Globalization, Migration, and Transformation

Jehu-Hanciles-640x500-72dpiby Jehu J. Hanciles

Christianity is the most migratory of religions, and there is a strong argument to be made that the tide of South-North migrations has a greater implication for Christianity than any other world religion. For one thing, South-North migrations are significantly shaped by colonial linkages, and not only did those same colonial powers (Japan excepted) claim to be Christian, but colonial expanion was intimately related to the Western missionary project. In any case, the fact that the southward shift in global Christianity’s center of gravity coincides with this epochal reversal in the direction and flow of global migrations is of historic consequence. It is fairly
obvious that every missionary is a migrant in some sense; but I will also argue that every Christian migrant is a potential missionary. . . .

America has been the chief Western missionary-sending nation (in sheer numbers) since the Second World War. Thus, its transformation into a missionary-receiving nation by virtue of immigration makes for intriguing analysis. I take the view that massive nonwhite post-1965 immigration will potentially have a greater and more lasting impact on America’s religious life and heritage than any previous wave (with the possible exception of the first wave from Western Europe). Already, the new immigrants have transformed America into the most religiously diverse nation on the planet. Less well known is the fact that the majority of the new immigrants (at least 60 percent according to one survey) are Christians (from Africa, Asia, and Latin America) who are expressing their Christianity in languages, customs, forms of spirituality, and community formation that are almost as foreign to Americans as other religions. The new immigrant Christian communities are effectively “de-Europeanizing” American Christianity. . . .

To date, Western missiological thinking has paid negligible attention to international migrations, even though human migrations have played a critical role in the expansion of the Christian faith from its very inception. If the discipline (of mission history, at least) has got away with it so far, it is only because the Western missionary project has been identified so extensively with the visible structures of economic and political dominance. But no other dimension of contemporary experience captures more fully the magnitude, momentum, and motivations of this emerging non-Western missionary movement than migration.

This excerpt, used with permission, is from Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West (Orbis Books, 2008). Hanciles served as School of Intercultural Studies associate professor of the history of Christianity and globalization, and director of the Center for Missiological Research (CMR) from 2009 until 2012. He is now the D. W. Ruth Brooks Associate Professor of World Christianity at Candler School of Theology (Emory University).

This article was published in Theology, News & Notes, Fall 2011, “Where In the World Are We? Reflections on Fuller’s Expanding Global Reach.”