Category Archives: missions

What in the ‘World’ is the Church Thinking?


Recently, I’ve read a lot about social and cultural ills, and, how the Church ought to respond to them. Some of these have to do with specific events. I read one this morning that just put me over the top with incredulity. David Hayword shared a story that I found totally unbelievable. Here is a link to David’s blog, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/06/money-women-and-guns/.
Last week I read a post by Frank Schaeffer about human trafficking. This is an issue that is of paramount importance. And, I commend Frank’s voice on it. He has highlighted the role of social media to the modern-day slave trade. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2013/06/facebook-and-google-must-do-far-more-to-stop-the-slave-trade/
I could go on and on about the growing economic disparity between the so-called 1% and everyone else. I could mention how our elected leaders are owned and operated by various special interests…special interests that are only concerned about their own interests. Tony Jones wrote a very insightful piece about this at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/06/08/our-eternal-war/
So, what is the Church saying and doing? From the sermons I’ve heard and the people I’ve talked to, it seems that we are really, really concerned about personal piety and creating a counter-cultural presence. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not disparaging these. (Although, I think the counter-cultural thing is counter-productive. But, more on that some other time.)
I hear so-called Christian leaders speak out against LGBT folks on a regular basis like these people, who, incidentally, God loves. I hear our leaders worrying and complaining because their children masturbate. I listen to well-meaning folks break down to tears because alcohol exists…or tobacco, or pot. I listen to high profile ‘leaders’ talk about gender roles as if they had a hotline to God. Oh, and don’t get me started about science and evolution. What a ‘slippery slope’ these topics present to the ‘faithful.’
So, we reject the culture. We build structures that shield us from the tainted influences of this ‘fallen’ world. We build crap. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/irreverin/2013/06/evolvingfaith/
I think that it’s far easier to identify specific ‘sins’ and issues that differentiate us, that make us exclusive, than to deal with the real task of building God’s reign here, now, on Earth. What does that look like? I certainly don’t have an exhaustive answer to this. I do know, however, some of the characteristics of it. From Jesus, himself, I see his understanding of this vocation. From Luke 4:18-19 we read, “18. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed,  19. To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”(NASB)
I don’t see a lot about complementarianism in this. I do see a mandate for caring for the distressed and marginalized, however. James adds more insight into the heart of God. He wrote in chapter one of his letter, “Religion that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God our Father is to care for the orphans and widows in their distress, to keep oneself pure from the world.” (trans. mine.) Many evangelicals will say, “Aha! Keep pure from the world. That means individual moral purity. Exactly what we’ve been preaching!” My response is, “Not so fast.” What is James’ understanding of what we translate ‘world’? He used ‘Cosmos’ for this. The idea contained in this language has to do with world systems, not individual piety. The systemic abuses of greed and power undergird this verse. Systems that continue the marginalization of entire groups of people are included here. Embedded privilege is condemned in these few words by the apostle. While we nit-pick about masturbation people who Christ loves and gave his life for are set apart as ‘other’ and judged to be something ‘less than’ us. While we look for ways to define who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ girls and women are abused and subjected to horrific conditions so that men might cling to their power and privilege. Workers are denied living wages so that some corporation can pay handsome dividends to its stockholders. Hundreds can die in a factory in Bangladesh in order to pad some executive’s pockets with pictures of a guy named George. LGBT people are forced to choose between honesty and self-loathing because some religious leader preaches hate-filled sermons to the ‘faithful.’
No, our responsibility to God and God’s good creation is to be a royal priesthood and holy nation. A place of safety for the distressed and marginalized people of the world. Not to defile ourselves by being a party to the very systems that cause the distress and marginalizing.

My Perspective on the World Christian Movement Pt. 2

As promised, here is part 2 of my musings on missions.

