Climate Justice: Insights from African Anglican Theologians

The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings (2015). Climate Justice: Insights from African Anglican Theologians. An address delivered at the Partners in World Mission Conference 2015, Swanwick, England, on 4 Nov 2015.

Overview

This short article is from a speech about climate justice given by Bishop Graham King at a mission conference in England last year.  He’s an English bishop, but one of his underlying themes is how we should strive to listen and learn from our African congregations and colleagues.  Much of his speech quotes African bishops.

He shapes this comments around three of the five “marks of mission”.  These are; 3. To respond to human need by loving service. 2. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation. 5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.  For completeness, I looked up the first two marks of mission – 1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and 2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.

He says that certainly we have a duty to respond in loving service to human needs that have been created by complications of climate change; and cites African bishops who have given examples about drought and crop failure due to climate change.

But he does on to state that we should not only be offering “loving service” but we also have a duty to “reform unjust political and economic structures” that have caused climate change.  He quotes a Kenyan theologian who specifically names two of these unjust structures as an imbalance of political power between the global North and global South and a consumerist culture driven by the global North.

Lastly, he speaks of creation as being a space in which God is revealed and is therefore in need of care and protection.  

Rachael’s thoughts

 I hadn’t previously come across these “marks of mission”; but I think they are valuable and sensible.

I like the idea of “loving service” to others.  On an individual level I think I need to be better at identifying areas where people are in need and where I can serve others. (As an aside; I honestly miss my church in Ireland where week in week out I interacted with people who were in need and we tried our best to meet their needs in love. now having moved to London there are fewer people I come into contact with regularly with the same immediate needs).  On a corporate level, I think “ responding to human need by loving service” is a good choice of words to describe “charitable” activities.  We should of course be about serving our neighbours, getting to know them, responding to needs and looking for opportunities to serve those in need.  And as a corporate body of Christians it makes sense to support institutions (charities) who are responding directly to human needs.

But I also liked when Bishop King moved to speak about the fourth “mark of mission” about transforming structures and I think it’s a useful counter-balance to the third.  I worry that if all we ever did was response to human needs it might leave us “us” in the position of offering “patronage and condescendence rather than … partnership and empathy”.   This fourth mark of mission rightly names the need to also need to identify and then work towards ending of unjust structures, strucutres that as rich global North Christians we might also be complicit in.  As a corporate body of Christians, as well as responding to human needs in loving service we should be also working directly to change bigger structures, and to support institutions who are trying to change those structures.   This is something I’ve very recently started to get involved with in my church in South London as we’ve joined the community organising charity Citizens UK.

I am now at an age and stage in a faith journey where I am comfortable saying that working to engage and transform unjust structures that hurt people who are poor can be a part of God’s mission in the world.  However, I know that ten years ago I could not have been comfortable to say that and I would have told you that working for climate justice through political campaigning cannot be “mission.”  I am not sure what else to say about this tension, other than to note it exists and that I realise that many Christians (including leaders in the church where I grew up) wouldn’t be comfortable seeing climate justice campaigning as an area of the church’s “mission”.

A final thought; this brief article doesn’t address much about practically how we could go about carrying out these acts that mark us as being involved in mission.  I would love to read more and think more critically about what a distinctively Christian response to changing and challenging unjust political and economic structures looks like.  What can we offer as a church over and above what we could offer if each member of a congregation signed up individually to volunteer with greenpeace? I think Bishop King starts hinting at what a distinctively Christian response might look like; the church could be a forum in which there is genuine engagement as equals with leaders from the global South and this could help us identify our own privilege and complicity with unjust structures or perhaps church teaching could help to change some of the consumerist mindset to a culture of sharing.

