Introduction

Laura Hartman
Augustana College

In this issue, we have collected essays that engage in scriptural reasoning on two topics: “Resident Aliens and the Ethics of Immigration” and “Sacred Land.” These topics are not as different as they may seem prima facie . We are calling this issue “People and Places” as a way to describe the intersection of these topics. Collectively, these essays raise the question: how should people relate to one another in the context of a particular place? Immigration prompts questions relating to community and belonging: which people belong in this place, and which people do not? What do the categories of native, family, and migrant reveal about the places they refer to? And sacred land raises similar questions: is the land a community to which people belong? If it is sacred, does its sacredness derive from divine will or human history? If the people belong in this sacred land, does the land (and its animal inhabitants) somehow count as part of the chosen “people”?

Our authors in this issue problematize all of these questions, as well as the concepts within the questions. Zeki Saritoprak and Michael Budde both address immigration, and they rupture a traditional notion of family and clan. Budde remarks on Jesus’ radical and rupturing family ethic in the Gospel of Matthew. If family is not our primary loyalty, and citizenship in the nation-state is not an ultimate good, on what basis – he asks – do we grant kinship, citizenship or “insider status”? By gesturing to the church as the worldwide body of Christ, Budde suggests a more universal, but less imperialistic, version of citizenship than those currently offered in our world of economic globalization and political empire. Saritoprak describes Muhammad’s surprising social engineering as he integrated immigrants into existing family structures. Muhammad himself was an immigrant to Medina, and he instituted a kind of “buddy system” to integrate newly-arrived Muslims into the existing community. Saritoprak offers this and other examples as models to follow in the hospitable and fair treatment of migrants, regardless of their reason for migrating. Both articles’ questions prompted their readings of scripture concerning community, family, and belonging. Both move toward a notion that religious adherents are the ones who need to cross “borders”: to move beyond their comfortable notions of “insiders” and begin welcoming strangers into their families and communities.

Maria Massi Dakake, Aryeh Cohen, and David Dillard-Wright address sacred land, and they also highlight surprising angles on traditional texts. Dakake analyzes the sacred cities of Islam – Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem – with an eye to their inclusiveness. Dakake describes a “universalist” view, which sees all places as created by God and thus as sacred, and views sacred sites as belonging to all humanity, and therefore, in principle, as open to all. She contrasts this with the realities of religious practices: those practices that separate out specific spots as holy sites and, furthermore, restrict access to these sites. Cohen, with help from rabbinic sources, explores the holy commandment to live in the sacred land of Israel: in an age of diaspora, is this required? Cohen reaches border-rupturing conclusions as he affirms a broader interpretation of Zion as any place where God’s commands are studied, rather than only the geographic land of Israel. This does, in a sense, echo Dakake’s “universalist” interest, extending the privileges of living in the sacred land beyond the place’s borders. Dillard-Wright brings Dakake’s universalizing thrust into an entirely different concept of sacred land, arguing that “land,” broadly construed to include all of non-human nature, should be seen as a member of a “third covenant” with God. Dillard-Wright, like Budde, finds reasons to discard the notion that God has chosen a particular clan or nation above the others, arguing instead for inclusiveness. But Dillard-Wright goes beyond Budde’s broader notions of family to include animals and other creatures as members of the elect, chosen by God for a salvific covenant. He contends that this third covenant is a logical final step after the somewhat narrow Abrahamic covenant and the broader covenant between God and all the nations. His reading requires an unseating of anthropocentric perspectives and offers a place of intersection with neo-pagan and indigenous traditions that see the land as inherently sacred.

The actual reasoning of all of these articles involves the notion that scripture challenges its readers, taking us to places where we might not expect to go: a universalized notion of sacred space or promised land; a broader covenant that includes non-human creatures; a broken, ruptured family that welcomes strangers; an enlarged notion of native, family, and home. Whether interpreters are native to a sacred text or migrate into it as a resident alien, its expansiveness is often surprising. In the spirit of the challenging and expansive articles in this issue, we hope these perspectives open up even more space within the texts themselves – that is, space for more interpretations as well as more varied readings than we have had before.