All friends of the Christian community in Pakistan and friends of Edwardes College and the Diocese of Peshawar are gladdened by the news that the Peshawar High Court has, in response to a suit filed by the diocese, directed the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and several provincial government departments to cease interfering in the affairs of Edwardes College.

Here is a link to the Anglican Communion News Service’s article about the decision.  Here is a link to an article in Dawn, one of the national newspapers.

The court’s decision is an important step toward resolving the church’s 45-year struggle to regain control of its college after an illegal usurpation of the church’s role by the provincial governor in 1974.  We hope and pray that the High Court’s decision of May 15 will put an end to the difficult legal wrangling that has characterized the conflict.  However, the court has given the governor and the government departments two weeks in which to file responses to the order, so it is possible that full resolution of the case is still in the future.

This development fairly shouts out to me in light of the fact that it was my advocacy and promotion of the church’s position in the matter that prompted ISI agents in February 2014 to physically beat me, tear the visa out of my passport and threaten me with death if I did not leave the country.

It is so good to have the court affirm and vindicate the church’s insistence that Edwardes is an institution founded, sponsored and owned by the church and that therefore the bishop, the diocese and a church-appointed board of governors are the legal authorities in the life of the college.

At the same time, the decision reawakens my feelings around the matter – love for the college, longing for its community, and grief for how a stimulating and fulfilling inter-religious ministry there ended for me.

My good friend Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, who is bishop of Peshawar and president bishop of the Church of Pakistan, has been in touch about the situation.  Here’s an excerpt from his note:

Again we went through havoc, we are particularly sad about the attitude of our Governor and the Education Department, their whole focus is to suppress the presence of the Church in our Province. I cannot predict what will be their next move but at least the High Court new decision is with us. Every day a new challenge targeting our existence and identity. Keep us in your prayers.

‘Targeting our existence and identity’ – that phrase encapsulates the situation of the Christian community in Pakistan over the past decade or so as religious extremism has made the situation of all religious minorities precarious – Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and even Shia Muslims and Muslim groups regarded by the majority as heretical.  The bishop has our prayers.

This week’s court decision is a kind of epilogue to the court’s critically important judgment of 22 March 2016, referenced in the document, which declared that Edwardes is a private institution under the auspices of the church and not a public-sector institution accountable to the provincial government.  This is the understanding for which we were arguing in the college charter negotiations and subsequent court case in 2013-14.  Yet since 2016 the government has nevertheless been at the helm, a situation that commenced illegally in 1974.  It appears that in recent months the diocese and bishop were driven by the government’s aggressiveness to appoint, wisely, the church-overseen Board of Governors that is authorized by the college’s 1943 constitution.  It is this move that appears to have prompted the government to redouble its aggressiveness, which in turn prompted the church’s additional lawsuit.

It is so good that the court is tilting toward the church on the basis of the 2016 decision.  We hope and pray that the court will hold firm in any further legal maneuvering.

Here is further background for understanding the dynamics of this long-running situation:

  • The conflict is not between the diocese and the federal government, but between the diocese and the provincial government.  As noted by a Christian representative in one of the news stories, Prime Minister Imran Khan has stated that the college should be under church auspices.

 

  • The provincial-federal distinction is muddied, however, by the fact that provinces in Pakistan have two separate governance structures, one elected and one appointed.  Each province has an elected provincial assembly, and the majority party, or the plurality party in coalition with others, forms the provincial government and elects the chief minister.  The governor, on the other hand, is appointed at the federal level by the prime minister of the nation.  The governor has oversight of federal matters within the province, which in the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa includes the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border and, obviously, the ongoing military conflict in that area.  Higher education around the country is regulated by the federal Higher Education Commission (HEC), hence the governor is typically the chancellor of higher education institutions in the province, with the on-the-ground administrator being the vice chancellor.  It is on this pattern that in 1974 it was the governor (not the chief minister) who usurped the role of chair of Edwardes’ board of governors.  Edwardes being a college rather than a university meant that the governor installed himself as board chair rather than as chancellor.

 

  • It is true that the college was never nationalized, as a Christian representative is quoted as saying in one of the news stories.  What happened in 1974 was that the then-governor simply installed by fiat a new board of governors with the governor in the chair, the bishop as vice chair, and a majority of government functionaries and a minority of church representatives.  The matter of fiat is important because the many other Islamist-motivated nationalizations of the 1970s around the country were carried out according to procedures laid out in a nationalization law that had been passed.  The governor-led board installed in 1974 was, by contrast, simply announced through a memo by the then-governor.  There was no  reference to the nationalization law, nor was an ordinance proposed, for which the nation’s constitution provides a route for legislative endorsement.  Therefore we have long argued that the 1974 action has no legal standing.  The church never accepted the new situation, but it went along with it only because it was dangerous to resist it.

 

  • Readers may wonder how the church’s opponents in the province could feel they had legal grounds to challenge the church’s authority over the college.  Here are just a few examples:

– Yes, there is the college constitution of around 1943, but its provenance and authority were questioned.  To the contrary, by any historical measure it is a legal and authoritative document.

– Yes, the church has title to the land on which the college is located, but opponents claimed, falsely and without evidence, that various parcels had been paid for with government money.

– You’re familiar with the aphorism, ‘Possession is nine-tenths of the law.’  Opponents of the church seemed to believe that the nearly 40 years of operation with the governor in the chair and a government majority on the board justified the situation.  We argued, to the contrary, that the persistence of an illegal situation does not legitimize it.  No squatter’s rights, as it were, should be recognized.

  • The identical conflict of 2013-14 between church and government was prompted by our initiative to become a degree-awarding institution, or a university, rather than have our degrees awarded through the public-sector University of Peshawar.  That required a charter, which obviously would set forth the governance of the college.  In drafting a charter the church and we in college leadership sought to rectify the 1974 usurpation by providing for a church-majority board of governors chaired by the bishop of Peshawar as the chancellor.  HEC guidelines specified, after all, that the head of the sponsoring entity of any degree-awarding institution must be the chancellor of the institution, so this accorded with the federal standard.  It was the church-majority proposal that the provincial government resisted, ultimately with violence.  Hence the effort to become a university stalled indefinitely.  Previously the provincial government had been so impressed with how things were going at Edwardes that they granted us Rupees 300 million (equivalent at the time to US$3 million) to help fund the faculty, library and facilities upgrading necessary for HEC approval.  But a chartered church majority on the board was a bridge too far for them.  If the Peshawar High Court order stands and the provincial government stands down, maybe the degree-awarding initiative can be restarted.  I hope and pray so, for Edwardes’ unique quality and heritage equips it to make a much enhanced contribution to higher education in the province.

Missional takeaways from all this somewhat arcane legalese and academic-ese?

– Support for persecuted Christians is an important responsibility of Christian mission.

– Christian sponsorship of education at all levels is a vital mission contribution.

– Supporting Christian institutions is a vital aspect of supporting Christian presence, especially where Christians are a minority under pressure.

– Deep engagement with institutional dynamics is often a vital missionary contribution.

One correction to the ACNS story: Edwardes is far from being ‘the one remaining Christian institution in Pakistan’!  There are scores of institutions in the form of church-sponsored and church-run schools and medical facilities throughout the country.  In the Diocese of Peshawar alone there are St. Elizabeth’s School in Peshawar, Mission Hospital in Peshawar, Pennell School and Pennell Hospital in Bannu, and various other institutions, and the same goes for other churches.  Higher education was indeed especially hard hit by the nationalizations of the 1970s, with a number of colleges taken over by the government, including Forman Christian College in Lahore, founded and run by the Presbyterian Church USA.  However, Forman was de-nationalized in the first decade of the 2000s and has been flourishing ever since, again under Presbyterian auspices.  What is true is that Edwardes is one remaining institution of higher education owned by the Church of Pakistan.

