Congress of Asian Theologians Sides With “Underside Of History”

A gathering of Asian theologians has challenged Christians in the region to identify and struggle with those on the “underside of history,” and to change the social, economic, political and religious power structures that victimize them.

The sixth Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS) held here urged them to “have prophetic courage to act with those on the underside of history instead of compromising with the agenda of national and international elites.

In a declaration, CATS said that, “Asian theologians must grapple with unjust social, political and economic structures in society and respond prophetically” for creating “abundant life for all.”

According to the declaration, “CATS is safe, creative and open space for Asian theologians to bring life stories, experiences and reflections, struggles and hopes for the underside in order to articulate and appropriate meaningful faith for transformation of our Asian context.”

Dr Hope S Antone, an executive secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, who was one of the chief organizers of the event, said that CATS, started in 1997, is a movement that seeks to create a theological community that would bring together various theological movements and associations of theological education, as well as individual theologians to promote a cooperative process of study, analysis and reflection among committed Asian theologians.

CATS also aims to provide a venue for professional update, sharing of experiences, reflection on current issues, and networking among seasoned and emerging (younger) Asian theologians, especially ensuring the participation of women theologians.

One of the aims of the 8-14 February CATS on “Doing mission from the underside: A challenge to the understanding of mission since 1910” was to articulate “new paradigms for Christian mission suitable to the challenges of our day.”

While paying tributes to Western missionaries for bringing Christianity to most part of Asia and for their “courage, sacrifice and care” in laying a foundation for it, CATS stated that, “Mission in the past, however, often betrayed triumphalistic attitudes and a sense of superiority…which “often led to an emphasis on mere statistical growth of church membership with little respect for the religions and culture of Asia.”

It noted that missionary efforts came with a baggage of colonial agenda of the West.

Referring to the World Missionary Conference (WMC) held in Edinburgh in 1910, which marked the beginning of the ecumenical movement, CATS declaration said that “it was also a continuing manifestation of Christian triumphalism, euro centrism and gender bias.”

Taking note of the WMCs centenary celebrations next year, CATS said: “In response, churches in Asia are developing their own approaches to mission in dialogue with Asian religions and culture.”

Theologians attending the congress acknowledged that the Asian Christian contributions to mission in Asia and outside have not reflected a truly contextual theology.

The declaration said “The people on the underside are our people, our family,” and added that, “We not only express our wholehearted concern and solidarity with our people, but also ask ourselves if we and our churches are ready to take the risk of being put on the underside.”

While CATS held here had in its five-day program worship, reflections, and exchange of views, insights, visions and hopes, it also heard “cries of pain and suffering” from different Asian communities, which included victims of human rights violations, environmental destruction, religious conflicts, oppressed women, people living with HIV/AIDS, ethnic minorities, indigenous people dalits and social outcasts.

CATS reminded Christians to remember that Jesus wanted “his followers to make disciple of all peoples,” rather than cross lands and oceans to proselytize.

It told them to recognize that the heart of the gospel is the commandment to love God and “our neighbors,” and noted that other religions should be honored and respected, and what is good, true and beautiful in them should be affirmed.

Seventy nine women and men who attended CATS demanded gender justice including sharing of power between women and men instead of the domination of men in the social and religious organizations.

They called upon Christians in Asia not to collaborate and remain silent towards those who use violence to achieve their aim, and to resist all forms of violence in the society.

The theologians also urged them not to perpetuate the historically inherited church divisions but to “work towards the day when all Christians can share Eucharistic fellowship together.”

The 2008 CATS was held in Hong Kong, and the earlier ones were held in Suwon, Bangalore, Yogyakarta and Chiang Mai.

According Hope Antone, the reason for selecting Philippines as a venue to the sixth CAT was to express the need for Asian theologians to show their concern and solidarity with the churches and people of the Philippines, “where in recent years a spate of extra-judicial killings and disappearances of church workers, peace and human right activists has been recorded.”

Source: Asia Pacific Ecumenical News, 11 May 2009

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