Tag Archives: immigration

Still Evangelical?

I am the son of two immigrants, my father was Polish and my mother is Guatemalan. I grew up in small Latino churches. I am evangelical. I was on staff at an evangelical megachurch. I am a PhD student at a historically significant evangelical institution. I am also a registered Republican.  It should go without saying that the entire Trump “event,” from his nomination to his presidency today, has been rather complicated for me.

This is not least because so much of what his presidency has brought to light, both in America and the American church, embodies values which are so contrary to me as an evangelical Christian formed by non-Western influences. So, when I saw various 4537evangelicals, like Mark Labberton, wondered aloud whether the term “Evangelical” is still useful or whether the tribe that identifies with that will be left intact I had mixed feelings: “evangelical” is what I am, yet the term has become tainted. Some of these mixed feelings are very well articulated by numerous authors in Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning. There is a lot I resonate with in this book.

Robert Chao Romero, in his essay, “Immigration and the Latina/o Community” describes the experiences of Latino/a Christians in the US in light of the “Latino Threat Narrative.” Basically, this is the idea that Latinos are unwilling to integrate into “American” culture and that they are bent on reconquering land that was formerly theirs. Because many have imbibed this false narrative, many evangelicals voted for a president who espouses this same view. Many Latino evangelicals were left confused as to why their Christian brothers and sisters would think so poorly of them and put nation before Kingdom. [This, I should note, is not a universal experience, I know from conversations that numerous Latino evangelicals were ardent Trump supporters.]

Jim Daly, who leads one of the most significant evangelical organizations, Focus on the Family, writes about the importance of “listening” in this period. He embodies a more conciliatory approach: “Rather than assuming what ‘those people’ are like, we should get to know them.” (180) This practice of listening goes both ways. Evangelicals who can’t fathom why other evangelicals would support Trump inspired political movements and evangelicals who think that those who refused to fall in line with American Evangelicalism both need to speak to and listen to one another. In an age of “yelling” through social media, this call to be slow speak and quick to listen almost seems biblical…

Despite the inclusion of numerous well written chapters, the one that resonated the most with me was InterVarsity President Tom Lin’s chapter. He makes the fantastic point:

Any evaluation of the world evangelical or evangelicalism must be done in the context of the global church. The decision of some American evangelicals to abandon the term is insensitive to our overseas sisters and brothers; it reflects the worst impulses of American exceptionalism and self-absorption. (186)

In my opinion, this global perspective changes everything. I grew up in such a way that my self-understanding of what it means to be an evangelical was more shaped by my Latino and European influences than by institutional Anglo-American evangelicalism. [I didn’t start attending an Anglo-American church until I was 19 years old.] To be an Evangelico was never tied to political parties – it was always tied to evangelical faith and practice. It meant we read and took the Bible seriously, we shared the gospel, we believed in salvation by faith through grace alone, and we believed in the importance of being born again. None of this was tied to a particular political party. Sure, some people in our church were democrats and some were republicans, but that was not what defined you as a “good” or “bad” Christian. Yet, it seems, that in circles just outside the ones I grew up in as a Latino evangelical, one’s political affiliation did define whether one was a “good” or “bad” Christian. Because of my social context, that word, “Evangelical” didn’t carry the same meaning as it does for many of my other Christian brothers and sisters. To me, Evangelical, was never a sociological moniker, it was a theological identity. All this to say, I understand why some evangelicals want to abandon the term, but I simply can’t. To be an evangelical, at least from a Latino perspective, just means that I am a Christ follower. And that is an identification I would never want to abandon.


The Latin American Church

It is fairly common for Americans to believe that the West is the major exporter of new ideas and trends around the world. For instance, Mark Noll believes that “understanding American patterns provides insight for what has been happening elsewhere in the world.”[1] Although he does not believe this is due to direct causation, he does believe it is a correlative effect. However, this way of thinking ignores that what has mostly been a one-way street of ideas, missionaries, and movements coming to Latin America is actually a stream which flows both ways.[2] Because of this we must understand how Latin American emigration is changing the shape of Christianity in the United States.