 

Advertisements

“We try to combine evangelism with social action,” said Bishop Moisés Quesada Mota in explaining the approach of Episcopalians in the Dominican Republic, one of the fastest growing dioceses in the Episcopal Church.  “We are a new humanity that Christ has shown in the church.  We are the living gospel of Jesus Christ that has come to life in the church so we can take the message to others and show the light to people.”

Quesada was speaking in a panel discussion at the 2019 Global Mission Conference that his diocese co-hosted with the Dominican Development Group, April 3-5, in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic.  Organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), 120 people from all over the Episcopal Church were wrestling with the role of evangelism in the church’s global mission under the theme, “Sharing Jesus: Mutual Witness in Global Mission.”  The bilingual conference included simultaneous translation between Spanish and English.

“The gospel is a different news, a radical news,” said keynoter Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio of Cuba.  “It is the news of knowing that each human being has a dimension inside of themselves that they cannot fulfill without God – the presence of God and the strength of the Holy Spirit.  It is news that is different from the dominant culture, where people have so much anxiety and confusion without a horizon. The gospel is the horizon, the space where we are transformed fully.  It is radical and coherent.  It allows us to find happiness in our lives.”

It took courage for Cuban Christians to witness to their faith in the ideological environment of communism after the Cuban revolution of 1959, Delgado said as she described the steady and multi-dimensional growth of the Episcopal Church in Cuba in recent decades.  “We used to say ‘Cuba for Christ.’ Now we say, ‘Christ for the Cuban people,’” she noted in emphasizing the church’s effort to integrate gospel proclamation with the social and economic needs of Cubans today.

“While you are doing medical mission, economic development, gender empowerment, constantly seek, name and notice Jesus’s loving presence,” said keynoter the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the Presiding Bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care.  “Put your Jesus lenses on wherever you go.  Whenever you see God, name and celebrate that, invite other people to celebrate with you, and let God do the rest.”

“When we go into different cultures or spaces where Christianity is not the norm, if all we have is Christian superiority, that is not going to fly,” said Spellers, who recently traveled to South Africa.  As she shared her own story of seeking “a love that does not disappoint,” she declared, “This is a story I can share with Muslims, with atheists.  If you haven’t figured this out, take time to identify the difference Jesus has made in your life.”

“People in South Carolina often say they are ‘highly favored,’” said Bishop Bill Skilton, former suffragan of the Diocese of South Carolina.  “Part of our problem as a church is that we have stopped at being favored, and we haven’t tried being the flavor – the salt.  You’ve forgotten your calling to become fishers of people and you’ve become aquarium keepers.”  The mission conference was held at the Dominican diocese’s Bishop Skilton Conference Center, named in honor of his service as a missionary and, later, assistant bishop on the Caribbean island.

The Rev. Anthony Guillén, director of ethnic ministries for the Episcopal Church, noted how simple greetings can be evangelistic: “When we ask, ‘How are you?’ in the U.S. the response is usually, fine, tired, busy, okay.  In Latin culture, the response is always with ‘Gracias a Dios’ added, meaning, ‘Because of God, I am fine.’  There is already a consciousness of God in our lives, proclaimed unashamedly.”

In addition to plenaries by keynoters Delgado and Spellers, an array of 18 workshops addressed outreach to under-evangelized people groups, gospel enculturation, the history of Anglican evangelism, digital evangelism, ‘The Way of Love’ in global mission, missional encounter with Islam, mission and community at the upcoming Lambeth Conference in 2020, locally empowered economic mission, asset-based community development, interfaith reconciliation, Hispanic evangelism, missionary vocational discernment, and site-specific discussions of mission in the Sudans, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.  The Rev. David Copley, director of the Global Partnerships unit at the Episcopal Church Center, updated conferees on the work of that group.

“In GEMN’s 24 years of annual conferences, this is the first conference to focus specifically on evangelism,” I said as president of GEMN in opening the conference.  “With the growth of the world church and the intensifying focus on poverty alleviation, the world mission community sent evangelism to the back of the line.  As the church as a whole is reviving its commitment to evangelism, we in GEMN feel it’s important to re-integrate evangelism with global mission.”

Conference participants responded enthusiastically to what they heard.  “So many of the mission teams that come down here to the Dominican Republic are afraid to talk about their faith,” said the Rev. Emilio Martin of the diocese, “but mission is based on faith.”

“If you’re only doing actions and not words, you’re leaving out half the story,” said the Rev. Veronika Travis of St. Luke’s Church in Alexandria, Virginia.  “We’re hamstringing ourselves if it’s only actions and not words.”

“Evangelism isn’t a dirty word for me,” said Anna Sutterish of the Diocese of Ohio and a senior at Bexley Seabury Seminary as she highlighted generational differences in Episcopal attitudes toward evangelism.  “I’m 29 years old and I have no problem with evangelism.”

Responding to the common question, “Isn’t evangelism disrespectful to non-Christians?” Spellers said, “It’s disrespectful to shove religion at people, to proselytize and denounce other pathways to God.  But if you speak with generosity, curiosity and gratitude, then people respond more positively.”

The conference concluded with visits to congregational and medical mission sites on the island.  Generous patrons of conference receptions were Bexley Seabury Seminary, the Diocese of Connecticut and the Dominican Development Group.

IMG_3388 (1)GEMN’s Mission Formation Program preceded the conference, this year enrolling a record 14 participants to spend a day exploring biblical foundations, mission theology, cultural dynamics and the practicalities of catalyzing mission vision and mutuality with companions around the world.  The four participants graduating from the two-year program shared their projects.  The Rev. Isaias Ginson of the Diocese of Long Island, who served as a missionary in the Pacific, recounted his field research on religious rites among indigenous peoples in the Philippines.  The Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards of the Diocese of Georgia shared her work on GEMN’s curriculum based on “The Way of Love.”  Mrs. Christine Mercer of the Diocese of Alabama told of her work in enabling Honduran women to economically manage their monthly cycles without missing school or work.  The Rev. Dr. Jim Boston of the Diocese of Oregon shared his work on a memoir about working in GEMN since its inception in 1994.

The Global Episcopal Mission Network links dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, seminaries and individuals throughout the Episcopal Church to “proclaim, inspire and ignite the joy of God’s mission.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting an intensifying theme in mission circles worldwide, the annual Partnership for World Mission Conference (PWM) of the Church of England held in Nottinghamshire in November focused on the missional imperative of reconciliation amid the proliferating alienations of the contemporary world.

‘Prisoners of Hope: Proclaiming God Reconciling Love amid Separation’ was the stated theme.  ‘The conference is about the space between separation & reconciliation,’ explained conference organizer Janice Price, mission adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  ‘Not about separation alone or reconciliation alone but about the space between, where we are prisoners of hope.  in the liminal space between separation and reconciliation.  Reconciliation does not get the headlines that separation does – reconciliation is about the millions of small interactions that bring reconciliation about.  Let us inhabit the phrase Prisoners of Hope.’

Attending were about 85 people from all over the Church of England.  Some represented mission agencies, including USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), CMS (Church Mission Society), Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA-UK), Christian Aid, Melanesian Mission, Mission to Seafarers, Common Everybody, Send a Cow and Anglican Alliance, the international network of Anglican relief and development agencies.  Most attendees represented dioceses that have mission companionships around the world, typically with dioceses in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

Daud Gill of Pakistan & Manchester with Titus

With my wife Jane I attended as a representative of PWM’s counterpart in the Episcopal Church USA, the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), of which I’m currently president, and I was also asked to be one of the plenary speakers.  GEMN is a freestanding network of dioceses, congregations, agencies, seminaries and individuals committed to catalyzing global mission engagement throughout the Episcopal Church.  GEMN Executive Director Karen Hotte, Board member Martha Alexander and GEMN member Tassie Little attending the 2016 PWM conference, and it was good to renew the relationship at the 2018 gathering.

