“Social sin means that our human finitude does not allow us to see life from every angle. We comprehend life from our context.”
The logics of domination and supremacy undergird America’s broken system of immigration law, an Ohio professor stated in Oblate School of Theology’s inaugural Escobedo Lecture.
Dr. Neomi DeAnda, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton, spoke Oct. 25 in OST’s Whitley Theological Center. She defined logics of supremacy as “created systems of thought and action that place certain people above others,” and logics of domination as “systems that promote environmental and human abuse in order to privilege logics of supremacy, allowing those who benefit from them to move further ahead.”
The Escobedo Lecture, funded through a gift to OST by Verónica and Ruben Escobedo, HOMI, longtime friends with many Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and longtime supporters of the School. It is to be an annual lecture delivered in Spanish.
“Social sin means that our human finitude does not allow us to see life from every angle. We comprehend life from our context. The Founding Fathers of the United States birthed this nation from their context,” she said, which “did not allow them to see the grave limitations of that founding that still cause struggles today.”
DeAnda said that while the founding fathers believed they were freeing Americans from British domination, they did not fully consider how the same domination and oppression for which they were fighting King George III of Great Britain was being practiced against Native Americans and others living on the land claimed by the new republic.
But she added the founding fathers only had laid the groundwork, but others have perpetuated the same logics. Noting that what is now South Texas was colonized firstby Spaniards, who converted most of the indigenous people to Catholicism, some by ` choice and others by force.
Texas’ pioneer Bishop Claude Dubuis, a Frenchman, recruited priests and religious men and women from France and other European countries to minister to Texas’ Catholic population. “The Church in this area was reconverted to mission territory after 300 years, with new leaders who were the immigrants,” DeAnda said. “The ousting of Mexican clergy, including some born here, and the arrival of missionaries from Europe, brought linguistic changes and numerous contextual and cross-cultural issues.” She said American and European clergy brought with them the logics of supremacy and domination.
The professor pointed to common ways of interpreting the creation story in the first three chapters of Genesis. In Gen. 1:28, she asserted, “the grace of dominion given by God to humanity is understood as humanity being charged with the care and administration of all things. Yet, this narrative has been interpreted in daily life for centuries as humans being at the top of the food chain and to be able to control the earth. Through this latter hermeneutic, we see the beginnings of logics of supremacy and domination. We build on these logics in the second creation narrative.”
In this narrative, she continued, “We see the entry of the logic of men over women which has been used for thousands of years to keep women in places inferior to men.”
Next, reading from Genesis 3, the professor observed that “one can say that Genesis 3 is where social sin enters the world. It is also the time when the notion of dominion – a gift and grace from God – changes to domination. It is because social sin exists that humans change the graces of dominion toward the common good to logics of supremacy and domination.”
DeAnda said these logics have been converted into hermeneutical perspectives, referring to perspectives through which interpretations of Bible passages are interpreted. The professor cited Adam’s blaming Eve for sin entering the world. Adam is punished, too, but he is punished because he followed Eve, the professor pointed out, adding, “This metanarrative has been utilized through the ages to promote the myth of the inferiority of women.”
But this narrative, rather than ending with Eve, continues with Mary. Because sin entered the world through a woman, the ability for salvation also must enter the world through a woman, DeAnda stated. Many Church Fathers developed this theology, she said. “Imagine the implications if the woman in Genesis 3 was only fulfilling her God-given desire for wisdom and knowledge. Let us change the focus of the story from Mary being a mere ‘vessel’ for salvation to her ‘Yes’ being central to salvation history.”
In this interpretation, she continued, Mary accepts God’s invitation to be the mother of the Incarnate Word. DeAnda said that although this may seem a small distinction, it is significant because, in the first interpretation, women are mere objects being acted upon by the stories, but in the second, they are agents within the stories.
But, she continued, “Logics of domination and supremacy have been used for centuries to create hierarchical structures in societies. Many times, patriarchy is one of the primary forms of the interplay between the logics of supremacy and domination. We see these logics at play in the dichotomy between Eve and Mary.”
She argued that women are seen as the primary sources of sin and salvation; in both cases, the women assumed leadership roles, but often their agency has not been considered. DeAnda observed that if Mary had said no, the Incarnation story would have taken a very different angle and may not have occurred at all.
What do the logics of supremacy and domination mean for us today? The professor said they are at the core of President Donald Trump’s executive orders to deny federal grant money to sanctuary cities, publish the list of crimes committed by undocumented aliens and build a border wall to keep Central Americans out of the United States, and Texas’ law requiring cities to question Hispanics in custody on their immigration status, and of prejudice toward people seeking asylum in the United States.
“The logics of supremacy and domination allow for ‘otherizing’ and lumping together all who are different from those who most benefit from these logics to perpetuate and grow the system,” she explained. “Then people’s human dignity is stripped and people are left living in fear. So the target of certain religions and certain racial/ethnic groups to be kept outside the boundaries of the United States are all intertwined.”
She summarized Catholic teaching on immigration as follows:
- 1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homelands.
- 2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
- 3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their own borders.
- 4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be protected.
- 5. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
She said the for-profit prisons and detention centers where undocumented migrants are being held run directly counter to Catholic social justice teaching.
Often, she said, they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment by law enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary, she added.
DeAnda closed by urging listeners to act in solidarity with migrants and work towards changing the current ways of thinking. She also urged them to vote and to lobby their elected representatives to support the 2017 Dream Act in the U.S. Senate and the Hope Act in the House of Representatives and continuation of the strong regulation of private detention centers.
The professor said that the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians in the United States and the Black Catholic Theological Symposium have been denouncingways the myth of white supremacy, in its current expressions, does violence to the bodies, souls and minds of communities and the nation; shaping and leading communities of wholeness, hope, resilience, and radical welcome to the most vulnerable in institutions, neighborhoods, nationally and across borders.
By J. Michael Parker