido exiliados.

12.- Desbloquear las barreras para los migrantes e inmigrantes para la elegibilidad a Medicaid y SCHIP.

Elaborado por:
Ellin Jimmerson, Huntsville, AL, EE. UU. , 12 de Enero del 2013.
Traducico por Adryana Luna, Winnipeg, CAN

Firmado por:
Ellin Jimmerson, The Huntsville Immigration Initiative, Huntsville, Alabama.

Platform for Comprehensive Migrant Justice

The orientation of this platform for Comprehensive Migrant Justice is towards justice rather than political expediency.

It is my belief that justice can be done only when the injustice of the current system is exposed carefully and completely. The emphasis in this platform, which I wrote after numerous conversations with other advocates, is on working in concert towards clearly articulated goals.

The preamble sets out the rationale for the platform. The particular goals are listed below in a “plan for redress.”

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Preamble

The United States’ Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, US Supreme Court, and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights guide can guide us in our thinking about systems which tend toward the marginalization, dislocation, and oppression of peoples. The United States’ Declaration of Independence says that part of what it means to be free is to have the ability to pursue “life, liberty, and happiness.” The Declaration of Independence makes it clear that governments only exist in order to protect these God-given “unalienable” rights.

 

The US Declaration of Independence also says that governments derive their authority only from the consent of the ones being governed.

The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for “equal protection under the law.” In interpreting this principle, the US Supreme Court has said that “the amendment disable[s] a State from depriving not merely a citizen of the United States, but any person, whoever he may be, of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or from denying to him the equal protection of the laws of the State. . . . [This pertains to] all persons who may happen to be within their jurisdiction.”

In 1948, the United Nations’ General Assembly, in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, clarified what it means to speak of freedom and inalienable rights in the modern world. In particular, the UN addressed what may not happen if we are to live together “in a spirit of brotherhood.” No one, it says, “shall be held in slavery or servitude.” No one shall be “subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” No one shall be “subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” No one shall be “arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

The UN Declaration of Human Rights also articulated of what freedom consists. It consists of the right of a person to “leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,” the “right to a nationality,” the right not to be “arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality,” the right “to own property alone as well as in association with others,” the “right to take part in the government of his country,” the right to “the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”

Everyone, the UN goes on to say, has the right to “work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment,” the right to “equal pay for equal work” and to “just and favorable remuneration for himself and his family.” Everyone has “the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

In 2006, recognizing “the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from . . . their lands, territories and resources,” the United Nations adopted a special Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It stipulated that indigenous peoples have “collective” as well as individual rights to the full enjoyment of “international human rights law” including the “right to self-determination,” the individual “right to a nationality,” and the right to “live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples.”

To that end, the member States “shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for “any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples” or “dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.” Further, it says that “no relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” It also says that “indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights” and that when they have been “deprived of their means of subsistence and development [they] are entitled to just and fair redress.”

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

They have the “right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.” Finally, this Declaration states that all these specifications are but “minimum standards.”

When I consider unauthorized migration through the lenses of these prescriptions for “living in brotherhood,” I see that basic human rights are willfully being denied at every turn. The denials of these rights also are contrary to agreed-upon tenets of international law.

 

There is consensus among historians who analyze economic policies from the perspective of poor people that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been the primary “push” factor behind the unauthorized migration of poor and indigenous peoples from Latin America to the United States. The Agreement itself acknowledged that small, traditional farmers in Mexico, for example, were to be subjected to competition from heavily subsidized corporate farms in the United States. It acknowledged that by lifting the tariffs that US corporations previously had paid in order to export their products to Mexico, for example, and by removing the supports the Mexican government long had offered traditional farmers when it repealed Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, that large numbers of those farmers would be forced off their lands and into migration.

Subsequent Free Trade Agreements, including the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the China Trade Agreement, and others have had similar effects. In October, 2011, President Barack Obama signed additional Free Trade Agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. We must anticipate that new Free Trade Agreements will have the same consequences as previous ones, primarily creating more displacements of people and pushing them into migration.

Displacements caused by Free Trade Agreements on a smaller scale have take place within the United States. The devastation of Alabama’s textile industry is a case in point.

A corollary to the signing of NAFTA in 1992 was the militarization of the United States / Mexico border. To date, approximately 6,000 men, women, children, and babies have died as a result of attempting to cross this border. Militarization placed a priority on the sealing off of the urban areas along the border which were the safest paths by which migrants traditionally had entered the US from Latin America.

The theory, articulated in the US Southwest Border Strategy, was that migrants would avoid the militarized urban areas, be pushed into crossing through isolated and dangerous stretches of the border, especially through the Sonora Desert, some would die, word would get back to Latin American communities, and migrants would stop trying to cross. This was articulated as part of its policy of “deterrence.”

