October 22, 2011
If there is a unifying thesis that runs through the bric-a-brac of reflections on violence that follow, it is that a similar paradox holds true for violence. At the forefront of our minds, the obvious signals of violence are acts of crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict. But we should learn to step back, to disentangle ourselves from the fascinating lure of this directly visible “subjective” violence, violence performed by a clearly identifiable agent. We need to perceive the contours of the background which generates such outbursts. A step back enables us to identify a violence that sustains our very efforts to fight violence and to promote tolerance. This is the starting point, perhaps even the axiom, of the present book: subjective violence is just the most visible portion of a triumvirate that also includes two objective kinds of violence. First, there is a “symbolic” violence embodied in language and its forms, what Heidegger would call “our house of being.” As we shall see later, this violence is not only at work in the obvious-and extensively studied-cases of incitement and of the relations of social domination reproduced in our habitual speech forms: there is a more fundamental form of violence still that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning. Second, there is what I call “systemic” violence, or the often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems.
Third, there is the matter of violence. Support for violence is intrinsic to Marxism. Without condoning the violence of the status quo and Christians’ blessing of it (which is actually the bigger problem), one has to express concern about the support for revolutionary violence (which is actually the lesser problem, since it is really a response to the violence of the system) in some branches of liberation theology.
Transforming Mission, p441
They reflect on different aspects. But a common thread is an important reminder: the violence of the status quo is the bigger problem. I’m convinced we’ll achieve more if our public discourse tackle the issue of economic exclusion and inequality, inhumane living conditions and deep racism, elements of what I would consider to constitute the violence of the status quo today, almost inevitable by-products of the smooth functioning of our economic system. Violence, also in it’s “subjective” forms, is a serious problem facing South Africa. Yet the vigor with which we are tackling this issue might just be deflecting attention from the violence of the status quo, the violence that keep the the privileged the privileged, and the poor the poor. Creating the impression that the “real problem” is individual acts of violence associated with what is considered criminal, while this should be read symptom of a bigger problem of violence.
August 12, 2011
In many ways what I’m going to write will create a few artificial categories or “shifts”, and I will have to simplify things in order to speak. Simultaneously, you don’t need to spend a lot of time in conversation with church leaders to find out that our thinking about mission has already been simplified. What I’d like to do is take a few arguments for a “shifting missiology”, drawing on a number of very specific conversations that I can think of from the past few months, to produce something of a map of where we are. With “we” I’m thinking about white middle-class churches and theologians, because that is what I know, and that is where I come from. In plotting I’ll be drawing primarily on David Bosch, since his overview is what I know best, and since everyone, basically no matter which shift you are arguing for, like to quote him at some point.
1. From saving souls to saving bodies
Remember the time when if you’d ask a Sunday School class what the church is supposed to do, and they’d answer you that the church should “tell people about God”… well, those times are this times for the white suburban church. Somewhere in our DNA we still struggle with the idea that the primary (and at times exclusive) task of the church is to save the souls of heathens. When we do a soup kitchen, our primary objective is to “soften them up for the gospel”. In Jennings’ The Christian Imagination, he point to writings from the very early colonialist period, where one of the pro-slavery arguments was that slavery gave black people a chance to become Christians, and thus their souls will be saved for eternity. The idea that “at least their souls will go to heaven”, either in it’s hard form, where that is all that matters, or in it’s softer form, where that is the primary concern, and any attention to the real life issues of people is reduced to second place at best continue to be very much prevalent in white churches today.
This is the shift many church leaders find themselves in: how do we move people from a focus on saving souls to saving bodies. It is the shift from handing out a bread in order to get an open door to “share the gospel” (already reducing the gospel to a spiritual message), to handing out a bread because that is what we believe the gospel to be. In the writings of Bosch you can look at his reactions to the 1974 Lausanne covenant to see his reactions to the idea that what was called evangelism is somehow the “primary” objective of mission. For Bosch there could be no exclusive or even primary focus on “saving souls”. This shift is important. But it’s not the only important shift happening.
