taking the words of Jesus seriously

Last weekend I sat with a group of traumatized children in a small, rural sanctuary and listened to their stories. Their lives had been ripped apart by the ICE raids. The family unit, the sanctity of the home, financial stability, every single facet of their lives turned upside down. Everything and everyone dear to them had changed. The effects were very similar to the comprehensive loss that comes with what we refer to as an act of God. Except this was no act of God. It was an act of man.

As I sat with these brown children in their sanctuary, which was their sanctuary in more ways than one, I was awestruck that Black Jesus presided over us. Literally, as we sat in unimaginable grief and pain and trauma, we were sitting at the feet of the Black Crucified Jesus that serves as the centerpiece of the sanctuary. As a lifelong resident of Mississippi who is aware of our troubled and brutal history and has worked for racial healing for more than 25 years, I could not miss the fact that bleeding, suffering, crucified Black Jesus was presiding over this massacre of the spirits of these brown children of God. Could any image be more appropriate, more telling, more compelling, more powerful?

I was operating in the capacity of a volunteer trauma counselor working with the children in the Mississippi communities separated from their families due to the recent ICE raids at seven food processing plants. It was important to me to listen to these children with the ears of my heart and bear witness to them with the heart of Jesus. I want to tell you some of what I heard and saw.

I saw children leaning on Jesus in a time of great need. I saw fathers crying out to Jesus to protect their vulnerable wives and children. I heard mothers weeping for their babies with no formula and their children who are afraid to leave their rooms. I heard the 14-year-old boy who told me that watching his mother and special needs sibling suffer so much, combined with his complete inability to help them, has made him lose his faith in himself, his worth as a human, and in God. He told me that he could feel the grief all over his body to the point that he could barely move. I held a breastfed infant that had been taken from her mother. And I sat on the floor and colored with a 4-year-old boy who was coloring a picture of, who else: Jesus. He colored him brown.

And this is my takeaway: All Lives Do Not Matter to many Christians. That is not a judgement, but an observation.

As I drove home past countless churches, the huge white metal crosses one can see along interstates in this area, and the Confederate flags that dot the landscape, I could only see them through the eyes of Black Jesus and brown babies.

A white Jesus — a slaveholder Jesus — negates our humanity.

A time such as this calls upon our collective need for a brown, colonized, crucified Jesus.

Since returning home, I have not been able to turn off the ears of my heart. The ears of my heart hear every “Send them back.” Every “They are criminals.” Every “They shouldn’t have broken the law.” And much, much worse.

I can’t unsee what I saw: Christians devastated by other Christians. Christians persecuted by other Christians.

I saw the will of the political party that most touts family values (among the southern geographical region of the country that most touts family values) choosing to rip apart intact families. I saw the political party that claims to be the party that is the most Christian, the most godly, the most aligned with God, and the most pro-life, traumatizing and destabilizing other Christian brothers and sisters with the disclaimer “Well, Obama did it too” or “It’s the law.” And I saw the tweets of the governor, lieutenant governor, and others running on Christian platforms bragging and celebrating this “victory.” I hear all of the approval of many conservative, white Christians. And the silence of many others.

Maybe this is a good time to choose between law and spirit. Or maybe it’s a good time for law to be written by the Spirit. Maybe it’s time that the laws written by pro-life, pro-family, pro-Christianity politicians reflect the fruits of the Spirit, the exhortations of the prophets, and the words and actions of Jesus himself.

There is no law against these. There is also no law against welcoming the stranger. But there are dozens of biblical exhortations to welcome and care for the alien, stranger, immigrant, refugee. But that seems to be a matter of interpretation. Self-preservation is a terrible exegetical tool.

I don’t say this as a Democrat, because I’m not one. I don’t say this as one influenced by “the liberal media,” because I don’t watch it. I say this as a brother in Christ bearing witness to the fact that the very people that taught me to see my individual sin are having trouble seeing our collective sin, and it’s my turn to give back.

The prophets repeatedly focused on collective sin for a reason. I alter the words of Margaret Mead to say this: “Never doubt that a small group of unloving, unconcerned citizens can wreck the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I know I’m not the only one that feels the pull to choose between kingdom and nation on any given day. And I ‘m going to choose the kingdom.

These children have no voice in the public arena. I will speak on behalf of these children, because I have a platform that allows me to do so. But I will not speak for them. They have voices. We just need to listen.

A primary concern for me was to encourage them to use their voices. To express their thoughts and feelings. To give voice to their pain through art, writing, and other creative outlets. To honor their grief and trauma and take extremely good care of it. I was heartened to see that, a few days later, several children held a rally in the town square where they gave voice to their grief, pain, and trauma and affirmed that they are indeed children of God.

I felt the irony of being a white male in this position. But, I think it was also important for a white male to speak these words over them: “You are important. You matter. Your pain is in proportion to your injury. You are injured, because you have been violated. It is ok to be angry. It is ok to be sad. Of course you feel this way. It is completely normal and natural to feel this way. Your pain is proof of your love and proof of your worth and value as a human being. This feels wrong, because it is wrong. It feels spiritually dark, because it is spiritually dark. This feels like evil, because it is evil.”

My Father’s house has many rooms but no walls.

“In my Father’s house there are many mansions/rooms,” literally means “In the place that God dwells, there is plenty of space.” “Mansions” literally refers to “many dwelling places” or “plenty of room,” not a mansion as we think of it today. “My Father’s house” does not mean heaven, but rather the Lord’s dwelling place, the place where God’s presence is manifest. Often in the Psalms, God’s “house” or “dwelling” is the temple in Jerusalem. Other times it refers to the creation, or even the whole universe. Some Psalms describe God himself as our “dwelling place.” The point is: God’s “house” or “dwelling place” is wherever God is and wherever his presence is made evident and his will is done.

The ICE raids were not God’s will. The raids injured God’s people and, therefor,e injured the heart of God. There may not be room in the nation for these brothers and sisters, but there is room in the kingdom.

God’s dwelling place is with the suffering people of God for His presence is manifest there.

These are a people of deep faith. And, as a suffering people leaning on Christ, God dwells with them and within them. Whatever has been done to each of them, the least of these, has been done to God.

ICE has raided the temple of God.
ICE has raided The Promised Land.

Nation or Kingdom.
We made a choice.
We still have choices to make.

And we cannot serve two masters.

About The Author


Tony Caldwell is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice and Professor of Social Work at the University of Mississippi. He is a member of the Memphis-Atlanta Jungian Seminar and the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. As a public speaker, human rights activist, project facilitator, town hall moderator, and workshop leader; Tony has partnered with The Human Rights Campaign, the W.W. Kellogg Foundation, The William Winter Institute For Racial Reconciliation, The Mississippi Racial Equity Community of Practice, the Sara Isom Center For Women and Gender Studies, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Radical South Conference, The Levi Strauss Co., and the Toyota Corporation. Tony and his colleague, Dr. Jandel Crutchfield, have enjoyed success in their grassroots Together Projects promoting interracial and interfaith dialogue around issues of intersectionality, privilege, police violence, and systemic racism across the state of Mississippi. Tony has presented at Wild Goose Festival, the Haden Institute, and at various other conferences, congregations, and universities. He is currently leading The Underground Church, a reconciling faith community, in Oxford, Ms. As well as conducting research linking health outcomes in the Mississippi Delta, which are 50th in the nation, to transgenerational trauma related to slavery, segregation, poverty, and marginalization, and developing interventions to address these issues. Tony loves writing about the intersection of theology, depth psychology, and social justice.

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