In addition, many migrants routinely report being subjected to cruel and humiliating treatment at the hands of border enforcement officials.

Further militarization of the US / MX border has been part of every plan for “comprehensive immigration reform” that has come before the United States Congress in recent years.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

The reason migrants cross illegally, risking their dignity, their property, and their lives is because the United States does not allow them to cross legally.

The United States has two legal entry systems.

One is for Canadians and Western Europeans who may cross US borders with only a passport. Another is for Latin Americans, Africans, and most Asians who must have a visa affixed to their passport. These people must qualify by demonstrating that they have both money and title to property in order to cross our borders legally.

The exception to the United States’ ban on poor and indigenous is the H2A or H2B Guest Worker Visa. However, as the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] has made clear, the Guest Worker Program is “Close to Slavery” as its report on the visa was titled. The visa legally binds the worker to the employer who imports the worker. The worker may not legally leave a employer even when the worker is abused. The SPLC accurately describes the program as “indentured servitude” and “human trafficking.”

Major extensions of the Guest Worker Visa have been part of every plan for “comprehensive immigration reform” that has come before the United States Congress in recent years.

Disproportionate numbers of those forced off their lands by Free Trade Agreements and corollary policies and decisions have been indigenous peoples. Many observers note that entire towns in indigenous areas are now ghost towns or towns populated only by young women, children, and elderly people. Studies indicate that a disproportionate number of migrant bodies recovered from the Sonora Desert can be traced back to indigenous areas in southern Mexico and Guatemala, for example.

The requirement that people hold title to land automatically bars indigenous people who live on communally-held lands from coming to the United States legally. Millions of peoples have been displaced in Latin America in particular because of the United States’ own economic policies, especially NAFTA. That the United States and the other signatories, Canada and Mexico, knew this when they signed the Agreement is clear.

This prior knowledge is evident in both the Agreement and in the Southwest Border Strategy.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Now millions of these displaced people are in the United States. They live under the constant threat of deportation. Approximately 2.8 million people have been deported during President Obama’s administration.

The United States Congress has authorized funding to deport 400,000 people a year and to carry this out, has increased funding to the Department of Homeland Security.

The US also has a burgeoning for-profit prison system which is making enormous sums of money from deportations. The heavily-funded deportation system causes great hardship to the ones being deported. In addition, it is tearing apart US citizen families as deported spouses and children are taken from their US citizen family members.

Deportation also has created thousands of citizens in exile–spouses and children who follow their deported or otherwise repatriated loved ones to wait out the bars to returning. Many of these US citizens in exile then become the ones living without lawful status in their loved one’s home country. Bars on the lawful entry of their deported spouses and children, leave many without any hope of being able to live anywhere lawfully as families.
In addition, many are denied the due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and are subjected to racial and ethnic profiling, detention for months without charges, secret hearings, and “streamlined” court trials of which Arizona’s Operation Streamline is a case in point.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Laborers in the United States, Mexico and elsewhere increasingly are being subjected to a range of pressure ranging from “right to work” laws to murder which make it hard for them to bargain collectively and in other ways act in concert for good wages, working conditions, and benefits.Unauthorized laborers in the US also are victimized by abusive practices including workplace raids and electronic legal employment verification systems [e-verify].

An important threat to life for immigrants and migrants, including immigrant and migrant children, in the US was passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996. Stating that there was “a compelling government interest to remove the incentive for illegal immigration provided by the availability of public benefits,” for the first time, the 1996 law tied legal immigrants’ eligibility for Medicaid to their length of residency in the US. These restrictions also applied to State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP), which was established in 1997. PRWORA and SCHIP subject most immigrants, including legal permanent residents, and migrants to five year bars on eligibility.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Conclusion

What I see in essence is the burgeoning of people who essentially are stateless.

They have no meaningful citizenship anywhere. Their every effort to protect themselves, their families, and their ways of life are being systematically taken from them. Fundamental human rights including the general rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are being systematically taken away. Fundamental human rights including the more specific right to a meaningful nationality, to change nationality, the right to maintain nationality, to maintain ethnic identity, to cross borders legally, not to be held in slavery, not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, not to be deprived of property, to hold property collectively as well as individually, to free choice of employment and favorable conditions of work, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to form and join trade unions, and the right to due process are being systematically denied.

I believe that when these rights are denied, according to international agreement, people whose rights have been denied are entitled to redress.

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Alfred Quíroz, Artist

Plan for redress

I propose the following plan for Comprehensive Migrant Justice. In particular, I ask that the deaths of migrants along the United States / Mexico border be stopped immediately.

