Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship: Reflections from the Vantage Points of the Marginalized People
“Mission from the margins” is neither a mere perspectival approach nor an option but an inevitable way of being church in God’s mission. Likewise, the marginalized people are neither a broad category of people on the fringes of the society nor mere objects of charity and victims of circumstances. They are prophets and pathfinders indicting the world for its injustice through their lives of suffering and striving for its transformation through their struggles. As signs of hope testifying to the movement of the Spirit amidst despair and death, they help us to see God’s mission not as a mere religious activity but as a spirituality of resistance and transformation for the sake of life and God’s world. Reclaiming discipleship from the vantage of the marginalized, therefore, offers an opportunity for the churches to rediscover themselves afresh from being mere communities of believers and power structures to networks of partners for God’s justice, participating in the larger struggles for the transformation of the world. As the gospels tell us, Jesus did not commission his disciples to call people to a belief system but to a covenantal relationship through a vocation of striving for the realization of God’s reign. Such a sense of vocation is possible only when there is a radical change in Christian self‐understanding. It involves, first, interrogating and reimagining the ways in which churches affirm and practice their faith; second, leaving aside their captivity to certain belief systems and turning toward Jesus of Nazareth to teach the way – to be active partners with God rather than being passive believers; third, appropriating discipleship beyond the language and sphere of transformation of persons; and fourth, learning from and being enriched by the visions and resources of the marginalized in living out the call to be one in God’s mission of transformation of the world.
I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism for its decision to explore the meaning and implications of the theme “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship” from the perspective of the marginalized people and communities as it plans for the 2018 World Mission Conference at this meeting.
Margins and the marginalized
I am grateful to have been asked to initiate this conversation. But I attempt to do so with much hesitation and fear of doing exactly what we deplore, that is, denying the right of the marginalized people to speak for themselves or presenting their realities in ways to conform to what I may want to say. Therefore, based on my engagement with some of these communities during the past three decades, I shall only attempt to point toward certain directions through which, I believe, our reflections on the theme are informed by their yearnings for life amidst suffering and struggle.
Before I begin, I would like to make a few observations about the use of the terms “margins” and “the marginalized.” Firstly, the term “margins” – used in the mission statement Together towards Life (TTL) – belongs to the language of the center. It seems to hold the marginalized people as objects, as a category, often referring to them as “the poor.” But their faces and names are many – discriminated, despised, exploited, and kept disempowered so that the centers of power and privilege remain intact in the hands of a few. Secondly, this categorization hides the many causes of their marginalization. Thirdly, “margins” is a fluid concept. Some experiences of marginalization are not the same as those who experience multiple or intense forms of marginalization. Likewise, the powerful few may claim marginal status whenever their power and prominence are in danger. The powerless people may be the majority but remain on the margins. Therefore, if one is not conscious of their various meanings, these terms “margins” and “the marginalized” can hide the causes and dynamics of marginalization and the names and faces of the forces and of the victims. Yet, there are some more groups of people who are pushed, not just beyond the margins, but pushed down, excluded, and made non‐people. Therefore, when we use the expression “the marginalized,” we should also be conscious of “the excluded” people.2
The rationale for an option to reimagine mission through the vantage of the marginalized people is well articulated in the section on “Spirit of Liberation: Mission from the Margins” in TTL.
