A Response to the presentation by Dr. Deenabandhu Manchala on Relocating Theological Education in a Marginalising  Context by Fr. K. M. George

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Let me make some  brief and modest comments with great appreciation for  the fine presentation by my good friend and formal colleague Dr Deenabandhu Manchala . For  the sake of brevity I am obliged to be  laconic even at the expense of some degree of intelligibility.

 

  1. The term “re-locating” in the title evokes a lot of things, both old and new. The Latin locus meaning place, space, spot, region, a literary passage, topic, context etc is the root for local and It reminds one of  the discussion on  the locus theologicus or in plural Loci Theologici of Melanchthon in the 16th century to John Millbank, Robert Schreiter and others in the 21st century. In the medieval scholastic understanding everything under the sun can be the locus of theology. This is still true since any context or a combination of multiple contexts can be the locus of theology today.
  2. In our universe everything has its own place or location. Relocating suggests leaving the old place and finding a new one. We may also use the old metaphor of planting and replanting though it applies mostly to plants. When Dr. Deenabandhu wants to relocate theological education from its classical or conventional soil to a marginalizing context, he is clearly making a value judgment. The old locus, the centre, the mainstream is no more  congenial for theological education. One has  to take it to the margins where our triumphalist notions of  God, power and  hegemony should be thoroughly redefined. We are asked to move away from conventional paradigms of theological education, mission and   I am fully in agreement with what my friend speaks out  on these topics with clarity and conviction.
  3. It seems to me that most of our theological and missionary discourse in ecumenical circles, in the WCC, and in our academic centres ruled by the western mindset and money still operates with a Euclidean understanding of space : center, periphery or margin  -mission from the centre or  from the margin, theology from below or from above, to  right or left, center-left or center-forward…..!  Euclid, the third century BC Alexandrian mathematician provided the basic Geometry studied in the west until today. His axioms and propositions are still valid, but only on a flat surface and  in a particular understanding of space. Our conventional ecumenical thinking is very much linear,  progressing in a straight line between two points…With the theory of Relativity, and with the revelations of the Quantum world our understanding of ‘spacetime’ has changed. Cosmic gravity bends even the  supposedly straight path of light, giving us a totally different view of the universe. ..

Postmodernity shows some sensitivity to the non-linear, interconnected, polycentric  reality that defies our  usual binaries and polarities. Inclusion and exclusion can happen at the same time in any point in space. Inside and outside are no longer  spatially fixed categories. Any point can be simultaneously  centre ,periphery and margin. All this has begun to  affect human consciousness and its  evolution. I am not suggesting that we should therefore discard our fight with life-denying hierarchies and unwholesome  dichotomies that we  still encounter  at social, economic and cultural levels, and in the life of our churches.

  1. While we use the words global, local and glocal we are all aware that what is called global in terms of culture, finance, values and business are all extensions of some dominant “Local” mostly from the West. This is simply the legacy of the old imperial-colonial understanding . In the post-Constantinian period the heads of the local church of Rome  took over the imperial Roman paradigm. Globalization today had its theology and spirituality already shaped by the imperial-colonial Christianity. We have at least theoretical counterparts in India, in the rather mythical sto
    ry of Aswamedha yaga, apparently practiced by ambitious new emperors. A powerful warhorse is let loose to wander in any country  he chooses. An army follows the horse, and whichever land it happens to traverse would be annexed by the army for the emperor. If there is any opposition, there would be a bloody war in which all the opponents would be eliminated. We have no idea whether it was ever practiced in India at any time. But Christianity’s colonial-missionary outreach as well as the neocolonial enterprise of globalization practically illustrate the principle of Aswamedha.

It seems  violent opposition is building up across the world against five centuries long Western colonial-missionary aswamedha  as is evident  in the  rejection of  the standardization of culture, consumer products, entertainments, food and clothing and so on  in certain strands of terrorist movements. They reject the western notion of democracy, individual freedom, human rights, gender equality, and the permissive style of life. Some of them want to redraw the boundaries of their lands once drawn by western colonial powers. In the  conflicts now raging in our world, the  secular West is labelled ‘Christian’ and an arch-enemy by some other cultures and religions. The new expressions like ghar vapsi are semantic pointers to the changing scenario in our own country.