Here’s a summary of plenary talks:

The relationship between church and mission was the topic of a biblical talk by Philip Mountstephen, about to leave as head of CMS to become bishop of Bristol. Naturally he emphasized how mission is intrinsic to church, how it’s not that the God’s church has a mission but that God’s mission has a church. Working on the frequent tension between mission on the periphery and church structures at the center, he noted that resting at the center is always easier and said the discomfort of the frontier argues for the autonomy of mission organizations as equal expressions of church, lest they be enervated by central structures.  He noted that Max Warren in the early 1940s vigorously resisted an effort to fold the British mission societies into central structures.  Suggesting that diverse communities nurture missional vision, Mountstephen made this important point: ‘People of the Jesus Movement were first called Christians at Antioch because of their diversity: Following Christ was the only thing they had in common!’  And it was the community at Antioch that commissioned and sent out Paul and Barnabas on mission.

The situation of Ireland and Northern Ireland was discussed by Adam Pullen, chair of the global mission group in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, which covers both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. He mostly introduced the Church of Ireland to the group, though he also discussed the impending difficulties related to Brexit. He commended a booklet about Irish Anglicans’ world mission work: ‘Radiant Faith: Living Out the Five Marks of Mission.’

• Reconciliation work by the church in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017 was the subject of a remarkable narrarive talk by Graham Tomlin, area bishop of Kensington, the area of Grenfell Tower. Seventy-two people  died in the fire, 70 were injured, and 223 escaped. He cited seven ‘C’ stages in the reconciliation work: Crisis, Communication, Convening, Costliness, Crying, Compassion, Catalyst.  Tomlin was active in catalyzing church and public conversations that brought diverse constituencies together around the issues of poverty and minority religious and ethnic communities that were dramatized by the fire.

• ‘Recentering Christian Mission in God’s Mission of Reconciliation’ was the title of my talk, in which I sought once again to emphasize that reconciliation is the ultimate direction of God’s mission and that therefore all mission efforts should be designed and tested by the criterion of reconciliation. It’s not that our mission efforts in education, healthcare, economic empowerment, and climate change are misplaced – not at all. My point is rather that they need to be grounded theologically, devotionally and practically in God’s overall aim of reconciling all people with God, one another and with all creation.

• Conflict and the challenge of reconciliation in Zimbabwe was the subject of a talk by Catherine Fungai Ngangira (at the podium above), an outstanding young Zimbabwean seminarian at the University of Durham who until recently had worked in the Diocese of Harare. Much of what she recounted was familiar to me from my own long mission experience in Zimbabwe, including the yearslong conflict between government and the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe earlier in this century, but it was good to be updated on the situation, which continues to be difficult. (See elsewhere on this blog for many postings related to the earlier conflict.)

• Alienation and reconciliation in the migrant situation of Europe was the subject of a talk by Robert Innes, bishop of the CofE Diocese of Europe (which exists alongside the Convocation of American Churches in Europe), which has over 200 congregations stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to Moscow. Here’s a significant excerpt:

Official EU statistics record that almost half the migrants entering Europe are active church members; only 30% are from Muslim background countries, of whom only a third are active mosque-goers. There are therefore five active church members for every active mosque-goer amongst arriving migrants. The boost to church life in London and Brussels from vibrant Christian communities from the southern hemisphere is well known. One neighbourhood of 50,000 people in Amsterdam which was built 50 years ago without a single church building now has 11,000 Christian worshippers attending 150 Christian fellowships meeting in all sorts of spaces, thanks to migration. For Christians, the migration challenge offers unparalleled spiritual opportunity.

Innes made a number of observations for ‘Thinking Christianly about the European Migration Crisis’: Responses have been insufficient and/or unethical.  A limit to the generosity of host countries must be recognized.  Portraying migrants as dangerous is reprehensible.  Religious freedom must prevail.  Hosts have a responsibility to welcome, and migrants have a responsibility to integrate.  Chaplaincies and private sponsorships have been helpful in reconciliation.

A preview of the Lambeth 2020 Conference, the approximately once-a-decade conference of all Anglican bishops worldwide, was provided by Phil George, executive director for the conference, and Janice Price. ‘God’s Church for God’s World’ is the theme, which, obviously, is so vague as to encompass everything! The list of topics to be covered is commensurately long, indicating not much focus yet, but I think they may ultimately focus on creation care – we’ll see.  The theme scripture will be First Peter as the focus of all the Bible studies.  This will be the first Lambeth Conference where bishops’ spouses are fully included as integral to the conference instead of having their own side-conference, so Carolyn Welby, wife of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, has a strong role in planning the conference as well.  As with Lambeth 2008, there is to be a Hospitality Initiative in which British dioceses host bishops during the days prior to the conference.  Of the £6 million fundraising goal, £4 million had already been raised by November!

The conference was held Nov. 12-14 at the Hayes Conference Center in Swanwick in rural Nottinghamshire, a very pleasant and welcoming setting.  As always at such gatherings, much of the value lay in the many conversations held at meals, in hallways and at meeting tables.

In addition to Jane and me, attendees from the Episcopal Church included Jerry Drino, one of the speakers, who is from California and who has long coordinated an initiative in what is now South Sudan; David Copley, Elizabeth Boe and Jenny Grant from the Global Partnerships unit at the Episcopal Church Center; and Madeline Roberts, a Young Adult Service Corps missioner working in Liverpool on the Liverpool-Ghana-Virginia three-way companion relationship focused on healing from the slave trade.  Pictured are Madeline, Jane, Jenny and Elizabeth.

The worship was extensive and excellent, this year coordinated by an outstanding priest-pianist-director, Philip Swan from Liverpool, and another priest, Malcolm Rogers, who had a good meditative approach.  Music selections were globally eclectic, and international visitors were recruited to share music from their areas.  Mutual prayer was encouraged through prayer cards that were shared in table groups.

One affecting worship feature invited people to light votive candles and place them over locations of particular concern to them on a large map of the world.

Altogether a terrific gathering!

 

 

 

A remarkably balanced view of evangelism, Christian mission and the relationship between the two was offered by the regular ‘Ethicist’ columnist Kwame Appiah in the Dec. 23 edition of the New York Times Magazine in response to an inquirer concerned about her grandniece’s upcoming evangelistic mission trip to Nepal.  It is unusual to see such a nuanced view of Christian mission in a secular venue.

For those unfamiliar with this NYT feature, ‘The Ethicist’ appears weekly in the Magazine, with the columnist responding to readers’ questions about various ethical dilemmas in their lives.  The columnist changes from time to time, and the current columnist, Kwame Appiah, formerly of Princeton, is now professor of philosophy at New York University.  Here’s the text of the question about evangelism, along with Appiah’s response:

My grandniece posted on Facebook that she is trying to raise money so that she can go on a trip to Nepal with other high-school students from her Christian school to “evangelize the unreached people” of South Asia. My husband and I can easily afford to contribute to her fund-raising effort, but I am opposed to evangelizing. I fully support mission trips when the participants travel to needy communities to provide assistance, but not when the object of the trip is to convert people to Christianity. I believe that we should honor – and work to understand – the religions and spiritual traditions in South Asia, not try to change them. Is there a way to support her without supporting the underlying reason for the trip? Name Withheld

Missionaries will consider almost everyone in Nepal “unreached,” even though most Nepalis have a mobile phone. So your grandniece isn’t arriving to some premodern redoubt. Nor is she going to coerce or bribe or threaten people into changing, or pretending to change, their religion. She’s aiming to explain to them why she thinks Christianity is the true faith. It’ll be up to them to decide whether they agree with her. To assume that they can’t be relied on to do so in the light of their own best judgments is to risk condescension.

