Did you know that Matthew 18’s instruction to “go, confront him when you are alone” isn’t the only Christian way to deal with conflict?

Basahin sa wikang Tagalog

Ask any Christian how to deal with conflict and they will pull out Matthew 18 because it lays out what many see as THE way for Christians to deal with interpersonal sin. For years the church has laid out the process of talk to the person individually, then if things don’t work out bring someone as a witness. Then, if things still don’t work out, bring the matter before the church and if that doesn’t work out then expel the person from the church. It’s pretty standard but what if I told you that this wasn’t the only biblical way that God’s people deal with sin? There are actually countless examples of other ways of doing the same thing that may be more relevant in other cultural contexts.

Because different cultures do indeed have differing ways of dealing with conflict. Indirect communication, through concepts such as pahiwatig [hinting] and pakikiramdam [sensing non-verbal cues], are at the core of communication and conflict resolutions of some Filipino and First Nations peoples. The Lupon tagapamayapa, or peacemaker board, is a key part of Philippine society and is one effective way in keeping peace in our communities.

Duane Elmer’s 1993 book Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry is a great biblical theology of conflict resolution that doesn’t limit itself to Matthew 18:15-20.

For Elmer, the Matthew 18 approach is especially useful in so-called Western societies where confrontation and frankness are cultural values. As Elmer says, even though “directness, confrontation, forthrightness and candid outspokenness are valued and expected in Western culture, in most of the world these same values, even when demonstrated respectfully, are considered rude, unrefined, ill-mannered, discourteous and even contemptuous” (p. 62). This approach is less useful in other culture settings where confrontation and frankness actually create more conflict. I would add that focussing solely on Matthew 18 provides excuses for those who are caught in sin because it can be used as an excuse to reject any process of reconciliation.

Elmer divides his approach into four categories. I will give a brief outline of Elmer’s argument including a definition and biblical example or two of each category. Elmer’s book goes far beyond this by giving real-world examples of how these various methods have worked effectively in cross-cultural settings however I should point out that Elmer approaches most of these situations as a cultural outsider. However, this doesn’t impact the biblical theology that he also develops in the book.

Mediation and the Mediator. One set of bible passages talks about how conflict is sometimes resolved through the use of an intermediary. Mediation is in fact a big theme in all of scripture, as we can see below.

1 Timothy 2:5-6 explicitly states — “There is one God. There is also one mediator between God and humans—a human, Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for all people to free them from their sins. This message is valid for every era.” Jesus’ role as mediator is expanded in John 3:17, Romans 5:10-11, and Hebrews 78.

Moses was a mediator in delivering the law, as Paul mentions in Galatians 3:19-20, and as outlined in Exodus 32:30-32 and Numbers 12:6-8.

Job wants a mediator to help him with his case in Job 9:33 — “There is no mediator between us to put his hand on both of us.”

Joab sets up a mediator between David and his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 14:1-4 in an effort to achieve peace.

Prophets (Deuteronomy 18:18-23) and priests (Exodus 28:1; Leviticus 9:7; 16:6; Hebrews 5:1-4) also served as mediators between God and humans.

Elmer says a mediator is a third party who is “respected, neutral, and objective” and who acts as a bridge between the two parties in conflict with the goal of achieving a win-win solution. According to Elmer, the use of a mediator when seeking reconciliation is normal in many cultures. As Elmer says, “many cultures of the world prefer indirect methods for handling conflict and potential conflict. One of the more common indirect methods is the use of a mediator. Neither the existence of a mediator nor the functions of a mediator are foreign to the scriptural account. While society may have contaminated the role of the mediator or used it for selfish, even evil purposes, it is still a legitimate role that needs to be understood and appropriately employed by Christians.”

The one-down position and vulnerability. Another set of Bible passages talk about how resolution sometimes takes place when one or both of the parties place themselves in either a vulnerable or a lower position. For example, when Abram and Lot’s shepherds have a conflict over grazing rights in Genesis 13:8, Abram takes the one-down position in seeking resolution by offering to transfer to another area.

Later on, Lot was in the one-down position because he had been captured by some rampaging kings in Genesis 14:5-12. Abram comes to rescue Lot from this position in Genesis 14:13-20.

David, in his conflict with Absalom, also assumes the one-down position. In 2 Samuel 14:1-4 Joab prompts the woman to say, “Help ⌞me⌟, Your Majesty” because this would put the woman in a one-down position to the king, who would then be obligated to help her.

Elmer says, “Taking the one down position means you make yourself vulnerable to another person or indicate that without their help you are in danger of being shamed or losing face.” “It is important for you not to cause another person to lose face or be ashamed, but if there is danger of this happening to you, you may call on another to protect you from losing face. In fact you may call even on the very one endangering your honor to save you from the same shame that may befall you” (p. 80). Elmer gives God’s dealings with Abram and David as examples.

Story-telling and proverbs. A third set of Bible passages emphasise stories as tools for resolving conflict.

Perhaps the best example of this in the Bible is when the prophet Nathan confronts King David over his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-9). Nathan tells an elaborate story of a rich man who steals a poor man’s beloved lamb. When David is enraged, Nathan stuns him by saying, “You are that man.” The result is David’s repentance.

Jesus also used this many times when he told parables in order to teach the values that he wanted taught. Conceivably, he could have directly gone around challenging people with their sin and saying, “Repent!” Rather he chose storytelling as his main form of interaction.

There are countless examples of Jesus telling parables, but some significant examples include Luke 18:10-14, when Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in an effort to both present hope to tax collectors and encourage repentance by the Pharisees.

Jesus also uses this method when confronted by the leaders in Matthew 21:23-27. When asked, “By whose authority do you do these things” Jesus replies by posing a puzzle that allows him to avoid a direct confrontation.

The effectiveness of this method is shown later on in Matthew 21:33-46 when Jesus tells the story of the man who rented his vineyard. His servants, sent to collect his portion of the produce, are mistreated and his son is killed. When the story is over we learn that the chief priests and Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them — meaning that Jesus was able to indirectly get his message across.

Elmer again: “Storytelling in this sense is not simply the use of stories but … the instructional, corrective and nuanced use of words …. to socialize the younger members of a society into the norms and values of that society. Yet these same tools are easily crafted into responses in conflict situations.”

Note also the progression included in this option: One is allowed to become more direct if the intended targets of the story don’t quite make the connection with themselves.

Inaction, misdirection, silence, and indefinite persons. The final set of Bible passages we will look at talks about how conflict is sometimes resolved using indirect means. Some cultures emphasize more indirect forms of interaction and this leads to another type of conflict management that emphasizes indirectness.

