News with Nuance: March 31, 2023
Your Friday dose of News with Nuance: the week's biggest stories, unpacked + more ..
Here we go!
I have a bunch of stories and links for you today: it has been a very big news week, and unfortunately, not one that has been light on tragedies, including both the school shooting in Nashville and the fire in a migrant detention center in Juarez, Mexico. Both of these topics will be covered below, and then as a bonus - I have some additional stories for you that I would consider #MustReads on Christian Nationalism.
So I’ll keep the commentary light - and get to the stories. Next week is Spring Break in Minneapolis and it’s also Holy Week. Look for more Holy Week content coming soon this Sunday and next Tuesday, and also a piece about America’s ongoing worship of the gun - and the price we pay for this idolatry.
Thanks for reading. Let’s keep being there for each other,
The Headline: Dozens dead, injured in border fire at migrant detention center in Juárez
I spent a few days in El Paso in 2018, and as part of my interviews with church leaders there, I also spent an afternoon in Juarez, Mexico. One of the most striking parts of my experience in El Paso and Juarez was the anticlimactic moment of crossing the U.S./Mexico border. When heading into Mexico, I barely even realized we’d crossed. The church whose pastor (and family) were taking me to Juarez for the afternoon was located mere blocks from the border, and we didn’t have to share documents or anything. The bored-looking Mexican guards just waved us on through (things were different, of course, when crossing back into the U.S. that night).
I won’t go into the rest of the details of my trip there, but I recount it all in my book chapter on Immigration in Red State Christians. The truth is: I left part of my heart in El Paso and Juarez. My time there, and the people who I met working fervently for love and justice and the Gospel of Jesus on the border, touched my heart deeply. More than almost anywhere else I went for book research, the folks I met in El Paso and Juarez knew how to see people as people. One Pastor I met talked about how he had Border Patrol officers and military members and Dreamers and migrants all as part of his congregation. The politics of it all break down at the border. You can’t help but see your fellow humans.
I experienced the same thing in Juarez, which I had previously thought of as a dangerous, crime-ridden city. Juarez certainly has its share of violence and crime, but what struck me in Juarez was the ordinariness of life amidst extreme challenge and difficulty. People celebrated birthdays and danced down the middle of the pedestrian-only downtown area. Others attended church and prayed at Mass. Still others ate cool slices of mango and watermelon in the hot sun, and sat in air-conditioned booths eating impossibly creamy cheesecake.
Since I left El Paso and Juarez in 2018, I had to watch as a mass shooter targeted Hispanics inside a mall area where I had parked to do some interviews. I prayed for one of the church leaders I met in Juarez as her family suffered tragedy after tragedy, first in the midst of COVID, and then around tragic family deaths, one after another.
Now, my heart is breaking again for these beautiful, striking, dusty Borderlands. You can’t talk about the fire that killed 39 migrants in Juarez without considering the failure of American policy on immigration, and the tragedy of detaining and imprisoning people simply for seeking a better life for their families.
The circumstances that befall migrants at the Southern U.S. border have been shown time and again to be unbearably treacherous. Way back in 2005, in Journalism school we read the “Enrique’s Journey,” from the Los Angeles Times, about the train called La Bestia that teenaged migrants rode on top of in order to try and reach America, and how many of them fell to their deaths. That story was actually written in 2002. It has been 21 years, and migrants only keep dying - and all America has thought of to do is build a wall and find ways to continue detaining (and imprisoning) migrants against their will.
We have this sort of false distinction, a legal one, between so-called migrants and “refugees,” who have protected status for fleeing war or persecution. Certainly Ukrainian people need safe refuge in America. But do not Venezuelans? Or Haitians?
Our Statue of Liberty would suggest that all people deserve a chance at American safe harbor. I know my German, Norwegian and Scottish ancestors wouldn’t have qualified for refugee status today.
Anything else I have to say on this particular tragedy, the El Paso Times says it better. And here’s your reminder to fund local journalism. Because no one has covered this better than the outlets actually located on the border.
Migrants hold a vigil at the gate of the Mexican migrant facility where 39 migrants lost their lives after the facility caught fire where they had been detained.