Evangelizing Christians played a role in the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, contravening settled traditions in both Britain and Africa; in late-19th-century China, missionaries played a role in ending foot-binding. All that was indeed good news. More recently, in Uganda, a handful of American evangelical ministers evidently helped spur the passage of legislation that sought to drastically increase the penalties for homosexual acts. That was bad news. It’s useless to try to draw up a ledger sheet here of good and evil. The point is that God and the Devil are in the details.

Still, you might want to suggest to your grandniece that if she wants these South Asians to be open to hearing her good news, she should probably be open to hearing theirs, too. That way, she can make an effort to understand the traditions of the place she’s going, which you rightly suggest is a good idea. Whether she should honor those traditions as well depends on what they are – and she won’t be able to decide about that if she doesn’t know anything about them. There are, after all, a great many ways of not being a Christian.

First, some notes about the inquiry:

  • The letter writer expresses a negativity about evangelism that is not only characteristic of religious skeptics but also common today among Christians in ‘mainline’ denominations – Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Lutherans. She rightly declares that one should honor and seek to understand other religious traditions, in this case those of south Asia. Yet it is clear that she believes evangelism should be out of bounds, even after seeking to understand other religious convictions and probably even if the evangelism is milder than when ‘when the object of the trip is to convert people to Christianity.’

 

  • The letter writer expresses the equally common – and naïve – view that mission trips   designed to render ‘assistance’ – by which she probably means education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, clean water and so on – are immune from criticism. In fact, missioners often undertake such efforts with neo-colonial assumptions that they know what people in the Two-Thirds World need and that they are uniquely qualified to organize efforts on their behalf.

 

  • The term ‘unreached people’ is common among groups that note, accurately, that there are people groups in the world that have never heard – and therefore have never been reached by – God’s news in Jesus Christ, and so they seek to ensure that all people have a chance to hear the gospel. Sometimes they use the terms ‘unevangelized’ or ‘under-evangelized.’ They support missionaries to evangelize such groups, and often these missionaries are indigenous people from the region of such ‘unreached people.’  One Anglican group in North America that has been at work on this for about 25 years is Anglican Frontier Missions.

Now, about Kwame Appiah’s response:

  • Appiah addresses the letter writer’s probable assumption that evangelism is inherently coercive when he assures her that her grandniece is not traveling in order ‘to coerce or bribe or threaten people into changing, or pretending to change, their religion’ – which is the erroneous and distorted view of evangelism that many people have. Instead, he assures her that her grandniece is ‘aiming to explain to them why she thinks Christianity is the true faith.’ That’s a good corrective.

Here’s a nuance I would add: Evangelism consists in simply bearing witness to what God has done in one’s life through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In simpler terms, evangelism is telling one’s own story in light of God’s story.  ‘Explaining why she thinks Christianity is the true faith,’ on the other hand, is more the province of apologetics in the context of inter-religious dialogue, and that is beyond the ken of most high school students!

  • The letter writer states that ‘the object of the trip is to convert people to Christianity.’ Maybe, maybe not.  Appiah gently suggests a likely alternative, that the grandniece will be ‘explaining why she thinks Christianity is the true faith.’  I would add that an evangelist or an evangelistic team should never set themselves the task of ‘converting people to Christianity.’  Conversion, if it happens, is not to Christianity as a religion but to a reconciling relationship with the triune God – Creator, Christ and Spirit.  Equally important, conversion, if it happens, is not the work of the evangelist but the work of God.  Evangelism, again, is simply bearing witness, telling the story, and leaving the rest up to God.

 

  • Appiah’s point about condescension is crucially important. Western critics of evangelism and Christian mission in general often base their critique on a view that people in the Majority World – Africa, Asia and Latin America – are naïve, credulous and unable to think for themselves, and that therefore they are the unwitting victims of evangelizers from Europe and North America. Appiah is gentle in calling such attitudes condescending, for they are often racist as well.

 

  • We might add that people in many parts of the world and certainly in south Asia live in lively religious marketplaces where they are used to religious appeals from many different groups, among whom Christians are just one. Moreover, Christian evangelism in south Asia, in particular, is carried out chiefly not by Euro-Americans but by indigenous Indians, Nepalis, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Imagining that evangelism is a program peculiar to western Christians is amnesiac about how the Christian movement has spread over 2,000 years and anachronistic about the dynamics of world Christianity today.

 

  • In noting that ‘evangelizing Christians’ were prominent in important social justice movements, Appiah implicitly corrects the common mistake of trying to separate the evangelistic emphasis of, say, William Wilberforce from his lifelong campaign to end the slavery trade and slavery in the British Empire. No, his justice initiative arose organically out of his Christian faith. Evenhandedly, Appiah also notes the damaging effects of other evangelicals’ recent support for harsh penalties for homosexuality in Uganda.  His comment – ‘It’s useless to try to draw up a ledger sheet here of good and evil’ – is an important corrective to the generally negative assessment of Christian mission’s effects, sometimes even among otherwise competent Christian missiologists.

 

  • Appiah’s final paragraph is an excellent exhortation for evangelists to listen before speaking, to be alert for the good news in other religious paths before sharing one’s own good news of God in Christ. As I wrote in Horizons of Mission:

Incarnational expectancy is a life orientation that can midwife us through the birth canal of interreligious encounter and understanding. . . . God calls us to engage the world expecting to glimpse something of what God is doing and how we can participate.  That is as true of our encounter with other religions as it is of our encounter with anything else.

At the same time, in his closing comment Appiah dismisses the uncritical relativism that assumes all religious paths are equally beneficial: ‘There are, after all, a great many ways of not being a Christian.’

 

Although I assigned his 2006 book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers in a missiology class, I do not know Appiah.  He is British-born Ghanaian-American philosopher.  That cosmopolitan background may account for his ability to bring a more balanced assessment to the pluses and minuses of evangelism and Christian mission than some commentators whose background is more exclusively Euro-American.

 

 

 

Dear All,

Christmas celebrates God’s own boundary crossing, God moving to a frontier to do something entirely new – taking flesh in the human story. God created humanity in God’s very image. In the Incarnation God inhabits God’s own image – takes it on, commits to living it out in all precarious vulnerability of what it is to be human.

And so Christmas celebrates a decisive turning point in God’s mission. As the Word of God took flesh in a particular human being in a particular place, time and culture, that event became the model for the gospel being lived out in every place, time and culture across two millennia and in practically every locale on God’s dear earth.

Everyone in the Global Episcopal Mission Network has experienced this in one way or another as we’ve crossed various boundaries and frontiers in our own lives of mission – and found God with communities of both suffering and joy. As a result we rejoice in the fellowship of mission-minded folk in this network.

Thanks especially to the Board of Directors of GEMN for their dedicated work in GEMN over the past year. The network has a gifted and committed group of leaders. The Board is firing on all cylinders, and the work underway shows it.

I share with you this short Christmas poem by Mary Coleridge (1861-1907), entitled Salus Mundi (health or welfare of the world), It embraces both the promise and the peril of the Incarnation:

I saw a stable, low and very bare,
A little child in a manger,
The oxen knew Him, had Him in their care,
To men He was a stranger.
The safety of the world was lying there,
And the world’s danger.

