Why Theological Education?
As my older brother, Bruce, pointed out to our family not too long ago, for too long the institutionalized church has been a means of maintaining oppression, the “means of integration…into the present situation.” And he is right. Not so long ago the Bible was interpreted to justify slavery, and texts are still picked out today to justify discrimination. There was a time when the Scriptures were perverted to justify the bloody wars against Islam we call the Crusades, and the Bible continues today to be used to justify the US presence in the “evil Islamic empire” of Iraq, and to call for the “liberation” of Arab nations, a liberation that has cost the lives of at least 45,000 Iraqi civilians. Women have been told, in the name of the church, that they must submit to men in their personal relationships, that they may not teach men, that they are not worthy to be ordained to ministry, a struggle that continues today here in most churches in Honduras, and in the US in the Roman Catholic Church and in conservative protestant churches. And even in our own UCC and Disciples churches there is still a salary divide between women clergy and their male counterparts, continuing to reflect the limited opportunities faced by women. It was only a short time ago that the churches of South Africa decided that they could no longer use the Bible to justify apartheid, and only a few years ago that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us of his dream for a different America. The poor are still told that even Jesus said they would always be around, that they should hope for a better life after they die, that they must submit to the corrupt authority of government, because the Bible says so. Those living with disabilities and chronic illnesses are told that these infirmities come from God, that they should bear these burdens gladly, and as a test of their faith, should pray for deliverance. When they are not “cured” or die from their illnesses they are blamed for lacking faith. Women and the poor are taught to demonize one another. “What a tramp to dress like that! She deserves whatever she gets!” “He says he is poor, but he has enough money to go out drinking on Saturday night!”
In the midst of this reality, what could be more important than this: teaching people to re-read, and to read critically the liberating, life-giving, hope-filled message of the Bible, a re-reading that honors the perspective of women, those with disabilities, the poor, the oppressed, and the peace-makers, a re-reading that liberates the poor, the oppressed, women, the disabled, and people of color rather than continues to enslave and oppress them. What could be more important than teaching a theology that honors the gifts of all, and that speaks of a God who does not desire the injustices with which people live daily in Latin America.
At a meeting of Methodist women in leadership positions in the church, several women pointed out the importance of the Methodist Church of Honduras as a place where they were taught to value themselves as women. They thanked God for the opportunities many of them had had to study with the Theological Community of Honduras, and for the opportunities their pastors had had to be formed in the Theological Community. They thanked God that they were welcomed as leaders in their own churches; bring a life-giving, liberating message to youth, people living with HIV/AIDS, women, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.
Why theological education? Because without this vital re-reading of the oppressive theologies of the past, we cannot move forward to live out the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Bruce and Linda Hanson
Bruce and Linda Hanson are assigned to the Christian Commission on Development (CCD) to serve the Honduran Theological Community (CTH). Bruce is teaching HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care, while Linda is teaching theological courses.