In section 7 of the Cape Town Commitments*, entitled “We love God’s world,” it states: “We love the world of nations and cultures.” Although much could be critiqued about the contemporary understanding of “nation” in light of Enlightenment philosophy in comparison with the biblical concept of ethnic group, a major problem with the draft version of this section was its purely positive evaluation of the effect of Christian mission on indigenous cultures. The draft of the Cape Town Commitments affirmed, “Historically, Christian mission has been instrumental in protecting and preserving indigenous cultures and their languages.” While we can affirm the respect of a culture by translating the Bible into its language and by learning its customs, Christian mission has also been destructive. We can think of those killed in Latin America and North America in the name of the church or “manifest destiny.” We can also look at the imposition of western culture in non-western cultures by missionaries. We should certainly name this and repent of it in this document.
While the final version of the Cape Town Commitments did not call for repentance, it does incorporate my suggestion of acknowledging the church’s failures, while also recognizing positive influences. It states, “Historically, Christian mission, though flawed by destructive failures, has been instrumental in protecting and preserving indigenous cultures and their languages.”
I was visiting our young Word Made Flesh community in the Republic of Moldova last week. As we were getting ready to catch our bus back to Galați, I stopped for a few minutes to observe the old communist mosaic that stretched across the wall of the central bus station. Every society is supported by its myths, and every government propagates them. When I look at the communist art that is still hanging on, I can hear the stories and identify some of their beliefs.
The ideology promised civilization and industry, represented by the high-rise buildings and steel construction. Against the oppression of labor in capitalist societies, communism promoted the well-being of the citizen. A woman stands above from her steely balcony rather than under its weight. A worker reads as he welds, suggesting his work serves the higher purpose of cultivating through education. There is celebration and song. And families come together and grow, achieving a happier future generation.
Interestingly, there is no church, as in communism it is superfluous. Yet, the art itself is patterned after Orthodox mosaic iconography. And, like Orthodox icons, the people do not smile, although their demeanor gives an impression of happiness.
Like much of communist art, the shapes are geometric and controlled. And in this depiction of utopia, there is little nature. The sun, stars and moon appear to be ordered by man to function along with the planning of the society. The flowers are not rooted. There is much industry but little life. And this and images like this are what inspired the citizens of the Soviet era.
A few weeks back, former President Bill Clinton said that the present political environment is poisonous. The Republicans and the Democrats have gone beyond ideology into a kind of political theology.Clinton said, “If we can break out of theology and get back to evidence and experience and the aspirations of ordinary people, I think we can have bipartisan cooperation.”
I appreciate Clinton’s naming of “theology” and his introducing of the concept into public discourse. However, his understanding of “theology” is incorrect. He understands “theology” as those beliefs and commitments for which there is no evidence. And he thinks that “theology” is a more extreme position beyond “ideology,” a relentless commitment to one’s own position. Contrary to Clinton’s view, each ideology is also based on beliefs and commitments for which there is no complete ground of evidence. Thus, some faith commitment is necessary for every ideology. Moreover, each ideology is itself a particular theology, addressing perspectives on justice, power and life. Each ideology flows from a particular understanding of “god,” and each ideology legitimizes and sanctions itself by appealing to its “god.”
Clinton’s observations and recommendations are themselves based on Clinton’s own theology.Clinton insists that we “look at the job numbers, look at the vested numbers, look at the growth numbers, look at the productivity numbers, look at the numbers.” Using these numbers requires a certain selection and a certain interpretation, and it portrays and sustains a certain theology. Clinton says, “It cannot be possible that either the Democrats or the Republicans are always wrong. It cannot be possible that a hundred percent of us are proceeding in bad faith.” Notice the bald theological language that Clinton uses: “faith.” The basis for discerning and determining what is right implies a “faith.”
Clinton urges us to move away from our theologies. This really is impossible. Politicians promote a certain view of society that reflects a particular view of “god” – even when the promoters claim to be secular or a-theistic. People cannot become less theological. Political views (just like social, economic, health policies, etc.) are always begging the question: which “god?” or whose “theology?” In a realm of lies, doublespeak and demagoguery, we should be calling for politicians and public personalities to be more theological. If theologies (i.e. ideologies, social visions, economic polices, etc) are clarified, policy objectives can be affirmed or disapproved in relation to the declared theologies. Deriving policy objectives from theology also creates space for negotiation, where policy objectives may be compromised without having to compromise one’s theology. And in democratic societies that include many diverse and contradicting theologies, compromise is essential.