1. Create an inexpensive, quickly obtained visa that allows people, including poor people and indigenous people who live on communally-held lands, and without respect to their skill or wage earning prospects, to come to the United States from Latin America, Africa, and Asia

2. De-militarize the US / Mexico border

3. Halt deportations until they can be detached from the Department of Homeland Security, the for-profit prison industry, and quotas

4. Abolish the H2A / H2B Guest Worker Program

5. Stop the signing and implementation of Free Trade Agreements and roll back on those parts which now are in effect

6. Restore due process in removal proceedings

7. Create a lawful status for people without lawful status currently in the United States including, but not limited to, a path to citizenship

8. Aid indigenous people’s recovery of what traditionally have been communally-held lands in Latin America and the repatriation to those lands of those who wish it

9. Strengthen the right to organize and bargain collectively (unionize) by domestic, foreign, and transnational labor

10. Lift the legal bars that have been imposed on deportees’ and otherwise repatriated people’s ability to return to the US, bars which often act as practical bars to their US citizen spouses’ and children’s ability to return

11. Provide redress to the US citizen families of deportees by providing for expenses involved in leaving the countries to which they have entered into exile

12. Lift Medicaid and SCHIP bars to eligibility for immigrants and migrants
Finalized by Ellin Jimmerson, January 12, 2013; amended August 5, 2016

All photographs are of aluminum cutouts by artist, Alfred Quíroz, used by permission. ©Huntsville Immigration Initiative, LLC

Were My Integrationist White Parents Racists? Does It Matter?

23173695_127488861487I grew up being absorbed by race and racism. They were not just problems or issues. They were the distressing realities of my life. In the last few years, I have found my mind turning again and again to this very difficult problem.

My parents were among those very few Deep South white opponents of segregation and its racist underpinnings. We lived in two of the most volatile places in the South during the Civil Rights Movement — Albany, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama. Not a day went by when I did not hear my parents’ outrage over the way colored people, as we said before people were Black or African American, were treated. I have recounted some of our experiences a number of times, for example in this article published by the Raven Foundation, in a review of the film, Selma. I won’t repeat those stories here; instead I will offer some new ones.

My father, a lawyer who moonlighted as an adjunct history professor, was outspoken in social and family situations and in his classrooms. Albany’s Chief of Police Laurie Pritchett, Mayor Asa Kelley, Georgia’s Governor Lester Maddox, Alabama’s Governor George Wallace — all were routine objects of my father’s contempt which he expressed heatedly and daily. Far too many smoke-filled family gatherings ended in shouting, followed by silences. I began to dread them, much as we all loved one another.

My mother, a trained social worker, brought the Head Start program to Albany. An integrated Federal program, she was soundly criticized by other white women. But she persisted. One of the things she wanted to impart to her colored students was that they were beautiful. She constantly told them how beautiful black skin was, how pretty black girls were.

Once, I recall our housekeeper, Belle, came to the front door selling green beans she had grown. My mother, coming down the interior stairs with a visitor, met her in the front hall. The visitor, a white woman, cautioned my mother not to buy the green beans. “You know how niggers are,” she said in front of Belle, “they cut their hair over the beans. You’ll get nigger hair in them if you buy them.” My mother was struck dumb not knowing how to respond. Later, she called Belle on the phone, crying, and tried to apologize.

I tell this to try to convey that by any reasonable human standard, my parents could not be counted as racists.

Yet, to be completely honest about them, I have to fast-forward several decades.

Even though he had quit 20 years earlier, my father’s smoking finally caught up with him. In 2006, about five days before he died, he went home from the hospital with Hospice personnel. A black woman with Hospice came into room where we had installed his bed. He looked at her and said, “Have you come to cook for us?”

In the dimly lit room several nights later , the night he died, he began to sing “I Dream of Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair.” Why, Daddy, I asked, do you sing that? “Oh,” he said with the wide eyes of the dying, “that is a song all about a girl and they came and took her from her native plantation. She never got over that.” I said, “Daddy, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that interpretation.” He replied, “Oh, yes. There are all kinds of racism in the world.” I told my father good night. Those were the last words he ever spoke.

Well into her eighties, with dementia getting its hooks into her, my mother, too, continues to be absorbed by race. She does not understand that some battles have been won or that, if not won, ground has been gained in post-Black Is Beautiful America. She continues to tell every black woman she meets how beautiful her skin is, often touching them.