Christmas blessings to you and yours,
Titus

In case you’re wondering who the directors of GEMN are, here they are:

Ms. Martha Alexander, Diocese of North Carolina

The Rev. Dr. Jim Boston, Diocese of Oregon

The Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards, Diocese of Atlanta, Vice President

Mr. Jaime Briceño, Bexley Seabury Seminary

The Rev. Brian Gregory, Diocese of Olympia

The Rev. Holly Hartman, Diocese of Massachusetts

Mrs. Karen Hotte, Diocese of Massachusetts, Executive Director

The Rev. David Kendall-Sperry, Dioceses of Ohio and Southern Ohio, Treasurer and past Board member

Mr. William Kunkle, Dominican Development Group, Diocese of Southwest Florida

Ms. Christine Mercer, Diocese of Alabama, Secretary

Ms. Molly O’Brien, Virginia Seminary

The Rev. Canon Suzanne Peterson, Diocese of Iowa

The Rev. Angel Rivera Rodriguez, Diocese of Puerto Rico

The Rev. Canon Dr. Titus Presler, Diocese of Vermont, Bridges to Pakistan, President

Posted by: Titus Presler | July 30, 2018

GC2018: GEMN highlights global mission at General Convention

This is the third in a series of blogposts on events and actions related to global mission at the 2018 General Convention, held July 3-13 in Austin, Texas.

The global dimension of the Episcopal Church’s participation in God’s mission had higher visibility at the 2018 General Convention in Austin due to the efforts of the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), the freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, individuals and seminaries.

About 150 people attended the Global Mission Reception that GEMN organized at Uncle Julio’s Restaurant on the evening of July 4.  The theme, ‘Celebrating the Global Jesus Movement,’ connected global mission with the ‘Jesus Movement’ theme that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has championed and that was echoed in multiple ways in convention legislation and rhetoric.

Those of us who are longtime mission activists enjoyed seeing lots of old friends, but especially encouraging were the many mission-engaged people who were new to us and who have not been part of GEMN in the past: Sister Sarah Margaret and several other members of the Society of St. Margaret, the oldest continuing Anglican women’s monastic order, who have long had important work in Haiti; Sister Ellen Francis Poisson of the Order of St. Helena, who has long been active in matters related to Iran; Deborah Parker of Stand with Iraqi Christians.  And there were many others.

Equally important, David Copley and Elizabeth Boe of Global Partnerships at the Episcopal Church Center ensured that a good number of the officially sponsored International Visitors – primates, bishops and provincial secretaries from Africa, Asia and Latin America – came to the reception before they were taken to a July 4 celebration sponsored by Global Partnerships and Virginia Seminary’s Center for Anglican Communion Studies.  All the international visitors were introduced to convention as a whole through an outstanding video of brief self-introductions that was shown to the House of Deputies and House of Bishops during the legislative sessions.

Read More…

This is the second in a series of blogposts on events and actions related to global mission at the 2018 General Convention, held July 3-13 in Austin, Texas.

Bottom line of the following fairly long article: General Convention approved establishment of a Standing Commission on World Mission. Funding for such a commission was not included in the church budget, but nevertheless the commission is included in the list of interim bodies for which nominations are invited by August 20.  In the event that the commission does not come into being, the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) is in a good position to provide the missional overview and envisioning that an SCWM would provide.

As with the resolution exhorting the church to embrace global mission companionship (Resolution A207), a resolution seeking to reestablish the Standing Commission on World Mission (SCWM) that was dissolved by the 2015 General Convention was initiated by the World Mission Legislative Committee at the 2018 General Convention.

The 27 members of the committee – lay people, clergy and bishops – were disturbed by the relative lack of world mission vision and initiative coming from any canonical structure within the church, and they believed this lack stemmed from there no longer being a standing commission specifically tasked with examining and envisioning the church’s global mission.

Committee members were very aware that the dissolution of most of General Convention’s standing commissions – small groups of 12 specially appointed people to deliberate about different areas of the church’s work during the three years between conventions – was a result of the structural streamlining recommended in 2015 by the Taskforce on Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC), which also sought to reduce the church’s operating costs.  Instead of standing commissions, which by definition endure over long periods of time – there had been an SCWM for about 50 years – the 2015 General Convention put in place a number of task forces with specific time-limited mandates.

Knowing all this, World Mission Legislative Committee members nevertheless felt that global mission is a special case because the church’s international work tends to be eclipsed by its work within its own dioceses.  So a small subcommittee was asked to come back with a proposal, and I was the principal drafter of what was submitted as Resolution A208.

The committee was delighted to find that another initiative to reestablish the SCWM had been submitted from another quarter.  Because that resolution focused on the change in the canons that would be required, it was substituted for the committee draft, but with the specific commission mandate that we had articulated, and we were happy with that.

Significantly, the resolution was adopted by both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, so Resolution A208 is an official action of convention.  But: the $90,000 requested to fund the commission – travel and meeting expenses – was not included in the budget adopted by convention.

How can this happen? you might ask.  One could say that convention agreed that an SCWM would be helpful and useful, but in all the horse-trading that goes on among various priorities, not everything can be funded.  Moreover, the Program, Budget & Finance Committee explained that in its budgetary deliberations it rejected numerous requests to reestablish various standing commissions both because funds are limited and because it felt it should honor the streamlining decisions of the 2015 General Convention.  That is a reasonable argument, and I respect it.  The continuing membership decline of the Episcopal Church has financial consequences, one of which is we can no longer afford the generously funded structures to which we had become accustomed.

So what now?  Well, the situation is ambiguous.  Initially it seemed that the no-funding decision meant there would be no Standing Commission on World Mission.  Yet the commission is included in the list of interim bodies for which nominations are invited by August 20.  The nomination form can be completed at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/InterimBodies2018.  So it appears there is hope that Executive Council may yet allot funding for the commission.

If the commission does not come into being, the Global Episcopal Mission Network – the church’s voluntary and freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, seminaries and individuals – is well positioned to provide much of the overview and envisioning that an SCWM would be tasked to do.

GEMN’s membership is substantial and growing.  Its annual conference is a major networking event for global mission, with speakers and workshop leaders who are recognized churchwide.  Its website (www.gemn.org) provides a wealth of resources, and its Mission Formation Program provides training for mission activists.  GEMN submitted a number of resolutions to this General Convention, and that advocacy role will grow.  GEMN hosted the Global Mission Reception at this convention, reviving the World Mission Reception that the Church Center used to host in the 1980s and 1990s, and about 150 people attended this inaugural event.  As president of GEMN and a former SCWM chair, I believe it is possible for GEMN to offer much that SCWM used to provide.  We don’t have a canonical role, but the current and future energy of the church is increasingly found in networks such as GEMN.  So I am hopeful.

Below are two texts: the original text of A208 with its explanation, which details much of the rationale, and the brief final version, which was adopted but not funded:

A208 Establish a Standing Commission on World Mission

Original version

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention recognize that mission engagement with the peoples and cultures of the world beyond the United States of America is inherent in the purpose of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society as it seeks to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention lament how inward concerns of the church and inter-Anglican conflict have reduced the Episcopal Church’s engagement with sisters and brothers in Christ around the world, yet rejoice in how many global relationships have continued or been renewed; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention recognize that dioceses, congregations and freestanding mission organizations carry out much of the church’s global mission work alongside the Global Partnerships Office, Episcopal Relief & Development, the United Thank Offering and other agencies of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, and that the Global Episcopal Mission Network assists with networking and mission formation; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention recognize the important monitoring of DFMS’s global mission work that is carried out by the Executive Council’s Standing Committee on World Mission; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention amend Canon I.1.2(n) to establish a Standing Commission on World Mission; and be it further

Resolved, That the mandate of the Standing Commission on World Mission shall be to identify the global mission work carried out by the DFMS, dioceses, congregations and mission organizations throughout the church, to consult with them to envision future directions for the church’s global engagement, and to develop policy proposals for consideration by General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on World Mission shall include six laypersons, three clergy and three bishops appointed by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies to serve staggered six-year terms, with half of the membership initially appointed for three-year terms; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to give consideration to the appropriation of $90,000 to fund the work of the Standing Commission for the 2019-21 triennium.

