Karen González is a speaker, writer, and immigrant advocate who lives in Baltimore. She is the author of Beyond Welcome: Centering Immigrants in our Christian Response to Immigration.

Posts By This Author

My Favorite Advent Tradition For a Weary World

by Karen González 12-14-2023

A girl prepares to hit a pinata during Las Posadas in La Merced neighbourhood in Mexico City on Dec. 17, 2014. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

My first experiences of Christian sacraments, including baptism and the Eucharist, were mysterious and somewhat confusing. As a Catholic little girl, I didn’t remember my infant baptism and could never quite wrap my head around eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. What’s more, these solemn events happened within the confines of a giant, cavernous church — a place where I had to be still, quiet, and serious. During weekly Mass, I learned implicitly from the nuns that reverence and fun do not go together.

Debunking Homelessness Myths

by Karen González 12-27-2022
‘Grace Can Lead Us Home’ argues that a merit-based model for providing housing is the opposite of God's given grace.
The book Grace Can Lead Us Home by Kevin Nye has a cover showing a maze in the shape of a house. The book is floating in the air, cast against a pale yellow background.

Grace Can Lead Us Home: A Christian Call to End Homelessness, by Kevin Nye / Herald Press

NEARLY ALL OF us have encountered a person on the street who is unhoused and asking for help. Perhaps we have felt conflicted about how to respond: Should we give them cash? Should we offer to pay for a meal instead? Will the cash we give cause further harm through the purchase of alcohol or drugs? It can be difficult to know how to engage responsibly at the personal or the policy level with the growing problem of homelessness in the U.S.

Enter Kevin Nye’s illuminating book, Grace Can Lead Us Home: A Christian Call to End Homelessness. Nye offers a new lens through which to view homelessness and, more importantly, our neighbors experiencing homelessness. For him, this is not just another justice issue, but rather his calling: He has devoted much of his adult life to working with unhoused people in Los Angeles.

Grace Can Lead Us Home explains the macro-level causes of homelessness and contributing factors. And it reveals micro-level approaches to engaging with our unhoused neighbors in a way that centers our mutual need for connection and belonging. He discusses the lack of affordable housing that drives this crisis; the inadequate mental health support available to unhoused people; and the surprising truth about substance abuse and addiction affecting homeless populations.

Jesus Does Not Desire Assimilation

by Karen González 10-31-2022

101 new Americans are sworn in as citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the New York Historical Society. Frances Roberts / Alamy

The message of assimilation makes me uncomfortable because it requires me to celebrate the loss of other people’s culture, traditions, and languages in order to alleviate the fears that white people, including Christians, might have about a diverse society where their position as power brokers of society may be threatened. It is akin to saying, “White Christians, please do not fear immigrants because they, too, will submit to white supremacy and blend into it as best as they can, even with their non-white skin and features.”

An Unapologetic Reading of the Bible

by Karen González 08-02-2022
Damon Garcia's "The God Who Riots​​​​​​​" is uninterested in a faith that maintains the status quo.

The God Who Riots: Taking Back the Radical Jesus, by Damon Garcia

“LIFE IS DEEP and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated,” Fred Rogers purportedly once said. In The God Who Riots: Taking Back the Radical Jesus, Damon Garcia makes complex concepts accessible yet still resonant and challenging. That is no easy feat, given that he references brilliant but dense writings by intellectual giants such as Paulo Freire, Frantz Fanon, and Abraham Heschel.

Garcia’s conversational writing style feels like talking with him in a coffee shop about upending oppressive systems and pursuing a faith whose end is our collective liberation here and now, not in some future paradise. Those of us who have followed Garcia’s videos on YouTube may almost hear his smooth, instructive voice encouraging us to follow the Jesus that radicalized him.

Garcia unapologetically reads the Bible through the lens of liberation theology, following the footsteps of Latin American theologians whose faith has political implications and who are on the side of the poor and the oppressed. His study of decolonial theory also informs his praxis. These decolonized, liberative models shape his argument that even protests that may result in destruction of property can be aligned with a biblical understanding of justice and the example of Jesus in the gospels.

