From Bo H. Lim, “Exile and Migration: Toward a Biblical Theology of Immigration and Displacement”:
The Evangelical Covenant Church is an immigrant church, founded by Swedish immigrants in 1885. At its centennial celebration in 1985, Krister Stendahl exhorted the denomination to maintain its immigrant identity as it moved into its second century. Twenty five years later, marking its 125th anniversary celebration, the denomination yet again affirmed its character as an immigration church as central to its identity. The Covenant’s 2014 resolution on immigration opens with a summary of this identity, providing the foundation for the ethical discussion/exhortation that follows. The aim of this paper is to provide a better understanding of the biblical phenomenon of exile as it relates to immigrant communities so that church leaders might better appropriate this biblical motif for ministry.
There was no singular exilic experience. To assume that all Israelites were weeping by the rivers of Babylon under duress from foreign captors is simply inaccurate. Neither should one assume that every Israelite was able to climb the Babylonian social ladder and influence the royal court in the manner of Daniel and his friends. What these approaches reveal is that migration, while impacting groups, affects people differently at an individual and family level. In addition, generations within families may have experienced the exile in markedly different ways. For the poor peasant, exile may have meant no geographical relocation but experiencing colonization by the Babylonian economic empire. For a Judean youth from a class of social elites, exile may have meant living in a Jewish enclave in Babylon and exercising a relatively free existence.
Just as reading prophetic literature requires attention to the exegetical nuances of myriad migratory experiences of ancient Israel, Christian ministry demands that the church address the diverse experience of migrants and minority populations. It is no less irresponsible for me to say that the experiences of all immigrants to the U.S. are the same – even those experiences within a single ethnic group – than to assume that the exilic experiences addressed in Jeremiah, Isaiah, Psalm 137, Daniel, and Esther are all the same….Faithfulness requires knowing the particularities of each biblical text as well as the particularities of each individual experiencing migration. To flatten the experiences and texts of migration into one uniform category is not merely an act of intellectual dishonesty; it is an unwillingness to listen to the distinct message of particular texts and a disregard for the unique ways people are impacted by migration.
Given that as of 2015, 244 million international migrants live abroad and these numbers continue to climb, the church must develop resources to minister to these populations.
For consideration and discussion:
- What narratives inform your thoughts about exile and migration? Biblical? Political? Historical? Experiential?
- What narratives do you believe inform the thoughts of the people in your circles?
- How do those narratives impact attitudes and actions?
- Lim mentioned several people who have spoken into issues surrounding exile and migration, including John Ahn, Steed Davidson, and Frank Ames. Who are some of your favorite writers, thinkers, practitioners and theologians who are speaking into this topic, and what do they have to say?