Global Platform for Theological Reflection 2010
Unity and Mission Today: Voices and Visions from the Margins
Bucharest, Romania, 4-10 October 2010
A brief report
If Christian unity is for mission, then that mission is about ‘doing justice and loving kindness’ in God’s world (Mic.6:8). God’s justice as we understand from the Bible is inclusive and transformative. It seeks to restore right relationships among all that God created; it pleads the cause of the disempowered as well as speaks truth to power; it heals the wounds of the victim as well as the disfigurement of the aggressor; it affirms the dignity of all and the parenthood of God; it confronts falsehood and upholds truth; and it advocates for power to be exercized in responsible ways in which it enhances life, ensuring opportunities of life for all, so that God’s grand plan of a universal reconciliation in Christ may be possible through our participation towards the same (Eph. 1: 8-10), said the Global Platform for Theological Reflection on Unity and Mission: Voices and Visions from the Margins took place during October 4-10 in Bucharest, Romania. It also held that discrimination, exclusion and exploitation of some on account of certain social and economic structures and cultures are visible and concrete expressions of injustice that constantly work against God’s purposes of life for all in the world. Therefore, Christian vocations of unity and mission cannot be sought apart from the larger pursuit of these aspirations for a just and inclusive world and church.
This event which is fourth in the series since 2007 (for more: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=3092) was held at the Social Cultural Centre of the Patriarchate of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Bucharest, Romania from October 4th through 10th , 2010. It brought together thirty theologians and activists from 22 different countries representing the five networks of the Just and Inclusive Communities Programme of the World Council of Churches – Racism, Dalits, Migration, Indigenous Peoples and Peoples with Disabilities – in conversation with representative of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC and the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism to re-imagine unity and mission from the perspectives of the margins.
The theological agenda for the global platform sought to build on the theological resources’ of La Paz, Rio and Nagpur processes of the WCC’s Just and Inclusive Communities programme (For more: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=3105) by initiating dialogue between the experiences of marginality, the 1982 statement on “Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation” and the Faith and Order paper – “Called to be the One Church”. The dialogue was shaped by the participants’ shared vision of church and society featured by transformative justice, love and peace. Foundational to the dialogue was the commitment to privilege experience and context as a starting point for reflection.
In engaging the dialogue the participants affirmed that unity and mission assumed credibility and relevance only if they are rooted in justice. Without justice the notions of unity and mission run the risk of mirroring the existing power imbalances and being co-opted by the status quo. Justice involves affirming diversity and intentionally welcoming and creating space for the voices and the gifts of the marginalized.
The global platform also affirmed the need for a methodological shift when conceiving mission and unity. The task of theological conceiving should be about ‘doing justly’ in the sense that we become sensitive to the tendency of certain modes of theologising to exclude certain voices. There is need to challenge the prevailing complicity in promoting theological elitism through the privileging of textual cultures vis-à-vis oral / symbolic cultures. Therefore theologies of mission can be conceived of not solely in terms of theo-logia (words about God) but also in terms of theo-phoneia (sound about God), theo-graphia (art about God) and theo-symbology (symbols about God). Resisting any complicity in structures of exclusion should characterize our methodology.
In a spirit of introspection, those who were there representing the excluded people, also recognized the presence of hierarchical pyramids among themselves and insisted that these be demolished first, if their struggles for inclusivity and justice have to be credible. Recognising the reality of moving margins, the Platform advocated the need for those on the margins to define the contours rather than being guided by or in response to the agenda set by the dominant groups.
From this perspective the participants engaged in robust discussions around the following issues:
a) re-imagining mission and unity in relation to the gifts of the margins;
b) embracing a new cosmology for mission and unity which challenged the prevailing cosmologies of domination and exclusion;
c) the promise and problems that the bible held with regard to the complex issues of healing and marginalization;
d) the relevance of the concept of mission dei for the margins; and
e) shifting the conversation to affirm the agency of the voices from the margins.
The five days of fellowship, common worship and passionate theological discussion proved to be an enriching time where insight was deepened (in the context of perceptive and deeply challenging conversations) and solidarity strengthened (by a shared awareness of each other’s struggles and gifts), as the participants sought to re-imagine mission and unity primarily as instruments of the God’s promise of life in abundance not just for some but for the entire creation. A detailed account of the conversation is being drafted for wider sharing about this unique gathering.