From the halls of Congress to washing deportees’ blistered feet at the Mexican border, United Methodist Church (UMC) Bishop Minerva Carcaño has tackled walls that separate and divide people from each other and from the Reign of God.
“God’s good earth was not meant for walls,” said Carcaño, who on Dec. 1 delivered the fifth Margaret Parker lecture to the 122nd annual meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles. “It was made for God’s creative pleasure and the creation’s bright blessing.”
Carcaño, 64, the first Latina bishop in the UMC, is bishop of its Sacramento-based California-Nevada Conference, and was previously bishop of the Pasadena-based California-Pacific Conference. She was introduced by Jeffrey Kuan, president of the Claremont School of Theology.
She praised Parker’s ministry for opening doors “for women, lay and clergy, myself included, that we could step forth and be all that God has called us to be and, even more so, to step forth and be agents of God’s grace and God’s mercy.”
She recalled visiting undocumented minors detained at Port Hueneme with retiring Bishop Jon Bruno, and welcomed collaboration with the Rt. Rev. John H. Taylor, who earlier that day officially had assumed his role as seventh bishop of the diocese.
Carcaño sparked laughter when referencing full communion conversations between the UMC and the Episcopal Church: “You remind me of the Methodists. You act in the same way.
“We are indeed alike and I continue to pray with the fullness of my heart for the day when we will be one, truly one,” she said. “We have some common history, but above all we share a common Gospel and are we not members of the Body of Christ, bound together by Christ’s own love?”
Colliding with walls ‘tall and strong’; there for so long
Carcaño was born in Edinburg, Texas, “with family on both sides of the border,” she said. She was ordained a pastor in 1976 and a bishop in 2004 and has served congregations in Texas, New Mexico and California. A focus of her ministry has been immigration activism.
While there is much heated political discussion about building a border wall, other walls are erected daily but often go unnoticed — “physical walls, walls of bias and prejudice, walls of containment. And none of these walls allow for a pathway to healing, to justice, or to peace,” Carcaño said.
When testifying at a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee immigration reform hearing a few years ago she learned “that congressional leaders were promoting a hate-filled anti-immigration agenda and continue to do so to this day.”
The others testifying — an anti-immigration sheriff from Virginia and two women whose children were killed by undocumented persons — were manipulated to promote the deportation of all immigrants, Carcaño said.
“I could not begin to imagine the grief of these women … their pain and suffering was clearly unrelenting,” she said. “But it was also wrong to paint all immigrants as despicable and likely to turn to harming others.”
In contrast, after Dylann Roof, 23, a self-described white supremacist, shot and killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church in 2016, “no one said that all white young men tend to do this and so they should be feared and they should be demonized. No one.”
Carcaño said she was not allowed to rebut a Nebraska congressman’s interpretation of Scripture to mean “that God had determined the boundaries of nation states just as they are today — the subtle implication being that what is today the United States had been divinely designated from the very beginning of time for white persons who alone deserve to live in the United States.”
Even more disturbing, she said, such walls of bias and prejudice and ignorance “that are tall and strong in the United States and have been there for very long” also exist in church adjudicatories and denominational assemblies.
While Scripture is clear that “we are to welcome the stranger and the foreigner” too often people of faith are drawn to the path of wall-building, or at least wall-preserving, she said.
People of faith: lift the vision of love
She praised the Los Angeles diocese for adopting sanctuary status at its 2016 annual meeting and for its Sacred Resistance movement, and called on all people of faith to find their moral voice and to support the plight of the undocumented.
While undocumented persons flee war, violence and poverty in hopes of a better life, and to provide for their families and for sheer survival, “we judge them and we build walls to hold them out and to contain them.”
Characterizing inhumane immigration policies and for-profit prison systems as “politics” to be avoided enables many church communities to ignore the Gospel call to live the Reign of God, she said.
Many refugees and immigrants “from Mexico, Central and South America and Asia are the backbone of U.S. agriculture and service industries. What is ignored is that their survival and labor benefits all of us,” she said.