God’s purpose for the world is not to create another world, but to re‐create what God has already created in love and wisdom. Jesus began his ministry by claiming that to be filled by the Spirit is to liberate the oppressed, to open eyes that are blind, and to announce the coming of God’s reign (Luke 4:16–18). He went about fulfilling this mission by opting to be with the marginalized people of his time, not out of paternalistic charity but because their situations testified to the sinfulness of the world and their yearnings for life pointed to God’s purposes.3
This implies that our reflection on discipleship must position itself to be in conversation with their life‐worlds of suffering and struggle rather than referring to them as mere indicators of our awareness of their presence. It also seems to insist that the mission of God is mission in Christ’s way and that there is no other way for the church than to walk alongside the marginalized and the excluded in their pilgrimage of life and justice. Such a reminder is necessary for us because, often‐times, larger processes of discernment, such as the WCC, tend to build on and indulge in generalizations with a view to reach out to a wider audience. However, failure to be conscious of the distinct experiences of people in concrete situations of struggle can result in these reflections to remain both pretentious and irrelevant. Furthermore, to a large extent, much of our theological reflection is academic, church‐based, and tends to rely on predominantly Christian, euro‐centric assumptions about the world. But the world today is increasingly multi‐religious, and many, including Christians, live as marginalized minority communities, often living in fear and with hardly any public space. Therefore, this vantage point of the marginalized people makes sense.
As we begin, let us make ourselves conscious of the marginalized and excluded communities in each of our contexts. Let me also make a special mention of those who experience intense and multiple forms of marginalization. These are people discriminated against because of their color, ethnicity, religion, language, and sexual orientation; people, especially women and children, trafficked for labour, sex, organs, and begging4; stateless people,5 including refugees6 and forced migrants7; Dalits in India8; Indigenous peoples9; child labourers10; and people with disabilities. Most of these are women and people in developing countries.11 They are not only marginalized but are also made non‐people, silenced, and rendered invisible. Their numbers reveal the expanse of injustice embedded in our structures and cultures, a shameful reality that is sustained by the silence and complicity of our generation, which boasts of many achievements and capacities.12 Many among these are also resisting and confronting the forces of their marginalization despite suppression and victimization. In my country, India, those who resist caste discrimination and oppression are raped, killed, lynched, paraded naked, economically boycotted, have their houses burnt, or are incarcerated for disturbing “social harmony.” Many such marginalized groups in different parts of the world are organizing themselves to resist discrimination and marginalization and are articulating their visions of another world. Some of these are branded as terrorists, extremists, or disgruntled elements and are crushed and silenced. And there are also those who are punished for standing with the marginalized people. Human rights defenders are facing enormous challenges and threats of torture, detention without charges and trial, and murder in many countries around the world.13 The so‐called democracies are increasingly becoming resistant to people’s aspirations for justice and seem to be holding all such as anti‐national and anti‐development.
Thinking of the addressees
What would our reflections on discipleship mean to these communities of people who are pushed beyond the margins into exclusion and dehumanization; who are resisting injustice and oppression despite pain and losses; and who persist in struggle in solidarity with the marginalized and the excluded? How will anything that we say here, in Arusha next year or through our carefully worded statements, effect any changes in their predicament or enhance their prospects? How would the reality of their struggles and challenges as well as their victories and visions shape the content of our reflections on transforming discipleship?
These also prompt more important questions about the intended addressees of this call. Is this for the marginalized and the excluded communities too? If so, who gives this call and what would it say? If it is not for them, then for whom else? If it is for the church as a whole, then the one church that we affirm is not a single community. The empirical church is divided along socio‐economic identities and geopolitical locations. There is a privileged, influential, wealthy, educated segment, mostly in leadership and influential positions, often ascribing to themselves the right to speak on behalf of the whole; and there is also the poor, not so educated, working class, experiencing different and multiple forms of discrimination and marginalization in every context. What form of discipleship is expected of each of these in different social and economic locations? Or is discipleship a specialized ministry to which only some are called?
The point here is that often times the church has prescribed many things to the poor and the marginalized sections – especially about the virtues of humility, obedience, servanthood, patience, suffering, and hope of a better tomorrow – even as it consolidated its own power and prominence. TTL makes a pointed remark: “Although our theological and missiological language talks a lot about the mission of the church being in solidarity with the poor sometimes in practice it is much more concerned with being in the centers of power, eating with the rich, and lobbying for money to maintain ecclesial bureaucracy.”14 Therefore, we first need to be clear about the addressees.
Discipleship: Obsolete or appropriate?
There are yet more basic questions. How many of us have really experienced or experience discipleship in our contemporary experience? What are our operating definitions and who are our role models? How many of us can claim that we are the loyal disciples of a particular teacher? How many of us can claim that we are teachers, mentoring a disciple or some disciples? On the other hand, each of us has many mentors, including the electronic and print media, Google, and other search engines that teach us about everything under the sun and mold our opinions and attitudes. Is discipleship, then, an obsolete model? How do we present the image, meaning, and experience of discipleship to the younger generation, who belong to a new world of multiple choices? How do we reimagine discipleship in such a way that it evokes positive and creative responses in our young people, who in many of our churches are already a marginalized community?
Furthermore, even the gospel stories do not help us much with ideal models of discipleship. Understandably, these concentrate more on Jesus than his disciples, and even the little that we get to know of them, we find them cast more in negative than positive images. Only a few are mentioned by name consistently, but the rest are simply “his disciples.” The gospel writers tell us that they couldn’t do what their master did – casting out demons and healing; that they couldn’t imagine that their master could feed five thousand people, calm the storm, and walk on the sea; that two of them were reprimanded for wanting prime places; that they were rebuked when they desired fire on a Samaritan town; that none of them liked their master’s assertions about his imminent death; that one denied him several times despite being warned and another betrayed him; that they let down their master when he desperately needed their prayerful accompaniment on the night he was arrested; that they all ran away and shut themselves in a room after his death and burial; that some women had to get them out with the news of his resurrection; that they didn’t want to believe until they personally saw the empty tomb and another wanted to touch his body; and that they went back to their old professions from which their risen Lord had to call them back. Except for Peter, Philip, and Stephen, the rest of the New Testament also offers little about their characters and what happened to them, except a brief mention that they all dispersed and went on their mission. In this situation, what models do we have to emulate?
However, in spite of these limitations, and in anticipation of a creative re‐imagination of discipleship, I welcome this emphasis for many reasons. It marks a much‐needed shift in the understanding of faith: from belonging to a belief system to a lifelong vocation. But this shift is a hard option for many who are comfortable just being believers in hope of safety, health, well‐being, material wealth, inner peace, and salvation, and who freely use these titles – believer and disciple – for themselves as if they were synonyms. Actually, there are sharp distinctions between a disciple and a believer. Disciples commit themselves to follow a teacher with a view to learn; believe that they can change and effect change; and look for principles and guidelines for life’s journey; and their relationship with the teacher is voluntary and based on admiration of what the teacher is and stands for. Believers, on the other hand, look for an external agency who takes control, an omnipotent power to solve their problems; believe they can do nothing on their own; and look for rules and rituals to keep themselves on track; and their attitude of respect toward the object of belief is most often either fear‐induced or reward‐driven. This focused reflection might clarify some of these assumptions, and assist in reclaiming discipleship as the most authentic expression of Christian faith. This call itself could be transformative if this evolution from “believer” to “disciple” takes place in popular perceptions.
However remote it may be to our contemporary experience, discipleship in principle suggests learning, evolving, and moving toward a goal through discipline, hard work, and a relentless search for a greater self‐understanding. As Stephen Bevans says, “The disciple accompanies the teacher, follows the teacher, imitates the teacher, practices what the teacher does, learns from her or his mistakes as she or he slowly and sometimes with difficulty learns the teacher’s wisdom, integrity, and the way of life.”15
Those who responded to Jesus’ call were those who were attracted to his message of the coming reign of God that would end foreign occupation and herald a reign of peace, safety, and justice. Along the way, they discovered a radically new and broader vision, something completely different from their earlier expectations. The lack of description about or a negative portrayal of the disciples does not imply that the New Testament presents them as flawed human beings. In fact, it testifies to what followed as a result of that learning through many accounts of their conscious choices and actions. It was a community that stood apart as an alternative to the status quo. “People of the Way” was “the name given to members of the movement around Jesus in the earliest Christian communities. ‘The Way’ denoted a particular pattern of living, and the instruction and training required for this (called ‘discipleship,’ or a following in the ‘Way’).”16 Warren Carter, in his Matthew and the Margins, holds that the Jesus community chose confrontation and to be in the margins as a way of communicating and working toward the realization of the vision of God’s reign. He lists the features: Instead of the law, the synagogue tradition, and the imperial ideology, the community looked to Jesus and the prophets; instead of commitment to the emperor, it opted for the one crucified by the emperor; instead of the Pax romana, it opted for the kingdom of God; instead of embracing, it preferred a vocation of critiquing the powers; instead of preferring to sustain the order, it wanted to shake up the order; instead of the power to lord over, it desired the power to serve; instead of hierarchical and patriarchal structures, it preferred egalitarian and communitarian life; instead of violence, it opted for active resistance; and instead of wealth, it held sharing as a source of prosperity and life-giving.17
A strong commitment to pursue their faith vocation as a conscious, voluntary option to differ and defy the status quo for the sake of justice and life as God’s will for all was the hallmark of Jesus’ disciples and those that followed them. Such an understanding of discipleship as a vocation and a journey in hope of a new polity resonates with the aspirations, struggles, and strategies of the marginalized communities and their movements. Against the backdrop of these similarities in mode and purpose, I would like to propose three approaches for our conversation on discipleship to explore new possibilities for mission engagement through the vantage points of the marginalized people.
“Discipleship” transforming the church
First is that this accent on discipleship has the potential to effect positive changes to the ways in which the church, along with other religious traditions, has always professed, practiced, and propagated its faith. To elaborate further, political and economic powers and policies alone are not responsible for the marginalization and exclusion of people. These forces flourish because of the prevalent worldviews and attitudes that are justified and sustained by the religious and cultural resources of the dominant powers. We are aware of how certain religious anthropologies have legitimized and continue to legitimize the violation of and violence against people of color, women, people with disabilities, and people of certain sexual orientations. Most religious traditions actively nurture detrimental notions of “the other” who does not belong to their fold. Most maintain neutrality on issues of justice on the pretext of holding forth the universal relevance of their faith tradition. Some justify suffering as a result of past actions and prosperity as blessing. Some others insist on an external intervention because of an ontological defect, and sustain low self‐esteem and diminish one’s inner capacities. And all glorify power even when the majority of people are victims of power. Most religious traditions, including Christianity, are guilty of these crimes against marginalized humanity.
This accent on discipleship, therefore, suggests transformation of how we affirm and practice our faith. First, it presents Jesus as a teacher, as an enabler, rather than as a superman. It also marks a shift from upholding the uniqueness of Christ through a particular interpretation of atonement to the person of Jesus of Nazareth – his conscious moral and spiritual choices, his message, and his denouncements and pronouncements that led him to the cross. For the marginalized and the excluded, this implies a shift away from Christologies that reinforce low self‐image, glorify the suffering of the innocent, and preach life after death, toward a new understanding of Jesus Christ as one who accompanies them in their struggles for life, dignity, and justice. Some Indian Christian theologies have tried to portray Jesus as Guru and Christian life as a pilgrimage. Other Asian theologies, drawing from Buddhist and Confucian traditions, have offered similar interpretations. In fact, in much of the non‐Christian world, the message of Christ and his conscious moral choices are acknowledged as powerful resources for transformation, resonating with people’s aspirations for justice, freedom, and life. The theological and experiential resources of Christians living out their faith amidst many faiths offer many possibilities to discover afresh that message which we hold as unique.
