Friday, May 10, 2013

How do Western Christians learn from non-Westerners?

There was recently an article What can we learn from African Christians? in the Briefing. It was written by an Australian church leader who for a decade has been involved in short term visits to Africa for providing theological education to African church leaders.

The article stimulated a fascinating array of comments that highlighted that Westerners making short visits may not see the real situation. Partly this is because they don't know or understand the local culture and so mis-interpret what they see. Also they are sometimes partly not shown the real situation because their hosts show them what they want to see (a vibrant enthusiastic church) and what will impress them leading to more financial support.

I will just give one of the comments from an African: 

I found that the comment section so qualified what the article was saying that it created the impression that there is very little to nothing to be learned from African Christians. This is very worrying for me. What is additionally worrying to me is that the solution most people are proposing is that more theological education from either missionaries, or organisations from outside the continent coming in to ‘partner with’ or just plain ‘educate’ local pastors is what is needed.
What this says and does is this – on the one hand, it communicates that viable solutions are not forthcoming from Africans themselves, which isn’t true. A lot of grassroots training programs are springing up across my country as well as others – some funded from outside the continent, others organised entirely locally. On the other hand, while showing a seeming lack of charity toward African Christians, saying that the solution is more theological training from ‘outside’ parties shows a remarkable lack of self-reflection as well. What flaws are there in Western Christianity, and are these not being imported into Africa with missionaries and educational programs? The question is, “Why is flawed Western Christianity welcome, and indeed is one of the major solutions to strengthening African Christianity, while flawed African Christianity is critiqued to the point it doesn’t even make it out of the gate?” If we are meant to check the log in our own eye before we speak of the speck in our brother’s, perhaps it would be great to have a companion piece to this present article, entitled “What can African Christians learn from us?” that we can similarly critique and reflect on.

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