Gaslamp Musician

San Diego is unique among cities I’ve visited; the air is soft rather than kinetic. Nothing jars (at least in daylight), save perhaps the thick homeless population downtown. These aren’t the cleaned-up homeless of Mustard Seed Ranch, but gritty street sleeper types. I paid the gentleman in this photo $5 for the privilege of taking his picture. When I dropped my bill in his hat, he asked me out, so I don’t feel like I exploited him. In fact, I wonder if he exploited me, given the fact that he managed to blow enough air into a saxophone to play entire songs despite the tubes and tank …

Because the atmosphere is so calm in this border town, it was a great place to ponder the weighty ideas I grappled with at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion.

My first day began with a reprimand from a stodgy old man in a suit and spit-shined shoes. He objected to my cushiony red, open-toed sandals and blue jeans. I could have been offended (Miss Manners would say that his rudeness was a worse breach of etiquette than my inappropriate dress), but I played along, and even commiserated with him about the general decline of formality in American culture, citing dapper novelist Tom Wolfe, who, I believe, wrote about this very subject a few years ago for The New York Times.

I was relieved to see Scot McKnight wearing his brand new blue jeans at the session about the emergents. Or was this simply another indication of the decline of rigorous thinking as Mr. Suit suggested? After all, on Sunday, N.T. Wright dismissed the postmoderns as “fluffy.”

The discussion between McKnight, Tony Jones and Diana Butler Bass was more helpful to me in understanding what emerging/emergent is all about than anything I’ve read thus far, which, admittedly, isn’t much. (I’ll detail the session in a separate post tommorrow.) Here I’d like to note that McKnight attends Willow Creek Community Church and Butler Bass is a liberal Episcopalian. As Jones described it, each has one foot in emergent and one foot in their respective communities. Having spoken to Butler Bass after the session, I suspect she might frame her involvement with emergent differently.

Jones said he had grown up in a combination mainline/Young Life congregation and was unaware of the tensions between evangelicals and the mainline until he went to college. Jones credited Leadership Network for snatching not only him and other emergent leaders out of obscurity, but Rick Warren and Bill Hybels before them. So what exactly is Leadership Network and who funds it? Briefly, it’s a parachurch organization founded in 1984 to “identify, connect and help high-capacity Christian leaders multiply their impact” with the support of corporate “Alliance Partners.” One wonders about this interplay of corporate and sacred at the forefront of contemporary evangelical/emergent culture. Maybe it’s nothing; I suspect it’s something, especially since Jones mentioned book publishers’ role in emergent’s ascendance.

The session was moderated by Keith Matthews of Azusa Pacific University. I had interviewed Matthews for my profile of Dallas Willard, but that interview was cut from the final draft. Matthews was assistant pastor to Brian McLaren in McLaren’s early days of ministry and said in his introduction to the panel discussion that he has a “love/hate relationship” with emergent. I asked him about this in the Q&A. He mentioned Dallas Willard as his mentor and repeated what Dallas had said to me a couple weeks ago: some things needed deconstructing–like Modernism, but at some point one must reconstruct. Matthews thinks the emergents are still somewhat stuck in deconstruction.  To be fair, Jones called emergent a safety net for those who are about to abandon organized religion altogether. Tommorrow, a full outline, including what I am titling Jones’ “Theology of the Couch.”

This theme of deconstructing modernisms and reconstructing something in their place transcended the sessions I attended. In this post I’d like to make some observations about this overarching idea and briefly describe my sensory perception of the conference. In the next few days, I’ll post highlights from some of the individual sessions.

After the emergent panel, I attended a plenary session with Tavis Smiley. The contrast was striking. Jones had mentioned that 85-95 percent of those who preach in both evangelical and mainline churches are white men. At his church, the voice of the white male preacher is not amplified above the rest. I didn’t get how this works, but some technique is employed so that everyone can hear the person who actually does the talking without them talking over congregants. At the “Covenant with Black America” session, standing ovations for black men and women were generous. First for the incoming president of AAR, a black woman, next for PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, whose book, The Covenant with Black America, was the first non-fiction book by a black-owned publisher to top The New York Times bestseller list, then for Cornel West, whom Smiley described as the leading public intellectual of our time, and for a scholar who is about to be promoted to department chair in his field at Princeton. These mostly African Americans were celebrating the haphazard deconstruction of a racialized society and the equally haphazard and lurching reconstruction of one that Smiley hopes will run on love.

After this enthusiastic event, I attended a session called “Radical Life Extension: Implications for Eschatological Visions of the Religions.” Forget deconstruction; Aubrey de Grey, a biologist with The Methuselah Foundation,  is a zealot and self-proclaimed humanitarian who believes human beings will eventually live into the 4 digits. Like all utopians, he gives little credance to the possibilities for his dream to morph into a nighmare. The world he would like to reconstruct is one where Scientism does in fact rule, even if, as he suggested, aging has no evolutionary purpose. Human beings are ultimately fair and rational in de Grey’s utopia, as evidenced by the way we allocate funds for education. They will, therefore, allocate life-extending interventions judiciously.   : )

de Grey was no advertisement for his work. At 44 years old, he said he runs and thinks as fast as he did when he was 24, but his long hair is greying, his eyes are sunken in with dark circles beneath them, and his abdomen length beard did nothing to advance the picture of youth and vitality that he is selling. I snuck out before the discussion of eschatology.

I wandered the Gaslamp District for a bit and ate a platter of Baja lobster taco, burrito, and chowder. Then it was on to a reception for journalists. There I met a documentarian from the BBC, the news editor of The Christian Century and his lovely wife, a freelancer for Religion News Service, a couple of award winners for in-depth religion reporting from an Ottowa newspaper, and one PR person who promised to help me win the Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship that I was turned down for earlier this year.

I left my apartment at 5:30 am and crawled into bed exhausted sometime after 11pm.

Yesterday I left home at 7am and made it to San Diego in an hour. My day began much more pleasantly the second time around, with a discussion of Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor‘s book, A Secular Age. I had this session on my agenda, but my new best friend, the PR guy, had said I shouldn’t miss it, so I scratched the other possibilites off my schedule. Lo and behold, Mr. PR was thanked in the introductory remarks because AAR has been trying to get Taylor to speak for years, and he was responsible. If he can accomplish that, perhaps he can indeed help me with the fellowship. One never knows.

Taylor was less interesting than those gently critiquing his book, but he humbly conceded their points about the 800+ page tome. The tightly packed room made the session more challenging physically than any other event. The talks were worth enduring physical discomfort however. Here again Modernism and Atheism were eloquently deconstructed, while “Cosmopolitanism” was offered as an alternative to any particular religious perspective. I’ll expound on this theme later in the week.

