by Fiona Sherwin

Book Review: Global Migration & Christian Faith: Implications for Identity and Mission

EDITED BY M. DANIEL CARROLL R. AND VINCENT E. BACOTE. EUGENE: WIFP & STOCK, 2021. XXII + 194 PP. ISBN 978-1-7252-8148-6. $48.40 (Paperback), $17.14 (Kindle).

The movement of people around the world is a feature of this century. Our world has been described as a “global village”. This brings with it challenges as, sadly, much migration is a result of forced displacement, or movement generated by war, natural disasters, violence, and poverty that results in movements of people attempting to escape adverse circumstances and find better lives. To this we must now add climate change as a factor, Indeed the Prime Minister of Barbados recently warned at the COP27 UN Climate conference, that the developed world faced a wave of “climate refugees”, should they fail to address the environmental threats posed by climate change.

This book under review brings together papers that were to be presented in 2020 at a Wheaton Theology Conference, which was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a certain irony in this, given that human movement around the world resulted in the spread of the virus. While practically every contributor mentions the challenges and many of the distressing stories that instances of forced migration, and refugees have generated, overall the book does not deal solely with these issues. Many reflect biblically and theologically on the theme of migration. Where “solutions” to the crisis of refugees and displaced persons are offered, they tend to reflect the kinds of attitudes and responses Christians should bring to the issues.

The eleven contributions are collected under four headings: “Historical Perspectives” (two essays); “Biblical Foundations” (four essays); “Theological Reflections” (two essays); “Ecclesiological and Missiological Challenges” (three essays). It is the essays in the latter two sections that, for the most part, address current issues of the crises of migration most directly.

In the first section, Leopoldo A. Sánchez M. (“Is It Time for Another Reformation Sola?”) draws upon Martin Luther’s Lectures on Genesis and his Heidelberg Disputation, examining the model of Abraham’s hospitality to the three divine strangers (Gen 18) and his reflection on the cross (Disputation), to argue for a “sola hospitalitate dei” (“God’s hospitality alone”) as a way of dealing with those not like us. They should be loved for themselves (whether poor or bad) and for their benefit not ours. Jennifer Powell McNutt (“The Bible for Refugees in Calvin’s Geneva”) outlines how Geneva became a city for Protestant refugees from Catholic persecution. But it was also a “harbour” for various vernacular translations of the Bible (English, Italian, Spanish) that were produced there. A French Bible was produced in various sizes, one specifically designed for portability.

Turning to the Bible, M. Daniel Carroll R (“The Image and Mission of God”) considers how two themes in Genesis contribute towards “a more hospitable posture toward the ‘strangers’ in our midst” (38). First, that we are all made in God’s image and function as vice-regents and servants of God, means that immigrants also contribute to host societies whatever their origin, as they have worth as made in God’s image. Second, the patriarchs fulfilled God’s plan to bring blessing to all people through migration and as migrants.

C.L. Crouch (“Migration and the Prophetic Imagination”) finds that both Jeremiah and Ezekiel represent “emergency theology”, written in circumstances where people are seeking refuge, and find everything yanked from under their feet. Joshua W. Jipp (“The Migrant Messiah and Boundary Crossing”) turns to consideration of Luke-Acts to find Jesus extending hospitality to all, as a “journeying guest”, while experiencing inhospitality himself. The church in Acts is a boundary-crossing entity that translates the gospel into the cultural, linguistic, and religious “scripts” of Greco-Roman culture to both disrupt and communicate. Nelson Morales (“James and I Peter through the Eyes of a Migrant”) finds that both James and 1 Peter use the concept of “diaspora” as a “literary trope” (85). Both see Christians as having their true “homeland” above, whose relation to the world must be moderated by their primary obligations to God. Having migrants in a church can remind those who are not that being a Christian is to be a stranger, in exile.

In “Home Land, Foreign Land, Our Land” Peter C. Phan provides a theology of place in migration. He considers the three stages of a migrant’s experience, first, leaving one’s own homeland, and second, settling in a foreign land, where one might experience assimilation, separation (discrimination), integration, or marginalization. Finally, the migrant may become part of “our” land, sharing it with the native, but at the same time challenging what it means to be a member of a given nation-state or community. The final aim, for the Christian, is to supersede “our” (physical) land with “utopia” (a good place/no place), that is the “universal and all-inclusive kingdom of God” (118).

In “The Great Migration”, Daniel G. Groody considers the incarnation as a border crossing by Jesus, “the migrant Son of God” (120). This also involved a crossing over into “the border of human skin” (125), so borders have their place, but must not become barriers. Accepting and associating with sinners (as Jesus did), and taking up one’s cross, to build bridges “to ‘cross over’ to those vulnerable places that involved tending to a neighbour, a stranger, or even an enemy in need” (130) is a way to bring down barriers.

In the final section, Mark Douglas (“Global Migrations and Climate Refugees”) provides a series of case studies as examples of how climate change, and natural disasters associated with it, can lead to the displacement of people, and violence; and how such displacement can have environmental impacts. While the definition of who or what circumstances determine “climate refugee” or migrant is not clear. The current framework of seeing political matters as intra-human creates difficulties for dealing with non-human natural causes, as against human ones. A “social imaginary” for the age of Anthropocene is an urgent matter.

“The Sea Has Betrayed Me” begins with stories from the Moria Refugee Camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos, where conditions are dire. The stories we tell and the motivations behind what we do, whether “teleological” (ends-driven) or “etiological” (from a “source” such as the concept of shalom or God’s love and act of creation) determine how we act. We must act in ways that empower the migrant recipients, so that “guests” can be “hosts” to the recipient community. Finally, Sam George (“Motus Dei [The Move of God]”) finds that the concepts of motility and movement imbue all aspects of a theological conception of God and God’s activity. Our mission, following that of a mobile, missionary God, is now no longer from one place to another, but from all places to all places.

This book, while needing to be supplemented by others that look in more depth at the challenges provided by global migration (especially of refugees and economic or climate migrants), provides a thought-provoking entry into thinking theologically and as a Christian about a pressing current issue.

Derek Tovey is the book review editor for Stimulus.