Wednesday, December 12, 2018

National Consultation  on

Church Reformed: Always Reforming

Celebration of 500th year of Reformation
80th year of re-thinking Christianity movement of India

Thank you to the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society for your invitation to address this national consultation on ‘Church reformed: always reforming’.  It is an honour to be with you to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation sparked by Martin Luther, and to rejoice in this 80th year of re-thinking the Christianity movement in India.

Our consultation is to ascertain the nature and the presence of the Church in the world in the ever changing social and geo-political realities both in India and abroad, while taking account of concepts and themes from the Reformation of 500 years ago for the continuing life and witness of the Church today.   I am grateful that there are seven further sessions in our consultation, which will focus on specific themes and concepts, for the scope of our deliberations comes at an urgent time for the Christian movement as our world reels from wars and rumours of wars.

For most of my ministry, my country has been at war.  This reality provides a constant backdrop to all I have to say.   In particular, I will give testimony to the power of God in Christ’s gift of reconciliation to our war-weary diocese, and how Christ’s gift of reconciliation comes with a calling to be ambassadors of reconciliation.  This is what lies at the heart of our mission, and provides the perspective for my gratitude for what the reformation tradition has given to us.  At the same time, the struggle to fulfil our vocation as reconcilers in our war-torn country has sharpened my views on the failures of the reformation tradition to fulfil its promise of freedom.

As a Bishop of the Church of South India, our denomination has a strong foundation in our inheritance from the reformed tradition of Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches.  But my bishopric is in Sri Lankan soil, and our Diocesan mission is much preoccupied with what it means to be the church in a post-war environment after 30 years of civil war.  In fact, it may be considered as a constant that the two anniversaries we are remembering never seem to escape the shadow of war.  Luther’s protest against certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church took place against a rising tide of violence and protest in Germany and across Europe.  On the 100th anniversary, the common identity of Lutherans and Reformed Christians justified an ongoing polemical relationship to the Roman Catholic Church, and Luther was revered as the liberator from the Roman yoke. Then on the 400th anniversary, amidst the calamity of the First World War in 1917, Luther was portrayed as a German national hero, while in South Africa, the 1917 anniversary served to reinforce the violent oppression of black people under the Dutch Reformed Church’s theological legitimation of apartheid.[1]  Similarly, the influential Tambaram Conference of 1938 took place on the cusp of the outbreak of the Second World War, and took place in India because the preferred venue in Chinawas engulfed in China’s war with Japan.

Any review on my part of the great theological themes and concepts emerging from the Reformation or Tambaram must be partial at best.  The sweep of history, and the vigour which various theological themes brought to light through these events have been debated, is more than sufficient to confound any attempt on my part ‘to ascertain the nature and presence of the church in the world for today’.   What does hold my attention in the midst of this great canvas of theological themes, is the ever-present shadow of war and violence over this history.  And if the Reformation may be understood as giving birth to the modern age, then what does this mean for the nature and presence of the church in our modern world with its seeming ever increasing appetite for war?

When I was consecrated Bishop of the CSI Diocese of Jaffna in August 2006, I was a Tamil bishop of a historically Tamil Diocese.  When the civil war concluded in 2009, some 20,000 – 40,000 Tamil men, women and children had died in the final months of fighting.   For the pastors and members of my diocese, war was a daily reality because the diocese was predominantly located in the north and east, where the majority of Tamils lived.  For 26 years they had suffered from military engagements, riots, suicide bombing, failed peace-keeping endeavours, failed cease-fires, aerial bombardments, shelling of enemy forces and civilian populations, guerrilla raids, forced disappearances, torture, summary executions, assassinations, and other countless atrocities.  Here were the bitter fruits of the modern age on full display: scientific and technical ingenuity thatfoster death and dehumanisation, the accumulation of power and wealth for the pursuit of self-aggrandisement, and the idolatry of self-justification to create the illusion of peace when there is no peace.

And with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), it seemed for many Tamil people that their hopes for freedom from discrimination and oppressive state rule were also defeated.   As their Bishop, I felt their despair and hopelessness.  With my pastors, I experienced the pain and grief of our people weighed down by suffering and injustice.  For me, there was only one theological foundation to stand on which could empower our mission in war-weary Sri Lanka.  This foundation is what Luther called the theology of the cross.

