Jesus was a revolutionary.
Revolutionary: causing or relating to a great or complete change (merriam-webster)
He sat with prostitutes and thieves and tax collectors. He fed the hungry. He forgave and expected mercy… not sacrifice. He died for people, His people whom He loved enough to suffer for them, to hang on the cross in place of them.
Mark 2: 16
But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum”
In a world where skin color, culture and title defines whether you can sit at the table or not The Young Lords demanded justice. Revolutionaries. The Young Lords wanted socialist change for their people. In a country and state that treated Puerto Ricans, African-Americans and all ‘third-world’ people as scums, they wanted equality. Sometimes equality meant giving kids breakfast, or giving them a coat to wear. On December 7, 1969, The Young Lords made their way to the First Spanish Methodist Church in East Harlem. Given the location and the size of the church, The Young Lord’s believed it as an opportunity to serve the neediest of the community within the church walls. After all, what better place than a church to serve the people..
“At the beginning, we wanted nothing more than for the church to provide us space during times not reserved for worship so we could conduct badly needed service programs” (p 117).
Things did not go as smoothly on that Sunday morning. Prepared to speak to the people of El Barrio and let their desires for the space be known, The Young Lords were confronted by police ready to take them out. Felipe Luciano, along with four other members of the party were wounded and a total of 13 were arrested inside the church.
It would be unfair to exclude the background of the Reverend responsible for police involvement. He was Reverend Humberto Carranza. Carranza was Cuban and had been arrested by the revolutionary government in Cuba three times. Melendez states,
“I can understand Reverend Carranza’s reluctance because of the image of his past that we represented. But we just wanted to establish a day-care center for the kids…” (p 117)
December 28, 1969, The Young Lord’s did take over the First Spanish Methodist Church and renamed it to what is commonly known today as The People’s Church. For 11 days they provided free breakfast services, and clothes for the community and held community entertainment in form of poetry in particular. During those 11 days, over 3,000 people showed up.
The Young Lords hoped that the church would be as responsive as the churches in the south were throughout the civil rights movement in fighting for justice. Unfortunately, they were met with opposition. Though not all members of the church were in opposition with them, the leadership was. It caused tension that could have been avoided.
James 2:5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)
5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? 6 But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?
As a believer, my hope is that the church of today will answer the call to serve, and to work along with others of different religions and nationalities and backgrounds and political views in order to stand for justice and seek change. Did Martin Luther King not walk with Jewish rabbis and leaders in a quest for brotherhood? We belong to these hoods, these barrios that others have oppressed and trashed. We look like the people that need help, the people that are broken, the people that want change but don’t know how to ask for it. My hope is that churches will listen to youth who say they have something to say. My hope is that churches will overlook outer appearances, and backgrounds in order to serve for a common good. My hope is that a non-believer could say, “I needed help, and they helped me. I needed food and they fed me. I needed clothes and they clothed me. My legs were weak, but they didn’t let me fall!” My hope is that a nonbeliever would say, “This church was my refuge when I was in need; I want to know the compassionate, loving God they serve. I want to know about this God that cares about the people; I want to know Jesus”.
*Please note there is a lot of information about The Peoples Church that is not mentioned here. Primarily because I wanted to focus this post on the church and its lack of partnership with The Young Lords Party while imagining how it could have been different if there would have been unity instead of hostility.
Reflection: We get nothing by fighting each other. We gain much by listening, hearing others pain and others struggles and discovering we are alike in our experiences, needs, and desires. I want to walk with God fearlessly, and my calling is to serve my people. My hope is that we love our people. My hope is that we will teach others what we learn. My hope is that we will know the history of our neighborhoods, the system, and the country we live in. My hope is that we will be conscious and humble in pursuing truth and justice. Often, that means being persecuted. BUT if my heart won’t stop beating fast by thinking of the injustices and the possibilities of a ‘great change’, then I will dare to stand for a revolution expecting a great change to take place.
Grace and Peace.
Melendez, Miguel. “The First People’s Church.” We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003. 112-130. Print.