As an Asian-American activist, I must constantly negotiate what it means to be a woman faith leader – all while challenging misconceptions of the “model minority myth” and the “otherization” of my identity in a dominant culture that often sees anything other than whiteness as foreign, exotic, or suspect. And yet, I know that my experiences do not pale in comparison to the hardships of those experienced within the greater sisterhood.
What does the birth of the baby Jesus 2,000 years ago have to offer the violent, troubled world we live in? Or what would Jesus say to the NRA?
I want to suggest — a lot. A whole lot.
Jesus entered the world from a posture of absolute vulnerability — as an unarmed, innocent child during a time of tremendous violence. The Bible speaks of a terrible massacre as Jesus was born, an unspeakable act of violence as King Herod slaughters children throughout the land hoping to kill Jesus (which the church remembers annually as the massacre of the Holy Innocents).
Perhaps the original Christmas was marked more with agony and grief like that in Connecticut than with the glitz and glamour of the shopping malls and Christmas parades. For just as Mary and Joseph celebrated their newborn baby, there were plenty of other moms and dads in utter agony because their kids had just been killed.
From his birth in the manger as a homeless refugee until his brutal execution on the Roman cross, Jesus was very familiar with violence. Emmanuel means “God with us.” Jesus’s coming to earth is all about a God who leaves the comfort of heaven to join the suffering on earth. The fact that Christians throughout the world regularly identify with a victim of violence — and a nonviolent, grace-filled, forgiving victim — is perhaps one of the most fundamentally life-altering and world-changing assumptions of the Christian faith. Or it should be.
So what does that have to do with the NRA? Underneath the rhetoric of the gun-control debate this Christmas is a nagging question: are more guns the solution to our gun problem?
First, racism is always based on lies; it always has been and always will be. We saw that again in Donald Trump’s address to the nation on Tuesday. It was more of the same lies he has used since he announced his presidential candidacy in 2015. He used his lies last night to try to justify his border wall, the signature issue of his political campaign and administration, which people on both sides of the aisle have said has nothing to do with border security and everything to do with Donald Trump’s central message: You should fear people who aren’t white. The wall would be Donald Trump’s 2,200-mile monument to white supremacy. As I have said before, in Trump’s political campaign he become the Chief Tempter of America’s Original Sin. Now as president, he has become the Chief Defender of America’s Original Sin.
Strongmen, autocrats, and dictators don’t all do the same things. They do whatever they can to maximize their own wealth, power, and fame. The only thing that prevents them from going as far as they can is the resiliency of a society’s institutions and social sectors — like the media, the judiciary, political parties, law enforcement, civil society, and places of vocational or historical moral authority like faith communities.
So how are we faring on those fronts?
Why does the God of the Bible, the angels who announce the birth of Christ, then Jesus himself, keep telling us, again and again, not to be afraid or to live in fear? Perhaps it is because our human nature makes us fearful. And what we most easily fear are the people who are “different” than us. Fear of “the other” is a very common human trait.