The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Acts 10:15 (NIV)
Nomenclature matters. The name we give something either enlarges or constricts how we view it.
For Peter, dividing humanity into Jews and Gentiles limited his imagination about the possibilities of God’s work in and through all human beings. Gentile were outsiders. Jews were insiders. However, what Peter learned through this vision from God and his interaction with Cornelius is that Gentiles were not profane objects and obstacles to God’s covenantal purpose, they actually were within the expansive love of God and welcome in God’s family of faith. Peter subsequently learned Gentiles were valuable contributors to the health, mission and vitality of the early church.
The power of defining others and how naming affects treatment was apparent during a trip to the US-Mexican border with the cabinet and candidates in the Residency-in- Ordained Ministry process. As we entered the Mexican city of Matamoros, we came to a tent city constructed by persons seeking asylum in the U.S. In some narratives, these people are the problem. We were met by Rev. David Medrano, who described several ministries the Methodist Church was doing with those that called the tents their temporary home. He immediately articulated his understanding of the situation, “We do not see these people as a problem … only as brothers and sisters.” He repeated this statement again to make sure we caught the distinction.
When we see the “other” as a problem, we reduce them to something to be ignored, eschewed or fixed. However, if “others” are defined by familial terms, then they become subjects who both receive and reciprocate love. Siblings are persons of value and dignity.
God’s question to Peter still resounds today. What if we lived in posture that names the “other” who comes from a different territory of the world (or a territory different from our own political, theological and practical territory) not as a problem but as a member of a greater, larger and much more diverse family – brother or sister?
What do you see in the other—a problem or a sibling?
A Prayer adapted from St Oscar Romero:
Christ, you have representatives here and now in the world:
us, his church, the community.
And so, when I focus on the week gone by,
I attend to a work that is proper for the church.
May we turn the gospel’s light on the political scene,
but may the main thing for us
be to light the lamp of the gospel
in our communities.
In your name we pray. Amen.
From the NC Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Immigration Alliance
To raise awareness this week:
Review immigration study guides, available from the NC Council of Churches.
To become educated this week:
Find information about the number of detentions and deportations happening in your community, and discuss with others the trends you are seeing.
To advocate this week:
Begin to advocate with neighboring immigrant churches in your community.
Mike Frese is an elder in the North Carolina Conference, currently serving as the district superintendent of the Corridor District.