I cringe when she does this. I cringe because it feels inappropriate. I cringe because if I were in their shoes, I would not like it. I also cringe because the women who are the objects of her attention often pull away or visibly show that they are offended. Invariably, because my mother has been in various nursing homes where they are employees, they cannot challenge her directly, although I can see that some would, given the chance. On more than one occasion, I have tried in a subtle way to plead with them before I leave my mother in their care to understand that she means well, she just doesn’t understand what she is doing.

Were my parents racists? Is my mother? What is your take on this? And, does it matter?

 

Matthew and the Centurion: A Liberationist Interpretation, Part 3

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Healing the Centurion’s Son, Paolo Veronese, 16th Century

“For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Matthew 8:9

A Liberationist Historical Interpretation of the Centurion Who Asked Jesus to Heal His Servant / Son

One might speculate the the appearance of a centurion in Matthew’s narrative inherently implies a character that has become, in the language of liberation interpretive principles, the subject of his own forward-moving history. The centurion is inherently a historical figure not because he is a finite, concrete man with a name and address in the antique world, stabilized as an unnamed character in Matthew’s narrative, and excavated and transported through time by professionals into the present.

Rather, generally speaking he is historical because he or a forebear was a character whose very existence implies one who at some point in time made a conscious decision to activate socioeconomic change through time by entering the Roman Empire’s only fully vertical socioeconomic conduit, a conduit established in part to reinforce the imperial national security state, i.e. for reasons of power.

I am suggesting that the centurion was a historical figure because he consistently engaged in constructing an autobiographical narrative about change, i.e. ever larger accruals of socioeconomic power and prestige, over time.

I also am suggesting that the centurion was a linchpin figure in the historical empire’s subjectively shaped narrative about change, i.e. in its own ever larger accruals of militarily-backed territorial and socioeconomic power and prestige, over time.

Matthew’s narrative clearly makes it possible to understand the centurion as an historical figure. He moves through space, decisively choosing to go to Jesus who has returned to his home in Capernaum. He speaks, pleading with Jesus to respond to his paralyzed and ailing παις.

I want to linger a moment over Matthew’s use of the word παις to describe the object of Jesus’s healing.

Matthew does not use the word δουγος, as did the gospel writer Luke in a similar story, to describe the one the centurion wants healed. That would have indicated unambiguously that he was a slave. Nor does he use the word υιος which would have indicated unambiguously that he was the centurion’s son.

Instead, Matthew made the decision to use the word παις which indicated a son who is a servant (a socioeconomic inferior) or a servant who is a son (a potential equal). Inherent in the word is that this is a tangled relationship with socioeconomic and familial meaning. So, I have translated it here as servant / son.

The centurion is a historical figure, too, because he attempts to manipulate Jesus by deferring to Jesus’ authority. He suggests how Jesus might activate a cure: “speak the word only” (8b). He presses Jesus by analyzing the nature of the empire and his equivocal place in it. He does not emphasize, as one might anticipate under the terms of Matthew’s movement-oriented narrative, the mobility implied by his place in the empire. Instead, in the only speech he delivers he emphasizes its authoritarianism — he obeys orders of the one above him as do the soldiers and servants beneath him: “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it” (9).

Most significantly, the historical centurion gets what he wants. He is the subject of his own narrative, altering its historical trajectory.

The historical centurion is not unlike this story’s historical Jesus who similarly moves through space by entering Capernaum, equivocates as to whether he will heal the παις, marvels at the centurion’s analysis thereby deciding to provide the requested healing, delivers his own speech concerning the movements of various groups of people who have a relationship to the kingdom of heaven, and heals the centurion’s servant / son. Like the historical centurion, the historical Jesus alters the trajectory of his own narrative, i.e. he shapes his own story along the axis of change over time.

The point of inquiring about the historical centurion is not to stabilize an identity and an interpretation once and for all and thereby underwrite the reliability of Matthew’s story. Rather, the point is to use a historical interpretive principle in order to create a centurion which can be activated to the benefit of tortured and paralyzed (ahistorical) men, women, and children (those who are analogous to the centurion’s παις) on the edges of current national and global narratives.

The centurion was a historical figure because he was the subject of his narrative about change over time and may be activated in current narratives about change over time.

Conversely, I want to suggest that the παις was an ahistorical figure who by contrast languishes paralyzed, tortured, and mute at the edge of Matthew’s narrative, Jesus’s interest, and current “historical” readings. Whether there was an historicist, factual παις is a dead-end, pointless question.

His ahistorical nature is underscored by the difficulty of drawing a comparison between him and current identities. The reality is that, unlike the centurion or Jesus, we can give him no real historicist identity. Was the παις male or female? Was he / she more servant than child? More child than servant? Was he accustomed to being struck? Was he loved by the centurion as Luke may have indicated? All are equivocal possibilities inherent in the word παις.

