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Some Theological and Psychological Perspectives on Constructing the Inclusive Christian Identity
Gerrit Noort and Mark C. Noort
This article addresses xenophobic attitudes and the construction of the inclusive Christian identity. The perspectives provided contribute to the exploration of the 2013 World Council of Churches (WCC) Tenth Assembly's theme: "God of Life, lead us to justice and peace". Embracing the "other" in our own identity creates a space for just and peaceful action, both in an ecumenical and social perspective.
We approach our discussion of xenophobic attitudes and "othering" from a psychological and theological perspective. This approach concerns intervention strategies that aim for inclusion and recognition of the fact that the "other" can contribute equally. As xenophobia and "othering" derive from a negative image of immigrants, in this article we will argue that xenophobia could be best understood and reduced by taking into account a "social representations" perspective.1 The concluding paragraph seeks to integrate proposed psychological intervention strategies with theologies of migration.
Seeing and Excluding the "Other"
Over the last decades globalization and migration have brought many previously separate cultures into contact with each other. By now "the other" person, with a different cultural background from ours, often lives in close proximity within the same town or neighbourhood. Ibn Noor, for instance, was born in Syria and migrated to The Netherlands about 12 years ago. He was raised a Muslim, but became a Christian while living in his country of origin. Now he worships in an Arab-speaking evangelical church in The Netherlands, as he is not over enthusiastic about the reception he received in native Dutch-speaking churches. They "could grow in hospitality", he says, "for we are brothers and sisters and that is how we may treat each other". He continues, "The Dutch keep their distance and they actually don't have the guts to eat food that is unfamiliar to them".2 His experience of being seen but not included is shared by many other migrant Christians, such as Gnimdou, a young man who immigrated to The Netherlands in 2006. Being a Protestant Christian born in Togo 33 years ago, he attended Dutch-speaking Protestant worship and services, but felt that, as an outsider, he was hardly noticed.3
In The Netherlands there are approximately 3.5 million first — and second-generation immigrants, accounting for a total population of 17 million people.4 But while the possibility of contact with immigrants has increased, there has also been a sharp increase in xenophobia in The Netherlands, a fact seized upon by the newly emerged populist and far-right-wing political parties, such as Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), Trots op Nederland (Proud of The Netherlands; ToN), or Geert Wilders's Partij Voor de Vrijheid (Freedom Party; PVV), each promoting a strong Dutch identity while labelling immigration as a threat to the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
In this light, a significant programme of research was conducted in The Netherlands in 2012. A group of nine first-generation Christians of non-Western ethnic origin, (from the Yemen, Syria, Iran, Rwanda, Togo, Ghana, and Angola), including Ibn Noor and Gnimdou attended services at "native" Dutch-speaking Protestant churches in order to discover how they would be received and whether or not they would be noticed. All the congregations they visited were, according to their mission statements, intentionally hospitable and inclusive, and some even arranged special teams to welcome newcomers. Yet the young men and women of the research group had various experiences, ranging from very good and uplifting to embarrassing and discouraging. The surprised non-verbal responses to the unexpected visit of non-Western Christians were not experienced as negative in themselves, but sometimes disapproving facial expressions (cf. Frantz Fanon's "gaze"5) were experienced as a painful form of exclusion6 and seemed potentially xenophobic. The superficial nature of conversation with the visitors — if started at all — evoked additional painful moments for the immigrant Christians. The conversation often came to an end after questions concerning the guest's country of origin were answered. Nevertheless, some congregations went to great lengths to provide translations for the visitors.7 This was highly valued as a hospitable expression of truly welcoming new ("foreign") people into the congregation and being inclusive.8
The research group, which included two native Dutch theology students without previous
contact with immigrants, set out to discover how native Dutch Protestant congregations can develop a truly hospitable attitude towards migrants. Posing as the "other", the immigrant Christians found out that a friendly initial contact is only an important first step: overcoming "othering" demands much more. It demands a change in lifestyle: first, to "create a place in your heart for the stranger"9 and second, to learn to acquire an inclusive mind-set. However, xenophobia — the prejudiced fear of the unfamiliar "other" — hinders creating this space, in spite of the scriptural love-thy-neighbour guidelines that Christians embrace. Moreover, due to this fear, constructive dialogue between Dutch people and immigrants in society is prevented.
We tend to identify with other people in different ways. We identify with some people because they share our convictions or ethnicity, such as relatives or church members. We identify less with some, for instance, because they have migrated from distant places, adhere to other religious convictions, or speak other languages. All these basic facts form a person's social identity.
The "other" disturbs me
We are separated from the "other" by many boundaries, real and imaginary. In social reality, however, there is only a vague distinction between the two.10 Overcoming boundaries, through encountering the "other", implies that individuals have to renegotiate their own position within a changed context. This can be a deeply disturbing process because, dialogical contact with the out-group worldview will challenge "one's own sacred" values and can result in uncertainty, anxiety, distrust, and dislike. Salient differences, such as cultural or religious convictions may be discovered, and possibly lead to the construction of "otherness". Discovering and highlighting difference as such is not destructive to maintaining inclusive relationships, whereas constructing "otherness" is. It creates "asymmetrical power relationships", leaving the vulnerable "other" exposed to control, manipulation and exploitation.11 For instance "otherness" assumes that immigration, with or without legal documents, constitutes a potential "major threat to our cultural and political integrity".12 It submits that Islam is a threat to our Dutch way of living and that Christian immigrants who want to rent our well-maintained church facilities don't know how to take care of them in a "proper" (conform to cultural norms) manner.