After the end of the Q&A was announced, the moderator pointed unexpectedly to the back of the room, where Cornel West boomed out his question with poetic force. He wanted to know if Taylor had ever been tempted to abandon faith as a member of the Academy. Taylor reiterated something Dallas Willard had said when I interviewed him two years ago. Taylor said that when he and a friend arrived at Oxford or Cambridge, I can’t recall which, many years ago, they lamented together the philosophical junk that was being peddled. The friend was eventually converted and became a renowned analytic philosopher, but Taylor decided that his only choices were to either leave philosophy or confront the ideas that he found vacuous. He remains a practicing Catholic and a philosopher. John Wilson, editor of Books and Culture, later told me he plans to write something on Taylor’s book for B&C. While he likes the man, he has problems with the book.

Next I sat in on a session called “Black Theology: New Times, New Methods” at which a name came up that I had heard from Tavis Smiley: James Cone is apparently the dean of Black Theology and any black pastor who doesn’t know this should, according to a panelist from Fuller Seminary, be ashamed of themselves. What needs to be desconstructed, according to these brilliant minds, is white, European modernist Christian theology, to be replaced by one that relies on the earliest texts, which are African. Indeed, IVP was advertising a book called How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas Oden. I had gone to this session hoping to gain some understanding about the unique contributions of African American theologians to the community of faith, but even the elder-statesman of the panel said there really was nothing new in what was said by the participants. They said it brilliantly however. The high proportion of black attendees at the conference made me wonder if they are overrepresented in religious studies and underrepresented in other fields, or if black cultural identity has been so interwoven with faith that it makes what N.T. Wright later said about God’s absence from public life sound almost foolish, or at least neglectful re. civil rights movements here and elsewhere.

Wright made me glad to be an Anglican, and believe me, I’m not always sure what I’m doing as an Anglican. It seems to be the best available option, however. My particular congregation is politically conservative, it being located in Newport Beach and all. I am not a conservative. I’m a moderate, as evidenced by my broadly pro-life views on immigration, racial justice, embryo issues, etc. So it was good to hear Wright critique the religious right in his talk “God in Public?” He called it a fumbling attempt to bring God back into public life. The White House apparently doesn’t like this assessment and let him know it.

Wright also talked about deconstructing Modernism, which by the way, isn’t a monolithic thing. He suggested, with audible relief, that we are moving into post-postmodernism, or need to. He suggested a radical kingdom theology for public engagement based on the gospels (again reminiscient of Willard), and advocated a trajectory entirely separate from the Fundamentalist/Secularist deathmatch. This session was the most packed of any I attended. When I got up to leave during the Q&A, I literally had to climb over people who were jammed into the aisles.

It was at this lecture that I ran into both John Wilson and Ted Olsen of CT. Ted was one of those unlucky floor dwellers that I waded past on my way out.

Then it was off to the session I had most been looking forward to, but which was the least interesting. It was called “Evangelicals and Southern California: Factors Shaping Evangelical Identity.” I had thought this discussion was going to be about how the culture of Southern California shapes evangelicalism nationally—a topic that greatly interests me, but instead it was about factors that shape SoCal evangelicalism. There were only two panelists. Daniel Rodriguez, of Pepperdine University, gave a paper on Hispanic ministry that could have come out of the Calvary Chapel play book. He studied two SoCal church networks: Victory Outreach and Praise Chapel, both of which started around the time Calvary Chapel did, but were not outgrowths of it. The other paper, if one can believe this, is the subject of a bright young scholar’s doctoral dissertation on the theology of sports ministries like Athletes in Action and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The salient point in her talk was that, in the case of Athletes in Action at least, the theology appears to have been influenced by the writings of … are you ready? Arnold Schwarzenegger, and perhaps, as one audience member suggested, Maharashi somebody.

I intended to wrap my evening up at an InterVarsity Press reception, at which Alistair McGrath was scheduled to speak. It was postponed for 90 minutes and I was famished so I crashed the Yale University reception, surmising that the Yalies would have the best food. Smart girl. I ate sushi, brie quiches, rich blue cheese on date nut bread, accompanied by a few sips of Cabernet.

Afterwards, I met an evangelical Lutheran scholar from Hungary who had, oddly enough, connections to both my past and my present. She has friends who attend a Calvary Chapel in Budapest, and had been there to hear Chuck Smith. She wanted to know if there was a thelogical basis for the way Communion was served at the service she attended. The elements were simply placed on the stage with little commentary and no pastoral interaction. I told her this is possible because low-church Protestants tend to believe in the priesthood of all believers. She also happened to have become acquainted with, I think she said, the former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. She described sharing a cozy dinner with this eminent member of the clergy, at which he spewed profanity-laced vitriole at my church.

The IVP reception included some exquisite chocolate desserts, but McGrath had canceled and I was conflicted between the engaging replacement topic, “The Legacy of John Paul II” and a photography presentation. The thought of leaving the conference without attending a session on the Arts was anathema to me, so I ditched the pope.

In the exhibit hall, there was a stunning photograph of a transgendered sex worker. Sounds out there, I know, but I hoped to see the rest of the series. It was a grand way to end the conference. Golden States of Grace is a traveling exhibit that looks at the spiritual lives of marginalized communities. The artist’s work deconstructs assumptions about those lives and inspires compassion and respect for the humanity of every person created in God’s image.

You might notice that I generally did not choose sessions dealing with doctrinal minutiae, but instead went for big picture themes. Not only does doctrinal minutiae bore me silly, but I’m a journalist who wants to understand our world and where it’s going from the perspective of a variety of voices. In the end, N.T. Wright resonated with me the most, while a couple of African American Phd. candidates from Duke University impressed me the most. I’ll outline Wright’s talk in a couple days. He made me feel safe in my new Anglican identity and for that I’m grateful.

[© cas 2007, all rights reserved.]

Public Diplomacy

This week the United States announced new sanctions against Iran. Coincidentally, I attended a lecture at the USC Anneberg School for Communication on Tuesday about Public Diplomacy and, specifically, nuclear proliferation re. Iran.

The speaker was James Kelman, senior public diplomacy advisor for the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. Kelman was speaking primarily to graduate students studying Public Diplomacy. He said his job as a diplomat is to explain U.S. goals and seek support for them. He gave some statistics about just how unpopular the United States is right now. As Roger Cohen noted in yesterday’s New York Times, many Europeans are “floating on an Iraq-comforted wave of moral smugness”—and those are our friends. The fact that all American public diplomacy is now viewed within the context of Iraq makes life much more difficult for our diplomats.

Kelman talked about missile defense in Europe, and Russia’s opposition to it, WMDs, North Korea, and Iran’s nuclear goals. He said it is widely recognized that the exchange of people, especially young people, is the best long term diplomacy activity because “an open society is its own best witness.” Thus in the arenas of science, sports, music, and popular culture exchanges are being made. For example, university level wrestlers from the U.S. traveled to Iran for test matches and scientists from Iran have quietly been invited to do research here. Additionally, unsanctioned U.S. sponsored news outlets that broadcast U.S. goals have a wide audience in Iran.