Joanne’s thoughts

This is the first thing we’ve read which considers an African theological perspective. Something I’ve noticed as a tension working for the Anglican church in Mozambique is that it doesn’t always make sense to superimpose a Western theology on an African culture. More than that, I feel like the African culture has a lot to offer our theology and we rarely take it into account. Kings talks about it a little more frankly in terms of our white Western privilege blinding us to the realities of climate change for the majority of the world’s population. I love this, on page 6: “It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel”.

This address also resonates as someone who first came to development through the eyes of climate change and I have seen evidence here of the impacts that climate change is having on already struggling societies. Addressing climate change is vital to development.

On responding to human need, the Bishop of Kajo-Keji, the Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo notes that the ‘church meets more people face to face every week and can therefore be the best avenue to bring this issue to its adherents’. This struck a chord with me as I have spent the last few weeks looking at the theology and development nexus from a very practical standpoint: how can we keep proving to the secular development world that the church is often the best placed institution through which to approach development? And how do we continue to ensure that we are making the most of the reach and trust that the church holds within its community in order to improve the lives of not just the believers but the entire community?

It is challenging to read Kenynan theologian, Prof Jesse Mugambi indicate the Global North as the perpetrator of injustice with regards to climate change. Shouldn’t every church in the Global North be repenting? I had an interesting discussion with someone recently about how in the Global North we have lost the sense of community and communal responsibility that is so much part of biblical culture, particularly in the old Testament, where we often see people praying on behalf of whole nations or peoples.

Another thing I ‘ve been thinking about over the last few weeks is ‘abundance’ and what it means to have the abundance that Jesus proclaims. I was pleased to see here Mugambi’s confirmation that abundance is not equal to profligate consumption and Durbur’s call to move ‘from a culture of consumerism to one of sharing’. It was interesting to me to read Koama’s statement that Western theology has often viewed the earth as a negative distraction from God whilst African theology sees the earth as ‘filled with the glory of God’. Another result of a consumerist culture? The address goes on to give examples from several African theologians regarding this and noting that African people live in awareness of their environment and in dependence on the earth.

As I return to the Global North later this year I have had my thoughts reinforced that I must ‘challenge cultural patterns and aspirations…learning to live by needs rather than wants’. 

Our 5 main take-away points

  1. In 1984 a group called the Anglican Consultive Committee produced a statement about “Five marks of mission”. These are  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and 2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.3. To respond to human need by loving service. 2. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violience of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation. 5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
  1. Rachael was intrigued thinking about the links between responding to human needs in loving service and then in working to transform unjust structures that led to those needs in the first place.
  1. Jo was intrigued by reading thoughts from African theologians and is keen to read more and let this inform her thinking.
  1. Professor Jesse Mugambi is a Kengya theologican who names two key causes of climate injustice as an imbalance of power between global north and global south, and rife consumer culture, driven by global North.
  1. Jo and Rachael often have quite different take-away points from the same article!

Theological, Ethical and Biblical Considerations on Missionary Affluence

Bonk, Jonathan (2011). Chapter 6: Theological, Ethical and Biblical Considerations on Missionary Affluence. Missions and Money: Affluence as a Missionary Problem…Revisited. Orbis Books.

Overview

This is a complex chapter of a complex book which addresses the title through a variety of angles. It asks whether a westerners preoccupation with material things is no more than an innocently acquired trait of a consumer culture, whether the sin of greed is less deadly for affluent missionaries than for the poor among whom they live and whether a comfortably secure missionary has any sense of dependence on God. It then goes on to a plethora of biblical teaching on wealth and poverty.

Rachael’s thoughts

I first read this book 7 years ago, when I was 21 and visiting a Christian community made up of Germans, Americans and Sierra Leoneans who were living and working among the poorest of the poor in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  It challenged me then and re-reading it now probably challenges me even more.

