One of the reasons I wanted to move to Houston 12 years ago was the city’s multiracial environment. I wanted my children to grow up to be world citizens, not just middle-class Anglos from the Deep South.
I love my city. You can get empanadas from Columbians and pad thai from Thais. I live in a school district with students from 100 different countries. We are a melting pot from all over the world, and yet each people group is able to maintain its character and flavor.
That is why some of us were so outraged when we heard that Christmas toy drives in our city were requiring proof of citizenship before children could get toys. It came across the morning news as a minor story as originally reported in the Houston Chronicle. To put it in press vernacular, the story had legs.
The response was evidently so sudden and so strong that the organizations mentioned in the story were quick to claim they had been misunderstood.
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Executive Assistant Fire Chief Rick Flanagan said that people would not be turned away from a Dec. 23 giveaway even if they couldn’t provide proof of their immigration status. The fire department continued to distance itself from the scandal by pointing out that it works with Catholic Charities and the Hispanic Firefighters Caucus – neither of which requires identification for toys.
The Salvation Army clarified that it will still require a Social Security card from one member of the family. This is used to deter fraud. They use this because it is convenient but said, “If other agencies do something different, we’d be interested in finding that out.”
This incident seems to continue a trend that has gone on in recent years. Culture wars have invaded the Christmas season, which had remained somewhat immune from such abuse. The airwaves are filled with rhetoric about courthouse crÃ¨ches or businesses that use the word holiday instead of Christmas.
The concern about this incident is that it just might reveal a deeper flaw. If someone would deny a Hispanic child a Christmas toy, would they do the same for a blonde, blue-eyed Canadian?
What does it say about our country if we will not even extend Christmas joy to the child who is here without documentation?
We began an after-school program at Jersey Village Baptist Church for children with needs. The program has Hispanic (21), Anglo (2) and African-American (1) children enrolled. They will all receive Christmas gifts this year. We will not ask one of them to provide documentation. Is it political correctness on our church’s behalf to “target” the underprivileged among us?
I don’t know about being politically correct, but I am pretty sure about being theologically correct. In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks of judgment day. Rewards go to those who help the “least of these.”
When will we learn?
Ed Hogan is pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston.