In his article, Clint Le Bruyns argues for a pedagogical approach to public theology, arguing strongly that the ‘public sphere’ is inescapable to Christian faith and to the responsibility such living entails. Le Bruyns is right to point out the inherent public nature of Christian faith and its capacity to “envision, embody and advance the common good”. I would add further, we also need to think through the internal multiplicity of Christian faith – in the multiple ways it is lived, and embodied, and reasoned to give meaning to existential realities – to enhance a praxis of solidarity among different ways of thinking, to respect difference and otherness, as we seek common ground for action. I would also suggest there is something inherent about overcoming the ‘one-thought-only’ paradigm in our faith communities of shared living amidst difference.
Given the vulnerability of ‘religion’ qua its tendency towards being used to justifying unethical demands, the need for reflexive theologies to critically respond to the public challenges of our contemporary age, as well as the painstaking effort required to construct theologies attuned to the complexity of our shared histories and human interconnectivities, is never more urgent. Drawing on insight from the Palestinian Kairos Document, Le Bruyns explicates the importance of developing an engaged liberative praxis and a kairos consciousness in our learning and social activism.
I have never come across Jose Galizia Tundisi’s essay before, however Le Bruyns explains Tundisi’s emphasis lies on the responsibility of ‘knowledge’ and the need to match the awareness of knowledge, with a suitable ethical responsiveness, as we seek to transform theory into effective action. Turning more specifically to theology, how might we reconceptualise theology as a revelation “in the moment” – or in a “kairos moment”, we might say? It is the moment of realisation, of conscientization, of awakening to the truths of the reality of the lives of others, and how we are caught up in complex ways, that requires attentive rethinking of ‘responsibility’ to ensure our actions promote and enhance the freedom of others. In the case of the Palestine Kairos Document, we need to pay attention and ask critically whether we are supporting, or even implicitly justifying a theology “that justify crimes perpetrated against [the Palestinian] people and the dispossession of the land”?[i]
Secondly, following Tundisi’s rationale to “disseminate our findings [of our understanding of the world] to the public”[ii]- as Le Bruyns explains – we need to reconsider the different spheres this “dissemination” might impact: including international policy; economic investment; attention to postcolonial narratives and alternative story-telling; representing marginal voices in conflict; situating contextual historical events among other unheard stories (i.e. the need for a pluralism of grievances, not ‘one-thought-only’ stories made visible by the inequalities in power, resources and the capacity to voice aspirations); and in our healing and reconciliation ministries.
One such example I can share from my own visit to Bethlehem last week, is the ‘come and see’ recommendation encouraged by the Palestinian Kairos Document, as Le Bruyns pointed out. What surprised me the most was the manner of tourism in Bethlehem. Talking to Palestinian street venders selling coffee and bread to workers crossing the main checkpoint out of Bethlehem to Jerusalem early in the morning, I got the impression most of the tour groups that come to visit Bethlehem, arriving in large comfortable air-conditioned coaches never ‘come and see’ the realities of Palestinians living everyday lives in Bethlehem. Tour coaches full of international visitors are told by the local Israeli tour guides that the West Bank is “unsafe” and as a consequence they must make a “brief” trip, restricting the visit to the Church of the Nativity, and if they’re lucky, the Shepherd’s fields in Beit Sahour. The strange irony of such pilgrimage that exclusively visits the religious sites for personal gain, with no regard for the people of this land and the biblical principle of seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God, is to miss precisely the deep and real meaning behind such holy sites! We must be careful not to buy into the comfortable ‘one-thought-only’ narrative that the holy land is occupied for the “security” of Israel and its international visitors. And while we might not all have the opportunity to visit, we might be wary of how we ‘see’ the conflict. What prejudices to we bring to the fore when we read about Palestine-Israel? How do we encourage others to learn the facts, and understand the stories?
The other example, which I’m sure Le Bruyns could expand on in great depth had space allowed, is his development of a praxis of solidarity in his teaching. Offering the Palestine Kairos Document as a resource to his students in the postgraduate Theology and Development Programme enables them to engage with a very practical document that reads to them as a letter of plea, a ‘cry’ for the international church to stand together, not to hide distance voices, but to realise our human connectivity as we belong to One church. And when one suffers in a cruel, inhumane way, it is our suffering too. More specifically, making the connections between ‘apartheid’ – which remains an important word for South African students – and manifestations of another apartheid, this time in Israel, is crucial in constructing a global solidarity with other marginal peoples. This is something also inherent in the life and practice of Christian faith and a good example of what Le Bruyns terms ‘pedagogical liberation’. This is the reshaping of public opinion through responding to the acquired social knowledge (the task of science) with appropriate moral responsibility, which brings us full circle with Tundisi’s thesis.
Sam Slatcher is a student at Durham University, UK, and is on the Faith and Globalisation Masters programme, in the Department of Religion and Theology, and the School of Government and International Affairs. His interest lies in religious pluralism and global ethics, and is currently writing a thesis titled “Polydoxy theologies and the implication for constructing a postcolonial narrative of solidarity”. E-mail: email@example.com
[i] A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering (Kairos Palestine: 2009), p.2, at http://www.kairospalestine.ps [accessed 06/06/2012].
[ii] 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), 449.