Emergent Village will be hosting its annual Theological Conversation this year in Atlanta, GA from Nov. 1-3 on the topic of "Creating Liberated Spaces in a Post colonial World." This year's conversation will feature a global panel of theologians- Musa Dube of Botswana, Richard Twiss of the Lakota Sioux tribe, and Colin Greene of the UK. This blog post was written as my personal response addressing why it is vital for all Christians to engage in the postcolonial conversation. For more information about this event or to register, click here.
From a Western vantage point it can be easy to assume that the way we approach Christianity is normative or perhaps even correct (I am speaking as a white, privileged American here). We call our theology, well, theology, and give modifiers to other people's theology as if they were somehow inferior or partial theologies. Asian theology, African theology, feminist theology, liberation theology, postcolonial theology -- all become electives to be dabbled in or ideas to be scorned as heretical in light of the traditions that place our perspective firmly at the center of perceived truth. But in doing so we deny the voice of the church and the truth of Christ's message. We end up only hearing theology spoken from the mouths of the privileged and the powerful. But Jesus did not come to only bring good news to those who rule the world.
For instance, it is hard to advance a truthful theology of suffering when we are the ones forcing others to suffer. In our country, where some Christians say they are being persecuted if a salesperson says "happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," we often lack even the most basic point of reference for understanding how people from different cultural settings who've lived through oppression and grief approach their faith.
For example, theologian Chung Hyun Kyung comments on the influence on Asian women's theology of Western colonizers telling them God is love while beating, starving, and raping them. This experience and twisted message affects how they view God and what questions they ask of God. She writes that their challenging of God on his silence during their oppression cannot help but shape their theology. They ask of God, "Where were you when we were hungry? Where were you when we called your name as our bodies were raped, mutilated, and disfigured by our husbands, policemen, and the soldiers of colonizing countries? Have you heard our cries? Have you seen our bodies dragged like dead dogs and abandoned in the trash dump?" (Struggle to be the Sun Again, p22).
Questions must be asked as theology is done in such postcolonial contexts in attempts to differentiate the message of the colonizers and the message of Jesus. For instance, when oppressed people are told that a good Christian is quiet, subservient, and accepts suffering and poverty by the very colonizers who live in luxury and benefit from the service and poverty of the people, some serious theological reconsideration is in order. A theology that is only ever applied to women or oppressed peoples in order to keep them subservient is highly suspect. Truth and worship are far more important than such self-serving twistings of God's word. But it takes hearing from these voices from the margins and wrestling with the same questions they wrestle with in order for the church as a whole to move towards a healthy and truthful theology.
But to do so requires humility. It not only requires some of us to give up our positions of power and privilege while admitting that we do not have the corner on Christianity, it may also require repentance and reconciliation. It requires admitting that our privilege came at the expense of others -- that the poverty in the world today has its roots in forceful conquest of land, the outright theft of natural resources, and the enslavement of peoples around the world. It requires admitting that the life we now enjoy has its historical roots and present reality in the blood, sweat, and tears of others. It is only after we repent of these sins that we can be open to embracing a fuller theology which we can only learn by listening to the voices of others -- often the very others we must ask forgiveness of.
Being open to hearing and believing these truths is difficult. It is far easier to mock the theologies of others and call them heretical than to humble ourselves and repent in the name of truth. But it is vital for the health of the community that is the universal body of Christ. The eye cannot say to the hand that I have no need of you -- or that I am more important or more connected to God than you. We must embrace our whole body, even the parts we have abused or neglected. To truly be the body of Christ we must listen to the voices of the oppressed and the colonized -- for we can never be whole without them.
Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.