Shiphrah and Puah are two Hebrew midwives discussed in Exodus 1:8-19. After being ordered by the Pharaoh “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth, look at the child when you deliver it. If it’s a boy, kill it, but if it’s a girl, let it live,” the midwives respond to the Pharaoh’s request in several ways: silence in that the passage doesn’t record any direct answer from them to the Pharaoh’s order; inaction (v17) in that “they didn’t obey the king of Egypt’s orders”; and misdirection (v19) in that they blamed the Hebrew women’s health as the reason why they couldn’t obey. This story may seem odd, at least from a Western perspective that might interpret the midwives as being dishonest. However, the fact that “God was good to the midwives” tells us that he approved of their methods.

We also see these principles in the stories of King Saul (1 Samuel 10:27) and in Esther.

In Mark 9:33-37 we read that Jesus’ disciples “were silent.” This is because they wanted to save themselves from the shame of having to confess what they were discussing on the road. Jesus doesn’t confront them about this but rather uses an indirect object lesson to help them better understand the very question they were arguing about.

Jesus himself uses silence when the Pharisees tried to force him to condemn the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. He then uses misdirection to turn the question back to the accusers when he says, “The person who is sinless should be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And of course Jesus also remained silent in Matthew 27:14 when being questioned by Pilate.

In talking about silence Elmer says, “silence does not mean the issue is settled or that some agreement has been reached. It usually means a delay until another appropriate strategy can be employed…. There is a time for silence and a time for forthrightness. It seems that the gravity of the issue is one indicator for choosing, as is timeliness.”

Some concluding remarks. One key to these alternative biblical forms of conflict management is to realise that none of them are exclusive. Rather one can cycle through various forms of these approaches with the goal of arriving at a win-win situation in the end. It is also important to note that we need to use culturally appropriate forms of conflict resolution, with the goal of actual resolution. We don’t just want to pick and choose the method that will best support our side of the issue. We need to choose the approach that will best lead to resolution.

This might seem like an opportunity to go “conflict resolution shopping” and choose the option that will best serve our side of the conflict. That isn’t the point of this exercise. What this is trying to show us is that sometimes using Matthew 18’s approach solidifies the conflict rather than resolving it because it is intended to be used in a particular cultural setting. Choosing one of the other options may lead to better results in other contexts.

It is also a good place to mention, at least in passing, that so-called Western theologies are hegemonic. This means that they have, by virtue of the volumes written by westerners taken predominance and exterted power over the Other. This needs to change as other cultures enter into the conversation with their own contexts and systems. The result will be a theology that is richer in the end.

What do you think of Elmer’s assertions? Do you think this provides the church with some better options for dealing with and resolving conflict? Are there unresolved issues that you have with someone that would be fixed if you had followed another process?

I want to hear your voice. That’s why feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Charl Folscher on Unsplash.

Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®.
© 1995, 2003, 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020 by God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society. 
Used by permission.

ECQ na naman! “Kailan ba Panginoon?” o “Nasaan ka ba, Panginoon?”

English

ECQ[1] na naman! Dahil kay Delta Variant ng COVID-19 itinaas muli ang ECQ sa QC. Ito ay para sa ating kaligtasan. Pero, nakakalungkot diba? Akala natin na ok na tayo dahil higit pa sa isang taong nag social distancing, naghugas kamay, nag suot ng facemask at shield, nag stay-at-home pa. At lahat tayo ay ready magpabakuna pag oras natin. Pero mukhang wala sa atin kamay ang solution sa problema nito.

Sa mga ganitong panahon, naalala natin ang sinabi ng Panginoon sa mga Israelita noong Jeremias 29:11, “Alam ko kung paano ko tutparin ang mga plano ko para sa kabutihan n’yo at hindi sa kasmaan n’yo, at plano para bigyan kayo ng pag-asa na magkaroon kayo ng mabuting kinabukasan.” Napatanong tayo kapag naalala natin ito ng “Kailan ba Panginoon?” o “Nasaan ka ba, Panginoon?”

Kinakailangan natin balikan ang konteksto nitong verse sa Biblia upang sagutin ang tanong natin. 
Sa panahon kasi ni Jeremias, hindi maganda ang kalagayan ng bansang Israel dahil sa kanilang mga kasalanan. Ang biling ng Panginoon kay Jeremias ay maipahayag sa mga taong bayan kung ano ang plano ng Panginoon sa kanila. Sabi kasi ng Panginoon na dadahihin sila sa Babylonia bilang parusa ng kanilang mga kasalanan. 70 na taon ang panahon ng kanilang pagkabihag na binigay ng Panginoon sa pamamagitan ni Jeremias. Pero ayaw maniwala ng mga taong bayan at ng mga ibang mga false prophets kaya sabi nila na hindi sila tatagal sa Babylonia. Mga dalawang linggo lamang ang panahon ng pagkabihag doon. 

Kahit pinaparusahan sila ng Panginoon, ok sa Kanya na mawawala sila sa Lupang Pangako for 70 years dahil kapag nasa Babylonia nasa kalooban pa rin sila ng Panginoon. Kahit tayo ay nasa ECQ or anumang antas ng restrictions, nasa kalooban pa rin tayo ng Panginoon!

Unang una, sasabihin ko sa inyo na kahit naniniwala ako na ang COVID-19 ay isang masamang bagay, hindi ako naniniwala na ang COVID-19 ay isang parusa ng Panginoon. Pero naniniwala ako na hindi normal ang pagkakasakit. Noong nilikha ng Panginoon ang sanlibutan hindi pa kasama doon ang sakit (Genesis 1:31). Ang sakit ay dahil sa kasalanan ng mga tao. Kaya may mga sakit ang mundo natin ngayon pero may darating din na panahon kung kailan mawala ang mga sakit sa mundo (Pahayag 21:4). 

Meron tayong pwedeng matutunan mula sa sinasabi ni Jeremias patungki sa mga bagay na hindi normal. 

Medyo kakaiba ang sinabi ng Panginoon sa mga Israelita. Imbis na maghintay lamang ang kanilang pagbalik, dapat makikisalamuha sila sa bago nilang lugar. Magiging bahagi dapat sila ng Babylonia — “Magtayo kayo ng mga bahay at doon kayo tumira. Magtanim kayo at kumain ng inyong ani. Magasawa kayo at nang nagkaanak kayo.”

Hindi tumitigil ang buhay kapag hindi normal ang ating kalagayan. Hindi pwedeng magsabi ng “pag maayos na ang buhay ko tsaka ako ako kikilos.” Sabi sa atin ng Panginoon, “Kumilos na kayo kahit hindi pa ayos ang kalagayan mo.” 

At hindi lang yun. Dapat din “Tumulong kayo para sa kabutihan at kaunlaran ng lungsod sa pinagdalhan sa inyo.” Ano ba’ng ibig sabihin?

