Jesus: Anchor Baby, Illegal Immigrant

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

We seem to white wash our own stories-if we read the text closely, we will read that Jesus, too, was an illegal immigrant and an anchor baby.  This cartoon highlights this truth in profound ways.

We would prefer to coo and ah at the pristine baby Jesus found in Christmas pageants.  Here he is chubby with rosy cheeks.  Here he is cute with smiles and giggles.  Our manger is with fresh clean hay.  The animals are robust and clean.   Mary the new mother is pristine in blue and looks like she has just arrived from the beauty parlor and not like she has spent unknown amount of hours in labor, hair matted with sweat.  We do not witness the screams and profanity that uttered from her lips as she labored.  And Joseph, the proud father, not the humiliated man who has just watched his bride to be give birth to some other man’s child.   Yes, Mary is an unwed teenage mother, another shameful truth we dismiss all too gladly from this story.

But here are the other truths of the story that in today’s political climate we would rather not see.  Joseph and Mary are residents in a foreign land.  In order to be in compliance with a census, they must travel back to the land of their ancestors.  It is not their home land.  If it were, then the story would have told of relatives or friends that had no room for them and not the inns.  A more profound story would have been for relatives and friends to reject the coming of the Christ child.   How often is it our own families that reject who we are or who we have become?

But in order for Jesus to be the promised savior he must be born in another country to fulfill the prophecy. “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” [Matthew 2:6] Jesus is an anchor baby, born in Bethlehem in order to claim the rights and privileges of being the son of David.

Shortly after his birth, we read that King Herod orders the killing of the innocent, all children under the age of two. So Jesus and his parents become fugitives under the law and flee once again this time to Egypt. Jesus is now an illegal immigrant with a criminal record. The crime is sedition, being born a king when there was already a king in the land. The intent of overthrowing a kingdom is a felony crime.

When Herod is dead. Jesus’ parents return to their own country, not to Bethlehem where Jesus is a legal resident but to Nazareth. Where Jesus grows up as an illegal alien where he takes the job of carpenter away from other Nazarenes. Jesus does this and yet we accuse undocumented workers of doing something immoral? We admire Jesus, the carpenter, but we disdain the undocumented construction worker?

If this story were to happen in Arizona, Sheriff Arpaio would seek to arrest Joseph and Mary, throw them into Tent City, where Mary would have had her baby with little medical attention. Jesus would still be an anchor baby because the 14th amendment has not yet been repealed. Joseph and Mary would have been sent to a detainment facility to await ICE decision to deport them. Jesus as an American citizen would be sent to an orphanage. Or if the story unfolded a bit closer to the Biblical text, Joseph would have had a dream to flee back into the desert and cross back into Mexico with Mary and newborn Jesus. The trek across the Arizona desert is as treacherous and dangerous as the trek from Bethlehem to Egypt. They would have faced starvation, dehydration, and possible death only to find a wall blocking their way.

If Jesus truly brings good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, sight to the blind and to the oppressed freedom, then Jesus identifies with the struggles for justice that undocumented immigrants cry out to receive. The cry for justice began in their own country where American corporations colluded with the rich to destroy homeland economies forcing thousands upon thousands of the working poor out of jobs. It began in our own country when the School of Americas trained militias to return to their home countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia, and others to overthrow governments and set up even worse governments where citizens are killed for speaking truth to power. These injustices demand reparation by our United States Government. Ideally, we would close down the School of Americas. We would limit the influence that corporations have in other countries, and we would seek to assist the citizens to rebuild their home countries. But the least we can do is grant these refugees passage to our country and allow them to make a new way for themselves.

The least we can do is welcome them into our hearts as if they are indeed the Christ Child come to bring glad tidings and healing to the world. Blessings,

On a Midnight Clear

On A Midnight Clear
Homily For Christmas Eve 2010 (c)
Rev. Fred L Hammond
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Reading:  The missing 4th verse from It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

I do not know why the fourth verse of this Unitarian hymn was removed from our hymnals when the Unitarian and Universalist congregations consolidated in 1961.  It is the only verse that is not so lofty in metaphor or universal in its wording but rather personal and intimate.

Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears, a Unitarian Minister, wrote this song in 1849 while serving a congregation in Wayland, Massachusetts. According to the biography found at our denominations website, this song was written during a period of personal melancholy coupled with news of revolution in Europe and the United States War with Mexico still grieved the heart.  So this verse that we no longer sing is one of personal triumph rising up over despair.

In the years preceding the secession of the Confederate States, whose 150th anniversary Alabama and other southern states are about to celebrate, the country was in looming darkness. There were heated debates in Congress regarding formation of free and slave states.  Secession and civil war was avoided during these years but the intensity of the argument made it all inevitable.

