“You will have to forgive me, but I am concerned when you ask me to follow a Jesus who calls a woman a dog,” said Miguel De La Torre at the 10:45 a.m. Ecumenical Service of Worship and Sermon Sunday in the Amphitheater.
His sermon title was “Was Jesus a Racist?” The Scripture reading was Matthew 15:21-28, the encounter between a Canaanite woman and Jesus.
“I would be somewhat troubled by these verses if my daughter was ill and I took her to the hospital and the doctor said, ‘I’m sorry, this medicine is for real Americans, not Latin dogs,’ ” De La Torre said. “I would be somewhat offended.”
De La Torre said he would be offended if he called to buy a property and was told it was no longer available when it was still on the market.
“Then I know I am among the dogs,” he said.
He continued with a litany of other racial biases: the first time a Latino commits a crime, he gets 10 times the punishment of white offenders; children are ripped from their parents’ arms and placed in cages; when every four days, five brown bodies are found dead from trying to cross a river; when a mass murderer goes into Walmart hunting for Mexicans using language from our political officials; when those who hold the highest offices call Latinx people criminals and rapists.
“Then I know I am among the dogs,” De La Torre said. “Conservatives question my salvation, and liberals question my intelligence. I have more in common with the Canaanite woman.”
De La Torre asked: Was Jesus a racist?
“Before I follow Jesus, I need to know who Jesus was,” he said. “We create him in our own image, and in this culture he is Satanic. He had nothing to say about genocide, slavery and Jim and Jane Crow. We have a theology that justifies this killing and lets the dead bury the dead. The French anthem, ‘Liberté, egalité, fraternité’ was never intended for the colonized dogs of Vietnam, Algiers or Haiti.”
In Spanish, De La Torre quoted Cuban political philosopher and theorist José Martí.
“For those of you who don’t speak the language of the angels, he said, ‘We will make our wine out of plantain and even if it is sour, it will be our wine,’ ” De La Torre said as he quoted Martí.
As a side note, De La Torre said Martí visited Chautauqua in 1880, and wrote about his experience.
“We will create Jesus out of our own cultural symbols,” De La Torre said. “I refuse to follow a Jesus who justifies repression of Latinx countries. It is detrimental to my being, my health and my spirituality.”
In Jesus’ time, Jews did not associate with Canaanites; they were considered impure and marginalized.
The first time Jesus sent out his disciples as missionaries, they were told only to go to the “lost sheep of Israel.” De La Torre asked again, “Was Jesus a racist?”
Jesus was tempted in the desert at the beginning of his ministry with possessions, privilege and power.
He was tempted again in the Garden of Gethsemane not to go to the cross.
“He was forced to face the same temptations that I face in daily life,” De La Torre said. “He was tempted his entire ministry; he was tempted to be assimilated.”
De La Torre told the congregation, “You don’t have to be a racist to enjoy the privilege of race. I don’t have to be a sexist to enjoy the privilege of being male. The culture is racist and sexist for me. That is the sin of culture, and we and Jesus are complicit.”
Salvation was not for people of color and Canaanites. When the Canaanite woman accosted Jesus, he told her that salvation was only for the lost sheep of Israel, that others were not included.
“But there is good news,” De La Torre said. “Jesus was willing to learn from a woman of color. Are you willing to learn from the margins? The Canaanite woman crossed borders of gender and ethnicity to be treated as an equal.”
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to go to all nations and make disciples.
“And the church learned its lesson, so the sermon could end here,” De La Torre said. “But it did not. The first controversy in the church was the circumcision controversy, that converts had to become Jews first, and then they could be Christians. It continues to this day: I have to become white to be a Christian; I love the old German hymns, but they don’t do it for me; I had to learn all about German theology, but my white colleagues never had to learn about the global south; they are fit but I am questioned.”
De La Torre asked the congregation, “Can I circumcise my identity? That is a cut too painful to embrace.”
The good news is that at the heavenly banquet table, there will not just be cucumber sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread. There will be frijoles negros, and yucca, De La Torre said.
“I will bring my own cultural symbols,” De La Torre said. “That is the vision I am hoping for. Jesus was willing to learn from a woman of color. Are we?”
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor, presided. Earl Rothfus, manager of the Chautauqua Bookstore since 2004, who prayerfully seeks out ways to enhance visitors’ experience of Chautauqua, read the Scripture. The women of the Chautauqua Choir sang “Samba de las Escrituras” (A Scriptural Samba), by Ken Berg. The Chautauqua Choir performed “African Pentekoste,” by David Lantz III, for the second anthem. The offertory anthems were “The Morning Trumpet,” from The Sacred Harp, arranged by Daniel Kallman, and “Saints Bound for Heaven,” from William Walker’s Southern Harmony, arranged by Mack Wilberg. Jared Jacobsen conducted the Choir. He played Toccata for Grand Organ, Op. 39, by Camil van Hulse, for the postlude. The John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion and the Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund provide support for this week’s services.