  • Maging masunurin tayo sa mga batas patungkol sa pandemya kasi “para sa kabutihan at kaunlaran ng lungsod.” 
  • Mag hugas ang ating mga kamay, mag-social distancing tayo, mag suot tayo ng facemask at face shield, manatili tayo sa bahay kapag kinakailangan, at mag work from home tayo kung pwede. 
  • Magpa lista tayo sa pagpapapbakuna at pag dating ng panahon magpabakuna tayo. 
  • Ipananalangin natin ang mga taong namamahala sa COVID-19 response ng bansa. 
  • Tulungan natin ang mga taong nahirapan dahil sa pandemya. 

Pagkatapos ng sinabi nito, sinabi ng Panginoon, “Alam ko kung paano ko tutuparin ang mga plano ko para sa kabutihan n’yo at hindi kasamaan nyo.” Ibig sabihin, depende din sa atin pagsunod ang pagtupad ng mga plano ng Diyos. 

Meron kasing tao na binabaha ang bahay. Kaya umakyat sa bubongan nya at nagdasal, “Panginoon iligtas mo ako sa baha.” 

Meron dumaan na rescue mula sa baranggay. “Sakay na po kayo para maligtas kayo!” 

“Ok lang ako. Ililigtas kasi ako ng Panginoon” ang kanyang tugon. 

Meron dumaan na taong naka-banca. “Sakay na po kayo para maligtas kayo!” 

“Ok lang ako. Ililigtas kasi ako ng Panginoon” ang kanyang tugon. 

May dumaan na helicopter nang lumalapit sa kanya. “Sakay na po kayo para maligtas kayo!” 

“Ok lang ako. Ililigtas kasi ako ng Panginoon” ang kanyang tugon. 

Sa wakas nalunod sya sa baha at nag-puntang langit. Pagdating nya doon, nag-tanong sya sa Panginoon. “Lord, bakit hindi mo sinagot ang aking hilining sa iyo? Bakit hindi mo ako niligtas sa baha?”

“Ano ba?” sabi ng Panginoon. “Nagpadala ako ng rescue, ng banca, at ng helicopter pero ayaw mong sumakay!”

Minsan kasi naghahanap tayo ng milagro pero ang tugon ng Panginoon ay ang mga normal na bagay. 

Paano ka bang sinasagot ng Panginoon ngayon panahon ng ECQ muli? 

Palaging malugod na tinatanggap ang puna.

Ginagawa ng mga kaibigan ang pag-share. 

Larawan ni Erik Mclean sa Unsplash. 
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[1] Sa mga hindi nakakaalam, ang ECQ ay Enhanced Community Quarantine. ang ECQ ay ang pinaka-mataas na antas ng anti-COVID-19 measures na pwedeng ilagay ng Philippine Government. 

It’s ECQ again! “When, Lord?” or “Where are you, Lord?”

It’s ECQ [1] again! Due to Delta Variant of COVID-19 the ECQ was raised again in Quezon City. Even though it’s for our safetly, it’s sad isn’t it? We thought we were ok because for more than one year we have social distanced, washed our hands, worn a facemask and faceshield, and stayed-at-home. And we are all ready to get vaccinated when it’s our time. But it seems like things are out of our control. 

At times like this, we remember what the Lord said to the Israelites in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know how to carry out my plans for your good and not for your evil, and plan to give you of hope for a better future” (God’s Word). This makes us ask the question, “When, Lord?” or “Where are you, Lord?”

We need to go back to the context of this biblical verse to answer our question. In Jeremiah’s day, the nation of Israel was in a bad state because of their sins. The Lord’s command to Jeremiah was to reveal to the people what the Lord had planned for them. The Lord said that they would be taken to Babylon as punishment for their sins. The period of their captivity given by the Lord through Jeremiah was 70 years. But the people and the other false prophets did not want to believe so they said that they would not stay in Babylonia. They said the captivity there would only be about two weeks.

Even if the Lord was punishing them, it is ok with Him that they will be gone from the Promised Land for 70 years because when they are in Babylonia they are still in the will of the Lord. Even if we are on ECQ or any level of restrictions, we are still in the will of the Lord!

First of all, I will tell you that even though I believe that COVID-19 is a bad thing, I do not believe that COVID-19 is a punishment of the Lord. But I do believe the illness is not normal. When the Lord created the world, disease was not included (Genesis 1:31). Sickness is due to sin. So while there are diseases in our world today there will also come a time when the diseases of the world will disappear (Revelation 21:4).

We can learn something from what Jeremiah says about things that are not normal.

The Lord said something different to the Israelites. Instead of just waiting for their return, they should socialize in their new place. They were to be part of Babylon: “Build houses and live in them. Plant and eat your crops. Get married and have children.”

Life does not stop when our condition is not normal. It is not possible to say “when my life is in order I will act.” The Lord tells us, “Act now, even when things aren’t perfect.”

And that’s not all. You must also “Contribute for the good and prosperity of the city to which you are brought.” What does that mean?

  • Let us be obedient to the laws regarding pandemics because “for the good and development of the city.”
  • Wash our hands, wear a facemask and face shield, stay home when necessary, and work from home if possible.
  • Let’s make a list of vaccinations and when the time comes we will be vaccinated.
  • Pray for those in charge of the pandemic restrictions, that God may continue give them wisdom. 
  • Find ways to help those who are in need because of the pandemic. 

After saying all of this, the Lord then says, “I know how to carry out my plans for your good and not your evil.” That is, the fulfillment of God’s plans also depends on our obedience.
There was a man whose house was flooding. So he climbed on his roof and prayed, “Lord save me from the flood.”

Soon after that a rescue vehicle came from the local government unit. “Get in and be saved!”

“I’m fine. The Lord will save me” was his response.

Someone passed by in a small boat. “Get in and be saved!”

“I’m fine. The Lord will save me” was his response.

A helicopter passed by as it approached him. “Get in and be saved!”

“I’m fine. The Lord will save me” was his response.

He finally drowned in the flood and went to heaven. When he got there, he asked the Lord.

“Lord, why didn’t you answer my request to you? Why didn’t you save me from the flood?”

“What?” saith the Lord. “I sent a rescue vehicle, a small boat, and a helicopter but you want to get in any of them!”

Sometimes we want a miracle but the Lord’s response is something more normal.

How is the Lord answering you now during this ECQ repeat?

Feedback is always welcome.

Friends do the sharing.

Photo by Erik Mclean at Unsplash.
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[1] For those who don’t know, ECQ is Enhanced Community Quarantine. ECQ is the highest level of anti-COVID-19 measures that the Philippine Government can put in place.

“I wonder who planted these trees?” Understanding our own defaults, biases, & assumptions.

