Immigrants 'should be allowed to change churches'

By staff writers
April 25, 2007
Dr Samuel Kobia

The leader of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has urged churches in the UK and Ireland to increase their hospitality toward migrants, and allow themselves to be changed by immigration.

Global migration poses new challenges for churches worldwide, the WCC general secretary told the churches of Wales at the start of a trip to the UK and Ireland.

The phenomenon is the "human side" of globalization--especially for churches, Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia said in remarks to staff of Cytûn (Churches Together in Wales) and its Commission for Racial Equality today (Wednesday) in Cardiff.

"Welcoming the stranger is not optional for Christians. Nor is it conditional," Kobia stated. "Christ didn't call for Christians to welcome those strangers whose papers are in order or who speak our language." He urged churches to increase their capacity to practise hospitality in an era of new migrants and "new forms of migration".

"Unavoidably, the situation of migrants puts the question to each of us: Who is my neighbour?" he said. It challenges churches and Christians to share "the common life in Christ" in new ways.

Cytûn is related to Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, which is hosting the WCC visit from 24 April to 4 May.

Kobia said that churches, like societies, grapple with two choices after they receive migrants: assimilation or integration. "It is easier for a church to welcome migrants as long as they adapt to the traditions and policies established by the host church. This is assimilation," he noted. "Integration, on the other hand, implies a willingness to accept the contributions of migrants to change the church and to create something new. This is more difficult for many to accept."

Citing examples from Europe, the Pacific and the US, he said churches which seek to open themselves to people of different ethnic origins and cultural backgrounds often find the process to be more difficult than anticipated.

"In the process of mutual encounter and growing together, old wounds of history, racism and cultural differences must be addressed... Migrants bring with them different theological traditions, different liturgies and different music that can enrich churches - but may also divide them. [For example] Christian migrants from the South are sometimes more socially conservative and evangelical than the mainline churches in the North."

According to the WCC general secretary, churches have a responsibility to inform public opinion about the realities faced by migrants in their countries of origin: threats to life, poverty, environmental damage, lack of social services and health care.

"We should emphasise the fact that our response to migration is rooted in scripture and the social doctrine of the church," Kobia said. "Because everyone is made in the image of God, migration should challenge churches "to overcome every form of injustice, discrimination and contempt shown to other people".

The full text of Kobia's lecture on global migration and new ecclesial realities is available on the WCC website

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