He also talked about the many counter-proliferation initiative successes that cannot be reported and about disarmament reduction as an example of a “good news story” getting lost in a “bad-news environment.”

During the question and answer session, the anti-American sentiment of guests to our country sickened me, though rigorous intellectual debate was appropriate to the environment. However, in this case, I didn’t hear a single dissenting voice. Our diplomat was left to fend for himself.

First, there was a full-frontal assault from a couple of Iranians. One was a graduate student, the other a USC professor. He stood passionately jabbing his finger in Kelman’s direction and contradicting nearly everything Kelman had said about Iran. He called Kelman a liar three times and told him to go to his own website to find the truth. (Of course he has a website; we all have them now.) The professor said public diplomacy only works if it’s honest. Kelman’s response was brief; he countered that his evaluation represented a coalition perspective, not solely an American one. The graduate student audibly sneered at this answer.

Another audience member asked if he had any “push-back” with his superiors re. the bad policies he must sell internationally. He said, no, not unless public diplomacy has been part of the process from the get-go, a practice he advocated. A few students offered a bit of relief from the drama by asking strategy questions. Finally, an eloquent Irishman spoke. He told Kelman that he felt sorry for him, because he knows him, and knows that he is a level-headed guy, but to have to sell the trash he has to sell, well, that is not a job to be envied. One couldn’t help but smile.

It was a vibrant discussion that ended well for everyone except perhaps Kelman, who seemed a tiny bit rattled by the barrage. Odd for a diplomat to be rattled by a bunch of university rabble-rousers.

The talk got me thinking about the art of public diplomacy in Christian leadership both corporately and personally.  

My son Gabe was a campus representative one year at his college. He talked specifically to visiting minority students about campus life at his eminent school. He gave them his unfiltered perspective that it was rough going for black men on campus. (Most private Christian colleges have appallingly low minority populations of under 10 percent.) The recruiting director wasn’t too happy with him. Gabe explained that he had been “lied to” and that he wouldn’t do the same to someone else, even if it meant the prospect would be lost to another school.

Similarly, Jeff and I read about the pastor training school he attended in an affiliation magazine. I later wrote some articles for this same magazine. I would not call those articles journalism. They were public relations, or, public diplomacy, if you will. They highlighted successes, period. I wish we had read this quarterly with more discernment and wisdom before we bought into the ideal it was selling. Readers of official publications should recognize that the dark underbelly of an organization/community is generally not going to be scratched in official literature.  

However, there’s no wrong in highlighting an institution’s positives. What is wrong is when official publications misrepresent the truth. For example, one article I recall reading in this magazine was supposedly written by the affiliation founder. In it “he” identifies a particular person as his sole like-minded ally, implying that this person was Timothy to his Paul. We functioned for 2-3 years under this fallacy. The consequences were significant. Later I learned that the founder hadn’t written the article at all. No surprise there. In this case, “Timothy’s” wife is reported to have written it.

An example of honest public diplomacy is Bill Hybel’s recent admission that Willow Creek Community Church had made some foundational mistakes. Lately I’ve been reading that ours is an age of public apology. Hybels is leading the way with his willingness to risk Willow’s reputation with such an admission. I know from friends that this organizational soul-searching comes at no small cost as those who bought into the Willow model grapple with the shift in perspective.

True leaders lead.

Here are the tips I picked up from the Kelman lecture that might be helpful to ambassadors for Christ:

1. Public Diplomacy must be honest to be effective. When I invited an agnostic NIH scientist to my former church, I warned him that our pastor was likely to rail against the homosexual political lobby. That day he didn’t. Instead he lit into welfare mothers. The scientist was unperturbed. I had prepared him for the worst, so it bothered him little. He was impressed with the pastor’s rhetorical skills and with the size and scope of the church’s ministry.

2. The Golden Rule should govern public diplomacy for Christians. I think Gabe got that. He valued the potential student’s well-being more than the institution’s. Loyalty to an organization/community is a virtue, but there are times for higher loyalties to prevail. Generally, Gabe spoke well of his school, but it was important for these particular students to understand the unique challenges they would face there should they choose to attend.

3. Good news gets lost in a bad news environment. Why not turn the tide, like Hybels and Ted Haggard’s former church are doing by dealing forthrightly with the bad news, thus allowing the organization/community to release the past and move forward in freedom? Also, find ways to let the world know that behind the scenes there is action and debate. Most of us don’t want or need to know all the gory details; we just want to know that leaders are leading with integrity.

4. An open society is its own best witness. How many of us have lived ghettoized lives because we’ve not wanted to be tainted by the world, or to have our children tainted? Foreign exchange involves risk, but free societies aren’t ruled by fear. Besides, culture seeps in no matter how protective we are. I have relatives who are the most separatist Christians I know. They’ve escaped neither substance abuse nor mental illness.

5. Similarly, in the digital age, there’s no escape from subversive ideas. Truth comes out, and with it, a pack of lies and counterintelligence. Better for an organization/community to own its failures than to allow anarchic systems to frame discussion.

6. Ordinary human foibles can be and should be covered. Other things are inexcusable. It is the diplomat who looks like an idiot when charged with explaining away the unexplainable. Again truth eventually rises to the surface like flotsam. Think of Al Gore defending Clinton through his denial of the Monica Lewinsky affair. How it must have sickened him.

Finally, this:

One cannot love Christ and hate his bride. Perhaps this is the thing to remember when we represent her to the world. If she is stained and disheveled, we should try to straighten her clothes and clean her up before we present her publicly. Even so, not every bride is beautiful. We do her public honor nonetheless.

[© cas 2007, all rights reserved.]

Rescue of a Junkie

 by Vinnie DiPasquale with Bonnie Compton Hanson 

 “Aw, Come on fellows,” I begged. “After all, it was my dough!”

The other guys—their arms pocked with needle marks—shook their heads. “Naw, Vin,” they protested dreamily, “you don’t wanta get hooked.”

They’d been broke and hurting for the stuff when they ran into me that night. Just out of jail for the second time, I was lonesome for pals. We made a deal. I’d pawn my radio—stolen in the first place—and slip over to New York City with them to find a dope pusher.

Now I looked around the dingy little washroom where these two had just “main-lined” diluted heroin into their veins. Almost immediately a glow had spread over their sickly yellow faces. They were “high” and—to all appearances—supremely happy. I’d been looking for happiness all my life. If a sniff of white powder was all that was keeping me from it—

“Aw, please!”

“Well, okay, kid, like you say, it’s your money.”

I’d been around addicts for a long time; I learned all about dope that second hitch in the clink. Even tried sniffing cleaning fluid myself when othere prisoners went on binges. But I’d never touched real dope until now.