Each one of us has defaults, biases, and assumptions. That is a reality. These defaults shape the way we see and understand the world. I remember a SEATS class I held on a small island in the east side of the Philippines. We were discussing Jesus’ famous illustration of the lily of the fields. The students were reporting after some group work on what they thought the illustration meant and I was struck by one thing: Interpretation depends not only on linguistic context but also on cultural context. A “lily” in the Philippines grows in the water. You may call them them lily pads or water lilies. The lily Jesus was talking about is different because it grows in the fields. There was a lot of discussion about this.

What is my default? My mind defaults to Saskatchewan. I wasn’t born here, I don’t live here (other than temporarily because of COVID-19) but I did spend my formative years here. I guess that’s what makes it my default. So how does this default manifest? In maps. When I look at a map my mind automatically assumes that the topography around the various map points is similar to Saskatchewan. If you have never been you need to visit sometime. Saskatchewan is an incredibly beautiful place, with vast boreal forests, rushing rivers, magnificent valleys, and living skies. But in spite of all of these things, Saskatchewan is known for being like one thing — a billiard table. It’s flat. There are few trees, at least in the south. When you arrive at in intersection on the highway you can expect to see nothing beyond two roads converging. When we were kids we spent some time planting trees for use as shelterbelts to keep the winds from blowing crops away.

Sometimes we don’t realise our biases. I didn’t realise my bias about geography until I moved to British Columbia in the early 1990s. Eva and I were moving from Saskatchewan to BC and I remember driving down Highway 1 into Langley, BC. The Highway is lined with beautiful, large trees — forests actually. I remember thinking to myself, “Somebody must have spent a lot of time planting these trees.”

It was odd that I assumed they were planted because I had driven through the bush before in several provinces (and even in other countries). I even dreamed of living in the bush at one time. But for some reason this was different. In my mind, these trees were planted. I didn’t realise those were my thoughts until a few months passed and it all of a sudden hit me — these trees were natural! No one planted them. In fact people spent lots of time and effort to cut them down!

It got me thinking about other assumptions that I have about life. Growing up in Saskatchewan told me that the noon meal is called “dinner” and the evening meal is called “supper.” I must admit that years of living in other places has me saying “lunch” and “dinner” but that’s not the way I grew up.

Of course the only way to figure out what your assumptions and biases are is to interact with others or travel to new places but this process is essential for ensuring that we can accurately and fairly present Jesus’ truths to the world.

Do you have any idea what your assumptions and biases are?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Emic vs Etic: Understanding how insider & outsider perspectives interact when doing theology. An example from the Philippines.

Cross-cultural interactions are a part of my everyday life. Is there a theology of cross-cultural interaction? There have been many. Unfortunately they don’t always have good results. Take for example the whole residential school debacle in Canada that started from faulty theology codified in the doctrine of discovery but stemming from long-seated ideas of cultural superiority.

Churches quite often have deep seated assumptions about “the world” that aren’t in fact true. Case in point. When I was in Grade 5 our class received a Gideons New Testament (is that still a thing). Afterward we were all talking in the boot room about the NT and I said to one of my classmates, “What are you going to do? Rip it up?” He looked at me like I was crazy. What possessed me to say that? I had been told my whole life in Sunday school that the world was opposed to Christians. Guess what? That wasn’t true after all. It seems that I as a Christian had assumptions that were untested.

So how can we move away from assumptions towards actual empirical data about the world around us? Last week I wrote about how the church can partner with the world in things like this. Some commented that the post was short on the “How” so I thought that I might give a more concrete example. We need to develop ways to better understand the world to make sure that we are asking and answering the right questions – to make sure that the message we exegete from the Bible is presented in a relevant way to those who are not yet followers of Jesus Christ. Anthropology can help us understand that. 

The following comes from planning some conversations I had with Filipino men about their masculinity and religiosity. I had heard that men are less religious than women but wanted to find out for myself if that was true. I decided to plan some research that tried to discover what is called the insider viewpoint.

Because many religious systems in the Philippines are from external sources, and because male participation in those systems is universally identified as being lesser than that of women, it is important to discover how Filipino males have constructed their understandings of pagbabalik-loob, pagkalalaki, and maka-Diyos. This calls for an emic approach to the problem rather than an etic one. Oxford defines emic as “studying or describing a particular language or culture in terms of its internal elements and their functioning rather than in terms of any existing external scheme.” Etic is defined as “studying or describing a particular language or culture in a way that is general, non-structural, and objective in its perspective.” Thus, an etic approach looks at the problem from outside, while the emic approach looks at the problem from inside. 

Origins of the Emic/Etic concept. Pike (1967) defined the terms etic and emic as “etic viewpoint studies behavior as from outside of a particular system,” while the “emic viewpoint results from studying behavior as from inside the system” (p.37). Pike wanted to move from etics to emics.

There is a debate about the validity of using an emic approach in seeking to understand a culture on its own terms. In fact, this debate is behind the development of ethnoscience worldwide.  What is often missed in the debate is the reality that all forms of science are emic in that whatever frameworks or structures are developed are developed from the emic perspectives of a specific culture. They merely become etic once applied to another culture.  

Bennagen (1980) discusses the “Asianization” of anthropology “to help strengthen Asia’s rightful claim to its heritage as well as to its visions of man, society and culture” (p. 1; see also Mendoza, 2016).  

Geertz (Geertz 1973b) championed what some have called an “actor-centered view is central to Geertz’s work, however, it was never developed into an actual theory or model” (Hudson et al, 2009). 

Harris (1976) adapted Pike’s terms. For him, emic was the focus on a single culture while etic was the “comparison of two or more cultures as a means of identifying common characteristics” (Olive, 2014). Harris saw emics and etics as equally valid – there was no advantage to be gained from an etic approach and thus no need to try to discover the emic.

He has an example the difference between an emic and an etic understanding of male to female cattle ratios in India. Approaching the issue from an emic perspective, Harris says that locals identify the causes of higher mortality of male calves is due to a variety of naturally-occurring causes. Approaching the issue from an etic perspective, however, causes Harris to ascertain that higher male calf mortality is due to the locals’ manipulation of naturally-occurring events that are economically determined. Harris’ conclusion is that by relying solely on an emic approach, the researcher misses the etic realities of what he calls “bovicide.”  

I suggest that another factor may be at play here. Harris’ emic reasons for the ratio include “that males ate less than the females…. because they were not permitted to stay at the other’s teats for more than a few seconds” (p. 33). I find the words “not permitted” to be telling because here we have the locals themselves giving the reasons for why the male calves die. It seems that Harris didn’t follow up on this clue to discover what else the locals might want to tell him about this process.  