More to the point, however, is the fact that we can give him no historical identity as I am using the term. The healing, when it finally comes, comes at a distance, at the request of the centurion, and only in response to the pleading, speech, and analysis of the centurion. In other words, the παις is by no means the subject of his healing. He never asks for healing or for anything else. Implicitly, then, unlike the centurion he is in no position to get what he wants.

Rather, he is the object of his healing, a healing that comes only because the centurion and Jesus have interests in healing him. Moreover, under the terms of this narrative, there is no reason to conclude that the servant / son’s socioeconomic status has been altered by his healing. Apparently he has been healed only because it is of interest to the centurion.

One may legitimately conclude, then, that insofar as this story per se goes, both the centurion and Jesus, who appear here roughly as historical equals, are accomplices to his marginalized existence rather than his liberators.

Conclusion — Who benefits?

Matthew wrote a story which includes a cast of characters (Jesus, a centurion, a servant / son, the centurion’s off-stage soldiers, Jesus’ followers who overhear the exchange between Jesus and the centurion, the ones off-stage who will inherit or be disinherited from the kingdom of heaven), plot (a centurion approaches Jesus asking him to heal his paralyzed servant/ son), conflict (Jesus’ initial response can be read as an equivocation), and resolution (Jesus heals the centurion’s servant / son). His story is historical (a story about human change over time) in which he enters various first-century discursive arenas.

In other words, he says something about Jesus’ relationship to Capernaum, something about the Roman Empire’s military apparatus, something about authority, something about Jews and Gentiles, something about the Kingdom of Heaven, something about inheritances, something about faith, and something about the power of Jesus’ word to heal even at a distance. These apparently (in other words I cannot definitively nail down his discursive intentions) are the things he intends to say something about in this story.

What is more problematic for the reader approaching Matthew’s story with an ideological commitment to people currently languishing at the margins of state, national, and global socioeconomic systems, i.e. with a liberationist interpretive principle (rather than with a commitment to safeguarding the Bible or Jesus), is what he does not intend to say.

In other words, what is more problematic is his (apparently) unpremeditated ideological orientation in favor of the status quo as regards the unequal relationships of power surrounding the servant / son which is also manifest in this story.

Neither the centurion nor Jesus demonstrates any interest in the παις striding boldly across Capernaum, speaking, analyzing, and demanding. Neither demonstrates any inherent ideological affinity for the liberation of the one at the margins of the Empire’s oppressive socioeconomic system and at the margins of Matthew’s story.

This discouraging verdict does not take into account, of course, that Matthew at this point has not been allowed to finish his narrative — his historical project has not yet been concluded

One way out, if a way out is desired, is to argue that one of the biblical projects was an historical one — it was intended to activate the continuing unfolding of a liberationist human narrative about change over time.

Matthew and the Centurion: A Liberationist Interpretation, Part 2

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Saint Matthew, 10th Century

For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Matthew 8:9

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN HISTORICIST AND A HISTORICAL MATTHEW

If we assume human authorship of the Bible, we can construct an identity for Matthew in both the historicist and historical senses. The historicist Matthew (we can be absolutely certain of this) knew how to read, write, and construct a narrative about change over time. He wa a Jew (this seems clear enough) who wrote an interpretive narrative of Jesus Christ. He appears (this is indirectly clear) to have written his gospel sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem and the razing of the Temple by about 70 CE (his gospel reflects knowledge of it).

Matthew appears to have written his gospel in Syrian Antioch around 85 CE (this conclusion is widely although not universally held by Matthew’s most recent historians) in part because earliest citations of his gospel are found in works having strong ties to Antioch and date from about 100 CE. I can say with some degree of certainty, then, that the historicist (excavatable and transportable) Matthew was a Jewish writer who interpreted Jesus and the destruction of the Temple around 85 CE. CE, by the way, stands for “Common Era” and is the equivalent of AD.

Although I am less certain of his location in Syrian Antioch, I am choosing to presume that location because by doing so I can activate a narrative about an historical centurion written by an historical Matthew. The distinction between the historicist Matthew and the historical Matthew is important:

the historicist Matthew more or less demonstrably existed; the historical Matthew emphatically did something thereby attempting to change his and others’ biographical narratives about change over time.

One of the things he did was to write about a centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant / son. Borrowing insights from liberation theology, my argument is that this is what made him “historical”.

The Antioch location is historically suggestive. As the Empire’s chief eastern city and principle eastern military outpost, the continual presence of the Roman army was perhaps the single most significant feature of life in Antioch. Historians indicate that there were approximately 30,000 Roman troops garrisoned in or near Antioch during the time Matthew was writing his gospel. As a centurion was by definition the commander of a hundred soldiers and if there were approximately 30,000 troops in Antioch around 85 CE, there presumably were about 300 centurions in Antioch as Matthew was writing.

