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Listening to New Voices: Learning from Post-Colonial Theologians

Over the last few years, my own teaching and discipleship has been most inspired by theologians and practitioners from the Global South and First Peoples’ communities around the world.  These thinkers, writers, leaders, teachers, and artists are broadly connected to the movement of decolonization and post-colonial theology, in which people of faith from the Global South and First Peoples’ communities around the world – including my own, here in amiskwacîwâskahikan (what is now known as Edmonton) - are challenging the legacy of largely European, colonial church traditions.  

They are asking important questions about whose voices have been elevated and whose voices need to be amplified.  They are re-orienting and re-imagining some of the most important questions of theology, like: who is God?  What shape should the mission of God’s people take in a globalized world?  What is the relationship between spirituality, public action, and worship?  And, perhaps most significantly for me recently, they are helping me read the biblical story with fresh eyes.  Some names of those who I’ve found helpful may be familiar to the DoJustice community, like Ruth Padilla-Deborst, while others may be new, like Trawloolway theologian Garry Deverell from Tasmania or Filipino-American theologian Al Tizon.  Their voices, rooted in particular places and concerned for the flourishing of particular people, have prompted me to ask what shape my own theology and faith should take on this land, surrounding by this community, with the suffering of these particular people in my ears.  

I wonder how my relationship with this land and this people, here and now, might lead me to speak differently

Lately, I’ve been asking how the things I am learning from these theologians and writers can help shape my engagement with recent discussions in the Christian Reformed Church, and beyond.  One characteristic of many theologians committed to a post-colonial vision of faith and church is a deep commitment to their local context.  While they are open to the wisdom of thinkers from across time and space, they are ultimately concerned with what needs to be said to (and for) the people and places they call home, particularly those people who are suffering.  And that means that something that needed to be said for one time and place – 16th century Geneva, say, or 20th century Princeton – may not be what needs to be said in 21st century Palestine, Mexico City, or Edmonton.  I wonder how my relationship with this land and this people, here and now, might lead me to speak differently about power, gender, sexuality, creation care, and a host of other concerns that are so contentious in Christian Reformed Church and elsewhere?  

The other thing I’ve learned is humility.  A lot of post-colonial theology is noticeably open to learning from other traditions and other voices – including voices outside the church.  Acknowledging that the gospel and its implications take different shape from one context to another, post-colonial theologians seem to engage seriously with the stories of the people in their communities, asking how the God made flesh in Christ may be at work in the culture around them in unexpected ways.  

The other thing I’ve learned is humility. 

Again, I wonder whether my church and I are willing to be surprised by Christ’s surprising presence among communities around us? The voices of those experiencing poverty are often conspicuously absent in discussions of mission or resources. The voices of LGBTQ+ Christians are largely absent from discussions of gender and sexuality. The voices of those who have left the church or who have never darkened a church door are rarely a part of discussions of the church’s mission to the world. How might discussions change if I take these voices seriously?

This is not to say that listening more closely to theologians committed to a decolonized or post-colonial Christianity will solve our thorny problems.  But I wonder if it might open us to seeing our problems from a new angle, and so help us find a more creative way forward. 


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