A Third Choice: Covenant as a Better Ethos for Immigration

Comparison and Consequences for the Church Today

The Cuban-American liberation ethicist Miguel De La Torre in his book Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, provides a teleological ethical scheme in which he defends that “no real dichotomy or separation can exist between ethics and social action”. At the center of De La Torre’s approach lies the argument that modern economic theories, such as neo-liberal capitalism, have introduced social sins/injustices that have ultimately produced two main strata in society, the oppressors and the oppressed.  He sustains that “within a society people can be viewed both as subjects and objects. Those whom society defines as “subjects” normally have far more power… and can provide meaning to an object.”1 It is in this process that the dominant “subjects” attribute meaning to the “object” cultures, creating the social injustices based on the attribution of inferior value and lacking of power.

For De La Torre, the dismantling of these oppressive structures of meaning is achieved through a hermeneutical circle for ethics that consists of the following five steps. First, we observe through the eyes of the marginalized and have a historical and interpretive analysis. Secondly, we then reflect on the information and actions that might be needed. Thirdly, we pray and seek to formulate a theological and biblical analysis. Fourth, we act and implement change. Finally, we reassess to discover new ethical perspectives. Ultimately, De La Torre’s model argues that a subject must put himself in the place of an object in order to have an “object-perspective” and prescribe new meaning. In its ideal outcome, the oppressed welcomes the analysis and praxis prescribed by the liberator, which results in liberation from the systemic sin.

However, what ends up happening most frequently is that the liberator builds an orthopraxis for the oppressed, which may not necessarily be of, or by the oppressed. The liberator assumes that all “objects (have accepted) their oppressors’ worldview as their own, (and) feel compelled to behave and act according to the way in which they have been constructed by others” (2004, 59). The oppressed is therefore in need of higher tutelage in the process of liberation. Additionally, De La Torre’s model is guided by a historical and interpretive metanarrative, only to engage Scripture when a biblical basis that fits into the social telos is needed. It produces a teleology that is consequential to the evils/sins of the historical-social metanarrative. The telos is therefore based on the salvation/liberation from the system.

On the other hand, the Covenantal Model is guided by a metanarrative of creation where one is saved in order to take part of the new creation and the renewal of all things. In this process, we partake in the Missio Dei. Christ and the Early Church sought to model a type of community where diverse racial and socio-economic backgrounds engaged with each other regularly through a scheme of inclusive covenant with God and each other. In the practice of the Eucharist, sandals were removed and feet were washed (literally and figuratively), promoting a balancing of power through service that involved mutual grace, longsuffering and empowerment. In this new community, the sinner became a saint, the slave tasted true freedom, and the disenfranchised found his identity. Above all, Scripture reveals that Eucharist is more than religious rite or a common meal. Rather, it is the expression of the divine intent to bring harmony to all of creation by forming a community of people who have been covenanted to God and each other through Jesus Christ. When Christians partake of the Eucharist, they respond to God’s intent to renew all of creation through Christ Jesus with grace and gratitude. The self-worth received from God, becomes the worth extended to others. Diversity is celebrated through reciprocity that acts as the glue that holds the relational polarities of uniqueness and unity together.

Conclusion

My intention in this post was to provide the reader with an overall understanding of how the Covenantal Model for Christian Ethics can help guide us in the often times turbulent conversation on immigration today. I sought to present an overview of covenant in Scripture and how it can provide us with an alternative ethical framework. Secondly, I drew upon Scripture to analyze how the understanding of covenant was authoritative in the communal life and worldview of the Early Church in Corinth. Lastly, I concluded with a critical comparison between the Covenantal Model and Liberation Ethics and provided a few guidelines that may serve to advance the conversation on immigration today.

The Eucharist is often seen as a mere religious tradition that is passed through generations. However, I sustain that the Eucharist is the expression of the divine intent to bring renewal to all of creation by forming a community of people who have are covenanted to God and each other through Jesus Christ. In an economically globalized world where migration movements are “pull” and “pushed” by economic cycles of boom and bust, the Eucharist can be a tool to demolish social divisions through reciprocity, overcome struggles through empowerment, and promote deeply rooted justice through covenant.

Footnotes

  1. Torre, Miguel A. de la. 2004. Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins. Maryknoll: Orbis Books
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