Secondly, discipleship challenges certain understandings of salvation. These have held and continue to hold salvation as a mere personal experience and mission as a religious project rather than as God’s plan for all of God’s creation through a moral transformation of the world. Many marginalized communities have been objects, in some cases victims, of the aggressive expressions of some of these mission activities. By anchoring on narrow notions of sin, salvation, and heaven, these mission endeavors have distracted the attention from the sinfulness of structures and thus have been allies of the oppressive and exploitative powers. These assertions stand exposed in today’s world. Preaching salvation for a glorious life after death to those who are being sold, enslaved, tortured, raped, starved, and killed on a daily basis is nothing but mischief in the name of God. Wesley Ariarajah makes a pointed remark: “What Jesus demanded was a radical change of orientation, espousal of new values of the reign of God, and a move away from self‐centeredness to a life centered in God and one’s neighbor… It was a call to follow him; not to a belief in the merits of his death on the cross.”18 This reflection on discipleship can enable us to arrive at a more holistic, inclusive understanding of salvation as a journey together with others for the life of all and of the earth rather than an exclusionary, anthropocentric pursuit.19
Thirdly, it suggests a deeper meaning of Christian love as a critic of injustice, or to put it differently, justice as a concrete expression of love. Justice, as is commonly held, is not merely a value pursued in the dynamics of larger social relationships. It is essentially personal and spiritual. Being just and seeking justice arises out of one’s capacity to love the other as oneself. The neighbor, Jesus points out in the parable, is not the familiar next‐door neighbor, but the ‘other’ – the human being even if his or her face is not seen and name not known. The neighbor is also the “othered” – the victim by the roadside. This love is a conscious spiritual choice that extends to the wider realm when injustice tramples over life.20 God’s love in Jesus Christ cannot be romanticized and presented as a balm that soothes our troubled minds and lives. It does not, as we find in the life and ministry of Jesus, keep quiet or turn a blind eye to deception, injustice, and oppression, but instead confronts and denounces the same, and strives to transform people and situations with courage and persistence. His message, therefore, was of both repentance and hope. It seeks the transformation of the aggressor and restores the aggressed. God’s love is an expression of God’s justice, and discipleship is about living out God’s love. Jesus ascribes the status of friendship to his disciples for their conscious decision to follow his commandments to love. “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12–14). This implies that attitudes of compassion toward the marginalized and excluded people without recognition of their yearning for justice is not the kind of love that God desires.
Fourthly, in the present climate of increasing secularization – with crass consumerism that offers no alternative social visions on one hand, and the rise of right‐wing ideologies that reinforce the hegemony of the powerful on the other – discipleship prompts churches and Christian communities to take an incisive look within about the meaning and purpose of their presence, affirmations, and actions. If mission has consistently evoked negative responses, especially in multi‐religious contexts, this accent on discipleship could help us to reimagine the same, perhaps more as an attitude of living out our faith humbly than as an expansion project. Discipleship as a process of learning and becoming could open the possibilities for more positive relationships with other religious communities and ideological movements that are also striving to uphold and protect the sanctity of life, human dignity, and justice. In that, mission becomes a transforming vocation, transforming relationships and building communities. Such an understanding offers new opportunities to uphold the uniqueness of Christ in ways that do not undermine the uniqueness of other pursuits but as a way of gathering positive, life‐affirming energies for what we believe God intends for all. Mission then would not be a solely Christian project, even if we refer to it in Christian language.
And lastly, it could help us reimagine the church as a fellowship of partners in mission rather than one of the believers. The church as a called community is to be seen not in its structures and traditions but in locales where the Spirit is present in actions for justice and life. It lives up to its calling through its presence and participation in the struggles against discrimination, marginalization, exclusion, and dehumanization, and among the coming together of the partners for justice – social activists, human rights activists, environmentalists, and all others on the margins of this centrist world yet on the pilgrimage for life, justice, and peace. As TTL says, “Among the surprises of the Spirit are the ways in which God works from locations which appear to be on the margins and through people who appear to be excluded.”21 To that extent, this accent on discipleship could lead us to imagine a trans‐religious Christianity, even a trans‐religious missiology, a missiology that vibes with the Spirit – the Spirit of life, freedom, justice, and truth, one that Jesus spoke of as being endowed within the synagogue in Nazareth.