Explanation

The 78th General Convention removed many standing commissions, including the Standing Commission on World Mission, from the interim bodies of General Convention. This action was taken in view of financial constraints and the streamlining recommendations of the Taskforce for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). It also occurred at a time when inter-Anglican conflicts had eliminated or reduced many missional relationships around the Anglican Communion.

The legislative Committee on World Mission of the 79th General Convention believes strongly that the General Convention needs the in-depth understanding and creative visioning that is brought to world mission issues by a standing commission whose members are experienced in world mission and who are focused on the church’s multi-faceted engagement in the global dimension of God’s mission.

Such understanding and visioning is especially urgent as many missional relationships are being re-energized, many dioceses and congregations would like to expand their companionships around the world, and freestanding Episcopal mission organizations are multiplying in education, healthcare and sustainable development.

The legislative committee is grateful to Executive Council’s internal Standing Committee on World Mission for its report in the Blue Book for the 79th General Convention. Yet we recognize that the many responsibilities of Executive Council mean that such an internal committee must focus on responsible monitoring and may be limited in its ability to undertake creative visioning.

The legislative committee also recognizes the contribution of the Global Episcopal Mission Network that brings together DFMS agencies, dioceses, congregations, freestanding mission organizations and seminaries for mutual learning and mission formation. Yet we recognize that, beyond generating resolutions, such a freestanding network has no direct avenue for offering in-depth reflection to General Convention.

The requested budget of $90,000 will fund three in-person meetings of the commission during the 2019-21 triennium, including one in a diocese of the Episcopal Church outside the USA.

 

A208 Establish a Standing Commission on World Mission

Version adopted by General Convention, but not funded.

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That Canon I.1.2(n) be amended as follows:

(3) A Standing Commission on World Mission. It shall be the duty of the Commission to:

 (i) Identify the global mission work carried out by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, dioceses, congregations and mission organizations throughout the church.
(ii) Consult with the above bodies to envision future directions for the church’s global engagement.
(iii) Develop policy proposals for world mission for consideration by General Convention.
(iv) Discharge such other duties as shall from time to time be assigned by the General Convention.

And be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to appropriate $90,000 to fund the work of the Standing Commission on World Mission for the 2019-21 triennium.

 

 

 

Posted by: Titus Presler | July 27, 2018

GC2018: Church exhorted to embrace global mission companionship

This is the first in a series of blogposts about events and actions related to global mission at the 2018 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held in Austin, Texas, July 3-13.

A remarkable aspect of the work of the World Mission Legislative Committee at the 2018 General Convention of the Episcopal Church was that the committee itself generated resolutions instead of confining itself to the customary role of receiving, holding hearings on and editing resolutions submitted from around the church.

A major impetus for this effort was the fact that the dissolution of the Standing Commission on World Mission by the 2015 General Convention, which also dissolved most of the other standing commissions, meant that over the past three years there was no deliberative body within the church structure generating resolutions to move the church forward in global mission.

Sensing this vacuum, the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) – the church’s voluntary and freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, congregations, organizations, individuals and seminaries – had put forward five resolutions for convention’s consideration, but happily the World Mission Legislative Committee wanted more!

And its first instinct was to go global – not only in the literal sense of world mission but in the metaphorical sense of exhorting the church as a whole to reorder its priorities to place the international aspect of mission higher on its agenda.

So a drafting team of half a dozen committee members got to work.  As a deputy from the Diocese of Vermont I was a member of the 27-member legislative committee, but I was not on this particular subcommittee – because I was working on another resolution!  What the subcommittee came up with received a good deal of editing by the committee as a whole, but here is the version that went up to the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, both of which passed it, so it is an official act of this General Convention:

Resolution A207: Encouraging Mission as Part of the Beloved Community

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 79th General Convention reaffirm that “being a beloved community” means being members of a global community honoring our full name: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention affirm that in baptism we are called to companionship, which means standing with, traveling with, and sharing bread with another; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention continue to repent of colonialism and recognize that the work of mission is a Christ-centered, mutual undertaking, which is most effective when the traditional roles of “giver” and “receiver” are discarded, and the gifts of all are accepted, welcomed, and utilized; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and mission organizations to establish productive, mutual relationships with other outreach communities that have similar intent, but may not be part of the Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention urge dioceses, congregations, and individuals to pray regularly for specific dioceses and congregations and individuals with whom they are in companionship; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and individuals to form one-to-one relationships through social media with individuals and congregations with whom they are in companionship.

Here are some highlights to note:

  • The first resolve reflects committee members’ concern that the foreign as well as the domestic side of the DFMS’s mission work be emphasized, that is, the international and cross-cultural aspect of the Episcopal Church’s participation in God’s mission.  The committee discussed the negative connotations of the word ‘foreign’ but recognized that it is indeed an antonym of ‘domestic’ and that that was how the church talked in 1820, when the first version of the DFMS was founded.  Since DFMS is actually the entity under which the Episcopal Church was incorporated in the state of New York, we kind of have to live with that terminology!

 

  • Companionship in mission is emphasized, and it is articulated as standing with, which connotes solidarity; traveling with and sharing bread (presumably both literal bread and eucharistic meals), a point often made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as they explain their missional emphasis on accompaniment, obviously a correlative of companionship.

 

  • Partnership does not appear in the resolution because mission partnership tends to emphasize doing rather than the being in relationship that companionship emphasizes. Further, some companions in the Majority World (Africa, Asia and Latin America) have felt that partnership in mission, despite being a paradigmatic Anglican category since 1973, has over the years tended to devolve into a business relationship around projects.

 

  • Legacies of colonialism and imperialism are repudiated. In the same third resolve the text challenges traditional missional roles of givers (in the Atlantic West) and receivers (in the Majority World) and thereby implicates such roles as neo-colonial. The still almost universal assumptions in Episcopal dioceses and congregations about ‘helping’ and ‘doing for’ are similarly challenged.  Whether intentionally or not, this language of the resolve echoes that of the Anglican Consultative Council in 1973: ‘If we once acted as though there were only givers who had nothing to receive and receivers who had nothing to give, the oneness of the missionary task must make us all both givers and receivers.’

 

  • Ecumenical and secular cooperation in mission is encouraged by the fourth resolve, thereby reminding us that God works through multiple avenues, not only through the Episcopal Church, and also beyond all churches.

 

  • Praying in mission companionship is highlighted in the fifth resolve, reminding us that simply praying for and praying with are vital in mission.

 

  • Social media are noted in the final resolve as a resource for building relationships in mission. Concerns about privacy violations and trolling abuses are dampening people’s enthusiasm for social media – witness yesterday’s record-breaking drop in Facebook’s stock value over such concerns.  Yet social media are certain to be with us for a long time to come, and they’ve been important in cultivating many missional companionships.

 

Altogether A207 is a helpful and important resolution, and it deserves to be highlighted by dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, the Global Partnerships Unit at the Episcopal Church Center – and by the Global Episcopal Mission Network, which includes them all.