An indigenous approach here might be helpful. Enriquez (1994) discusses pakikipagkapwa, or Filipino interpersonal relations, as divided into two categories — Ibang-Tao [“outsider”] and Hindi-Ibang-Tao [“literally “not-‘other’-person” and therefore an insider”] each in turn divided into several other stages (see also Pe-Pua et al, 2000; Lapiz, 2010, refers to these as Tagalabas [“From the outside”] and Tagaloob [“From the inside”], respectively). Information passed from one person to another varies based upon the relationship between the two parties. If the two parties are in the Ibang-Tao category the informant will seek to pass on information that they perceive to be what the researcher wants to hear. If the two parties are Hindi-Ibang-Tao, then the information passed on more accurately reflects the reality. Pe-Pua et al recommend that “the first level under Hindi-Ibang-Tao, which is pakikipagpalalgayan-loob (level of mutual trust, understanding, rapport) should be reached, at the minimum, in order to be assured of good quality data” (Pe-Pua et al, 2000, p. 59).  

Another hallmark of Filipino communication is pahiwatig [“hint”], or indirect communication. According to Maggay (2002)ang pahiwatig marahil ang pinakalaganap at maaaring masabing pinakabuod ng ating kulturang pangkomunikasyon” [“the hint is perhaps the most widespread and possibly the best summary of our culture of communication”] (p. 24). It is also defined as “hindi tuwirang pagpapahayag sa isang bagay, idea, o saloobin” [“a thing, idea, or thought is not revealed in a direct manner”] (UPDF) or as “di tuwirang pagpapaabot ng mga mensahe” [“messages are not delivered in a straight way”] (Maggay, 2002, p. 24). Information is revealed over a period of time and is not given all at once. The pahiwatig is an invitation for the researcher to dig deeper to find out the truth that is not yet fully revealed. Jocano (1999) speaks of a multilevel process of communication starting with pahiwatig [“hinted at”], moving through pabatid [“informed about”], and finally into pahayag [“revealed”]. Thus discovering truth in the Philippine context is an extended affair as layer after layer of truth is slowly revealed as the relationship between the researcher and the researched draw ever closer together. 

Now granted, Harris’ example is from India that may have different cultural norms from the Philippines, but that doesn’t belie the fact that there was “truth” in the emic investigation that Harris perhaps didn’t explore fully. Harris’ own example shows that the locals did reveal the cause of the ratio (i.e. “males …. not permitted” to eat) but there is no evidence that Harris pursued the conversation to it’s fullest extent.  

Thus in Harris’ example above, the farmers themselves are revealing the reality behind the ratio differences in an indirect way and inviting him to discover more through further communication.  

I argue that an indigenous approach to the issue would have led to Harris’ realization that the locals were in-fact telling him the reasons for cattle ratios but that his framework was unable to adequately aid him in this discovery. Thus his use of an etic framework allowed him to see a disconnect between the ideology (killing cattle is prohibited) and economy (cows are more economically advantageous than bulls) of his subjects in India. Imagine the study Harris could have had in discovering in partnership with the locals their strategies for dealing with the needs of both their ideological system and their economic system!  

The emic approach and Philippine studies of masculinity. The emic approach is common in Philippine studies.  

Pingol (2001), in her study of Ilocano men, states that she want to focus “more on emic rather than etic – the men’s understanding of themselves, how they construct themselves, how they remain men in their own eyes, or as viewed by their relatives and their community” (p. 16). 

Zialcita (2005) also takes an emic approach because it “looks at the data from the point of view of the actor; it seeks to understand in their own terms the reasons advanced by the actor for his thinking and acting” (Kindle location 1924).  

Mojares (2006), in his discussion of trying to recreate the way early Filipinos thought, struggled with the pull of emic and etic. He talked of trying to find a middle ground between “a facile universalizing and the exoticizing of difference; between the location out of which we are speaking and that ‘nation’ we are moving towards; between the need for political constructions and the awareness of their fictive character; between the claim to moral ascendancy and the practical requirements of power; and between the importance of the ‘native’s point of view’ and the dangers of turning it into a fetish” (p. 7)  

Moving into our present study, Houtman offers insights into understanding religiosity without using the frameworks developed by organized religions.  

Emic, Etic and our Problem. Houtman (2014) suggests that the study of religion can benefit from an emic approach. Rather than focusing on general definitions researchers should instead “let those under study decide whether and how religion is ‘real’ or ‘unreal’. It is they who can tell researchers in what sense they consider themselves ‘religious’ and/or ‘spiritual’, what exactly this means for them, and whether and how all this drives their behavior beyond the strictly private realm” (p. 20).  

There are in existence in the Philippines a variety of sets of preconceived notions of what it means to be a man or to even be a godly man. These have been formulated in the various world religions that have taken hold in the Philippines, especially Christianity and Islam. Christianity can be further subdivided into two sometimes-opposing conceptualizations that need to be understood on their own. A look at the intersections between maka-Diyos, and pagkalalaki would benefit from an emic approach. However, this study’s desire for an emic approach to the issue of Filipino male spirituality[1] is not so much a desire to ignore external structures and definitions and to favor indigenous structures and systems. Rather it is based on a desire to discover what, in fact, these indigenous emic structures and systems are. To date there has been very little work done to develop a philosophy or a theology connected with Filipino male spirituality. 

Criticisms of Emic-Etic approaches. There are no pure cultures and thus no pure emic-etic divide. All cultures use their own frameworks to evaluate the things they experience and sometimes these frameworks are in an etic form and sometimes in an emic form.

As Guillermo (2003) said, having too much focus on the emic removes any reason for interpretation to begin with. “The complete unification of the consciousness of the social scientist with an increasingly transparent object of analysis would be none other than the end of hermeneutics itself.” Which raises the question of for whom is the interpretation? It implies a cross-cultural facet that is essential to the process. Certainly someone within the culture is in no need of a hermeneutical framework but also someone who is completely outside of a culture can use no other framework than the one she brings with her. Of course, this is beside the point that no culture is pure or unsullied from outside influences. The key is finding a balance between the two that allows each side to see the other’s perspective and perhaps gain some understanding on their own. Thus, there must be a dialogic aspect to research. 

But the fact that there is cultural relativity (ala Franz Boas) implies that some level of hermeneutics is needed in understanding what one sees. For example, the sight of two men walking down the street hand-in-hand has different meanings in different parts of the world. Growing up in Canada two males holding hands was undeniable evidence that the two were in a homosexual relationship. However in the Philippines best friends not only hold hands but walk unashamedly down the street with their arms around one another shoulders. It is only through dialogue between etic and emic actors that one can determine the hermeneutical key. The goal of balancing the emic with the etic guides this research into a specific series of frameworks. 

I propose that seeking the insider view is a key part of church ministry. Only by having conversations with others can we discover our own blind spots and find ways to connect in meaningful ways with others.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.