The marginalized as the church’s teachers
If discipleship is about learning and growing in Christ, and being involved in God’s ongoing mission in the world, shall we then look to Jesus of Nazareth to teach us the way?
The church belongs to a faith tradition that is built around the memory of one who defied the power and glory of the contemporary political and religious establishments, and instead asserted the resources of the marginalized. Jesus asks his disciples and those who came to hear him to learn from the generosity of a poor widow who gave only two small copper coins rather those who gave huge sums in public gaze; from the penitent prayer of the scorned tax collector than the long self‐righteous assertions of the glorified Pharisee; from the faith of the despised gentile rather than those of his own centuries‐old religious tradition; and from the humaneness of the Samaritan who is sensitive to the suffering of the other than the teachers of the Law and priests in the temple. Jesus even allows himself to be taught by a woman, a Canaanite outcast at that. Further, he defies the protocols and traditions of rituals and propriety for the sake of healing the sick; upholds the model of servanthood rather than lordship and goes to extent of washing their feet on the night before he was killed; and makes friends with the outcasts asserting that the reign of God begins with their liberation and restoration. In fact, much of the biblical tradition is driven by this counter‐culture, unveiling to us the locale of God’s presence and power among the Last, the Lost and the Least.22
Shall we then say that the marginalized people are our teachers, calling us and imploring us to get involved in acts of transformation? As TTL says, “People on the margins have agency, and can often see what, from the center, is out of view. People on the margins, living in vulnerable positions, often know what exclusionary forces are threatening their survival and can best discern the urgency of their struggles; people in positions of privilege have much to learn from the daily struggles of people living in marginal conditions.”23 The church has always understood and pursued mission as a response from positions of power and privilege and failed to see the presence of the Spirit already at work among the marginalized people indicating the sinfulness of the world and inspiring new beginnings. Like Jesus’ disciples, they too may have their own limitations, hesitations, and inhibitions. Academics and political analysts may not endorse their articulations for want of conceptual clarity and pragmatism. Economists and development technocrats may ridicule their aspirations as counter‐productive for wealth generation. Theologians and religious leaders may give some patronizing approval while making sure that they do not destabilize their power bases. But whether or not anybody endorses or supports them, they are a movement of people in search of life with dignity and justice for all.
In fact, they are the signs of hope testifying to the movement of the Spirit amidst decay, destruction, and death. Their struggles and aspirations help us to see mission not as a religious vocation but as a spirituality of resistance and transformation for the sake of life and God’s world. As TTL asserts, “Through struggles in and for life, marginalized people are reservoirs of the active hope, collective resistance, and perseverance that are needed to remain faithful to the promised reign of God.”24 It is for this reason that those who want to be involved in God’s mission need to be mentored by these teachers, by their experiences of suffering and struggles, analyses and perspectives, and visions and theologies in order to grow into the kind of discipleship that God expects of us. The point here is that partnership with the marginalized cannot be a calculated response from positions of power and privilege. It is, in essence, incarnational and calls for an immersion into the life‐world of the marginalized. It implies conscious and committed exploration of possibilities to align with the struggles and visions of these othered rather than maintaining neutral positions or attempting patronizing responses. In that, we assert that the transformation of society begins not as per the plans and schemes of the powerful and the privileged but per the visions and aspirations of those who are yearning for a life with dignity and freedom.
Such processes of self‐discovery and learning through accompaniment may also help us conceive discipleship beyond the language of personal commitment. The causes and instruments of marginalization and exclusion are certain political, economic, and social structures and systems and their concomitant cultures and ideologies. How does this call to discipleship help us transform the structures and cultures of those at the center?
