When is it appropriate to appropriate? Why appropriation can be good. (Part 2)

“Not all appropriation is bad” may seem like an odd statement since in Part 1 of this topic I talked about all the reasons why appropriation is bad. In this part I intend to talk about one aspect of human culture that needs to be appropriated and if it isn’t appropriated then problems happen. I am talking of course about the good news of Jesus Christ.

Get this. The gospel is supposed to be appropriated. No one culture can claim ownership over it. No one group can say that they are the final authority on how the gospel should be understood and applied — such decisions need to happen in dialogue with everyone else. This is something very hard to do, granted, but also something that should be done. We know this because Jesus’ final command to his disciples — often called the Great Commission — is to spread this good news around the world.

Andrew Walls spent his life developing a framework of Transmission and Appropriation when it comes to the good news of Jesus Christ. What’s significant about Walls approach is that he sees not only the transmission side of things but also delves into the appropriation side as well. Appropriate is as intentional as transmission — eventually whatever is being transmitted is to subsequently be appropriated by the recipient. 

Walls talks about two types of recipients of the good news: Proselytes and converts. Proselytes adopt some one else’s encounter with God as their own while Converts adapt their own culture to reflect a new encounter with God. It may seem as if this is a two-stage process starting from proselyte and moving towards conversion but that is an over simplification of how things work. In fact in every culture we see examples of both co-existing. For example the practice of baptism, while debated as to its mode, is a nearly universally accepted practice among Christians, in spite of the fact that it originated in the Jewish religion.

The fact that the gospel is to be transmitted also implies that it will also be appropriated. Thus, Appropriation and Transmission must occur together. What’s also interesting is that ultimately the process also happens in reverse to create a richer transmission culture: The appropriator becomes the transmitter and the transmitter becomes the appropriator — or at least it should 🙂 Cultural hybridity is not a bad thing. In reality there are very few cultures that exist that have no interaction with other cultures. 

We have seen the dangers of what Bakhtin calls monologues — where only one person is allowed to speak. The results are staggering. 

Church participation in Cultural Genocide. I have already written a lot about this topic particularly as it relates to the Canadian Indian Residential Schools System but suffice it to say the church’s failure to listen to the voices of the Other in their missions efforts has been nearly universal. The “Other” is “someone or something who is perceived, either consciously or not, as alien or different.” In this example, while missionaries may recruit some of those they are on mission to into their own ranks, their otherness is often maintained as seen by the second example.

Marginalisation of Other clergy. My great-great-great-great grandfather, Rev. James N. Settee, was the second person of First Nations ancestry to be ordained as a priest in the Church Missionary Society (Anglican Church of Canada). He devoted his entire life to spreading the gospel among first nations peoples in Manitoba and Saskatchewan but was also forced to spend much of his time combatting the inconsistencies and discriminations that he himself experienced on a daily basis to the point that it hindered his ability to do actual ministry. What’s interesting is that he clearly appropriated the gospel into his life’s work but found baggage that needed to be peeled away in order for it to work in his context. 

Other examples. This can also been seen in the many Church splits and schisms that have marked church history as people took stands on where they thought the gospel should end — I suspect all done without acknowledging different contexts.

Rather than monologue, dialogues need to take place and it’s only through the use of dialogue that the appropriation of the good news of Jesus Christ can take place. We talked about Enriquez’ approach to what he calls indigenization from within, which is in effect a system of appropriation governed by insiders rather than outsiders and perhaps this is the best way for appropriation to take place — under the control of the Other!

Salin a Tagalog root word that means “translate” and also “pour” and talks about the process involved in making something one’s own in a different language or culture. Just as liquid is decanted from a pitcher into a glass, and thereby made useful, so also concepts can be decanted from one culture to another and more more understandable. But translation is more than simply making something more understandable — translation means that ownership is taken of the new word or phrase and making it one’s own. So how does someone make something one’s own? Here are a couple of examples from the Philippine context.

Sometimes this combination is more complex than merely combining indigenous and exogenous theories. Regardless of theoretical origins, other factors come into play that exert influence on human decisions, including sociopolitical purposes, religious institutional ends, and religious practitioners’ ends. The various actors, whether those in authority or those under oppression, are each able to exert their own will and influence outcomes. Wendt and Guazon each talk about the interaction of these three factors in the Philippines. Both describe situations where the original intent of the transmitters was re-purposed by the appropriators according to their own needs.

Wendt (1998) talks about fiesta, looking at both historical origins as a means of Spanish control that eventually was co-opted by Filipinos and reformulated into a real part of Filipino identity. Wendt says, “The functions originally intended to implement colonial rule, cultivate specific attitudes and stabilize the colonial system were counteracted to the same degree by the Filipinos’ incorporating the fiesta into their own ways of life and social structures.”

Guazon’s Crisis in the Formation of provisional members of a religious congregation in the Philippines is a study of the interactions between “formandi” and “formators” in the CICM, which is “Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae, the institute’s Latin name. CICM is a Roman Catholic male religious missionary institute of Belgian origin.” The formandi are acolytes desiring admission to the order and the formators are those charged with overseeing the initiation process. One would assume that the process is quite straight forward since the acolytes are the ones seeking admission and will presumably submit. This is not the case, however, with tension occurring on multiple levels. In the end, Guazon concludes that the formandi … are “active participants” in the process and appropriate the requirements of their new social system “according to their own cultural matrix.”

Feedback is always welcome.

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Image by Tyler Nix on Unsplash.

One thought on “When is it appropriate to appropriate? Why appropriation can be good. (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: When is it appropriate to appropriate? Why appropriation is bad. (Part 1) | Michael J. Fast

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