"Othering" is a strategy to create distance in order to protect personal values and convictions and to exclude the unfamiliar. "Exactly at the moment that Muslims become good Europeans, Wilders says that Islam cannot reform itself and therefore is not part of Europe", writes Rabbi Elisa Klapheck from Frankfurt (Germany). She observed a Dutch identity crisis, stemming from the immigration of East Europeans, Europe, and the Euro. "It is nice to ventilate our insecurity and direct it against another group".13
We label those who belong to a group different from our own as the (out-group), "the others", and erect boundaries to mark our own social identity, while often blaming the unfamiliar "other" for threats to our values and very existence.14 Our unawareness of what lies behind these identity marking boundaries, stated sociologists Z. Bauman and T. May, leads to misinterpretation and fallacious categorization.15 We assume we know what lies beyond the boundaries, but we fail to recognize that what lies beyond can contribute to our existence. We set the other/s apart in order to maintain our own way of life and thinking, intentionally or unintentionally, creating apartheid in this process of labelling the other.
The "other" defines me
Being different from the "other" defines our uniqueness, our personal and social identity. But it is in the social relation that the "other" defines me, and "I" define the "other". By recognizing difference and setting boundaries we construct both the identity of the other and of ourselves. How we perceive ourselves and the "other" is not unrelated. The way I see myself, postulated S. Reicher, defines the way I see others.16 We understand ourselves and act on the basis of a given set of beliefs, norms, and values related to our constructed identity, and expect a different set of values and forms of behaviour of others. This sets us apart from them, both personally and culturally, and makes us into different groups. Once recognizing difference changes into labelling the "other" as an actual threat, thus declaring social identity a sacred unchangeable
entity, then such a construed identity and set boundaries become detrimental to relationships because of their potential xenophobic and divisive character. Tendencies like these can be identified in the discourse on Islam in the West in the way radical fundamentalist believers perceive secular neighbours and in the way native populations view the influx of immigrants.
K. Creutz-Kämppi argues that creating "otherness", by fostering polarization, is a strategic choice to strengthen boundaries between the "other" and us. "Otherness", she continues, emphasizes what differentiates instead of what connects, and in doing so it reduces the possibility of embracing the "other" and acting inclusively.17 She then sets out to describe how, in conversations on Islam in the West, the use of terminology and rhetorical choices in news reports contributed significantly to the construction of the "otherness" of Muslims, while at the same time strengthening the identity of the in-group. Media representations created an out-group, by using polemic language such as "the war on terrorism" and "Muslims have a natural leaning towards violence", while on the other hand appealing to Europe as the common denominator of the in-group.18
The social representations of Islam, of the Muslim "other", come to reinforce preconceptions. When there is only superficial, non-dialogical contact with the "other", news and information will be interpreted through the filter of these preconceptions and threatening stereotypes. Similarly radicalized religious fundamentalists may perceive the secular non-believer as a threat to their identity and tradition and construct a strict belief system that prevents inclusion of the (religiously) "other". "Otherness" is constructed by emphasizing that the non-believer is a "heathen", leading a "sinful life" and therefore "not redeemed" (common perception in colonial Christian mission). The "other" is perceived as misunderstanding reality, having weak ethics and no purpose in life.19 The in-group identity however is constructed by stressing divine election, a shared and unique calling of the believers to represent the will and word of the divine being in the world, and by claiming to have received the divine revelation and therefore the absolute truth.
Non-Western immigrants, who move to a Western country, feel the effects of xenophobic identity construction as they experience reactions that lead to reduced access to employment, education, health care, and legal services. Recent newspaper articles in The Netherlands submit that reduced access to jobs applies not only to first-generation non-Western immigrants, but also to the well-educated second generation. Young immigrants experience that their mere (foreign) name leads to rejection and exclusion from job interviews.20 Moreover, the high unemployment rate of migrants may strengthen stereotypes of migrants as lazy people who happily rely on the Dutch social welfare system.21
"Othering" in the Dutch Context
The political arena
The Dutch have a long-standing tradition of tolerance and providing a safe haven for refugees. Many reformed Huguenots fled to The Netherlands at the end of the 17th century, as well as Sephardim Jews to escape the 16th-century Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. A century later many Jews sought shelter in The Netherlands from repression during the Religious Wars in Germany. In this perspective it is rather surprising that nowadays The Nether¬lands is struggling to provide space for the new "authorized" and "illegal" migrants within their borders. In the past decade xenophobic tendencies have increased in response to the impact of migration.
