The wrong preferential option: Resident Aliens at 25

In 1989, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon sparked a lively debate about church, ministry, and Christian identity with their book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Twenty-five years later, we asked several pastors and theologians to offer their perspective on the book and its impact. (Read all responses.)

To be a resident alien is to live on the border. Borders signify the existential reality faced by those, like myself, who have been resident and illegal aliens. Regardless of where we live, how long we have lived there, or how we or our ancestors came to find ourselves within the United States, we live on the borders. To be a resident alien in the United States is to constantly live on the border between power and disenfranchisement, between privilege and dispossession, between whiteness and color. In this in-between space of borders, we confront economic exploitation and political marginalization.

As one who once actually was a resident alien, I wonder if Hauerwas and Willimon have any clue as to what it means to occupy that space. They do violence to real resident aliens like myself when they appropriate our social location without recognizing how the foreign Constantinian Christian culture from which they feel alienated is specifically constructed to privilege the particularity of their race, class, and gender. They romanticize “not belonging” to a dominant culture that historically and continuously revolves around them. Those in the center who self-identify as aliens of the center are able to confuse an unapologetic conviction of the truth of the Christian narrative with a Eurocentric interpretation of what that truth might be.