Randy Woodley, a Cherokee himself, in his book Shalom and the Community of Creation, observed that a large majority of native Americans understand that there is “some sort of primal power in the words of oral tradition.”[1] The transmission of ontological truth was trusted to be passed orally. They heard the words spoken “from the heart” and accepted them as truth. Yet, we in the West find it necessary to dispense with that and teach these people to read. We teach them to read the scripture, that’s good…right? In our arrogance we fail to discern that many of these people view our sacred text with suspicion. The reason? Woodley answers in a response of some native Americans: “We know that the white man translated the Bible and he could have removed things he didn’t want us to hear or he could have added things that are not true.”[2]Hmmm….
What if we had, rather, taken the time to listen to those who lived in the land? In a previous blog I wrote that maybe the Europeans were lead by God to visit other lands. But, not to conquer. And, certainly not to force their particular brand of Christianity upon the native population. Rather, what if they were lead to these lands to learn from others, to humbly listen to the stories that the indigenous people had to tell. But, Euro-Americans have a tendency to talk first and listen, well, never. (This, too, is arrogance. To think that what we have to say is more important than what anyone else on the planet has to say.) Had we listened we could have learned about the land and the people, about their special relationship to the cosmos. In dialog we could have then, maybe, shared our story. We could have had an opportunity to see where our different cultures merged and, just maybe, we could have found connecting points that would have allowed the open sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Not to make others change to be like us.
But, to let our story and theirs join as equally viable realities. We could have let go of the need to control the story and let the people of the land take and assimilate it as they felt best.
Now, of course this raises the question of syncretism. And, as I’ve read about missions, this seems to be at the crux of much errant thinking. Let me digress a bit…The two major ancient churches both consider themselves the one true Church. Both the Roman and Orthodox confessions claim to be able to trace their origins back to the Apostles. Both claim to have the only accurate traditions. And, both hold tenaciously to what they perceive to be that one, true, apostolic tradition. All other claims to faith are, at best, considered heterodox. At worst, they are considered heretical. Now, I’m not a math major, but I can see pretty quickly that both cannot be right. And, to add to the confusion, along came the reformers in 16th century who also claimed to have the only true faith. What I want to point out by this is that we in the West have a long history of trying to prove that we are correct and everyone else is wrong. We have developed an unsustainable dualism that has allowed abuses that would make Hannibal Lecter blush. Now, how would things have looked had we actually built our faith on the teaching of Jesus? We would have been compelled to accept others as created equal to us. We would have had to learn to listen. Yeah, there’s a lot of red text in the gospels, but Jesus really listened to people. How many times did he ask someone, “What would you like me to do for you?” How often did he “look at,” really “look at,” others with respect and compassion? He did not, like we have in the West, simply assume that he knew what the other needed. Even today we assume that we in America know what is best for people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We do not take the time to listen to what theymight think that they really need.
So, back to the problem of syncretism. Who said that we need to control the Gospel? Who said that ours is the only true expression of Christian faith? No one has. We seem to think that the Church and the Gospel belong to us. Therefore, we have some right to control how the story is told and how it should properly be understood. I think that there is Someone far more qualified to do that than we. Jesus told his disciples that he was going to send a Teacher. This Teacher would be Someone who would walk beside them and show them how to live in God’s new realm. Paul wrote about the work of the Holy Spirit. He wrote that it was the Spirit who provided gifts and direction for the Church. Now, it is true that these gifts are realized as people cooperate with the Spirit. But, it is God the Holy Spirit who is the director. I think that trusting in God trumps our fear of syncretism.
We Euro-Americans would do well to hear what we have actually done to indigenous people with our White, male, hegemonic, arrogant approach. What we have thought of as Good News about redemption in Christ has not had the effect that we may have thought it would. Again, I turn to Randy Woodley:
The gospel, as it has most often been preached to Native Americans, does not promise us restored balance or harmony. Actually, too often, the gospel preached to Native Americans and other indigenous peoples around the world was quite the contrary to good news. We have mostly heard the gospel as “bad news.”
The “bad news” of Jesus Christ requires people to forsake their own ethnic identity for the identity of the dominant culture. The “bad news” of Jesus Christ means trading in shared communal values for economic systems based on greed and the success of the individual over the group. The “bad news” of Jesus Christ requires indigenous peoples to accept their status as those meant to be colonized and to cooperate with their own demise. The “bad news” of Jesus Christ askes us to draw our theology, values, and meaning as people from a culture that wishes to make us self-haters.[3]
What to do? I don’t want to come across as having the answer. I don’t. No one person, or group of people does. However, a good place to begin searching for one would be to humble ourselves before Yahweh and pray for forgiveness. Forgiveness for our arrogant disregard for the wonderful diversity that Yahweh has built into humanity and the Good Creation. Forgiveness for twisting Yahweh’s Word to fit our own perceptions. Forgiveness for trampling on our sisters and brothers in God’s name. Forgiveness for not listening to the people of the land, thereby trampling on the Good Natural resources that these Others were called by Creator to be stewards of. Richard Twiss said that the Native American community does not need missionaries. It does not need us to just send money. It needs us to join in real relationship as full partners.[4] I think that maybe it’s not too late to repent and embody the love that Jesus Christ, the God who walked among us, revealed is at the heart of God.