1. The history of term Filipino is long and storied and beyond the scope of this paper. Coupled with this is the terms’ grammatical gender: Filipino refers to males and Filipina refers to females. Thus the term “Filipino male spirituality” is technically redundant. However since this redundancy is not necessarily seen nor understood outside of the Philippine context, for clarity this paper will use the term Filipino to denote people from the Philippines, regardless of their gender. 


References:

Bennagen, P. L. (1980). The Asianization of AnthropologyAsian Studies, 18, 1-26.

Enriquez, V. G. (1994). Pagbabangong-dangal: Indigenous psychology and cultural empowerment. Quezon City: Akademya ng Kultura at Sikolohiyang Pilipino.

Geertz, C. (1973). Religion as a cultural system. In C. Geertz, The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. London: Fontana Press.

Guillermo, R. (2003). Exposition, Critique and New Directions for Pantayong PananawKyoto Review of Southeast Asia, 3.

Harris, M. (1976). History and Significance of the emic-etic distinctionAnnual Review of Anthropology, 5, 329-350. doi:10.1146/annurev.an.05.100176.001553

Houtman, D. (2014, September). Pure religion and real sacrality: Authenticating Religion beyond Institutions and Traditions. Paper prepared for the summer seminar: Religion and Culture in a Globalized World, Questioning our Research Frames, University Centre Saint Ignatius Antwerp (UCSIA) University of Antwerp.

Hudson, S., Smith, C., Loughlin, M., and Hammerstedt, S. (2009). Symbolic and interpretive anthropologies. In Anthropological Theories, Department of Anthropology, The University of Alabama. 

Jocano, F. L. 1. (1999). Working with Filipinos: A cross-cultural encounter. Quezon City: PUNLAD Research House. 

Lapiz, E. (2010). Pagpapahiyang: Redeeming culture and indigenizing Christianity. [Manila: Christ Strengthening Ministries.]

Maggay, M. (2002). Pahiwatig: Kagawiang Pangkomunikasyon ng Filipino. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University.

Mendoza, S. L. (2016). Doing “indigenous” ethnography as a cultural outsider: Lessons from the Four SeasonsJournal of International and Intercultural Communication. doi:10.1080/17513057.2016.1154181

Mojares, R. B. (2006a). Reconstituting the mental life of sixteenth-and seventeenth century Philippines. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, 34(1), 1-10.

Olive, James L. (2014). Reflecting on the Tensions Between Emic and Etic Perspectives in Life History Research: Lessons Learned [35 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 15(2), Art. 6.

Pe‐Pua, R., & Protacio‐Marcelino, E. A. (2000). Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino psychology): A legacy of Virgilio G. Enriquez. Asian Journal of Social Psychology3(1), 49-71. doi: 10.1111/1467-839X.00054

Pike, K. L. (1967). Etic and emic standpoints for the description of behavior. In K. L. Pike, (Ed.), Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Nature. The Hague: Mouton de Gruyter, 37-72. doi: 10.1515/9783111657158.37

Pingol, A. T. (2001). Remaking masculinities: identity, power, and gender dynamics in families with migrant wives and househusbands. Quezon City: UP Center for Women’s Studies.

Zialcita, F. N. (2005). Authentic Though Not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University. Kindle version.

Church and Crisis Today: How Philippine Religious Consciousness can better inform how the rest of the world does church?

So, let’s talk about the church. What does church really mean? When it comes down to the idea of how we respond to COVID we have to realize that we’re talking about different aspects to church. We can look at the church as both gathered and scattered. Sometimes the church gathers together and sometimes the church is scattered and spread apart. Sometimes the church has both gathered and scattered aspects existing simultaneously. For example, sometimes a church has a Sunday-morning gathering, a weekly small group – known by various names including cell church, small group, Bible study, the life group, discipleship group, and more – as well as members who spend most of their time in their respective physical communities as well as their workplaces, homes, and selected third spaces. Sometimes the concept is explained using cells with single shell churches meeting Sunday mornings but multiple cell churches meeting anytime throughout the week. What all of this means is that there are multiple ways of understanding the concept of church.

But perhaps the most traditional model is the single cell model of a church that gathers on a Sunday morning in what is often called a congregation. This is actually not a traditional Philippine way of worship. Spain’s introduction of the concept of church to the Philippines involved a lot of reengineering of Philippine society. Spain used a colonial system called reducciones where they would gather scattered people into communities, called Poblacion or plaza complex in the Philippines. Here you have the church, the municipal Hall, and the market with people living in the surrounding blocks. The distance that you could be away from the church was restricted by the sound of the church bell. This is called baja de campana, or under the bell. If you could hear that bell ringing that would call you to mass then you were baja de campana. This identified you as a person submissive to the system. While the term baja de campana isn’t used as much today, this concept is still seen in the Parokya or parish where the church bell and mass are broadcast to the community on loudspeakers.

A New Normal, 500 Years Ago!

While this is normal in the Philippines today, 500 years ago it was a new normal. Prior to this, people lived wherever was convenient to them: Fishermen lived near their favorite fishing cove and farmers lived near their fields.

Spain came in and brought their system for not only colonization but also for evangelization, because the two are not much different.[1] Today we have other issues coming in, including public health concerns such as the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. These issues are creating a new normal that governs how society operates. Because of the public health crisis, we have developed this idea of virtual or online or live stream churches, whether these are services that we’re broadcasting, whether it’s praise and worship, that we’re broadcasting, whether it’s a new way of doing church online, or whether we’re just doing the same thing and recording it and broadcasting it, whether we’re using Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, Vimeo, or other things, and there’s a variety of other ways to interact where does this fit this virtual online church? Is this the church gathered? Is gathering a part of this online community when we’re gathered together on zoom? Is that a gathering? When we’re all watching doing a watch party together? Is that gathering? Is that scattered? Because the church can be gathered scattered? Is this cell a single cell or is it multiple cell? How does this all interact and work with each other? What does it all do?

Then you get to COVID-19 times where people can’t gather together. And we love to gather together. And it’s the gathering together in a sense that it’s the community of believers, in a sense, makes up the church, but we’ve conflated that with the facility within which we gather.

And so, when it comes to the point of gathering together, not being able to gather together for COVID, all of a sudden, the discussion goes to “Oh, well it’s religious persecution,” or some other kind of an issue. As if the only way that we know how to connect with God is inside a church building. But if we look at biblical and church histories of the way people have gathered, we realize that that’s not entirely the case.

It just means that our way of doing things may go through changes, just like the change from walking in the garden, to having to build an altar, to having to go to a tabernacle, to then having to go to a temple, to then doing a synagogue or a church. It’s just part of the transition and there’s been lots of “new normal” over time.