Moreover, Antioch was claustrophobic. It was about two miles long and one mile wide with an exceedingly dense population of about 100,000 or 205 people per acre making it more crowded than Calcutta in the 21st century.

Three hundred centurions, then, almost surely would have been an omnipresent signifier of the militarily-backed authoritarian reality of the power of the Roman Empire in the city.

In addition to being a key center of the Roman Empire’s military apparatus, Antioch was a linchpin polis in its system of cities, a political network consisting of cities all around the Mediterranean basin with legal, political, and economic entitlements over the agricultural and monetary yields of the countryside attached to it.

In other words, Antioch was also the center of a parasitic economic system.

My purpose in emphasizing Matthew’s presumed Antioch location is to underscore a context in which a centurion theoretically could signify the omnipresence of the Roman Empire and its potential for violence. Additionally, the location theoretically (whether actually is speculative) could have provided Matthew with a context which could signify the reality of an oppressive socioeconomic system, a reality which would have been safeguarded to the benefit of the elites by the 300 centurions, but not to the benefit of servants and slaves.

The Antioch location also suggests that Matthew, the writer of the story about the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant / son, may have had a socioeconomic location closer to that of the centurion than to that of the servant / son. I can make this speculation for no other reason than that the historicist Matthew had discretionary income which allowed for the employment of teachers who taught him to read and write narratives and discretionary time which allowed for the activity of writing.

However, Matthew is not yet a historical figure because he has not yet acted. The thing I can say with certainty that he did (that which makes him historical — the reason for which we remember his actions and his name) was to write a narrative about Jesus which moves along the axis of change over time. Moreover, I am also arguing that the construction of a narrative is inherently a destabilizing act regardless of one’s intentions.

It was Matthew who provided the narrative with its (inherently unstable) words. For example, are we to interpret the word Κυριε Christologically or counter-imperially? It was Matthew who provided the narrative with its inherently unstable narrative framework, (e.g. what significance if any may be attached to all the coming and going?) and it’s only equivocally retrievable ideological or power orientation.

In addition, in creating their own narratives, his historians, including me, make Matthew an historical figure (activate him) by making multiple and competing decisions about theological meanings of his words and narrative arrangements and speculate about his orientation to power by reading his text through the optics of their own ideologies.

I am also arguing that Matthew has constructed a historical narrative by which I do not mean that he excavated an event in Jesus’ past which he then transported undisturbed through time and stabilized in a story. Rather I mean that as I read it, he constructed a narrative which not only progresses through time as the plot unfolds but one which is fundamentally about change over time —

the centurion fundamentally reorients his own relationship to the empire by putting himself under Jesus’ authority, Jesus fundamentally reorients his initial response to the centurion’s request by accepting the centurion’s analysis of his role in relationship to the empire, and Jesus fundamentally reorients the relationship of Jews and Gentiles to the kingdom of heaven.

Fundamentally, then, Matthew has constructed a story which at the level of various discourses is about rejection of the status quo and its promises of stability.

To be continued . . . . 

Sources: Nigel Pollard, Soldiers, Cities, and Civilians in Roman Syria (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000, Brent Shaw, “Soldiers and Society: The Army in Numidia,” in Opus 2, no. 1, 1983, Ramsay MacMullen, Roman Social Relations: 50 BC to AD 284 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974),  Keith Hopkins, “Economic Growth and Towns in Classical Antiquity,” Towns and Societies: Essays in Economic History and Historical Sociology, Philip Abrams and E. A. Wrigley, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), and Johannes P. Louw, Eugene A. Nida, Rondal B. Smith, Karen A. Munson, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (United Bible Societies, 1988).

 

Matthew and the Centurion: A Liberationist Interpretation, Part 1

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The Four Evangelists, by Jacob Jordaens, 1625

For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  Matthew 8:9

PROLOGUE

In The Social History of Rome, Geza Alfödy makes the intriguing observation that the

only institutionalized path for upwards [sic] mobility from the base [e.g. slavery] to the top of the social pyramid [i.e. the emperor] was the career of a centurion who entered the equestrian order through the primipilate.

Alfödy goes on to make the argument that the military position of the centurion provided the Roman social system with the “elasticity [which] was essential to its strength and stability.”

In other words, because it was an “elastic” institutional position, it was about change over time. Yet, because it was change over time that existed in order to shore up the stability of the Empire, the position fundamentally was about opposition to change. Indeed it ultimately served the interests of the status quo.

