Re-Thinking Brown

"Think brown" when it comes to the future of the church. That was the advice
author and essayist Richard Rodriguez gave to a recent meeting of Episcopal bishops, according to Episcopal News Service.

The story of Christianity is the story of brown, the story of melded cultures and blended traditions, he said. An amazing array of racial and generational complexities challenge the world and the church today, Rodriguez told the bishops, who are discussing ways to deepen collegiality and hospitality.

"There is nothing browner in the history of time than the mystery of the Incarnation, of God, intruding into history, God entering history, in Jesus Christ, true God, true man, that's very brown, I think," Rodriguez said.

Rodriquez speech made some important points--one of them being that racial relationships are never as simple as black and white. But it's this question, from the ENS story, that stuck with me:

"For so many years now, we've gone all over the world teaching others. Now, can we learn from them?

That's the question facing the Episcopal Church, in the shadow of a probable censure from the Anglican communion.

Will the Episcopal Church be willing humble enough to accept the recommendations of the wider Anglican Communion, or will it fight back, witholding funds as a recent report in the Guardian hinted at?

Ironically, it is a question of browning: the majority of the Anglican commnunion is non-White and angry at the Episcopal church over the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop. This LA Times piece gives a little taste of that feeling of betrayal

There's a sense in which you are very much part of me and a very serious sense of being part of you," said the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, Anglican bishop of Southern Malawi in Central Africa who opposed Robinson's elevation to bishop. "I come from an angry people. I come from a very frustrated church, a church that feels it has been betrayed by its brothers and sisters," he said, referring to the dispute with the Americans.

Hopefully the Episcopal bishops will have a more enlightened view than Bishop Shelby Spong, whose views on conservative Third World bishops in Africa are at best elistist and at worst racist. Seemingingly unable to accept that these bishops are able to reach their own theological conclusions, he sees them as puppets of Western missionaries.

Here's a snippet of some of his opinions from Beliefnet.

These bishops of color, however, overwhelmingly reflected the evangelical background and style of the English, American, and Canadian missionaries who brought Christianity to the Third World during the past two centuries. The great majority of the African bishops, for example, appeared unaware of the past 200 years of critical biblical scholarship. They hadli also either not yet engaged or were resistant to new learning that had countered the old traditions on such great social issues as race and ethnicity, the emancipation of women, and the new understanding of homosexuality.

Indeed, when those issues were raised at the Lambeth Conference, the majority of the Third World bishops responded with biblical quotations designed to prohibit any further debate, just as their evangelical mentors had done generations earlier in the West. It was like listening to people caught in a time warp. They seemed not to realize that this same strategy had been used in the West to undergird slavery, segregation, and apartheid, to say nothing of protecting the divine right of kings, and asserting the flatness and centrality of the earth inside a three-tiered universe.

While I am not impressed with this response in the 21st century, I have no trouble understanding why the Third World bishops were led to adopt it. The Third World has for centuries endured colonial domination, which was used to keep the people of those nations in servile backwardness.

My impression at Lambeth was that a new form of theological colonialism was now being tried by the American, British, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealander conservatives who encouraged their Southern Hemisphere allies in these failed tactics.

So anyone who disagrees with Spong is a theological illiterate stuck in servile colonial backwardness. This from one of the most liberal minds of American Christianity.


Powered by Blogger