King, Haiti, & the Colonized

Today we celebrate the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is appropriate that we lift up Dr. King’s life and work today, especially after the devastation suffered in Haiti. The relief work has begun, some are being rescued, many are dead. Help is outpouring from all corners of the world. The difficult task of relief will soon become the epic task of rebuilding. We must begin to ask ourselves what role are we going to play as the church and as American people in helping the nation of Haiti not just rebuild but re-imagine, not just buildings, but future.

Dr. King, in “I See the Promised Land,” refers to the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 saying:

And so the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

For too long we have asked the wrong question!

For the last week we have seen many document the long struggles of the Haitian people. Newsweek magazine’s Karen Fragala Smith documents in “Haiti: A Historical Perspective” some of the influences that partly explain the long Haitian struggle. Among those “influences” is the history of occupation by France and the United States.

As a child of a colonized country, Puerto Rico, I can speak of the difficulties of such presence in a people. Colonialism is always sold by the colonist as opportunity but it always causes havoc on the colonized. Those robbed of self-determination begin to develop an identity crisis that in the end leaves scars of dependence, objectification, and exile.

Time and time again the U.S has only taken into consideration its own good. It has only asked: What is there for me? Along the way many of these colonized nations have lost their identity, have grown culturally suspicious, and have felt internationally alienated.

As people of faith we must call ourselves to repentance. We must call our own nation to task for the ways that it has used and abused its power in the subjugation of other peoples. We must also call for an end to colonialism in whatever form it presents itself. Repentance means that we as people of faith begin to have new conversations that help reverse the question and through our missional work empower those nations to self-determination, to re-discover their identity, and to re-claim the richness of their culture.

To do anything less is to continue the patterns of oppression and injustice that victimize both the colonizer and the colonized. I would argue that if we are to be the bearers of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness we must begin by engaging all nations with their interest as the primary thrust of engagement.

Rebuilding, with all its opportunity and challenge, provides us with a second chance to build a more just and fair society here and abroad. In the church it provides an opportunity to stop the patterns of religious empire building that have been so prevalent in the Americas, in its place we will take on the task spoken by Archbishop Romero, of “mak[ing] each country’s individual history a history of salvation.”

Being “makers” of salvation means that we live Dr. King’s vision of justice, peace, and equality, spreading its influence on behalf of those that needed most.

There is much work to be done in our own country, there are many who are living the experience of the colonized in our own backyard. Engaging in these conversations and actions will raise awareness, making the question, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” the primary inclination of God’s people in our nation and the world.

The scars of colonialism do not easily heal. It takes a new generation willing to re-claim its true history and rejecting the forces of paternalism. A generation willing to call its own community to task for the patterns of being that continue our victimization and leave us dependent, bound, and lost. I commit myself to the rebuilding of my own colonized community but I also call on my Christian brothers and sisters to join forces in proclaiming the kind of good news that helps rebuild a people.

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