The Common Good

What's in a Name? Living in a "Rule of Law" City

Last month, the mayor of Costa Mesa -- where I live -- proposed and passed a proclamation declaring our city a "Rule of Law" city. It is not that we were in total anarchy before May. It was a statement essentially saying that we are intolerant of illegal immigrants. Since there is no policy to accompany this proclamation at this point, it is just a name. However, the proclamation alone has created a lot of fear and confusion in my neighborhood.

On one hand what you call something doesn't necessarily change anything. The name doesn't change the substance. My neighbors and I obey laws like we did before the proclamation, and we continue to care for one another regardless of documentation and despite the proclamation. However, as believers in Christ we know the power of a name. When God announced the coming Messiah, he highlighted what he would be called: Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God. Jesus and the early church changed leaders' names to reflect who they would become: Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul. What we call people and places can reflect their character and tell you something about them.

I suppose the mayor understands this and that's why he wanted to put a label on our city. He is reacting to other cities that have called themselves "Sanctuary Cities." The question that comes to mind is, "Are those the only categories?" And if so, why? Jesus said he hadn't come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it; in doing so, he brought freedom and justice.

As Christ's followers, what does it look like for us to address the crisis we find ourselves in as a city and as a nation with freedom and justice? How can we imagine another way that embraces sanctuary and law and refuses to label people and places simply in terms of their relationship to the Law?

Those of us who call ourselves the Redeemed should think twice before labeling others in relation to their position before the law. We know what it is to have our name changed from Sinner to Forgiven. We know what it is to have our identity recognized and called out: Child of God, Friend of Christ, Holy, and Dearly Loved.

Costa Mesa's new label as a "Rule of Law" city does not represent the feeling of all its residents. Most of us will continue to call our city by what it is -- the City of the Arts, a great community on a beautiful plateau. We will call our undocumented residents by more true names: Neighbor, Friend, Volunteer, Brother and Sister in Christ. And some of us will continue to advocate that we move beyond damaging labels to laws that bring freedom and justice to communities that desperately need it.

portrait-Crissy-BrooksCrissy Brooks is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Mika Community Development Corporation in Costa Mesa, California.

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