In the year 2000, the multicultural policy of the "purple cabinets" (1994 - 2002)22 sparked a public debate.23 The feeling of many, including representatives of the Partij van de Arbeid (Labour Party; PvdA), was that the immigration policy at that time had led to a "multicultural drama". The political climate of multiculturalistic tolerance — accord¬ing to J. Habermas the mutual concession that the other has the right to choose convictions and practices that they themselves reject24 — in reality increased social inequality and the sense of alienation in society. Apparently the "tolerance of otherness does not come easily".2S Widespread was the feeling that being tolerant was but a poor excuse for shying away from correcting un-Dutch cultural practices, such as wearing a burqa and the refusal of some imams to shake hands with women. The much-lauded Dutch tolerance, many claimed, had led to blindness to the fact that in society a spontaneous apartheid and segregation had emerged between certain immigrant groups and the native population. In the following years this growing trend against toler¬ance and multiculturalism became more pronounced in the anti-Islam stance of politician Pim Fortuyn and the movie producer Theo van Gogh. Fortuyn argued that the more frequent contact with Muslims increased the threat of losing original Dutch culture and that therefore clear boundaries were needed.26
With 9/11 still fresh in mind, following the murders of Fortuyn (killed in 2002 by a "native" left-wing secular extremist) and van Gogh (killed in 2004 by a Dutch-Moroccan extremist Muslim), xenophobic attitudes against Muslims were more blatantly stated in the media. A Dutch Minister's speech after the murder of van Gogh,
for instance, made a clear distinction between the Dutch native population and threatening Muslim fundamentalists.27 Anti-Muslim xenophobia became especially prominent, because both 9/11 and the murder of Theo van Gogh were carried out by Muslims. Migration, authorized or illegal, was now increasingly linked to potential Islamic terrorists. This had a decisive impact on the attitude towards all migrants, irrespective of
religious conviction and country of origin. In the following years, ToN and Wilders's PVV entered the political arena, expressing a strong anti-Muslim senti¬ment. Today, while the Constituencies of LPF and ToN have virtually evaporated and the parties as such have ceased to exist, PVV succeeded in drawing in far-right-wing voters and emerged as the third biggest party in Parliament. Since the elections of October 2010, it has exercised its newly gained power by condoning and supporting the minority Government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal Party. PVV's political power, as well as its weakness, became evident in April 2012 when it suddenly withdrew its support of the Government during Budget negotiations, which led to the immediate fall of the Cabinet.
The ecclesial landscape
Churches in The Netherlands have experienced a period of transition as well. In the United Protestant Church of The Netherlands, remnants of the old "folk church" are still visible, both in thought and matter, but policies to implement new flexible mecha¬nisms are being developed in view of the rapidly declining church membership and a related decrease in financial means. Unused church buildings are being sold off and the money obtained used to ensure the continuity of the local congregations and to stimulate local missionary work.
In this ecclesial context of shrinking resources yet emerging mission opportunities the "old" native churches encounter "others". Renewed missionary efforts in the local context result in encounters between the native Christians and newcomers of both religious and secular conviction.28 Over the past ten years, in direct response to changes in demog¬raphy and negative attitudes towards immigrants, a number of international churches, such as the International Christian Fellowship in the small town of Gouda, have started. These communities are intentionally intercultural and inclusive in terms of leadership, preaching, worship, and community service. The number of mono-ethnic migrant-led churches however is far bigger. Many of these migrant churches rent facilities from the native churches for their meetings. A few, like the Congolese Eglise de la Haye, acquired an unused urban church building from the Protestant Church. Sadly, "othering" and the financial burden of the mortgage had a direct impact on the church members. Due to the rise of xenophobic attitudes in The Netherlands a large percentage of the Congolese church members, who preferred to raise their children in a more hospitable social-political climate, migrated again.
"Othering" from a Psychological Perspective
Xenophobia in psychological discourse
The "Social Representations Theory" aims to understand xenophobia and "othering" by focusing on historical and cultural processes in the creation of symbolic meaning: such as Muslims attach to objects like burkas.29 In its most basic form, a representation is the communication or action between subjects regarding an object.30 This communication or action exists over time and in context (eg., Islam in the post-9/11 Netherlands) and will be transformed and diffused in society.31 Members of groups who share a set of ideas, beliefs, and related practices and identities — social representations — stand in a dialectical relationship with their environment, forming the "other" over time, as well as being transformed by the "other".32
The "Social Representations Theory" holds that the self and the other are less clearly separable than is often supposed in popular thought.33 To re-emphasize: the other defines us as much as we define the "other". Within an intergroup context, such as the multi-ethnic Dutch society, this means that social representations — e.g., regarding Turkish Muslims having double citizenship34 — can be "formed in relation to other communities in order to resist or dominate" them.35 In this sense, social representations are by no means neutral, but are intrinsically evaluative and legitimizing systems of our own and the other's identity.36
In a social representations perspective the rise of Dutch xenophobia was the result of communication between natives, over a longer period of time, who came to understand and make sense of the immigrant community as "other". During this identity construction process, and the diffusion of its result in society, the "other" was evaluated and the constructed identities of the in-group (Dutch speaking natives) and the out-group (Muslim immigrants) were legitimized. Over time the said communication concerning the "other" gradually evolved into "othering", in order to reclaim a sense of proud native Dutch collectiveness or to dominate the immigrant community as object.
An alternate route to construct social representation is to involve the "other" more equally and reciprocally and to prevent as far as possible the construction process being limited to the in-group. In most research, however, xenophobia is not studied within a social representations paradigm, but, as will be shown below, within psychological frameworks like the contact hypothesis, social identity theory, and inte¬grated threat theory.37
Xenophobia and psychological intervention strategies
American psychologist G.W. Allport, credited with the development of the contact hypothesis (also known as intergroup contact theory),38 made a classic distinction between casual and acquaintance contacts between groups. He found that creating space for casual (superficial) contact between natives and immigrants leads to an increase in prejudice, while on the other hand fostering positive opportunities to become acquainted leads to a decrease. Negative stereotypes and anxiety are reduced through better knowledge of the "other" and through perspective-taking (perceiving physi¬cal, social, or emotional situations from a point of view other than one's own).39
A recent meta-analysis by T.F. Pettigrew and L.R. Tropp40 confirmed that positive acquaintance-contact reduces xenophobia, breeds liking, whereas casual contact does not.41 When society provides structures for acquaintance-contact, xenophobia decreases even more. The increasing number of immigrants in The Netherlands might, therefore, according to the contact hypothesis, lead to xenophobia only when acquainted analogical relationships do not develop and the relationships stay casual and non-dialogical.