The desire for justice where all are welcomed to live free in this country faced the opposing dark clouds glooming on the horizon just like the clouds we are facing today.  The times are different, sure, and exact parallels do not exist but the desire for justice for immigrant families torn apart have similar dark clouds swirling to whisk them away.  The desire for justice for the working class faces another menacing dark cloud of corporate manipulation and greed.

It was in times like these that Edmund Sears wrote his now famous hymn asking, pleading for the world to hear the Christmas message.  The times are dark and foreboding and depending on whether one listens to MSNBC commentators or to Fox News commentators, how dark the times are vary in shade and hue.

So what is this Christmas message that gave hope to Rev. Sears?  The late Rev. A. Powell Davies writing in 1944 in what is now considered a classic Christmas sermon; “Christmas Always Begins at Midnight[1]” offers this clue:

“The hardihood of this festival, continuing, as it has, through many thousands of years, and rising, stage by stage, from primitive frenzy to pagan jubilation and finally to the symbolism of Christian observance, gives us true cause for confidence and reassurance. When it is darkest, man celebrates the light. When the earth is most desolate, he carols his joy. When the harshest and bleakest of the seasons is upon him, he can turn to gentleness, kindness and forbearance. His courage can rise superior to his circumstances.

“Perhaps this is the thought above all others that Christmas can cheer us with this year. It is the inner significance, the spiritual essence of Christmas that can mean most to us, for once. For certainly we shall not find it easy to be spontaneously happy in a world so full of miseries. Nor should we. … If we are to celebrate the ancient festival of light overcoming darkness, it must be in the full knowledge of how dense is the darkness against which the light must shine.”

In the dark times that Rev. Davies is writing, we did not yet know what the outcome of World War II would be.   Neither, do we know what the outcome of our country’s leaning to corporate plutocracy will be.  Nor do we know the influence of conservative radicalism will have on our constitution where debates of repealing the 14th[2] and the 17th amendments[3] are growing.  And who knows where the tenth amendment is going to end up regarding state’s rights, an issue not resolved since its passage in 1789.

We are also in dark times, just like Rev. Davies, just like Rev. Sears.  They found hope in this season.  We can too.  Listen again to how Rev. Sears found it.

Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

It is in looking for those moments of joy, those moments of victory of justice where we gain hope for the future.  And when that is not enough we pause, we rest, and we listen.  Rev. Sears says to hear the angels sing.  As far as I know, the voices of angels are inaudible these days, so this listening is a deep silent listening of the heart.

The best moment I have had to describe this is when I had a personal crisis in my life, a moment of decision of great consequence. I took the time to walk silently in the woods and came across a pair of swans swimming in a pond.  The water surface reflected like a mirror and the swans glided through that water with no disturbance or ripple.  I stood there and listened for the sound of the swans swimming. There was comfort in that moment of listening to these angels.

And while no decision was made that day, I believe that pause that I took, that resting beside the weary road to hear the angels sing, laid the foundation for me to make that decision which ultimately set me on the path towards ministry.

Again, words from Rev. Davies’ sermon: “the truth  [is] that man must find his faith, not in the daylight but in the dark. If he is ever to come to the light of morning, he must carry his own light with him through the night. Yes, and not only so, but he must make his songs in the darkness, too, and sing them first at midnight.”

This time of the year is a holy time in part because it is in darkness that new life begins; a seed sprouts in the darkness of soil, a new life begins in the darkness of the womb.  It is in darkness that we begin our journey towards the light of day. It is no small coincidence that our ancient ancestors in the northern hemisphere have chosen this time of year when darkness is at its zenith to celebrate the light and with that the hope for new life.  For people of faith that light of day is where love and justice abounds.  Blessed be.

Published in: on December 25, 2010 at 1:20 pm  Comments Off on On a Midnight Clear  
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Institutionalized Racism

Institutionalized Racism

by Rev. Fred L Hammond

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

12 December 2010 ©

Reading: “In a rational, logical world,”  From the The Anniston Star Editorial Board November 5 2010

In a rational, logical world, Anniston would be able to resume paying for college scholarships for graduates of the city’s public high school.

It’s a case of local people having a say in what their city does — or should do, at least. In Tuesday’s election, Anniston residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of using city money to send eligible Anniston teens to college. The tally wasn’t close, 63.6 percent to 36.4 percent.

But this isn’t a rational, logical world.

Thanks to the state’s archaic 1901 Constitution, voters in Anniston and Calhoun County both had to approve the local amendment, even though people who don’t live in Anniston have no dog in the fight over how Anniston’s City Council writes the city’s checks.

Anniston residents passed the amendment.

Calhoun County residents didn’t.

Thus, Anniston can’t resume its worthwhile college scholarship program because state law foolishly requires that such amendments be passed both by the city and the county — even though only Anniston money would have gone to the scholarships. It’s an Anniston deal, for Anniston students, and people who don’t live in Anniston barred its rebirth.

