Refugees, Resistance, and the Next Christianities

by Rafael Vallejo Ph.D

When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it, they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.
– 1 Chron 16:19-22

We now summarize the last six blogs around Refugees and Resistance: Enacting God’s Mission in Liminal Spaces (Vallejo, 2020). In Blog 1, we began by defining our use of the word “refugee,” explained how it became a legal construct in modernity and how it is connected with the historiography of the Christian movement.

In Blog 2, we argued that seeking refuge is a fundamental right that comes with being human. While there are international conventions in place to protect these rights, nation-states have also found ways to work around them. As nation-states were being constructed through wars of conquest, borders and laws to protect territorial borders were also created.

Seeking refuge is a recurrent trope in biblical literature along with displacement, deportation/exile, and diaspora. We pointed to how corporate globalization driven by neo-liberal values led to the imbalance that produces today’s refugees. Nation-states create border regimes to protect and preserve these conditions of inequality and racism.

In Blog 3, we did a quick survey of the different ways of understanding “mission” going as far back as the first ecclesial communities in the Levant. From there we saw how the Western Christian tradition conceived of mission through the centuries from Constantine, Colonialism, the Enlightenment, and then Postmodernity. M.W.Stroope (2020) in Transcending Mission: The Eclipse of a Modern Tradition argues that the language of mission is a modern construction unsupported by the Bible and pre-modern literature.

Mission as “resistance and struggle” (WCC Busan, 2014) situates mission within the context of relations of power. It re-describes the world as dominated by Empire. (Accra Confession, 2004) The call to subvert systems of domination has biblical roots.

In Blog 4 we proposed that liminality (Van Gennep,1909) is a helpful construct for understanding the lived experience of refugees. Refugees’ resistance is bound up with place and communitas. (Turner, 1969) It is in liminal spaces that refugees as “liminars” perform the Mission of God. Our understanding of mission will not be complete without listening to the narrative that is playing out in these spaces.

In Blog 5, we showed how refugees who are denied citizenship continue to practice everyday resistance (Scott, 1985) that confront relations of power inscribed in liminal spaces where they are reduced to “bare life” (Agamben, 1998). We narrated stories drawn from the experiences of Palestinians, Saharawis, and Rohingyas to describe how resistance looks like on the ground.

In Blog 6, we introduced a genre called Resistance Literature (Harlow, 1987). It speaks to the resistance of people for personal and national liberation. We asked whether Biblical literature given the history of its construction fits the category of resistance literature. We referenced Jewish apocalyptic literature as a site of political struggle (Portier-Young, 2011) where resistance was theorized, enacted and mobilized.

And now in Blog 7 we conclude by speaking to the phenomenon of Refugees, Resistance and the next Christianities. Where does it go from here? If everything is in God and God reveals the divine mystery in events as they unfold in history, what are we hearing and seeing from the experiences of refugees worldwide?

My hope is that the capitalist logic that gave birth to our modern understandings of borders gives way to an older/newer understanding that the land does not belong to us, but we all belong to the land. The exclusivist concept of nation-states based on clearly demarcated borders securitized by surveillance and other forms of control will become a thing of the past. Colonial practices will be dismantled along with the settler mindsets that are at the root of border regimes. Refugees are present and are no longer elided in our conversations around God, Church, and Mission.

What emerges for me is a picture of the next christianities where people from former colonies are migrating to the land of their former missioners carrying with them new understandings of God, Gospel, and Christian tradition. They will speak out of the conviction that human worth based solely on citizenship is not the Way of Jesus. They will dissolve the idea of church as the sole depository of truth and salvation and will abandon the fixity of one scripture and one religion as superior to all others.

Refugees will prefigure societies based on religious values, inviting local communities to lead the change in creating new zones of inclusion and rebuilding the commons. Freedom of movement, the freedom to stay, move, and return becomes the norm in the governance of migration. The subjugated knowledge of refugees become the places where we look for ways to move society forward in non-violent ways and make other worlds possible.

We have come a long way from the “sending model” of mission and the Western Christendom worldview. Covid-19 introduced a new reality that challenged many of our cherished assumptions around mission, missions, and missional. It has shown us a way forward to faithful witness in our life and experience as church.

When the time comes that we all see the face of God in our refugee sisters and brothers, perhaps then the world will become a place where God’s laughter can be heard all over again!

Rafael Vallejo started his theological career at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and San Francisco Theological Seminary and from there continued on with a Master in Theological Studies from the University of Waterloo and a Master of Divinity at the University of Toronto. From 2011-2016, he travelled extensively and studied with indigenous communities in Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina as part of his PhD dissertation (2018) on “Faith Perspectives of Mexican Migrant Farm Workers in Canada”. He serves as affiliate faculty at the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion at the University of Notre Dame.

Rafael is also part of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and his pieces focus on the experience of refugees and mission.