Yesterday, Good Friday, I received the regular daily email from Heidi Schmidt, a missionary from Queens who is serving among people in a remote area of Argentina alongside fellow missionary Monica Vega.  This is what Heidi shared:

Yesterday was so full of so much…Alicia, a Guarani mother who lost her 14-year-old son (his name is Jesus, really), so much grief, so much pain, so much of what it really is to live on the margins. We arrived and there was Alicia, in the midst of a whirlwind of life still going on, wood burning fire with a huge, blackened pot cooking away, children running about, baby crying, grungy stray dogs barking, searching for scraps … and while holding her to share our condolences she let out a deep wail, a cry, from the deepest depths I have never heard before, ever, and there I knew Christ, and such a heavy cross she carried.

Walking the journey with Jesus today, with Alicia, with all those I don’t know by name who carry their burdens, their cross, as I am able, with all my heart.

How far to follow?

‘We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit . . . intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words’ (Romans 8.26)

What did Jesus the Christ do for us on the cross?  The whole Jesus story is the drama of God reconciling humanity and the cosmos to God.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘In Christ, God was reconciling the world to God.’  The focal point of that reconciliation is the cross on Good Friday, the event of what has historically been called the atonement.  But how did Jesus work such reconciliation?  By being punished in our place?  That’s one traditional view that is supported in scripture, and it is certainly part of the picture: God in Christ suffering for us.

An equally important mode is God in Christ suffering with us.  At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus wept.  When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.  ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  As the writer to the Hebrews says, we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who was tempted in every way as we are.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 14, 2017

Freestanding darkness: Good Friday

A re-posting from Good Friday 2015:

From Jane Butterfield’s Good Friday homily today in Trinity Church, Shelburne, Vermont:

There is something in the human soul that needs to feel the absence of God.

We need to feel the depth of the emptiness that God fills.

God took the risk of absence, the risk of powerlessness.

God entered the darkness, that we might know our own darkness.

We are used to the notion of God in Christ sharing our journey, sharing the suffering of the human family. Striking in Jane’s reflection is the recognition that Good Friday deepens our awareness of the suffering of the human family. It pushes out the boundaries of the wasteland. As Frederick Faber wrote in his hymn “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”:

There is no place where earth sorrows

are more felt than up in heaven.

Our prayers often have the subtext, “God, don’t you realize how painful this is?” In fact, God knows the pain more deeply than we do because, unlike us, God doesn’t push the pain away. In the cross God helps us realize just how much we need saving. The fact that God experienced degradation helps us see just how deeply we’ve degraded the human situation.

Two bits of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion are especially vivid in this regard. At the opening of Part 2 the soprano sings:

Ach! mein Lamm in Tigerklauen!

Ah! my lamb in tiger’s claws!

And, as religious leaders and thieves reproach Jesus on the cross, an alto sings:

Alas, Golgotha, hapless Golgotha!

The Lord of glory

must wretchedly perish here;

the blessing and salvation of the world

is placed on the cross like a curse

(Wird als ein Fluch ans Kreuz gestellt).

Making God into a curse. We’re familiar with that from the inclusion of God’s name and Jesus’ name in expletives both casual and passionate. At Golgotha God was willing to be regarded as a curse and to become a curse as a life-and-death matter. Actually, a death matter. Dying.

The scandal of the cross is the scandal of particularity, the contraction of the universe’s spiritual and moral structure to a wretched and disgraceful episode on a Friday outside Jerusalem. Yet that is where God engaged the darkness and became its victim.

We have a few desolate words from Jesus on the cross. Psalm 22, which we recite on this day, elaborates eloquently the inner desolation.

The latter part of Psalm 22, beyond the Good Friday lection, anticipates the missional reach of redemptive suffering, a missional reach that fulfills God’s promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall bow before him. . . .

My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.

They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.

May it be so.

What I add in 2017 is reference to the link between forgiveness, which is among God’s gifts to us from the cross, and powerlessness, on which Rowan Williams  meditates in his recent book Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life:

To forgive is to share in the helplessness of God, who cannot turn from God’s own nature: not to forgive would be for God a wound in the divine nature itself.  Not power, but the powerlessness of the God whose nature is love is what is shown in the act of forgiving.  The disciple rooted n Christ shares that powerlessness, and the deeper the roots go the less possible it is not to forgive.

Palm Sunday’s attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt should prompt Christians in all places to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith in Christ and to advocate on their behalf.

The attacks on St. George’s Church in the northern city of Tanta and on St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, the ancient seat of Egyptian Christianity, left 44 dead and 126 wounded.  In December an attack on the Coptic cathedral in Cairo claimed 30 lives.  All the attacks were claimed by ISIS and its affiliates.

The website of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt, which also oversees Anglican work in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, does not yet include news of the Palm Sunday attacks.  But a blogpost by the Grant Lemarquand, area bishop for the Horn of Africa, includes this reflection on Christians’ response to the December attack:

The Coptic Church, joined by other Christians in Egypt, responded, yes with grief, but (as usual) without calls for retaliation. Outside of the Coptic Cathedral protesters and mourners shouted. For those who don’t know the language, the sight and sound of thousands of young men chanting loudly and strongly in Arabic might strike fear into the heart of many westerners. But listen more closely … they are chanting the Nicene Creed.

Yes, it was defiance. “We are Christians. We are here. We, too, are willing to give our lives; willing to be martyrs if need be.” But it was non-violent defiance. Here were Christians in the streets of an Islamic country openly and loudly proclaiming their belief and trust in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For me the response of most Christians in Egypt was remarkable, but not really a surprise. Yes, there is anger. Yes, there is terror. But there is also an amazing trust. And, even more amazing, almost a sense of thanksgiving. I heard Christians saying that they were thankful that God had, once again, counted the Egyptian church worthy of gaining more martyrs, more ‘witnesses’ to the suffering love of God expressed in the suffering of his faithful people. I heard some say how wonderful it was that those who died went to church to have Communion with God, and found themselves continuing that Communion in God’s immediate presence.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 8, 2017

Evil in Holy Week and the vocation of mission: A meditation

Evil in the world.  Suffering among the poor, the drought-stricken and famine-stricken.  Agony among people on whom is inflicted excruciating death.  Betrayals on personal, social and global scales.  Gratuitous cruelty in families and neighborhoods.  Outrageous grabs by the powerful who disenfranchise, oppress and impoverish the less powerful.

We see all this around us – locally, regionally, globally.  The headlines need no recitation.  There you have it – evil.

In this world-scape, human-scape, suffering-scape people often ask – in puzzlement, despair or rage – ‘Where is God in all this?!  Where are you, God – that is, if you even exist?!’  And when they’re calmer and more analytical, many conclude, ‘Look at all this!  Obviously  God doesn’t exist, or if God exists God doesn’t care!’

On the eve of the Sunday of the Passion of Jesus, and so also on the eve of Holy Week, a very different conclusion emerges.  Where is God in the suffering?  Well, right here!

The story of Holy Week is a disgraceful story of jealousy, rage, conspiracy, manipulation, violence, slander – and then condemnation, cruelty, mockery, torture, abandonment and, finally, excruciating death.  The story is dark and shameful.

At the center of that story is Jesus – Jesus to whom all that happens, Jesus on whom all that is heaped, Jesus who feels it all so keenly that he cries out in desperation from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’  That cry resonates with the cry of so many who ask, ‘Where is God in the suffering?’  The Jesus who asks that question with us was a human being like all of us, yet at the same time the very being of God become flesh and living among us as one of us.  He lived among us, yet without any of the prerogatives of God and thus without omnipresence, omniscience or omnipotence.  So Jesus was genuinely alone, authentically vulnerable as he gaped into the darkness.