The contact hypothesis may explain the role of "intergroup contact" in the increase and decrease of xenophobia, but it still leaves us with a problem, because it does not take into account the motives people have for evaluating out-group members. The motives are addressed by the Social Identity Theory,42 which states that people's group membership is part of their self-concept. People strive to maintain a positive sense of their social identity by comparing themselves favourably with other groups. And if necessary and possible, they will change group, or their perception of group/s, to achieve this. This implies that fear of the immigrant is a result of strategies of the native population to achieve and maintain a positive social identity. Indeed, strong identification with the Dutch culture leads to a higher perceived symbolic threat from immigrants (threat to a way of life; different values, norms and beliefs), and thus to a more prejudiced attitude.43
The Integrated Threat Theory provides a theoretical framework for yet another aspect: one that combines the effects of contact and one's social identity with the endorsement of multiculturalism by natives.44 In short, and applied to Dutch xenophobia, this theory states that prejudiced xenophobia is caused by a perceived symbolic threat from Muslims and having negative stereotypes about them. Negative stereotypes are reduced in two ways: intergroup contact between native Dutch and immigrant Muslims, and the endorsement of multiculturalism by natives. The symbolic threat is heightened by, on the one hand, identifying as Dutch and, on the other by globalization that "dilutes" this identity.45 The threat is reduced, however, by endorsing multiculturalism.
The intervention strategy proposed by the Integrated Threat Theory — friendship creating intergroup contact and endorsing multiculturalism as ways to reduce xenophobia — may sound attractive, but it still lacks some important elements which the Social Representa¬tions Theory takes up. The former fails to see that social representations are co-constructed and transformed when people encounter representations of others.46 People can have mul¬tiple contradictory representations of objects and self at the same time.47 Moreover, as mentioned above, the distinction between the individual and the social is not as clear-cut as is often presumed.48 This means that xenophobia can only exist as a result of mutual communication and therefore as a social construct.
What it is crucial to note is that the Integrated Threat Theory only takes into account one-sided perspectives, wrongly implying that the analysis of structural aspects of intergroup behaviour depends only on either native Dutch or migrants.49 The social representations perspective provides a way to take into account the immigrants' intentions as well and their transformative power as "other". The native's reasons for xenophobia may lie in a will to dominate or the determination to reclaim a sense of collectiveness,50 whereas the immigrants have complementary or contrasting motives. The Integrated Threat Theory fails to take a dialectical stance, whereas the Social Representations Theory does.51 Xenophobic representations of the native population influence the immigrants' behaviour (e.g., withdrawal, adaptation, or resistance), which in turn alter the representations once again. Furthermore, the social representations perspective shows that the difference between casual and acquaintance-contacts is how representations about immigrants are formed: with immigrants as inclusive "other" (dialogical) or as exclusive object (non-dialogical).52 We should therefore take into account: that xenophobia is a social construct, give equal value to the transformative power of immigrants, recognize the dialectical nature of xenophobic representations, and acknowledge the different ways immigrants can be involved in representing.
A prime example of a Dutch institution taking into account the immigrant's perspective is RADAR (Rotterdam Anti-Discrimination Action Council).53 It provides structured programmes to fight the creation and effects of xenophobic representations in society by educating children and supporting the local cooperation of natives and immigrants as well as of ethnically different groups of immigrants. RADAR registers complaints about discrimination and exclusion and intervenes by arranging for dialogical contact between victims and offenders. Similarly, the project, "Welcome in Rotterdam", started in 2005, facilitates dialogical contact between citizens of different ethnicities and creates conditions for more social cohesion by providing knowledge of the other's culture and stimulating interest. A recent report on this project concluded that facilitating structured meetings between the native and immigrant population resulted in more nuance in constructed social representations and reduced stereotyping. It also appealed for double integration, in which native and immigrant contribute equally to participatory citizenship.54
Creating superordinate identity through dialogue
Every anti-xenophobia policy should therefore focus on dialogical contacts to stimulate positive ideas about other groups. Symbolically threatening representations resulting from cultural differences — certain Muslims being responsible for 9/11 and the murder of van Gogh — are in such instances reconstructed positively in dialogue between natives and Muslims as "other" instead of object. Dialogue gives them a more equal transformative power and promotes good forms of future intergroup behaviour. One positive effect of dialogical contact with Muslims as "other" is to re-present them as equal members of Dutch society. That is, having a superordinate overarching identity as Dutch citizens reduces intergroup bias and prejudice.55
However, a large percentage of the far-right-wing voters live in the Dutch province of Limburg, where relatively few Muslims reside.56 So in that location, dialogical contact is not likely to happen spontaneously and institutions enforcing dialogical contact are necessary.
