This past weekend during the United Church of Christ General Synod, The Rev. Kaji Douša was one of the featured speakers. Douša alleged widespread abuse among detained migrants at the Southern border, as well as encouraged the circumvention of U.S. immigration law.
Last week the United Church of Christ (UCC) held its 32nd General Synod and First Plenary Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The UCC is a religiously progressive denomination, vocal on social issues including support for abortion rights. The UCC General Synod’s resolutions promote abortion access and the denomination is also a coalition member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).
Douša is senior pastor of the Park Avenue Christian Church; a dual affiliated church with both the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and UCC. The congregation describes itself as “one of the most vibrant and progressive communities of faith in New York City.”
During her speech, Douša focused on Jesus’ teachings about salt and light. She went on to describe the difference between the modern pop culture definition of saltiness as being angry because one was wronged and biblical saltiness. Biblical saltiness is where one is a “delightful force” and “flavor enhancing,” according to Douša .
Douša claimed that Jesus would be modern day “salty” as well as “biblically salty” because cultural push-back within Christian circles “is only welcomed by non-minorities.” This was in the context of political conservatives and U.S. President Donald Trump’s responses and positions on border enforcement. She called for the UCC to protect the “salty” who are being trampled on because it is imperative for church members to be “salty” at what is happening to immigrants who attempt to illegally cross the border.
Douša went on to talk about how the organization in which she is a co-chair of, the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) is trying to protect “martyrs” like Ravi Ragbir, effectively acting as the salt she referred to earlier in her synod speech. Ragbir, one of Douša’s closest friends, was ordered deported after serving a prison sentence for wire fraud. Ragbir was later allowed to stay in the country after multiple deportation orders were nullified by federal courts. The NSC is an activist organization that assists immigrants to navigate what they term the “inhumane system of deportations and detentions in this country.” The organization built a program where NSC activists and voluntary lawyers go with immigrants to ICE check-ins, court hearings, and help stop the “forced isolation of many undocumented people.”
In describing NSC’s mission and work, Douša said that she and others must be the “salt” for illegal immigrants who are being held against their will for allegedly political reasons. On Twitter, Douša has referred to the ICE facilities at the border as “detention camps.”
NSC is co-hosting an event called Lights 4 Liberty July 12 in which people from around the world will flash a light to signify the “horrific abuses of the Trump administration in human detention camps.” The event and Douša often use the hashtag #EndUSconcentrationcamps to signify their indignation. In her Synod address, Douša claimed that Jesus would be “salty” at the treatment of illegal immigrants by the Trump administration.
Douša’s speech on immigration activism was deeply problematic. Ragbir was not deported in 2006 because of his political activism, as Douša asserted, but ordered to be deported because of wire fraud. Jesus specifically called for his followers to observe the laws of their respective territories (Romans 13:1-5, Titus 3:1, Romans 2:13, 1 Peter 2:13-17, Romans 3:31, John 14:21, etc). Secondly, it is incorrect to say that illegal immigrants are being held against their will for nothing other than political reasons. The United States is a nation of laws with a border. Immigration law, like every other law, is to be enforced until such time as it is replaced by other legislation. Douša’s assertion that it is political to uphold law regulating legal entry fails to address differences between legislators who author laws and executive agencies that enforce it.
Christians historically understand that they are to follow the law of the land, rather than selectively choosing what laws to obey under the guise of Jesus supporting open borders.
Lastly, it is egregious for Douša to label the migrant detention centers as internment camps. In her synod speech, Douša charged that “Migrants [are] being held in internment camps and prisons who are, by the way, in the country legally, though from my perspective, that does not matter.”
Internment and concentration camps are camps in which people are coerced into or rounded up by a government that places them into the camps. Internment and concentration camps are not places that occupants voluntarily enter with free will and in search of a better life. Understanding the difference between the two is instrumental.