My first thought is that I loved reading this chapter and Bonk’s exegesis.  For whatever reason, I care a lot about people who are poor. I loved how Bonk listed bible passage after bible passage addressing justice issues that are close to my heart (in theory, if very imperfectly in practice).  Some of my favourite comments from this chapter were; “For the people of God, the rights associated with the acquiring, the use or the disposal of personal wealth are in principle subordinated to an obligation to care for the poorer, weaker members of society” and {referring to teachings about Jubilee years, Sabbath years, usury and gleaning} “Such laws were meant to ensure that among the people of God, neither poverty not its opposite would ever become reified, intergenerational phenomenon” and, lastly, “It is clear that Christianity was never meant to make us comfortably at ease with wealth and power.”  I would love it if these sorts of issues were taught, unpacked and discussed more in our churches and faith groups.

My second thoughts are around personal applicability and are probably more unsettling.  Bonk is writing primarily to and about evangelical (Mennonite) American missionaries and their agencies.  Nevertheless, I think his challenge to think about “the theological and ethical issues that emerge as a natural result of personal affluence in a context of poverty” is applicable to all Christians. I’d love to work overseas in the future, and I think Bonk’s writing would apply regardless of whether it’s a hospital or research council or church paying my bills.  Indeed, there’s no intrinsic reason why this wouldn’t apply to me living in relative prosperity in London.  How congruous is my profession of faith and my spending decisions and affluence?  I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions, but re-reading this has prompted me to think more about my giving, my notions of “financial security” and about how I spend and am seen to spend my time and money.   When I was doing my MSc in South Africa 6 years ago, I realised it was difficult, inconvenient, and perhaps less safe for me to rely on public transport and within a few weeks of arriving decided to pay for a long-term car rental.  I felt uncomfortable about my own sense that I was somehow “entitled” to a car to make my life easier while people I was working with didn’t have that option.  But I did it anyway.  And as I start to think seriously about working overseas, I genuinely don’t know how I should act or what lifestyle and financial resources I should try to find for myself.

In sum, from reading this chapter I had a lot to go away and reflect upon, and probably more hard questions than easy answers.

Joanne’s thoughts

As someone who is officially working as a ‘missionary’ I found some of this commentary frankly quite condescending: ‘Can the secure and independent missionary really pray? Does he or she need to?’. It also seems, from the outset, to label missionaries as hypocrites who, in having any comforts, are not demonstrating the gospel.

However it does this to addresses an important and painful topic. Since I started reading this chapter I haven’t been able to shake the following from my mind (page 92): “If greed be defined as the insistence on more than enough in a social context made up of those who have less than enough, then many missionaries who journey from North American shores will be surprised to discover themselves numbered among the greedy.”

I left the chapter feeling all the more confident that the struggle I’ve had around this topic for the last few years in Mozambique is a legitimate and important struggle. But, it didn’t get me much closer to an answer. Whilst a biblical ideal would be for all humanity to be on an equal footing, that is not the world we live in. I would be no use to my neighbours in Mozambique if I stopped paying for malaria prophylaxis (not handed out to them so I am demonstrating greed and inequality to have it) as I would spend much more of my time sick, perhaps dangerously so, with a body that did not develop any immunity growing up. I would also not be showing love to my family and friends back home if I stopped paying for health insurance, meaning that if anything happened they would need to fund all my treatment (and persuading them that the local hospital is good enough, when they are not missionaries, or even Christians, would be impossible). I would not help my neighbours if in times of local hunger I also stopped eating instead of buying imported products with my salary as I would not have the energy to support them. We would all be equal but we would not take steps forward. Trust me, I spend a lot of time feeling guilty about what I have, but I also know that I can only be of some help here because of the privilege I was born with and I believe that it would also be irresponsible and ungrateful to God to give all of that up. I have been given a responsibility to use what I have been given in the ways that God intends whilst acknowledging the ‘needle eye’ difficulty of doing that. (Bonk states too that ‘wealth and prosperity are inherently dangerous spiritually’). Sometimes, it feels like it would be easier to be without for with it comes the source of all these questions. Who to give to? How much? How often? For what purposes? How to conduct a relationship that is intrinsically, and in my opinion unchangeable, unequal. Even if I gave up everything I would still have spent the first 25 years of my life in privilege, have seen more places and experienced more of the world than most of my neighbours will ever do and at the end of the day there are people in the western world who would soon show up with a ticket home if things went wrong, whether I wanted that or not. In the end, it is not really my choice. As Rachael notes, the book is mostly aimed at evangelical North American missionaries. It would be interesting to explore further the applicability of the various verses for those working in development. Is it any different?

