Justice Conference: Notes & Reflections Part 6

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We all have a theology. Whether we are aware of it or not, our ways of thinking about and understanding God shapes our relationships with other people and the world around us. Towards the end of the Justice Conference Day 1, we had the privilege of listening to a diverse panel of pastors and theologians speaking about theologies that have rooted or maintained injustice in the world. “Our theologies matter”, said Cobus van Wyngaard. In other words, it is very necessary for us to pay attention that what, why and how we believe. It is always easier in hindsight to identify problematic theologies, so there is an urgent need for us to look at our theologies right now with open hearts and minds, and ask ourselves, “In which ways do our beliefs and understanding of God, the church and the world sustain (or even construct) injustices?”

Here is a very brief, very much simplified, reflection on and summary of some of the highlights of this session (I have listed the contributors below – their contributions have been collated here so I am not able to reference them specifically and individually):

1. “Getaway” Theologies: Theologies are at risk to sustain and construct injustice when it grants us a way of escaping the pain and suffering of this world
– by promising us a ticket to heaven when we die;
– by allowing us disengage from the world around us, because of the hope of being raptured before the earth goes “up in flames”;
– or by telling us that we will never have to suffer;
– or if our theology permits us to think about God, construct beliefs about God and live these beliefs without ever having to engage at a deep level with and be challenged by those who are marginalised in our society.

2. “Immune” Theologies: Theologies are at risk to sustain and create injustice when we are not allowed or encouraged to engage critically with what we believe and how we live – here are some examples:
– when our theologies suppress our questions about the nature of God, who we consider to be the children of God, who we consider “worthy” of contributing to or disrupting our beliefs
– when we are not allowed or encouraged to question the “way things are” or the “what things are being done” (status quo) and how our theology relates to sustaining the status quo and why;
– when our theology do not permit us to question the ways in which it relates to our own self-preservation and the preservation of what we value, own and benefit from and how this may contribute to the exploitation and oppression of others in the world;
– if our theology does not move us toward open, honest and challenging conversations or a willingness to question, and even uproot, our views and assumptions or allows us to always be absolutely certain of everything.

3. “Cerebral” Theologies: Theologies are at risk to sustain or create injustice when we reduce christianity to mere “right thinking” with no implications for the way in which we live. If our theology allows us to just make a few “mental adjustments” without posing radical challenges to the way we live in this world, it may position us to contribute to the injustices of the world around us.

This is by no means a comprehensive summary of the session, so please engage with this post and let us know what you heard and how you have been inspired or challenged?

Facilitator: René August
Contributors:
Marlyn Faure
Nadine Bowers du Toit
Alexia Salvatierra
Nathan Mbuyazi
Legato Kobe
Cobus van Wyngaard

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Justice Conference: Notes & Reflections Part 2

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We often miss things that happen right in front of our eyes. Instead, we see only the thing we pay attention to. If you have the privilege of visiting game reserves, I am sure this kind of thing has happened to you. You are so focused on seeing the big rhino on the side of the road, that you miss the leopard quietly crossing the road right in front of you. The selective attention test is a good example of how – in paying attention to certain details – we may miss out on other things that are happening right in front of our eyes.

In the first plenary session of the Justice Conference“What does Jesus have to do with justice?”, René August made this thought-provoking statement, “What we see is not what we are looking at, but what we are looking with.”

We have to acknowledge that there is no objective or neutral position when we come to read the Bible or understand Jesus. Where we live, how we live, our personal history, our socio-political context, our educational background, amongst many other things, are “what we are looking with”. This colours our reading of the Bible and our understanding of Jesus.*

René encouraged us to remember that viewing Jesus with a particular lens and coming to certain conclusions does not necessarily have to nullify the understanding of Jesus reached by viewing his life through a different pair of lenses – rather we should allow these different ideas to converse with and challenge each other in order to deepen our understanding of Jesus. (It is no coincidence that the Bible includes four gospels – four lenses – about the life of Jesus).

Historically, in my church context, we have viewed the life of Jesus through many different lenses: the “son of the Father”, the “miracle worker”, “the forgiver of sins”, our “substitute on the cross”, the “victorious one”, but rarely have we paid attention to what is right in front of our eyes: Jesus was born into a highly politicised context as Messiah – a political term that means “liberator”. In today’s world, as René pointed out, the story could have read something like, “Jesus was born in a time of ISIS in Syria”. How would people living in Syria hear the story that a “liberator” has been born – someone who would bring good news for the poor and freedom for the oppressed?

I would love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to engage with this post on Facebook or Twitter and include others in the conversation.

 
*One way in which this becomes really evident is how often our understanding of Jesus seems to be a bigger better version of ourselves – a super version of who we are and what we believe.

(If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can read it here)