In response to what is often referred to as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, many have insisted, interpreted, and attempted to live out the call to make disciples of nations primarily as “evangelization of the whole world.” Many of us are a part of this mission tradition of the 20th century. However, I understand the call to transforming discipleship as an opportunity to reset this familiar understanding by expanding the scope and meaning of this call. As said earlier, the forces of marginalization are not a few mysterious individuals but the structures and cultures of the powerful. What we have today, as someone said, are ‘warmongering nations, xenophobic nations, slave‐trading nations, colonizing nations, increasingly conservative nations, dominating and monopolizing nations, earth‐destroying and air‐polluting nations.’ When I say nations, I also include communities, systems and structures, and collectives of people. How does the church call these powerful, influential collectives to a discipleship of reverence for life, justice, and peace?
We are told through the parable of the great judgment in Matthew 25 that those who will be summoned are nations and peoples,25 along with their collective options. The judge will divide the goats and sheep, as per their attitudes and response toward those who lack basic necessities, the sick and the malnourished, the strangers, the displaced, refugees of war, violence and environmental disasters; their policies toward people’s welfare and safety vis‐à‐vis capital and infrastructural development; their interpretations and execution of justice; and their capacities to protect or destroy life. The parable indicts not only persons but also larger systems of which many of us are a part, mostly as beneficiaries.
If discipleship is a pursuit of a goal through a loyal and consistent affiliation, whether with a person or otherwise, then let me assert that our contemporary world, in fact, our generation as a whole, is in certain discipleship affiliations.
First is the global embrace of a market economy and its values by all nations, communities, families, and people. The creation and accumulation of wealth are pursued as the ultimate solution for all problems. Greed, whether of persons or nations, seems to be guiding every aspect of life, rewriting norms, and resetting values. Suppression of human rights and freedom, denial of justice to the weak, and exploitation of the earth are held as inevitable for economic growth.
Second is the fear of the other. With an increased obsession with wealth and resources, relationships are broken and the other is viewed as a predator, as an enemy rather than as a fellow human being who is also in need of space and opportunity. Many countries, societies, religious communities, and persons seem to be opting for narrow self‐understandings and for polities that are intolerant of diversity and do not demand them to be just or to share. What is ironical is that the powerful nations and former colonial powers seem more in this grip of fear. Politics of fear and hatred is played out, using much the same language as those on the margins, basically to safeguard and consolidate their parochial world. The fear of the powerful is as dangerous as their greed.
And third is the logic of violence and war as the most viable option to settle disputes and differences for the aggressor and the aggressed alike. The realities of violence in many forms and expressions by all human collectives, and the shameful reality of some nations manufacturing and selling weapons of mass destruction to boost their economies, point toward the moral decadence of our times. It is widely acknowledged that a fraction of what is spent on wars and weapons would ensure health and education for all of the world’s children. Let us also not forget the violence embedded in our structures in the form of racism, patriarchy, casteism, and similar cultures of domination and discrimination that continue to make millions vulnerable for exploitation and exclusion.
In fact, the mandate of making disciples of nations has much larger implications, as it calls every believer to a life of commitment and struggle for the common good. Jesus did not commission his disciples to call people to a belief system but to a covenantal relationship through a vocation of striving for the realization of God’s reign. In other words, it is a call to a vocation of transformation. The prophetic tradition announces the transformation of the lion and the wolf as necessary for a whole new world opening up for the lamb to feel safe (Is. 65:25). The call to discipleship, therefore, is a call to a moral vocation of denouncing evil in whichever form it exists, and to uphold the sanctity and integrity of life so that marginalization and dehumanization of some do not take place.
The call to transforming discipleship, therefore, involves seeking partnerships, forging partnerships, and living out the call to be one with others in God’s mission of transformation. One of the distinct ways in which churches have made positive differences in history is when they understood themselves as movements of people and when they were with the people in struggle. It was their ability to read the signs of the times and to understand the purpose of their being in those contexts, that made them creative and life‐affirming forces. We, as churches, mission, and ecumenical organizations, need to be constantly on the move, discerning change, open to change, and effecting change, in order that we may not only stay relevant but also play a creative part in shaping the world while following the wounded healers of our time.