One thing that struck me again reading the scriptures that Bonk highlights is that regardless of the ethical truth around our self imposed levels of poverty or wealth one thing is sure: we need to be ready to give it all up. None of it belongs to us anyway and the bible is clear that ‘a persons life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’.

Trying to see this chapter as a contribution towards our understanding of the relationship between theology and development, rather than a scalding of missionary ethics (which are equally valid but perhaps less pertinent to this blog), I found the following the most helpful. Mission should be ‘incarnation-based’ (page 95). Mission can, and sometimes does, mean “slowing down and finally coming to a complete halt on the cross.” Mission should be stripped back, messy and vulnerable just as the birth and death of Jesus was. The incarnation should be the one and only model for mission and for development.

 

A theology of development. Rowan Williams

Williams, Rowan (2009). A theology of development.

Overview

“The last few years have seen definite shifts in attitudes to religious faith among those concerned to find paths out of poverty and powerlessness for the majority of the world’s population.”  William’s starts by stating that at times the “development establishment” have been suspicious of people of faith (for a number of reasons), but that religion is a major factor in the lives and worldviews of people and communities worldwide, especially poor communities, and that he now senses that the “development establishment” is more willing to listen to perspectives of faith based groups and faith communities.

Williams’ shares three main points about why the development establishment should work with faith communities, and how and on what basis faith communities should engage in development work.

His first point is around “trust” (perhaps better explained as “respect”).  Many poor people live in communities shaped by religious beliefs and it is only fitting for aid agencies working with those communities to respect the way those communities go about making decisions and respect the way in which religion shapes their understanding of poverty and development (“authentic grassroots participation”).

His second point is around the nature of “rights” and “entitlements”.  Williams’ writes that this idea of seeing humans primarily just as people who can climb rights or a set of entitlements “presents a negative (or a least rather thin) view of the human good”.  He writes that language of rights should be used alongside ideas and language about community, about human flourishing and “involve thinking about human agents as three-dimensional.”

His final and longest point is about a specifically Christian rational for engaging in development.  He  writes about development as being the means to allow people to go beyond merely subsistance and to be able to creatively engage with the world.  He also writes that as Christians we should understand that poverty anywhere is a problem that dimishes all people everywhere… that “this is not simply about the prosperous giving something to the poor, but about a gift that contributes to the liberation of both poor and prosperous and transforms both”.

His conclusion is “The corollary is not that NGO’s and governments concerned with development matters should be subsidising religious institutions or privileging faith-based agencies. It is rather the twofold point that there needs to be a willing and intelligent partnership with religious groups, both faith-inspired NGOs and faith communities, and that such a partnership needs to involve engagement with some of the broad issues about the good life and the human calling which religious conviction presses.”

Key terms/concepts/approaches discussed

  • “Enlightenment doctrine of universal liberties” vs “religious understandings of the world” (actually, may not be in conflict)
  • Fluency in language of religious discourse
  • “Entitlements”
  • Patronage / patron-client relationship (specifically, critiquing patronage)
  • Morality of power
  • Politics of development

Joanne’s thoughts

Community is once more the key word in this insightful lecture from the Right Reverend Rowan Williams: “to take responsibility for nourishing the creative liberty of someone who would otherwise be threatened with a life less than properly human is to open myself to a gift of greater fullness in my own humanity” (p5). In Christ we are as one body and our identity as Christians is in community with one another. Therefore, as Williams notes, “we are not trying to solve someone else’s problem but to liberate ourselves [us in community with all others] from a toxic and unjust situation”. Williams also notes the duty of the Christian to be involved in the world we inhabit as part of our striving towards the divine image in which we are created. Both of these are strong arguments for me for the connect between our theology and development.