According to Philip Jenkins “by 2050 Latinos will make up about a quarter of the national population,” with the vast majority of these Latinos coming from a Christian background.[3] Currently in the United States there are 37.5 million Latinos (not including undocumented immigrants and Puerto Ricans).[4] If we begin to study immigration trends we see that immigration to the U.S. has been predominantly Christian[5] with many of these immigrants coming from the “new centers of faith”: Africa and Latin America[6]. These immigrants are impacting how American Christians understand their faith. For instance we might look at the American Catholic Church which is currently importing priests from Latin America and Spain due to shortages in priests.[7] This has led to the Virgin Mary, which was seldom seen in the North American Catholic church up until the 1980’s, to be venerated throughout the United States.[8] If we look at the Protestant church we see the difference Latinos have made as well. In many places throughout the U.S. it was fairly common to see abandoned American churches, however now those churches have been put to use again by Latino Christians who have moved into the area. In addition to this many American churches are seeing church growth due to growth in their Hispanic congregations.[9]

If Christianity from Latin America is becoming influential in the United States we need to understand the major theological themes that the Latin American church is dealing with at home. These two issues are 1-poverty and oppression and 2-charismatic Christianity.


[1] Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 189.

[2] Odina E. González and Justo González, Christianity in Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 302.

[3] Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 284.

[4] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 304.

[5] Jenkins, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, 284.

[6] Jehu Hanciles, “God’s Mission through Migration: African Initiatives in Globalizing Mission,” in Evangelical, Ecumenical, and Anabaptist Missiologies in Conversation, ed James Krabill, Walter Sawatsky, and Charles Van Engen (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2006), 59.

[7] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 305.

[8] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 304-5.

[9] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 307.

Welcome To Shelbyville – A “Political” Review

Welcome to Shelbyville is a documentary recounting the story of the town of Shelbyville, Tennessee during the 2008 presidential election; it recounts the reactions to his election by various different groups: Anglo-Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Somali Refugees. In addition to this, it also recounts the various groups’ reactions to a new group of Somali refugees. Through this film, we are presented with a microcosm of America; America is rapidly changing, it must figure out how it will react to the religious and cultural changes that are on the horizon. In this brief paper I will highlight some of the cultural differences between the groups and examine how their responses to each other might lead to the various groups becoming more culturally aware.

Welcome to Shelbyville

All four groups represent very different cultural values which are manifested in their views on politics, economics, and religion. In examining the Anglo-Americans values on politics we see that they desire to keep things the way they are. They feel threatened by change. Thus they display an aversion to risk. At one point some Anglo members of the local Rotary club say that “Shelbyville is not Mayberry anymore,” meaning that it is no longer the ideal picture of America that they are used to. This attitude towards political change is illustrated during the election of Barack Obama. At one point, a Presbyterian Pastor says that “the election is historic but troubling…the nation we know and love is changing.” The African American and Hispanic views of politics however is quite different. They see the change as hopeful. Having seen discrimination against minorities they see this new government as possibly bringing about change. In this election alone we see that the Anglos of Shelbyville have a strong uncertainty avoidance. Cultural differences are also displayed in the various groups views about economics. The Hispanics and Somalis are willing to work difficult, menial jobs in order to provide for their families. In fact, the Hispanic person Miguel Gonzalez is very proud to work for General Motors. He sees the value of hard work. The Anglos in the film however are best characterized by what the ESL teacher says about them, she says that some people wouldn’t work there (Tyson or General Motors) even if they paid them. This is an interesting observation, because at one point we see an Anglo couple complaining about how the immigrants have taken their jobs, however jobs are available, its just that the jobs that are available aren’t the ones the Anglos want. Cultural differences are also displayed in the various groups’ religious practices. Although we don’t exactly see their spirituality, we are given a view into how their political views impact their church services. Both the Anglo Presbyterians and the African Americans bring in their political views into their sermons. The Hispanics do not even mention their faith. The Somalis seem to be deeply impacted by their faith. We are told that they pray during designated prayer times, even if they are not at their mosque. We also see that their religious leader acts as a leader in the community, thus their religious life intersects with their daily lives, however they do not refer to politics in their meetings. Finally, the Anglo Baptists are also shaped by their religious views. They too do not allow their politics to intersect with their religious practices, but they do allow it to affect their social life. This is displayed in their decision to have a church put on community outreach for the Somalis.

