We are inheritors of mission, not innovators of mission. We are participants in mission, not proprietors of mission. We are recipients of mission, not owners of mission. Mission belongs to the Triune God. Therefore, we are all partakers and partners in mission, not path-setters or trend-makers of mission. Christian mission has one origin--God. It has one goal—reconciling the world to Christ. Christian mission is not a destination. It is a journey – a journey the whole Church undertakes.
Right from its onset, Christian mission has been involved in cross-racial and cross-cultural engagements. The gospel that was preached and witnessed from the Jewish world of the first century was shared not by Westerners but by the Jewish converts living in the Mediterranean world. The gospel that was carried to all of Asia, Africa, and Europe, the then known world, was done primarily by the early apostles and converts from Judaism.
Today, the global south is the major area of Christian growth. More Christians are living in the global south than in the global north, and the focus of mission today has become multi-directional, “from everywhere to everywhere.” The former "Christian" lands of Europe and North America have seen church participation plummet, and the emergence of new forms of Christian community which have little to do with the established Christian congregations.
We, as inheritors of mission, are called to create new mission and theological categories in the context of worldwide, multicultural, polyphonic and pluralistic societies, as so many variables and uncertainties continue to challenge the followers of Jesus Christ.
Women class-leaders during John Wesley’s days, and later on itinerant ministers’ wives, lay women organized for mission in various predecessor organizations of the United Methodist Women, Bible women who undergirded the work of the missionaries in the receiving countries, and deaconesses in urban and rural settings undertook many journeys on one path: witnessing to Christ as embodiments of the church’s dynamic engagement in the world. Women have expanded the church’s vision in the use of inclusive language for God and expansive language for fellow human beings. Women’s ordination and women’s theologies have set milestones in leadership, agency, and decision-making as women.
Gender equity is still a process. Experiences of women differ, and their identities are shaped by intersections of their race, ethnicity, language, culture, sexuality, class, migrant and refugee experiences etc. Postmodernity has shown that there is no universal self. The needs and challenges of women doing theology in the contexts of indigenous communities, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and environmental disasters call for local, regional, and worldwide networks.
Women still have to negotiate their various identities in order to be in sisterhood in an unequal world. Mary Dustin’s well-meaning longing in her poem, “Who is our sister?” (1873) assumes a universal self, and remains a quest: “She is our sister who doth wear/ The robe of womanhood/ One worldwide sisterhood declare/ Beneath the pine and palm.”[i]
The challenge for women, like the rest of the church in the global north, is to move past the modernist past, to find ways forward. Today, a cultural hermeneutics of intersectionality needs to be fully developed and placed in service, for recognizing and respecting the various identity markers that shape women in the worldwide church.[ii] This multifaceted nature of women’s identity is a local, regional, and global reality. Gaps and interstices abound significantly in the lives lived out by women and children. An intersectional approach as well as a means to address the gaps and interstices has to be envisioned. A theology of interstices can help provide moving beyond analyses of the respective contexts to how to build bridges among the various margins. In the midst of their criss- cross journeys, negotiating their various social identities, women claim their baptismal identity in Christ, and bring gifts from the margins to the church.
The diverse and pluralistic nature of the church and its particularities are held together in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not a cosmetic or decorative diversity but a shared inclusivity and diversity in the building of the body of Christ. It is not merely empirical but organic. When one part of the body suffers the entire body suffers (I Cor. 12:26). In a mutually intertwined and globalized world such as ours, what the Christian community in one part of the world does has an impact on another part of the world. At the same time, each is an organ of the Body and exists for the sake of the community in which it is situated. The mission and ministry of the church, and all that it stands for, are related to the community where it is lived out.
Facilitating mission from the margins is a key missional responsibility today. The giving-receiving-and giving cycle does not begin with a mere sharing of material resources. It involves the sharing of knowledge, experience, technology, human potential, liturgy, wisdom of the church traditions, and anything that would enrich our mutual, witnessing mission and disciple-making ministries.
Mutuality is not profit-centered. It is a value; it is relations-based; it is a long-term, organic growth paradigm. Mission today cannot be done by the churches in the global south alone, or by the churches in the global north. We need each other, not just as mere organs to function, or merely to meet the needs of the dominant members of the body. We need one another to heal human communities and transform the whole of God’s creation. The connectionalism of the United Methodist Church is an enabler of mutuality.
The ecumenical movement, which began in the 1940s in order to bring together European churches, had indeed reached far beyond its boundaries in the 1960s and embraced the global Christian community. But in this century, ecumenism has lost its steam and faces new challenges.
The worldwide Christian community does not have just one mission theology or one universal Christianity but many theologies and many Christianities. This fragmented theology should not be taken as a sign of weakness but a source of strength as all are striving to be faithful followers of Christ in their respective communities as the worldwide body of Christ.
Ecumenicity today has to grapple with more than inter-denominational unity. It has to address multifaith concerns. At times, when politicization and ethnicization of religions tend to create narrow and closed understandings among adherents of various faiths, is there not a call for unity among common humanity? While addressing narrow interpretations of religions, when it comes to people of other religious faiths, we rely on Kingdom principles rather than church principles, as we all share a common humanity. As a community involved in Christ’s mission, we join hands to build a kin-dom where all of us live together in peace, justice, and harmony.[iii]
[i] Quoted in Karen Seat’s “Providence has Freed Our Hands”: Women’s Missions and the American encounter with Japan (Syracuse University Press, 2008), 112.
[ii] The term “intersectionality” was coined by Kimberlè Crenshaw in her article, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color” in Stanford Law Review. Vol. 43, No. 1. 1989, pages 1241-1299.
[iii] Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz coined the phrase, “kin-dom” of God to emphasize relationality, community, and equity as the basis of God’s reign. It is an obvious contrast to systems of oppression and relations of domination.