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What Robert Chao Romero’s Brown Church Says to the Adventist Church

Brown Church-Chao Romero

After recently visiting my sister in Guatemala, a largely indigenous civilization recovering from 36 years of genocide, she gave me a copy of Robert Chao Romero’s Brown Church to read. In Guatemala I witnessed a tapestry of Catholicism, Mayan spirituality, and various forms of Christianity—including Adventism, and against that backdrop, Brown Church felt highly relevant to my return to the States. Chao Romero, a Chinese-Latino American served as tour guide through 500 years of Latinx Christianity. The pages paint images of resistance—murals of Hispanic people and history amid colonialism, dictatorships, imperialism, and immigrant worker oppression—images of the “Brown Church.”

As a second generation Adventist Asian-American, I have had very little exposure to Catholicism, which makes up a significant portion of Latinx history and religious identity. Many figures Chao Romero considers were unfamiliar to me, and I enjoyed placing their stories alongside the Adventist worldview of my upbringing. God’s allegiance to the poor stood out as a recurring theme, reminding me of the heart of Jesus’ famous Matthean sermon: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” From Cain and Abel to the woman at the well, God persistently gives loving attention to history’s weak and exploited. Chao Romero describes this predilection as social consciousness that “brings out the grotesque or unmerited character of God’s love.” He elaborates that God’s concern for the poor is the second most discussed topic in the Hebrew Bible (right behind idolatry). The two themes are, of course, related because “taking one’s eye off of God [idolatry] and God’s commandments leads to the oppression of immigrants and the poor.” 

An image emerges of a God who despises oppression—a merciful God. In Hebrew, the word “hesed” (often translated “mercy”) connotes steadfast-loving-kindness. Romero criticizes Western Christianity and the U.S. government for what I would call disregarding hesed. Where was hesed in the boats of Spain’s colonizers? In the Donald Trump’s Oval Office? Behind America’s immigration policies and Christian nationalism? The Spaniards, intent on carrying out their racial colonization project, missed the heart of the gospel. “Instead of celebrating and honoring the… indigenous African and Asian peoples they encountered, and respecting them as children of God in their own right and uniqueness, the Spanish idolized themselves and set themself up as the cultural standard for the image of God,” Chao Romero writes, despite Jesus’ own Middle-Eastern (undoubtedly brown) heritage. People who forget God’s mercy and steadfast loving kindness inevitably idolize themselves. 

Today, many Brown Christians struggle to disentangle the liberating faith of Jesus from the destructive legacy of colonial Christianity in Latin America and the United States. Chao Romero refers to brown-ness as “a liminal legal, political, and cultural space that US Latinas and Latinos have inhabited since the US-Mexico War and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo of 1848.” Non-white people have always been wanted for their land and labor, but face rejection for their cultural and ethnic differences. Politics—particularly nationalism—exploits the human tendency to hate the other and dominate the weak. One of history’s persistent refrains is that “might makes right.” According to Chao Romero, micro and macro racist rhetoric and conservative media appeal to “a wide range of voters from neonazis donning khakis and torches, to disaffected working class white voters.” Many conservative fundamentalist Christians would never consider themselves racist, yet they have never severed colonialist ties with its destructive ideology of manifest destiny.

Chao Romero proposes that the solution to this isolating ideology and hypocritical perspective is liberation theology, which focuses on God as active author and sustainer of life and liberator (drawing on Exodus 3:7-9 and Acts 3:15). Liberation theology promotes suffering well, sacrifice, and love over violence. Counterintuitively, “The kingdom of God advances with a violence of love.” I believe this “violence of love” begins with the love that saw Christ nailed to the cross. He loved so fully that he endured the ugliness of human violence. Humanity may become whole because of his broken body, affirming as Paul did in 1 Corinthians that “being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” This unifying promise is central to liberation theology, referring to the church as a worldwide ecumenical body, responsible for serving and loving. Through diversity in Christ’s body—this living church—humanity may pursue God’s kingdom on earth.

God’s kingdom has both a present dimension and a future eschatological component. It is “something much more than historical political revolutions, which will only find its full realization upon the return of Christ and the coming of the new heaven and the new earth.” Liberation theology asserts that justice cannot come through human effort alone. Christ gave his life to pay for the sin of injustice and to open a path toward human redemption. This is the gospel. Theologically, Romero divides the gospel into “vertical salvation, reconciliation of the individual with God through Christ, and horizontal engagement, with the pressing social concerns of the day.” He compares both aspects to wings of a plane, each necessary for keeping holistic liberation theology aloft.

When the gospel is not embodied holistically, Romeo warns, “the racist can continue to be a racist; the exploiter can continue to be an exploiter.” The reality in the Western context is that Christians “oppose the violence of revolutions but not the violence of war.” The perennial Adventist temptation is to condemn clothing or music choices but to say nothing of multinational exploitation or genocide. The Gospel, in contrast, commands believers to transcend the borders of judgment and the blindness of privilege and to embody love. Love often entails taking the side of the oppressed. It stands in solidarity and celebrates those who are different. 

I am proud to belong to a community as diverse as the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As a global movement, its adherents bring unique perspectives and relationships with God. This is not to say that the church has been immune from missionary-colonialist impulses, national pride, or racial dominance. But the church’s rich cultural diversity and willingness to contemplate the everlasting-love of God can reinforce unity by encouraging church members to lean on one another, and thereby to see our creator more fully.

About the author

Ella Quijada grew up in Southern California attending the Fallbrook Adventist Church and is a first-year pre-medical student at Southern Adventist University with a psychology major and double Spanish and chemistry minor. More from Ella Quijada.
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