I also liked Williams’ focus on ‘human dignity’ in place of talking about rights, moving from thinking about development as fulfilling laws and requirements to a much freer sense of shaping the future of a community – and a future that they are also involved with. Development is not something that is done TO a country, community or individual. On the contrary, this sort of development, as we all know, is doomed to failure. Development rather needs to be done IN and WITH community, helping people to recognize and restore their own dignity. Always back to community, for me the heart of development.

Important too are his comments on the attitude of secular development organisations to faith-based ones, and the faith community. I have witnessed this sort of reverse bias throughout my short career and was relieved to read it so well put: “if freedom of religion is an aspect of human rights, how you actually handle the religious practices of communities must be part of a global understanding of ‘development’; it can hardly be left as the one form of liberty that a development agency does not care about.” (p1) Far too many reputable organisations avoid working with faith based local partners out of fear of bias. But they are missing out on incredible networks often enveloping an entire community regardless of religion and ready-made community development structures.

I often find myself on the defensive when I reveal that I am working for the Anglican Church here in Mozambique. Funnily enough, this is never necessary with Mozambicans who often have a lot of respect for the Diocese regardless of their own religion or beliefs. But there is certainly a feeling that other ‘professionals’ think that our work is to serve our own. Any small understanding of the Christian faith should counteract this assumption: Christ came for all people and we are called to love our neighbours and our community regardless of creed or colour.

A final thought from this lecture was about sacrifice – an interesting thing to explore further in the future. Williams says that “the basic liberties of some can be secured only by the restriction of certain liberties in others”, implying that there has to be some level of sacrifice from the prosperous. There is also an element of sacrifice at the level of those seeking to fulfill their own human dignity in having to decide “which liberties are more important” as we acknowledge that development will not all happen at once. With the role model of Christ himself, the ultimate sacrifice, perhaps we need to understand sacrifice at a deeper level in order to really understand people and to meet them where they are at in spite of religion and in spite of dignity (both theirs and our own). Perhaps then community is a product of shared sacrifice. The heart of development tied intrinsically to the heart of the Christian faith.

Rachael’s thoughts

I really enjoyed re-reading this essay.  I find Williams’ writing echo-ing and putting into words a lot of thoughts I have but can’t well explain.

Firstly he mentions “trust”, which could perhaps better be phrased as “respect.” As I mentioned when reviewing Clifford’s Christian aid document; I have sometimes found that when “we” (meaning middle class, white, global-Northerners) talk about poverty in media, in churches etc. there is a quite a shallow understanding of the lives of people who are poor. There is a tendency to reductionist vision of what poor people need, and by extension a reductionist view of who poor people are. Williams’ writes about understanding embodied lives and communities of people who are poor. He mentioned this in the context of understanding their religious world view, and makes the valid point that religion is a huge part of the lives and communities that many poor people live in.

His second point follows closely on the first and is a critique of an entitlements / rights-based approach to development. I largely agree with a lot of William’s comments although (like Williams) I would be reluctant to entirely disregard the rights-based dialogue. He acknowledges that development should not just be about something that “we” (who are not poor) do for “them” (who are poor) in order that “they” now receive basic entitlements. He writes that if development were only to focus on the language of rights and entitlements then “… the morality of power is no longer an issue: who exactly brings material prosperity and amximised options is not longer an issue – which also means the development loses contact with authentic politics”. Rather as Christians who think about international development and speak on behalf of those who are poor, this should involve our looking at distribution of wealth, access to markets, shared prosperity, considerations of inequality and our own complicity in poverty, instead of just how many people have less than $2 a day. And it will also involve looking at the complexities of community life (for both poor and not-poor) communities and making value judgements about what “the good life” looks like about the ends of development work beyond material gain.

