Those displaced people-groups represent nations, histories, political thought-forms, and borders drawn close, uncomfortably so in many cases. They also represent religious orientations: ethical ideologies, political expressions and competitive core values untouched by the American Revolution of 1776. The American Revolution was by far the most influential event in American history to establish a uniquely christian (aka, "American") society, its cultural benefits unfolding in waves until, it seems to some, just recently. Visitors to the U.S. have arrived largely through alternative means of immigration, bypassing traditional processes of Americanization, the process of which is intended to make the foreigner ideologically kindred.
To contrast our short history with the Old World, immigrant story-lines can be traced to narratives of oppression that span the deep recesses of the Middle Ages (and beyond) to the most current event in this morning's news. If we do not appreciate the intricate web of international and ethnic narratives, we simply might be tempted to think that the steady influx of immigrants represents their intense desire to experience a way of life that they recognize to be substantially superior to their own. We might assume that second and third-world nations to fit into our culture on our historical and creedal terms.
The international politicization of American democracy finds us befriending visitors who are with us because of forces outside of their control. They arrive "illegally" by asylum, by lottery, by the fundamental need to preserve life and limb. The lure is less about what America religiously represents and more about what America provides: freedom from oppression. Aka, life.
However, a growing disease amongst our refugee population is the convergence of the American ideal with commercial culture. The Land of Opportunity, historically the integration point for all freedom-loving value systems, has a strictly materialistic interpretation for current citizen and immigrant alike. Freedom to pursue happiness has become freedom to be a consumer.
How many of us consider a refugee to have "arrived" when he jettisons native dress to adorn himself with the latest (or semi-latest) fashion, secures his drivers license, purchases his first cell phone or car, or establishes credit? Certainly these are practical landmarks in a refugee's American experience, but should they be more celebrated than the new child they bring into the world on American soil or the relative they were able to bring out of oppression, or the ethnic community they have been able to establish and for whom they have successfully advocated and integrated into our American communities by personal sacrifice of both financial and material resources? The satisfaction we receive from the one and not the other is illustrative of our own muddling of the word "American."
The commercialized emphasis of American culture has done a great deal to divide the first-generation refugees and their children. That division is the approximate divergence between the value-driven aspiration of the older generation and the material-driven focus of the younger generation. The older generation intends to transfer its value system at all costs while the younger generation tends to pursue more "truncated" values, the sum of which is essentially cheap merchandise.
One decade ago I was privy to a fiasco amongst the Nashville-based Lost Boys of Sudan. It seems that one of the Sudanese girls became pregnant by one of the young Sudanese men. Because the traditional dowry had not passed hands, the brewing of a tribal war in the Sudan ensued. To prevent war, Nashville-based churches provided money for the dowry. I mention this incident for two reasons. First, I want to underscore how immigrant cultural inheritance plus American freedom drives a wedge between the older and younger generations, whether or not it is intended. Secondly, I want to underscore how uneventful events on American soil have multifarious repercussions abroad.
Immigration to America does not necessarily mean the immediate transformation of an Old World value system. A generous transitional period should be expected. However, the immediate problems with which we are faced is 1) the material domestication of immigrant children 2) and the loss of national identify. In the best of circumstances, the immigrant is free of oppression, but isolated from us (Americans). In the worst of circumstances, the immigrant has not been made American, but a materialist, and as a materialist twice-fold an isolated culture.
If you chart the Christian church's involvement (a very ambiguous group, I understand) in the political and social discussion over the last thirty years, you will see that it is unclear about the extent to which it should be involved in an immigrant population's life. The "church" has created, discussed, and debated the merits and demerits of various apologetical strategies and evangelical blueprints for reaching the nations all the while not effectively moving forward in an aggressively comprehensive fashion. It has not matched religious opposition world-view for world-view, realm for realm, idea for idea, life for life.
I want to suggest three ideas I have thought much about this past decade. I would like to provide an alternative framework for the evangelical opportunities that immediately lie around us. First of all, I suggest that the opposition to Christianity is no longer Cold War Atheism but the branding war of Polytheism. Secondly, I suggest that the "church" (in America at least) has increasingly become pantheistic in its analysis of the diversity problem. Thirdly, I suggest that popular evangelical strategies lack an intricate matrix to deal with the relevant problems of an increasingly diverse culture. I will use the Ten Commandments to frame my suggestions. Because the Commandments address normal aspects of culture (like property lines), and its imperatives are for all people, not just for the Christian. I will briefly relate each of the Commandments to the variant problems of diversity.
Ah, check out the next post for the first one.
Ah, check out the next post for the first one.