2. From charity to development
“Don’t give a person a fish, teach them to fish” we like to say in our middle-class white congregations. If we keep on handing out food, we’ll be handing out food till kingdom come, we should rather develop skills in order for people to be able to find their own food. It is a shift which start to recognize that there are people in society who simply isn’t “sharing in the goods” as we are, and building on the belief that we should be saving bodies, and then continuing to say that we should not only save bodies, but save societies, we will argue for starting elaborate development projects. Education. Job creation. These are the answers for our society, this is what mission is about, and this is what the church should be about.
In a sense this is always a rediscovery. This colonial Western churches always has a strong emphasis on “developing” the “underdeveloped” nations. At some point this task of development was handed over to the state, with mission hospitals and mission schools being funded, or totally taken over, by the modern nation-states developing in Africa. But, at the moment we do see a re-emergence of a shift “from charity to development”. To find the arguments for development in Bosch you will have to turn to the chapter on “Mission in the Wake of the Enlightenment”. Reference to the move from charity to what in Transforming Mission is called the “comprehensive approach” can be found in chapter 10.
3. From development to liberation
In all the talk about Bosch in my own church, what still remain a theme seldom discussed is Bosch’s critique on the development model. For some (although this is not common at all) in the white middle-class suburban church, Bosch’s thoughts under the heading “The Challenge to Progress Thinking” (p 356-358 of Transforming Mission) formulate the shift they suggest. Bosch doesn’t waste words, and if these 2 pages are taken seriously, for those in the white suburban church who doesn’t already find themselves in the midst of this shift, it might feel like participation in mission is impossible. Because this shift seek to destabilize the power relations, become suspicious of “solutions” provided by the rich which continue to keep the rich the rich.
When those of us in the white church start talking about this shift, then it imply a serious self-critique. It is a move away from the idea that we can somehow bring salvation (by saving souls, handing out bread, or teaching skills), and are in need of salvation because of our own indebtedness to the systems of power which has formed us into being white. For those who are rich and white, and moving from development to liberation, the move might best be illustrated by Bosch’s own move from thinking about the “church for others” (Witness to the World), to the “church with others” (Transforming Mission).
Two reasons caused me to point to these movements. The first is as a reminder that simply because we find a shift in the mission theology of a congregation or church leader, doesn’t imply that we have “arrived”. Sometimes the discovery of a gospel which is not merely spiritual, or of a gospel which not only talk about charity towards the poor, but about a comprehensive approach of upliftment, give rise to the idea that we have finally found “the answer” to what the gospel is about. These shifts are important, but the conversion of white Christianity will require a long and tedious process, and we’d do well to remember that our shifts are, for the moment at least, en-route. It is part of a long process of exorcising a gospel which for centuries taught us that we are the main beneficiaries of the gospel, and the answer God gave to the world.
The second reason for pointing to this is as a reminder to myself that I won’t be making this shift on my own. Shifting my own mission theology, which remain in a process of shifting, will require an extensive process of listening, primarily listening to those voices from what was created as the “Third World”. While every movement illustrated is important, and we should be applauding congregations which make whichever is the next shift that they need to take, in the long run we as the white church will have to face the fact that we won’t be saving ourselves. Others will help us in converting from the privilege and power which we were born into. The last shift is not the final shift, but it is a necessary shift if we are to find any hope of moving beyond a liberation approach (which had it’s own problems).
August 3, 2011
Yes, that is a play onto McLaren’s well-known book which gave rise to fingers being pointed towards heresy, but this post has little to no reflection on McLaren’s book.
A few years ago conversations on “orthodoxy and orthopraxis” was quite common. The parts of the conversation which I enjoyed basically boiled down to the idea that orthopraxis (“right living”) was more important than orthodoxy (“right doctrine”). Obviously critiques came in stating that orthodoxy shouldn’t be read in such a narrow fashion, not to mention the various critiques from those who believed that the correct doctrine (narrowly defined as the thoughts we have concerning God) was indeed the most important part of being Christian. I generally found myself comfortable with voices arguing that in reading the gospels our lives as followers of Jesus seem to be more important than getting the facts and details right (thus the orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy argument as it was popularly formulated).