In addition to the differences between these groups that are seen in their politics, economics, and religion we also see differences in their reaction to the Somali refugees. The Anglo Americans have the most hostile reaction to them. For instance, the former Mayor says that the Somali’s “have diseases,” the “Muslims are here to kill us,” the “Somalis don’t like us.” On one radio show we hear an Anglo complain about being forced to comply with the Somali culture. Another Anglo says that “they are more aggressive,” he complains that they try to bargain and haggle at the store, he sees them as being rough and impolite. These attitudes are only one type of reaction typical of the Anglos. The Presbyterian pastor Stephen Caine, displays a more mild manner aversion to them. He points out that the Anglos are now the minority, and their ways are being threatened but he also realizes that if the churches are going to survive then need to learn to adapt. The African Americans take a more neutral stance towards the Somalis. They find them strange, they have strange food and wear strange clothing. One man at a barbershop complains that he can’t communicate with them. He doesn’t see them as a problem, however he finds that situations get awkward when the Somalis are around. The Hispanics display the most positive attitude towards the Somalis. The ESL teacher that is helping them become culturally oriented is Hispanic. The same ESL teacher also helps them address the problems they face with the news reporter, Brian Mosley. In addition to this it is also the Hispanic community that initiates the “welcoming initiative.” Being immigrants themselves they understand the problems the Somalis face. The greatest difference between the groups lies in their reaction to the Somalis. The anglos react negatively, whereas the Hispanics and African Americans take a more positive stance towards them. The African Americans are in favor of reaching out to them, but they are not willing to take an active role in doing so. The Hispanics lead the charge in this area.

Welcome to Shelbyville Somali

The differences between the reactions towards the Somali’s are rooted in struggles for power. The Anglos are losing power. They are becoming a minority, they are “losing jobs,” and they are being forced to change the ways of life that they were accustomed to living. The African Americans are also being forced to change, but since they do not possess as much power as the Anglo’s they do not feel as threatened thus they are not as averse to the changes that are required of them. Finally, the Hispanics, which possess the least amount of power in Shelbyville, are the ones who have the least conflict with the Somalis. This is likely because they are in a similar position as them. Both are relatively new to Shelbyville and the Southern States. Both work “menial” jobs and both struggle with the language. Thus their similarities bring them together.

Another reason for cultural conflict lies in what the groups believe that America should be like. The Anglos believe that it should stay the way it is, the other groups are open to change and are even hopeful that it will happen. This is seen in their responses to Barack Obama’s election. The Presbyterian church finds the election historic but troubling. The African American church sees hope in Obama’s election. They believe it will bring financial, physical, and spiritual well being to the country. The Hispanics believe it displays what they love most about this country, namely that anyone can make it if they work hard enough. The Somalis have little to no reaction to the election.

Different conceptions of what America should be like are also seen in how the groups respond to the cultural differences in the Somalis. The some want them to leave, others want them to conform to their ways, and some are willing to assimilate them as long as they leave behind their cultural values and adopt American values. The African Americans play a small role in welcoming the Somalis helping the become acculturated. They are willing to help them feel welcome, but they do not take an initiating role in welcoming them. This fact is seen in the scene involving the meal between the various groups. The African American ladies are friendly towards the Somali’s, they even try to understand what Somalia is like, however they display cultural insensitivity when it comes to their style of dress and the topic of terrorism. It is the Hispanics that initiate the most beneficial cross-cultural initiatives. By teaching the ESL class, organizing the meeting with the Newspaper, and initiating the meal between the Somalis, African Americans, and Hispanics all groups begin to move towards being culturally aware people. These initiatives are helpful because they help break down language barriers and help remove misconceptions that exist between the groups. Both of these tasks, the breaking down of language barriers and the correction of misconceptions help the groups identify with each other. As the groups begin to identify with one another they learn that they have nothing to fear when it comes to the changes that are happening around them.

Obama, Romney, and Christian Ethics

Election day is around the corner and many Americans are still on the fence. Obama or Romney? Many Christians will go to the polls on Election day and vote based upon which candidate better lines up with “Christian Values.” This is a legitimate way to decide who will get one’s vote. Many Christians in my part of town believe that Romney best lines up with Christian/Biblical values. Many Christians I go to school with believe that Obama best lines up with Christian/Biblical values. In this blog post I want to briefly outline the ethics or values of both Obama and Romney as they are presented in a couple of interviews done by Ed Stetzer. Ed Stetzer interviewed some high up staff that adequately represented each candidate. For the sake of Christian Charity I will only highlight the positive aspects of their ethical stances. After taking a look at this I will suggest a paradigm for understanding their ethics and voting in light of their positions.

