Thursday, May 9, 2024

Filipe Maia: Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology: Theological Engagements from the Underside of Methodism

The following is a preview excerpt from the Introduction to the recently published Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology: Theological Engagements from the Underside of Methodism, edited by Filipe Maia: This excerpt is used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers,

In August 2018, a group of scholars, pastors, and ecclesial leaders met at Wesley House in Cambridge, UK, to imagine and plot the decolonization of Methodist and Wesleyan traditions. Standing on British territory and under the shadow of the prestigious Cambridge University, the gathering embodied the ambivalent legacy of the Wesleyan tradition, birthed in the midst of British imperialism while cherished by Methodist communities in the postcolonial world. We were Methodist scholars and leaders from the Global South, immigrants in the diasporas of the Global North, all coming to Wesleyan theology via the complex entanglement between missionary movements and western colonialism.

While steeped in Wesleyan traditions, the group gathered in Cambridge embodied a Methodism that could not have been envisioned by John Wesley nor the missionaries who set out to spread “scriptural holiness” to all corners of the planet. In those corners of the world, Methodism gained new edges. Those of us meeting in British territory had returned to the birthplace of our theological and spiritual tradition with a difference. We noticed that claiming our Methodist roots demanded a reinterpretation of the tradition. The gathering showed that the Wesleyan theological tradition has been pluralized in the context of colonial and neocolonial expansion.

One of the ideas suggested by the group in Cambridge was the organization of an edited volume under the working title, Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology. This was more than a title: it was a task.

This volume is one response to that task. It gives testimony to the Methodist roots that grow in territories and bodies that uproot longstanding colonial forces. It has been envisioned, nurtured, and curated as a work of decolonial love. Authors in this volume write from multiple locations in the Global South where our Wesleyan heritage is giving new contours to the tradition.

Readers will most likely notice that the language of decline, so common in Methodist circles in North America, is rarely, if ever, mentioned. This is no indication that Methodism flourishes without difficulties in the Global South, but rather a statement about how contributors are less interested in thinking about the numerical decline of Christendom and more committed to a renewed Wesleyan theology that meets the harsh realities of a world still embedded in the structures of colonialism.

The decolonial approaches to Wesleyan theology offered in this volume give witness to a tradition that gains strength and vitality in decolonial struggles and in the engagement with traditions and ways of knowing that have been suppressed by western modernity.

The essays in this volume offer perspectives into a Methodism that lives and flourishes on the underside of colonial powers. From all corners of the planet, communities of faith in the Wesleyan tradition experiment with theological imaginaries and ecclesial practices that are transforming the face of global Methodism. Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology gives voice to these experiments while seeking to deepen the reflection in decolonial theologies and spiritualities.

As authors revisit the history of the Methodist movement, they witness to the different shapes Methodism gained in the colonies—old and new. As they revisit Wesley’s own writings and other important themes in Wesleyan theology and practice, they inhabit the cracks of our founder’s theology and turn it in unforeseeable directions.

It is worth mentioning that the volume that you are now engaging is but one element of the ongoing task of decolonizing Wesleyan theology and traditions. In fact, it is appropriate to approach this volume as a snapshot of an ongoing conversation. This book is the fruit of a larger project that involves monthly conversations among a global network of Methodist theologians and leaders.

The “World Parish Webinar” has been a platform where we have been shaping conversations in the direction of a decolonial Methodism. Since January 2020, we have been gathering monthly and our group has grown into a global parish, a “people on the move,” to borrow the expression from J. C. Park, developed in his essay later in this volume. This group has been called out as an assembly—an ekklesia—to retrain our theological ways of knowing and to conjure up a decolonial Wesleyan theology.

We have been put on the move through these webinars: we have become a migrant church, pilgriming through many locations as we pursue the task of decolonizing the Wesleyan tradition. The World Parish Webinar became a Pentecost of sorts, a place where we share good news with the accents of a multitude of locations, where we do not pursuit the homogeneity of Empire, but relish on the difference that resists the colonial dream of sameness, of a single voice, of one Wesley, of one homogenous church body. The webinar is ongoing and is convened through Wesley House in Cambridge. If you would like to join the conversation you are welcome to do so. Information can be found at Wesley House’s website.

Decolonizing Wesleyan theology entails the appreciation of difference and alternative forms of knowledge production, different modes of theological imagination, the recognition and negotiation of alternative inheritances. The essays included in the volume embody these principles as they construct a decolonial Wesleyan theology. Combining Wesleyan theology and decolonial theories, this volume offers a unique contribution to Methodist studies, global Methodism, and decolonial theologies.

Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology presents eight reflections that lead readers into deeper engagements with Methodism. They are as follows:

Filipe Maia: "The Wesleyan Quartet: Wesleyan Theology in the Decolonial Turn"

Pablo Guillermo Oviedo: "Grace that Liberates and Unites in the Mission of God: Liberation Theology and Wesleyan Theology in Latin America"

Pablo Manuel Ferrer: "A Decolonial Physic: Medical Science, Healing, and the Ecology of Knowledge in Methodism"

Elvira Moisés Cazombo: "Wesleyan Methodism and the Interruption of Ancestral Bodies in Angolan Liturgical Practices"

Virgínia Inácio dos Santos: "Ministering While Single: An Angolan Perspective on Methodism and Marriage"

Lilian Cheelo Siwila: "Trapped between the Pew and the Altar: Wesleyan Traditions and Decoloniality; An African Feminist Perspective"

J. C. Park: "Decolonizing the Church of Empire: The Church on the Move for Justice, Peace, and Life"

Amelia Koh-Butler: "Water and Sand: Illuminating Native Theologies with a Wesleyan Lens of Spiritual Experience"

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