Scholar explores the ways in which migration changes people’s attitudes, beliefs and religion – Baptist News Global



Over time, immigrants to new countries behave in new ways and embrace new ideas they wouldn’t have embodied if they had never left home, according to João Chaves, author of an upcoming book titled Migration religion: context and creativity in the Latin diaspora.

This cultural adaptation has important results for religious beliefs and behavior, Chaves said during a workshop at the 2021 General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Chaves is deputy director of programming at the Hispanic Theological Initiative, housed at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also co-director of the Baptist Scholars International Roundtable and a member of the Commission on Racial, Gender and Economic Justice of the Baptist World Alliance.

“When people move to new countries, something happens to them… they have to adjust to a whole new society,” he explained. “In this process of adaptation, they change a number of practices and beliefs without knowing it. … They are becoming radically different.

It’s not just a modern phenomenon, he said, citing historical figures from Baptist and Christian history to illustrate. These models included Irénée de Lyon, Bartolomé de las Casas, William Carey and Lottie Moon.

“This dynamic has been in the history of Christianity for a long time. Many Christian figures illustrate this, ”he said. “People are transformed by new social contexts and new cultures. “

The world to come

Understanding this reality will be important for American Christians to make sense of the world around them today and into the future, Chaves said, as the center of global Christianity is changing and the demographics of Christians changing. America is changing.

In 1900, he reports, 82% of the world’s Christians lived in North America and Europe. Today, only 32% of the world’s Christians live in these regions, while the greatest concentration lives in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

João Chaves

Additionally, by 2060, the United States is expected to be the only country not located in Latin America, Africa, or Asia among the top 10 most Christian nations.

On top of that, the changing center of race and ethnicity in the United States will further change Christian identity, he said, citing projections by demographers that by 2050, whites will not. Hispanics will make up 46% of the US population, up from 65%. in 2010. At the same time, Hispanics are expected to double attendance, from 16% to 30%.

Much of this growth will come from migration and the birth of children for those who have migrated.

A case study from Brazil

Using Southern Baptists and Brazil as a case study, Chavez said American Christians need to understand that Brazilians who come to the United States will think and behave differently from Brazilian Baptists who were significantly shaped by missionaries. Southern Baptists for over 100 years.

Research for his book led him to delve into data and interviews with leaders of Baptist congregations in Brazil and the United States. The Baptist presence in Brazil has been largely shaped by Southern Baptist missionaries since 1881. Although Brazilian Baptists have formed their own association, there is a significant overlap between it and the Southern Baptist Convention, Chavez reported.

But another story is emerging among Baptist congregations founded by Brazilians in the United States, he added. Although rooted in Baptist theology and culture, American churches are more likely to attract worshipers because they are Brazilian than because they are Baptists. This, combined with cultural adaptation, causes Brazilian churches based in the United States to act and think differently from Baptist churches in Brazil.

“It is easier for the Southern Baptist Convention to maintain its ideological grip on Baptists in Brazil” than for the SBC to have a grip on Brazilian Baptists in the United States, he said. In Brazil, the SBC and its allies influence seminars and publishing houses, as well as history.

Immigrant churches, Chavez said, “have prioritized ethnic identity over theology.”

But among Brazilian churches in the United States, there are many competing influences, not the least of which is the mixed origins of those people who join the church, he continued. “A Brazilian Baptist church here is called Baptist, but you can’t really be a Baptist because of the number of Brazilians coming in through the door. … Some are Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists. … The emphasis here is on ethnic identity, not on doctrinal commitment.

Immigrant churches, Chavez said, “have prioritized ethnic identity over theology.”

And coming back to his first point, he added, when Brazilian Baptists came to the United States, “the very experience of being an immigrant to the United States changed them.”

Justice, race and ethnicity

The result is that the Brazilian SBC and Baptist churches are further apart geographically but closer to each other ideologically, he said, while Brazilians living in the United States are geographically closer. from the SBC’s center of influence but more distant ideologically.

This manifests itself in issues of justice, race and ethnicity, Chavez said.

For example, one of the ways that the language of conservative evangelical culture in America does not connect with Brazilians, he said, is to speak of “law and order” as a mark of Christianity. and the need to be a “law-abiding citizen. . “For residents of countries where the laws are often unfair – as well as for immigrants from those countries to America – this doesn’t connect. From their life experience, being a Christian sometimes means not being a citizen.” respectful of the laws ”.

Brazilians also know that their country continued to allow slavery 23 years after it was made illegal in the United States and that 10,000 to 20,000 Confederates from the southern United States moved to Brazil in an attempt to continue their slave-holding practices.

And, he said, they note that “some Americans take pride in being law-abiding citizens in a nation that the other day thought killing black bodies on the streets was okay.” Brazilians also know that their country continued to allow slavery 23 years after it was made illegal in the United States and that 10,000 to 20,000 Confederates from the southern United States moved to Brazil in an attempt to continue their slave-holding practices.

“It is good theological practice not to defend ‘legality’ without a strong qualification” of what you mean by that, said Chavez.

Another illustration of the cultural differences between Baptists from Brazil and Brazilians coming to America is how they treat the large number of Brazilians (estimated at 70%) who live undocumented in the United States. In the book, Chavez tells the story of a Baptist. The pastor who came to the United States from Brazil and arriving at the church he was to serve found a large number of undocumented migrants. His reaction was to call the US Immigration Service to ask what to do.

During the question-and-answer session moderated by Elket Rodriguez of Fellowship Southwest and CBF, a participant asked Chavez about the vulnerability of Portuguese-speaking immigrants compared to Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Chavez noted that there is a lot of overlap between the two groups and that many immigrant churches in the United States include Portuguese and Spanish speakers as well as English speakers. “There are a lot of arrangements,” he says.

However, one finding of his research is that Brazilians often “distance themselves from the Hispanic and Latinx label because they want to capitalize on American romantic notions of Brazilian identity.”

“What happens to Brazilians here is sometimes in a strategy of acceptance in an extremely racist society, they become racist. Capitalizing on white American conceptions of what a Brazilian is manifests itself in a kind of inter-Latinx racism. Being Brazilian in the United States is not seen as a negative thing, although being considered Hispanic often is. “

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