Obama’s Ethics

According to the his representative, “President Obama recognizes that as a society we will be judged on how we care for the ‘least of these.'” This is evident if we look at his stances on immigration, healthcare, and creation.

“On immigration, the Bible tells us to show care and respect for “strangers in the land” (Deuteronomy 10:19). President Obama has promoted pragmatic and compassionate immigration policies, including support for the DREAM Act that would provide a path to citizenship through higher education or military service for young people who came to America as children.”

“He has expanded health insurance to 32 million Americans, supported maintaining nutrition assistance for needy families, unemployment benefits for those who are out of work, Head Start programs for early childhood education, and doubling Pell Grants for students who may not otherwise be able to afford to attend college.”

“We are called to be stewards of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26), and President Obama has taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mercury pollution, protect water quality, and promote clean, renewable energy.”

Obama’s ethics are clearly a reflection of his belief that we are a government of, by and for the people, which means the values and priorities of our governmental institutions are a reflection of all of us. Because of this we cannot divorce ourselves from this responsibility as a society.

Regarding some of his more controversial positions: Gay Marriage and Abortion

“President Obama believes that it is fundamentally unfair to deny certain rights and protections to gay and lesbian couples who perhaps adhere to a different religious perspective.”

“While the President is pro-choice, it is not an issue he takes lightly, and there are certainly people of faith on both sides of this debate. President Obama believes we should be working together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. He has strengthened programs that encourage adoption, increased pre- and post-natal care, and has increased access to contraception.”

Upon doing a quick survey of Obama’s ethics its clear that he is in favor of helping immigrants, the poor, and the oppressed. He is interested in taking care of creation. He desires to protect the freedom of people to do whatever they want as individuals, whether it be gay marriage or abortion.

Romney’s Ethics

Regarding the poor:

“Governor Romney’s governing history indicates a reliance on important partnerships between public and private sectors to address these problems. Furthermore, his life of involvement in his church demonstrates a consistent record of caring for the “least of these” in our midst.”

Regarding Gay Marriage:

“Governor Romney has long supported the civil rights of all Americans while still opposing the right for same sex couples to be joined in marriage.”

Regarding Abortion:

“Governor Romney has been quite transparent about his “conversion” on this issue, which resulted from a scholarly discussion on the matter of stem cell research during his term as governor of Massachusetts…I do not have the slightest concern about his fidelity to the defense of human life beginning at conception.”

Regarding Immigration:

Romney plans to “implement a national immigration strategy that bolsters the U.S. economy, ensures our security, keeps nuclear families together, addresses the problem of illegal immigration in a civil and resolute manner, and carries on America’s tradition as a nation of legal immigrants.”

He plans to secure the borders by: “completing a high-tech fence to enhance border security”, “ensuring that we have the officers on the ground we need to gain control of the border”, and to “develop an efficient, effective system of exit verification to ensure people do not overstay their visas.” He will discourage undocumented immigration, especially among young people by opposing “all “magnets” that entice illegal immigrants to come to our country. (As governor, he vetoed in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants and opposed driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.)

A Paradigm for Understanding Obama’s and Romney’s Ethics

Reading through their positions on these political (ethical issues) it become clear to me that neither candidate really displays a more consistent Christian morality. Let me explain why…

Obama’s Ethics are best understood as corporate ethics. Romney’s ethics are best understood as individualistic ethics. For Christians both are essential. Romney is concerned about ensuring the morality of individuals. Homosexual acts and abortion are all sins that are committed by individuals. Obama is concerned about ensuring a corporate morality. He goes after the systems and structures that are immoral. For instance the systematic injustice faced by the poor when they are denied access to healthcare or a proper education. This observation is true not only of the candidates but the parties as a whole. For instance consider the democratic stance on the role of government and the republican stance on the role of government. Republicans tend to believe that freedom is a freedom from coercion. Democrats tend to believe in a version of freedom in which freedom is the ability to do something, rather than merely being a lack of restrictions preventing one from doing something. Thus these views of freedom influence their views on what the government is supposed to do. Republicans believe that the government should not coerce, so the government should stay out of the picture as much a possible, this is how to help people be free. Democrats believe that freedom is the ability to do something, so the government should help people to be free, thus by stepping in to situations they can help people actualize their freedom.

