Today I read two stories which have come together in a question. The first story was from Ethics Daily Religious Adults in N. America less accepting of Migrants, and the second by Christianity Today Nigerian Mass Becomes a Massacre: Herdsmen Kill 18 Worshipers, Adding to Hundreds of Victims. As it would happen I am also thinking about Acts 10:44-48 (the Lectionary reading for the week). These three sources came together in one outlandish thought. Perhaps, all of these evangelical Christians can have their prayers for revival answered if they would simply open up their hearts and doors. Here is the logic spelled out.
I frequently read that Christians in South America, Africa, and Asia are persecuted (as illustrated by the bombing in Nigeria, for additional confirmation read I Am N). I also read about the tremendous stories of faith and the wondrous spread of the Gospel in many of these locations. These Christians seem to have the kind of faith that so many in America claim that the Church here needs. Further, many of these Christians are emigrating from their homelands due to violence, famine, or other instability. These Christians who have a powerful faith are forced to migrate, to leave the land of their birth and seek out new homes for their families.
Obviously, then you see the rub, these Christians could become the answer to the Evangelical Christian community’s prayers for revival. Yet, these same Christians are the ones who are often the least likely to accept migrants. Why? I believe that many Christians simple have a narrow perception of Christianity. They do not look outside of their own hometown; they pray for God to work, but work in and through these people. Right now, I see two obstacles in the mindset of American Christians. 1. They want God to work supernaturally inside the box of American Christianity. We do not want to admit that maybe God is working somewhere and maybe we should lay aside our arrogance and listen to those through whom God is moving. 2. We have an innate fear of all migrants because a small minority may hurt us or they may try to change our culture.
I want to begin with the second argument. How weak is your faith that you are worried someone will lead your children astray into a different faith? Personally, I try to engage people of different traditions hoping they will listen to my questions and seeking to answer any objection they raise. (And as to the culture thing don’t ridicule other cultures until you’ve tried the food, it’s been my experience that most of it is amazing). I look at some of the old immigration towns (like the manufacturing cities in the Rust Belt) , at first there were culturally distinct neighborhoods with much friction. Today, you find wonderfully distinct neighborhoods full of ethnic distinctions cohabitating under the umbrella of American culture. All of this in a few generations. How much faster this comradery could happen if we would learn from history and welcome the new migrants.
As for my first point, I think many Christians today box God in in the way the circumcised group did in Acts 11. That group thought God should work through the circumcision of old. Why, because that is how God had worked before. In America, God has raised up preachers like Billy Graham (or further back Billy Sunday, C.G. Finney, or Jonathan Edwards). I am not discounting the importance of these and other fine preachers, but perhaps there is a different model which can work today. Namely, providing a place for these migrant Christians who have the passion of God’s Spirit. What would it say to the culture around us that we work together and look out for our brothers and sisters in other countries (and what does it say when we do not care about letting them into our own). Be clear I am not arguing for wholesale amnesty or uncritical immigration, I am arguing that Christians need to look out for other Christians and that we should be petitioning our government on behalf of our brothers and sisters. One of the things I have learned about fire starting is that they are easier to start from a burning coal than from scratch. If our brothers and sisters are already on fire and need a home how about we incorporate them into our kindling?
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