This institutional safety valve which provided elasticity and mobility for the few ultimately served to underwrite the oppressive lack of mobility of the many. Moreover, Alfödy notes that social demotion was a rare occurrence in the early Empire. Once a centurion or other imperial servant acquired them, privileges such as freedom, citizenship, or membership in an ordo usually were revoked only for criminal acts.

Matthew’s story about the centurion is helpful for liberationist purposes for two reasons:

1. History, as we historians say, consists of stories about change over time.  A centurion, whether an imaginative or factual figure, was inherently an “historical” figure because he was about change over time. This change constitutively was about socioeconomics, i.e. upward mobility in terms of status, standard of living, and power with the threat of downward mobility for actions (as opposed to beliefs, for example) which opposed the power of the Empire.

2. Matthew’s story about the centurion also was constitutively a narrative about power because the position of the centurion not only was about protecting the Empire from external military threats it was about protecting the Empire via an institutional advertisement for the benevolence of the state. In other words, the position of centurion had ideological value for the Empire.

PURPOSE

The purpose of this blog post is to develop and point out the value of an “historical” liberationist hermeneutic or method of interpreting the Bible.

I do this from my perspective as a professional historian who understands history fundamentally to be about multifarious, competing, and often high-stakes human narratives developed along the axis of change over time.  These narratives always are situated within the historian’s own worldview, constructed by the historian, semantically encoded by the historian, often told in the context of cultural discourses of interest to the historian’s audience, and have premeditated or unpremeditated implications about the status quo or its opponents.

I also do this from my perspective as a theologian influenced primarily Latin America’s theologians of liberation including Leonardo Boff, Oscar Romero, and Ernesto Cardenal.

DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN “HISTORICIST” AND “HISTORICAL” HERMENEUTICS

One of the collective strategies of Latin America’s liberation theologians has been to appropriate and redefine the term “historical”. Part of the rationale for this has been the perceived necessity of countering Western Europe / Northern Hemisphere modernist projects which, they conclude, definitely have been implicated in the subjugation, domination, and exploitation of non-Western / Northern people, their cultures, and their economies.

Modernist projects include defining “history” in a way that I am calling “historicist”, i.e. as that which is finite, concrete, and past yet excavatable, transportable and objectively subject to ideologically neutral reconstruction in the present — by professionals.

It is a project which emphasizes the importance of the antique past to what have been Christian academic concerns including desires to reconcile religion with nationalism, colonialism, and capitalism.

One solution has been to stabilize the Bible via the discovery of biblical “facts” and their perceived inverse — biblical “myths”. In biblical studies circles this translates into historical criticism including “quests for the historical Jesus” and by extension the historical Bible, the historical Matthew, the historical centurion, and so on, as well as for the presumed “lessons of (biblical) history”.

While purporting to be non-ideological, the upshot is a definition of Christian “history” which often works to the advantage of the status quo and its self-aggrandizements and in opposition to calls for socioeconomic and other types of systemic change.

In part this is because the definition of history as finite, concrete, excavatable and transportable places a premium on what is past. It is the past itself which is given value, i.e. it is an inherently reactionary — and consequently highly ideological — religious project.

Because of its emphasis on the past as an ideological standard of value (or a value related to power), as liberation theologians have underscored, modernist biblical interpreters’ understanding of history is, in fact, an historicist, inherently reactionary approach serving the interests of the status quo.

I am striving to develop a distinction between “historicist” biblical readings which benefit the status quo and “historical” biblical readings which have the potential of benefiting those who are in opposition to or are harmed by the status quo.

In large part, I am drawing on my professional historian’s understanding of history simply defined as narratives about change over time. In deliberate opposition to an historicist understanding of biblical history, an historical approach would emphasize several aspects of “history”. An historical approach to biblical history would emphasize that history by definition consists of multifarious, competing and often high-stakes ideologically situated human narratives, constructed by historians along the axis of change over time, told in the context of cultural discourses of interest to the historian’s audience and with power implications vis-à-vis the status quo or its opponents.

An historical understanding of biblical history underscores its inherent subjectivity and volatility (orientation to change) rather than its presumed objectivity and stability (orientation to the status quo). It seeks to activate and orient on-going historical narratives now being constructed. In particular, it seeks to orient and direct those narratives about change over time to the advantage of peoples currently existing on the socioeconomic and other margins.

To Be Continued . . . .

 

 

 

From I Do To Disfellowship: Why The Southern Baptists Kicked My Church Out Over a Same-Sex Wedding

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Photo Courtesy Denise DeMonia

On February 9, 2015, I became the first Southern Baptist in the state of Alabama to officiate at a same sex wedding. Two Baptist women, Yashinari Effinger and Adrian Thomas, wanted a Baptist minister to officiate at their ceremony. I received the invitation, was available, and agreed.

