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A graduating college senior explained that he lived a life that often felt stuck between two different sides. His father is from Bahrain and his mother is from Canada. He grew up in a household that was Muslim and Christian. And while there were times he found himself caught in the space between two friends with relationship drama, he suggested that the Christian faith might be lived out in the best way inside the liminal spaces. This graduate explained that so often the Christian faith is weaponized to support specific points of view. Why not live in the space between, he asked? In the space between, we can ask questions, think about different perspectives, and wrestle thoughtfully with today’s issues. Why do we need to choose a side?


Robert Chao Romero, in his book, Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity, claims the Brown Church to be a “ecclesial community of Latinas/os that has contested racial and social injustice in Latin American and the United States for the past five hundred years.” While some Latinas/os reject Christianity as the religion of the colonizer, Romero asserts that the “spiritual capital” is a critical component of the Latina/o community cultural wealth. As an ecumenical body encompassing both Catholics and Protestant followers of Christ, the Brown Church has challenged colonialism, the caste system, Manifest Destiny and U.S. settler colonialism in the Southwest, Latin American dictatorships, U.S. imperialism in Central America, the oppression of farmworkers, and the current exploitation of undocumented immigrants. For Romero, Brown Theology emphasizes that “Jesus came to save, redeem, and transform every aspect of our lives and the world. His salvation extends over all of God’s good creation, which has become twisted and corrupted as a consequence of sin.” Romero continues, “although God loves all people equally, he also shows unique concern for immigrants, the poor, and all who are socially marginalized.”


According to Romero, Brownness is “a liminal social, legal, political, and cultural space” inhabited by U.S. Latinas/os since the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848. The treaty granted a great deal of land from Mexico, and “reluctantly” granted U.S. citizenship to the former Mexicans who lived there. Brownness occupies a liminal space between black and white in the United States. In the era of Jim Crow, Latinas/os were legally defined as white and technically exempt from segregation, yet their communities were segregated and treated unequally. They were wanted for land and labor, yet rejected for cultural and ethnic differences. “We are wanted and unwanted. Necessary, yet despised. We are Brown.” Yet many have lived in the United States for multiple generations, and many more lived on the land before it was part of the United States. Our current cultural reality paints Latinas/os as a “threat.” For Romero, “our experience has been neither white nor black—It has been Brown.”


As fellow The Twelve writer Debra Rienstra pointed out on Saturday, thinking in dualisms causes us to lose trust, to draw boundaries, and fall in along those deep fault lines.


What does it look like to live in the liminal space between those fault lines and dualisms?

Robert Chao Romero, Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2020.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

5 Comments

  • Rebecca,
    Once more you are making me think. Thank you for your wonderful writing.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    Thank you for introducing us to BROWN CHURCH!
    I’ve written to the folks in Israel. This might be what they need to do to the Palestinians who stayed living in E. Jerusalem during and following the war of 1947/1948. Reverse generations of wrong-doing by granting them full citizenship rights, thus making them permanent residents of Israel, instead of despised enemies.
    Just a thought. Easier thought and said than put into practice.
    Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, lynchpin of global crisis and resolution.

  • I found my own liminal space decades ago in high school and (Wheaton) College. I grew up in the Christian Reformed Church (to the point of now having an MDiv from CTS) but the Christians I knew from my nonchurch associations were from the American evangelical tradition, even dispensational.

    Heated view concerning baptism and eschatology still leave me shaking my head and smiling ruefully.

    We Christians have an awfully hard time living with ambiguity and, especially, hot-button issues that aren’t nearly as clear cut as either side proclaims. But here we are.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thanks Rebecca,
    I appreciate the introduction. When thinking about the liminal space or the space between I’ve been drawn to Richard Rohr’s third way or Karl Barth’s dialectical theology.
    I can’t help but think of Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the Mount:
    Turn the other cheek
    Offer your inner cloak as well
    Walk an additional mile
    Each teaching eschews the false choice between violence or self-allowed abuse but is an exercise of sacrificial love in power, a third way or the space between in following the way of Jesus.
    Again, thanks.

    • Tony Chapman says:

      Why is this so difficult? Oh wait we are taught not to condemn the speck in your brothers eye. Dallas Willard broke me…. What is MY problem?

      TonyC

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