Jim's Journal - December 2005
e x t r a ! Consultation Report (Vulnerable Grass-roots Mission)
Wives and Marriage (a personal view)
Millennium Development Goals and the Church
Science and Conscience
I am grateful to the many folks, particularly in die Freie Bibel Gemeinder (Worpswede), die Bruder Gemeinde (Osterholz Scharmbeck), Andover Baptist Church, Wantage Baptist Church, New Farm Chapel (Alresford), Acomb Baptist Church (York) and Norwich Central Baptist Church for their warm welcome and hospitality over the last few months.
I write this Journal in the final days of my 4 month furlough, from August to December 2005. It contains a lot of thoughts that have arisen as I have been here in the UK, making comparisons with my more familiar East African context.
I have, in addition to visiting the above churches and other friends, been able to complete and hand-in my PhD thesis. All that remains to complete the PhD is the oral exam known as a Viva. This is to be sometime in January or February (to be announced), which means that I will have to make an additional trip to the UK, once I know the date. The title of the thesis is: PRAGMATIC THEORY APPLIED TO CHRISTIAN MISSION IN AFRICA: WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO LUO RESPONSES TO 'BAD' IN GEM, KENYA.
The first piece in this Journal is the report that I wrote arising from the consultation that we recently held here in Andover in Hampshire.
I return to Kenya on 13th December 2005, so as to be back for Christmas with folks at home. I have not heard much from home or from Kima. No news, I trust, is good news.
(Vulnerable Grass-roots Mission Consultation held at Andover Baptist Church, Andover, Hampshire on 9th to 10th December 2005)
(This is a personal report that may not represent the conclusions of all delegates to the consultation. I hope that other delegates will also be producing their reports.)
The reluctance of British (or Western) people to make serious efforts to understand the situation of non-Westerners over whom they have considerable control (especially in holding purse-strings) was a major concern addressed at this consultation. Little hope was proffered to one of the fundamental aims of the consultation, which was to encourage young people to engage in mission in ways that are vulnerable to people of the Third World. This despite the risk of mission as well as so called 'development activities' becoming inappropriate interference. Such a vulnerable approach would enable Christianity activity to be engaged in such a way that could effectively be imitated by the non-West, and aid international (inter-tribal) understanding in general. The conditions discussed to ensure the genuine vulnerability of young people were felt to be unrealistically difficult.
Other things made the intended focus of the consultation on vulnerability hard to achieve. Constant re-iteration of the intent of levelling of relationship in order to achieve true partnership was insufficient to resolve this issue (in my view as consultation convenor). Instead, delegates constantly returned us to the agenda of how to utilise 'superior' British resources and finance, instead of how to avoid being tied down by them. This incredibly deeply ingrained and apparently unchallengeable conviction of Western superiority as an integral component of mission was hard for me to understand. I suggest this as a major block on achievement of true partnership in international mission, and that this area needs a lot of urgent attention in order to achieve its resolution. My own suspicion following the consultation is that Western people's convictions regarding the superiority of their ways of life are so deeply ingrained as to be unchallengeable from within their own culture using their own language.
Putting of spin onto mission reports was one of many other issues discussed (thanks to Jennifer Dorman from Canterbury Baptist Church). Missionaries frequently report their activities in such a way as to enable effective fundraising, regardless of the truth on the ground, we were told. I suggest that this is not a straightforward issue at all, given the very limited understanding of Western people of alternative ways of life to their own. This does not mean that this concern does not need to be addressed. It is important that people be given honest truthful accounts of mission-in-practice (and of development activities and aid provision in practice).
Untrue over-rosy reports are particularly unhelpful if those informed by them use them as the basis of their own mission strategies. I certainly see this happening on the ground in Africa, where some missionaries base their policies on misleading positive publicity produced by others. These others being 'well-meaning' does not prevent those who imitate their false publicity from quickly becoming unstuck.
This illustrated a widespread difficulty in setting up a learning-curve for new missionary personnel. New and replacement Western missionaries filling key church leadership positions around the world often operate on the basis of their home-experience rather than learning from field conditions. Reports of mission that are received in the West can be so full of 'spin' as to be totally useless as guides to missionary strategy.