Eagerly grabbing a pinch, I stuck it up my nose and sniffed. Nothing happened.

Disappointed, I started back downstairs. Then it hit me. I can’t explain it exactly, but I was all wobbly and warm and woozy. Most important, I forgot all my problems: my troubles with my father; my tired, loving mother who had time only for work; my own life without aim, hope, or meaning. I decided then and there that dope was for me.

I didn’t know it then, but I was the dope. I guess I’d always been.

The first thing I can remember in life is stealing. I was still small and didn’t have any toys—and I stole a sled. I got a beating for it, but I kept on stealing: money from Mother’s purse, candy and stuff from stores. The more I stole, the more I was beaten, and the more I ran away from home.

There were six of us kids, and Father and Mother didn’t have time for me. There just seemed to be a hole in my life, a big hole that I was always trying to fill.

By the time I was ten, I had my first taste of a correctional institution. After that I was always ending up behind bars. I hardly ever darkened a school door; I was just promoted on paper because of my age. At one of these places two boys and I were so homesick we broke out, stole a car, and made a getaway.

Shot at by police, the other boys gave up, but I made it home. There Mother begged me to give myself up. I did, and at 16 was serving my first sentence.

They called it a reformatory, but they should’ve called it a corrupt-atory. Thrown in with older boys, I quickly learned about drinking, wild girls, safecracking, gang fighting, and all the rest.

By the time I got out 13 months later, I was a confirmed hood–lounging on street corners by day, carousing and fighting by night. A gang leader, I swaggered in the adoration of the fellows and our girl gang. Boy did I think I was something!

But I stole a car and jumped parole, and at 20 was back in jail. That’s when I learned about dope. I’d tried everything to fill that big hole in my life. Maybe, I figured, this would do it. After all, I could always stop.

Famous last words. First I was “snorting” two or three times a week, then every day, stealing everything I could to pay for it. Finally my new friends and I decided to become pushers ourselves to afford the demands of our wracked bodies. Things became easier then. We’d sell the stuff for as high as $300 an ounce, and soon we were zipping around the country stealing, selling, hitting the high spots—and staying high ourselves. I was even able to buy 40 suits for myself.

Then our supplier got eight years in the pen.

Our means of income was gone—but not our cravings. I hocked all my suits, stole all I could, broke into safes, and still couldn’t meet my nerves’ demands.

One night after I’d been desparately kicking the habit for a week, I found out that five of the guys in my old gang were going on a free trip to Colorado. Boy, did that sound good! I found out who had invited them—Harv Oostdyk—and asked him if I could go, too. When he said yes, I was more excited than I’d been in years.

All the way out there we guys lived it up—stealing and all, the way we’d always done. I could tell it worried this guy Harv, and I couldn’t figure him out. He was so different from the guys we’d known.

As soon as our car pulled into this big ranch, about 50 or 60 kids surrounded us and greeted us. I could see that they were different too. Suddenly I knew that—hopeless junkie though I was—there might still be hope for me at this place.

What I didn’t realize was that this Frontier Ranch was a religious outfit, sponsored by an organization called Young Life. I didn’t even know that the fellow who’d brought us out there free was the New Jersey director of Young Life. To me Harv Oostdyk was just a swell young fellow who for some reason got a kick out of doing something for guys like me and my buddies.

But I did know I was going with him all the way. And I did. I went to every single meeting and encouraged the other guys to go, too. I was 22 then—older than the other guys—but for the first time I was hearing how Jesus Christ loved me—me—and had died for me on the Cross and was alive and able to help me today. Through faith in Him I could become a new creature with the Spirit of God living right in my heart. And I could see that these other people really believed and experienced this.

Before the week was over, I—and two of the fellows I came with—had believed in Christ and experienced salvation for ourselves.

Back home, though, where I didn’t know any other Christians, the going was hard. I didn’t know anything about the Bible or separation or anything like that. Harv tried to help me, but I was in Newark and he in Morristown, New Jersey, and he had many other obligations. After a couple of months—much as I hated it—I found myself falling back into my old ways. And I kept falling back into them for three years.

Then one night, thrown in jail, I really started thinking. I’d said once that He was the Answer. He had made me a new creature. Was I acting like one? What had gone wrong? Why had I messed up the one wonderful thing that had ever happened in my life?

Almost miraculously I was able to get in touch with Harv again a couple of days later. He took me into his home, got me a job, and began helping me grow in the Lord.

By June 1960 I was able to start a work with some other Christian fellows, helping guys who were down where I once was.

The following February the Lord gave me the desire to go back to school—me who couldn’t multiply or divide and hadn’t cracked a book for twenty-seven years! It was tough going, but the Lord was with me and as this was written I expected to graduate from high school with top marks! College, God willing, is next.

I look back now on my life and see that it was shattered and completely without hope for me. Jesus Christ has reached down to the depths and has done things in my life that I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. Only He could have filled the cavity that burdened me for twenty-two wasted years.

My plans after college are not definite, but I know that each day from now on I must fall on my knees and shout, “How great Thou art!”

[Vinne DiPasquale graduated from Newark Prep in August 1964, and is now attending evening classes at Jersey City State College. Now married and the father of two daughters, he is a member of the Young Life staff and works with Young Life clubs in Jersey City and West Harlem.]

from Teen With a Future and Other Stories of God’s Power for Teenagers

© Baker Book House, 1965

Cross Carriers: My Family Heritage

Below is a link to an article called “The Cross Carriers” from the May/June 1963 issue of Faith at Work magazine. The article is about my father, Vinnie DiPasquale, and some of his friends, including Harv Oostdyk and Bill Milliken (the author). Together they ministered to gang members and other youth on the lower east side of Manhattan. My dad is the young man in the cover photo with the bald head. One of the other guys is named Harv Oostdyk. Harv’s brother is my step-dad’s best friend. The Oostdyks met my father through the ministry of Young Life in northern New Jersey.

After my father died, the Oostdyks sent my step-dad to check on the grieving widow, whom he’d never met. They were married a couple years later.  My parents had also met through Young Life. Mom was the only child of older middle class Lutheran parents. Dad was the oldest male in a Catholic, single-parent family of six children. He grew up in poverty in Newark, NJ, and was an undefeated Golden Gloves boxing champion, a gang leader, a thief, and a drug addict before he met Jesus through Young Life. Mom didn’t know what she was getting herself into, eloping with someone ten years older who had a lot of history. (History sometimes repeats itself in a struggling sinner’s life.)

We attended a Presbyterian church when I was a little girl. My father was the janitor and worked with youth. I’m not sure why, but we stopped going to church when I was in early elementary school. Just before he died, my father told my mother that they needed to “get right with the Lord.” She wasn’t interested. He began attending a little Baptist church on the corner of our street in Point Pleasant Beach. When he died, the students at Manasaquan High School dedicated their yearbook to the 41 year old janitor who went to work with a purpose—reaching out to youth.

