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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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Exorcism in the Age of ICE By Zachary Crow

August 11, 2019

 

Luke 8:26-39

Eight days ago, a white supremacist targeting the Latinx community — shot and killed twenty-two people and injured twenty-four others at an El Paso Walmart. And, this week, in what I don’t know how to describe as anything other than an act of terrorism — I.C.E. carried out the largest raid in a decade arresting 680 people from seven food processing plants across Mississippi.

 

What do we do with these kind of trauma? In order to make sense of this question, I’d like to turn to a text that on first glance may seem a bit peculiar. There are other passages that speak to immigration more directly. We could turn to Leviticus which commands us to “love the alien as ourself” and reminds us that “cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” We could turn to Matthew 25 which teaches us that in giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty and hospitality to the stranger, we have extended the same unto God. We could turn to Colossians and remember that the church has no borders — that there is neither Jew nor Greek. But, instead we turn to Luke 8:26-39.

 

For the reader’s of Luke’s gospel, the word “legion” has a clear meaning — a large unit of the Roman army. The man is possessed by Legion. They are naked, homeless, in chains, and living among the tombs — because of Legion. And, because the author knows we can be a little dense — they use military language to further make their point. When Jesus “meets” the person with demons — the verb there is the same word used to describe two armies confronting one another in battle. Jesus arrives on the scene — confronts the powers and principalities — prepared for battle. When Luke describes the person being “seized” by the demon — that’s the same word he uses elsewhere to describe people being arrested and brought to trial.

 

The term “herd of pigs” seems inappropriate — pigs do not travel in herds — but, upon a deeper examination we learn that the word used here — herd — is the same word used to refer to a band of military recruits. This morning’s text isn’t just another story about healing. This isn’t just another story about exorcism. This is a story about the brutality of Roman occupation. This is a story about a militarized police force — one that seizes — one that arrests an already marginalized people. This force is not unlike the one that raided seven food processing plants last week in Mississippi. I.C.E. is legion. We live in a nation that is possessed — white supremacy and xenophobia run rampant.

 

When announcing his candidacy for the presidency in 2015, Donald Trump said: ”When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Within the first week of his presidency, Trump tried to bar Muslims from seven countries from entering the US — and signed an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to target anyone who’d entered the country “illegally,” regardless of whether they were otherwise law-abiding.

 

By the end of Trump’s first year in office: * The Department of Homeland Security had begun a “pilot program” for the zero tolerance policy in El Paso, Texas and announced it would “waive certain laws” to begin construction of the wall near Calexico, California. * Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the repeal of DACA. * Trump announced Presidential Proclamation 9645, adding Venezuela and North Korea to the list of affected countries — thereby making it not exclusively a ban on Muslims. By the end of Trump’s second year in office: * The Supreme Court upheld the ban. * The Justice Department announced quotas for immigration judges to complete cases faster. The Trump administration said it expects 700 cases completed with a 15% appeal rate each year. *

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors “to adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy for all offenses” related to the misdemeanor of “illegal entry to the US.” * Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the administration would prosecute parents who enter the US “illegally” with their children saying, “If you cross this border unlawfully ... then we will prosecute you. If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you. ... If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law.” * As a caravan of more than 1,000 people, mostly from Honduras, journeyed to the US from Tapachula, Mexico — Trump deployed “anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border. * US border officers shot tear gas and pepper balls at asylum-seekers at the Tijuana border crossing. * Despite the Senate unanimously passing a bill to fund the government, the bill was not taken up by the Republican-controlled House because it lacked the $5.7 billion needed to fund a border wall — partially shutting down The US Government.

 

* By December 2018 — Nearly 15,000 migrant children were being held in government custody. On December 8, 2018, a 7-year-old girl died just hours after she was taken into custody by Border Patrol agents in New Mexico — and an 8-year-old boy being held by Border Protection died on Christmas Eve. Some 2018 quotes from Donald Trump: * “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here? Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” * “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.” * “Open borders equals crime, tremendous crime. The hardest kind of crime.” * “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came …” In the first two years of Trump’s administration there were 302,051 administrative arrests — 538,804 detentions — 482,204 interior and border removals — 666,706 apprehensions made at the southwest border.

 

This year: * The Department of Homeland Security has announced that it has stepped up its collection of biometric data from migrant families to include a DNA testing pilot program and the fingerprinting of children under the age of 14. * Eight days ago — a white supremacist shot and killed twenty-two people and injuring twenty-four others at an El Paso Walmart. His manifesto stated he wanted to stop a "Hispanic invasion" of Texas. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Trump has frequently used the word invasion to describe undocumented immigrants. Do you remember the tweet from June 2018? Trump said:“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” He amped up his “invasion” talk that November — shortly before the midterm elections, as part of his scare tactics concerning the Central American “caravan.” Trump said: “It’s like an invasion. They have violently overrun the Mexican border.” This isn’t an accident. Last week, The New York Times reported that more than 2,000 Facebook ads from Trump’s reelection campaign have used the word “invasion.” This past week — children came home from their first day of school to empty homes. While they were away — I.C.E. carried out the largest raid in a decade arresting 680 people from seven food processing plants across Mississippi.

 

We live in a nation possessed. The demons may look different, but the author of this morning’s text understood what it means to live in a nation possessed. The image of this man — isolated from his community, naked and in chains, overcome by the power of these demons and living in the tombs — oppressed by Roman legions. And Legion doesn’t only affect this one person — it affects the entire community of Gerasa. In this story, we can see that they are afraid. For they too are under threat of militarized violence. To be possessed means that something outside of you, some force of evil, takes root inside of you. I wonder what it was like for the demon possessed man in Luke — I wonder when they began to be possessed — perhaps they had an experience of trauma. Perhaps it began slowly — maybe it came all at once. I wonder how they felt about the demons. I wonder if after a while it got confusing to sort out which parts of him was him, and which parts were the demons. I wonder if he has so deeply internalized the oppression — he couldn’t tell the difference. And, then — exorcism. What does exorcism look like today? I’m reminded of activists in Nashville. For two weeks people had been spotting an unmarked white Ford F-150 — circling the streets of a Nashville neighborhood called Hermitage. Eventually the truck turned on its flashing red and blue lights and stop their neighbor as he and his twelve year old son left their home. Inside the truck were two I.C.E. agents who had been waiting since before sunrise.

 

They had an administrative order granting them permission to detain the father, who had lived in the community for fourteen years. Hours later, the agents left empty-handed — neighbors worked together to block the man’s arrest. Onlookers urged the father and his son to stay in their vehicle and began live-streaming the standoff. Hours passed. The temperature rose to nearly 90 degrees. Neighbors made sure that the father and son had damp rags to keep them cool in the summer heat. They brought sandwiches. They refilled the gas tank so the vehicle’s air conditioning could keep running. Meanwhile, ICE officers tried to convince them to step out of the van. They dangled the possibility of cash rewards, telling the boy and his father that they would have to get out eventually. They lied — claiming the administrative order that they had written themselves gave them arresting authority.’

 

After about four hours, the agents gave up and left. Activists, neighbors, and community members surrounded the van forming a human chain, lining the pathway that led to the family home. The van’s doors flung open, and the father and son raced inside the house. Cheers erupted from the crowd as the front door slammed behind them. Exorcism looks a hell of a lot like activism — like confronting the powers and principalities. May it be so among us. Amen. Charge and Benediction May we always remember we follow in the footsteps of a refugee — whose parents took him to Egypt to flee Herod’s purge — who claimed his kingdom is not of this world — who suffered outside the gate. May recognize we live in a nation possessed and know that exorcism requires confrontation. Amen.