In the meantime the conversations has evolved, suddenly everyone went missional, the emerging label died a silent death to a certain extend, we have American’s teaching Africans about postcolonial theology and what have you more. But I experience a certain amount of tension growing with this newly discovered orthopraxis. More and more it would seem like we get a form of Christian boastfulness where some are “more missional” than others. “I feed more poor people than you” seem to be the new scale along which God’s favour for certain groups are to be measured. The idea that “we have found the real radical Jesus while you are still struggling with the old institutional Jesus” end up not very far from the many debated which we’ve seen over the past two centuries where various groups have declared themselves to be the true bearers of the correct faith, only now, the correct faith is equated with the correct way of fixing the world.
Annemie Bosch once shared a story of what David Bosch used to say during Apartheid. She gave permission that I can share it, although she hasn’t read these words, so mistakes in this paragraph are my own, but nonetheless, it goes something like this:
During Apartheid David Bosch would often say that in the struggle against apartheid, and in the work of transforming the mainline church and it’s relation to apartheid, we need to voices of Carel Boshoff, Johan Heyns, David Bosch as well as Beyers Naudé. Those who aren’t able to listen to the one, might listen to the other, and although they are voicing seemingly contradictory opinions, each in his unique way is contributing towards the end of apartheid and a just society.
This is no generous orthodoxy (in the strict popular interpretation of the word), but might rather be described as a generous orthopraxy. Tony Jones wrote a brilliant piece a number of years ago where attempted to describe a broad understanding of a changing orthodoxy where all role-players (I believe in a blogpost on the paper he used the words “from Benny Hinn to the Pope”, although I can’t find it) co-determine the definition of orthodoxy, and we remain open to the possibility that our consensus might change.
Within the complex reality of our world today it might be important to remain skeptical of the person with the “perfect plan for poverty”. Within the broad discussion of those who believe in justice for all we might want to recognize the role played by everyone from American short-term mission teams to Africa right through to Marxist analysts. Working with a fluid orthodoxy assume a robust debate, but it is a debate where we remain generous on who we consider to be a “legitimate voice” within the ongoing discussion. In our quest for justice, for ethics, I’d suggest we remain generous on who we consider to be partners on our quest for “right living”. This will require a robust debate, a clashing of ideas, but it assume that those I differ with are a necessary voice, and more important, a necessary body, in our quest for justice.
Annemie Bosch kindly rewrote the story to better reflect what was actually said, and agreed that I could add it here:
During Apartheid, David Bosch maintained that in order for us to attain justice for all in South Africa, we needed, in the Afrikaans-speaking section of our nation, the voices of Beyers Naudé, David Bosch, Johan Heyns, Carel Boshoff and Andries Treurnicht. Each of them was, in his own way, campaigning for a just society and for true equality and equity. Those who, because of their background and upbringing, could not hear what Beyers said, would perhaps be able to hear what David said – and so on, all along the line, up to the stance which A.P.Treurnicht took. So each one of these people, and others like them, were contributing towards a change in South Africa so that we could have justice and peace for all…. Which, even up to this day, we have not achieved. So once again we need the voices of many people at different levels of “the Stuggle for Justice” in the New South Africa. Let’s not write off those who differ from us in some or other way. Lets rather use our energy to do what our hand finds to do, and do it well. Let’s take hands and stand together against that which is wrong in our society – and especially in THE CHURCH – which is so much bigger than our little part of it!
the personal and the political: a thoroughly skeptical reflection and a contribution from Christian eschatology
November 22, 2010
Let me put one presupposition on the table before I even start this reflection: any approach to faith which is personalized in toto, so that it is only about my own personal salvation, and my own personal relationship with what we call God, in whichever way you might understand this, has broken with the tradition of Jesus (as well as the Old Testament). Thus, when I even consider a personal implication of faith, the Bible and theology, it still assumes that my personal faith has implications for the world around me, and is only in following of Jesus as long as this is true.