Thanks a lot, 1901 Constitution.

Institutionalized Racism

The tale of Anniston not getting to decide what to do with Anniston money is not a unique tale in Alabama.  It isn’t just some quirky archaic law left over from a bygone era that no one pays attention to anymore like it being illegal in the State of Alabama to impersonate Clergy[1].  By the way, impersonating clergy comes with a very hefty penalty, $500 fine and/or up to one year in the county jail.  I know you all are just itching to break that law so I am keeping my eyes on you.   The law that kept Anniston, a community that demographically is about 50% black is codified in our constitution so that Calhoun County, which is 77% white can keep them in check.

No one ever states it quite like that but that is how the Alabama constitution is written and for that purpose.  In the convention hearings of 1901, there was expressed fear of “negro domination” and the response was to “establish White Supremacy in this state[2]” of Alabama.  The state legislature was to hold the power over local communities to prevent them from directing their own local destiny. This was done in two ways. The entire state had to vote on an issue occurring in a county of the state or the county had to vote on an issue occurring in one of its municipalities, even though the rest of the state or the rest of the county could care less about a new sewage treatment plant being built that would be paid for by the residents of the specific community.  The Alabama constitution is a prime example of what institutionalized racism looks like in America.

Someone could say, but Fred, all those laws in the constitution that were directed against blacks were made null and void by the federal civil rights act in 1964.  In fact, this is the rebuttal by “Citizens Against Constitutional Reform” to the “Alabama Citizens for Constitution Reform’s” claim that the 1901 Constitutional Convention “disenfranchised poor whites and Blacks in that memorable document.”   The Citizens Against Constitutional Reform state, “No one in Alabama is disenfranchised from full participation in today’s society or prosperity[3].”   Not true. In fact there is still on the books a section of the constitution that legalizes segregation of schools. While Brown v. the Board of Education made the law unconstitutional, it still remains active on the books. The offending words that are still active in the constitution are “Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.[4]

An amendment to repeal this amendment of racial segregation failed.  “Nearly all organizations opposing the repeal of the segregation measure pointed to a provision stating that the state did not provide a right to a state financed education. Groups opposing the repeal of this amendment claimed that repeal would lead to court decisions requiring the state to raise taxes.[5]

This defeat happened, not in 1954 when Brown v Board of Education decision was made, not in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed but in 2004.  Fifty years after the ruling that unequivocally determined that separate but equal was only separate and certainly not equal. This repeal was defeated because there was a fear of taxation, not because people didn’t abhor segregation, not because they didn’t see this section of the constitution as wrong but because they feared an increase in taxation.  I’ll come back to taxation and how it plays its part in racism later.

The constitution of 1901 was written with the sole purpose of disenfranchising the Blacks. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there was a lot of voting fraud happening.  People would appear to have voted who didn’t show up to vote. Ballots would be stuffed. So when the vote came regarding the question to hold a constitutional convention and to the vote to ratify the new constitution, a curious thing happened according to the press.

The majority of the state of Alabama, where the majority of white voters lived, the question to ratify the constitution was defeated, 76K to 72K against.  But in the region where the majority of Black voters lived in Alabama, ironically known as the Black belt for its black top soil, Blacks apparently, or so we have been told, voted for the new constitution knowing that the outcome of this new constitution would disenfranchise them.  In Hale, Dade, and Wilcox Counties the vote was 18,000 for ratification and 500 against.  The White population in these three counties alone was only 5600 and the Black population was 12,400.  Anyone doing the math on this?  It was the vote in the Black Belt that swung the majority of votes to ratify a new constitution to create a white supremacist state.

The headlines of the day read, “Negroes not interested; in many places voted the Democratic Ticket.[6]”  With widespread stealing of the votes as the practice of the day, it is most likely that these votes were stolen.  Even in the records of the convention the stealing of votes was publicly acknowledged.  “But if we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law–not by force or fraud. If you teach your boy that it is right to buy a vote, it is an easy step for him to learn to use money to bribe or corrupt officials or trustees of any class. If you teach your boy that it is right to steal votes, it is an easy step for him to believe that it is right to steal whatever he may need or greatly desire.[7]

Now again, the right to vote was restored with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The poll tax and the literacy requirements to vote were struck from the state constitution. Therefore, the constitution is no longer a racist document, right?  Wrong.

This is the thing with institutionalization of any premise.  Once something is institutionalized it is in the fabric of how we do things to the point of not recognizing why we are doing them or who they may be affecting and hurting.  It simply is so.  For example, on a much smaller scale, when I asked my mother why she scraped the pork chops before cooking them, she replied because her mother did it.  Why did Grandma do it, because great grandma did it.  Why did Great grandma do it; because when she got the pork chops from the butcher they often had bone chips in the meat so she was scraping them out.  The behavior of scraping the pork chops was institutionalized into how my family prepared pork chops.  Now there is no harm in this small illustration of institutionalizing behavior.

