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Homogeneity Is Slow Death
There Is No Future Without Diversity
Welcome to my newsletter, “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined,” where I dream here about mission in a postcolonial world. Every week, I share one thought that has spoken to me in the week, two resources I trust will be helpful to you, and three exciting quotes about mission. I pray one of these will energise you in the coming week.
1. Thought I Can’t Shake Off
I had a chance to preach at Spring Harvest last week — definitely a landmark experience for me — and I spoke about the possibility of the kingdom of God to be a place where all of us, in our glorious diversity, can belong. In the sermon, I wrestled with the proposition that homogeneity is slow death1 to argue that diversity is what will keep us around for generations to come. Without diversity—a constant mixing of the gene pool—species slowly falter and die out. Without being truly hospitable to one another, both the host and the guest are deprived of the fullness of life. This brings me back to the question of inclusion in mission that I started last week. I realise it is a tricky one. Yet, it is also a very important one. It is tricky because those who have the power to include also have power to exclude, for any reason. Of course, in mission, just like in many other contexts, it is easier and often preferable to exclude. As it happens, those who exclude others exclude themselves as well. That is why homogeneity reigns in our mission organisations. This is the experience of many non-Western Christians in the missions world. They have to beg to be included. Where they are included, they are often expected to be silent listeners, with little room to contribute to discussions. Unfortunately, homogeneity, even that of our thought systems, is slow death. It is for this reason that I think that inclusion is key to the shaping of the future of mission. There is no future without diversity. Back in 1910, an Indian leader, Francis Azariah, begged in Edinburgh, “give us friends.” Today, many years later, intercultural friendships are still rare in mission. My Spring Harvest audience understood me in the context of their congregational existence. For us as mission organisations, diversity is even more needed. We all can do better.
2. Resources I am Enjoying
Taylor Walters Denyer's book comes out of her doctoral thesis that explored the question: “What would a decolonized partnership look like between North Katanga and American United Methodists?” She is an American who spent most of her childhood in North Katanga in the Congo where her father was a missionary. She later went back as a missionary herself and had the opportunity to carry out this timely and fascinating research. The shifts that had happened between her father’s time and her own time as a missionary in the Congo made her question a great deal of what mission is. She remembers in her youth, mission was a euphemism for church assistance to the poor, or outreach with help packages such as medical assistance to the needy, grounded in what she called “mono-logical teaching and preaching efforts” where the missionary speaks and those being evangelised were expected to only listen. All this highlights what Taylor calls a saviour complex—a belief that one has special abilities to rescue others and has a moral imperative to use them.
The dynamics explored in this book are quite telling. The shifting relationships between the Katanga Methodists of the Congo and their American counterparts reveal the complex realities that shape our world of mission today. As the Methodists exploded in North Katanga, the ways they related with the US partners changed. There was a point when they, the North Katanga Methodists, supported the end of the de-facto moratorium on mission (largely due to political violence in the Congo) and pushed for a withdrawal of all full-time missionaries from North Katanga which, in the end, worked for the good of the North Katanga Methodist Church. As indigenous Christians stepped up to full church leadership, their congregations exploded. When the missionaries trickled back years later, the context had changed and the power dynamics were different. New models of working together in partnership emerged which, though not perfect, have enabled the denomination move beyond the problematic colonial ways of doing mission.
If you would like to see a way of decolonising mission partnerships, this book will be a great resource.
Eddie Arthur (of the Kouyanet blog) discusses some thoughts on the need for a rethink of mission and how to do this effectively in mission agencies. All this is necessary today, in the context of the rising World Christianity, the privatisation of Christianity in the West, and the continuous multiplication of mission agencies in the UK.
3. Quotes I am Pondering
I believe we need to start reframing our transboundary ministries as opportunities for co-learning. To see missions as an opportunity for us to share the message we have authority in Christ to share, but then explore the meaning of that message together as the recipient grapples with what it means for them in their context, and let it challenge what we assumed it meant from our context. — Jay Mātenga
Mission with integrity also calls for listening to the other, dialogue and speaking out against all impediments to the gospel. — Philomena Njeri Mwaura
… the challenge of mission does not relate only to the areas outside the West but is an urgent task also in the former centre of Christendom. — Veli-Matti and Kärkkäinen.
Thank you, I pray you have a missionally fruitful week.
This is a modification of the “Law of Requisite Variety” that I learned from Richard T. Pascale, Mark Millemann, and Linda Gioja. Surfing the Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business. New York: Crown Business, 2000, p. 20. It states that “the survival of any system depends on its capacity to cultivate (not just tolerate) variety in its internal structures.”