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Theological education with migrant Christians in the changing landscape of World Christianity

Theological education with migrant Christians in the changing landscape of World Christianity - Crucial issues from WCC/ETE perspective

01 December 2010

Dietrich Werner, Geneva

  1. Migration is a key factor in the development of modern societies in the age of globalization. The world regions with the highest percentage of people born outside the country of residence are North America (10% of population immigrants; 41 millions); Middle East with 9% immigrants or 38 million people and Western Europe with 7% immigrants or 29 million people. In Europe immigration has increased considerably after World War II and stands between about 25% and 10% in the majority of the countries: Countries in which immigrants form between 25% and 10% of the population are: Switzerland (25%), Latvia (19%), Estonia (15%), Austria (15%), Croatia (15%), Ukraine (14.7%), Cyprus (14.3%), Ireland (14%), Moldova (13%), Germany (12.3%), Sweden (12%), Belarus (12%), Spain (10.8%, 12.2% in 2009), France (10.2%), and Italy (10% in 2010). This indicates that not only Western Europe (which is mainly represented here) but also Eastern Europe countries are heavily influenced by migration. It might well be that there is a special need for innovative models  for theological education with migrant Christians in Eastern European countries as most of the pioneering models which have been developed so far are all located in Western Europe.
  2. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), migration is considered one of the defining global issues of the early twenty-first century, as more and more people are on the move today than at any other point in human history. There are now about 192 million people living outside their place of birth, which is about three per cent of the world's population. This means that roughly one of every thirty-five persons in the world is a migrant. Between 1965 and 1990, the number of international migrants increased by 45 million – an annual growth rate of about 2.1 per cent. The current annual growth rate is about 2.9 per cent.  In 2005, woman accounted for 49.6% of global migrants.

The European study document “Mapping Migration in Europe”(Brussels 2008) lists four   categories of migrants to be clear on the different groups, refugees, asylum seekers,  internally displaced persons and the different forms of economic migrants. It also  suggest to develop a proper theology of migration and of solidarity with migrants  relating back to the biblical traditions of solidarity with the strangers (‘ger’) and with the  vulnerable which form an essential component in the biblical witness. A genuine new  appreciation of cultural minority or ethnic churches is demanded for which does not  view the emergence of immigrant churches as a failure to receive what the European  Churches had brought to them in their mission. Rather they should be seen as authentic

African, Korean, and Chinese spiritual traditions, just as there is a French spiritual

tradition, whether Reformed, Baptist or Adventist. European historical churches can be

view as being  equally ethnic. According to the report “Mapping Migration in Europe”

Churches of African Expression in France or Germany offer the possibility for a new appreciation of migrant Churches as new centers of evangelization thereby enriching the diversity of Europe’s indigenous Churches in the languages which offer the Gospel of life with colour and vibrancy to contemporary Europeans.( (p. 22) Thus “Non-European migrants to Europe represent not the de-Christianisation of European Society but the de-Europeanisation of  the European Christianity.”(p. 24).

  1. The Mapping Migration in Europe study also explaines that among the estimated 24

million migrants that were in the EU at the end of 2003, around 48.5% belonged to Christian Churches. A further 30.9% were Muslims, and about 20.5% belonged to other

religions (p. 29).  There are different models which were developed to relate between  indigenous churches and immigrant churches in different European countries. In a

typology one can distinguish various ways:

-        to opt for separate development and building up of churches as local worshipping communities;

-        to view relationships to immigrant churches as diaconical responsibility and top provide financial or humanitarian or educational assistance to them;

-        to build immigrant churches and practice faith in the patterns which belong to the home countries with the mother tongue and cultural values at home;

-        to allow for mixed congregations where local people and immigrants use the same building, but do worship liturgy in their distinct patterns

-        to assimilate ethnic minority churches to the patterns of cultural majority churches and expect migrants to adapt their habits to the cultural standards of the majority setting;

-        to work for international and intercultural local churches which would allow each ethnic group to keep its distinct feasters but to relate to other shapes of local churches in an open and participatory manner.

All these models of churches have certain implications for the needs and priorities of theological training and leadership.

