Taking Sides

An excerpt from Jonny Rashid’s new book JESUS TAKES A SIDE (2022). See below for details of an online event Jonny is hosting with The Alternative Seminary this Saturday!

Our church’s first love feast after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States changed me.

Our church celebrates something called the love feast, also known as an agape feast in some traditions. It is a worship meeting where we fellowship and reconcile among one another, letting our love and unity prevail. You can find references to love feasts in Jude and 1 Corinthians 1. At them, we eat together, welcome new members, and take communion. At our love feast in January 2017, our team had assigned me to offer the words of institution and the elements of communion to the assembly.

Admittedly, my mind was elsewhere. Donald Trump’s first executive action as the new president was in effect. We know it colloquially as the Muslim ban, but formally it is Executive Order 13769: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. It was a travel ban against people from a list of Middle Eastern countries and it had gone into effect that Saturday. It barred entry for anyone (with some exceptions) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. I got a notice on my phone that there were Arab immigrants in airports and they could not enter into the country because the ban was in effect.

My  heart sunk. As an Arab-American, it felt like my extended family was trapped there, like I was trapped there. I texted some friends and leaders in the room so they might share in my lament. I was distressed. I was enraged. I was beside myself. I could not believe the worst had happened, even though it is precisely what our new president had said he would do. He began his presidential campaign with this brazenly racist (and false) statement: When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

It was a clear message to me that I did not belong. And to even the least politically engaged, it was worthy of repudiation. I lamented that so many White Evangelical Christians (81 percent of them, in fact) led him to the White House. And in his inaugural address, Trump doubled down: Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. The terms “American workers and American families” explicitly exclude immigrants—people like me.

Though he only makes economic points here, the idea of protecting our borders from other countries emphasizes that immigrants are a threat to the livelihood of American workers and families. But Trump was not always as careful, and I knew more institutionalized hatred against immigrants was coming.

When it arrived that January weekend, I was not prepared for how much it would hurt me, as a child of immigrants. All of this was swirling around in my mind as the love feast continued. And then it was time for communion. My heart heavy, I went up to the podium to share the words of institution. But I choked up.

I have survived as an immigrant in this country by hiding my emotions and covering my shame. I did not want people to view me as even lesser by seeing how injured I was by my oppression. I only need one hand to count how many times I’ve cried in public in my ten-plus years of service as a pastor. I was always composed and controlled. But then it happened: tears streamed down my face before I could read the passage in 1 Corinthians.

My heart was broken. My people were trapped. I was trapped. So I finally said that I could not offer the meal without mentioning these trapped immigrants. Those immigrants, children among them, looked like me and my children. I felt their strife within me because I have felt it in my life. I know what it is like to not be included, to be left out, just because of how I look and where I am from.

I told the gathered assembly that I needed Jesus to save me again. I needed the communion meal. I needed the reassurance of salvation that was granted to me by a suffering servant, one acquainted with the oppression that I felt as a Brown man in a White country in a predominantly White church. At the same time, I felt comfort as some of our congregation left the love feast to go protest at Philadelphia International Airport. Their protest was part of their worship that night. They took the message of the gospel to the streets, for the sake of the poor and the oppressed. At that moment I realized once again that the cross of Jesus Christ has an undeniable political connotation. It saves captives. It frees the oppressed. It liberates. It rights all wrongs.  It reconciles the world to God. Jesus dying on the cross is a political event. And the love of Christ it demonstrates compels us to be political, too


Another compelling offering from The Alternative Seminary, just in time for the election.

Saturday morning, November 5, 2022
10:30 am – 12:30 pm EST

In a world divided by left and right, red and blue, many Christians have upheld a “third way” approach in pursuit of moderation, harmony, and unity. But if Christians are more concerned with divisiveness than with faithfulness, we have failed to grasp the Gospel’s political demands. When we read the Gospels, we do not see Jesus taking a “third way” between oppressor and oppressed. And as followers of Jesus, neither should we.
In this session, we will discuss the myth of polarization and bipartisan progress and why we need to take sides to make progress, and how devastating not taking a side can be for sexual minorities who are desperate for clarity on an organization’s beliefs on their very dignity.  With national elections approaching, these questions demand serious engagement by Christians seeking to witness to the gospel in our society.
This session will be facilitated by JONNY RASHID.  Jonny has served as pastor for Circle of Hope in Philadelphia, for over ten years. He is an abolitionist and a housing activist. He blogs at jonnyrashid.com and hosts Circle of Hope’s “Resist and Restore” podcast. He is author of Jesus Takes a Side: Embracing the Political Demands of the Gospel (Herald Press, 2022).

Registration is required. You can register at this link:
The cost is $10 (or whatever you can afford).
The deadline for registration is November 2.
If you have any questions, please contact Will O’Brien
willobrien59@gmail.com or 267-339-8989.
The Alternative Seminary is a program of biblical and theological study and reflection
designed to foster an authentic biblical witness in the modern world. 

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