In summary, based on the integration of the Integrated Threat Theory with the Social Representations Theory, we suggest that policies aimed at reducing xenophobia in society and churches should focus on three main strategies: 1) creating institutions enforcing and preserving dialogical contact based on equal potential and status to promote representations built on mutual understanding and familiarity with the immigrant's and native's respective cultures; 2) reducing globalization's diluting effects on identity by creating a positive superordinate over-arching identity including natives and migrants; and 3) promoting multiculturalism (native's perspective) and integration (immigrants' perspective). But first and foremost, underlying these strategies is the proposition that to fight xenophobia, immigrants should not be regarded as an excluded object, but as an equally contributing included "other" in the dialogical construction of social representations.
"Othering" from a Theological Perspective
The "other" needs salvation
For centuries, The Netherlands was labelled a Christian country, being strongly influenced by Calvin's teaching and reformed ethics. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the non-reformed "others" were tolerated, as long as they were not too visible. In consequence, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Arminians, and Mennonites constructed "hidden churches", buildings that could not be identified as a church from the outside. The "popish mass" was considered an "accursed idolatry",57 effectively making a Roman Catholic "other" an idolator and heretic. At best they were called "baptized heathens" in peril of eternal rejection by God and therefore in dire need of evangelization by reformed missionaries.58 "Others" from Africa and Asia, ethnically different, were identified as "blind heathens".
In post-Enlightenment theology and Christian faith, we may stress biblical references to the "other" as the one who deserves protection and provision. On the one hand, there is the key ethical mandate to love the alien in the pentateuchal and prophetic writings. Love the alien as thyself and treat him as native-born (Lev 19:34). The prophets make abundantly clear that not heeding this inclusive guideline will bring a curse upon the trespassers. Their house shall become a "desolation", a ruin (Jer 22:3,5). This inclusive line culminates in the story of Ruth, the Moabite woman, who married Boaz and was included in the Davidic lineage (Ruth 4:15-22).
Yet there are some disconcerting aspects about the stranger in biblical writings as well. S. Snyder refers to contrasting passages in Scripture using such terms as the "ecology of fear" and the "ecology of faith".59 Whereas Leviticus 19 provides an inclusive ethical framework for the encounter with the "other", Chapter 25 sets limits to freedom and distinguishes between "natives" and people from "the nations round about you". The "other" can be enslaved, whereas the native-born cannot (Lev 25:44). This distinction implies that the "other" is excluded from the right to live in freedom.
Probably most disturbing is the framing of the "other" in the accounts of the land conquest and the period of Exile. When Joshua captured the city of Jericho, "every living thing" had to be destroyed (Josh 6:17, 21; cf. Deut 7:1-4). Ezra sets clear guidelines about the separation from foreign wives and their children. They are framed as the cause of contamination and impurity and therefore were to be sent away (Ezra 10:3,14). This process of "othering" was motivated not only religiously, but also ethno-linguistically. Nehemia mentions that half of the children of ethnically mixed marriages "could not speak the language of Judah" (Neh 13:24). The native-born, the "men of Judah", were rebuked, cursed, and beaten because of their inter-ethnic marriages. What happened to the "others", born on foreign soil, is not alluded to.
The "other" saves me
L.N. Rivera-Pagán submits that the New Testament writings show an inclusive Christological perspective that provides xenophilia (love for the stranger, hospitality) as the key ethical mandate.60 "Love the alien" is widened to "love thy neighbour". Jesus included the foreign Samaritan woman (Jn 4:7-30) as well as powerless "others", for instance those who were hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, and sick. The nations are judged in accordance to the way they encountered and dialogued with the marginalized and powerless "other". Breaking down existing boundaries, Jesus identified inclusion as a dual redemptive action, not only in terms of saving the "other", but also in terms of the "other" who saves me. In the "other" we encounter Christ, the divine stranger (Mt 25:43) and ultimate "other". In the Christological perspective, the constructed wall (boundaries) that divides alien and citizen is broken down, as Christ's peace was brought to believers far ("others", Gentiles) or near (Jews). Through the gift of the Spirit, we have become "fellow citizens" (Eph 2:17-19).
Integrating Perspectives from the Social Representations Theory and Theology of Migration
What then are the implications of a social representations perspective for a theology of migration and the ecumenical life of the congregations? Can the approaches be integrated? The psychological theories discussed above make clear that dialogical (not casual) intergroup contact reduces prejudice, that creating and maintaining space for dialectical contact in which the other contributes equally leads to a more positive representation of symbolic meaning, and that the construction of a superordinate over-arching identity is effective in reducing xenophobia.
