Read Margriet Westers’ Essay, “Transforming the Community from which the Theology Arises”
Read Sam Slatcher’s Essay, “Response to Clint Le Bruyns’ ‘Public Theology and Social Transformation?’”
Read Felipe Gustavo Koch Buttelli’s Essay, “Public Theology and its Necessary Relation to the Liberation Paradigm in a new Kairos”
In my own engagement with ‘public theology’ I have framed and advanced it as a way of drawing attention to the inherent public nature of Christian faith, the concern for the public dimension of Christian theology, the potential relevancy of theology beyond the ecclesial domain, and the intentionally public role of churches – indeed all notable components of our multifaceted perspectives and practices of public theology.[i] In December 2009 the Palestinian Kairos Document was released.[ii] It stood in line within the great kairos theological tradition, itself inspired by the South African Kairos Document.[iii] Palestinian Christians cried out to the ecumenical church and international community about their ongoing suffering under Israeli occupation and apartheid coupled with the deafening silence of the international community of believers and nations.[iv] They drew special attention to the destructive public impact of the ways in which biblical and theological resources were being employed.[v]
The Palestinian Kairos Document can be explored through the lens of its so-called ‘public theology’. In other words, how does the Palestinian Kairos Document articulate and assess the interface between theology and public life?
Public theology – and social transformation?
José Galizia Tundisi in an essay on “The Advocacy Responsibility of the Scientist” offers several statements about the interconnection between science (in a broad-based sense) and social transformation.[vi]
Firstly, he emphasises the fundamental importance of knowledge in the world of science, “that scientists from all walks of life have the task of promoting and increasing knowledge through their professional activities”.[vii] Without deflecting from an understanding of theology that is ‘lived’ and ‘experienced’, Tundisi indirectly reminds the Christian community of theology also as that which is ‘thought’ and ‘known’. It is thus quite appropriate – even essential – that we still behold theology as a science, concerned with different rationalities, conceptualisations and discourses.
Secondly, he contends that while the world of science readily contributed to social progress in a variety of realms and ways during the past century, scientists in the twenty-first century “face a different problem” and that “the world needs science and scientists in a very different way”.[viii] Tundisi is thinking more specifically about the ecological challenges confronting us today as ‘a different problem’. His implied point is double-edged: On the one hand, the world of science continually makes us aware of new challenges calling forth public responsibility; on the other hand, the world of science continually needs to be open to modification and reform in order to better advance social wellbeing. A credible world-affirming public theology would, therefore, be one that continues the liberationist impulse of taking social analysis and kairos consciousness seriously coupled with a self-critical, re-forming nature. We need to think and do theology in ways that facilitate conscientisation about existential realities and in ways always open to critique and reformation.
Thirdly, Tundisi underlines the transformative responsibility within the world of science. He asks: “Given this reality, this reality of which science has made us aware, how can we scientists, we gatherers and disseminators of knowledge, help to change this course of events? What is our role in remediation?”.[ix] His line of questioning disturbs the stereotypical myth of what I’d refer to as ‘a dusty consciousness’ – a knowledge relegated to dusty bookshelves. On the contrary, his expectation of science is that it must be responsive to that of which it has made us aware. For the theological community, Tundisi’s rationale coincides with Paul Tillich’s argument countering a theology of ‘repetition’ in favour of a theology of ‘mediation’.[x] Tillich’s theology was thus “an answering theology”.[xi] The quality of public theology required today cannot simply ‘pass on’ in a ‘repetitive’ fashion dogmas of the past; rather, it must help us engage with and change social realities for a better life for all being.
Fourthly, for Tundisi it follows that “striving to understand the world and then disseminating our findings to the public is more important than ever”.[xii] He hereby picks up on the necessity for public reception. It is not sufficient that the world of science attests to these aforementioned features; it demands reception, ownership and participation throughout the public arena where politics, economics, civil society and public opinion interface. Science thus moves from vision to action. The relevance for public theology is that, indeed, our theological capital for the constructive transformation of life must not remain stuck within the ecclesial quarters or among the professional elite of the churches, but must most certainly be ‘received’ by the broader community of people. Furthermore, our theological contributions must transcend mere visionary activity, but must extend to broader aspects of our life together, such as the domains of public policy, international law, political practice, economic ideologies, and so on. While an extremely complex and admittedly controversial arena of public theological engagement, theology at its best envisions, embodies and advances the common good.[xiii]
Fifthly, Tundisi argues for science as “a method for social transformation” which “can be an integral part of the noble work to improve the quality of life”.[xiv] This underlines the actual impact of science on everyday life. To what extent, if any, does it impact life in actual, concrete, constructive ways? Similarly, the connection between theology and social transformation must be actually experienced, as opposed to merely sought after or anticipated. To the extent that churches and theologians influence public policy or political law for the betterment of life for all, therein lies its eventual nobility as a public science.