It was after Vinnie died and my step-father came along that we began attending my home church. Although I’ve never been involved in any ministry of Young Life, I’m grateful to the organization for planting the seeds of a spiritual heritage (and for the matchmaking).

A couple things strike me about the article. First, the emphasis on spiritual disciplines—even if they are a bit hokey. Second, the leniency in alcohol usage (notice the list of commitments club members vowed to keep). Third, finding out in the last few paragraphs of the article that my dad was ministering out of Trinity Church on Wall Street. Trinity Church stood like an untouched beacon surrounded by the carnage of 9/11, and, along with the church across the street a nearby church where my friend Mary Davis coordinated ministry to rescue workers for Calvary Chapel, provided a place of respite throughout the relief efforts. Trinity Church was also the springboard site of a citywide prayer revival early in the 1900s. It is an Episcopal church. I thought I had no formal connection to the Anglicans we’ve been worshiping with. It makes me smile to think they were a part of my family heritage all along.

The article might be a little hard to read; couldn’t figure out how to enlarge it. Scan to the last few paragraphs if you can’t see much else.


To read about the history of the Faith at Work organization, click below. There’s an interesting note tying what God was doing through the Jesus movement with what my dad and his friends were doing on the lower east side of Manhattan:

[note: Jeff’s Bible study on Psalm 1 is in the works for tomorrow.]

Kate and Me on Immigration

Kathryn Jean Lopez:

Christine A. Scheller:

[Orange County Register, April 2006]

Responding to my Christianity Today article, “A Delicate Hospitality,” Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote that the attitude I encountered at a meeting of Hispanic evangelical pastors in southern California was “almost completely accommodating to lawbreaking.” That’s one way to look at it. The “Don’t ask; don’t tell” approach of the pastors at that meeting and elsewhere is more complex than Lopez makes out, and I think she knows it.

In an article entitled “Borderlands Praxis: The Immigrant Experience in Latino Pentecostal Churches,” which appeared in the September 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Notre Dame doctoral student Daniel Ramirez traced the history of Mexican Pentecostal “solidarity” in the U.S./Mexico borderlands through five decades, beginning with the Azusa Street Revival of 1909. Ramirez found in Apostolic Pentecostals “a de facto biblically informed hospitality that transcended—and all but disregarded—national borders and legal status. For Apostolics and for many other Mexicans and Mexican Americans, the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico continued to constitute a ‘single cultural province,’ one in which people migrated (as opposed to immigrated) in search of better economic opportunities but not necessarily different social arrangements.” He concluded, “When U.S. law would capriciously raise barriers to divide people historically united through blood, language, music, cuisine, hardship, and faith, a higher law … called for a social ethic built on brother and sisterhood and charity toward the sojourner, with scant regard for de jure distinctions.” Sociologist Julian Samora evaluated the United States’ fluctuating immigration policy covering the late 1800s until 1971 in Los Mojados: The Wetback Story, published by University of Notre Dame Press. He said the evolution of policy toward our neighbors to the south “may best be understood as an extensive farm labor program—an efficient policy representing a consistent desire for Mexicans as laborers rather than as settlers.”

Arlene Sanchez-Walsh, a historian at Azusa Pacific University in Pasadena, California, explains that white evangelicals are socialized around piety, law, organization, and individualism instead of around the “communitarian effort of survival” that is common among Hispanic immigrants. She says Hispanic pastors generally don’t preach about the immigration issue at all: “It doesn’t come up either as being illegal, terrible, and sinful, and it doesn’t come up either as a communal response to reform laws.”

Wiley Drake, pastor of multiethnic First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, models the approach Lopez prefers. Drake once sponsored an undocumented Guatemalan pastor in the process of becoming a United States citizen—after confronting him about the sinfulness of his illegal status. He says, “Real help is making them legal.” If only it were that easy. According to Anita Calvillo, owner of United Immigration Services in Santa Ana, Mexico is assigned the same number of entry slots as say, Norway, or any other country—making it impossible for most Mexicans to ever enter the country legally.

Coincidentally, I met Drake at a meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR), where Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minutemen Project, was a featured guest. Gilchrist said he hoped churches aren’t ministering to illegals “at all,” and amidst the propaganda and conspiracy theorizing at the meeting, one audience member let the word “cockroach” slip to describe unauthorized Mexicans. Drake got involved with CCIR after returning to southern California from a stint on the East coast. He says he was surprised to find that Buena Park had become “heavily Hispanic.” He adds, “Most of the gang bangers, most of the lawbreakers, were illegal immigrants.” Sgt. Gary Worrall, the media relations representative of the Buena Park police department, says Drake’s claim is both debatable and unverifiable. (To be fair, I don’t know another pastor who houses the homeless on church grounds, as Drake does.)

White evangelicals have been largely silent on this humanitarian issue because we resist antinomianism and because we would like those who violate immigration law to view it from our individualistic, pietistic perspective. Perhaps because I am relatively new to a county where scores of my “pro-life” brethren drive luxury cars, wear $200 jeans, and have the chutzpa and wherewithal to indulge in all manner of flesh preservation, I find it obscene to point out the splinter in our poor brothers’ eyes—especially when we employ them to do our household chores. It causes me to shudder, in fact, to think how God must view the richest “Christian” nation on earth walling off its borders to the poor.

A Divine Conspirator

Dallas Willard is on a quiet quest to subvert nominal Christianity. 

It’s the first week of class at the University of Southern California, and a young woman named Sarah is standing on a soapbox in Hahn Plaza giving her testimony. She describes her first girlfriend, and says that when her mother found out about their relationship, she sent her to therapy. It wasn’t until Sarah came to USC that she fully embraced her identity as a lesbian.

Stories like this may strike fear in the heart of many a Christian parent, but for the past 41 years, USC students have also had the opportunity to hear the teaching of a provocative Christian thinker named Dallas Willard.

It’s a short walk from Hahn Plaza to Willard’s office in the Mudd Hall of Philosophy. A stately brick building with a clock tower stretching to the sky, Mudd Hall was modeled after an Italian monastery and built in 1929. The father of the building’s architect and the department chair that year, Ralph Tyler Flewelling, was a Methodist who wanted to establish a Christian intellectual outreach to the Far East. It’s a fitting home for a man devoted to reestablishing the exalted place moral reasoning once held in the academy.

Willard is most familiar to Christians from his books: The Divine Conspiracy (Christianity Today‘s Book of the Year in 1998), The Spirit of the Disciplines, Hearing God, Renovation of the Heart, and, most recently, The Great Omission. But philosophy is both his primary vocation and the foundation of his devotional writing. According to Willard’s wife, Jane, his book on German philosopher Edmund Husserl’s early work, Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge, was the “other woman” in their marriage for the 15 years it took him to write it. Conversely, she had to press him to write The Divine Conspiracy after he had been teaching its principles to church groups for several years. “He works individually,” she says. “He doesn’t process things out loud. I would hear it when he preached it.”

