Monday 4 November 2013

Blogging From Busan - Mission From the Margins

I took the early part of Monday to rest, observing my day of reflection and recouping as I do on Fridays back at home, and we joined the WCC sessions only after lunch.

I had interviews with the Evangelical Advocacy Alliance CEO and their media officer, as well as a YWCA officer. Our conversations were on the need for ongoing dialogue on faith and reproductive rights as they impact HIV and AIDS, and on the need to move beyond the language of human rights towards a focus on terminology which, although it is about rights, shows a God who cares for humanity and leads us to lives of holiness. What might holiness and truth for us as Christians be like, in a world of human rights, in the face of discrimination, growing conservatism and militancy?

The interview was recorded for use at ICASA, the international AIDS conference in Cape Town this December, and for encouraging the fight against HIV and AIDS within the religious sectors, especially as as the epicentre of infections is shifting to stable and married couples.

I then attended the workshop at Madang, the marketplace and place of exhibitions and of conversations or indaba, where there were many workshops to choose from.

I have always been interested in Gandhi's peaceful resistance but out of respect for him and his movement have always lacked the courage or the language to raise my deep discomfort about the caste system in India. But I am of age now and able to raise these questions earnestly, but in love. Gandhi's “seven deadly sins” have always resonated with me and recently in Cape Town at the Gandhi peace walk I quoted him as the walkers lined up at the beginning. I have wrestled with how he, as a leader who spoke with and for the marginalized, failed for so much of his life to challenge the caste system.

In a workshop with a representative of the Dalit community, I was struck anew by the line: “You can't serve Christ and the Caste." It sounds very much like the phrase “You can't serve God and Mammon” although this deep question may not be simply resolved through this biblical phrase. I know I need to go more deeply into the issue and read more, but the societal stratification characteristic of the caste system, with the Dalit at the bottom of the rung, seems to me more than discriminatory. As in apartheid times in South Africa, it treats some members of Indian society as less than human because of their religious and social standing.

If my assertions based on this preliminary reflection are correct, then as we pursue peace, Christians in India need to decry the system and proclaim the Christ who does not discriminate, who calls the marginalized to the centre. I was touched by the presentation and the stories of the Dalit representative, who succinctly explained in words and visuals what appears to be regarded by many as a socially acceptable and sanctioned discriminatory system. I think I will engage my colleague, the Moderator of the Church of South India, on the issue upon returning home.

The joys and challenges of such international gatherings are that you catch a glimpse of some of our discrepancies and contradictions. For example, we want to speak collectively but there are sacred cows, like doctrine and discrepancies within our local witness and systems. The caste system may be one such contradiction which we need to unpack as together we pursue just peace.

In our ecumenical conversation, we started going deeper into the question of just peace, understanding the concept from our different contexts and using some real examples. The session started making sense and felt too short. We will continue on Tuesday.

Our business session dealt with elections. Although we always couch them in the language of service, elections are always about power. We got bogged down in procedural issues, and who has more numbers and thereby who will be in charge of the ecumenical voice in the next eight years. At least we elected the eight regional presidents of the WCC, and I am so proud that it the ratio of women to men was 50:50. The president for Africa is from South Africa: the Revd Dr Mary Anne Plaatjies van Huffel of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, based in at the University of Stellenbosch. Congratulations to her.

Today's main emphasis was on the need to realign our mission focus to reflect the perspective of the marginalized. What might these be? - the Dalit, the immuno-compromised, the Christian minorities, the Africans, the same-gender couples, the environment, the youth, the poor, the women. The list is long but for today, I was particularly touched by the story of the Dalit community and want to spend time praying and writing on their plight.

What might the God of life lead me and you to do for them in the quest for justice and peace which the assembly urges us to pursue?

God bless

PHOTO: Musicians in Madang Hall at the World Council of Churches assembly in Busan, South Korea. (WCC photo)