Sunday, November 04, 2007

Quote of the Week

"The Christ witnessed to in the church is often the 'Christ of culture' rather than the 'Christ who transforms culture.' A great deal of the preaching presents a Christ who comforts the comfortable rather than a Christ who disturbs the complacent. The worship is often not in dialogue with the world but rather represents a withdrawal from the world. This means that the idols that the world worships are the very ones that are worshipped in the church; the idols of class, race, success, prestige and power."

Noel Leo Erskine, author of Decolonizing Theology: A Caribbean Perspective and Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Candler School of Theology

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Theological Education in the Bahamas, Part V

This is the fifth and final installment of a five part series that previously appeared in News from Daniel and Estela Schweissing between February and August 2006. A more in-depth theological treatment of this topic can be found in the upcoming edition of the American Baptist Quarterly.


By now, it should be clear that one of the biggest challenges in Bahamian theological education is equipping the Bahamian church to overcome its history of dependence on British and American missionaries. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, missiologists Henry Venn and Rufus Anderson responded to the growing problems of dependency on the mission field by developing a strategy for the indigenization of national churches. This strategy, known as the three-self formula, advocated that missionaries establish churches that would become self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. Largely ignored at first, it wasn’t until after World War II that changing dynamics at home and abroad forced western missionaries to take the three-self formula more seriously. During this time, many Bahamian churches experienced profound transformation as they were gradually weaned from their historical dependency on the finances, leadership, and personnel provided by British and American mission societies. While many vestiges of dependency still remain in the Bahamian church, most have achieved a significant degree of self-sufficiency in the past generation. Nevertheless, nearly all churches in the Bahamas still find themselves to be theologically dependent on the United States, a phenomenon that is evidenced by the widespread proliferation of American evangelical books, movies, and television personalities throughout the country. Given that such theological dependency is hardly unique to the Bahamas, it is no surprise that twentieth-century missiologists have found it necessary to expand the classic three-self formula to include a fourth-self, self-theologizing.

In the Bahamas, self-theologizing basically refers to the efforts of Bahamians to do theology—that is, critically reflect on Christian faith and practice—from the perspective of their own unique cultural context. In Part II of this series, I discussed how Bahamianizing the theological curriculum at Atlantic College has given our students the initial tools that they need to begin the task of self-theologizing. Likewise, subsequent newsletters have shown how the ongoing Bahamianization of the curriculum has provided our students with the theological framework and ministry strategies needed to effectively confront the challenges of business as usual in the Bahamian church. Yet, as I have noted earlier, these attempts at the Bahamianization of the curriculum have been hindered by our inability to introduce students to an already existing body of theological works authored by Bahamian theologians. Consequently, if we are to equip the Bahamian church to overcome its theological dependency on the United States, we must recognize that the task of self-theologizing cannot be limited to simply preparing our students to THINK theologically. Rather, it must go a step further and prepare our students to PRODUCE theology. Then, once they have begun to articulate their own distinctly Bahamian theology, we hope that this theological reflection will eventually contribute to the development of our theological curriculum. But because we believe that the most insightful and practical theological reflection is derived from one’s long term involvement in frontline ministry, we understand that our students may not reach this level of self-theologizing until many years after they have graduated from our program. With this in mind, what can we do now to train our students for a job that may not yield any tangible results for the next ten, fifteen, or twenty years?

One of the ways in which we are encouraging self-theologizing is by introducing our students the legacy of theological thought that is already an integral part of the Bahamas’ traditional oral culture. Unlike the Eurocentric theologies of the west, which are embodied in the writings of great theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth, the theology of black Bahamians has been preserved in the traditional oral culture of their African ancestors. When large numbers of Bahamian slaves and freed blacks began converting to Protestant Christianity in the late eighteenth century, illiterate black preachers became the primary means by which Bible stories and teachings were disseminated throughout the Afro-Bahamian community. Eventually, the Bible came to influence all aspects of the Bahamas’ traditional oral culture, including folktales, proverbs, and music. But regardless of the medium through which biblical teachings were communicated, the Bible became the primary lens through which black Bahamians interpreted the world of slavery in which they lived, questioned it, and envisioned alternatives to that world. Though little, if any, of this incipient theology ever ended up in writing, a rich and vibrant oral tradition has insured that the social and religious values therein have been handed down from one generation to the next, many of which continue to shape the ethos and ethics of Bahamian religion to this day.

