Over the past couple of weeks, news outlets in the U.S. have been covering the crisis related to a large influx of unaccompanied children on the southern border of the U.S. There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the topic, both positive and negative. It’s a complicated issue, to be sure. The Nazarene Church responded by stating that as a body, we are called and committed to care for vulnerable children.
And all this talk got us thinking about the issue of justice. How do we get at the root causes of all the heartrending brokenness in our world? How do we fix broken systems?
A while ago we sat down with Pastors Gabriel and Jeanette Salguero, two well-known voices on this topic. Together, the Salgueros co-lead The Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in New York City, and together they work as advocates for justice regarding issues that include immigration reform, hunger and poverty, and human trafficking.
Q: We talk sometimes about the “now and not yet” of the Kingdom of God. What does God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven look like to you?
Gabriel: It means that all people have enough to flourish. Enough is a big word: Enough love, enough to eat, enough dignity, enough opportunity, enough to drink. Ours is a theology of enough. God has created a planet so that no one should lack. The theme of Psalm 23 is, we shall not want—we shall not lack. No one, whether born in Tanzania or Zambia or São Paulo’s favelas or the Bronx or Appalachia or a Native American reservation should lack a good thing. And they should know that God loves them unconditionally. That’s it. And it begins with a love of God— that’s expressed in relationships, human dignity, economics, gender equality.
It starts with love, but the concrete manifestation of that is justice. It should be expressed concretely. You cannot say you love someone and not advocate for her justice—the little girl who can experience trafficking, the person living in a developing country, everyone. Everyone should have enough … because God loves them.
Q: What would you say to local churches wrestling with how to approach the issue of justice?
Gabriel: We have a great church [the Church of the Nazarene]. Very few denominations do the compassionate work we do. We have a great legacy. We are called to the forgotten corners. … But we’re not just called to compassionate work. We’re also called to justice work. Justice is analyzing systems that keep people oppressed. Why is this person hungry? Why is this girl uneducated?
If someone is thrown off the mountain, the church is good at coming to the bay and cleaning the wound. But are we good at figuring out who is throwing her off the mountain?
Q: What would you suggest to a church that is looking for first steps to engage in justice?
Gabriel: Don’t go at it blindly. Do your research. And focus on relationships. Talk to the people in your community. Bring in immigrants to talk about how things are impacting their lives. Listen. Then don’t reinvent the wheel. Partner with other organizations. … At the local level, start with conversations about what the needs are. Compassionate ministry is usually entry into justice work.
Q: You have two young sons. How do you live out justice with a young family?
Gabriel: We make it part of our worship. We do spiritual disciplines and also compassion—all of this is worship. To follow Jesus also means doing justice work—just like we go to church on Sunday. We do these things because we’re Christians. It’s part of our larger narrative. …
Q: What are you excited about right now?
Jeanette: I am hopeful. The platform we do justice from has to be hope. Justice work is difficult. It can easily get one exhausted. I’m excited about embarking into work around human trafficking. Immigration has been a long battle. It’s been tiring at times, but I’m hopeful.
Gabriel: When I look at the universities, young people are light years ahead of us. … They’re in it. I’m hopeful for the next generation of Nazarenes.
Q: When you think about the issue of poverty right now, what concerns you most?
Gabriel: I’m concerned about the double victimization of poor people. Some assume people are poor because they’re lazy or not hard working. We should not allow slander of poor people. We should not bear false witness. There are lazy people, yes, but poverty is complicated. We need to speak from a Gospel perspective, not a dominant culture perspective. We are to speak up for the poor. We have a sacred text that speaks to these issues. What does Jesus say?
I don’t recall Jesus condemning a poor person. Ever. Let’s drink deeply from our own [Biblical] wells when we talk about poverty.
Q: How did you personally become passionate about justice?
Jeanette: For me it was going through the systems. I grew up very poor. I’m a SNAP baby. [SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps.] I grew up on the south side of Brooklyn. I had to go through gangs to get to school.
Gabriel: We were born with limited economic opportunity. … My dad was a heroin junkie who had a radical transformation and started rehab programs. Now he’s a pastor. He was able to work us out of poverty.
And the church helped my parents. The church saved them. There was salvation there. I thought, If they did this for my parents, I can spend the rest of my life paying it forward. With what God did and the church did for my parents and Jeanette’s parents—how dare I not. Justice is an expression of gratitude …
Jeanette: … of the marvelous Gospel of grace.
Gabriel: It reached us. … Jeanette and I are just open thank-you letters. We don’t do this because it’s sexy or en vogue. And I don’t just do a justice life. I have a contemplative life. We’re praying and raising kids and reading the Bible. I’m a pastor of a local church. It emerges naturally out of a spiritual disciplined life.
We serve Jesus, and we do justice because we love Jesus. We’re big fans.