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Mingling with the natives

One of my favorite questions received as a missionary during our “home assignment” visiting congregations in the U.S.: “Do you (missionaries) mingle with the natives?”
My response: “Define mingle.”

Our responses as churches and folks of faith to the issue of immigration and reform of immigration law have everything to do with how we define mingle; as welcoming communities within a larger cultural context, how we view the “stranger/other” as well as our self-understanding as forgiven and reconciled/reconciling communities compelled by our call to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our Lord.”

Judith Van Osdol

One might assume that worshiping and loving a loving Lord who was, himself, an “illegal alien” as a child, fleeing persecution from the murderous Herod, might automatically place us in a position contrary to the cultural norm. Regarding the language we use: Individuals/persons are not illegal, but rather acts are illegal. Ergo we refrain from referring to persons as “illegals” or “illegal aliens” as though they were two-legged walking transgressions; our wonderful Lutheran emphasis of simul justis is a helpful caveat here.
One might further assume that as an immigrant church — many of our members still proudly claim their German/Scandinavian/European, etc., heritages — we would have certain sensitivity around immigration issues. Ample biblical/ theological evidence points toward a theology of hospitality: welcoming the stranger as entertaining angels unawares. And yet …
It would seem that our faith communities and leaders are reluctant to dig more deeply into the whys and wherefores of the massive numbers of immigrants. There is a palpable fear on the part of many — as the difficult economic situation persists, we logically look for scapegoats. The blame game inevitably shines a spotlight on the most vulnerable.
How can we move from fearful to faithful when contemplating the issue of immigration? We have a rich legacy of theological tools in the Lutheran tradition that give us ample support to address and construct some working hypotheses.

The issues

There are reasons behind the massive amount of immigration we are witnessing. Consider the “free trade agreements” — which are neither “free” nor “agreements” — that are being forced on many of the smaller Latin American countries. These agreements are known to eliminate jobs, limit sovereignty and determination of nations, and increase and perpetuate poverty.
Consider the issue of external or “Third World” debt, in some cases “blood money” almost pushed on already politically crippled and impoverished nations. The repayment of the interest alone on the part of many debt-ridden societies prevents any hope of moving out of situations of dire poverty or investment in health, education, and the welfare of its citizens.
Witness areas such as Colombia — crippled by more than 50 years of an undeclared civil war; this war is made infinitely more complicated by U.S. complicity around its own economic interests. Displaced persons in Colombia number in the hundreds of thousands. The examples could go on and on.
Where is our prophetic voice around our complicity in sinful systems that perpetuate poverty around the globe, but particularly in the global south? Where is our indignation at economic policy and polity that favor U.S. economic interests above all else, thus marginalizing and impoverishing vast sectors of societies?
Global economies are, de facto, “mingled” — yet the U.S. relationship with markets of the global south can be compared to a wrestling match between an elephant and an ant. Which of the two are we rooting for? “If you do this to these the least of my brothers or sisters…”
The consequences of a globalized market can be witnessed daily. The “joke” outside of our boundaries is that when the U.S. sneezes, the “world” catches a cold and the global south gets pneumonia.
Immigration and the massive movement of people is the human face of the global economic crisis.
The amazingly grace-filled concept of the two kingdoms, realms, or spheres in which we seek and know God’s hand at work within civil society, and even civil law and the “secular world,” inspires and compels us to work for justice and fairness in trade, in society, toward more humane laws, more just treatment of the stranger/transgressor, … the “illegal”.
We who worship a God who flies no national flags, who knows no boundaries or frontiers, are called to dig more deeply into the issues of the whys and wherefores of the immigration issue. We are (in theory) strangers and sojourners in this world. Thus, brothers and sister, oh best beloved — how do you define mingle?
Judith VanOsdol is pastora of Iglesia Evangelica Luterana, El Milagro (El Milagro/The Miracle Lutheran Church) in south Minneapolis.

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