It was to be the lead wedding at an outdoor celebration called Wedding Week by its organizers, scheduled to begin the day a Federal court’s reversal of the ban on same sex marriage in the state took effect. It drew national and international media attention.
The day after the wedding, the Alabama Baptist Convention issued a statement that any minister officiating at a same sex wedding risked his church being disfellowshipped. This means that although the church remains Baptist, it is kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC].

However, since I am an unpaid minister with an honorific title, Minister to the Community, the representatives of the two state organizations wanted a stronger case. They discovered that in 2013 the Senior Minister, David B. Freeman, had preached a sermon in which he said the Bible does not condemn homosexuality.
The Madison Baptist Association [MBA] then notified my church, Weatherly Heights Baptist, that it was considering breaking ties with us. The MBA is the association through which my church belongs to the SBC. David Freeman and I met with Jeff Pike and other representatives of the MBA.

In the amicable meeting, there was talk of “one man one woman” and “biblical marriage” but the pivotal issue was Freeman’s stance. They had one question: will you change your position? Freeman said he could not. The representatives’ conclusion was that his endorsement of homosexuality and gay marriage was contrary to the Association’s Constitution and By-Laws. The upshot is that on March 5, the SBC will disfellowship Weatherly Heights Baptist Church.

The Constitutional issue was the “presenting” issue. The real issues were the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, “biblical marriage”, and a cultural phobia of LGBT persons. There was a time when being a Baptist meant this: the only source of authority is Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible, the individual believer’s soul competency, the priesthood of all believers, and the autonomy of the local church. This meant that no Baptist could tell another Baptist what to believe nor tell any Baptist church how to conduct itself.

All that disappeared with the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler in their now infamous 1967 meeting in New Orleans’ Cafe Du Monde developed a strategy for it. The strategy included such things as requiring seminary professors to take oaths that they believed certain things, coercing missionaries to focus on winning converts, and the subordination of women.

It culminated in the 2002 Baptist Faith and Message. In it, the Bible and the SBC were elevated above Jesus Christ. The SBC was the ultimate authority. No longer were Baptists to work out our beliefs based on our relationship with Jesus Christ, we were to work out our beliefs based on the dictates of the SBC. Gone were the sole authority of Jesus Christ, soul competency, the priesthood of believers, and local church autonomy.

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Photo Courtesy Steve Babin

The takeover of the SBC, I suspect, has a relationship to the relatively recent invention of a concept called “biblical marriage”. The day after I officiated at the Effinger – Thomas wedding, Alabama SBC officials Rick Lance and Travis Coleman, Jr. issued a statement titled “Stand Strong For Biblical Marriage”. Without mentioning me by name, they said that any minister who performed a same sex marriage was “clearly outside biblical teachings about human sexuality and marriage” and that her church could no longer be considered in “friendly cooperation” with Southern Baptists.

Qualified Bible scholars such as Dr. Jennifer Bird have pointed out that the notion of one man and one woman united by bonds of love simply does not exist in the Bible. Let me emphasize the “united by love” part which is the basis for modern Western marriages. It is true that we see the unions of one man and one woman in Genesis, but those marriages were arranged and virginity was compulsory upon penalty of stoning.

It would be my guess that Lance, Coleman, and the representatives of the MBA are not intentionally endorsing stoning for pre-marital loss of virginity. Nor, I suspect, are they intentionally endorsing the other types of marriages that appear in the Bible: a man, his wife, and his concubines or a man, his wife, and his wife’s slaves or a man and multiple wives or a woman forced to marry her dead husband’s brother or a virgin forced to marry her rapist or a prisoner of war forced to marry her captor or a slave owner assigning a woman slave to a male slave. Yet these are what biblical marriages actually look like. Not one man and one woman united by love.

Then there is Matthew’s ideal of a man castrating himself to advance the Kingdom of Heaven. Or being born a eunuch. To my knowledge, I’ve never met a man who has castrated himself for the Kingdom. Nor is there any way that one could choose to be born a eunuch, not even if the SBC were to demand it. By the same token no one chooses to be born straight, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered. Its that simple.

The real issues are denominational power politics and American cultural uneasiness with gender and sexual realities. “Biblical marriage” is a cover up and a smoke screen.
I cannot tell anyone else what to believe. But I can say that I will never knowingly follow the dictates of the SBC or my culture. Instead, I will do my best to follow Jesus Christ.

This article originally appeared at the invitation of David Henson in Patheos.com on February 23, 2015 under the title, “From I Do to Disfellowship: Why the Southern Baptists Kicked This Church Out Over a Same-Sex Wedding”.