Luther declared that true theology and recognition of God are only to be found in the crucified Christ, made visible in Christ’s human nature, weakness, and foolishness.  The mission of God to which the church is called is to be discerned by recognisingChrist in the humility and shame of the cross; for it is there that God is hidden in suffering.  Luther stated it boldly, ‘God can be found only in suffering and the cross.’[2]

Our Diocese took the theology of the cross to heart as the suffering of Tamil people across the north and east of Sri Lanka increased, for these were the areas that bore the heaviest brunt of the civil war.  Under the inspired leadership of my wife, Dr. Thaya Thiagarajah, the diocese established our Centre for Holistic Healing.  From the devastation and destruction wrought upon our people, a new form of response for the church in Sri Lanka emerged.  With every aspect of a person’s life devastated by the war, any response intending to offer hope for a new life needed to address the whole person, mentally, physically, spiritually, and economically. The multi-disciplinary approach of the Centre for Holistic Healing forged a formidable pioneering missional way of thinking and acting for churches anywhere in the world that find themselves needing to respond to the violence and trauma of war.

I recollect the words with which I concluded my charge at the beginning of our 2011-2013 biennium: “Let our journey together this biennium be a movement from ‘woundedness’ toward ‘wholeness.’  I believe this vision was faithful to Luther’s theology of the cross in our commitment to be in solidarity with the suffering of our community.  Perhaps even more, I believe this commitment was faithful to the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, for I believe that it is only possible for the church to be in solidarity with the injustice suffered by the poor through the strength of God’s righteousness present in our human weakness.[3]   Yet I was to learn that the Lord had more for our church to learn and be formed by than our commitment to a theology of the cross and the principle of sola scriptura.

Luther found the liberating power of his theology of the cross over and against what he called the ‘theology of glory’, as evidenced inthe prevailing theological and ecclesiastical culture of his day.  He saw that scholastic theology was failing to address many people’s anxiety about their salvationin the face of upheavals across Europe, there was a massive abuse of power by the clergy from bishops to priests, and the church was involved in political intrigue to secure and enhance its position.[4]  Gerhard Forde tells us that for Luther the theology of glory and the theology of the cross are “two ways of being a theologian.”   These two theologies are diametrically opposed: “the two theologies are always locked in mortal combat.”  Ultimately… these two theologies are about two differentworldviews or life perspectives.  The theology of glory, like the theology of the cross, encompasses all of theology.  It is a way of life.’[5]   For Luther, these two theologies are mutually exclusive.

Now with my formation as a priest and bishop in an environment of war and violence, what strikes me about Forde’s image of Luther’s conflict between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory, is its violence.  Luther’s theology of the cross appears to hide within its reforming zeal both a spirit of hatred of its opposition and a self-justifying rhetoric of redemptive violence.  The US theologian Walter Wink coined the term ‘redemptive violence’ to describe the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right.[6]  Each of these tendencies may be discerned in Luther’s attacks on the Roman Catholic Church and what he believed was its theology of glory.  As our diocese seeks to make headway in a post-war environment, what troubles me is that in the Reformation’s contribution to the birth of the modern age, the Reformation’s hatred of the theology of glory lies hidden.  This means that buried within the spirituality of the modern age is both a hidden spirituality of hatred of the ‘other’ and a self-justifying rhetoric of redemptive violence.

These twin tendencies of hatred or fear of the ‘other’ and the self-justifying rhetoric of redemptive violence are deeply rooted in the history of the Jaffna Diocese of CSI and are made manifest in the role of missionary churches of the reformed tradition.  The first Christian churches in Ceylon were established by Roman Catholic Portuguese in the sixteenth century following Portugal’s ‘conquest of the maritime provinces’[7] in the pursuit of expanding trade.   When the Dutch arrived in Kandy in 1614, they brought with them the memory of their war with Roman Catholic Spain, and set about winning a treaty from the Kandyan king to exclude Catholic clergy from his kingdom.  For his part, the King reached an agreement with the Dutch to form an alliance to drive out the Portuguese from his kingdom.[8]  The treaty proved worthless.  Once the Portuguese were driven off the island, the Dutch claimed sovereignty over all their territories, and the ‘reformed church of Holland was formally established as the religion of the colony.’[9]  The Dutch prohibited the meeting of Catholic congregations in 1715, and in Jaffna, took over the Catholic churches.  The Dutch issued a proclamation that no one was permitted to farm land or hold public office unless they were baptised and a member of the Protestant church.[10]  So the Dutch Reformed Church in Ceylon grew numerically under the colonial authority’s belief that ‘might is right’.