This this said, I can now continue to point to a less problematic, but maybe more complicated, question. Less problematic, since I consider all the views I will mention from here on as valid approaches to faith in the tradition of those who follow Jesus, but more complicated, since figuring out the best way now becomes a question for conversation.
Is the call of Jesus focused on my own personal life, or on the political system of the day? Does the Bible call me to change my personal life, or to work for systemic change? Should theology in the 21st century work for change in the personal lives of Christians (obviously assuming that this change is for the good of those around them) or for political (in the broad understanding of this term) change? Or both? Both would probably be what we opt for, but what do we mean by this?
And this is where the skeptic arrive, since we need to point out that this whole idea of a “personal” and a “political” sphere should be called into question. The personal is political. And the political is personal. We need to be thoroughly skeptical of anyone who claims that they don’t care for and are not influenced by politics. We need to be even more skeptical (and with this I guess I’m putting some of my own biases on the table) of anyone making the claim that their personal life doesn’t influence their participation in various forms of politics.
Only when we are sufficiently skeptical of anyone making claims that these two spheres can be separated (and we might consider being skeptical also of the existence of “two spheres”), can we again say: Both.
Our skepticism should get us wondering about claims that my personal involvement in the world, while attempting to not have anything to do with politics, will actually be making any kind of change. Not only the complexity and vastness of our world make us skeptical, but also questions on whether this personal involvement is not simply a way to rid me of my conscience for benefiting from systemic injustice. But in the same breath we must be even more skeptical of those who talk about systemic changes from a position of benefiting from the status quo. We should be quite skeptical and ask whether such an individual will not ultimately make sure that the status quo will be kept in place, and the systemic changes will ultimately not simply bring “more of the same”.
And this is where I think Christian eschatology and ethics should help us.
Working from what could be considered a very elementary contemporary eschatology, we should draw on image of an “already” and a “not yet”. It is this world, this “already”, this material reality around us that we need to engage. But we do it as Christians, as those who believe that what is “not yet” is possible, believing it against all odds, “wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to belie” (Bosch). And this is personal. But its also political. When the church become a sign of what might be, it is both personal and political. It is exactly not yet a systemic change (cause then it won’t be a sign anymore), since it is a call to a society, providing a vision for possible future systemic change. It is thus a personal choice, a conviction, faith.
And in this way the skeptic in me has to bring the personal and the political back to the material reality around you:
Yes, we need to question those who are out on a mission (pun intended) to save to world, while the system within which this is being done is not being addressed.
Yes, we need to question those who talk a lot about some pie in the sky (pun intended again?) world if there whole life is dependent on the continuation of the status quo.
Then I guess what remain is those who’s personal life is more and more already reflecting the world of possibility which they are lobbying, fighting, writing, working for. We live the life we envision, so that we won’t become those who need to keep exactly that which we envision from happening, since that will challenge the privilege which the status quo is providing us.
November 17, 2010
In what is quite common arguments to be found within the white church environment in South Africa, both the Belhar confession as well as the Kairos document is rejected because it “supports liberation theology, and therefore violence”. In an act of total hypocrisy white South Africans would make the claim of rejecting violence in toto, and therefore withdraw from supporting these so-called implicit justifications of violence. By describing this as an act of total hypocrisy I do not wish to claim that the non-violent position is impossible, but rather that we need to be skeptical of simple rejections of blatant violent acts by the oppressed.
As in many other cases, rereading Bosch might help us in our quest. On the issue of violence in liberation theology he writes
Third, there is the matter of violence. Support for violende is intrinsic to Marxism. Without condoning the violence of the status quo and Christians’ blessing of it (which is actually the bigger problem), one has to express concern about the support for revolutionary violence (which is actually the lesser problem, since it is really a response to the violence of the system) in some branches of liberation theology.
Transforming Mission, p441
It might be the most obvious insight ever, but we have developed an extensive set of tools to not face it: opposition to violence is primarily an opposition to the violence of the status quo. Any opposition to violence which condones the violence of the status quo is not an opposition to violence at all, but become just another hidden attempt at keeping the violence of the privileged in place. In herein obviously the total hypocrisy of white South Africans: the opposition to the support for revolutionary violence is an important Christian stance, but without an even stronger rejection and opposition to the violence of the status quo it becomes a hypocritical act.