Even with the advent of widespread literacy by the latter part of the twentieth century, Bahamian theological reflection continues to be a largely oral endeavor. While the preaching and political speeches shaped by the black radicalism of the 1960s and 70s signify the height of this oral tradition in recent times, members of the Bahamas Christian Council and pastors of prominent local churches continue to use their pulpits to speak—albeit in a less revolutionary fashion—to the pressing moral issues in the life of the nation today. That being said, a number of important exceptions to this longstanding tradition of oral theology have also emerged in the twentieth century. A growing number of pastors and laypersons, for example, regularly write theologically insightful columns for the religious sections of Nassau’s major daily newspapers. Likewise, it is increasingly common to see self-published religious works by Bahamian authors on the shelves of local bookshops. Finally, a handful of Bahamian scholars have begun to give serious consideration to the oral (and increasingly written) theological heritage that I have described above. So to the extent that traditional Bahamian oral culture has been preserved, these scholars are slowly but surely reconstructing the theological understanding that has shaped Bahamian Christianity. More importantly, they are looking to the rich theological legacy rooted in their own history and culture, rather than that of Europe and North America, as a resource for formulating a distinctly Bahamian theology in the present.

While such efforts are making an important contribution towards the task of self-theologizing, they have yet to produce an academic theologian who has undertaken the work of systematizing Bahamian theological thinking into a formal written treatise. Ideally, some of our students at Atlantic College will eventually fill this void by pursuing advanced graduate studies, becoming professional theologians, and dedicating their careers to writing and publishing tomes on Bahamian theology. The reality, however, is that most of our students have no interest in becoming professional theologians and, instead, plan to become pastors, administrators, counselors, teachers, and lay leaders, performing the routine duties of church ministry. Thus, when we speak of equipping our students for the task of self-theologizing, we dare not limit ourselves to the narrow objective of preparing academic theologians, though we hope that some will ultimately choose that vocation. Instead, we are primarily concerned with the much broader objective of training our students to become pastor-theologians who will lead their congregations in critical theological reflection so that they can effectively respond to the pressing spiritual and social concerns faced by the contemporary Bahamian church.

The role of pastor-theologian is not new to the Bahamian preacher, having been a fundamental part of the job description since the days of slavery. What is new is our attempt to be intentional about preparing students to undertake this role, rather than allowing them to fill it haphazardly. By providing students with the tools they need to intentionally root their theological reflection in the realities of their own culture and ministry practice, we hope to dissuade them from the more common habit of uncritically borrowing theological concepts and ministry strategies from abroad. So if we succeed at equipping our students to self-theologize, then we anticipate that most of our students—in their capacity as pastor-theologians—will go on to make important contributions to the Bahamas’ oral theological tradition and, hopefully, to the growing body of written theological reflection as well. Better yet, perhaps even a student or two will actually be inspired to write a comprehensive systematic Bahamian theology. And once we reach that point—the point at which our students have begun to contribute a distinctly Bahamian perspective to the existing corpus of theological literature—we will have come full circle. The published writings of our former students will have become the basis for reading assignments, lectures, and class discussions for our future students, thus bringing the Bahamianization of the theological curriculum to completion.

Part I: Why is Bahamian theological education important?
Part II: Bahamianization of the Theological Curriculum
Part III: Finding Alternatives to Business as Usual in the Church
Part IV: Recovering the Tradition of Black Radicalism in Bahamian Religion

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The Immorality of Anti-Immigrationism

Too many times, both here in the Bahamas as well as at home in the United States, I have heard otherwise good Christian people piously argue that illegal immigrants are "lawbreakers" and, therefore, undeserving of amnesty, social services, charity, or other forms of private or government assistance. Such piety, of course, fails to consider that laws are not necessarily morally neutral--let alone morally just--and that they often serve to protect the interests of the privileged at the expense of the underprivileged. For this reason, Martin Luther King, Jr. often quoted St. Augustine who once said, "An unjust law is no law at all." Such piety is also selective in that it is quite common for anti-immigrationists to rally around the slogan "send them home" while failing to seek prosecution of businesses who encourage illegal immigration by regularly hiring undocumented workers. And, in some instances (especially in the U.S.), such piety simply ignores the role the host country may have played in fostering or aggravating poor economic and political conditions abroad, thus forcing would-be immigrants to involuntarily and illegally migrate. More importantly, such piety blatantly disregards much of what the Bible has to teach us about how we should treat the poor, the marginalized, and the immigrant amongst us. A few days ago, Sean McKenzie over at Ethics Daily wrote a column that specifically addresses this latter issue. Hopefully, his thoughts will challenge us to rethink our understanding of how can respond to the crisis of immigration--wherever we might find it--in a more Christlike fashion.
Over and over in the Old Testament, we are admonished to be kind to "the widow, the orphan, and alien." In the New Testament Christ admonishes us to welcome the stranger: "When I was a stranger you took me in . . . whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, so also you do for me."

Christian opponents of immigration, however, have what they believe is a trump card even to Scripture: the rule of law. Illegal immigrants are breaking the law, and that is the most important consideration.

"Amnesty" opponents seem to believe that a hard-working, otherwise law-abiding immigrant is completely defined by the one law he or she breaks. But certainly we're not so harsh on ourselves. I've sped, jaywalked (illegal crossing) and as an 18-year-old even stole a grocery cart from a local shopping center to impress my Berry College dorm buddies.

Yet "amnesty" opponents see the crime of illegal immigration as somehow different and more serious. The crime is different, all right, but not for the reasons they imagine. It is a more- and not less-justifiable crime than speeding, jaywalking or youthful indiscretion.