Learning to Question

Willard says that when he left the ministry to study philosophy in the early 1960s, God told him, “If you stay in the churches, the university will be closed to you; but if you stay in the university, the churches will be open to you.” He had no idea what this meant, because, at the time, the church was still the primary cultural authority. However, as a young Baptist assistant pastor, he had become convinced he was “abysmally ignorant” of God and the soul. He decided to study philosophy, because he believed that “Jesus and his teachings and the philosophers and their teachings were addressing the same questions.”

Willard’s provocative thinking was evident even in the 1960s. He recalls shocking his college classmates with statements like this one: “If you could find a better way, Jesus would be the first one to tell you to take it. And if you don’t believe that about him, you don’t have faith in him, because what you’re really saying is that he would encourage you to believe something that is false.” This realization freed Willard “from ducking or trying to avoid issues raised against the content of the teachings of Jesus. … It made it possible to do honest inquiry in any area and to meet those of different persuasions on the field of common inquiry, not on that of assumptions to be protected at all costs.”

A consequence of Willard’s academic honesty is his unwillingness to state who’s in and who’s out spiritually, which bothers critics who worry that he is a universalist. He says he doesn’t believe anyone will be saved except by Jesus, but he adds, “How that works out, probably no one knows.” He teeters on the edge of openness theology, saying God can choose not to know the future if he wants to, but he doesn’t go as far as many openness adherents, whose views he believes “slip into process theology.” Still, as apologist Dave Hunt notes in his critique of The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Study Bible—of which Willard was a coeditor—some conservative critics remain disturbed by the kind of openness to ambiguity that marks the Renovaré Bible and its editors.

James Higginbotham, chairman of USC’s philosophy department, says Willard’s reputation among philosophers stems chiefly from his work on Husserlian realism. Like Husserl, Willard believes that we can have direct experiences with the world that transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. What intrigued him about the German philosopher was partly his obscurity. “I thought the fashionable views were a disaster,” says Willard. “I wouldn’t have stayed in philosophy if it weren’t for realism.”

From Moral Knowledge to Transformation

As Sarah rattles on about her sexuality in Hahn Plaza, Willard is teaching a class on the history of modern philosophy in an antiquated Mudd Hall classroom. He is a subversive and sophisticated apologist for the existence of truth in a setting that he claims has abandoned its mandate to transfer moral knowledge to the next generation. Point by point, he explains where and how modern thought went wrong. He begins with the Renaissance, unravels the Reformation-inspired battle over authority, then moves in broad strokes from rationalism to relativism.

On the first day of class, he transformed this group of seemingly bored 19- and 20-year-olds into attentive students by carefully explaining that philosophy would help them “find a basis in knowledge for action.” Senior Zachary Muro says Willard’s ability to make real life connections, along with his kindness, is why he keeps taking his classes.

Talbot School of Theology distinguished professor of philosophy J. P. Moreland says that three of Talbot’s five philosophy professors were Willard’s students. He says Willard models the integration of philosophy, the life of the spirit, and mature discipleship, and that they are attempting to emulate his approach at Talbot. Moreland recalls a student who came to him following a seminar he was giving at USC and asked, “Do you believe Jesus can come up to you and listen to you?” He had been wondering about this ever since Willard told him that it was indeed possible. Moreland assured him that, in his own unique way, Willard had spoken the truth. The student later gave his life to Christ.

In philosophy classes, Willard mentions the Intelligent Design debate as an example of the battle over who gets to decide what constitutes knowledge. He says this is important, because it inevitably determines who has the right to formulate and carry out public policy. It annoys him that people who identify with science, professionally or otherwise, get to decide what knowledge is, while people who aren’t scientists can rarely be taken seriously in the id debate. “There is knowledge of God and the spiritual nature of man, as well as other types of reality (e.g. moral obligations) that are not reducible to the world dealt with by the so-called ‘natural sciences.’ The idea that knowledge—and, of course, reality—is limited to that world is the single most destructive idea on the stage of life today.”

His elders told him he was insatiable about the “why questions” as a child. Willard doesn’t remember that. He remembers the struggle to stay alive during the Great Depression and the anguish of being separated from his siblings some years after their mother died when Willard was only two years old. He has been devouring books ever since he followed his siblings to their one-room Missouri schoolhouse as a four-year-old. Plato was his companion when he worked as an agricultural laborer after high school. He still loves to work with his hands, doing carpentry and landscaping on his hilltop property north of Los Angeles.

Willard recalls giving his Baptist Sunday school teachers a “very bad time” as a young teenager. He didn’t think it made sense that you “got saved” and were “stuck with it.” He says he recognized that “even though we want to say salvation is by grace and that anyone can be saved, behaving in certain ways simply is inconsistent with having eternal life.” Nevertheless, he was later ordained as a Southern Baptist pastor.

His Arminian bent can be traced to the influence of his Methodist grandmother, but also to his feelings of failure as a young pastor. That’s when he began reading John Wesley and Charles Finney and aspiring to emulate them. “Generally, what I find is that the ordinary people who come to church are basically running their lives on their own, utilizing ‘the arm of the flesh’—their natural abilities—to negotiate their way,” he says. “They believe there is a God and they need to check in with him. But they don’t have any sense that he is an active agent in their lives. As a result, they don’t become disciples of Jesus. They consume his merits and the services of the church. … Discipleship is no essential part of Christianity today.”

He says these problems are theologically grounded: “We don’t preach life in the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus as an existential reality that leads to discipleship and then character transformation.” He adds, “When you don’t have character transformation in a large number of your people, then when something happens, everything flies apart and you have people acting in the most ungodly ways imaginable.”

The last “great outbreak” of the kingdom of God in the Western world, according to Willard, was the Wesleyan movement, which transformed both people and public institutions “without regard to churches or not churches.” When I ask Willard about later revivals such as the 1970s Jesus Movement, he says that they haven’t changed public institutions, particularly academia.

The Willard Laboratories

An early laboratory for Willard’s theology was a little Quaker church in the San Fernando Valley that the Willards attended in the 1970s. The founder of the Renovaré movement, Richard Foster, was the pastor. Willard led singing, and Jane played the organ. “I was fresh out of seminary and ready to conquer the world,” Foster recalls. “Dallas was so patient with me. He really, in a way, pastored from the pew. … When I would teach, folks might come, but when Dallas taught, they brought their tape recorders. We all did.” Foster recalls sensing that they were “onto something big” when Willard taught through the Book of Matthew.

These days there are multiple and varied laboratories for Willard’s ideas. He teaches in seminaries and is invited to many conferences, and he acts as an informal mentor to a cadre of young men whom Jane refers to as “our boys.” He also serves on the board of Renovaré and speaks and counsels at its events.