Philippine Religious Consciousnesses and Crisis Today.

Religious Space.

There’s no concept of religious space in the Philippines system because all space is religious space. This helps us particularly when we talk about issues of issues of religious liberty. Do I have the right to practice my religion and if the government tells me not to meet together, does that mean I’m not being able to practice that? these issues are sort of put aside, because there is really no specifically religious space. We’re used to worshiping in a church, but quite often in society, you’ll see a variety of different religious spaces that are used. You know, whether it’s a procession, where you’re going down the street and so the street becomes a religious space as you bring your as you bring your statue around the community. Even there’s what’s called the pabasa. During Holy Week. When the, the story of Jesus passion is, is, is, is sung in various parts of the community and so these homes and these different places become religious space because of the usage. There’s even the Stations of the Cross where religious spaces are temporarily set up in various parts of the community as people go around and pray as they remember Jesus’ passion. So religious space in the sense of here’s where we do religious activities and this space we don’t is not a concept that exists in the Philippines.

The first point we need to remember as we as we try to create a theology of crisis is that any space can be religious space — we don’t need to be fixated on a church building.

Church Leadership and the Filipino Family.

I guess the second point is that typically the pastor is seen as being in charge of the church. They provide leadership there, but what about inside the home? Who is the one who provides leadership there? It certainly isn’t the pastor.

As the story goes, the pastor visited a home at lunch time. In an effort to honour him they mother invited him in to eat. She had prepared a fish for lunch and the kids worriedly watched the pastor through the window as he tucked in to the meal. All of a sudden one of the kids yells, “Mom, he flipped the fish over!”

While the pastor may be a visitor to the house really the leadership of the home is provided by the father and the mother. And this leadership extends not simply to who feeds the kids and who does the laundry but it goes beyond that. Ultimately it is Who sets the rules? and Who shapes the future for the family? It’s the parents.

One way forward in the midst of crisis is to encourage, train, and empower parents to be the spiritual leaders of their families.

Dambana, or the family altar.

The third aspect would be the idea of dambanaDambana is a is an old Filipino word that talks about a place where you encounter the divine, you know whether this is whether this is a space like a, like a building, whether this is an altar. But, but typically within a house, you know a lot of houses have the altar inside their house so there’s this religious space inside the house, that is that is devoted towards the worship of God and the connection proper connection and relationship with God. Quite often, of course in Filipino homes you’ll have a, you’ll have a, an image that’s that is in that spot, but you’ll also notice in many homes you’ll have other religious artifacts such as Bibles and other things that are there. And these are these are just to remind everybody that God is always present with us. And so within, within each house you have this religious space.

We can use these concepts. As we move towards developing a theology of crisis, a theology of lockdown a theology of pandemic. Rather than trying to find theological reasons for convincing the government to let us reopen our church buildings, we can help encourage and empower families to be responsible for their own spiritual development inside of their homes. During this time, and maybe this will expand them beyond that into the time after the pandemic whatever it will look like.

Notes:

1 Vince Rafael talks about this at length in his Contracting Colonialism.

Image by Varun Gaba on Unsplash.

3 Types of Evil

The years leading up to the pandemic have exposed a variety of bad things in the world — things that perhaps in the past were not as noticed by people not directly affected. These issues include the #metoo movement, racism including Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, Asian Hate, and Residential Schools, and violence such as the militarisation of the police.

One area of dispute is the extent of evil in the world. Some people simply say things like, “I am not racist so racism isn’t real” or “I have an indigenous/black/person of colour friend who hasn’t experienced racism so it isn’t really an issue” or the kicker “Once people accept Jesus they are no longer sinners so things like the mistreatment of others will just disappear.”

These various approaches view evil as being something personal and so provide personal solutions to it. And this isn’t all that surprising given that the default message of the evangelical church over the years has been, “Invite Jesus into your heart and your sins will be forgiven.”

Evil, however, is much more complex than simply being personal. In fact there are three types of evil, or sin, that are discussed in the Bible: Personal evil, natural evil, and structural evil.

In this post we will take an introductory look at each of these types of evil with the hope that a renewed understanding of these will lead to justice and change in society.

Personal Evil.

Personal evil has been the central way that people in recent times have understood evil. There are three ways to approach how the Bible understands personal evil, each one from a different cultural perspective.

Guilt to Innocence is the most common understanding of personal evil, largely due to the predominance of western Bible interpretations. It uses a courtroom as its motif. This understanding has led to popular gospel presentations such as the Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion, and the Roman Road to salvation. The emphasis to this approach is that all are guilty of sin and are thus in need of righteousness. This perspective is common among individualistic societies.

Shame to Honour is another perspective on personal evil. In recent years, students of culture have seen that many peoples on the earth do not see things in light of guilt and innocence. Some people better understand a proper relationship with God through concepts of honour and shame.[1] Shame to Honour emphasises relationships and how they can be restored. This perspective is common in communal societies.

A third approach to understanding personal evil is Fear to Power. In recent years, students of culture have seen that many peoples on the earth do not see things in light of guilt and innocence. Some people better understand a proper relationship with God through concepts of Power and Fear. Jesus overcame the power of Satan and death on the cross and gives power to those who are afraid.

Natural Evil.

Natural evil includes things like famine, drought, disease, wild animals, floods, storms, and disease.

Floods: God brought “a flood of waters on the earth” (Genesis 6:17).

Thunder, hail, lightning: God “sent thunder and hail, and fire came down” (Exodus 9:23).

Destructive Wind: God sent a “great wind” that destroyed Job’s house and killed his family (Job 1:19). Earthquake: By the Lord “the earth will be shaken” (Isaiah 13:13).

Drought and Famine: God will shut off rains, so neither land nor trees yield produce (Leviticus 26:19–20).

Forest fires: God says, “Say to the southern forest, ‘I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree’” (Ezekiel 20:47).

These events affect people all over the world and the results are often not good. A super typhoon went through the Philippines a number of years ago. In a small coastal town many lives were lost as logs from the mountains were washed through the town. Those logs were seen as a curse. About a week later, a small island community was awakened by cries of, “Thanks be to God. He has provided these logs for us. Now I can build a house/boat/business.” Those same logs cursed a week earlier in another place were now seen as a blessing.

It’s important to point out that these natural evils started with the curse in the garden of Eden, where, because of Adam’s sin, the ground was also cursed. It is this curse that leads to the examples listed above.

Structural Evil.

Structural evil is a system or pattern of beliefs or activities in an organization or culture that hinders or opposes the advance of God’s kingdom in this world. There are structured evils rooted in society’s prevailing religious, social, economic or political systems. The key element of structural evil is that it is organizational, a pattern or network that opposes the Kingdom.