But let me ask you why do we have the residents of this state vote on a matter that only pertains to one small locale?  And why is it important for that matter to become an amendment to the constitution?  The answer to both of these questions is because at one point in time, these actions maintained white supremacy rule.  To have the white majority of the state vote on whether a predominantly black community can offer educational scholarships becomes a very important question for the state seeking to maintain white supremacy.  Education presented a risk to the White majority.  And it still does today in Anniston, AL where the White Calhoun County voted no to Anniston offering scholarships to their almost 50% black, 50% white student population.   But today, we have no reason to continue this practice that was institutionalized over 100 years ago.

The definition of institutionalized racism is patterns in societal structures, such as those found within governmental institutions that result in imposing oppressive or negative conditions on identifiable groups of people on the basis of race or ethnicity[8].  So while the laws that blatantly oppress people of color in the constitution have for the most part been removed, the very structure of the constitution remains to uphold institutionalized racism.

The Anniston example given earlier is an example of this institutionalized racism.  It is the perhaps the hardest to eradicate because the patterns have become so common place, so everyday, that people do not see its impact racially.  While the vote in Calhoun County to deny Anniston the right to spend their money as they see fit might be argued as not being racist, but when looking at who is going to be disproportionately impacted by not having Anniston scholarship money available to them, it is people of color.

The process from conception to amendment to ratification vote by the people in the state can take several years because the bill can get bogged down in committee or not get passed in the house and the senate within the given session.  So even though the local government has passed this ordinance or resolution they are barred from implementing it because the state was not able to get the amendment ready for the ballot.  The wheels turn ever so slowly when seeking to control the destiny of other people deemed unable to determine their fate.

These structures were put into place to maintain white supremacy of Alabama. But it isn’t only this structure; the constitution also has set the tax codes as a means to maintain white supremacy of the wealthy.  Constitutions generally should not be setting the tax code.  Constitutions should authorize the state legislature to levy taxes but not be the holder of the tax code.  However, Alabama was reacting to re-constructionists and the carpetbagger’s who sought their fortune and built railroads and public schools through hefty property taxes. So in the constitution of 1901, income and property taxes were given set limits which resulted in sales taxes as being the only other source of revenue that could be levied with less restriction.  Alabama’s sales tax codes are the most regressive in the nation because they adversely affect the poorest of the poor while benefiting the wealthiest of citizens and special interest groups.

Alabama further altered the way property taxes are applied allowing for exemption of taxes to special interest groups who can assert that their property has an agricultural use. The loss in revenue to the state through these special interest group exemptions is estimated to be $40 million annually[9].  This is money that would have been used to fund rural public schools in the state making them among the poorest in their ability to offer a quality education.  The most affected by this institutionalized structure are the poor in the state increasing the chances for their remaining oppressed.

There are also schools in the state that use sales taxes to fund their services.  The problem is sales taxes are dependent on economy ebbs and flows more so than the other two.  When the state is in a recession, like it has been, people tend to purchase less and therefore sales tax revenue drops.

It is hard to fathom people understanding that their increased sales tax on the purchase of Doritos is going to keep little Johnnie and Mary in school.  Whereas it is easier for people to understand that their local property tax will ensure their children receiving a quality education.  But who are the people who pay the most in sales taxes?  By percentage it is people who are poor pay more of a percentage of their income on sales tax than people who are wealthy.  The wealthy tend to spend their money on services which are not taxable.

There is a need to rewrite the constitution so that 1) local governments have a greater ability to serve the needs of their community and 2) so that the tax code can be adjusted to be equitable to the abilities of its citizens.  For example tax codes that offer sizable exemptions to the paper mills vast forests from property taxes increases the burden on the rural residents of those counties to raise the needed funds to support the education of their children.

What can we do?  Our sister congregation in Birmingham has passed a resolution that will be sent to legislators in the state endorsing the idea of constitution reform.  We can write and pass a similar resolution to join with theirs.  We can write our state representatives and state senators and tell them that constitution reform is not just about home rule and taxes but also undoing the structures that maintain the institutional racism embedded in the current document. It will reduce the cost of government by having local resolutions, local ordinances, local revenues kept to the local level.  Reform will free up those resources so that our state reps can deal with state issues like job creation, transportation infrastructure, and improving our public education.

We can help create a better Alabama where all people benefit from the resources that are available and lifted up to reach their full potential as citizens.  So may it be.

[1] Acts 1965, 1st Ex. Sess., No. 273, p. 381; Code 1975, §13-4-99

[5] Ibid.

[6] as found in the video, It’s a Thick Book

[8] Based on definition offered by for institutional racism