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I was born and raised in small cities in the panhandle of Texas. So my upbringing was by no means cosmopolitan, but growing up in what one might consider a working-class background gave me opportunities to experience an America beyond my mostly white Southern Baptist horizon. During high school and when I was home from college for holidays, I worked construction for an Irish Catholic from Maryland alongside Mexican Americans, (undocumented) Mexican immigrants, and Black Americans.
At college, I worked at a mom and pop restaurant owned by a Catholic woman and Greek Orthodox (immigrant) man. The kitchen crew consisted of three Peruvians on temporary visas (nominally Catholic), one undocumented Mexican immigrant (lapsed Catholic), one Indian (Hindu), one Malaysian (Muslim), and me (evangelical Christian).
Diversity was not some idea to which I became attached in graduate school, and it wasn't something I learned at an HR training. I simply know no other America than the one made up of different ethnic, religious, and cultural groups.
In our first apartment, my wife and I lived below an Ethiopian family, above a Kenyan family, and next door to a Korean family. When we moved to Boston, almost all of our neighbors were Jewish. In our predominately Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, I loved the sights and sounds of the boys and girls in the streets on Friday evenings on the way to Shabbat gatherings. Today, my next door neighbors are black. In 12 years of marriage, my wife and I have never lived in a majority-white neighborhood.
Boston also gave me my first real taste of Irish and Italian Catholic cultures, having experienced mostly Hispanic Catholicism in Texas and southern California. Indeed, the one Body of Christ, the Church, is made up of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Gal. 3:28).
Belonging to a people made up of many cultures just is part of being an American and a Catholic.
Part of my motivation for working in religious liberty is that I want a healthy pluralism in my country. I want space for religious groups to be able to serve the public. Certainly, I want this because I am committed to what the Church teaches about the duty to seek the truth, which gives rise to the obligation of the state to respect the freedom of religious people and institutions. And a desire to uphold the dignity of every human being must drive all of us Catholics who work at the intersection of Church and public life. But I have also been formed in such a way that a non-pluralistic America is unimaginable.
People who are not like me are my neighbors, and Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors.
Christ binds all peoples in his Body, but the United States is not the Church. I recognize that it is a thorny matter to determine how to make one nation out of many groups. Of one thing I am sure: eliminating difference is not an option.
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