Gunshots that slaughtered at least 22 people in El Paso, Texas, last Saturday echoed around the world. They particularly reverberated in the hearts of residents of the American Southwest.
The murderer (Let’s refuse to placate the perversion of mass murderers by repeating their names.) drove from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to El Paso specifically to kill people from Mexico.
A manifesto he apparently posted on an online forum claimed he wanted to stop a “Hispanic invasion.”
The murderer’s thinking and subsequent actions should disturb people of faith and conscience for myriad reasons, but let’s focus on two.
First, the theological: All individuals are created in God’s image and worthy of love, care and respect.
Singling out “the other” violates the Ten Commandments and the wisdom of the prophets.
It runs counter to Jesus’ teachings, particularly his call to “love your neighbor as yourself” and his particular definition of a neighbor as a person distinctly different from oneself.
Second, the relational: Hispanics – particularly Mexicans – are our nearest neighbors and friends.
Millions of people across the Southwest live close to the U.S.-Mexico border. And even millions more live next door, or down the street or just a block or two away from friends whose ancestry is rooted in Mexico.
You can’t think about Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or southern California without encountering the distinctly positive influence of Mexico. Our entire culture is Mexican-tinged.
Our language, music, art and food are shaped by the generous, joyous ethos of Mexico.
For generations, our economy has depended upon Mexico for trade, of course, but also construction, agriculture, manufacturing, entertainment, education and much more.
So, this gunman traveled to El Paso to kill Mexicans because he fears an “invasion” – a concept recalling language used by President Trump on multiple occasions.
Such thinking surely is rooted in fear, not reason. We wouldn’t be who we are as Southwesterners were it not for Mexicans.
They are us; we are they. Whatever our individual DNA, we are inseparable. Mutually, we have been blessed by decades and decades of cross-border relationships.
Nowhere is this more true and vital than in matters of faith. The vibrancy of Latinx Christians has shaped the borderlands.
Even congregations where no one speaks Spanish have been influenced and strengthened by the faithfulness and exuberance of Hispanic sisters and brothers.
Their passion for worship and compassion for the poor set standards the rest of us can only try to emulate.
My own organization, Fellowship Southwest, owes its vitality and most of its purpose to the influence of our Hispanic friends, most of whom are Mexican or have roots in Mexico.
We’re almost exactly two years old, and our signature ministries have been shaped by this relationship.
When we were but three weeks old, Hurricane Harvey blew up the Texas Gulf Coast, shattering the facilities of many Spanish-speaking congregations.
Working alongside them, we found our first focus – to express God’s love but also to make things right and whole.
Because starting and developing Spanish-speaking congregations is vital to sharing God’s love with our region, we soon began collaborating about how to deliver ministry training in Spanish.
And for many months, we have focused on ministering to the refugees on our shared border.
Our Hispanic churches – in Mexico or Mexican by tradition – have led the way. These congregations continue to shelter and feed people who huddle on their doorsteps, literally. The rest of us are blessed to serve beside them and to undergird their daily ministries.
From my experience – decades living in the Southwest – Mexicans and other Latinx sisters and brothers have been the face of God all across our region.
Anyone who would shoot them would shoot into the heart of God. Anyone who would call them rapists and criminals and claim they are “infesting” our country denies God’s imprint upon precious souls whose reciprocated love transforms our own.
So, now we grieve with El Paso, the wondrous city where this horrific criminal act took place.
We grieve with Mexico – our neighbors, our friends, our sisters and brothers – at whom this ungodly attack was aimed.
We can talk about a president who spews racist rhetoric. We can consider politicians who put career above principle and refuse to make such mayhem at least harder to propagate. We can denounce rampant racism and nationalism that encourages and normalizes such abhorrent behavior.
But for now, we grieve. We lament the loss of precious life.
We rage against the cultural malignancy of racism and nationalism. We vow to oppose those who use bully pulpits to spew hatred and to objectify people for political gain. We promise to support laws to prevent mass murder and to strengthen cross-border bonds.
And in the meantime, day by day, we weep for our Mexican sisters and brothers, whom we love.
Editor’s note: EthicsDaily.com developed this column in cooperation with our partners at Fellowship Southwest. It was published Aug. 6 on their blog and social media accounts, and it will appear in their weekly newsletter Aug. 8.
Coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, an intentionally ecumenical, multicultural, multiracial Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network, and a member of Good Faith Media’s strategic advisory board for news and opinion.