  1. There is a classical patristic notion of the ‘human person as the mediator’ (anthropos methorios) constituting a transparent border between the Creator God and the created world, between the material and the spiritual, between spirit and body, between humanity and the rest of creation. This mediatory role of humanity is granted as part of the image of God. It, therefor, involves a huge responsibility on the part of human beings to assure the proper communication between these different spheres. The ethical responsibility implies humanity’s care for creation since everything is created by God’s will, and everything created carries the stamp of God’s love. The quality of the human person as a ‘border-being’ can be extended to all that humanity does or lives in this world. Theological education, scientific research, cultural productions, business  deals, — all should carry this mediatory border quality. The border is movable and open. Its flexibility and transparency should be at the service of justice and peace, love and compassion. On the basis of this anthropology, we may say that any theology  should be a border theology carrying its mediatory, prophetic and ethical character between the constantly changing  centres and margins, between different  dichotomies and polarities.
  2. While looking for the locus of theology we need also to expand our search beyond the geometrical categories of center and margin, to the intricate network of the created world. The complex ecological crisis, the huge advances in biotechnology and the technological control of the world, the ascending cry for justice in all its shades, the emerging new consciousness and search for identity  in world religions and cultural subgroups, the alarming depletion of essential resources, the climate change, the violent religious-cultural clashes sweeping the whole world, the terrible  insecurity of life haunting people even in  highly advanced countries — These and countless other issues are all locus of theology and theological education requiring locating and relocating with discernment. In a way, we are going back to the medieval scholastic understanding of locus theologicus as everything under the sun. We  know now that   theology, and also science, the so-called objective, universal science, and any form of knowledge can be  a cultural product, and can modify its truth content depending on ruling political or religious ideologies as we have seen in the Indian Science Congress recently. Therefore, we need to be cautious about simplistic models of mission, ministry, theology and theological education proposed by dominant cultures.
  3. We know why the powerful Christian mission ideologists always  highlighted  the mission model of Matt 28:19-20,(‘Make disciples of all nations..’) as the unique  mission paradigm while ignoring  the other model that  has its great appeal  as a non-possessing, self-denying  mission of a radical simplicity (Matt.10:1-15; Mk.6:7-13; Lk.10:1-12) . ‘Take- nothing- for  the- journey’ method   eminently suits   our culture  that retains  great memories of the peaceful Buddhist mission in  Asia which began 2000 years before the Western colonial -missionary movement ever started  . It is obvious that   the latter does not provide any rationale for   an  imperial conquering-possessing  mission as does the former.
  4. Deenabandhu rightly wishes to change the word mission because of its heavy colonial baggage. My humble suggestion is that we may go beyond  simply changing the word;  the whole concept should be  pulled down. At the least our “missiology”  should enter  a long  voluntary hibernation. During the missiological  hibernation Christians can dream dreams and  traverse the profound inner recesses of human faith and consciousness, and discover deep sources of life-giving streams from within (Jn.7:38) . We have too long been  exploring and exploiting the geophysical macro world, the sthoola prapancha,  reaching out to the end of the world wearing three-piece suits, preaching to all nations in deafening  pitches silencing their cultures, and also unabashedly poaching in God’s garden ”as all men desire to do”, while losing all sensitivity to the finer shades, the sookshma dimension of reality.  In a missionary hibernation we can  possibly stop this reaching , preaching and poaching, and review in the light of the life-giving Gospel of Jesus the mission story of  the last 500  years or so.
  5. The concept of Mission does not automatically generate the idea of self-sacrifice or self-effacing or kenosis or letting the other grow in the spirit of John the Baptist who said: He must increase and I must decrease. Our theological education seem to have taught us that  Mission  is something to be ‘accomplished’. It is succeeding, achieving, grabbing, possessing, defeating, power-consolidating. For us the word  witness appears to be weak in the context of a conquering mighty  We should not however, forget that witness  (martyria)  semantically suggests the eventuality of martyrdom . It  is becoming  increasingly  true in our country, it seems. Christian faith will be forced to   bear witness in many unanticipated ways even outside of foreseeable margins. It  would be good to prepare theological education and ministry in this direction.