The British colonial period in Ceylon continued under the ideological justification of the modern age for economic expansion based upon the exploitation of foreign lands.   So when the American Ceylon Mission (ACM) arrived in Ceylon in 1816, the British Colonial government in Colombo, still scarred by the British war with the American states, refused the American missionaries permission to land in the south.  Even though both the Church of England British governor and the American missionaries shared a common heritage in the Reformation, the Governor sent the American missionaries north to Jaffna, with its predominantly Tamil and Hindu population.  The governor’s fear of the unknown ‘other’ due to the British memory of war with America, meant the missionary congregations in Jaffna from which our diocese emerged, were born with fear of the ‘other’ at their heart.  This emerged particularly in the missionaries’ attitude to Hinduism, a view that gained intellectual force through the key contribution of Hendrik Kraemer at the 1938 World Missionary Conference at Tambaram.   Kraemer’s preparatory book displaced earlier missionary insights by his ‘strident and exclusivistic call for the conversion of all to the gospel revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This call dominated not only the Tambaram meeting but subsequent thought about other religions within Protestantism from 1938 up until the 1980s.’[11]  While Ariarajah’s analysis of the shift from exclusivist thinking about missionary work since the 1980s may be correct, I am yet to be persuaded that this shift has healed or transformed the fear of the ‘other’ that we continue to observe as a legacy of our colonial inheritance.

The bitter fruit that contains the seeds of war is perhaps even more present in the theology of the ACM missionaries and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) which sent them.  The policy of the ABCFM throughout the 19th century in Ceylon was for their missionaries to avoid politics in foreign lands, and to withdraw from the political struggle over slavery at home.  The success of Luther’s assault on the political structure of the Roman Catholic Church was in large part due to the power of his theological reform that shifted authority from the church hierarchy to the individual’s direct relationship with God.  By the early nineteenth century, the seed that was planted by this reform had become embedded as the spirituality of individualism ‘into the very fabric of European life and shaped the modern world.’[12]  The theologies of the Presbyterian and Congregational missionaries of the ABCFM were formed by an individualistic piety that often blindedthem to the reality that by avoiding politics in Ceylon, they were fitting in with the economic and political status quo of the British colonial government.

So the Batticotta Seminary that was founded by the American missionaries, and later the Jaffna College founded by Tamil locals as a College based on Christian principles, both fitted into the educational framework provided by the British.  Graduates of both colleges quickly found success with employment in the British public service and businesses.  The ACM decision to provide an English education for its students was of critical importance to the economic fortunes of their graduates.

So the economic beneficiaries of the ACM’s evangelical mission were the educated Tamils, but there were two unintended consequences of the missionaries’ educational success.  First, because the Hindu population in the north felt excluded by the rise to power of Tamil Christians, they started to develop better organised and highly trained Hindu Tamil schools.  The level of western education in the north far exceeded the levels in the Singhalese south.   Secondly, the Singhalese population also began to feel excluded from the Tamil’s power and influence in the British government and business circles, and, over time, this resentment began to coalesce in a more militant Buddhism and Singhalese ethnic identity.

‘By the time Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, about 60% of government jobs were held by Tamils, who formed hardly 15% of the population.  The popularly elected leaders of the country saw it as an outcome of a strategy by the British to control the majority Sinhalese that needed to be redressed.  These measures deteriorated the already frail political relationship between the communities and many experts believe it as one of the main causes of the Sri Lankan Civil War.’[13]  So, did Luther’s theology of the cross defeat the theology of glory he believed to be embodied in the Roman Catholic Church, and give us a firm foundation for the church’s mission in solidarity with the suffering?  Or did the reformation he inspired give birth to a spirituality of hatred of the ‘other’ and provide a rhetorical justification for redemptive violence that has poisoned the spirit of the modern age to which the Reformation also lays claim for its parentage?

These are the restless questions that spring from my story and our history as the CSI in Sri Lanka.  These are painful questions to which neither the theology of the cross nor the theology of glory holds a fruitful and life-giving answer.  I no longer believe the matter is a choice between one theology or the other, or between one view of church history or another.   If we are to be reformed churches always reforming, then I believe we need to be open to Christ’s transforming and reconciling presence made manifest as God’s resurrection power in our suffering.

