On Disciples of Christ Resolution No. 0319 (Sense-of-th e-Assembly), “ON ASSURING CIVIL LIBERTIES AND EQUAL JUSTICE TO IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES IN THE UNITED STATES”
Martha stood all of 4’11”. This was twelve years back, but she already trembled slightly with age. I was in my 20s and prone to histrionics which looked like righteous indignation to the casual observer. Well, I was in my 20s and more prone to histrionics which may have been righteous indignation in the wake of 9/11. And so I (and the API Disciples) Asked my church “to take an active stand towards assuring equal rights and justice for individuals being affected by national security initiatives.” And so Martha stood behind me, all of 4’11”. She trembled as someone adjusted the mic down— way down— from my 5’10” frame. My other fond memory from that October day in 2003 in downtown Charlotte, NC was this: a before/ and/ after. Before I spoke at the “yes” mic: I’m introduced to a lefty pastor from Texas. “Wanna move out our way, Shawnda?” “My name is spelled S-A-N-D-H-Y-A,” is all I respond. He laughs in acknowledgment of my predicament and his state’s zenophobia. After I spoke at the mic: “Come to Texas. We’ll learn how to pronounce it.” And I let myself enjoy the compliment and ignore for one moment his state’s zenophobia. But the real moment the moment to retain was Martha, old and small and trembling, at the mic, hating the attention, and standing there anyhow. Martha following my histrionic-righteously-indignant plea for common decency and Christianity in the face of my people disappearing into the criminal “justice” system and sometimes not reemerging. Martha following also the “Nay” mic. The “nay” mic where Christians spoke in favor of security, and against letting the terrorists win. If Martha were snarky, she could have pointed out that in our panicked racist response, the terrorists hadn’t really lost. She could have asked what scripture supported fear and contradicted “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 22:21 NRSV) Instead, Martha trembled and maybe listened to the voices for Christ-committed protection of the homeland. And then she spoke. “I was locked up by the United States government for being Japanese American. I spent part of my childhood in an internment camp. That should not happen to anyone else because they were born a certain race.” This was before I joined her church before I knew her story before I knew that she donated her restitution check to her faith community. This was before I knew she returned from her internment camp to discover her denomination had eliminated her Japanese Christian Church and chose to join a multicultural congregation. This was before I knew that acceptance and forgiveness could meet in the aspect of one human who still radiated strength. I remember most a woman who did not want to stand before thousands but knew what it meant to be locked up for being the wrong race, and therefore stood up anyhow.