The problematic of lies arising from over-quick financial investment into the 'poor world' was considered but not resolved in the consultation: development workers (and other donors) who are quick to invest into communities that they do not understand then invariably operate in ignorance of the details of their actual impact. This puts better informed people into the difficult position of either having to say untrue platitudes to them to maintain the myth of 'success', or to avoid contact with such workers. (Telling them the truth can make them angry, reported one consultation member. It can also result in the one spilling the beans getting themselves into deep trouble, if his/her words should come to be known by local people as having been responsible for the withdrawal or otherwise alteration of what was promising to be a lucrative project.) This is far from an ideal situation between brothers and sisters in Christ. Christians who put money up-front in their relationships with foreign cultures therefore easily create and perpetuate corruption (as lying quickly leads to corruption). This needs to be resolved, I suggest, by attention to training and action from the leadership of NGOs and missions.
A report from Wilma Davies (of Latin Link) explained a variety of approaches to mission that she had experienced while in Argentina. Some missionaries enter the field with no discussion with locals and pay for everything from employees, to buildings to equipment in order to quickly set up large slick operations oriented particularly to youth. Others use their financial clout in various ways, including an extreme approach of asking foreign (Latin American) Christians to work in places that they themselves find too dangerous: 'we pay - you go'. These approaches (we were told of seven in all) have various pros and cons. An ideal was hard to find.
Consultation delegates challenged me to engage in more writing of articles to make alternative scripturally based and culturally sensitive models of mission more widely known. At the same time it was acknowledged that this alone would be insufficient to bring about change without my coming and spending more extended periods in the UK sharing at conferences. My own response in considering this option, was to suggest that until the very internationally powerful and influential British people are able to tune their ears to the many countries around the world that they are profoundly influencing, pulling those who are acquiring a greater understanding back to home base was unlikely to have sufficient long-term impact. (Our learning of the wider world being based on the media is very problematic because of the latter's strong bias, particularly in favour of materialism. In my own view, the dependence of many research projects on poorly thought out quantitative research methodologies is another culprit in this regard, as these tend to confirm rather than challenge existing convictions.) In other words - is the only way to resolve this problem to pull home the few missionaries who are effectively engaging in other cultures, when doing this clearly curtails their work?
An increasing proportion of the globe is becoming glued to English (/American) language, education, technology and values. At the same time Britain itself makes decisions on the basis of its own population (voters), meaning that its policies are not attuned to the variety of situations found on the international scene to which they are being applied. I suggest that the church should be leading the field in reversing this anomaly by a process of decentralisation. One way of doing this, is to cut (or at least reduce) tied dependence-creating international aid-funds. Another is serious consideration of the use of different languages in theological instruction around the world to replace the current system that is heavily oriented to English.
We were keenly aware of the absence of some key UK mission personnel who could have benefitted greatly (and would have helped us greatly) in these debates. I hope that more missionary societies (and others concerned with relations particularly with Africa but also the Third World in general) can be included in future discussions. We were very grateful for the attendance of Brian Knell representing Global Connections of the Evangelical Alliance. Mike Thompson from Acomb Baptist Church in York was the other non-Andover-person to attend.
The consultation resolved that it is "supporting Jim in his desire to raise issues, ask questions and make radical suggestions." I thank the delegates for this support and ongoing mandate! The term 'radical' has me a bit concerned. I welcome the day when advocating that people govern their own churches (within the boundaries of the Scriptures and Christian orthodoxy) will no longer be seen as 'radical'.
Jim Harries, consultation convenor.
"Isn't that an unusual way of living though Jim?" I was asked a few times while in the UK. I guess this was in respect to my being a single British man, living in Africa, in an African village, with African children that include girls and with women to help in looking after them.
It surely does seem strange in Western nations somewhat pre-occupied with sexual perversions to find someone voluntarily opting out of marriage so as to be single in a distant land. Why do I do it?
Firstly, I constantly value prayer on this issue. Sexual temptations are not to be scoffed at, and have brought the downfall of many men of God. I do pray that God will continue to give me the ability to live a chaste life.
My principle reason for remaining single is to enable me to live closely with the Kenyan people, and thus to be able to learn to minister effectively to them with the Gospel. Although it would theoretically be possible to live this way with a partner, it is very hard to see this in practice. Modern people are used to having a lot of things, doing what they want to out of a range of choices and generally being very prosperous. Some love to have a lot of personal attention from their partners and to be able to relate very intimately and closely as a couple. This can run contrary to the Biblical-missionary vision and example of living in humility and poverty in open communication with poor (and foreign) people so as to be able to learn with them and from them and then share with them of the Gospel.
Hence I advise young people who are seeking to serve God to seriously consider the option of singleness. I advise Christian young women who are married to live in their relationships with a heart of service, thus gaining the respect of cultures where this is very much the norm, and enabling their husbands to effectively serve the Lord. In my experience of mission work in Africa, the woman often has the most difficult time and the most onerous burdens to bear, so the strength of the woman is the most important in a missionary marriage-partnership. Taking up what may in the West be known as 'traditional roles' is part of the adjustment needed to African culture.