These Movies Show the Joy and Struggle of the Immigrant Experience

by Karen González 06-14-2022

'Blinded by the Light' Warner Bros. / New Line

Rahab’s story deserves to be remembered, as do many of the films we encounter that address the nuances, joys, and sorrows of the immigrant experience.

LGBTQ Asylum Seekers Need Protection — and the Church’s Support

by Karen González 06-22-2021

LGBTQ refugees in Kenya hold a Pride flag. Photo via Thomson Reuters Foundation

The persecution of people because of their gender or sexual identity is not new; what is new is the growing number of asylum claims filed by LGBTQ people who have fled to the United States because they fear persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

God’s Heart for Immigration

by Karen González 04-26-2021

“Compassion for the poor and marginalized is more important than efficiency, and is more important than profit ... The Bible affirms that in a Godly society, the people in the margins should be cared for.” 

Sermon preached at Saint Mo's Church.

The Mother Who Sees: Hagar Mother of Our Faith

by Karen González 04-23-2021

“She left Egypt as an enslaved woman, but she returned a free woman. A free woman who was transformed by God’s unveiling love ... How can we be reconciled with one another in a world where we are divided by walls, checkpoints, and by the threat of violence against those who are most vulnerable?” 

Sermon preached at Metro Hope Church.

Latinx Church History Is Church History

by Karen González 12-01-2020
Robert Chao Romero's book offers the gift of seeing scripture and theology through Latinx eyes.
The cover of the book "Brown Church" by Robert Chao Romero has a yellow sun in the center, and illustrated church buildings at the bottom.

AS A LATINA, I waited with eager anticipation for the publication of Robert Chao Romero’s Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity . As a historian, Romero is the best person to take us through the history of the Latin American church, and he tells it truly, not wishing to shield the reader from the horrors of colonization. He begins with the exploitation and conversion “by the sword” that began under the rule of the Spanish conquistadores, who brought to the Americas their Roman Catholic faith—along with their hunger for gold and other resources. Early Catholic missionaries such as Friar Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas sought to divorce the faith from the Spanish colonial project and condemned the latter with courage and fervor.

It is worthwhile to note that Romero brings his readers all the way to the present, introducing them to living Latinx theologians and their work. For many readers, his chapter on “Recent Social Justice Theologies of U.S. Latinas/os” will be a great resource for delving deeper into the works of living Latinx scholars and practical theologians. While the book heavily features male scholars and theologians, it was heartening to see this section highlight Mujerista theology and the work of Latinas doing theology—women such as Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Sandra Maria Van Opstal, Noemi Vega Quiñones, and Zaida Maldonado Pérez.

Women Are the First Liberators in the Exodus Story

by Karen González 04-16-2019

Moses found in the river. Fresco from Dura Europos synagogue. Via Wikimedia Commons

There have always been demagogues. Those who win power and popularity by arousing the prejudices of the people. Demagoguery was not invented by Donald Trump or Hitler. I’ll bet even Pharaoh in the book of Exodus didn’t invent the concept, but he perfected it. He never knew Joseph, the son of Jacob. He didn’t personally benefit from Joseph’s leadership and wisdom. Joseph, a Hebrew man brought to Egypt as a victim of human trafficking, but who with God’s favor rose to become the most powerful man in Egypt — he was the man whose interpretations of dreams saved everyone from famine.

Latina Identity and the Bible

by Karen González 01-24-2019
A review of ‘Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing Our Influence,’ by Natalia Kohn, Noemi Vega Quiñones, and Kristy Garza Robinson.

IN ITS THIRD chapter, Hermanas asks: “What is your beautifully empowering narrative that may influence your hermanas [sisters] around you and those that are to come after you?” In the most wonderful way, the book’s three authors—Natalia Kohn, Noemi Vega Quiñones, and Kristy Garza Robinson—share their own stories to answer this essential question. Through the writing, they become the Latina mentors and role models many Latinas want and need, as many of us have no such examples in our communities.

What comes through these pages is how much these writers embrace their identities as Latinas, how much they love their communities, and how deeply they’ve experienced God through their identities.