Willard has avoided many of the trappings of a high-impact ministry; colleagues like Moreland, Foster, and Higginbotham mention his generosity of spirit and his patient humility. He doesn’t have a book agent, has never pursued a book deal, doesn’t charge a set speaking fee, and doesn’t sell his books when he speaks.

Willard’s influence has sometimes led to radical changes at churches. Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California, was running along smoothly according to the Willow Creek model throughout the 1990s. Senior pastor Kent Carlson says that after a period of rapid growth, the church leadership finally had “time to think.” The leaders read a book that essentially said consumerism was a mainstay of American culture, so if the church couldn’t beat the culture, it might as well join it. Carlson says, “This was a distasteful concept to us.” At the same time, senior co-pastor Mike Lueken was taking a course taught by Willard at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

While church leaders were grappling with these conflicting ideas, they had a powerful experience with God at a leadership retreat. Carlson says that afterward they made a decision to “restructure the church so that people would have a genuine encounter with God that leads to transformation.” Oak Hills’ seeker service was canceled in the belief that evangelism would be more effective as people began to “live more contagiously.”

Instead of “trying to get people’s papers in order for heaven,” the church began concentrating on helping spiritually hungry people “pursue their life with God.” Carlson adds, “We probably didn’t do a very good job at this. We had a bit of an attitude that didn’t always come across as positive. There was anxiety at having built this large organization that we had to keep functioning while we were more enthralled by the more substantive thing.”

Tackling the Big Issues

Willard intends to tackle the question of how to live rightly on a grand scale when he takes a sabbatical from teaching this academic year. He is planning a new book, tentatively titled The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge. In it, he will attempt to demonstrate how it came to be that the “institutions of knowledge have nothing to provide in terms of moral enlightenment that would be available to an ordinary person.” He says, “People today don’t know how unique that is to our times.” Harking back to the century after Wesley once again, he adds, “There was a moral synthesis at the end of the 1800s. It was an enlightened form of Judeo-Christian ethics, and really what I want to do is return to that, to bring it up to date and say, ‘Here is moral knowledge.’ “

Ken Archer, a graduate student at the Catholic University of America, notes that moral knowledge has been an important theme for Willard, philosophically and theologically. Archer has written about the impact of phenomenology on the theology of both John Paul II and Willard. He notes a similarity in both men’s practical application of realism. “It is often pointed out by biographers of Pope John Paul II that [the] call to see in the moral actions of a person who the person has chosen to become is very much a reaction against the routine hypocrisy required for survival in communist Poland,” he writes. Later, he summarizes John Paul’s insight: “You are who you are, not what you would be if the system was different.”

Likewise, Archer points out, Willard asks in The Spirit of the Disciplines, “Why is it that we look upon salvation as a moment that began our religious life instead of the daily life we receive from God?” In The Divine Conspiracy, Willard writes, “God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are, and if we faithlessly discard situation after situation, moment after moment, as not being ‘right,’ we will simply have no place to receive his kingdom into our life. For those situations and moments are our life.”

To those who wonder if he advocates a new perfectionism, Willard replies, “They’re thinking the righteousness here is doing or not doing certain things, and that leads to what Jesus called the ‘leaven of the Pharisees’: hypocrisy.” What “killed” the Wesleyan movement, according to Willard, was people taking Jesus’ teachings—in which he refuted general rules without establishing new ones—in the Sermon on the Mount and turning them into legalisms.

Willard says the intersection between his philosophical and devotional work can be found in the simple question: Who are you going to become?

Husband, Father, Workaholic

Who Willard has become in his 70 years on earth is perhaps most evident at the meandering hilltop property north of Los Angeles where he and Jane raised their children, John and Becky. To say the house, furnishings, and outbuildings are modest would be an overstatement by American standards. However, the bucolic hills where Willard and the children spent afternoons exploring are visible from every room, and Jane’s quiet strength fills the house on a Saturday morning visit. Next door is the rental house they built with their own hands, and beyond that is the building containing their offices, with Willard’s makeshift library between them.

Willard was only 19 years old when he married Jane. They met in the library at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga. She was a popular, blonde music major. He was a favorite of professors. Jane thought he was a rebel, because he went sockless and wore his shirttails out; yet she was attracted to his musical gifts, the depth of his preaching, and his sensitivity in prayer. She says it was only recently that she learned his habit of going sockless had been primarily a result of poverty. Still, she remarks, “He did have rebellion in him.”

About his family life, Willard is candid: “I have not been a wise husband or father, and this has cost us dearly.” He declines to comment further for the sake of the privacy of the people involved. But Becky Heatley says her father was a “great example of unconditional fatherly love.” She says he was always singing hymns and silly songs around the house and that he taught her and her brother to think. She recalls one such experience when she was in junior high school. Billy Joel’s song “Only the Good Die Young” was playing on the car radio, and her dad provocatively asked, “Is it true that only the good die young?”

Willard says apart from the knowledge of God, Jane has been the greatest blessing in his life: “On many occasions, she has held me steady and preserved me from going off-track.” These days, Jane, who is a marriage and family therapist, needs the help of a small committee to keep Willard’s demanding schedule on track. She says he has a hard time relaxing: “If there was a blood test for workaholism, he would come up positive.” A devoted co-laborer in the work of getting his message out, she adds, “I certainly don’t feel unloved, at least at this juncture. … Always down deep in my formation was this thing before God of ‘I cannot stand in his way.'”

It was with Jane that Willard had an early experience that set him on his life course. He and Jane had prayed to fully surrender their lives to Christ during a campus service at Tennessee Temple University. Afterward, R. R. Brown was laying hands on Willard and praying over him. Jane says Willard lost consciousness, later describing the experience as being enveloped in a cloud. A spiritual reality became tangible for Willard in that moment.

In some sense, he has been trying to describe and teach it ever since.

Christianity Today, September 2006

© cas 2006

A Delicate Hospitality

How Hispanic Churches in Southern California negotiate the dilemmas of ministry with undocumented immigrants. 

When he was 19, an associate pastor of one Southern California church came to the United States illegally from El Salvador. Although he has been an American citizen for 25 years, he doesn’t view violation of immigration law as sin. In fact, he sees his own illegal entry as a good that led to the salvation of his family.

For the past 10 years, he has led a ministry team that serves burritos, drinks, and the Word of God to day laborers (some of whom live in the surrounding caves) in Laguna Canyon. He recalls one day laborer’s gratitude: “I thank God for your ministry. I was going to open a bar when I go back home, but now I want to open a Bible study.”