Sixthly, Tundisi concludes on a hopeful note: As an ecological scientist, he says, “I am convinced that our moral responsibility and our engagement with society can help to save our planet”.[xv] His essay, albeit modestly, appeals for a consideration of a science of hope, or of scientists of hope. Theologies of hope feature pre-eminently within the Christian theological tradition, and is receiving renewed attention today in the light of a vast array of despairing challenges.[xvi] Once again the litmus test rests with ordinary people confronting social, existential realities who will respond with either despair or hope based on what kind of public reception and impact our theology brings to our life together.
Insights from the Palestinian Kairos Document
Against the background of these statements by Tundisi, proper discussion must ensue regarding how the Palestinian Kairos Document articulates and assesses the interface between theology and public life with reference to its socio-politico-economic life-setting. As points of departure, I would suggest the following:
- Firstly, it is fully cognisant of the types of conceptualisations, rationalities and discourses underlying the Palestine-Israel conflict. Its section on “A word of faith” is particularly noteworthy in this regard as it highlights differing theologies of God, the word of God, and the land.[xvii]
- Secondly, it specifically points the spotlight on the problem of theology vis-à-vis the Palestine-Israel conflict. This is communicated to the reader at the very outset of the text as it highlights the reality that theology has been used to legitimise the Occupation along with the plea “to revisit theologies that justify crimes perpetrated against our people and the dispossession of the land”.[xviii]
- Thirdly, it picks up on the liberational and transformational orientation of theology by locating itself within the kairos theological tradition and grounding its reflections and responses within a prophetic paradigm.[xix]
- Fourthly, it seeks to facilitate broader international and public reception, which is evidenced in a number of ways. For example, it offers a descriptive analysis of the Palestine-Israel conflict in down-to-earth, existential terms in its section about “The reality on the ground”.[xx] In my own experience of sharing the text in various educational and community settings in South Africa during the past two-and-a-half-years, it is this section that has most readily appealed to the thinking and conscientisation of people in South Africa concerning the prevailing oppression and injustices within Palestine-Israel. The text also contributes receptionally in its final paragraphs calling for action from “our brothers and sisters”, “the Churches of the world”, “the international community”, “Jewish and Muslim religious leaders”, and “to our Palestinian people and to the Israelis”.[xxi]
- Fifthly, it includes a number of initiatives by which churches, nations and all people might contribute practically to help actualise a path towards liberation and transformation. For instance, in its section on “Hope” it refers to the value of inter-faith and educational dialogues and public awareness campaigns.[xxii] Its section on “Love” talks about non-violent resistance and, in that spirit, issues a “call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation”.[xxiii] The BDS campaign is undoubtedly its most controversial yet practical and practicable avenue for generating public responsibility through the churches and other communities. Furthermore, its most supported initiative is its “come and see” campaign, found in its “word to the Churches of the world” and to which numerous churches around the world have already responded: “In order to understand our reality, we say to the Churches: Come and see. We will fulfil our role to make known to you the truth of our reality, receiving you as pilgrims coming to us to pray, carrying a message of peace, love and reconciliation. You will know the facts and the people of this land, Palestinians and Israelis alike”.[xxiv]
- Sixthly, in regard to nurturing a potential theology of hope in the light of a very difficult, painful past and present in Palestine-Israel, it reflects a vision of being able “to see God in the midst of trouble, and to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us”.[xxv] While there are several aspects relevant to its theology of hope which can be mentioned, I would simply draw our attention to two ironies in the history of Palestinian suffering. On the one hand, there have been no reasonable grounds for hope, for expecting anything meaningful and transformative to emerge from the variety of global and regional initiatives. This aspect comes out very well in the text in the “Introduction” as they lament about having “reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people”.[xxvi] During my conversations with Palestinians in Palestine-Israel, too, I have encountered the rationality behind a sense of hopelessness. On the other hand, the tide has begun to turn – and at a very fast pace indeed. The Palestinian Kairos Document has been a catalyst for the numerous initiatives that have armed the non-violent resistance movement, even though very little reference is made to the text and Kairos Palestine Project. I am convinced that the actions that are currently taking place actually began with the dawn of the Palestinian Kairos Document.
Towards a pedagogical liberation
In the past year I have been positing the need for pedagogical liberation in reshaping public opinion on Palestine-Israel. It is clear for those of us participating in the resistance and solidarity movement that the theological community along with the broader society have reflected a singular narrative of the Palestine-Israel conflict. It is a narrative steeped simply in post-Holocaust theology and European guilt, with no meaningful reference to the human dignity and existence of Palestinians and their ever-continuing history of tragic suffering. As Jean Zaru explains as a Palestinian Christian woman, her identity just does not fit onto the public agenda.[xxvii] “My very existence,” she points out, “disturbs the balance, as if there were a balance in a situation of conflict and oppression”.[xxviii] She continues: “For fundamentalists, I am not among the chosen. Rather, I am one of the cursed. As a Palestinian, I stand in the way of the fulfilment of the prophecy of God. I cannot win, for it seems that I am not part of the theology of many of my brothers and sisters”.[xxix]
In his recent blog, aptly titled “Reinventing Education”, Leonardo Boff discusses in conversation with Muniz Sodre and his just-published book Reinventando la educación: diversidad, descolonización y redes (2012), the colonisation and utilitarianisation of knowledge.[xxx] Boff with Sodre bemoans the erosion of the formative character of education: “To educate implies learning to know and to do, but above all, learning to be, to coexist and to care. It implies building meaning into life, to know how to deal with the complex human condition and to define one’s self, facing the paths of history”.[xxxi] Boff adds: “What aggravates all the process of education is the predominance of the only one way of thinking”.[xxxii] For both Boff and Sodre, we require a “re-invented education [which] should help us with decolonization, and overcoming the one-thought-only” paradigm.[xxxiii]
It is precisely here where so much of our ideo-theological stuckness lies. This one-narrative-only paradigm is not part of our ‘original’ make-up, but rather a narrative carefully nurtured in us through processes of socialisation. Various moral formation agencies, such as the churches, ‘formed’ us. The Palestinian Kairos Document has begun what other alternate moral agencies are now doing: shifting our perceptions on Palestine-Israel through a re-socialisation process. It is here where pedagogical liberation begins, and the hope of transformation unfolds. The question of how seriously public theology assumes this responsibility is one deserving further discussion and immediate attention.