If Luther’s intention was to reform the church of his day, I humbly submit that as a child of reformation faith and tradition, I and my diocese are too burdened and broken by the harsh realities of war and the burdensome questions from our inheritance to countenance that task today.  So I trust it is enough that we wait upon Christ in our suffering, and pray with St. Paul for his transforming and reconciling presence.  ‘So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!   All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’[14]

The reconciling grace of God came to me from outside my past experience of God’s presence, first in the approach of a Singhalese pastor to join the Jaffna Diocese, which until that moment had been a historic Tamil national Church, and later during my holistic healing from a violent attack on my life that left me to die. This now means the theological task is less about seeking to visualise the contemporary images of the reforming nature of the Church, and more about being open to God in Christ’s new creation, as God reconciles our church to himself through Christ’s solidarity with our church and nation in our suffering.  For it is in waiting on the Lord in our deepest need and being lifted up by God through Christ’s solidarity with us that we receive our vocation as church for the ministry of reconciliation in our world.  The promise that we are being given to God’s ministry of reconciliation in and for the world may then be more about how the profound newness to be found in reconciling the world to God requires of us what Brueggemann has called a’ prophetic imagination’ to nurture a reforming churchfor that task.

The theological task of being open to God in Christ’s newness and the challenge of faith to wait upon God in our deepest need both have a resonance with two of the four characteristics Walter Brueggemann identifies with a subcommunity of the dominant community being a prophetic community.[15]

After the defeat of the LTTE and the dashed hopes of many Tamils for a liberated homeland, our church has been enlivened by the active presence of hope in God’s newness forming our being as a reconciled community of Singhalese and Tamil. Our hope of being a reconciled national church is the fruit of prophetic imagination, for this hope also stands in judgement on our church and nation’s violent, warring past.

Perhaps part of Luther’s faithfulness was his ability to sustain an active presence of hope in God’s desire for an act of newness for the 16th century European church and nation, while witnessing to how God’s act of new creation stood in judgement on the corrupt structures and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.  The US sociologist Robert Wuthnow describes Luther’s achievement sociologically: ‘Luther was able to formulate a critical ideological discourse by thematising certain features of his social environment, setting them in opposition to alternative visions of cultural authority, concretising both by drawing on conflicts evident in the society in which he wrote and preached, and supplying figurations of behaviour that mediated between present and idealised realities.’[16]

But the reformation Luther worked and prayed for came at a great cost.  What Wuthnow’s sociological analysis hides is that it is only in recent years, and after almost 500 years of misunderstanding, fear and hostility, that the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches have entered into a reconciling relationship.  And while this 500th anniversary bodes well for furthering this journey, how long must our war-weary diocese wait for our reconciling mission to be fully realised?   For my joy at the growth of our diocese as a reconciled national church is weighed down by the unresolved bitter fruit from the unintended consequences of the missionary endeavours of our founders, which have so far been denied and ignored by the American church with which we share our history.

How may this consultation embrace the understanding that to be the church in India or in Sri Lanka cannot be a national denominational question but must be an international, ecumenicaltheological question that waits to be addressed within the prophetic church’s imagination of God’s promised newness and judgment on historic injustices still embedded in our present?  How can our reforming mission meet the challenges of the present, because our churches are not reconciled to the injustices of our past?  For Christians in India and Sri Lanka, this question necessarily requires of us new and renewed relationships with the missionary churches from the US and Europe that were vital to our formation.

Waiting upon God in our deepest need has a resonance with a second Brueggemann theme of having an expressed sense of pain that is experienced as a real social fact, which is visibly acknowledged in a public way, and is understood as unbearable for the long term. The pain we experienced as a Tamil church amongst Tamil people is evidenced by the institutional discrimination experienced by Tamils from early in the establishment of the Sri Lankan republic and the injustices perpetrated by successive Singhalese-Buddhist governments.  Again, the defeat of the LTTE left many Tamils believing this pain would be unbearable for the long term.  But the newness of our journey into a reconciled national church also transformed how we are learning to hold the pain of past injustices as an act of prophetic imagination.

A pivotal moment in the reconciliation of Tamils and Singhalese in the Diocese occurred at an annual pastors’ retreat I convened for our pastors.  The retreat’s theme of ‘God’s transforming Spirit: from chaos to creation’ provided a focus for the pastors to reflect on the impact of the civil war on them personally. In one session, the pastors each drew a picture that illustrated what they were feeling when telling their personal stories about the harm they experienced.

When it came time to share their creative work with the whole group, a Singhalese pastor stood up to speak.  He said that after sharing with his Tamil sisters and brothers during the retreat, and especially with those who ministered in the Vanni and Jaffna, he now believed for the first time that the Singhalese military had misled the Singhalese population about the devastation and death that resulted from the concluding phase of the war.  This pastor’s profound discernment of Christ’s voice in the grief and pain of Tamil colleagues brought him to a stunning political analysis of the corrupting spirit that had formed his understanding of Sri Lankan national life.

