Theological Reflections on Migration (CCME)
Writing in the introduction, editors Benz H.R. Schär and Ralf Geisler note that “theological thinking does not naturally put us in touch with the field of migration”.
Migration doesn’t occur in the indices of current works on dogmatics or ethics. This is not surprising where systematic theologians live in ivory towers, secluded from the needs of society and the plight of migrants. What is more astonishing is the fact that often even those within the churches taking sides for the migrants and refugees can easily live on a rather small ration of theological reflection of their involvement: usually their needs for theology can easily be met with occasional hints to biblical passages referring to the “stranger”.
The collection of essays shows that migration is not a marginal theological undertaking but touches central points of every theological reflection.
What is humankind? What does it mean to be obliged to this God of the Old and New Testament? How can our confused human history be reconciled with a divine plan? How are theology and ethics related? And what, after all, is the task of the church?
The editors suggest that “migration is omnipresent in the Bible as well as in church history [and] at work in the shaping of theology itself”, whether through the promise to Abraham, the exodus experience or the Babylonian exile (which forced the Jews to reconsider their traditional faith and make it suitable for their life in diaspora).
Jean-Marc Éla‘s essay Un Dieu métis [A half-caste God] observes “a shocking tendency to close borders as a response to the arrival of asylum seekers”. This “crisis in the legislation” is driven by asylum seekers and an obsession for security. The essay insists on the importance of appreciation and respect of the stranger in the political realm, of reducing the fear of the stranger and thus of civilising the state and reinventing citizenship.
Benz H.R. Schär‘s Am Nullpunkt der Begegnung [At Zero Point of Encounter] reflects that the condition of migrants opens one’s eyes to a very deep insight on humankind in general. Historically migration was the rule while sedentary life was the exception. Is our fear around the arrival of asylum seekers driven by the fact we feel the fragility of our own stable lives? For years western governments have irrationally tightened – in vain – the last loopholes of their legislation against the influx of asylum seekers. Why should there not be a covert action of a very prosaic ‘grace’ at work? In the words of Calvin: “The world is governed by God’s providence – and men’s confusion”.
Amélé Adamavi-Aho Ekué writes about Negotiating Vulnerability and Power: the construction of migrant religious identity. She concludes that “migration will remain a global phenomenon of multifaceted ethical challenges for contemporary societies, and it has engendered a new ecclesial landscape”. The individual and collective initiatives of migrant Christians are not only relevant for the understanding of the formation of migrant religious identity, but also for a wider debate on inter-cultural theology And the biblical narrative can serve as common point of reference, opening a space of reflection about the Word and the realities of life. She suggests that “the viability and sustainability of Christian migrant communities will pose a serious theological challenge to the Church and its vision of unity as the universal claim of Christianity will continuously collide with its multiple versions and expressions”.
Athanasios N. Papathanasiou‘s Encountering Otherness: Christian Anthropology for a Culture of Peace begins by noting that Hans Andersen’s ‘Ugly Duckling’ is “perhaps the most clear cut illustration of what it means for a creature not to be a closed, static essence”. A case of not what-he-is but what-he-will-become. Similarly, the Christian perspective accepts both the notion of human nature, and the vision of a final, eschatological realisation of the human being. But there’s a possibility of “desiring the Other, of opening himself up and communing with it”.
Heinrich Bedford-Strohm‘s essay on Responding to the Challenges of Migration and Flight from a Perspective of Theological Ethics begins by noting that the highly contested political theme of “migration and flight” is “emotionally charged … and touches upon deep layers of human existence”, so much so that it “elections can be decided by this theme”. The essay finishes by highlighting the urgent issue: “we need to learn anew how to celebrate together with refugees and migrants”. Not just rejoicing in legal proceedings or political compromises but celebrations that “create curiosity for the other person in his or her individuality [and] may even help to overcome the walls between the social strata”. Referring to Penetcost, the author says this “inter-cultural encounter can become modern experiences of the Holy Spirit”. Developing a culture of celebration and convivence with refugees and migrants “is a demanding and beautiful task for the churches” but a task that may perhaps lead to European churches truly becomimg “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”.