  1. There is no overall master plan or comprehensive strategy yet for dealing with the increasing demands for theological education of immigrant churches in Europe although there are clear indications that most of European churches and faculties have entered in a learning journey with regard to appropriate forms of theological education for immigrant churches. The ETE Global Study Report on Theological Education 2009 which was produced for the Edinburgh 2010 centenary conference has a whole chapter on “Migration and theological education – Theological education for migrant churches” (part 14) and asks the pertinent question: “Who is taking care of the needs of theological education for immigrant churches and what models are adequate to provide proper education for and with them?”(p. 63). There are reports about respective models of theological education for immigrants in Britain, in Germany and in the US where the emergence of immigrant “hybrid churches” with cultural heritage from non-American backgrounds has become a major phenomenon: “This hybrid Christianity is alien/strange to North Americans who follow Western Christianity with some North American nuances. The North American churches are eager to welcome the migrants with their Christianity and accommodate them especially in the context of diminishing membership of European decent, but are unable to fully integrate them to the denominational setting as exists now in North America.” The report concludes with three key mandates for the future:

a) To develop innovative models for theological education is a key mandate for  mainline churches all over the world in the 21st century as migration is hugely and fast  changing the global landscape of Christianity;

b) it is seen as a major challenge how the (African or Asian) Diaspora communities of Christians and theologians can in turn become a resource for strengthening theological education institutions and programs within their home countries – new models of inter-contextual cooperation in theological education between Diaspora and home-based communities of theological educators need to be developed;

c) Diaspora communities of people living as strangers in a foreign context point sharply  to the issue of accessibility of theological education systems as developed within  established churches. Thus theological education for immigrants is one of the key issues

of justice in theological education which will be crucial for World Christianity in the 21st

century.

  1. Perhaps there could be something like a typology template indicating a number of various structural models of theological education for immigrant churches which need to be put in  dialogue with each other and to be assessed with regard to their advantages and disadvantages. This workshop could help in developing a clear mapping of the various options at hand.

In principle there might exist the following options

a)      self-organized, church-based courses on theological education for immigrant church leaders, supported by networks of immigrant churches or smaller Bible colleges;

b)      non-degree courses for theological education of immigrant church leaders provided by supporting mission agencies and ecumenical associations of churches in a given region;

c)      certificate degree-courses of theological education by extension provided for immigrant churches in cooperation with existing institutions of missiological training and theological education (ATTIG model);

d)      establishment of new graduate degree courses in established institutions of theological education within the Bologna system of theological degrees (B.A. in Mission and World Christianity, planned in Hermannsburg/Göttingen; and M.A. of Intercultural Theology in Hermannsburg/Göttingen) (see Frieder Ludwig in: epd. Dok 35, August 2010 on “Theologische Ausbildung im Horizont der weltweiten Christenheit”);

e)      integration of immigrant church candidates into existing degree courses of non-university institutions of theological education of the protestant free churches (Elstal, BFP);

f)       integration of immigrant church candidates into external theological degree courses offered by non-European institutions within Europe (UNISA courses; St. Concordia St. Louis courses).

  1. It will be helpful to formulate a number of basic theological and missiological criteria for new models of theological education for immigrants which can inspire and direct the planning and designing or reshaping of existing models in this regard. Some valuable recommendations were made already in the article contributed on migration and theological education in the Handbook on Theological Education in World Christianity:

“The aim of appropriate theological education among immigrants is not to groom them  to become good residence and citizens of host country with needed assimilation of local  brand of Christianity and culture. Rather its goal should be that the immigrant Christians  would be able to preserve their Christian faith and respective practices with integrity  without flouting the opportunities offered by the state and society for becoming  residence and citizens.”

In line with a recommendation quoted from the Green Paper of the EU on the  educational policies over against immigrants (2008) (which is quoted there) it can be  formulated that models of theological education for immigrant churches should

a)      avoid setting up segregated schools or programmes which in principle would hinder interaction with theological education of similar candidates from indigenous churches from the given context and limit improvement of equity  and mutual access in higher education;

b)      encourage the accommodation of the increased diversity of mother tongues and cultural perspectives from the variety of countries immigration has come from;

c)      adopt teaching skills and leaning methodologies which allow candidates not to become estranged from their sending communities but to relate to immigrant families and communities again in their ministries;

d)      encourages and affirms the legitimacy of Christian spiritual traditions and theological worldviews which might be different from one’s own (‘Pentecostal students meet liberal professors’…) while at the same time allows one’s own identity to grow in dialogue and encounter with others;

e)      strengthen the development of attitudes and skills which are needed to empower people for citizenship and active participation in the given (hosting) society rather then to form ghettos and smaller milieus which are in isolation from other groups;

f)       enhance the understanding of the variety of Christian churches and other religious traditions in the country of residence and promote a spirit of ecumenical cooperation and togetherness;

g)      keeps open and prepares channels of transition to higher levels of theological education for those who are interested and able to join for other stages of  being trained as theological educator and  ecumenical church leader in the country of residence;

h)      maintain or build up partnership relations with important centers of excellence in theological education in the global South (Africa) in order to secure synergies and openness to new forms of contextual theologies from the home countries and the back-flow of theological expertise gained in Europe to churches in the home context.