Dr Clint Le Bruyns is Senior Lecturer in Theology and Development within the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. His major areas of expertise are in public theology, economic ethics, theology of work, ethical leadership, and the role of the church in development discourse and practice. In addition to the publication of many popular and scholarly articles, he co-edited two books: The Humanization of Globalization (Germany, 2008) and Ragbag Theologies (South Africa, 2009). He is currently co-editing a book on Pedagogical Liberation? Shifting Perceptions on Palestine-Israel (2012/2013). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] See for example the following: Clint Le Bruyns, “Public Theology? On responsibility for the public good” (May 25th, 2011), at http://www.ecclesio.com/2011/05/public-theology-on-responsibility-for-the-public-good-%E2%80%93-by-clint-le-bruyns [accessed 25/05/2011]; Clint Le Bruyns, “The Rebirth of Kairos Theology? A Public Theological Perspective” (March 23, 2012), Unpublished paper presented at a Brazil-South Africa Consultation on citizenship and interculturality, Pretoria, South Africa.
[iii] See The Kairos Document. Challenge to the Church: A Theological Comment on the Political Crisis in South Africa, Second Edition (September 1986). Cf. A moment of truth, 2.
[iv] A moment of truth, 2 and 4-6ff.
[v] A moment of truth, 6ff.
[vi] José Galizia Tundisi, “The Advocacy Responsibility of the Scientist” in Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P Nelson (eds), Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2010), 448-451.
[vii] Tundisi, “The Advocacy Responsibility of the Scientist”, 448.
[viii] Tundisi, “The Advocacy Responsibility of the Scientist”, 448.
[ix] Tundisi, “The Advocacy Responsibility of the Scientist”, 449.
[x] I discuss this in Clint Le Bruyns, “‘Theonomous Culture’ as Motif in Paul Tillich’s Public Theology” in Len Hansen (ed.), Christian in Public: Aims, Methodologies and Issues in Public Theology. Beyers Naudé Centre Series on Public Theology (Stellenbosch: SUN Press, 2008), 154ff.
[xi] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1951), 6.
[xii] Tundisi, “The Advocacy Responsibility of the Scientist”, 449.
[xiii] See Albert Nolan, Hope in an Age of Despair (New York: Orbis, 2009), 7-8. I elaborate on this in Clint Le Bruyns, “Public Theology?”, 3.
[xiv] Tundisi, “The Advocacy Responsibility of the Scientist”, 449.
[xv] Tundisi, “The Advocacy Responsibility of the Scientist”, 451.
[xvi] For example, see Selina Palm, “Transforming Hope? A Theological-Ethical Vision, Virtue and Practice for the Common Good” (Unpublished M.Th thesis, Stellenbosch University, 2012), at http://scholar.sun.ac.za/handle/10019.1/20135 [accessed 18/04/2012].
[xvii] A moment of truth, 6-9.
[xviii] A moment of truth, 2.
[xix] A moment of truth, 2-3.
[xx] A moment of truth, 4-6.
[xxi] A moment of truth, 14-17.
[xxii] A moment of truth, 9ff.
[xxiii] A moment of truth, 13.
[xxiv] A moment of truth, 15-16.
[xxv] A moment of truth, 9.
[xxvi] A moment of truth, 4.
[xxvii] Jean Zaru, “Biblical Teachings and the Hard Realities of Life” in Kwok Pui-lan (ed.), Hope Abundant: Third World and Indigenous Women’s Theology (New York: Orbis, 2010), 124.
[xxviii] Zaru, “Biblical Teachings and the Hard Realities of Life”, 124.
[xxix] Zaru, “Biblical Teachings and the Hard Realities of Life”, 124.
[xxx] See Leonardo Boff, “Reinventing Education” (June 6th, 2012) at http://leonardoboff.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/reinventing-education [accessed 04/06/2012].
[xxxi] Boff, “Reinventing Education”, 1.
[xxxii] Boff, “Reinventing Education”, 1.
[xxxiii] Boff, “Reinventing Education”, 2.