By Kuzipa Nalwamba*

The GETI 2022 theme, “Christ’s Love (Re)moves Borders,” echoes the WCC 11th Assembly theme, “Christ’s Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity.” It brings to the fore the notion of Christ’s love that removes and moves (in the habitual tense) borders. The habitual tense used in framing it suggests an onward incremental movement towards. The composite construction (Re)moves that juxtaposes remove and move, suggests a tension-laden conceptual space that allows for the layered theological and contextual exploration of the main theme and the six thematic tracks.

The idea that Christ’s love (re)moves borders of hostility and division in the world evokes both theological fact and lived reality. Theologically speaking, Christ’s love has already removed barriers and attained reconciliation and offers the world a unity that encompasses the entire cosmos as a gift of his grace. In our lived reality however, even when signs of unity are evident, there remains room for ongoing work of reconciliation as hostility and divisions remain a constant reality in the world. 

The GETI 2022 theme, therefore, straddles theological fact and experiential dimensions of what it means to say Christ’s love that (re)moves borders. Holding the two sides in tension, the study process will guide participants to delve deeply and creatively into the theological and practical implications of the claim that Christ (re)moves borders.

Methodological considerations

Exploring the theme will therefore make for rigorous study and discussions. In that regard, strengthening the agency and theological discernment of participants through sharing and joint reflection in multi-cultural and multi-denominational groups is an important approach to ensure that reflections in the study groups lead to more profound contextual and ecumenical reflection to expand theological and ecclesial horizons. This will take place in study groups of 10-12 participants guided by two facilitators per group.

Reflection on each track will open with exploratory questions to guide participants as they analyse and engage with their respective contexts in relation to particular introductory video presentations of thematic tracks and reading texts for each track. In addition, facilitators will help participants explain and locate key concepts that will create a common understanding as a starting point, given the diversity of participants.

Facilitators will also intentionally cultivate an atmosphere where critical perspectives enable participants to engage in theological reflection that challenges ideological frameworks within and without the church.

Within that, facilitators will model ecumenical listening to ensure constructive engagement and a good group dynamic. Thus, building rapport, among facilitators, among participants and between participants and facilitators, is foundational to the success of GETI 2022, methodologically speaking.

In recent times, the world appears to be retreating into national, racial and ethnic enclaves. The result is a rising fervour for distinctive identity in social and political spaces. The COVID-19 global pandemic has made these fault lines of societal divisions starker. The urgency of exploring the theme of Christ’s love (re)moving borders as a progressive directional and moral movement towards encounter with, and understanding of, the “other’”will inform the methods applied at GETI 2022. 

The GETI 2022 reader titled,  “Christ’s Love (Re)moves Borders: An Ecumenical Reader” is a compilation of texts from various sources done by theological educators from different regions who participated in the GETI 2022 Study Materials Work Group. The texts reflect theological, disciplinary, geographical, cultural and confessional diversity of the teams that worked together. The collaborative work to select texts reflects and builds on the work of the Curriculum and Methodology Work Group and its curriculum proposals and methodological assumptions for GETI 2022. The Chaplaincy and Spiritual Life Work Group has developed a pedagogically relevant prayer booklet ensuing from the first two work groups. The Contextual Immersion Work Group has identified sites related to the six themes that GETI participants will visit to facilitate reflection.

Thematic Tracks for Reflection, Dialogue and Encounter

The following are the six thematic tracks that will frame the study process. 

The first track, Healing Memories: Remembering and Transforming Past and Present Wounds at the Border (Historic-theological Track) will address the healing of memories, among others, those stemming from confessional, religious, ethnic, racial division and violence. The guiding question for reflection will be: “What accounts for Christian hope in Christ’s love (re)moving borders in the face of wounded memories and trauma?” The ensuing reflection will focus on reconciliation, hope and healing across confessional borders and church schism within ecumenism. Reflections will also touch on religious entanglements with politics, xenophobia in religion and politics and genocide and crimes at borders.  