They rightfully make no apology for writing this book for the many Latinas that may have had similar experiences with dominant white Christian culture. They read, interpret, and apply the Bible from the perspective of not just Latinx culture, but the specific experiences of Latinas who often find themselves doubly marginalized by racism and sexism and, thus, unheard. The authors provide examples of biblical women such as Esther, Deborah, and Hannah who embrace their ethnicity and challenges to become leaders and teachers in their spheres of influence, whether directly or indirectly.

'La Posada Sin Fronteras' Imagines Mary and Joseph at the Border

by Karen González 12-06-2018

Fuerbach / Shutterstock

Every year from Dec. 16 to 24, Las Posadas begin in many Latin American countries and immigrant communities in the U.S. Roughly translated, posadas means “inn” or “shelter.” Las Posadas recalls the events in Luke’s Gospel leading up to Jesus’ birth. It’s a Catholic Christian observance with a sung liturgy that’s performed on the streets rather than in church.

A posada begins with a street procession that reenacts Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter at an inn. Those playing the protagonists of the story, Mary and Joseph, are dressed in costume and carry candles as they follow along a prescribed route, knocking on doors. At each door they ask, through special posada songs, for room at the inn. In rural areas, Mary may even ride on a donkey.

Another Kind of Journey

by Karen González 05-02-2018
Love Undocumented: Risking Trust in a Fearful World, by Sarah Quezada. Herald Press.

ONE OF THE HARDEST things about being an immigrant and advocate for immigrants is an unspoken assumption that immigrating for strictly economic reasons is not as worthy of admission (and compassion) as doing so to flee war or persecution. Historically, this made refugees the “good immigrants,” until the current administration began to stoke fear against them. I love that Sarah Quezada turns that idea on its head by sharing the story of her relationship and marriage to an undocumented immigrant who didn’t leave his country for anything other than more opportunities and, to some extent, adventure.

Quezada tells a story that is part memoir, part biblical reflection, and part policy and data. She relates how she fell in love with and married an undocumented immigrant, Billy. As they make their way through the maze of the U.S. immigration system, she learns what immigrants know through experience: Gaining legal status is a complex, expensive, and lengthy process. She also reminds readers that many immigrants don’t have options to gain legal status, which might shock those who instruct immigrants just to “get in line and wait.”

What makes the story compelling is Quezada’s own hospitable rhetoric; it is easy to identify with her as she acknowledges knowing next to nothing about immigration before she began dating Billy. In fact, she barely knew people different from herself prior to a move to an urban Los Angeles neighborhood. The gentle humility of her storytelling makes this a book you can recommend to Christians new to the immigration debate. They will learn and come to greater awareness, as Quezada herself does through her journey.

Beyond the Triumphant Immigrant Experience

by Karen González 09-18-2017
The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, by Lauren Markham. Crown.

WITHIN THE FIRST pages of The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life , it becomes clear that Lauren Markham understands the complexities of immigration to the United States and has personally worked with immigrants stuck in its tangled web. In a journalistic style, she reports the story of teenage twin brothers Raúl and Ernesto, fleeing gang violence in El Salvador, hoping to find safety and new opportunities in El Norte.

Markham has worked in refugee resettlement and immigrant education for the past decade. In this book she covers all aspects of immigration in well-researched detail. But she also seems to understand that while any reader could argue immigration policy, no one can argue with the Flores brothers’ story, from the crippling poverty in rural El Salvador, where life is cheap and disposable, to the stark loneliness of their lives in the U.S., far from the comforts of family and home.

What My Abuelita Taught Me About the Dignity of Work

by Karen González 10-07-2016

Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. Image via /Shutterstock.com

I don’t mind being associated with the meaningful work that people like my abuelita do every day, whether it be housekeeping, landscaping, or childcare. What I do mind is being dehumanized by a racist, stereotypical assumption that robs me and other Latinxs of our dignity as image bearers of God.

This National Hispanic Heritage Month, Let's Celebrate the Story of Ruth

by Karen González 09-22-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

As an immigrant woman and a Christian, I’ve loved the book of Ruth ever since I realized Ruth was an immigrant, welcomed into the family of God. And I’ve often been surprised by the interpretations of the Biblical story, in which Boaz is the hero and no one else has any agency. I find this odd because, as I read Ruth, what I see is that Boaz did nothing more heroic than exactly what was required by God’s law: He welcomed an immigrant from a neighboring community.