The Churches, though being visibly divided and equally guilty of exclusion, have powerful resources that can be made available for the reduction of xenophobia and the construction of a superordinate identity. The ecumenical movement, based on the premise that Christ's Church is one, recognizes that the "interrelated diversity" of the Christian communities is "essential to its wholeness".61 It developed mechanisms that foster unity and understanding in the multicultural and multi-ethnic context of confessional and denominational diversity, while recognizing different formulations of the faith, different charismata and ministries, as legitimate expressions of the Gospel.62 It builds on the recognition that Christians journey together in conversation and common action, that the "other" contributes equally, and that "apart from the other we are impoverished".63 There is "not a lord or a master, but a brother and a friend", as V.S. Azariah stated at the 1910 World Mission Conference in Edinburgh, speaking about the much-needed cooperation between foreign and native workers in mission.64
Ecumenical theology builds on the premise that Christian identity can transform and be transformed, as it is shaped in a tri-angular relation of the Creator, the self, and the created other. It recognizes that a just and peaceful society needs the equal contribution of all its members in order to deal with diversity and conflict.65
The theological discourse on migration presupposes that cultural and ethnic diversity is a fact of human existence and that Christian communal life and its mission is migration-shaped.66 In conversations on multi-ethnic communities, the kinship of all sojourners is stressed. It takes the perspective of the Visio Dei, in which human beings are restored to the image of God through his intervening Word.67 This redemptive action involves marking a new identity by the construction (creation) of a new kingdom-community, a new kinship and social identity that goes beyond national or ethnic boundaries and that lives by the economy of reconciled diversity. This is a new eschatological and Eucharistic community, journeying with the nations to the heavenly Jerusalem for the Messianic banquet (Is 2:2; 25:6).
In the context of multicultural and multireligious New Testament times, the Apostles, not accidentally, stressed the creation of a new individual and social identity in Christ: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal 3:27), that superseded citizenship and ethnicity. Multi-ethnic Christian communities to that effect are laboratories of identity construction that intentionally and dialogically strengthen reconciliation and social cohesion. As such they have great relevance for societies in social transition.
These aims of ecumenical and migration theology coincide with perspectives provided by the Integrated Threat Theory and the Social Representations Theory. The dialectical discourses on unity and diversity, on inclusive re-imagination of church and community, serve as strategies to influence social representations of the "other" in a positive way, as one who is recognized as a fellow human being (equally image of God), fellow believer (equally part of the body), fellow pilgrim (equally seeking the face of God), and even next of kin. It serves to create a superordinate identity, by which we can move beyond "us" and "them" to a "we".
The Christian churches and individuals often do not act according to their identity and values. A great divide between teaching and praxis is visible. It is therefore the task of ecumenical leadership, firstly, to engage churches in North and South to participate in conversations on migration and on the values that guide the process of integration. Secondly, to mobilize resources that help to bridge the divide by continually calling for a culture of inclusivity, that celebrates life in its diversity68 while challenging destructive social representations. And thirdly to facilitate shaping new patterns of local ecumenical cooperation between native and migrant churches, as they are equally contributing "partners in mission".69
The social representations perspective makes clear that multi-ethnic churches, with their emphasis on dialogue, an equal power base, and shared over-arching identity as fellow-pilgrims, can contribute to re-creating the social representations of the "other" and can decrease xenophobic attitudes. Churches and theological institutions therefore need to consistently develop and strengthen inclusive theological designs. The International Christian Fellowship in Gouda, mentioned earlier, opted for shaping bi-ethnic leadership teams to enforce power-sharing and "listening with the other". The formation of these teams not only enables a more equal distribution of power, but also results in long term dialogical contacts, which in turn lead to getting acquainted with the "other", perspective-taking, and respecting the "other's" contribution to the community.
The impact of inclusive Christian preaching and teaching should not be underestimated. Surprisingly research has shown that strong identification with Christians as a social group and Christian teaching results in positive feelings about the secular "other", but even more so when the other is recognized as non-threatening.70 This is the result of the diffusion into the Christian community of conversations on the "other" who is represented as also being created in the image of God and therefore equally contributing to the community through knowledge, wisdom, and talent. In Christian teaching and preaching, metaphors that strengthen the construction of an over-arching superordinate identity should therefore be further developed, as they constitute building blocks for intervention strategies that decrease negative social representations of the "other" — be they migrant fellow-believers, those of other faiths, or secular non-believers.
Seeing and including the "Other": Concluding Remarks
In this article we have addressed xenophobic attitudes and the construction of an inclusive Christian identity. We have argued that inclusion of the "other" as an equally contributing person creates space to act justly and peacefully in an ecumenical and social perspective. Recognizing the equal contribution of all and creating a superordinate identity will
reduce prejudice and intergroup bias. We have shown that the transformative Christian tradition has resources to decrease xenophobic attitudes and to increase inclusion and cohesion. The Social Representations Theory may help the ecumenical family to analyze and strengthen its intervention strategies, thereby contributing to the inclusion of the "other" and justice for all.
What we have argued for is certainly not all new. Indeed the ecumenical family has a long-standing tradition of thinking about the relationship with the "other". It has already responded to the challenges described above in many ways. One of these responses was given by J.C. Hoekendijk, Acting Secretary to the WCC's Department of Evangelism between 1949 and 1953. In his essay, "The Church in Missionary Thinking" (1952), he argued that the WCC and its constituency should free itself from "churchism", from a one-sided understanding of koinonia as
the (exclusive) relationship with "other" Christians and churches. A true ecumenical response to the "other" focuses not on the worldwide Christian family as such, but on the
oikoumene, God's whole world.71 Ecumenism calls us to allow the "other" to be different and yet to find a superordinate identity that binds us together.
A re-affirmed commitment to provide an ecumenical space for all and to be "entrepreneurs of identity"72 will no doubt confront us with some challenges, practical as well as theological. In practice, in facilitating theological training for the Christian ministry, the ecumenical family should give higher priority to teaching the Social Representations Theory, while relating this to ecclesiology and ways to plan intervention strategies. All students should grapple with these issues because they will have an impact on the way ministers preach, teach, and plan church programmes, and will, consequently, contribute to a life that leads people to justice and peace.