She and Bishop Jon Bruno were not allowed to speak to any of the 300-something unaccompanied minor immigrants during a visit to a Port Hueneme detention center several years ago. “These children had been through horrible ordeals and we could not even say hello to them, not even a word of welcome or love.”
A detention center in McAllen, Texas, was more dismal. It housed children as young as three in frigid temperatures and in what looked like animal pens. “At first I thought it was a dog kennel,” she said. “If the kingdom of heaven belongs to the children and those like them, is containing them within cruel walls like animals gaining us entrance into the holy and eternal kingdom of mercy of justice and peace? Or is it banishing us from its doors?”
Additionally: “Are we lifting high the vision of a world redeemed from the violence and death of the human sins of greed, of avarice, of racism and just plain disregard and even hatred of the other, into a world where all our beloved are treated with dignity and respect? And, above all, with love. Where is our moral and faithful voice?”
Being the voice of God’s ‘politics’
The politics of God are compassion, mercy and justice; and, said Carcaño amid hearty applause, people of faith “should be smack in the middle of it.”
“The suffering of those who are afflicted by the death-dealing laws they face when they are forced to migrate and find themselves aliens in a strange land is definitely a political matter and we should be deeply involved,” she said.
She added: “This is not a matter of partisan politics. It is not about political parties and their favorite positions. It is not about the politics of nation states. It is much bigger, so much bigger than all of that. It is about being the voice of the politics of the Reign of God.”
She told of her encounter with two young immigrants at the Mexico border. Jocelyn, 8, and Melvin, 10, along with their father, had been deported from the United States.
She joined a team of other volunteers in providing soup, water and clothing, as well as washing and bandaging their feet, blistered from walking many miles in the hot desert. “These migrants are always tired; disoriented; always broke and broken,” she recalled.
Jocelyn, Melvin and their father were from Chiapas. “Because of NAFTA the father had lost his corn business and they’d been left destitute. He had tried everything he could to support his family and finally determined he had to take the trip up north. With these two little children, he had traveled all the way from Chiapas to the United States. Their mother was ill and could not make the trip.”
Moved by the family’s care and concern for each other in spite of their plight, at the end of the day, she and another volunteer gave them whatever money they had. Other deportees, approached them, in hopes of also receiving money.
Carcaño said she had no more money, so she kept going, avoiding eye contact. But she halted, stunned, as she watched “the father begin to share the money with the strangers around him.
“And the silence broke out into joy as people said, ‘gracias hermano; thank you brother,’ and in that moment, we caught a sight of the Reign of God and we heard the joy of the Reign of God.”
She concluded: “I thank you, brothers and sisters, for all the ways you serve … that bring the sounds of the Reign of God.”
The Parker lectures were named for Margaret Parker, who died in 2007 at age 93, the wife (and then widow) of the Rev. Canon Richard I.S. Parker, who served the Diocese of Los Angeles for 52 years, 42 of them as rector of St. Cross Church, Hermosa Beach.
She served the church on local, state and national levels. In recognition of her contributions, Bruno in 2002 named her an honorary canon of the Cathedral Center of St. Paul. Her family and friends established the lecture series in her memory, to honor her by addressing topics of “Peace and Justice through the Empowerment of Women.”
Previous Parker lecturers have included: former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who inaugurated the triennial series in 2008; the Rev. Jim Wallis, evangelical pastor and founder of Sojourners; retired Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris of Massachusetts; and the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, a Vanderbilt Divinity School associate professor of Old Testament and African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor.
Bishop John Taylor said that the full communion conversation among Methodists and Episcopalians was discussed during the Sept. 21 – 26 House of Bishops meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska.
That relationship will be discussed at the May 5-15, 2020 General Conference, the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church, in Portland, Taylor said. The Call to Common Mission and Common Communion will be considered at the 2021 General Convention, the triennial policy-making body of the Episcopal Church.