What Are Our Values?: An interview with Carlos Correa Bernier

Carlos Correa Bernier is an American Baptist Church minister, clinical psychologist, theologian, environmental justice advocate, radio broadcaster, and director of Centro Romero, a United Church of Christ related educational center near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the world’s busiest international land border crossing. Located on the US-Mexico border in San Diego, Centro Romero is a place of community building, ministry, education, and prayer that annually serves hundreds of passengers and immigrants. Correa Bernier teaches psychology at the CETYS Universidad in Tijuana, Mexico, and has a private counseling practice. He has a doctorate in family therapy with specialization in violent behaviors and is completing a Ph.D. in psychology of religion at Oxford University. He spoke to Reflections

REFLECTIONS: Do you see a pressing challenge coming out of this historic political season?

CORREA BERNIER: The urgent question is, What are our values? That is, who are we, and who do we want to be in the future? America – its music, movies, culture, spirit – has global influence. But it seems we have forgotten how to globalize ourselves and recognize and accept our own diversity. We still have difficulty with the “other,” how to relate to the stranger, how to welcome them, how to be changed by them. We are having trouble deciding who we are as a nation in this globalized world.

REFLECTIONS: What should we be standing for?

CORREA BERNIER: I think of freedom and democracy. Those ideas are central. And many people use the words. But if we are going to celebrate those values, we must place them at the center of every single decision we make through our government. I don’t hear much about that commitment. The political mood has been to invite hate and condone physical violence. Psychologically speaking, this isn’t an embrace of freedom and democracy but an anxious attempt to assert power and control.

REFLECTIONS: US immigration history has always been turbulent. Is anti-immigration sentiment today any worse than previous decades or centuries?

CORREA BERNIER: Think about the many migrations from Europe that helped shape American history. The Irish, Italians, and others went through struggles to get settled into their own communities – then they made efforts to assimilate. It often took a generation or longer. That’s how the nation understood assimilation: The new group was given time to organize its communities and neighborhoods, then assimilation would happen from there. But something different is happening now, as new others arrive not from Europe but from elsewhere. They face a demand that they assimilate from day one. The nation’s attitude has shifted from valuing community-building to focusing on individuals. An anti-immigration viewpoint regards new immigrants not as communities, not strengthened by community structures, but as individuals who must change who they are right now if they are going to earn our respect in the US. Or they are scapegoated. It seems that modern culture’s emphasis on individualism has had an effect on our attitude toward immigration. We’ve become impatient with structures of community. We put the burden on individuals to do it alone.

REFLECTIONS: Can the churches’ good news change this climate?

CORREA BERNIER: As my good mentor Leonardo Boff says, “the church carries within itself constant tension,” since we proclaim what can never be put into practice, the utopia of the Kingdom of God and radical fraternity. I’m part of a binational base community that contains many nationalities, and we try to embody the Kingdom and practice what we teach and preach. It’s a struggle, but we are committed to it. It involves being sincere and authentic with each other, welcoming the poor, the other, while acknowledging the tensions within us. Throughout all of it, the church is in a position to experience the joy of this Kingdom, connecting our ekklesia as an institution to the struggle of folks out there, in the world. In our situation we concentrate on communal theological reflections on all the experiences that define our daily lives. Our worship time begins after this discussion together is over. What is the alternative to facing the struggle within? Compartmentalization, an all-too-familiar strategy: limiting our church exposure to Sunday between 10 a.m. and noon, then disengaging from the togetherness, and concentrating on daily isolated lives of individualism.  

REFLECTIONS: What is the next move?

CORREA BERNIER: We have a choice. We can embrace a future of absolute nationalism and isolation or a future of commitment to inclusivity and social justice. I think it is crucial to ask ourselves two questions, as citizens and as churchgoers: What is it that I believe, and what am I going to do with that? These questions have a deep spiritual character, and it gets us back to that first point of our conversation, “Who are we, and who do we want to be in the future?” Our answer should inform, constantly, not only our behavior and but also our politics.