In trying to have a gracious reading of Clinton’s view, I think that he is not really calling us to be less theological. Rather, he is inviting each party to become less entrenched in their own particular ideologies and to have the courage and willingness to consider the view of the other. Unfortunately, most political “gods” are jealous of their adherents and don’t allow them to consider others. As Christians, however, we can offer a unique perspective based on our theology that claims to know truth and to love those completely other than ourselves. In the sphere of larger society, we can call for candid speech and truth-telling, while naming and condemning discourse that is deceptive. And we can attempt to understand the perspectives of others and to build society together, even where there is disagreement. At this point, we can appropriate Clinton’s suggestion to identify what is right in those different than ourselves.
Section 5 of the first part of the Cape Town Commitments affirms that “we love God the Holy Spirit.” I really appreciate the emphasis in this section on the Person of the Spirit and mission of the Spirit, which are not subordinated to the other Persons or actions of the Trinity.*
In the draft version of part a), which elaborates the activity of the Spirit in the Old Testament, the effects of the outpouring of the Spirit listed are “new life and fresh obedience to the people of God.” Keeping in mind the theme of the Congress, “Reconciliation,” I was surprised that there was no explicit reference to “sons and daughters” or “all humanity,” which are clearly articulated in the text from Joel 2. While section 5b) does mention the power of the Spirit for social engagement, I recommended that 5a) should mention accessibility of the Spirit which, by virtue of the Spirit’s outpouring, brings social transformation.
In the final version of the Cape Town Commitments, the document incorporated this recommendation, stating:
Prophets also looked to the coming age that would be marked by the outpouring of God’s Spirit, bringing new life, fresh obedience, and prophetic gifting to all the people of God, young and old, men and women.
Thank you for your prayers during this past month. Although Lenutsa and I are getting back into things in Galati, we’re finding that it takes more time than we anticipated in readjusting. Even when we aren’t doing too much, we come home at the end of the day completely exhausted. As we’ve read some books on sabbatical and spoken with others who have taken sabbatical, we understand that this is normal. But we do ask that you continue to pray for us.
I’ve gotten more involved with the pastoral committee of the church in which Lenutsa and I participate. I’ve been taking part in their weekly meetings and helping organize their department for social aid. Please pray for this church that we would be faithful to God in responding to the poor and needy.
This month we will receive an intern, Kelsey, from George Fox, who will be with us through July. While Lenutsa and I were in Oregon, we took a training course called Brighter Minds, which focuses on brain development. Kelsey went through this training and wants to help us implement it, particularly with the children at the Community Center who struggle with attention deficits. Please pray that we would develop a good tool for the kids and that God would use it to help the children as they face the many challenges in their lives.
A few years back, two of our children from the Center were abandoned by their mother, who left them with extended family to work in Italy. The situation was dire for these two kids. Thankfully, God sent a family to receive them in foster care, which was an almost perfect environment for this brother and sister – although it still meant a long battle with the state authorities for approval. Sadly, after two years the family decided that they could no longer care for them. So, the two youth went to live with an aunt. They lived there for a few months until the aunt decided she could no longer keep them. They then went to the Center for Minors, a building packed with youth that are transitioning out of difficult homes and into other homes under the state’s care. Initially, the mother of our kids said that she would come from Italy to take care of them, but that proved to be an empty promise. After much prayer and deliberation, Paul and Ana decided to take them into our community home. This is a big decision for this young couple, and it means yet another home for these two kids. Please pray for Paul and Ana and for our two kids, Eleni and Florin, that they would quickly adjust to life together and that it would be a healthy and healing place for them all.
Next week we are holing our annual community retreat. The theme is discipleship. Please pray that our relationships would grow and that we would be touched and refreshed by the Spirit of God.
I also plan on going to Moldova in June to visit our young community there and to discuss with them their organizational structure. I would appreciate your prayers for that time.
Thank you for your prayer and support,