Why I Fasted For Families (by Marlena Graves)

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
Marlena Head Shot.jpg

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to Marlena Graves, a smart, thoughtful, and compassionate woman whose writing consistently reflects both her talent and her heart. Marlena received her M.Div. from Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York. She is a by-lined writer for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics Blog and Gifted For Leadership Blog. Her book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press), will be out in July of 2014. She blogs at: marlenagraves.com.


There are nights when I lie awake wondering about what sort of Christian I really am.

I mean, there’s the Christian I think I am and then the kind I actually am. When push comes to shove, would I have supported Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy and the subsequent ethnic cleansing that occurred as we made our way from sea to shining sea? Would I have been an abolitionist, actively and publicly standing against slavery and then voicing strong opposition to the eminently wicked Jim Crow laws that ensued after the Civil War? Am I the type who would’ve hidden the Jews during the Holocaust? These nights I wonder if I would’ve labored for civil rights, standing in solidarity with Martin Luther King Jr. and my other brothers and sisters. Or would I take my cue from those in the church who opposed them? 

I’ve observed that loving our neighbors can be dangerous. Subversive. It can cost reputation, life, and limb. I’m often moved to think about whether I would have laid my life down for my neighbors, acknowledging with MLK that, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Or would I have stubbornly held on to my life, believing my action or inaction affected me alone? I can’t know for sure. I wasn’t around then. 

But I am here now.

A little over a month ago, Lisa Sharon Harper told me and others that she felt led to fast for comprehensive immigration reform. She, along with many other national leaders and social activists of different stripes, began fasting on November 12th while staked out in a tent on the National Mall in Washington D.C. They hoped to persuade political leaders, particularly House Speaker John Boehner, to move on the now stalled comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed with bi-partisan support nearly six months ago. Why FastForFamilies? In their own words:

By fasting, we hope to follow the examples of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi to touch the compassion and sensibilities of our elected leaders to address the moral crisis of an immigration system that fails to comport with our national values, our creeds and belief in justice.

Those on the National Mall declared Dec.1-3 a national fast and asked Christians and others all over the nation to join them. As a Spanish-speaking Hispanic woman who has worked, and is currently working, with both documented and undocumented people, this call to D.C. resonated deeply with me. I thought to myself, “I can’t be in D.C., but I can fast and pray from home.” And so for five days I was on a nutrient-rich, liquid diet. I couldn’t go full throttle drinking only water because my blood sugar dips and leads to all sorts of physiological complications. 

'12112013 AD Immigraton Fast for Families  19542' photo (c) 2013, US Department of Education - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Whether it’s fasting to provoke political movement or something else entirely, there are times in all of our lives, and in each generation, when we have to decide whether or not we will stand against what we believe to be injustice or whether we’ll shrink back in fear. If we’re going to be faithful to the Jesus way, we must lovingly and non-violently take our positions against injustice though they render us unpopular. When I think of being unpopular, I think of William Wilberforce who fought for most of his life to free the slaves of the British Empire. Initially, his stance was politically inexpedient and unpopular with most church folk. 

Today, I believe that speaking up for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship and being Jesus to those documented and undocumented immigrants around us is what God would have us do. I agree with John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association and long-time civil rights leader, who noted that immigration is the new civil rights issue.

Our own ancestors were once immigrants. Had we today’s immigration laws back then, most of our ancestors would’ve been prevented from entering this country. Moreover, immigrants, documented or undocumented, do not come from south of the border alone. As Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang note in their book, Welcoming the Stranger, a large number of undocumented immigrants are Asian students who’ve allowed their student visas to expire. And undocumented workers are far from a drain on our national economy. Economists agree that undocumented immigrants are a boon to our nation’s bottom line. And many pay into our Medicare and Social Security systems without receiving any benefits.  As is the case with many marginalized groups, we benefit at their expense.

I want my little girls and those who come after them to know that their parents and many others in the church did what is right despite strong opposition, that we stood in solidarity with the marginalized, the disempowered, and the stranger. And as I lay dying, I want to know that I did what was right in my time. For I am convinced that history will eventually vindicate this stance.

This is why I followed Lisa’s lead and fasted for families. 


Be sure to check out Marlena's blog and follow her on Twitter

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