We often see ourselves on pilgrimage into God.  The Incarnation was God’s pilgrimage into humanity.  The primary mode of that pilgrimage was sharing – God sharing our life, God sharing our weakness, God sharing our anxiety, God sharing our unknowingness, God sharing our vulnerability to contingency and catastrophe.  Solidarity is a fancier name for it, properly popular in mission discussions, but ‘sharing’ says it more simply.  As Eucharistic Prayer A has it, Jesus was sent ‘to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.’

Jesus was sent first to share our life – that was his mission, his sent-ness.  Yes, there were the mighty words and the mighty acts, the preaching and the healing, yet Jesus could not preach to everyone, nor could he heal everyone.  The words and deeds were harbingers of a cosmic healing yet to come.  Underlying his ministry was sheer presence – Immanuel, God simply with us, the sharing.

And that turned out to be costly, as sharing always is.  Where is God in the suffering? – Well, right here in the midst of it.  A task in Holy Week is simply to contemplate God’s sharing the human journey.

Another meditation on evil on this Saturday before Passion Sunday comes from Scott Simon, the host of National Public Radio’s ‘Weekend Edition.’  After describing how the Syrian government’s chemical attack in Idlib Province prompted him to think again about evil he had this to say:

I’ve interviewed Romeo Dallaire, the former Canadian general who commanded U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. General Dallaire discovered Hutu soldiers were getting ready to massacre Tutsi civilians. But he was prevented by U.N. leadership from using his troops to try to stop the murders before they could take place. More than 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans were then slaughtered over three months.

Romeo Dallaire said that what happened made him believe in evil, and even a force he called the devil. “I’ve negotiated with him,” he told us, “shaken his hand. Yes. There is no doubt in my mind …. and the expression of evil to me is through the devil and the devil at work and possessing human beings and turning them into machines of destruction. … And one of the evenings in my office, I was looking out the window and my senses felt that something was there with me that shifted me. I think that evil and good are playing themselves out and God is monitoring and looking at how we respond to it.”

God monitoring and looking at how we respond.  Yes.  And after the Christ event, God looks and monitors from the perspective of having been inside it and suffered its extremity of degradation.

God shared our condition, walked alongside us, suffered within our tormented situation.  Living out the Christ event in our own lives means that we share the suffering of others, walk alongside them, suffer within their torment.  That’s mission, our sent-ness.

A 2017 Lenten reflection program based on the Anglican Five Marks of Mission is being offered by the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), the Episcopal men’s monastic community based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Anyone is welcome to participate in the free program, whether individually or in groups.  Sign-up is readily accessible at the series website – just name and email (no user name, password or address needed).  When you sign up, you receive an email making the 14-page workbook downloadable for printing.  You also begin receiving daily via email a 3-minute video reflection by one of the SSJE brothers that you can incorporate into your daily devotion.

Groups can meet weekly to share responses to the videos and the workbook, which, after the first week’s introductory chapter, is organized according to the Five Marks of Mission.  In northern Vermont, for instance, participants from a number of Episcopal congregations are participating online, with those able to meet in person gathering at one parish on Wednesday evenings and others logging in live to that meeting online.

By yesterday morning, 2,222 people around the country – maybe around the world as well – had viewed the morning’s video on YouTube, which indicates that the series is garnering a good deal of interest.  The introductory week began this past Sunday, Feb. 26, but one can join the series at any point, and all the videos are listed on the series website in case you get a late start or need to catch up on any you miss along the way

Outstanding from a missional point of view is that the Five Marks of Mission are being highlighted this way for an extended Lenten program of reflection.  For those not so familiar with the Five Marks, here they are:

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  • To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
  • To respond to human need by loving service.
  • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Read More…

Lost in the din emanating from the daily absurdities and outrages of Donald Trump’s presidential administration is his Feb. 2 proposal at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington to ‘destroy’ the so-called Johnson Amendment that prohibits USAmerican non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates or making financial contributions to political campaigns.

The Johnson Amendment is named after then Texas senator Lyndon Johnson, who later became vice president and president, and it was inserted into the Internal Revenue Code in 1954.  It applies to all organizations registered under the non-profit 501(c)(3) section of the code, so it includes not only churches but thousands of foundations, educational institutions, and charities.

Repeal of the amendment should be vigorously opposed, for it could result in a radical distortion of the mission of Christian churches in the USA.

Churches with a partisan itch would doubtless jump into the political fray, opening a floodgate to partisan political activity.  Most of that would probably be right-wing, the sector that Trump was recklessly pandering to at the prayer breakfast.  Churches that would wisely hang back in ordinary times might be tempted to join the fray lest ‘Christian political positions’ be stereotyped as right-wing.

The Christian gospel does have political implications – indeed, strong ones – for God’s revelation in the Jewish and Christian scriptures sets forth clearly lots of principles of personal morality that should be lived out in public as well as in private life, and lots of principles of social ethics that guide how we should live as communities.  Both the personal and the social dimensions should guide us in our political life.

Instances are too numerous to catalogue, but a few should suffice.  Topics of some of the Ten Commandments – for instance, the Sabbath, murder, theft, adultery – have affected civil and criminal codes – yes, with many details debated, but the effects are plain to see.  Jesus’ Beatitudes highlight personal qualities, yes, but peace-making, for example, has political valence.  Jesus’ central preaching of the Kingdom of God had political implications, as we see in his many condemnations of callous wealth and neglect of the poor.

The overwhelming biblical witness, in both the Old and New Testaments, in favor of justice for the poor, mercy for the condemned, hospitality for refugees, care of the sick, and compassion for the debt-ridden have clear implications for the body politic.  Underlying this witness is the generosity of God showered equally on all of us, a generosity that we are to reflect in our stance toward our fellow human beings, all of us equally created in God’s very image. Read More…

‘Have been hoping you might weigh in on the Muslim ban,’ a friend wrote to me last week.  The issue has naturally been of intense interest to me, given my background in Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, and I’m grateful to my friend for prodding me to share reflections in this space.

Much of the public response to President Trump’s executive order on immigration has been influenced by his disgraceful campaign rhetoric about banning all Muslims from entering the USA and his over-heated presidential assertions about the threat of terrorist attacks from the seven countries from which immigration, even for refugees, is banned under the executive order: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Widespread protests against the executive order have rightly decried the appearance of anti-Muslim bias, the precipitous and slipshod rollout of a sharply disruptive policy, the blatant fear-mongering that Trump regularly trumpets in support of it, his callous disregard for the plight of refugees worldwide, and his vicious attacks on judges who have challenged the order on the grounds of constitution and law.

As many know, I have my own story of arbitrary and prejudicial visa treatment – as a foreigner serving in higher education in Pakistan.  In one instance, a valid work visa was withdrawn without explanation for a period of months and then reinstated, also without explanation, after many representations by leaders of the Church of Pakistan.  In another instance, renewal of a work visa was delayed for months, without explanation, and then granted only after similar representations.  Finally, agents of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency physically beat me, threatened me with death if I didn’t leave the country, and ripped the work visa out of my US passport.

The reasons for this treatment were religious – a Muslim desire to limit Christian influence in the important sphere of higher education.  The provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa wanted to control Edwardes College, an institution founded, owned and operated by the church, and diminish the church’s role in the college’s planned charter as a university.  Realizing it had no basis for its position in constitution, law or history – after all, Pakistan’s constitution provides that all religious groups shall be free to practice and propagate their religion and manage their own institutions – the government resorted to threats and violence to enforce its will.

So I naturally empathize with people whose legitimate visa status is suddenly questioned and changed.  In the current USAmerican situation, there is no justification for barring people who already hold visas for study or work from returning to the country.  After all, they have already been vetted for security and financial viability, and it is specious to bar them on the pretext of unsubstantiated additional suspicion. Read More…

Older Posts »

Categories

%d bloggers like this: