Thursday, February 22, 2018

Re-weaving creation and redemption in light of Oceanic epistemologies

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This project will examine the relationship between creation and redemption as they relate to the missio Dei.   This has particular relevance in Oceania, given the unique water-based geographies that shape history and epistemology. It also has global relevance, given that the Pacific Ocean is the planet’s beating heart and the Cartesian dualisms inherent in the European authors’ who in the twentieth century articulated the missio Dei.

The project will involve a bi-cultural partnership between two authors, one Maori, the other Pakeha New Zealand. Together they will read the Waitangi Tribunal 1999, Whanganui River Report (1999) to articulate how water is understood and consider the implications for Christian understandings of creation and redemption. This will foreground indigenous epistemological realities, in particular threads of ancestors and gift exchange.

The initial working proposal is that creation and redemption are woven together in multiple ways. Water is neither accident nor afterthought. It is the place where one is fully human, connected to ancestors and blessed through Divine gift exchange.  This allows the missio Dei to be located amid Oceanic realities, as a challenge to anthropocentric and individualised notions of missio Dei.

For a baptismal liturgy, that began this project see here.

Posted by steve at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus as deep mission

ajms Delighted to have an article published in the Australian Journal of Mission Studies December 2017, Volume 11, 2, 28-35. Titled – Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 as deep mission it notes first that we inhabit a geographic region in which for many cultures, genealogy is essential to knowledge and second the absence of genealogy in the work of missiologists like David Bosch and Chris Wright. Given that the gospel of Matthew begins the story of Jesus with genealogy, what are the implications for mission?

Conclusion
We work in a region of the world in which for many cultures, genealogy is essential to knowledge. Given that Matthew begins the story of Jesus with a genealogy, I have considered the genealogy of Jesus as a starting point for mission. I began by noting the absence of the genealogy of Matthew 1 in contemporary Western missiology. Three important contemporary missiology texts make claim that Matthew 1 is important in the mission of God. Yet the genealogy garners little attention: gaining a minimal mention in David Bosch (Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission) and Chris Wright (The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative) and none in Senior and Stuhlmueller (The Biblical Foundations for Mission). None of the three missiology texts show an appreciation of genealogy as genre or consider the way that genealogy might function as a distinct and important approach to epistemology and identity.

However, when indigenous understandings are applied to Matthew 1, the missiology of the genealogy acquires great significant. Two indigenous texts were examined, one located in Aotearoa New Zealand, the other in Australia. Both stress that for indigenous cultures, knowledge must be located in relationship to ancient memory. One (Tangata Whenua: A History), provides a mechanism, that of genealogy. Genealogy provides knowledge that is worthy of respect as it functions in ways that are replicable, rigorous and reproducible. The other (“Mission in the Great South Land” in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific), provides an invitation to value deep memory. It also provides an intercultural hermeneutic, in which the knowing of deep memory is parsed into beliefs, values and modes of teaching. This provides a further set of rich insights into genealogy; that the genre invites modes of teaching that are replicable, rigorous and reproducible; that the genre communicates beliefs and values worthy of deep respect. Thus indigenous scholarship offers a rich set of resources by which to approach the genealogy of Matthew 1.

This insight has been tested in practice, in teaching on mission in one indigenous context. This teaching demonstrated the vitality of the genealogy of Matthew in framing mission as an ancestor story, a structured transmission in which God as the primary actor is weaving ordinary and indigenous people into the Messiah’s story. It is time that indigenous scholarship, in particular the role of genealogy in structuring knowledge and affirming deep mission, is respected in both the theory and practice of mission.

Posted by steve at 02:40 PM

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

translation and cultural change: the impact of Scripture for a church in mission

jerome Jerome (347 – 420) was a priest, theologian and Bible translator. A Doctor of the Church, he is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin. But not without conflict.

Translation threatens existing patterns. It causes conflict. When the new translation is read: “A great uproar ensued in the congregation.” (White (ed), The correspondence (394-419) between Jerome and Augustine of Hippo, 92-3). That which was familiar was now different. The church leaders are asked to intervene. Scripture is causing conflict.

Lawrence Venuti, a professional translator, uses this as an example in arguing that “a translation practice cannot fail to produce a text that is a potential source of cultural change.” (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 87).

Translation of Scripture was challenging the church. It was disrupted what was familiar. It was raising questions about the location of authority. Is it in the familiarity of tradition or the pages of Scripture? Should the scholar or the bishop be making these decisions? In a church with different cultural identities, some Greek, some Latin, any use of languages from another culture challenged power. So how did Jerome bring about change? In the midst of conflict, what strategies did he use to change what was familiar and precious?

Venuti describes four change strategies (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 80-1). First, Jerome took time to explain. His translations include a preface, in which he outlined what he was doing. Second, he listened to the objections. He noted the fears, including the impact on stability, uniformity and cultural identity. Third, Jerome offered a new way of looking. He framed his translation not as a replacement but as a supplement. It would aid in the tasks of understanding Scripture. It would protect the church from accusations of ignorance. “Jerome’s version was thus presented as an institutional support, assisting in … debates with the members of a rival religious institution … who cast doubt on the cultural authority of Christianity.” (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 80). Fourth, he found resilience in his heart for mission. Jerome began to translate because he was part of “a culture in which sensitivity to a foreign language was an integral element.” (Kamesar, Jerome, Greek Scholarship, and the Hebrew Bible: A Study of the Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim (Oxford Classical Monographs), 43). Jerome’s awareness of his cultural context, when combined with his desire to offer credible Christian witness, motivated his work.

Translation of Scripture brings cultural change. It can disrupt existing hierarchies and challenge established authorities. This is evident in the translation of the Scripture into Latin. This change happens because Jerome is skilled not only technically, in translation. He also shows skill in innovation. He brings about cultural change as he listens, explains, frames and nurtures his resilience.

Christian art represents the Spirit, whispering to Jerome as he works. It suggests the inspiration of God. This inspiration originates in mission, the gospel’s inherent translatability across cultures. Inspiration occurs for Jerome not only in the hard graft and technical skill of translation. It also occurs in the skills of bringing cultural change, of listening, framing and being resilient in and through conflict.

Posted by steve at 10:28 AM

Monday, December 11, 2017

Indigenous knowing: Decolonisation and the Pacific

Decolonisation and the Pacific: Indigenous Globalisation and the Ends of Empire, Tracey Banivanua Mar, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Let justice roll was part of Martin Luther’s King I have a dream speech. It drew on Scripture, Amos 5:24. If King was dreaming of justice in the Pacific, he might have called for justice to roll like the sea. He would have been inspired by Tracey Banivanua Mar and her recent book, Decolonisation and the Pacific: Indigenous Globalisation and the Ends of Empire (Critical Perspectives on Empire). It is an examination of the search for justice, Pacific style, Melanesian made.

It is a unique book. First, it argues that decolonisation has been uniquely experienced in the Pacific. Unlike Asia or Africa, the Pacific experience needs to be appreciated as unique. Second, it takes a long historical lens. It begins not with the development of nation states in the independence movements of the 1960’s through to 1980’s. Rather it begins with first contact. Thus decolonisation is located with geography and history, from which it draws energy. Third, it foregrounds indigenous agency. It argues for networks of relationships among indigenous peoples. These have emerged from the oceanic geography that is Oceania, the mobility of networks, including those imposed by colonisation, like black-birding. Through them flowed information, consciousness raising and leadership development. This makes decolonisation the story not of Empire and of political upheaval, but of the practices of indigenous agency. The argument is that “Indigenous peoples from numerous angles established resistant, convergent and accommodating discourses with and within empire.” (51) The result is a celebration of resistance and creativity. The focus shifts from the upfront and legal, to the home and the every day.

It is a book, beautifully constructed. Each chapter begins with a story that draws in the reader. Each story locates us in another Pacific place: Fiji, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Each chapter ends with a lengthy conclusion, in which the data is located in relation to the books’ overall themes. Chapter titles, with words like currents and churn, saltwater and flight – recall the oceanic geography essential to the exploration of justice rolling like a sea.

What Decolonisation and the Pacific lacks is a considered engagement with the religious dimensions of the Pacific context. For example Walter Lini, first Prime Minister of an independent Vanuatu, is described as a “formidable builder of networks” (198). These are listed as including the Western Pacific Students’ Association and founder of newspaper, Viewpoints. There is no mention of church linkages, so essential to the context of Vanuatu and the identity of Lini, as an Anglican priest. A set of important questions are thus left unanswered. How did faith help or hinder the processes of decolonisation?

Decolonisation and the Pacific is essential reading. It provides new ways to approach decolonisation, that celebrate indigenous agency and the practices of everyday life. It provides a thoughtful examination of the nature of justice rolling like a sea across the Pacific. This includes the telling of the Pacific story on a prestigious academic stage, with publication by Cambridge University Press. It also offers a way of telling a Pacific story that honours the Ocean that all peoples share, in ways that maintain the uniqueness of local cultures. As such, it offers windows into the future search for justice, including the nurturing of networks and education that shares Pacific style, Melanesian made indigenous creativity.

Posted by steve at 08:58 AM

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Resisting Empire: A Maori theology of church and state

In January, I was reading Vincent O’Malley’s wonderful The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800–2000. I was surprised to read a speech, made by Maori leader, Wiremu Tamihana, that used Scripture to resist the power of colonial expansion. “A public theology of church and state?” I tweeted. O’Malley tweeted back within minutes, in the affirmative. Intrigued, I asked the amazing Hewitson Library if they could track down the speech. Within days, copies of the Great Britain Parliamentary Papers 1861 were on my desk. I offered the speech to the KCML interns at a February Summer intensive, as an example of public theology and together we find in the speech the formative factors of theology all at play – not only Scripture, but also experience, reason and tradition. A public theology indeed.

In February, I wrote an article for SPANZ, the quarterly magazine of tbe Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. Titled Religion and politics: Learning with Wiremu Tamihana, in 600 words it provided some initial thoughts on The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800–2000 and why Wiremu Tamihana might be articulating a public theology of church and state.

In May, I did further research, doing more work with the Great Britain Parliamentary Papers and in July I presented a 20 minute conference presentation at the Australian Association of Mission Studies.

During that conference, participants were invited to present a short 3 minute video summary. The editing took a while, but here is mine, which arrived yesterday. In it I explain what why missiology must research indigenous thinkers. It was a challenge, to explain a 20 minute paper in 3 minutes, but a useful exercise.

Resisting Empire: A Maori theology of church and state from steve taylor on Vimeo.

In October, that conference paper became three written papers. First, it was summarised into 1000 words as a contribution to Snapshots for Mission, a (just released) KCML publication that aims to make research accessible to the wider Presbyterian Church. Second, the thread of indigenous sovereignty became a 6,000 chapter contribution to a potential book, edited by Mark Brett and Jione Havea. Third, the thread of home-making became a 6,000 contribution to another potential book, on the Australian Association of Mission Studies conference theme of Re-imagining home. While Tamihana is one person, there is a depth and complexity to his life that deserves to be considered from multiple angles.

In addition to this 1 video and 4 publications, there have also been 4 further talks over the year.
- In January, a 60 minute keynote at Rethink, Restore, Renew in Clevedon.
- In March, a sermon at First Church Dunedin, celebrating their anniversary as a church.
- In May, a 60 minute keynote at Kaimai Presbytery.
- In October, a 40 minute conference presentation Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand, at REFORMATION 500 NZ.

So, some summer reading has, by the end of year, resulted in 1 video, 4 publications, 2 conference papers and 3 talks. A single 140 word online tweet has birthed over 15,000 written words, both popular and more academic. It has been one of the unexpected surprises for me of 2017, a rich and generative year of learning from a bi-cultural Treaty partner.

Thanks Vincent, thanks Twitter, thanks Hewitson, thanks to KCML interns, particularly Hone Te Riri, thanks to conference organisors and book editors. Above all, thanks to Wiremu Tamihana.

Gracious and eternal God,
as we honour Wiremu Tamihana,
keep us honourable and fair
in our dealings with each other,
true servants of the Prince of peace.

Wiremu Tamihana, Prophet, Kingmaker, 1866, New Zealand Prayer Book. He Karakia Mihinare O Aotearoa, (Auckland: William Collins Publishers, 1997)

Posted by steve at 12:33 PM

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

“religious piety and pigs’ brains”:  the faith of zombies

I spoke yesterday at FiRTH (Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities). I was part of a symposium on Jane Austen and found myself exploring post-colonial readings of Christian sacraments.

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My paper was titled “religious piety and pigs’ brains”: the faith of zombies and was an investigation of a communion scene in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, in which zombies take communion. It might be parody (the Catholic News Service thinks so: “ghoulish, quasi-sacriligious parody … moviegoers would do better to stay at home and brush up on their Austen”). But I also examined it using a post-colonial lens, in which “the zombie tells the story of colonization: the reduction of human into thing for the ends of capital.” (Jon Stratton, “Zombie trouble: Zombie texts, bare life and displaced people.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 14 (3), 271). I also found myself reading that strange parable in 16:19-31, about the role of Lazarus in relation to justice.

Here is an excerpt:

Lazarus is also mentioned in Luke 16:19-31. The parable begins in the world of the living, with a rich man and a beggar. Both die. The beggar moves into what seems to be an in-between space. It is a world of the dead, alongside Abraham and close to a rich man in Hades.

In Luke 16, in this is in-between world, the beggar is an active agent. The request is made that he become an intermediary, seemingly with power to speak and move. First, an intermediary in the world of the dead: “send Lazarus to dip the tongue of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I (the rich man in Hades) am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:24).

Second, an intermediary in the world of the living: “send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let [Lazarus] warn them, so that they will NOT also come to this place of torment.” (Luke 16:27-8).

So in this in-between world, there are active agents, an eschatological concern for justice, with consequences in this world and future.

I’m still playing with how all the threads tie together, but this was my resting place yesterday.

I have been undisciplined by offering some inter-textual readings of a communion scene in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. This has included conversations with Biblical material, particularly between the Church of St Lazarus, the dimensions of (Un)Sacramental theology and the post-colonial readings. This invites the Christian church to consider sacramental practice. Is it a piety that freezes change? Or is it a converting ordinance in which liberation is anticipated? It also invites us to affirm the subversive potential of popular culture, even shock horror!, in the undisciplined use of zombies to mess with the privileged world that is the world of Jane Austen, both in social history and in literary scholarship.

It was good to be back in Adelaide, and I was very grateful for the hospitality both financial and relational, extended to me by FiRTH and their commitment to foster collaborative and cross-disciplinary projects across a wide range of fields in the Humanities and Creative Arts.

Posted by steve at 10:59 AM

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand

(My abstract for REFORMATION 500 NZ: a multi-disciplinary conference on the Reformation and its impact will be held in Hamilton, New Zealand, to mark the 500th anniversary of the symbolic beginning of the Reformation on 31 October 1517.

Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand

Essential to the Reformation was the claim of sola Scriptura that destablised received patterns of church tradition. Yet contemporary reader response theory shifts the focus of Scripture from text to reader, from tradition to context. How might indigenous strategies of Scripture reading in Aotearoa New Zealand help us rethink the Reformation? Two examples are provocative.

One is the speech of Wiremu Tamihana recorded in the Great Britain Parliamentary Papers. In response to the ultimatum presented by the Crown to Waikato Maori in 1861, Tamihana drew on Deuteronomy 17:15 and Ephesians 2:13. The result was a contextual theology of church and state which reconceived Maori political initiatives, preserved difference and offered a Christology framed by justice.

A second is Te Whiti O Rongomai’s use of the Bible at Parihaka in the 1880’s. His use of the Samson narrative in Judges 15:4-5, as outlined in Nita McMaster’s research, shows a remarkable sensitivity to the narrative development of the book of Judges. Te Whiti invoked the implements of the oppressor, both their sacred text and their plough. This was a radical reading, an indigenous strategy that pre-dated by some hundred years Western interpreters (including Robert Boling and Roger Ryan) who argue that Judges 15 offered a guerilla strategy of non-violent resistant.

The Reformation impulse that prioritised vernacular translations of Scripture is evident in the historical commitment to Bible translation in New Zealand. What is intriguing is how this privileging of text results in indigenous readings that challenge the patterns of tradition being imposed by colonisers. Such is the power of sola Scriptura when people read for themselves in their own language.

Hence the examining of sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand is instructive in rethinking the reformation. Sola Scriptura is a key resource in resisting imperialism and complexifying understandings of cross-cultural transmission.

Posted by steve at 11:42 AM

Monday, September 04, 2017

video of my “hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation talk online

nativechristianities Video from all the conference presentations of the “Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific” conference hosted by Auckland University on March 24, 2017 are now online. The video of my 20 minute paper is here along with the introduction and the followup questions.

Native Christianity in Papua New Guinea: “hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

by Steve Taylor, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership; Flinders University

The interaction between Christianity and indigenous cultures can provide rich insights into cross-cultural exchange in liminal spaces. Equally the complexity of such insights can be masked by totalising narratives, including hagiography and Euro-centric imperialism.

One way to approach native Christianity in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is through Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. It has been acclaimed as PNG’s best historical novel (Moore, 2012). The post-colonial methodologies of Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions) (2014) will be used to read The Mountain for indigenous agency in resistance and innovation. Such a reading requires locating Modjeska as an academic and novelist who refuses to accept totalising binaries, in both her writing and her life.

I will argue that the portrayal of native Christianity in The Mountain assumes indigenous approval and indigenization. Themes of ancestor gift and “hapkas” will be applied to Jesus as “good man true, he die for PNG” (The Mountain 2012: 291). The creative reworking by which native (Omie) people locate Jesus as ancestor gift of Canaanite descent will be examined. This is consistent with recent scholarship in which indigenous cultures are Old Testaments (Charleston 1998; Brett 2003) and the book of Genesis a demonstration of indigenous faiths being woven respectfully into the story of Israel (Moberly 1992). This subverts the “big man” as a key trope in the ethnography of Melanesia (Strathern 2009). It suggests that post-colonial theology pay attention to cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation. Or in the words of The Mountain: a “hapkas” Jesus who is “good man true” for PNG.

Posted by steve at 12:38 PM

Friday, March 24, 2017

Resistance and Innovation: Native Christianities in the Pacific conference

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I spent today at the University of Auckland, participating in the Resistance and Innovation: Native Christianities in the Pacific conference. There were about 35 folk in attendance and I was one of 18 presenters. There were papers on Samoan born diaspora church, Maori Christologies, Chinese indigenous churches, along with numerous papers exploring the relationship between Maori and the Latter Day Saints. So it’s been an excellent workout on the complexity of interaction between religion and culture, especially indigenous Pacific cultures.

I went for a number of reasons. First, it was part of my return to New Zealand, which must include listening again among Christianity and New Zealand. So this conference provided a chance to connect with contemporary research and networks. Second, it was a chance to use work twice, taking a paper I had presented in Korea in 2016 and offering it again. Third, it was a chance to be in a University context, with is always important benchmarking for independent higher education providers. How does our research sit alongside what are our University peers are thinking is important?

My paper went well. From the organisor:

Steve, thank you for a most fascinating presentation on ideas of missiology and hapkas in Papua New Guinea … your discussion of moving between different worlds was very thought-provoking.

The questions after the presentation were helpfully clarifying, mainly in reminding me of the specific limits of what I am doing: reading literature, specifically one book. Here are the questions

Q: Your paper focused on the identity of Jesus. What about the death of Jesus?

A: I was wanting to be faithful to the themes of the book.

Q; You explored the complex relationship between fact and fiction in the work of author, Drusilla Modjeska. Can you apply any of that learning to the Scripture?

A: I’ll need to think about that more. The approach I used in terms of Scripture was to focus on how Israel understood the Canaanites, as an indigenous faith. I am pleased with the creative space that approach opens up, the way it makes sense of the book of Genesis and the Rahab narrative.

Q; Does your argument emerge only from the text of The Mountain? Should it not also emerge from the local context of indigenous people?

A: I am using a literary text. Methodologically, I am using Paul Riceour’s notion of each text having a surplus of meaning, in which the reader might see things beyond the scope of the author’s intention. My approach seeks to move beyond an either/or: universal faith that generalises or local faith that particularising. Every local context lives in more fluid relationships with other worlds and I am seeking to explore those textures in my paper.

Q: I’ll have to read this book, The Mountain.

A: Yes.

It was a privilege to have anothers engage with me around some of my current research. Here’s the conclusion to my paper:

I have examined The Mountain and outlined ancestor agency, gift child and the richness of “hapkas” as a “native” Christology. I have noted recent Biblical scholarship regarding the Genesis narratives in the Old Testament and placed the Christological title “(‘good’ man true”) in critical dialogue with the “big man” and “great man”. My argument is that post-colonial theology must pay attention to native Christianity, including cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation. Or in the words of The Mountain: a “hapkas” Jesus who is “good man true” for PNG.

Posted by steve at 06:57 PM

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 as deep mission

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-> Journal article submission today:

Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 as deep mission

Abstract

We inhabit a geographic region in which for many cultures, genealogy is essential to knowledge. Given that Matthew begins the story of Jesus with genealogy, what are the implications for mission?

Three missiology texts are examined – The Biblical Foundations for Mission, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission and The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative – to understand how they conceive Matthew’s genealogy. Genealogy is then considered in two indigenous texts, one located in Aotearoa New Zealand (Tangata Whenua: A History), the other in Australia (Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific). Both demonstrate how genealogy functions as an essential way of knowing, in which ancient memory is structured to clarify relationship with people and place.

The implications of genealogy for missiology are tested, through teaching mission in one indigenous context. This clarifies the vitality of Matthew’s genealogy in framing mission as an ancestor story, a structured transmission in which God as the primary actor is weaving ordinary and indigenous people into the Messiah’s story.

Posted by steve at 05:46 PM

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Converting empire: theologies of church and state in the encounter between British and Maori

News today that my paper proposal for Australian Association of Mission Studies (AAMS) 2017 gathering, in Melbourne, July 2-5, 2017 was accepted. The paper was sparked by my reading over the holidays of The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 by Vincent O’Malley. I was fascinated by mention of Wiremu Tamihana’s use of Scripture in responding to the claims of empire. I tweeted and within a few minutes, was in a fascinating, and affirming, conversation with the author, Vincent O’Malley. I wrote some thoughts for SPANZ and also shared some of my thinking at a conference in Clevedon in January. Again, I was encouraged by the response.

The AAMS theme, Re-imagining home, seemed an ideal occasion to share my thinking in an academic context, using the tools of post-colonial analysis, in which the focus is on the creative adaptations and innovative practices of resistance used by indigenous people as they respond to invasion. It is also relevant given our current political context. Amid anxiety about how to respond to global imperialism, what can be learnt from the witness of indigenous people in history?

Converting empire: theologies of church and state in the encounter between British and Maori

Following Jesus in someone else’s country is inevitably complexified by cross-cultural transmission. This was certainly true of indigenous peoples navigating the effects of colonisation. This paper examines how political categories introduced by British expansion in Aotearoa New Zealand were appropriated by Maori resisting the advance of Empire.

In 1861, faced with increased conflict and the settler lust for land, Waikato Maori were presented with an ultimatum: retain your land only if you are strong enough to keep it. In response, Maori leader Wiremu Tamihana used Ephesians 2:13 to offer a theology of church and state which defended Maori political initiatives, reconceived international relationships and reimagined home.

A missiological reading of Tamihana’s theology yields important insights.

First, a creative public theology. Christians often turn to the kings of Israel, the two-sided coin in Matthew 22:15-22 or Romans 13:1-7 to conceive the relationship between church and state. Tamihana’s use of Ephesians preserves difference, seeks justice and offers a different understanding of religion and politics.

Second, the reversal of home. In Ephesians, those who are “once far off” are the Gentiles, whom God acts to redeem. Tamihana interprets those who are “once far off” as the English, brought “nigh” by the blood of Christ. Maori are understood as Israel: a creative reinterpretation.

Third, the power of Scripture translated. By 1835, Ephesians had been translated into Te Reo. Translation allowed Maori to read Scripture for themselves. As a result, Tamihana – in 1861 – used the Scriptures the colonisers brought to challenge colonising behaviour. Such is the power available when people are able to read Scripture in their own language.

Hence, from this example we see that central to mission studies is neither missionary nor method, but the creative work done by indigenous cultures in converting the message and resisting the power of empire.

Posted by steve at 08:59 PM

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Religion and politics: Learning with Wiremu Tamihana

I’ve just had a piece published in SPANZ. In the midst of concern about how to do theology after Empire and be the church in violent and unstable times, there is much reference to theologians in Europe, like Bonhoeffer. Why not also look here in New Zealand and learn from indigenous people who in times past have confronted colonising power wielding military might?

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Religion and politics don’t mix. It’s like mixing ice cream and manure, says Tony Campolo.

Over the holidays I read The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 by Vincent O’Malley. It’s a brilliant book – meticulous in research, clear in argument, attractive in presentation. The fast facts are sobering.
• War in the Waikato brought more British troops to New Zealand than were available for the defence of England.
• WW1 killed around 1.7% of the NZ population. Yet in the Waikato War, 4% of Maori died, including alarmingly high numbers of Maori women and children.
• Some forty years after the war, 3,549 Maori remained landless through land confiscation.

The Great War for New Zealand documents how Maori mixed religion and politics. In 1861, faced with increased conflict and the settler lust for land, Waikato Maori were presented with an ultimatum: retain your land only as long as you are strong enough to keep it.

In response, Maori leader, Wiremu Tamihana pointed to the presence of kings in Russia, France and Tahiti. If these kings were not required to submit to Britain’s Queen, should Maori? Tamihana then turns to religion, noting the “only connexion with you is through Christ” and quoting Ephesians 2:13 (KJV), “In Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”

Given this Scripture, Tamihana asks the British Crown to leave the Maori King and let the results “rest with our Maker.” For Tamihana, religion and politics clearly mix. Christ brings people together, God the Maker judges all leaders for the behaviours that result.

Tamihana clarifies his understanding of religion and politics in a later exchange. Placing two sticks in the ground he declared that one was the Maori King and the other the Governor. Across both he placed a third stick, representing the law of God and the Queen. Finally, he traced on the ground a circle around both sticks, [saying] ‘That circle is the Queen, the fence to protect them all’ (The Great War for New Zealand, 143). Again, we see the mixing of religion and politics. Again, God is the judge. This allows for differences, provides protection for all peoples and makes leaders accountable under God.

Reading Tamihana’s theology of religion and politics three things stand out.

First, the creative way in which religion and politics are mixed. Christians often turn to the kings of Israel, the two-sided coin in Matthew 22:15-22 or Romans 13:1-7. Tamihana’s use of Ephesians creatively points to ways that religion mixed with politics can preserve difference and ensure justice.

Second, the reading reversal. In Ephesians, those who are once far off are the Gentiles, whom God acts to redeem. For Tamihana, those who are once far off are the English, now “made nigh” by the blood of Christ. This connects Maori with Israel. It means those who arrive in New Zealand are brought by God. As such, their actions and ultimatums are judged by the character of Christ.

Third, the power of Scripture translated. Ephesians had been translated into Te Reo by 1835, the entire New Testament by 1837. Translation allows Maori to read Scripture for themselves. The result is Tamihana in 1861 challenging colonising behaviour from the Scriptures they have brought. Such is the power when people are encouraged to read for themselves in their own language.