Photo and caption by Omar Omelas, El Paso Times
The Quote: "I screamed, 'Open the door!' " (Viangly Infante Padrón) said. "That whatever the case, they are human beings and deserve to live. And they let them burn inside."
Story by Lauren Villagran and Daniel Borunda, El Paso Times
The Headline: FDA approves over-the-counter Narcan for opioid overdoses. Here’s what that means
Here’s some much-needed good news. The FDA approved Narcan medication over-the-counter for opioid overdoses, at a time when Fentanyl overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18-45.
I’m betting that many of you know a personal story that reflects this data: a story of a loved one who was impacted or was themselves addicted to opiates. So much has been written about the American story of suffering, pain, and drug abuse - and the culpability of a greedy pharmaceutical industry.
Today, though, many people are overdosing from Fentanyl who didn’t even intend to take Fentanyl, or any other opioid (including teenagers). The synthetic narcotic, overwhelmingly manufactured in China and Mexico, is so cheap to produce that drug sellers and manufacturers are cutting it into everything they sell.
Like I said - so many have written about the above stories that I won’t share specific sources, but I do really recommend a couple of places to learn more about drug abuse/addiction/recovery/a national lens
(1) Sam Quinones’ latest book, The Least of Us, was one of my most profound reads of 2022. He takes a sweeping perspective on how we got here (after his first work, Dreamland, detailed the roots of opioid epidemic) - and he also offers hope for recovery in America.
(2) For a somewhat lighter perspective, I’ve before recommended the Dopey Podcast, so I will again here. A few episodes can be a bit crass - and sometimes the guests can be lacking self-reflection (who doesn’t) - but Dave is a great host and the story of the podcast, documented on NPR, itself depicts the horrors of Fentanyl overdose.
All this to say: making life-saving Narcan medication available over-the-counter is an unquantifiable good.
Narcan, when used in time in the midst of an opioid overdose, can reverse the effects and literally bring victims back to life. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say Narcan saves millions of lives in America.
And I have heard the stories of frustration, particularly for first-responders, who spend their entire days rushing from OD to OD, only to have the people “wake up” irritated, angry, and immediately looking for their next fix.
Narcan isn’t a solution. It’s a stop-gap method. But it keeps people alive to hope that they might find recovery, as we publicly continue to seek to address the roots of addiction: American despair, rank inequality, trauma, and pain.
I’ve heard at least one mom recommend that everyone with teenagers in the house should keep Narcan available: because sometimes kids have no idea what’s in pills they might take as an experiment or a dare. It sounds scary, but she probably has a point. And now it’s available over-the-counter.
The Quote: "Jose Benitez, lead executive officer at Prevention Point Philadelphia, an organization that tries to reduce risk for people who use drugs with services that include handing out free naloxone, said it could help a lot for people who don’t seek services or who live in places where they’re not available.
Now, he said, some people are concerned about getting naloxone at pharmacies because their insurers will know they’re getting it.
“Putting it out [on] the shelves is going to allow people just to pick it up, not have stigma attached to it and readily access this lifesaving drug,” he said.
Story by Geoff Mulvihil, Los Angeles Times
This Week in Christian Nationalism and Religious Extremism
While this newsletter won’t focus overall on Christian Nationalism, each Friday I will include a brief update from that week, as it’s both a continuing focus of my work and also, I think, a critical threat to both American democracy and the faithful witness of Jesus’ Gospel, which exists independently of the United States!
In one sentence: Christian Nationalism is a version of the idolatrous Theology of Glory, which replaces the genuine worship of God with worship of a particular vision of America, often rooted in a revisionist history of white people in the 1950s, before the Civil Rights movement or the women’s movement. Christian Nationalism supports a violent takeover of government and the imposition of fundamentalist Christian beliefs on all people. Christian nationalism relies on a theological argument that equates American military sacrifice with Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. It suggests that Christians are entitled to wealth and power, in contrast to Jesus’ theology of the cross, which reminds Christians that they too have to carry their cross, just as our crucified savior did.