[1]Woodly, Randy S., Shalom and the Community of Creation, An Indigenous Vision, William B. Eerdmans,
  Grand Rapids,  2012, p. 140.
[2]Woodley, 2012, 141.
[3]Woodley, 2012, 150.
[4]Richard Twiss: Hope For the American Church, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHKtDoKoD80, last accessed Mar. 20, 2013.

My Perspective on the World Christian Movement Pt. 1


I have been interested in Christian missions, as in cross-cultural missions, since I was a young follower of Christ. I read the books about famous missionaries and went to missions conferences. I listened to stories of selfless heroism and noble sacrifice. Early on, I thought that my part of the task of world evangelization would be to support it from home. I never really saw myself actually ‘in the field.’ At least, not until I went on a short-term trip to Australia. Ok, not a really huge cultural shift from the U.S. to Australia. But, it created a new yearning to be more involved.
I have friends who have gone to the mission field. These folks dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel, as we understood it. They work to establish churches and to help the local population grow in our understanding of the gospel. But, as I have grown and reflected on how we have pursued missions, I’ve been compelled to rethink some things.
Our understanding of missions has been deeply rooted in a Western patristic reading of scripture. It grew out of a desire to spread the good news of forgiveness of sin through faith in God alone. This was coupled with the concept of sola scriptura, which meant that the only way to salvation was a strict adherence to how we understood the scriptures. As missionaries accompanied explorers they went out to conquer the world for Christ. In essence, this was a mandate to spread the gospel by spreading the culture. What this meant for indigenous populations was the end of their way of life. They were taught that, as the late Richard Twiss said, “You can’t be a Christian until you reject your culture and your spirituality and your ceremonies.”[1]And, when the native people would not willingly do that, they were brutally ‘converted.’ Thousands of people were systematically raped and murdered…all in the name of the Church.
I began to ask, ‘why?’ Why would the God that I saw revealed in Jesus desire this kind of wanton destruction of human beings? Did God really desire that nations and people groups become assimilated or destroyed in Christ’s name? Weren’t these the nations and tongues and people that the scripture said would one day bring praise and glory to God? Something just didn’t compute.
What really got me thinking that maybe we were pursuing missions in a manner that may not be in accord with the Jesus Way, was when I wrote a paper on Jim Elliot for a missions class in seminary. Now, I am not going to disparage Elliot and the other men who gave their lives for God. Everything they did was faithful to their understanding of the Gospel and evangelization. What I am questioning is the model that they were given to use. This model, presented here very simply, was to go into a native community and begin to educate the indigenous people. They did this by learning the language of the people, translating the scriptures into that language, then teaching the local people how to read their own language so that they could read the scripture. Ok, it sounds kind of convoluted, and, actually it is. What happens with this model is that the indigenes must adopt a Western approach to education and spirituality. Their own culture and spirituality was, and still is, deemed less important than having a “saving” knowledge of scripture. In a nutshell, as Richard Twiss observed, “You have to chuck all that stuff and just become White.”[2]
Why? What makes our Western understanding of the gospel the be-all and end-all? As I continued to pursue clarity on this, I found that there is more than one way to understand the scriptural text and the Gospel itself. I began to immerse myself in the ‘story’ of the Bible. I recognized that the text that we have has its roots in oral tradition. This tradition employs narrative and poetry and forensics and history and apocryphal stories. The biblical text is NOT a user’s manual of how to get into heaven when you die. It is a love story about Yahweh’s furious love for the cosmos. From Genesis 1 to the end of Revelation, it is God’s story given to humanity so that we can know and relate to the Divine. Story. That word has kept returning to the front of my brain. Story. The telling of events and tales and fables and myth that prick our human hearts. We find God and ourselves in stories. I began to see that my story was not necessarily yours, or anyone else’s story. Or, the story of the Auca, or the Lakota, or the Cherokee, or the Maori. God had given them a different story.
Tomorrow…Part 2


[1]“Invitation to Reconcile Clip”, Richard Twiss, CCDA, September 26 2012,
[2]“To Live in a Good Way”, Richard Twiss, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PJ0CCCVZNk, last accessed Mar. 20, 2013.