7.  It has been stated frequently that a very high percentage of immigrants and migrants  are women. In 2005 women accounted for 49,6 % of global migrants. Women are  represented with higher proportions in many immigrant churches. It would be  interesting to find out whether women are underrepresented in present courses of  theological education for immigrant churches in Germany and what might be the  reasons for this. Having in mind different cultural traditions it might well be that for  some issues and programs it might be advisable to have course programs particularly  developed for women in immigrant leadership positions. Lester Ruiz from ATS in  reporting about developments in theological training for immigrants in the US contexts  recalls the intense discourse about the realities of the “racialized and gendered  Diaspora” in US society (Handbook Theological Education p. 91ff) and the ways in which  power is exercised, controlled, made participatory or refused.

8.      It might be worth considering whether this consultation could consider a number of crucial recommendations which might have some strategic implications like

a)to encourage more explicit and deliberate collaboration between a  number of pioneering centers for theological education of immigrant church leaders in Germany, in the UK and in Scandinavia in order to have better structural links and common standards between their programs;

b) to work for the establishment of an (additional or new) chair for African theology (filled with an African theologian) at one of the given faculties of theology in Western Europe,

c) to create a BA study program in African theology (English/German language) which is

open to candidates from immigrant churches backgrounds,

d) to identify two or three centers where an English Master of Intercultural  Theological programme can be offered and developed and related partnerships with

universities outside Europe, particularly in Africa can be deepened,

e) to create a common website for Intercultural Theology and Christian Leadership

Development in Germany on which all course offers and materials are spelled out in

detail,

f) to plan for a common European Institute for Intercultural Theology and Christian

Leadership Development in which different local or regional programmes could develop

their collaboration within a common platform and a joint level of academic recognition?

9.      Finally a number of key questions for the future of theological education for migrant churches should be noted which partly have been identified in the debates during the Hamburg consultation and which certainly need attention in the period of follow up to this meeting:

a)      Are there common standards for curriculum development for migrant churches and the different courses provided for this at present? Is there a core curriculum which might be common for all programmes and would reappear apart from the changing curriculum as according to regional needs? Could there be a common text book for core curriculum contents?

b)      How do we avoid theological education models for migrant churches to end up in an isolated educational island? How to develop proper transition channels and flexible tracks between different levels of theological education? Can we envisage a continuum of courses presenting a diversified spectrum of offers adapted to the different needs of Christians from migrant churches and at the same open and flexible to lead to higher stages of theological degree programmes? Hot to secure interconnectivity and flexibility of theological education programmes for migrant churches?

c)      How to agree on proper procedures for validation of degrees and accreditation of programmes in theological education for migrant churches? Are we intending to work within the Bologna system or without and for what reasons? Can we dream of something like creating a joint Afro(or Asian)-German TEE College in Germany to which the different regional programmes would be related and the courses of which would have formal recognition?

d)      What are common standards for requirements for ordination of pastors for Christian churches in Germany? Do we wasn’t to end up with a two class system of ordination, one for ministers of established indigenous churches, one for newly emerging immigrant churches or do we want to work for a balanced system which has common standards and prepares the way for German as well as African/Asian partners to work on equal footing?

e)      How do we strengthen intercultural, missiological and ecumenical competence of pastors and church workers from mainline churches in European countries and build up interactive platforms with theological education programmes for migrant churches?

f)       Can we see the field of theological education for immigrant churches as an area for new ventures interdenominational cooperation between established protestant churches, free churches, evangelical churches, orthodox churches and Roman Catholic Churches in Europe or will this prove to be an area in which traditional divisions are only reinforced and continued?

g)      Could there be a chance to create an International Association of Theological Education for Migrant Churches which would work in close cooperation with WOCATI, ETE-WCC and with the International Association for Intercultural pastoral Theology?

h)      How do we strengthen the visibility and outreach of African (Asian) scholarly theology in the European setting of university based theological education? Hasn’t time come to create a Chair for African theology in a German theological faculty?