By Maggie Breen
This assembly has seen the introduction of a new statement concerning mission and evangelism. There seems to be something of a struggle within the Christian world, at least as it is presented here in Busan, between interpretations of mission and evangelism. There is a powerful interpretation that seems more focused on the idea of taking God to those who do not yet know Christ, while the other talks more overtly about uncovering where God is already at work and joining in.
The conversations are more complex than I have presented here and it is exciting, although sometimes difficult, to be part of the struggle to uncover the meaning in what others say, the values they hold and the spaces where there are intersections. Seems to me that as difficult as this can be it is
the only way to community and shared witness.
Many of these conversations center on the new World Council of Churches statement on mission which is based in the following core claims. Take a look -- they are pretty powerful:
Mission is essentially an affirmation of Trinitarian life.
The mission of the church flows from the outpouring of love, justice and equality that
characterizes and ties together the Holy Trinity. This approach to mission stands in contradiction to the accumulation of goods by the few. It is a counter-cultural approach with no place for discrimination of anyone or any place.
Mission must be Spirit-centered.
The Holy Spirit is discerned wherever life in its fullness is affirmed. The Spirit is not confined to the church community alone but is encountered outside church wherever the
struggle for fullness of life takes.
Mission must be creation-centered.
God's mission is cosmic, and the gospel is good news for every part of creation. The quest for eco-justice is hugely important, and we must act out of the understanding that
nature and its resources have the powers to heal. Creation is an agent of God's mission.
Mission from the margins.
This concept is described as the heartbeat of the new document. It challenges the conventional wisdom that mission and evangelism is done by the powerful to the powerless, from the center to the margins. The new statement affirms that people in the margins have agency and can often see what is out of view for people in the center. It goes on to say that "only the marginalized have the moral stamina to effect moral change and transformation." God chooses the vulnerable to fulfill God's mission to establish justice and peace. The last will be first. It is important to realize that this is not necessarily about moving people from the margins to the center, but it is about challenging those who remain at the center by keeping people at the margins.
As I said, the discussion and conversations about this statement and our relative values and histories can be difficult and exhausting, but it is encouraging to stand with thousands of sisters and brothers from around the globe and sing:
How long will we sing? How long will we pray? How long will we write and send?
A reminder that God is at work amongst us and we are called to abide with each other, with love and with persistence.
(Another good way to deal with thought-provoking and difficult conversations) :-)
Chuck Sigars is currently an elder at St. Andrew and a newspaper columnist and author.