According to a 2005 Pew Hispanic Center report, there are 11 million unauthorized migrants in the United States (including 6 million Mexicans and 1.7 million children under the age of 18). This is an increase of 700,000 from a year ago. In California alone, there are approximately 2.4 million undocumented immigrants. This influx is creating economic, social, and political pressures—as well as ministry opportunities and dilemmas for churches. The pastor mentioned above (who wished to remain anonymous) is one example. CT spoke with a number of Hispanic pastors and churches to see how they are dealing with the legal and spiritual dilemmas that arise around unauthorized migration.


Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), says that Hispanic evangelical churches, especially in border states like California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, are full of undocumented immigrants. “We have two responsibilities,” he says. “One is our collective ethos to protect our citizenry from possible terrorists and from drug trafficking. But similarly, we can’t deny Leviticus 19:34.” The verse says, “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your nativeborn. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Rodriguez interprets the command this way: “We have a moral, biblical, Godgiven obligation to take care of the disenfranchised, the alienated, and the foreigner. How they got here is not our issue.” He doesn’t see someone’s illegal status as sin. He points out that Hispanic culture dominated and preceded Anglo-Saxon culture in the West, and asks, “Was it sinful for the Europeans to kick the Indians out and put them on reservations? . . . Is it sin for a father to cross the Rio Grande because his family is impoverished? He’s a hardworking, God-fearing individual; his family is impoverished, the [Mexican] government is corrupt, drug traffickers are mowing down individuals in his community, and for the sake of saving his children, they cross the Rio Grande.”

Rodriguez adds, “I would like to see the white evangelical church make some clearcut statements that would resonate with the Leviticus 19 principle alongside with what we are stating: Let’s protect our borders; there is a legitimate border issue. . . . Nonetheless, we need to work at creating programs within our churches that will facilitate the expeditious acquisition of documents, residency, and citizenry requirementsfor these Hispanic immigrants.”

Notre Dame doctoral student Daniel Ramirez traced the history of Mexican Pentecostal ministry in the borderlands through five decades, beginning with the Azusa Street Revival of 1909. Ramirez found among Apostolic Pentecostals and many other Mexicans and Mexican Americans “a de facto biblically informed hospitality that transcended—and all but disregarded—national borders and legal status.”


For top-tier NHCLC pastors, this remains the case. It begins with how Hispanic clergy understand their role. Rodriguez says they have determined that there is no legal precedent or obligation for the clergy to report the undocumented within their churches, and they base their conclusion, in part, on the traditional right of “clergy privilege.”

Joe Trull, editor of, pastored for 20 years in the border town of El Paso, Texas. He sees clergy privilege regarding unauthorized migrants as “somewhat analogous” to what Corrie ten Boom did by hiding Jews during World War II in defiance of Dutch law. Pastors must decide between the greater good and the lesser evil, he says. They should acknowledge the evil in disobeying the law and be careful not to rationalize it for their own convenience, but also weigh this evil against the greater good of allowing Hispanic immigrants to feed their families. He adds that Christians must work to pass better laws so that the evil of breaking the law is temporary.

Hospitality to the undocumented also means taking a compassionate approach, as does Templo Calvario in Santa Ana—one of the largest Hispanic churches in the country. The church has a history of immigration ministry. During the 1980s immigration amnesty signed into law by Ronald Reagan, Templo Calvario partnered with World Relief to help congregants with their immigration cases. Santa Ana is home to one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the country. For years, World Relief and many other Christian groups have helped resettle Asian and European refugees who were fleeing communism. For some Christian groups, refugee issues evolved into immigration issues. World Relief still helps those who are eligible to legalize through marriage, family ties, or employment—including a few who enter the country with the intent to overstay their visas.

Like most people interviewed for this article, Templo Calvario’s senior pastor, Daniel DeLeon, was hesitant to speak on the record—until Rodriguez intervened. DeLeon has pastored the church for 29 years and says that when he began, the congregation was composed of 99 percent English-speaking, second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans. Demographic changes in Santa Ana have transformed the church.

On the Sunday I visited, the sanctuary was overflowing for the early morning Spanish-language service, but it was only about two-thirds full during the 10 a.m. English-language service.

DeLeon says that as a church, Templo Calvario doesn’t have people standing at the door asking for green cards permanent residency documents). “God has given us a mandate to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. This witness shall be preached to all the nations. . . . The word [nation] in the Greek means all ethnic groups. So whether they’re here or there, across our borders or across the ocean, we have a responsibility to preach the gospel to them.”

He doesn’t kick out migrants if he finds out they are unauthorized workers. “I’m not a legal entity for the government. I tell people from the pulpit, ‘Get your papers in order,’ and will always encourage them to abide by the laws of the land.” But he reserves judgment for the “real illegals”—those who knowingly employ the undocumented.

DeLeon says Christians have a second responsibility. “Many of the laws through the years have come about through the influence of the church, not only in America, but in the world. So we have a responsibility and a right to speak about issues that are touching the life of our congregation and the people that we serve.”

Arlene Sanchez-Walsh, a historian at Azusa Pacific University near Pasadena, California, has found in her research that Hispanic pastors don’t preach about the immigration issue: “The sermons are [about] piety, personal holiness, conversion. It doesn’t come up as being illegal, terrible, and sinful, and it doesn’t come up as a communal response to reform laws.”


At a meeting of about 30 Hispanic pastors within one affiliation of churches, I was introduced as a journalist from the podium and then waited near the exit to do interviews. Most of the pastors either coolly or nervously walked past. A few agreed to be interviewed, but only if they and their churches were not identified. A pastor who emigrated legally from Uruguay many years ago and whose congregation is 50 percent undocumented immigrants explained, “We have a lot of pastors who are illegal.” (This situation may be unique to this affiliation of churches, which has a very loose organizational structure.) He does not view immigration violations as sin and said neither do his congregants, with one exception. Two years ago, a couple who had been praying and trying unsuccessfully to gain legal status decided they were outside of God’s will and returned to Mexico as an act of faith.

Another pastor said that when fingerprinting was implemented in his nationally-known church’s children’s ministry (to safeguard against pedophiles), many gifted workers, fearing deportation if their illegal status were discovered, had to find other avenues of service. He said they felt rejected and resentful toward the church’s leadership because the church was “hindering them from doing the work of the Lord.”

A southern Orange County associate pastor said that his church’s senior pastor decided to forgo fingerprinting. Instead, he allowed the associate pastor to use his judgment in evaluating workers for the Spanish-language children’s ministry.

As Sanchez-Walsh suggested, most of these pastors, like DeLeon, advised their congregants to “do the best they can” to be honest, law-abiding, hard-working Christians. Only one pastor took a different stand. He had crossed the border illegally as a young man to marry his Mexican-American fiancé, but says that he now believes the current process for getting into the United States is “great” and “necessary.” When an undocumented worker responds to the gospel, “the Lord will not be glorified” if that person continues to live a lie. He expressed relief, however, that no congregant had ever confessed illegal status to him.

Christianity Today, March 2006

© cas 2006