However, the matter of violence contain a third aspect (and obviously many more, but at least this one I believe need to be lifted out). Apart from the revolutionary violence, the planned use of violence to call in a change in how the world is structured, there is the violence of the oppressed when the situation become unbearable. Is this not what Žižek call divine violence?
Divine violence should thus be conceived as divine in the precise sense of the old Latin motto vox populi, vox dei: not in the perverse sense of “we are doing it as mere instruments of the People’s Will,” but as the heroic assumption of the solitude of sovereign decision. It is adecision (to kill, to risk or lose one’s own life) made in absolute solitude, with no cover in the big Other. If it is extra-moral, it is not “immoral,” it does not give the agent licence just to kill with some kind of angelic innocence.When those outside the structured social field strike “blindly,” demanding and enacting immediate justice/vengeance, this is divine violence. Recall, a decade or so ago, the panic in Rio de Janeiro when crowds descended from the favelas into the rich part of the city and started looting and burning supermarkets. This was indeed divine violence … They were like biblical locusts, the divine punishment for men’s sinful ways.
Is this then not the even bigger evil: that our rejection of the violence of the revolutionary without an even stronger opposition, and active dismantling of, the violence of the status quo, cause us to out of hand reject the violence of the oppressed. Those moments when those outside the structured social field strike “blindly,”. This we then describe as “criminal”*.
Is the true opposition to violence, and the truly theological stance, not inherently a focus on the violence of the status quo. Analyzing. Making public. Challenging. Not propagating the violent overthrow of the status quo, but recognizing that the appropriate response to both the revolutionary violence, as well as the divine violence of those outside the structured social field, is again a focus on the violence of the status quo.
* I don’t equate criminal violence with what Žižek call divine violence. Our response to criminal violence is something different. I simply point out that we use the description “criminal” broadly for all violence which challenge the status quo of the democracy.
In Violence Zizek points to some questions which again got me thinking about the always persistent notions in Christianity that we have a task to convert the whole society to Christ, meaning that all should become part of the church. He writes:
What if such an exclusion of some form of otherness from the scope of our ethical concerns is consubstantial with the very founding gesture of ethical universality, so that the more universal our explicit ethics is, the more brutal the underlying exclusion is? What the Christian all-inclusive attitude (recall St. Paul’s famous “there are no men or women, no Jews and Greeks”) involves is a thorough exclusion of those who do not accept inclusion into the Christian community. In other “particularistic” religions, there is a place for others: they are tolerated, even if they are looked upon with condescension. The Christian motto ”All men are brothers,” however, also means that those who do not accept brotherhood are not men.
My reflection at this stage does not concern the questions whether this is a legitimate interpretation of Paul, but rather the quote serve to open up questions concerning evangelical universalism.
A distinctive marker of Christianity is the ways in which it created categories for interpreting the act of entering into the faith community which opened up this faith community to all, regardless of culture or background. Obviously Paul’s thoughts was important in this process. I usually describe this to my confirmation classes by saying that the crime that the followers of Jesus, those called Christians, committed against the Jews was to open up the Jewish faith to everyone – they made it too easy to become a Jew. Gone where the days of circumcision, which made it literally painful to become a member once you were an adult (and obviously opened up possibilities for woman to become part of the faith community).
Again similar categories were created within the protestant Reformation, sola gratia, sola fidei. But again the critique from Zizek is applicable, because if membership is sola gratia, but the sola fidei is still a prerequisite, it puts a question mark either on the choice of faith, or on the non-believer. Either you don’t have a choice, or else you’re choice against that which is assumed is open to everyone open possibilities for the most brutal forms of exclusion (and the history of the church is ample examples of this).
However, this is not the only interpretations possible. In an article titled How my mind has changed. Mission and the alternative community*, David Bosch describes his own project from the years 1972-1982 as
What I have attempted to do— not very successfully, I am afraid, judging by the reaction, particularly in the Afrikaans Reformed Churches! — was to build on and develop further the intrinsic similarities that I believe exist between Reformed and Anabaptist ecclesiologies.