These misdemeanors are committed for selfish reasons--not seriously bad, but selfish. Illegal immigration is often committed for much more admirable reasons.
Click here to read the rest of this article.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Katrina Recovery Still in Progress

In the latest issue of their flight magazine, Northwest Air published an article about how New Orleans has recovered from Katrina--no more FEMA trailers, no more blue tarps for roofs, all of the French Quarter up and ready for tourists. This, of course, is not true and LeDayne McLeese Polaski of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) has written the following letter to the magazine protesting their lack of awareness of the on-going problems. LeDayne, by the way, is the BPFNA's liaison to Churches Supporting Churches, a dynamic initiative that seeks to rebuild and strengthen a number of African American congregations and communities in New Orleans that were seriously affected by Hurricane Katrina

November 2, 2007

Jim Cron, Editor in Chief
NWA World Traveler
MSP Communications
220 S Sixth St, Suite 500
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Dear Mr. Cron.

I was utterly shocked by the article in the October 2007 issue of your magazine entitled "Back in the Big Easy." The front cover of your magazine and the first sentence of the article both boldly claim, "New Orleans is back." I travel to New Orleans monthly as part of the on-going recovery effort and can say that this assertion is heart-breakingly false.

I will name just a few of the many reasons that it is highly irresponsible to proclaim the city to be "back." As of August 2007, two full years after Hurricane Katrina­ only 40% of the students have returned to New Orleans' schools, a full one-third of the pre-storm residents have not yet been able to return home, 45,000 Louisiana families still live in FEMA trailers which have now been demonstrated to be harmful to their health, and a recent study conducted by the New Orleans Health Department revealed that death rates of current and former New Orleans residents are 47% higher than they were before the storm. Rental prices have skyrocketed. Crime has surged. Schools are struggling. Many residents are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These continued hardships were lightly dismissed by the author of the article with such phrases as "But it is getting there" and "most of the countless blue tarps protecting homeowners' damaged roofs are gone." To stand in the midst of the Lower Ninth Ward is to witness an incomprehensible level of destruction that has only just begun to be addressed. There are indeed few blue tarps here but only because there are so few homes left. Other neighborhoods are still a sea of blue. The remaining work, the remaining suffering, is immense.

You, of course, publish a travel magazine, and I understand that you are by nature focused on the tourist industry within the city. It is indeed true that travelers can and should visit New Orleans ­they will find a lovely city with a warm welcome and much to enjoy. The city is perfectly ready to receive and entertain guests. Yet even a block or two off of Bourbon Street, it is clear that all is not well ­ many businesses have yet to re-open, many that have re-opened are struggling, and some are closing again for good. Moreover, for many or most of the residents and former residents of the city, life remains an overwhelming struggle­ and while many are facing that struggle with great courage and hope and determination, many others live in complete despair. You could honor all the survivors by being honest even while proclaiming that the city is open to visitors, you could also make it clear that the wounds of the city and all those who call her home are still very much in need of care. You could maintain integrity and the purpose of your magazine by calling people to visit the city while making clear the need to recreate it for all its citizens.

The article that you printed is simply false. I request that you print a correction in your next issue.


Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski, Program Coordinator
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
4800 Wedgewood Drive
Charlotte, NC 28210
To learn more about the ongoing challenges faced by the people of New Orleans, click here and here.

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Nassau Relatively Unscathed by Tropical Storm Noel

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers while Tropical Storm Noel was making its way over the Bahamas yesterday. Due to the asymmetrical shape of the storm, the worst of it seems to have bypassed Nassau completely and, with the exception of a few low-lying areas, has left us relatively unscathed. While we did get a great deal of rain and wind on Wednesday afternoon and evening, most of the day Thursday was eerily calm. Many of the other Bahamian islands, not to mention some of our Caribbean neighbors, were not so fortunate and experienced a great deal of flooding, damage, and loss of life.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Liberating Jonah

Ethics Daily has just run an article on Miguel De La Torre's latest book Liberating Jonah: Forming an Ethic of Reconciliation.
New Book Examines Jonah Story from the Underside of Oppression

Bob Allen

The Old Testament story of Jonah is more than a fairy tale about a man being swallowed by a whale, and even more than an evangelical call to preach the gospel to those in foreign lands, but instead a model for reconciliation between the haves and the have-nots, says a new book.

In Liberating Jonah: Forming an Ethic of Reconciliation, columnist Miguel De La Torre suggests that the reading of Jonah he learned in Sunday school--that God is calling America, as the most powerful nation in the world, to carry the light to those in darkness--is upside down.

The power in the Book of Jonah is the Assyrian Empire, brutal conquerors of the Israelites whom Jonah and his contemporaries likely viewed with hatred and scorn. Reading the text from the perspective of the disenfranchised, De La Torre says the United States is not the hero but the villain.
Click here for the rest of this article.

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