Examples of structural evil include things like tax evasion, caste systems, dowry, sexual mutilation, slavery, racism and apartheid, colonialism, and bribery or governmental corruption.

Key elements of structural evil include the existence of a wicked power or spirit. Structural evil is also corporate, either organizational or institutional. It is systemic, with patterns, networks of activities or parts. It has a multiple nature including laws, law enforcements, culture, taboos, attitudes, beliefs, lack of alternatives, and repressive rule. It can be social, political, economic, or religious. It aims to create chaos, division, injustice, human suffering or natural damage. It opposes advance of Kingdom of God.

The good news for structural evil is that at the cross Christ defeated sin, death, and Satan. These now have no hold on believers. All authority is given to Christ … He is far above all and every other name. The Church as His Body shares this authority over Satan & evil spirits. In Christ the believer is given the authority to disciple nations.

Conclusion.

The church needs to further develop its theologies of evil so that we can both acknowledge the extent of evil in the world, and also find better ways to deal with it. Emphasis needs to continue, of course, on repentance from personal evil, but we also need to incorporate ways to repent from both societal and natural evils.

What do you think of this 3-part framework?

Feedback is always welcome!

Notes:

1 Other great sources of Honour-Shame based theologies include works by Jackson Wu, Jayson Georges, and Werner Mischke.

Image by Paulette Vautour on Unsplash.

5 Shifts To Make: The Philippine Church Gearing Towards Life and Ministry Post-Pandemic Webinar – A Reaction

I had the privilege to share the stage with Dr. Anthony dela Fuente, who blogs over at Upgazer/The Dawn Treader, the other day. He had been invited by the Theological Commission of the Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches to present a paper at their TheoExpo 2021. His paper was entitled 5 Shifts To Make: The Philippine Church Gearing Towards Life and Ministry Post-Pandemic. I was asked to be the reactor to the paper. The session was livestreamed on Facebook and can be viewed in its entirety here. Please take a look and tell me what you think. 

I Claim this place in the name of …

New Chinese passport map of disputed area.

New Chinese passport. The dotted line in the lower right corner shows the disputed area that China is claiming.

Have you ever thought about the idea of laying claim. I remember as a child looking at pictures of early European explorers visiting “new” lands and, after planting a cross or a flag, claiming that place in the name of the king (or queen or whoever). Now before you get offended remember that I share both European and First Nations blood 🙂

Recently you may have read one of the following articles regarding China’s new passports. Apparently the show a map that includes disputed portions of the “South China Sea” as being a part of China. As you can guess, various countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the USA have made their opinions known. That’s because they also have claims in the area. It is a problem that has been brewing over many years but has recently come to a head. Time will tell how this will be resolved.

I began to think about the church and about missions. Do we lay claim to things that don’t belong to us? I wonder what people in the 10/40 Window think about all the maps of their countries that have been distributed over the years? I wonder what “Manila Ben” or whoever Saddleback named their target audience thinks when s/he sees the various effigies of who they are and how to “reach” them?

The concept of “claiming” implies concepts like good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil. Those doing the claiming always come out on the good side, while those who are claimed are always on the wrong side. But is this really the way missions works? Can any of us claim to be perfectly and totally connected to God? Aren’t we all on a journey?

Are we making unfair claims upon the people of the world? Do we have any other choice? Do those people then have the right to make a similar claim upon us?

What do you think?

Here’s How 1 Church Defines Functionality

Of course in a blog entitled “The Functional Church Blog” it might be a good idea to add real-life examples of churches that are acting in functional ways. One of those churches is locally known as Hope Christian Fellowship Transformational Ministries (HCFTM). Here’s how this church defines functionality. They think that it is so important that they decided to add these four points to their statement of faith.

1. Proclamation is HCFTM’s way of declaring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people. We declare Jesus as Lord and Saviour of our community and we recognise His central role in transforming the world through intentional evangelism, communicated effectively in a culturally-relevant way by people who have themselves experienced the transforming power of God.

2. Service is HCFTM’s way of showing the love of God to people both inside and outside of our faith community though acts of mercy, relief rehab and development. We will be engaging in educational ministry services such as establishing schools of all levels. We will be delivering free medical-dental clinics. We will be conducting livelihood programs for the poor of our communities.

3. Truth-telling is HCFTM’s way of being God’s prophetic voice by engaging society with biblical truth through participation in public advocacy, social justice, value transformation, promotion of freedom, engagement in the public square, involvement in market places, and the transformation of public perception through education, evangelism, church planting, intercessory prayer, and discipleship.

4. Community-building is HCFTM’s way of revealing the joys of the kingdom of God to people outside of our faith community through active participation with like-minded faith communities, active cooperation with like-minded groups, and active accountability in both the religious and secular world. All this is typified with the Christian attitude of unity in matters essential, liberty in matters non-essential, and charity in all other matters.

Basically HCF is saying that without these 4 functions, a church is not doing what it is supposed to do. Do you agree? What would you add? What would you subtract?

 

Cultural Dependency & Systematic Theology: At Odds in the Search for Emancipation?

A lot of my work involves finding solutions for economic problems. Quite often I am that solution (at least on a short-term basis). But we haven’t found a long-term solution yet. We do teach on Capacity Building at SEATS but some things I have been reading lately have made me wonder if we are on the wrong track. Recently I have been thinking about the following questions and ideas:

If cultural & economic dependency are linked (as per Ali Mazrui), what does that say for teaching systematic theology cross-culturally? Since theology defines church culture, must it then be developed by those within the culture so as to not contribute to cultural dependency? Is it just adding to the problem? Is developing Asian Theology then the key to eliminating economic dependency in Asian churches?

These questions came as a result of reading my Dad’s Master of Education thesis from 1990. Kind of makes me wish I had read it earlier. Referencing Mazrui, Dad makes the statement “that cultural autonomy can be achieved through a strategy of domestication, diversification, and counter-penetration.”

Examples of this strategy (with comments) as applied to my cultural setting might include:

1. Use local language. SEATS training is conducted in a blending of English and Tagalog so perhaps we are going in the right direction here.

2. Connect to other Asian churches/cultures. SEATS itself is cross0-cultural but we haven’t been able to really link up Filipinos with other Asian church groups at this level. This will allow Asians to have more voices in the conversation than simply westerners.

3. Diffuse Filipino values into the mission. This, as pointed out in the thesis, is already on the way to being accomplished since there are a large number of Filipinos in Canada and Filipino churches working with the BGC Canada. Early in our career we even had a Filipino director of Global Ministries. His influence was definitely felt in our movement, even though he later moved on to other things. SEATS itself has a completely Filipino board. One idea would be to allow other Asian board members to help fill out the conversation and bring balance.

In your opinion, what is the best answer to this problem?