I loved William’s final point about the rationale of Christians working in development. He writes; “So the importance of faith within the language and practice of development is not simply to act as a motivation for realizing goals that have been defined by some independent universal authority, but to provide a critical perspective on how some of those goals can be pursued unthinkingly, and in ways that will do further damage in the long run.”

We writes of the problem of poverty not being merely the lack of access to housing / water / education etc. but that to be “…incapable of getting beyond subsistence, survival, is a tragedy in light of what humanity could be”. As Christians working in development, we should be articulating a vision of our goals of working in international development. And those goals should have something to do with our understanding of what it means to be fully human.

In short, I was a big fan of this essay.

 

Our five main take-away points

1. The intended “ends” of “international development” are not axiomatic.

2.  All people live in communities and inhabit complex worlds and have complex ways of understanding their world.  This is equally true for poor communities, and it is important for aid agencies and anyone working with these communities to try to understand their worldview.  Religious discourse is a large part of the worldview of many poor communities and aid agencies should be aim to be more religiously literate.  The other side of this is that faith-based agencies who already are quite religiously literate should aim to become fluent in the language of rights and entitlements in order to better communicate with non-faith based groups agencies.

3. Development is not necessarily just about economic outcomes; it will involve taking account of people’s values, goals, communities.  There is a political as well as an economic dimension to what counts as “development.”

4.  Christian faith is not just about giving “nice” people motivation to achieve development ends that are already decided.  Rather, a christian understanding of the world, of humanity and of what the kingdom of God means can and should inform the discourse about the goals of development work.  This should happen in conversation with poor people and communities themselves and with other groups and agencies who don’t share faith assumptions (see point 2).

5. Rapprochement between what William’s calls “the development establishment” (government and NGO’s) and the world of faith-based aid organisations and local faith communities has the potential  for benefit all round.

 

Theology and International Development: a Christian Aid report

Clifford, Paula (2010). Theology and International Development: a Christian Aid report. Christian Aid.

Overview

In this paper Clifford outlines a theological framework for international development as the ‘theological justification’ for the work of Christian Aid, a UK based international development charity. The framework is focused around ‘relational theology’, referring extensively to theologian Karl Barth, and attributing major issues of development to broken relationships and the failure to mend them.

Key terms/concepts/approaches discussed

• Relational theology:
• Covenantal theology: Karl Barth
• Liberation theology: Gustavo Gutiérrez, Valpy Fitzgerald
• Marcionism
• Contextual theology: Steve de Gruchy
• Partnership model of development
• Sen’s capabilities approach: Amartya Sen, Sabina Alkire, Martha Nussbaum, Des Gasper (critic)
• Rights based vs needs based approach
• Human Rights
• Structural sin

Joanne’s thoughts

For me there were several points of interest and some of doubt. I will try to articulate them under four headings: community, a global perspective, driven by justice and talking about God.

1. COMMUNITY
The words communal, community, and communities are mentioned 97 times in this 35-page paper and rightly so. For me, although I cannot yet articulate it, there is something about community that is immensely powerful and intrinsically key to what we’re trying to discover about God’s intentions for us and the way that we interact with each other. Clifford offers some interesting insights in this area and I don’t think they need much elaboration:

‘hope for the poorest depends on every part of the church feeling their suffering, making that suffering their own, and responding accordingly’ (p30)

‘the work of a Christian development agency is to show people who their neighbor is’ (p30)

‘recognising the image of God in other people’ (p8)

‘it should rather be a matter for hope that as the ‘me first’ culture declines, community-centred human rights continue to flourish.’ (p10)

Relationships, that are God inspired, find their expression in community.’ (p13)

‘Loving our neighbor is not an optional extra: it is the basis for community and the true expression of Christian unity.’ (p13)

God is a God of relationships, as demonstrated by His very being in relationship with Himself in the form of the Trinity. The idea of both sharing in the pain of those that are suffering and doing all things in relationship feel right and in line with His will for the world. I also find the concept of lament interesting (p21) – it’s something that we avoid a little in our culture but which is very present here in Mozambique and as the author states it is ‘both an individual and communal activity’. Perhaps this is something we can learn from cultures in the global South.