Deenabandhu Manchala has served as programme executive at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, coordinating the theological reflection for the Decade to Overcome Violence (2000–2006) and the Just and Inclusive Communities (2007–2014). Currently, he is the area executive for Southern Asia in the Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples Church (Christian Church), USA, and works from Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
- Keynote address given at the meeting of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism in Atlanta, USA, on 13 January 2016. Google Scholar
- For a more elaborate argument on the use of the term “margins,” see Deenabandhu Manchala, “Margins,” in Ecumenical Missiology: Changing Landscapes and New Conceptions of Mission, ed. K. Ross et al. (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2016), 311–12. Google Scholar
- Jooseup Keum, ed., Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes(Geneva: WCC Publications, 2013), #36 (hereafter referred to as TTL). Google Scholar
- Human trafficking is a 32‐billion‐dollar industry today that thrives by enslaving nearly 20 million people in about 153 countries around the world. A great majority (49%) of these victims are females and 26% are children. According to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes Global Report 2014, the percentage of children is increasing and they now comprise nearly one‐third of all detected trafficking victims in the world. Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that there are more people living in slavery today than all those that the transatlantic trade involved, with numbers touching 29 million, http://www.ungift.org/doc/knowledgehub/resource-centre/2013/GlobalSlaveryIndex_2013_Download_WEB1.pdf.
- 10 million as per http://www.unhcr.org/stateless-people.html. Google Scholar
- 50 million as per https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/06/global-refugee-crisis-in-numbers. Google Scholar
- 42 million forced migrants, displaced by conflicts, natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects, http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/pubhealth/modules/forcedMigration/facts.html. Google Scholar
- 200 million as per idsn.org/india‐official‐dalit‐population‐exceeds‐200‐million. Google Scholar
- 370 million as per www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/5session_factsheet1.pdf. Google Scholar
- 168 million as per http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/child-labour/lang-en/index.htm. Google Scholar
- 650 million as per https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/statistics. Google Scholar
- Leonardo Boff makes a sharp point: “When future generations judge our epoch, they will call us barbarous, inhuman, and ruthless because of our enormous insensitivity in the face of the sufferings of own brothers and sisters.” Quoted in Jon Sobrino, No Salvation outside the Poor: Prophetic Utopian Essays (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2008), 39. Google Scholar
- Human Rights Watch, World Report 2017, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017. Also see Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Violations of the Right of NGOs to Funding: From Harrassment to Criminalization, Annual Report 2013 (OMCT/FIDH), https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/obs_2013_human_rights_defenders_english.pdf. Google Scholar
- TTL, #43. Google Scholar
- Stephen Bevans, “Transforming Discipleship: Missiological Reflections,” International Review of Mission 105:1, 75–85, at 76. Google Scholar
- Bruce C. Burch and Larry L. Rasmussen, Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 21. Google Scholar
- Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll, N.Y., Orbis Books, 2005), 45–46. Google Scholar
- S. Wesley Ariarajah, Power, Politics and Plurality: An Exploration of the Impact of Interfaith Dialogue on Christian Faith and Practice, ed. Marshal Fernando (Colombo, Sri Lanka: Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue, 2016), 213. Google Scholar
- Some of the prominent interpretations coming from the global South are “Salvation as Humanization” by M. M. Thomas and “Salvation as Liberation and Transformation” by many Latin American theologians. Google Scholar
- Cynthia D. Moe‐Lobeda, in Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological‐Economic Vocation(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013, 167ff), elaborates the distinctness of God’s love by unpacking the Old Testament term aheb and holds that the oft‐used hesed (steadfast love) and agape do not adequately convey the same meaning as aheb. Google Scholar
- TTL, #35. Google Scholar
- Manchala, “Margins,” 319. Google Scholar
- TTL, #38. Google Scholar
- TTL #39 Google Scholar
- All major translations use “nations” and “people,” implying collectives rather than individuals or both together. Google Scholar