HS in Diaspora Missiology

While working in Central Asia, one reality kept frustrating me: people were always leaving. I respected peoples’ tremendous sacrifices to provide financially for their family, but the emigration of so many believers and friends made it hard to gain traction in ministry.  I wondered how to best address mass migration in the Church, but had no answers.

“Diaspora Missiology” attempts to interpret the trends of global migration through God’s missional heart.  If God is moving people according to his plan so that they may find him (Acts 17:26-27), then how can we effectively minister to people outside of their place of origin?  The phrase “Diaspora Missiology” hardly existed 10 years ago, but now much is being said about mass human migration (i.e. urbanization, immigration, and emigration) – an entire IJFM issue and 2014 EMS gatherings, for example.

The Flight Into Egypt, James Tissot, circa 1890

The Flight Into Egypt, James Tissot, circa 1890

Here are three honor-shame reflections on Diaspora Missiology.

1) Most migrants are from honor-shame contexts. 

For example, the top countries of origin for international students (China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia) and refugees (Iraq, Burma, and Bhutan) in America all rank as honor-shame cultures.  100 years ago migrants to America were primarily European (and Christian), whereas now they are increasing African, Asian, and Arab.  Honor-shame is the cultural OS for many of the 45 million migrants in America.  And in the case of urbanization people move from rural villages, where community and honor are vital, to urban cities.

2) People often migrate for shame-inducing realities. 

War, persecution, starvation, and poverty push people to seek a better physical existence, and also erode people’s dignity.  These unfortunate realities undermine a person’s place in their community; they can no longer “be” in their place of origin, but must relocate to a new social community and re-establish their identity. The disconnection from place and people produces the shame anxiety of “Who is my community now?  Who finds me worthy?”  Unless they are affluent migrants (i.e. businesspeople or international students), I suspect most migrants feel an uneasy sense of shame from their past circumstances.  Christian workers must be attuned to this reality.

3) Migration influences conceptions of honor and shame. 

For example, urbanization in Central Asia (migration from village to city) has reformulated systems of honor.  Village honor is based more on age and character, whereas urban honor comes from wealth and power.  For a young man, the respect from a flashy SUV eliminates any reliance upon social blessings from village elders.   Globalization (the migration of ideas and goods) generates new expressions and symbols of honor. When capital replaces character as the basis of ‘honor’, it becomes rooted more in fear than genuine respect. The influence of immigration ranges widely.  The decrease of honor-shame forces among Japanese students makes them more receptive to Jesus.  But then living as a migrant in a foreign land can causes people to further utilize honor and shame to maintain ethnic identity (i.e. internet videos of Central Asian men humiliating girls for their ‘shameless’ behavior with Russian men). 

The influence of migration upon culture is hard to generalize, but common knowledge says people think differently in different contexts. I wonder, will migration eventually erode communal forces of honor and shame?  As urbanization empties traditional villages and immigration displaces from their family network in the modern world, will global cultures likewise ‘migrate’ from honor & shame to guilt & justice to organize life?  

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4 Comments on “HS in Diaspora Missiology

  1. I see your logic and the possibility of shift from honor/shame to guilt/justice. However, in the States I am seeing that young people perceive the corruption of the legal system and have lost faith in justice as a reality for them. Because of this they are more in tune with honor/shame defined by their community (not often by the Bible). So as the majority world shifts from valuing honor (determined by the character/community) to honor (determined by wealth), only those with access to wealth benefit and make the shift. Those who remain impoverished cling to honor defined by character because they have no access to wealth. Maybe you could define what the factors are in the justice/guilt OS. My opinion is that regardless the culture, honor/shame is more foundational than guilt/innocence and power/fear. Gen 3:7-11,21

    • Yeah, great insights J.
      It is interesting how people mention to me they think honor-shame is resurging among postmoderns in America. And I’ve observed that books about ministry among postmoderns intersect with cross-cultural ministry ideas.
      Here is one factor (IMO)…The institutions that have structured life in the West are declining in terms of cultural prominence and dominance. The financial (Wall St.) and political (D.C. elected officials) worlds are viewed with far more suspicion than before for obvious reasons, causing people to looking more locally to meet their social, economic, and political needs and write a controlling narrative for life. The ability of institutions to project their power via rules and laws is declining as their moral credence wanes, and people are turning more towards local honor codes in communities to guide acceptable behavior.
      If guilt/justice guide behavior in institution-based cultures and honor/shame guides behavior in community-based cultures, then yes I think you are right, honor and shame are more fundamental to human beings who are created for relationship.

  2. I have no doubt that honour/shame is here to stay – if the core of sin is displacing God with man (our own honour derived from pride and the approval of others), then desiring honour and avoiding shame in the eyes of others will remain as long as there are others on the planet!

    These migrants are also coming into the West at a time when the West is more and more disregarding God’s absolute standard of right and wrong (what is truth and what is not) and substituting it for various human perspectives. Thus an average person’s identity is being more and more formed by approval of others rather than approval by God, thus desiring honour and avoiding shame in the eyes of those in the particular sub-group that person is a part of at any one time (ie the work group, the social group, the religious group, the neighborhood group, the sporting group). The same issue is present in urban migration in honour/shame emphasis cultures.

    And even though it might seem a change from honour defined by capital instead of character, I think it is easy to be fooled. Human nature is more subtle than we realise. If we define capital as how the West defines capital (car, house, clothes, jewellry, cell phone) we might think a change is happening, but in reality there has always been honour through capital when the true God is not worshipped (God vs mammon). In the honour/shame emphasis culture where I serve, capital has always been there, it was just in the form of cows, sheep and goats rather than cars, suits and technology.
    In fact I would be so bold as to say that honour of character is minimal apart from heart transformation in Christ. Honour of character is not the same as honour of a person due to position, which dominates honour/shame cultures.

    Having said all that, you make a very good point that thousands of migrants from honour/shame emphasis cultures are flooding into the West which makes for a great need for the ‘West’ to learn how these cultures ‘tick’, otherwise we will mis-understand, mis-read and mis-judge them causing conflict and lack of relationship and interaction and thus rob these folk of opportunity to hear the gospel and what it means to give and gain true honour to and from their Creator.

  3. Honor-Shame, Guilt-Innocence and Power-Fear goes back to Genesis 3. All were very really responses to sin and the attempt to recover what was lost. We have a unique opportunity to recognize and respond to all three.

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