(photo by Albin Hillert/WCC)
Heading to the hotel early because I have some things to get done before the conference wraps up tomorrow. Had a chance to whip down some reflections:
This morning we had a plenary on formation. I found the “round table” to have spark and something to wrestle with. The written “responses” were less about responding to the discussions formation and presenting examples of de-formation – capitalism, colonialism, sexism, all summed up as empire. While it could be valuable to reflection on what deforms us, it was more helpful to consider what forms us. A side note: an academic friend who is here found the whole morning disappointing. Stephen Bevans and Kenneth Ross were both on stage but they were moderating. We got no substantial contribution from an actual missiologist. This prompted my friend to wonder whether their needs to be a separate (but open to all) academic stream that could bring together the best mission thinking in the world.
This idea touches on another comment from another new friend who felt that the CWME was having an identity issue. Earlier conferences, before the advent of social media and the internet, served a clear purpose: gather people who were thinking about mission and evangelism together. Now, with near ubiquity of the internet, and where space is collapsed, there is less need to gather these minds together to present. There is likely a need to gather these minds together to discuss. This reflection is more me than my new friend but I wonder if the organizers need to ask themselves the question, “What is it that we can only do when we are gathered together?” and get rid of the rest?
There is a great deal of talk about “justice” here. There is also an explicit statement that most, if not all, institutions are part of “empire” where empire is defined as bad. Leaving aside how slippery and, in my opinion, useless, this understanding of empire is, I am confused. I have questioned that the Western ideas of justice are universal in the past so my issue isn’t that I can only conceive of justice within the narrow confines of Western European ideas. Still, it seems to me that in all cultures in all times, to receive justice requires institutions. There are rules, objectively held by all concerned, that individuals in turn use wisdom to assess any given situation. Biblically this is played out in bringing issues before various courts, whether they are at a gate or more formal settings. In Malawi this would look like local chiefs or groups passing judgement. If the group did not achieve “justice” such as unfairly targeting one group or another, there is a public nature to the judgement that will invoke protest and accountability. This is not perfect. Vulnerable people by definition experience injustice more than others. Still, there is a sense that in having institutions, an objective set of rules that all have access to, wisdom rooted in the community, and ways of protesting, that justice over time will come into being.
The problem, then, in denigrating institutions in the name justice, is that the justice advocated for is only available through institutions. How can you “work for justice” and at the same time tear down the institutions of various cultures that have for centuries brought about justice? Is liberal democracy, even imperfect forms of it like I experience in Malawi, so corrupt that tearing it down is the only option to achieve some undefined sense of justice? I am not against protest. I think that public pressure is important to hold institutions that administer justice to account. There are injustices worth taking to the streets about. However, protesting injustice is different than labeling everything as “empire” and therefore beyond the pale of redemption.