Theologically, the ecumenical family should expect that inclusive planning may come into conflict with exclusive soteriological positions concerning non-believers and those of other faiths. While recognizing and respecting this tension, we submit that whatever theological position on soteriology we hold, Scripture's key ethical mandate to love our neighbour as ourselves, is prominent. When the nations are judged, love of neighbour is the disturbing, sole criterion (Mt 25:31-46). This neighbourly love starts by representing the "other" in the light of the Divine Other, while recognizing that all, native and migrant alike, are created in God's image and contribute equally.
1 W. Wagner et al., "Theory and Method of Social Representations", Asian Journal of Social Psychology 2:1 (1999), 95-125.
2 D. den Boer and H. Brussee-van Tol, Filoxenia. Liefde voor de vreemdeling (Christelifke Hogeschool Ede, 2012), 24.
3 Ibid., Filoxenia, 25.
4 Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics, http://statIine.cbs.nl/StatWeb/publication One point nine million migrants are of non-Western origin; 1 million are first generation migrants.
5 F. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967).
6 den Boer and Brussee-van Tol, Filoxenia, 97.
7 In Eglise Evangelique de la Haye, a church in The Hague with a primarily Congolese membership provides translation for "native" Dutch-speaking guests.
8 den Boer and Brussee-van Tol, Filoxenia, 99.
9 D. den Boer, H. Brussee-van Tol, Filoxenia, pp. 153-54.
10 J. R. Searie, The Construction of Social Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1995).
15 D.G. Groody, "Crossing the Divide: Foundations of a Theology of Migration and Refugees", Theological Studies 70:3 (2009), 643.
12 S.P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), 243.
13 E. Mulder, "De rede als dekmantel" in Trouw (de Verdieping), 27 July 2012, 5.
14 W G. Stephan, et al., "Integrated Threat Theory and Intercultural Attitudes: Mexico and the United States", Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 31:2 (2000), 240-59.
15 Z. Bauman and T. May, Thinking Sociologically (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 4-55.
16 S. Reicher, "The Context of Social Identity: Domination, Resistance, and Change", Political Psychology 25:6 (2004), 921-45.
17 K. Creutz-Kämppi, "The Othering of Islam in a European Context. Polarizing Discourses in Swedish-Language Dailies in Finland", Nordicom Review 29:2 (2008), 296-98.
18 Ibid., 298-308.
19 M.C. Noort, "Anti-Secular Prejudice: An Integrated Threat Perspective on Christian Natives' and Migrants' Prejudice in the Secularised Netherlands" (MSc thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2012), 31.
20 "Werkloosheid allochtone jongeren dramatisch", Trouw, 16 July 2012.
21 Unemployment rates of migrants (ages 15-25) rose to 29% (April 2012). Overall unemploy- ment figures for immigrants in 2011 were 13.1%, compared to 4.2% for native Dutch (CBS website).
22 The liberal and social-democratic parties constituted the "purple cabinet", excluding the Christian-Democrats, who were part of virtually every cabinet since 1918.
23 See also S.J. Vellinga, "'Huntington' in Holland: The Public Debate on Muslim Immigrants in The Netherlands", Nordic Journal of Religion and Society 21:1 (2008), 21-41.
24 J. Habermas, "Notes on a Post-Secular Society", New Perspectives Quarterly 25:4 (2008), 6.
25 M. Dillon, "Can Post-Secular Society Tolerate Religious Differences?" in Sociology of Religion 71:2 (2010), 149.
26 P. Fortuyn, Tegen de islamisering van onze cultuur: Nederlandse identiteit als fundament (Utrecht, 1997).
27 J. Demmers and S. Mehndale, "Neoliberal Xenophobia: The Dutch Case", Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 35 (2010), 53-70.
28 Since 2008 the Protestant Church in The Netherlands promotes the formation of experimental missionary congregations, as in some areas the Christian presence has eroded.
29 Wagner et al., "Theory and Method of Social Representations".
30 S. Jovchelovitch, Knowledge in Context: Representations, Community and Culture (London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group, 2007).
31 M.W. Bauer and G. Gaskell, "Social Representations Theory: A Progressive Research Programme for Social Psychology", Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 38:4 (2008), 335-53.
32 G. Gaskell, "Attitudes, Social Representations and Beyond", in Representations of the Social: Bridging Theoretical Traditions, ed. K. Deaux and G. Philogène (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 228-41; cf. K.J. Gergen, "Social Psychology as History", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 26:2 (1973), 309-20.
33 S. Moscovici, Social Representations: Explorations in Social Psychology (Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 2000); S. Jovchelovitch, Knowledge in Context.
34 According to CBS, 1.2 million Dutch citizens have a double nationality (2012: 7%).
35 Bauer and Gaskell, "Social Representations Theory", 345.
36 M. Billig, "Advocacy and Attitudes", in Arguing and Thinking: A Rhetorical Approach to Social Psychology, ed. M. Billig (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 186-219.
37 P. Linell, Rethinking Language, Mind, and World Dialogically: Interactional and Contextual Theories of Human Sense-Making (Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Pub., 2009).
38 G.W Allport, The Nature of Prejudice (Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1954).
39 T.F. Pettigrew and L.R. Tropp, "How Does Intergroup Contact Reduce Prejudice? Meta-Analytic Tests of Three Mediators", European Journal of Social Psychology 38:6 (2008), 922-34; Allport's findings clearly relate to the distinction Jovchelovitch makes between non-dialogical and dialogical intergroup contact (S. Jovchelovitch, Knowledge in Context),
1,0 T.F. Pettigrew and L.R. Tropp, "A Meta-Analytic Test of Intergroup Contact Theory", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90:5 (2006), 751-83.
41 Pettigrew and Tropp, "How Does Intergroup Contact Reduce Prejudice?", 766.
42 H. Tajfel and J. Turner, "An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict", in The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations, ed. W. Austin and S. Worche (Monterey, Calif.: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co., 1979), 33-47.
43 K. Velasco-González, et al., "Prejudice towards Muslims in The Netherlands: Testing Integrated Threat Theory", British Journal of Social Psychology 47:4 (2008), 667-85;
H. Bekhuis, et al., "Xenophobia among Youngsters: The Effect of Inter-Ethnic Contact", European Sociological Review 6 (2011), 1-14.
44 For example, Velasco-González, e.a., "Prejudice towards Muslims".
45 Council of Europe, Tackling Racism and Xenophobia: Practical Action at the Local Level (Strasbourg 1995); Demmers and Mehndale, "Neoliberal Xenophobia".
46 R. Mallon, "Naturalistic Approaches to Social Construction", in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2008 Edition), ed. E.N. Zalta, at: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2008/entries/soctal-construction-naturaristic.
47 Jovchelovitch, Knowledge in Context.
48 Moscovici, Social Representations; Jovchelovitch, Knowledge in Context.
49 J.W. Beery, "Integration and Multiculturalism: Ways Towards Social Solidarity", Papers on Social Representations 20 (2011), 1-20.
50 Bauer and Gaskell, "Social Representations Theory".
51 Gaskell, "Attitudes, Social Representations and Beyond".
52 C. Howarth, "Re-presentation and Resistance in the context of School Exclusion: Reasons to be Critical", Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 14 (2004), 356-77.
53 Council of Europe, Tackling Racism.
54 M. Muijres and N. Aarts, "Welcome in Rotterdam! Een studie naar interculturele ont-moetingen tussen 'oude' en 'nieuwe' Rotterdammers" (Wageningen UR (University and Research Centre), Wetenschapswinkel, March 2011), 58-59.
55 J.F. Dovidio et al., "Reducing Contemporary Prejudice: Combating Explicit and Implicit Bias at the Individual and Intergroup Level", in Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination (Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology Series), ed. S. Oskamp (Mahwah, N.J.: 2000), 137-63.
56 H. Nicolaas, et al., "Demografie van (niet-westerse) allochtonen in Nederland", in Bevolkingstrends, 4e kwartaal, ed. CBS (Den Haag 2010), 22-34.
57 Heidelberg Catechism, Question 80, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous/heidelberg.pdf.
58 The Netherlands Missionary Society, established in 1797, aimed at the conversion of the "baptized heathens" and sent missionaries to the Roman Catholic southern regions of the Dutch Republic as well.
59 S. Snyder, "Encountering Asylum Seekers: An Ethic of Fear or Faith?", in Studies in Christian Ethics 24:3 (2011), 350-66. Dutch humanist philosopher P. Cliteur claims that "holy war" is a characteristic of Israelite religion and discusses the potential for violence in monotheistic religions in his publication Het monotheïstisch dilemma, of: De theologie van het terrorisme (Amsterdam/Antwerpen 2010), para. 3—4.
60 L.N. Rivera-Pagan, "Biblical Reflections on Migration and the Ecumenical Movement", unpublished paper presented at WCC consultation on migration (Chavannes de Bogis, Switzerland, 6-9 May 2012), 9-11.
61 L.N. Rivera-Pagán, ed., God, in your Grace, official report of the Ninth Assembly of the WCC, (Geneva, 2007), 256.
62 Ibid., 257.
63 Ibid., 257, 260.
64 V.S. Azariah, "The Problem of Co-operation between Foreign and Native Workers", World Missionary Conference 1910: History and Records of the Conference (Edinburgh/New York, 1910), 306-15. Cf. D. Roberts, "Cross-Cultural Friendship in the Creation of Twentieth-Century World Christianity", in International Bulletin on Missionary Research 35:2 (2011), 100-107.
65 A. d'Souza, "Theology of Relationship", Forum in-Focus, The Canadian Churches' Forum for Global Ministries, 14 (2002-2003).
66 G. Noort and K. Tahaafe-Williams, "Churches in Ecumenical Transition: Toward Multicultural Ministry and Mission", in International Review of Mission 101:1 (2012), 174—81.
67 Groody, "Crossing the Divide", 659-64.
68 Encyclical John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (1995), 21, 28
69 Cf. recommendations in Noort and Tahaafe-Williams, "Churches in Ecumenical Transition", 179-85.
70 Noort, "Anti-secular Prejudice", 29.
71 J.C. Hoekendijk, "The Church in Missionary Thinking", in International Review of Mission 41:3 (1952), 324-36. See also W. van Saane, "Hans Hoekendijk: Een hogere weg", unpublished paper from conference on Hoekendijk's theology, 13 September 2012.
72 S. Reicher, "Context of Social Identity", 937.
Ref.: The Ecumenical Review, December 2012, pp. 500-518.
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