As the migrant caravan moves through Central America and Mexico toward our border, my heart is heavy and saddened as I watch so many compassionate people talk about this group of human beings in such dehumanizing ways.
I understand the fear. Of course we need to protect our children. I get that we have limited resources. Yes, migrants have to enter the country legally. But I don’t think these concerns are near as connected to this migrant caravan as they are to our collective enslavement to fear and misinformation. Rather than be moved by a commitment to understand and care for the “least and the last” we are being stirred into a frenzy of self-protection that is compromising our collective soul. It’s sad. But we can be healed.
The fact that our administration is threatening these countries by taking away funding is short sighted and will only perpetuate the instability. We have to become students who ask the story behind the story behind the story. We have to get close to those in crisis. We need to be in proximity. We need to share tables and stories. And, in a country filled with immigrants, we can. We just have to choose love over fear and curiosity over critique.
As the story continues to unfold, I’d like to pose a challenging theological question with tangible implications for how we show up in this moment — specifically related to the migrant caravan.
- The Context
The migrant caravan is made up primarily of people with deep Christian convictions and traditions. As they move north, they are holding vigil and praying for God’s guidance and protection for ultimate liberation. Mommas are pushing strollers as they pray for their children’s future and pleading with God to deliver them toward safety and new life.
Here in the U.S., many people with deep Christian convictions and traditions are praying for the migrant caravan to turn around (at best) or to be violently resisted/restrained (at worst). Parents are fearful that this caravan could threaten the safety and future of their children and are pleading with God to protect them from the “invading enemy.”
- The Question How and where does God act in a moment like this? Whose prayers are “heard?” I trust that all the concerns raised by both groups are real to them. (Although, in some cases, I’d disagree on their objective reality). All are praying with fervor for God to “show up.” One group for safety. Another for liberation.
- The Reflection I’m convinced one of the greatest obstacles to following Jesus in the United States is HOW we read the Bible. Namely, how we often read ourselves (specifically dominant culture U.S. Americans) into the story as the “favored protagonist” who has a corner on the market of God’s blessing.
The Bible is the story of an occupied and oppressed people trusting that God will guide them toward liberation. The main characters who modeled faithfulness most often were those OUTSIDE of power. Many of us have been taught (albeit subconsciously) to read ourselves into the biblical story as the protagonist when in reality — whether we like it or not — we have more in common with the antagonist.
We live in one of the most powerful and wealthy countries in human history. We don’t need to be ashamed of that, but we do need to be honest about it. And, if we are honest, we have more in common with Pharaoh than with Moses. With Pilot than with Jesus. With those on the side of empire extinguishing the good news of the kingdom. As my friend Tony Campolo says, “We may live in the best Babylon in the world, but it’s still Babylon.”
We misread the story when we use the Bible as a tool to support our retaining and maintaining of power when the reality is that it is a story of God working among oppressed people to disrupt and dismantle oppressive power. We misread the story when we read the text to justify and support systems that maintain the status quo (comfort, power, and privilege) when the reality is that the Bible is the story of God subverting power (economic, political, racial, patriarchal, social, etc).
God does not give up on those in power, but does require them to repent of their addiction to power.
Tangibly, this incomplete reading allows us to interpret our world as though God is with “us,” and “they” are the ones who are coming as a threat (in this case, migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers), when in reality it was among those communities where God was seeking to deliver all of us in bondage to systems and structures that oppress. Maybe those in the migrant caravan are coming to deliver us back to God in the way Moses delivered Egypt (although painfully) from their addiction to power, safety, and comfort. Maybe we are being delivered from our addiction to safety that frees us to be faithful. Maybe we are being delivered from a mentality of scarcity to a celebration of abundance.
Jesus’ message was good news to those on the underside of power. The captives, the oppressed, the hurting, the diseased. It wasn’t good news for the systems and structures that oppressed them. But it was good news to the oppressor. It was liberating for EVERYONE if only they had eyes to see and ears to hear.
For many of us, it’s going to take a long, confessional journey to read the Bible through the lens of its original context and community, but it is a journey worth taking. It will require people like me to listen, learn, and be mentored by people around the world (and on our streets) who are faithfully following God on the underside of empire — our sisters and brothers who aren’t in the halls of power, politics, and religious bureaucracy; those who have been beaten down, displaced, and enslaved.
We are being invited to new life. To have our sight healed and our wounds repaired so we stop spreading our disease and start spreading the good news.
If this requires a confession booth, I’ll be the first in line.
This article was adapted from Jon Huckins’ blog.