IMMIGRATION: FRAMING THE MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE WITH A MISSIONAL INTERPRETATION
BY CARLOS F. CARDOZA-ORLANDI
Immigration is a critical theme for a community’s reflection on the connectedness of people in history. It generates all kinds of debates. It is not a new issue. But in an age of globalization and increasing economic polarization, immigration is a multilayered, convoluted, and complex phenomenon.
In a time of frequent, violent, and confrontational encounters and lack of sound and civil dialogue, of increasing racism, and of growing polarization between the wealthy and the poor, a deep dialogue on immigration does not seem to be a priority on many national agendas. Hostility, persecution, oppression, and exclusion are subtly implemented in public policy at local levels. The basic and most common proposal is to fragment, separate, and cast out the immigrants. The results are ambiguous: few communities achieve their objectives, while many surprisingly discover their deepening financial collapse as the result of the flight of economy-generating immigrants.
Consider a Christian missional framework of interpretation for immigration. Let me identify three geo-political and religious variables that intersect with each other and suggest missional implications for Christian communities in the United States.
First, immigration is not a U.S. problem only. I am amazed how parochial the conversations about immigration are in many mainline and evangelical U.S. congregations. The self-centered focus of a nation that has incredible military, economic, and cultural power clearly blinds the way many U.S. Christians reflect on world issues. Immigration is not an issue of southern hemisphere to northern hemisphere human movement. Many in the media try to portray the movement of peoples with a uni-directional vector, when the current immigration trends clearly resemble a grid with multiple intersecting strings. Two examples are the immigration from the Dominican Republic and Haiti to Puerto Rico and the increasing number of Bolivians and Peruvians moving to Brazil, Chile, and Argentina in search of job opportunities. On October 14, 2010, a Bolivian miner was one of the thirty-three rescued from a mine in Chile, and Chile’s president, Evo Morales, greeted his fellow citizen, now an immigrant married to a Chilean woman.
Second, immigration is connected to colonialism. Most of the discussion of immigration lacks historical and geo-political perspectives. According to the Office of Homeland Security (Population Estimates, January 2010), Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, the Philippines, India, Korea, Ecuador, Brazil, and China are the top ten countries of unauthorized immigrant population movement to the United States in the past decade. Of these ten, at least six—Mexico, the Central American countries, the Philippines, and Korea—have a conflicting (to state it mildly) geo-political history of U.S. foreign policy interventions. Whether those interventions are justified or not is not the issue.
A historical link, in geo-political terms, is in play between the people of these countries and the United States. This link is also a reality between many Africans and Asians and their old European colonial powers. Imagine the link working this way: if you access a web page for the United States government, you will be surprised to find links to the above countries. You will discover that the connections between people from these countries and people from the United States are multiple and rich—in non-governmental groups, foundations, educational organizations, local counties, and Christian congregations. Many people in the United States do not see these connections, though we not only promote them, but sustain them!
Third, immigration is an important variable in solving the decline and reconfiguring the character of the Christian religion in the United States. Both the Encyclopedia of World Christianity and the new Atlas of Global Christianity strongly suggest the demographic shift in Christianity. They provide interesting demographic statistics and analysis of the role of immigrant Christianity in the old Christian lands. But the agency of many of these immigrant Christian communities is dismissed by structures and patterns of established denominations. The intentional search for the connectedness of our communities is frequently lost in attempts to keep alive a tradition that has lost vitality because it is obsessively blind to the forces of change in its margins. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the question I ask my Disciples of Christ colleagues: Will the Disciples of Christ trust new immigrants in our re-interpretation of the theological legacy of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone? Will the Disciples of Christ allow us to officiate at the table? A similar question, but perhaps more poignantly, can be asked of the Reformed tradition in the U.S.: Will seasoned Euro-American and African American Presbyterians trust Asian and Latino/a Presbyterians to do Reformed theology and to embody the Reformed faith as a legitimate, grounded continuity of the Reformed tradition? A question to ponder.
Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi (Th.M. 1990, Ph.D. 1999) is professor of global Christianities and mission studies at the Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University.