We live in a day of unprecedented global migration in general, and refugee displacement in particular. While it is naïve and myopic to think of the United States as the only nation that has had a significant amount of immigrants contribute to the vitality of its population, the US is indeed the most diverse country on the planet. By God’s kindness and mercy, immigration is making the country more evangelical as brothers and sisters in Christ relocate here from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. At the same time, the nominal faith or errant theology of many longstanding church attenders has been exposed by their capitulation to either cultural developments on the left or political developments on the right. A century before the US War for Independence, a cultural crisis in the New England colonies likewise exposed the false or seriously defective faith of church goers.
Between June, 1675 and August, 1676 the colonists of New England fought a coalition of Native Americans led by Metacom, or “King Philip.” Most Christian Indians tried to remain neutral, many even offered to help serve the colonists as scouts, but they were caught in a middle ground, as it were, distrusted and attacked by both Metacom’s forces and white settlers. They were eventually interred – over the winter – on an island in Boston harbor, supposedly for their own safe keeping. Congregationalist pastor John Eliot (1604-1690) and others who served the Christian Indians during Metacom’s War faced public intimidation and were victims of at least one attempt on their lives by other colonists. The calamity of Metacom’s War destroyed 10 of the 14 Christian Indian settlements, resulted in the death of half the Christian Indians, and saw the destruction or loss of most copies of the Algonquin Bible. Around 5,000 total Native Americans and 2,500 colonists lost their lives.
Two years later Eliot published The Harmony of the Gospels, in the Holy History of the Humiliation and Sufferings of Jesus Christ from his Incarnation to his Death and Burial (1678). The book was primarily intended to prepare readers for “felt fellowship” with Christ via their congregation’s taking of the Lord’s Supper. But Eliot also intended the book to comfort and assure Native American Christians that their experience of rejection and suffering did not undermine or negate the promises of God to them and all the gospel benefits of faith in Christ. Native Americans in general were now despised and marginalized by most colonists, even church goers who had begun to equate settler culture with Christianity and Native identity with heathendom. Eliot responded to this cultural crisis by arguing that Native Christians, though second class citizens in the colonies, despised and rejected by men and women of the white majority, were nonetheless beloved sons and daughters of God in Christ and equal citizens in God’s kingdom.
Not that Eliot was “spiritually” justifying the discrimination and violence perpetrated against the Christian Native Americans by settlers and their descendants. On the contrary, the book also functioned for white readers as a prophetic rebuke of social injustice even as Eliot pastorally framed unjust Native Christian suffering as “sanctified” by the holy sufferings of Christ himself, made “medicinal” for their souls, a “physick” for their growth in Christlikeness as those who were truly born again, Spirit dwelt, and praying to God. God was certainly at work among these persons of color, while his judgment was falling, and would fall, warned good pastor Eliot, on false professors of Christ who were full of pride, privilege, fear, and rage. By the 1670s and ’80 the majority of colonists weren’t even church members. Colonial pastors were preaching publicly against an obvious decline in religiosity. The promise of a Christian commonwealth, I believe, had already gone up in smoke.
As Christians, our citizenship is in heaven. Our allegiance to Jesus transcends all other identities, relativizes our commitments to earthly authorities and family members, and should transform our relationships with those significantly different from us. Our allegiance to Jesus should propel us toward risky advocacy and care for the marginalized and most vulnerable in our congregations, neighborhoods, the broader society, and our world at large. Some of us need to take intentional steps in changing our daily routines so that we rub shoulders, share a meal, and talk about our faith with persons who look and act very differently from those we’re much more familiar with and comfortable being around. We will, the Spirit helping us, undoubtedly learn something about cross-carrying and treasuring Christ by way of those interactions.
For most of my 23 years as a Christian I’ve been blessed, humbled, and enriched by cross-cultural friendships. My first Christian fellowship as a college student was primarily comprised of Asian-Americans. God has wonderfully started to diversify the student body of Bethlehem College & Seminary, especially through the new Alex Steddom Scholarship for international (seminary) students. Please pray with me and the rest of the faculty and administration that God makes our church and school even more reflective of the global body of Christ, more reflective of the diverse population of the United States, and more reflective of the wonderful ethnic demographics of the Twin Cities. A more colorful and culturally diverse student body, faculty, staff, and board of trustees will glorify Christ as Supreme Reconciler, attract more students, and yield a richer educational experience for all of us in the life-long journey together of growing in grace and the knowledge of God (Ephesians 3:14-4:16).
For God’s global glory in Christ and his church and the serious joy of his Spirit-dwelt omni-ethnic people in him,
Travis L. Myers
Assistant Professor of Church History and Mission Studies
- Pray that the Lord would give us eyes to see where we can be a blessing to others.
- Pray that all 250 Serious Joy Scholarships would be filled for the coming academic year.
- Pray for our students and faculty as they fall into the rhythms of a new school year.