He unpacks this by explaining that
The more identifiably separate and unique the church is as a community of believers (Anabaptism) the greater significance it has for the world (Calvinism).
Whether this is what Bosch intended or not, I’m not yet completely sure about, but on a very simplistic level this assumes that church and world can never become the same, that the church should always be but a part of a broader community, and not identifiable as the community**, always smaller than the community, smaller than the world. The experimental garden. The place where things are possible which would not be considered in the world.
How then is this significance for the world to manifest when this community is truly unique?
I suggest that we need a deeper exploration of the idea of public dialogue.
If our own place is understood as part of a broader dialogue, and our contribution to the world and transformation of the world (mission) is found in our uniqueness, it opens up possibilities that this world can contain a place for others. Exactly as a Christian, I can create an openness which recognize the voices of others within this public dialogue, contributing to the positive evolution of society. However, I do this only from a position of faith, of a firm conviction that also the way of the church, in its uniqueness, has significance for the world.
Maybe, in this post-secular world, this could even be done without condescension. Not only could we recognize that certain distinctly different worldviews are siblings of our own (be it the monotheistic faiths, or secularism), but the growing recognition of the important role which for example eastern religions need to play in our time (think of conversations on ecology) also open up the idea of a dialogue where the other need not be defeated, but where uniquely different views are needed in the ongoing dialogue concerning what Christians would call the kingdom of God (that which is the dream of how things could be in this world).
And the church then? Well, we would need to discover and live our distinctness as the community which over the past 2000 years reflected on the tradition which grew out of the life and words of Jesus. For the sake of society we need to contribute from our uniqueness as church.
* Bosch, D. J. 1982. “How my mind has changed: Mission and the alternative community”, in Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. 41 (December), pp. 6–10.
** My guess is that chapter 13 of Transforming Mission, and the 1993 chapter in The Good News of the Kingdom: MissionTheology in the Third Millennium titled God’s Reigh and the Rulers of this World both open up the possibility that different church traditions might be appropriate at different times and places. This might open up the possibility of interpreting Bosch in such a way that at times a complete identification between church and community is possible, but as a rule I believe you don’t find this idea in Bosch.
January 22, 2010
In some strange way pages 108-113 in Transforming Mission seem to get missed by many readers. I co-lectured a class in theology of mission this year, in which Transforming Mission was the textbook, and in the oral exams not one student could tell me what passage from Luke according to Bosch forms the basis of Luke’s mission theology. Not one. Almost all of them knew that Matthew 28 was the main passage from that gospel, but somehow Luke 4 just passed over them (if you will be attending this class in future, consider this a tip).
Transforming Mission was not the only place where Bosch talked about Luke 4, the interpretation grew on him over years, and he wrote about it a number of times. But in this book of 500 pages, covering Jesus, three biblical perspectives, 2000 years of mission history, underlying paradigm theory, and 13 elements of mission, 5 pages get spent on just this one pericopé. That alone should get some alarm to go off that this is an extremely important passage for Bosch, and getting under the skin of his interpretation of this passage is of utmost importance.
Although some of it is quite technical, and I’m not going into every detail, the main point is attempting to understand why it is that the people of Nazareth want to throw Jesus off a cliff in the gospel of Luke. And Bosch attributes this to the fact that Jesus left out the part of God’s wrath when he quoted from Isiah 61. According to his view, Hebrew parallelism makes it clear that the “year of Jubilee” and the “day of the vengeance of our God” belong together, but Jesus never mentions the vengeance.
A minority viewpoint on the translation of verse 22 follows, which I hope helps in making sense of the pericopé, but I believe the message can be communicated without this viewpoint, so I’ll give that a skip. But as if Luke wants to make absolutely clear that this is intentional, he then has Jesus use two stories from the Hebrew scriptures, both in which non-Jews find grace from God. This infuriates the people from Nazareth! They have no room for a God that can love their enemies. In short, the God that Jesus talks about has too much grace, and too much love.