That the culture of preserving memories and remembering is part of the German social fabric augurs well for study visits to sites that will highlight the healing of memories.

The second track, Kairos for Creation: Transcending Boundaries of Anthropocentrism to affirm the whole Community of Life (Eco-theological Track) speaks to a reshaping of theology and casting a moral vision in view of the ecological crisis in the world today. Among others, it addresses the need for reorientation from reductionism to holistic theological approaches and eco-spiritualities that centre (inter)relational epistemologies. The case study that shows that nature rebounded during the pandemic is telling about the human-induced destruction of the earth. To that effect, the relational epistemologies link to human to cosmic wellbeing. In that regard, redefining the mission subject as “the least of these”

 (i.e. voices on the margins) includes the suffering voice of the earth. To that effect, the call of Christ’s love is a call to transcend the separation of the rest of creation from humans.

The third track, Witness from the Margins: Connecting with, and Holding Space for those at the Border (Practical-Diaconal Track) focuses on communicating Christ’s love through service using new de-centred models. The emphasis is that communicating Christ’s reconciling love in our world today finds expression in actual service. For reflection on the theological underpinnings and new models of ecumenical diakonia to be transformational, it must take into account indigenous people’s interventions, interventions by people living with disabilities and other groups whose voices are considered marginal in current discourses. The question the role of churches vis-a-vis the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be relevant in the consideration of epistemic and domain borders to be transcended in this regard.

The fourth track, Engaging with Plurality: Dialoguing with Communities across Borders (Intercultural-interreligious track) explores the rifts at the boundaries of culture and religion today. It will tackle the question of what it meant to re-imagine humanity and the divine. The rifts that exist at the boundaries of culture and religion are a significant point of reference for theological reflection in the discourse about Christ’s love and borders. This track will consider, among others, interreligious cooperation as dia-praxis (acting together) and what it will take to defend the shrinking space for interreligious peace-building activities in the world. Examples of peace work in the context of interreligious dialogue will include references to Nigeria, Egypt, Syria and Ukraine, among other examples that participants will bring to their studies. Going beyond media headlines to highlight hidden stories of interreligious conflict, peace work, strategic roles interreligious councils have played in conflict and the role of the secular in the midst of religious plurality will form the corpus of this track.

The fifth track, Body Politics: Uprooting Systems that Degrade Bodies at the Border (Just-relations track), tackles the discrimination of bodies based on race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality as a historical and present-day justice question that Christians cannot afford to side-step. This track will, among other things, reflect theologically and historically on the discrimination of bodies and specifically reference racism, xenophobia, modern day slavery, gender, sexuality, disease and other forms of discrimination.  It will also cover a reflection on body, health and healing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sixth track, 4th Industrial Revolution & AI: Human Identity in the Context of Global Digitisation (Special Plenary) will explore theological responses to emergent artificial intelligence, trans-human realities and technological futurism. It will raise issues about re-imagining humanity and re-imagining the divine and theological responses to emergent Artificial Intelligence (AI), trans-human reality and technological futurism. Their pervasiveness in daily life poses fundamental theological, moral and ethical questions about boundaries of human identity in relation to machines.

GETI 2022 in the context of the assembly

GETI will have its own programme and will begin three days earlier than the assembly. When the assembly begins, GETI participants will attend Bible studies, thematic plenaries and home groups. That content will be integrated into the content and in the reflection in study groups. The encounter and dialogue in the study groups is a methodological necessity for transformational learning in which the border between intellectual work and lived experience is traversed. The diversity of perspectives among participants and facilitators makes for a vibrant discovery study experience with a goal to inculcate a vision of unity for church and society.

The WCC’s Ecumenical Theological Education programme upholds GETI 2022 as contributor to the future of the ecumenical vision by continuing to experiment with methods for theological education while deepening the dialogue on, and engagement with, transformative pedagogies.   

*Kuzipa Nalwamba is WCC programme executive for Ecumenical Theological Education.

The Global Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI) 2022