This might be an oversimplified analysis of the situation…. but when you (Christians) go out to vote next week keep in mind that one candiate is not necessarily more moral than the other. They just approach morality from two different directions (individually or corporately). As Christians both paradigms for morality are supposed to come into play. Vote accordingly.





Missiology Book Review: Beyond Christendom

Hanciles, Jehu. Beyond Christendom. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008.

In this book Hanciles looks at three different subjects: 1) globalization, 2) African migration, and 3) the transformation of the West by these immigrants. Hanciles’ main argument is that migration and mission are inextricably connected. He shows that migration and Christian expansion have always gone hand in hand, and that in the West migration will change the shape of Christianity.

One of the most insightful chapters in this book is his chapter on assimilation. His exposition of the straight-line model, or “Anglo-conformity” model, helps the reader understand the immigrant experience in a new way. Anglo-conformity assumes that Anglo-Saxon culture is the superior and normative culture, and that immigrants should conform to this culture. He shows that this has been the assimilation model that most Americans have bought in to. (Think for a moment… do you feel as though this is true? It has certainly been my own experience when talking to Americans about immigration issues.) His discussion of various models of “assimilation” especially the straight-line model makes me wonder if our churches have adopted this model, which is absolutely unbiblical.

Another insightful point that Hanciles makes in this book is that the growth of Christianity has always gone hand in hand with migratory movements. This debunks the myth that Christianity has grown because “professional” missionaries have carried the faith to foreign lands. Although to an extent this is true, most of the growth in the Church is due to Christians migrating and carrying their faith along with them to their new homes. (Consider the persecution that happens in Acts, this persecution is an example of a “push” migration resulting in the spreading of the faith.)

If you work with a population that deals with immigration issues, this is a must read book. I highly recommend it.



Missiology: Urban Mission Part 6 – Cities as a Part of God’s Mission

Over the next few days I will be posting some thoughts on an issue facing the future of the church, namely the explosion of urban populations. I will start by taking a look at some of the issues brought up by the urban explosion, and I will conclude by reflecting upon how the Gospel addresses these issues.

Today we will look look at the Scriptures and try to pull out some insights as to how we should respond to the issue at hand.


IV-New Mission Insights: Cities as a Part of God’s Mission

            A foundational text for God’s mission to the city is Jeremiah 29. In this text we see “God’s enduring love expressed in initiatives to shape a people as a community for worship and mission.”[1] However, this text is based upon God’s covenantal promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3; the promise of land, progeny, and blessing to the nations. Wright argues that this text is the pivotal text for the whole Bible.[2] We can see why this is so, if in fact God’s ultimate purpose is to bless humanity, then the story of how God will bless the nations is the central focus of his word.[3] In Jeremiah 29 God tells the Israelites to inhabit the land, bear sons and daughters, and to seek the welfare of the city. It is clear that this passage parallels Genesis 12:1-3. Thus even when in exile, God’s people were to remain on God’s mission; they were to be God’s agents for the blessing of this city.[4]

Looking at this passage we are informed of God’s mission in the midst of the city. Our mission as Christians is founded upon Genesis 12:1-3. As God’s people we are to bring God’s blessings to wherever we dwell, even if it is an “enemy city.” What will this blessing look like in the midst of urban contexts? It means helping people flourish in the midst of their cities. Human flourishing will be based upon a holistic understanding of humanity’s needs. Humans are both physical and spiritual, they are also relational. Thus human flourishing will be physical and spiritual as well as well as relational. The church’s mission must be a holistic blessing. This means that the church must address humanity’s spiritual, physical, relational, and emotional needs. By doing this, the church will bring God’s Shalom, God’s sanctification that embraces all dimensions of life.[5]

How will the church address the holistic need of city dwellers? Earlier we had noted that two major issues the church will face in an urban setting is poverty and cultural heterogeneity. Thus these are the two issues that the church must confront if it is going to bless urban residents.

[1] Branson and Martinez, Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities, 34.

[2] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 194.

[3] Wright, The Mission of God, 194.

[4] Wright, The Mission of God, 99-100.

[5] Mark Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 101.