I believe there is a great need for both of these in today's world. That is for men who are so committed to serving God as to be ready to forego the marriage option, and for women who are married to be prepared to forego the trappings of Western consumerism in favour of supporting their husbands, so as to enable them to be a living testimony to people being reached with the Gospel outside of the Western world. Single men can reach places and acquire understanding that could be got in no other way. On the other hand, they are often not highly respected by societies in which marriage is strongly advocated as the norm. Married men can only work effectively in so far as they are supported in this by their wives.
I have noticed a lot of interest by some church groups in the Millennium Development Goals and 'make poverty history' in the West. Some Christians have taken the goals on board, and some Christian organisations have aligned themselves with its aims.
Anyone who says "I want to end the poverty in the world. Are you with me?" is putting their respondent into a trap. Yes of course we would all like to have a world without poverty. But how are we going to achieve this? The desirability of the goal does not guarantee the advisability of the methodology proposed to reach it.
The UN goals are to be reached by means that are very materialistic. This rhymes with our Western culture, and is relatively easy for Westerners to understand because their lives have become very materialistic. The Bible is of course not materialistic. This can give us an excuse not to have to take the Bible too seriously, as we are busy solving the world's problems. Or it could give us a reason to critique the means advocated to achieve millennium goals rather than accepting them lock stock and barrel.
Although Western people are very materialistic, the same cannot be said for all the poor people, who the Millenium projects intend to assist. The thinking behind the millennium project being very Western in origin and in outworking means that it is hard for other people around the world to understand. If it is hard to understand, it is hard to appropriate. People being developed instead of developing themselves is hardly the best way of things. 'Developing people' can be very damaging, as while they are 'being developed', they remain with little freedom to do anything themselves.
Millennium goals are rooted in thinking that is peculiar to the current age in the Western world. It is 'us doing for them'. Much of the time it seems to be handouts - the need to raise funds and resources is the main drive that one hears about. Those funds and resources are to be used to interfere in other people's lives.
Interfering using money is bad enough. Offering people money is denying them choices, and I suspect very often forcing them into crises. It has many other effects, like shutting them up. Surely it is better to allow people to choose for themselves?
Most people in the world believe that life has a purpose, and that this purpose has something to do with something greater than us that we do not fully understand. If you talk to these people about what God has said, even about visions, angels and spiritual powers, then they understand clearly. If you talk to them about secular strategies for solving world poverty, they are confused. Being confused is not a good beginning to solving the problem of poverty.
I believe that Christians have in their hands much more effective means at tackling 'world poverty' than those advocated by the millennium-goals folk. These are the means that we see demonstrated in the Scriptures, of telling people of the example of a loving God who was ready to die for them. Anything that compromises this most empowering of messages is not progress but confusion. If world poverty is to be solved, it will be by empowering people through the Gospel, and not by 'developing them'.
Recent debate on British 'multicultural society' has resulted in concern that immigrants to Britain are not adjusting to the 'British way of life', but are instead continuing to maintain distinct cultures and styles.
One important reason for this is their failure to understand the secularism that they find arising from our shores. Debates on UK policy occur on the basis of a presumed existence of objectivity and irrelevance of God. This is hard for many people from around the world to understand.
Visitors and immigrants would be able to engage with us in much more meaningful ways if they were able to access a debate that is on familiar terms. That is, a debate that relates life 'on earth' to the wishes of the divine, as they certainly do in their home countries. There is a critical need to discuss and articulate the theological foundation of British national character, government policy and even social life.
This theology can be identified in a number of ways. Historically, Christianity has profoundly influenced our society. Can some of those historical roots and origins be unearthed?
Contemporary society continues on the basis of poorly-investigated presuppositions regarding God, his presence and his abilities. These presuppositions need to be discussed and articulated clearly, to give foreign people a platform for engagement with us.
Someone's conscience can make their best-laid plans can go to pot when they (as a Westerner) hit the Third World.
If Christians are guided by God, then what is the role of conscience? Few question its value in the Western world. As Christians we assume it to be God-given. But what does our conscience do to us when we travel to different cultures? Is conscience universal? How should we respond to it as Christians? Could it be that if we allow it to dictate to us, it will have become our 'god'?
Conscience, it seems clear to me, is subject to culture. Some things that our forefathers did with a clear conscience, we no longer consider acceptable; such as caning children, giving someone un-boiled milk to drink straight from a cow, leaving the dishwashing to the lady of the house, or (even) out-rightly condemning homosexuality. Some things that we do with an increasingly clear conscience, such as living together without marrying, cutting the grass on a Sunday, or calling old men by their first names, were unacceptable to previous generations.