All this gets me excited, inspired and something (with no theological justification) inside of me knows that THIS is what ‘it’ is all about. So I was left slightly deflated by the culmination and portrayal of these ideas in the figures on page 13 of the paper. I found them underwhelming and unhelpful in terms of articulating what these deep truths about community and relationship mean for international development.

2. A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
As I read this relatively academic document I am surrounded by the sound of life going on in small town Mozambique. It occurred to me at one point to wonder what my next-door neighbours would make of this document or what they would have to say about the way in which we articulate our motivations to work with the poor. I felt quite ashamed at the disconnect between the theory and practice. But, here too there are some helpful hints in Clifford’s paper in this direction.

Using a partnership model of development goes a long way in avoiding the gap between a London based head office and the reality of daily life in developing countries and Clifford picks up on this too. She says that the ‘partnership model of development is rooted in a fundamental human relationship that transcends cultural and geographic boundaries’ (p6). It certainly fits the relational theology model that the paper suggests but whether inspired by this indirectly or not, this is a model that we have seen most of the best international development organisations take on in recent years.

Liberation and contextual theologies, briefly mentioned in the paper, are interesting due to the issue of context being so pertinent in international development. Clifford highlights a quote from Professor Steve de Gruchy in which he points out that ’contextual’ African theology is hardly contextual for much of Africa at all, being mostly developed in urban Africa (p19). This resonates strongly with the challenge that international develop professionals face when we claim to be considering the context from our London-based offices or even from national offices in capital cities or large towns. This, again, emphasises the importance of working in partnerships and with those actually working in the field and side by side with communities. I am interested in exploring further, during the course of this project, the idea of theology contextual to rural Africa with “the experience of life in the rural areas shaping theological reflection” (p19) – perhaps there are elements that can be pulled out from this different perspective into a broader systematic theology.

3. DRIVEN BY JUSTICE
Clifford places importance on the nature of God as a God of justice above other aspects and places this as central to the model of development proposed on page 13 of the paper. The following paragraph in particular struck a chord with me and articulated something I know that I feel:
“So when we are in the presence of injustice we are not unaffected ourselves: consciously or unconsciously, we are diminished by it. And our ‘hunger for justice’ lies in a desire to redress the balance, to enable our fellow human beings to recover their human dignity, the same dignity that we enjoy ourselves.” (p11)

But whilst I know that I am, at least in part, motivated by a passion against injustice, I know that there is another characteristic of God which we are also given in His image without which I could not do the day to day aspects of my job. That is Love. Injustice makes me angry and that is not a state in which I can meet people where they’re at and work with them to find solutions. Seeking justice is not enough to enable me to tolerate the difficult parts of living in the midst of community here. These things require love. God given love. And plenty of it.

4. TALKING ABOUT GOD
This paper is blunt about the fact that the best way of demonstrating the Christian faith is through attitude to development and not sharing of faith directly though it is emphasised that being clear about motives should take priority.

One of my hang-ups about overtly ‘Christian’ development is the fear of the nearness to conditional help on the acceptance of the gospel. It is enough to drive me to leave out God completely. But Clifford gives a good reminder in chapter one that for ‘many people in the global South… the separation of religion from social justice issues [is] artificial’ (p6). That is certainly true here, and in fact to a negative extent, where many people see sickness so much as a directly spiritual event that no effort is taken to seek help or to prevent it from happening.

