“Will We Do Something or Won’t We?”: An Interview with Kaji Douša ’06 M.Div.
Kaji Douša is senior minister of Park Avenue Christian Church in New York and president of the YDS Alumni Board. She is also a frontline witness to the violent agonies of US immigration policy. As co-chair of New Sanctuary Coalition, she has traveled to the Mexican border to pray with asylum-seekers, provide humanitarian aid, and help them learn their rights. Earlier this year she was detained for several hours by federal agents and placed on a watch list. In March she wrote a column for Buzzfeed called “I Prayed with Migrants. Now the Government is Tracking Me.” In July, she filed suit against the US Department of Homeland Security, saying the US violated her constitutional rights by surveilling her religious border activities and wrongly detaining her. She spoke with Reflections in the summer.
On the war against evil in our time …
God doesn’t give you more than you can handle – but the world does. I believe that. It’s crucial that the church give people permission to admit feeling overwhelmed by the terrible things happening around them, and help them know that God’s gift is love, not suffering. We try to help people shape a response to that. This is part of what liberation means.
It is very important to say this: We are in a state of warfare with evil, a war that is permeating every corner of life. I don’t know where evil comes from, but I do know it is present, and I have to help people face it every day. To be honest, at YDS I had no idea what so many people struggle with in their lives – until I started working up close with people and what they face every day.
Responding to the diabolical, there’s always a choice …
Many of us feel privileged and protected, but evil doesn’t care. Evil will start on the more vulnerable people first, make the rest of us complicit, then, eventually, come for everybody.
The question is how do we respond: Are we willing to grasp and resist it or remain woefully ignorant of its existence? My job is to help people prepare themselves to answer, “Yes, I’ll follow God and resist evil,” but also, “Yes, I’m willing to give up some things in order to resist, and be willing to fail if necessary but keep on trying.” That’s a beautiful choice we always have to make: Will we do something or won’t we?
Things happening at the border – the conditions of the camps for migrants – are truly diabolical. If we do nothing about them – if we really believe this is the best we can do – then we’ll have to account for that on the Day of Judgment. The church’s message right now has to be: It’s time to repent and turn back and stop this. There’s always a choice. Every person – including each agent working at the border – has the choice to be merciful and follow God and make liberation possible. For those agents who are choosing mercy, I give thanks. For those who haven’t yet figured out how to do that, then all the churches should be talking to them, praying for them … and more.
On decolonizing worship and conveying the work of the Spirit …
Structurally our church makes sure the empowerment we offer is not for the people who show up with the most power. I’m interested in liberation, not so much “equality.” I can’t be your equal if I’m not free. If a person doesn’t have access to their own liberation, that person becomes a priority for us.
We’ve put up a lot of viewing screens in the worship area. These are access points for people who can’t speak the language, or can’t hear it. If something is being said in English, it is translated into Spanish – sometimes also Cantonese and Portuguese. We want to give people interpretative lenses in the moment and decolonize worship.
We offer an online ministry so people who can’t be with us on Sunday will have access to how we are trying to convey the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that people have Sunday work requirements, or work four jobs in order to pay the high rent in New York. We’re saying: We’re not going to penalize you for your way of life if you can’t be here Sunday morning.
On reclaiming scripture and following Christ …
I believe in God, the Bible, Jesus. I don’t know or recognize the Jesus a lot of people talk about – their Jesus is white-washed, stripped of what he said, did, and cared about. Meanwhile, I know I don’t always follow Jesus, and when that happens, I have to ask: Then who is it am I following? If we are really following Jesus, we need to keep in mind every step of the way that we may be getting it wrong, and stay in touch with our accountability structures who can let us know we’re wrong … and keep digging down into what’s really in the Bible, what God is truly asking of Christ-followers through this apocalypse.