This Week: A few stories to follow this week that relate to Christian Nationalism
(1) Column: A father shot his daughters. A mom wants to know why her warning was ignored
I’ve mentioned this before, but L.A. Times columnist Anita Chabria is always a must-read, and her pieces often obliquely hint at themes of Christian Nationalism under-the-surface. That’s part of why I so appreciate her work, as it’s nuance and meaning that many journalists for secular national outlets miss.
In this column, Chabria tells the heartbreaking story of a woman who was first violently abused by her husband, and then her three daughters were killed by him. The Christian Nationalism piece comes in because the shooting of her two daughters happened during a court-required supervised visit for her daughters with their dad, even though the daughters were scared of him and did not want to go.
Rather than the court providing a trained supervisor for the visit, it allowed the couples’ church to manage visitation, resulting in the death of the church-appointed volunteer supervisor, in addition to the three girls.
Churches have no business - at all - intervening and managing cases of domestic violence and abuse. PERIOD. Not only because they often make excuses for violent men and fail to protect vulnerable women and children, but also because this smacks of Christian Nationalism: where the church acts as magistrate and judge. This is not the church’s role. This is not pastors’ role.
In this tragedy, it resulted in four deaths. In countless other stories, the Church’s attempt to insert itself into cases of domestic violence has led to countless other cases of irreparable trauma and exacerbated trauma. Let’s not do this anymore.
(2) Responding to Indigenous demands, Vatican repudiates the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’
Here’s another case of Christian Nationalism - this time in Medieval Europe - where a power-hungry Church inserted itself into law and precedent, resulting in death and destruction for indigenous people, especially in the Americas. Finally the Catholic Church has repudiated this papal bull, under direction of the first Latin American pope. Now, as the article states, it’s up to the countries, including the U.S., who still have this repugnant so-called “doctrine” on their books.
(3) Lest we remember: How Britain buried its history of slavery
This whole article is a must-read - and the part that is sticking with me especially is Gary Younge’s apt description of how those in power (read: white Americans and Europeans) selectively deny culpability for historical wrongs.
He writes: “Today people will say “we won the war”, even if they didn’t fight and even if they weren’t born. They will say “we won the World Cup”, even if they didn’t play or weren’t born. Nobody takes the “we” literally. It signifies a collective identity that can span centuries and experiences. But when you mention slavery or colonialism, the same people will say: “I am not responsible. I wasn’t alive. I wasn’t there.”
Younge is writing about Britain - but there’s much of America today in the above statement.
(4) As author has well-documented, one of the worst purveyors of Christian Nationalism is an attitude of violent, narcissistic toxic masculinity.
I found echoes of that attitude in this report on Russian spycraft. The below is worth quoting in full. Remind you of any megachurch pastors or complementarian theologians?
“[T]here appears to be a systemic problem of overreporting one’s successes and concealing weaknesses to superiors,” analysts Jack Watling, Oleksandr V. Danylyuk and Nick Reynolds note …
Did someone mention the former President who was indicted this week?
(5) Nashville shooter, who was ‘under doctor’s care for emotional disorder,’ used 3 guns, police say
I took issue with this headline, because it centers the shooter’s emotional state (which has been used by right-wing gun supporters to distract from the issue of guns and focus on blaming LGBTQ people, as the shooter was reportedly transgender).
What the article - but not the headline - says is that the shooter was able to legally purchase 7(!) guns including assault rifles - all on one day - prior to the attack. Does that strike anyone else as a bigger problem than their emotional state?
(6) I’ve said before that one of the most important weapons against the tyranny of Christian Nationalism is local reporters who are trusted to tell the truth. That’s why I’m lifting up these two stories:
This Twitter thread, from Ohio journalist Lucia Walinchus, exposes the lie of Meta’s supposed pledge to donate $300 million to support local news.
This L.A. Times article tells the terrible story of the newspaper that lost every single local reporter it had.
Like I said - lots of links this week. I also removed the paywall for the News with Nuance today because I wanted to make sure this section on Christian Nationalism made it to as many of you as possible. Next week, you’ll have to sign up for a paid subscription to get access to the full Sunday and Friday posts.
As always - thanks to all of you who read and subscribe and share. I’m still listening!
PS: Here’s one more link for you. And it’s a good one:
Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton team up for the first time to host ACM Awards
I’m a fan!
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