As 2017 begins, our talkback is full of active discussion concerning race, identity and politics. In the months ahead, we face New Zealand elections, the reality of Brexit and a new President of the United States. Tamihana offers much wisdom. Religion and politics mix best when they appreciate difference, look to Christ in bridging between diverse groups and consider all peoples accountable to the character of Christ.

Posted by steve at 08:27 PM

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

paper acceptance Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific

I was delighted to hear today that a paper proposal I submitted for the Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific conference at the University of Auckland on March 24, 2017 has been accepted. The conference will bring together scholars of Christianity in a variety of disciplines to examine the cultural dynamics of the interaction between native peoples and transplanted Christian churches in the Pacific region. It will pay particular attention to the dynamic tension between centralized and localized religious culture.

My paper will be a development of research I presented at the International Association of Mission Studies conference in Korea in August 2016. I’ve continued to write and research for publication in the months since and am glad of the opportunity to also present my research in a Pacific and University environment. Here is the abstract I submitted:

“Hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

The interaction between Christianity and indigenous cultures can provide rich insights into cross-cultural exchange in liminal spaces. Equally the complexity of such insights can be masked by totalising narratives, including hagiography and Euro-centric imperialism.

One way to approach native Christianity in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is through Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. It has been acclaimed as PNG’s best historical novel (Moore, 2012). The post-colonial methodologies of Ashcroft (in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific, 2014) will be used to read The Mountain for indigenous agency in resistance and innovation. Such a reading requires locating Modjeska as an academic and novelist who refuses to accept totalising binaries, in both her writing and her life.

I will argue that the portrayal of native Christianity in The Mountain assumes indigenous approval and indigenization. Themes of ancestor gift and “hapkas” will be applied to Jesus as “good man true, he die for PNG” (Modjeska 2012: 291). The creative reworking by which native (Omie) people locate Jesus as ancestor gift of Canaanite descent will be examined. This is consistent with recent scholarship in which indigenous cultures are Old Testaments (Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, 1998; Brett 2003) and the book of Genesis a demonstration of indigenous faiths being woven respectfully into the story of Israel (The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism, 1992).

This subverts the “big man” as a key trope in the ethnography of Melanesia (Big Men and Great Men: Personifications of Power in Melanesia, 2009). It suggests that post-colonial theology pay attention to cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation. Or in the words of The Mountain: a “hapkas” Jesus who is “good man true” for PNG.

Dr Steve Taylor
Flinders University: Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership

Posted by steve at 07:30 PM

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Jesus and the ancestors

I spent a good part of yesterday in lecture preparation. I am teaching this weekend at Te Aka Puaho, working with Maori ministers in training. My topic is mission and I spent the bulk of my time in Matthew 1: the genealogy of Jesus.

ancestors

While I’ve never heard it used in mission, it is how Matthew begins the story of Jesus: with a genealogy. For indigenous cultures, with a strong sense of ancestors, genealogy is essential for identity.

I explored four headings

  • Deep mission – drawing on Mark Yettica-Paulson and his wonderful chapter “Mission in the Great South Land: An Indigenous Perspective” in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions).
  • Matthew begins with go – and the role of journeying in Abraham
  • Mission includes – and the four Canaanite woman – Tamar (Canaanite), Rahab (Canaanite), Ruth (Moabite) and Bathsheba (Hittite) – woven into Jesus bloodlines. Jesus has indigenous blood, those of Canaanite people.
  • Mission surprises – and the importance of ordinary, everyday, quiet actions by people that no-one notices.

It was a rich exploration, noting the absences, even in books like Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative.

Here’s my conclusion

When it comes to mission we face two temptations. One is to romanticize, to name all the positive things. The other is to recount all the negative and harmful impacts. The genealogy of Jesus offers a third approach. It begins with deep memory and a story of voyaging. It weaves indigenous cultures into the story. It tells the truth, refusing to romanticize, helping us see the courage of those marginalized by society.

Posted by steve at 06:58 AM