Although this paper address the justification for development from a Christian perspective it doesn’t explore the nitty gritty of how that looks on the ground. As someone working for a church based organization, I’d be interested to explore further ways in which our faith can be integrated into the way we deliver our programmes. I was left underwhelmed by the suggestions for the ways that our faith should impact the way that organisations are run – many of the practices, such as the way that staff are treated, and accountability and transparency, should be expected from all organisations that consider themselves to be working for the benefit of the poor.

My main take-away from this paper: development and our drivers for it should be seen in the context of community and community in the context of the many individuals who make it up.

Rachael’s thoughts

The most interesting things in this document for me were the sections about the importance of using positive language to describe people who are poor. I am made extremely uncomfortable by a lot of “advertising” of aid agencies who far, far too often perpetuate a myth of people waiting around for outsiders to come in a help. In general, I find far too little of the messages I see about poverty focus on agency of people who are poor. Clifford raises this briefly in chapter one and mentions about the need to discuss poor people in a way that “…focuses on what we share as human beings… gives respect to what deserves respect. In Christian terms this all adds up to recognising the image of God in other people.”

Like Jo, I also thought there was a lot of wisdom in Clifford’s comments about a Christian response to poverty as starting with lament. Again, this is something I feel is missing in the NGO / poverty “advertising”. Because a lot of messages we hear from NGOs are tied to fundraising, I sometimes feel we are quickly sold a “solution” (sponsor a child to help X go to school, give to Y to feed Z number to children). Whereas it strikes me a more human response, and a response that more fully paid attention to the image of God in others, would start with lament and sadness at being told about children missing out on education or going hungry. In chapter 4 Clifford writes;

For Christians, therefore, the most immediate response
 to disasters, whatever their scale, and to other causes of suffering in the developing world, has to be an initial impulse to share that pain. The biblical tradition of lamentation is
not one which is common in the mainstream churches in the global North, yet it is one which is a helpful model for acknowledging pain unreservedly and for calling on God
 for justice.”

She goes on to tie this into using the prophetic voice of the church to call out injustice.

Clifford mentions that she has not devoted much space to liberation or contextual theologies, and that these may be discussed in further Christian Aid documents. However, I was sorry to see so little written about liberation theology or contextual theologies, and what was there seemed a little on the dismissive side of this large body of pro-poor theological work.

My only other (mild) criticism would be that an awful lot of theologians and development academics are mentioned and very briefly in this document. I wonder whether a lot of their work is taken out of context or not well explained in this paper. I am not familiar (certainly not to any extent) with the vast majority of writers referenced, but I do know some of Stanley Hauerwas’ work and am familiar with Sen and his capabilities approach. Sen’s capabilities approach to poverty is the cornerstone of current academic international development discourse, and I’m not sure that it was terribly well explained or engaged with in chapter one. Likewise, Hauerwas has written extensively over the years about the church as a witness to the state and the church’s role in a violent world Clifford’s short paragraph on him in chapter 4 doesn’t state his position particularly clearly, and doesn’t reference any of his later work or later nuancing of his position. This just gave me pause to wonder if all the other names or thinkers mentioned are fairly represented or explained.

Our five main take-away points

1. This was a broad overview of a lot of theological thinking and introduced a lot of terms to us that we hadn’t necessarily come across before. We both enjoyed reading a fairly broad overview of thinking on theology, God, the church and poverty

2. Jo liked the focus on community, and relationships across geographical and financing divides.   She liked the comments about justice, and God’s heart for pursuing justice, coupled with Love.

3. Rachael liked the comments about how we talk about the poor (importance of positive language) and the idea of Christians and churches engaging in lament about poverty, and suffering along with those who suffer due to poverty.

4. I would also have liked to see more about liberation and contextual theology, which I felt this was overly dismissive of.

5. It’s fair to say that both of us enjoyed reading something that tried to bring God into thinking about international development, and were glad to see dishonest notions like “international development as a smokescreen for evangelism” de-bunked and disregarded. It was refreshing and helpful to read about the image of God in poor people, about kingdom work among the poor; about God and justice; and about the role for the church in all this.