Conscience is guided by context. My conscience may trouble me when I accidentally make a cup of tea instead of coffee for you, if I know that you hate tea but like coffee. It would hardly trouble me if I actually knew that you like both equally. A man's conscience will be untroubled if he jumps onto someone and pulls him to the ground in a rugby match, but should be troubled if he does the same on the street. I need not feel guilty at tripping up a running boy, who has just snatched a handbag from an old lady. And so on.
So, is the British conscience 'correct' and that of other people's wrong? On what basis can we claim our conscience to be universal or authoritative? It clearly changes over time (see above). If so, then should it not change according to cultural context? If it can (should?) change with context, then it may be mistaken to be guided by one's home-conscience when in a foreign context.
Adjusting one's conscience on moving to a foreign culture is not easy. This is because popular wisdom assumes it to be universal, and because conscience acts and exists from a subconscious source. Conscience is implicit rather than explicit. In our use of English, our conscience convicts or dictates, whereas our thinking leads or guides. While our cerebral faculties may be our servants, our conscience can be our master.
Having one's conscience dictate can (I suggest) be a problem for cross-cultural workers. Searing one's conscience, often seen as detrimental, may be essential to adjust to a foreign way of life. In other words, while helpful (essential!) when in one's home environment, being led by one's conscience may be asking for trouble in a different society, where familiar rules no longer apply.
Our conscience may motivate us to work in the 'poor world' (such as Africa), but once we get there that very conscience can become a liability. In doing cross-cultural mission work, are we to be led by our conscience, or by God?
Could it be that the linking of science and its products with mission, which our conscience insists that we do, is preventing the understanding and adoption of both?
That science and its products play an important part in Western missions thinking is rarely denied. Christian mission is usually planned to include promotion of some aspect of science or rationality; be it dietary, medical, agricultural, managerial etc. To go to a non-Western (i.e. poor) people without carrying a package of technology is more than the modern Western conscience can bear.
That the Gospel is in Africa linked to Western superiority should not surprise us if this is how it is always presented - linked, because of the hold of Western people's conscience over them, to science and its products. Consistent presentation of the Gospel in hand with Western technology has its recipients understand the two as integrally linked. Then the Gospel without Western wealth is seen as something less than the Gospel. Western wealth without the Gospel is seen as something other than Western wealth.
Many thinkers are concerned as to why Africa has been unable to effectively learn from Western society so as to produce their own productive economy. Models of modernisation, civilisation and development have long been advocated by the West, but not effectively appropriated by Africa. Africa continues to be known for its famines and wars. Why is this?
Could the above linkages be contributing to this failure? The Gospel's linkage with symbols of Western power certainly hampers its spread. Its Western garb becoming part of its identity can make it unrecognisable in local clothing. Hence it can go no further than the reach of foreign funding. In other words, because the 'correct' Gospel comes from the West and is Western, and these latter are imported products to Africa, the Gospel's growth in quantity as well as quality in Africa is stultified. (In practice in much of Africa indigenous churches are founded in which people appropriate God's word in 'local clothing', but often with the danger of straying into unorthodoxy and/or under the condemnation of Western parent churches.)
What about socio-economic 'development' in Africa? As a result of science being linked to faith in Christ, do African people look to the Scriptures for technological insights? That ubiquitous animal called 'prosperity Gospel' suggests that they do. This is a building on the link implicitly made by the West (see above) and certainly found in African tradition between living a pure holy life and material prosperity. The holy life of African tradition is of course in relation to the spirits of the dead. It was in the past thought to result in a man acquiring cows, wives, children, power, influence and good health. This is these days extended to money, cars, clothes, a TV, English and international travel. As traditional prayers result in 'traditional' prosperity, so Christian worship and prayer is thought to bring prosperity on 'Western' lines. Has the church been tied down through being given a burden that it was never intended to bear - to be the front-line battalion in the West's battle to bring the rest of the globe in line with its own materialist and scientific ideals? Have science and technology been compromised through their implicit link with the church?
Technology may be effective in assisting a stable and organised society to fulfil its aims, but does not have a mind of its own. No amount of technology will inspire people to love each other. It may do the opposite, by rewarding selfish personal initiative. A stable and organised society arises when people are convinced over a unifying purpose and orientation. The church is evidently the basis to such civil society. Christianity in bringing God's truth exposes and disarms witchcraft and superstition, building love, compassion and forgiveness. Mixing 'technology' with 'church' interferes with this process. A church needs to be left to grow to spiritual maturity without constant unsettling inputs from the blind application of foreign secular expertise. Once mature, a church will find its own way into technology.
