Why I Won’t Confess Guilt for Oscar and Valeria

Who is my neighbor? Does it include a man from El Salvador and his preschool daughter who tragically drown trying to enter the United States? In the mind of one of my former students–and in my own mind–it absolutely does. But when I read what she posted on Facebook, I got the sense that she might have taken that neighbor thing to an unsustainable level.

Pastors: If your church is not entering into a time of confession on Sunday for the death of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter, Valeria, you are not the Church.

Confess, change and “love your neighbor by preventing their death just like you daily work to prevent your own.” — Jesus


“You are not the church”–that’s a pretty strong statement, and I have to wonder how this particular event rises to become a litmus test for the legitimacy of a local body as a manifestation of the body of Christ.

R.S. encourages us to “confess.” What exactly are we confessing? When we talk about who constitutes our neighbor, the mind immediately goes to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Certainly that Samaritan man, seeing the beaten, robbed, and left-for-dead fellow by the side of the Jehrico road, acted properly, but do we suppose that he entered into ” a time of confession” over whatever social breakdown led to this act of lawlessness?

No decent person would want Ramírez and his daughter to be lying there lifeless in the water, but are we really all complicit in whatever “sin” R.S. imagines led to these deaths? Must we really confess or risk being “not the Church”?

If, failing to enter into that season of confession, we risk losing our churchly credentials, then what other things must we confess in any given week? Must we confess every act of lawlessness, regardless of whether that law is held to be just or unjust?

Must we confess

Travel back in time to 1859. Were there genuine churches who did not jump on the abolition train? I believe so and would even argue that some genuine churches, churches that had the right to call themselves the Church, embraced states rights and secession. Political and social forces then, and today, prove difficult to extricate from a Spirit-led embrace of the gospel.

That’s what happens, I believe, when conservatives look at father and daughter, face down in the water, and callously insist that they should have never left home, or when liberals see in this pair an indictment of American nationalism and, probably, the evils of Donald Trump.

I have to argue that we do not disqualify ourselves as the Church if we ignore any one of these or a thousand others. On the other hand, R.S. will disqualify herself as a shepherd to her flock if, moved by this event, she does not share her feelings with the congregation.

In the end, the Church needs to take seriously the call to love our neighbors. We need to talk with those with whom we disagree as to what that means. We need to listen to, respect, and consider those other opinions. We need to genuinely open ourselves to the urgings of the Spirit to change our hearts and minds.

Then, I would suggest, can we claim to call ourselves the Church.

Like Nails on a Chalkboard?

The New York Times ran a story recently describing the terrible working conditions among nail salons in New York. The exploitation of vulnerable people, made possible due to customer vanity and cheapness, ought to make a Christian recoil. Does it?

Among the more than 100 workers interviewed by The Times, only about a quarter said they were paid an amount that was the equivalent of New York State’s minimum hourly wage. All but three workers, however, had wages withheld in other ways that would be considered illegal, such as never getting overtime.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good. There’s nothing wrong with shopping for a bargain. But when you discover that your nice nails at a nice price come at the cost of someone else earning a decent living, the aesthetics and economics certainly change.