Greed and selfishness intrude into Gospel and community when economic growth is advocated in the name of Christian holiness. The mixing of technology or rationality with Christianity prevents the laying of a firm foundation of faith in community. This is the very foundation that could (later) be receptive to technology.
Only separation of the advocacy of Christianity from that of the benefits of Western technology can overcome the difficulties identified above. While the boundaries between what is 'Christian' and what is 'Western' may be reasonably clear to their originators (Western people) the mixing of the two is a confusing syncretism to the rest of the world, resulting in the failure to communicate either the Gospel of Christ or the means to use technology truly and clearly.
Galatians 5 recounts Paul's New Testament case against those who were advocating that circumcision be mandatory in the church. What is, according to Paul, wrong with circumcision?
In Paul's time some Christian preachers were telling people (men) that in order to be Christians they must first be circumcised. This arose from the consideration of Christianity as a direct continuation of Old Testament Judaism. Paul opposed this strongly. Perhaps he realised the harm that such association between circumcision and salvation would bring. Because 'believing in Jesus' is hard to measure but circumcision is easy, the big question in a 'church of the circumcision' would be 'have you been circumcised?' The question of people's relationships with God would fall into second place. The 'offence of the Gospel' (Galatians 5:11) could be transformed to the 'offence of circumcision.'
The 'offence of the Gospel' is that the gift of salvation is a free gift from God. For something as significant as release from the consequences of their sins, people could prefer to do something more consequential, painful or difficult (like to be circumcised). Then they may consider themselves as having achieved something that justifies their being forgiven. The church would thus be a place full of 'successful' people. This was not God's plan. He wanted the glory for himself. When someone is saved, that is something that God has done, and not that a person has done for themselves.
The issue of circumcision was especially difficult for the Greeks. As well as frowning upon circumcision, they were also known for loving nakedness - especially in sport. The prerequisite for circumcision would have made becoming a Christian very difficult for Greeks. Christianity was going to become a 'tribal' religion - to be accepted predominantly by non-Greek 'tribes'.
There are strong parallels to this situation today. The Luo people amongst whom I live in Kenya have no tradition of circumcision, whereas the neighbouring Luyia circumcise all their boys at aged around fourteen. If the circumcisers had got their way, Christianity may in Kenya have become a Luyia way of life.
The link between Christianity and science is another such issue. Missionaries going to Africa from a culture in which science is very strong, can give the impression that it is a necessary companion to salvation. Hence many Christian churches in Africa advocate attendance at Western hospitals. Christianity is linked to Western education. Someone not following consumerism in wanting a smart house with nice things and in a hygienic way, can be considered to be non-Christian.
This is approach is becoming more and more prominent as a result of globalisation. It leaves little opportunity for growth outside of the critical eye of scientifically-minded European, American or Australian people. Generous financial incentives are offered to those who accept Western scientific values such as use of Western medicines, careful accounting for money, Western (pseudo-scientific) theology, careful vehicle ownership, particular dietary practices etc. To these can be added the requirement not to drive out demons (as demons do not exist), not to have all-night prayers (that cause people to go to work tired), not to wear colourful robes in worship (that look like religious ritualism), not to practice indigenous theologies (that are too hard for Westerners to understand), not to go barefoot in church, sit on the floor, refuse women pastors and so on. In other words, in a world in which the West has a hold on the purse strings, they are being used to strongly encourage others to follow Western ways of life, and these have become essentials for Christians.
The constant mixing of teaching on science and that on true Christianity makes it increasingly hard for people to discern between the two. People will appropriate the signs of modern life in order to prove their Christianity as true. Wearing suits and ties, speaking English, usage of technology and consumerism are aspired to in order to demonstrate genuine faith. Anyone having mastered scientific ways of operation is taken as 'more Christian', such that science, and not Christ, can come to be in leadership of the church.
Paul argued strongly for a disassociation between the requirement for circumcision and true Christianity. We can thank God for having guided him to the realisation that nothing should stand between a repentant man or woman and the forgiving cross of Christ. No onerous rituals or lifestyles should of themselves be needed to effect someone's salvation. The leadership of the church needs to address this issue urgently today to avoid our having a tribal church, consisting only of those ready to swallow the pills of scientific modernity, with others condemned to third-class Christian citizenship. Some lifestyle choices, such as whether to circumcise or not, or whether to be 'scientific' or not, are not the business of the church to impose.