The gift of our church’s prophetic imagination is seeing the truth from Christ’s perspective.  This pastor saw a new truth, and when he disclosed it, the Tamil pastors at the retreat heard him joyfully, for their pain as Tamils had been acknowledged in a public way by a Singhalese brother.   And from this truth a new capacity to bear pain that appeared unbearable has emerged.  Soon after this event, I was called to stand in solidarity with another Singhalese pastor who was assaulted and his church attacked by Buddhist fundamentalists.  Today we are called to be a reconciled church, and to be reconciled to God at the cross of Christ means trusting that we may live in solidarity, one with the other, sharing the pain that is the cross we bear as a prophetic community.

If we did not know the grace of God that brought our real experiences of pain into the light of our newness as a reconciled church, we would have little to say about the complex multi-faith and ethnic conflicts that burdened our church and nation with war for too long.  Perhaps these narratives about our experiences of pain are parables for how we are to be a reconciling and reforming community for our world, called to walk with the Prince of Peace in resisting the evils of violence and war.

Brueggemann offers two other features of the prophetic community that may further our understanding of how our newness as a reconciled national churchmay deepen our vocation as a reconciling church. He posits that a prophetic community has a long and available memory that sinks the present generation deep into an identifiable past that is available in song and story.  But the reality of the Sri Lankan war is that memory has been violated or buried, and for many, the memory of their war experience may be too painful or too dangerous to narrate.

The challenge of nurturing a prophetic community with a long and available memory in a post-war environment is summarised in a recent report of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, which noted that ‘the different ways in which the different ethnic groups experienced the war indicate deeply varied perceptions of perpetrator and victim, triumph and defeat, and hero and enemy. These varied memories should be carefully brought together nationally to create a narrative which is inclusive of all experiences and grievances. This is a significant challenge for Sri Lanka where even memory has been a cause for division instead of a uniting force.’[17]

Our Diocesan executive agreed that I should celebrate the Eucharist on All Souls’ Day in 2015 for the first time since the war’s end.  In the liturgical act of remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection, we took an important first step in recreating a grieving space within the Diocese for all those grieving the death of a loved-one or church member killed during the war. This Eucharist took place against a background of the‘emergence of memorials for the military in predominantly Tamil areas, where mourning and remembering the past was prohibited, (and this) was observed … as adverse to reconciliation.’[18]  The Catholic theologian William Cavanaugh, in his study of government torture in Chile, described the Catholic Church’s discovery that in the Eucharist the church had a vehicle for remembering the rule of God and a practical means for their communities to escape ‘the imagination of the state … To participate in the Eucharist is to live inside God’s imagination.  It is to be caught up in what is really real, the body of Christ’.[19]  Perhaps this sacrament of remembrance is critical to the healing of memories traumatised by war and the politics of oppression.  Our All Souls Eucharist was helpful in nurturing our diocese’s prophetic imagination for the ministry of reconciliation, for a little more than a week later, we were able to transform the Vaddukoddai Cathedral into a welcoming space for a multi-faith public ceremony for International Remembrance day.  Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian leaders led the gathering in remembering how each faith was committed to peace, while two mothers from the Tamil and Singhalese communities testified to the tragedy of the war-deaths of a loved husband and sons.  Properly understood, the theology of the cross unites all humankind in the suffering and death we inflicted on Christ.  We are united in our shame and sin.  I believe this is close to Wesley Ariarajah’s assessment of the theological imperative for us post-Tambaram: ‘What is needed for the future … is an authentic Christianity that moves away from a missiological explanation of the significance of Christ.  A new Christology is needed that would provide a foundation for theology in a context of religious plurality.’[20]  This is the deep truth which must underpin all Christian participation in multi-faith dialogue and conversation if the church is to be faithful to our vocation as ambassadors of reconciliation.

Brueggemann’s fourth feature of a prophetic community is that ‘there is an effective mode of discourse that is cherished across the generations, that is taken as distinctive, and that is richly coded in ways that only insiders can know’[21] I do not think Professor Brueggemann is advocating for a theological discourse that is coded for insiders to the abstract discourse of professional theologians and biblical scholars!

In the immediate aftermath of my recovery from an attempt on my life, I was nurtured by the prayers for healing of my family, my pastors, my people, ecumenical friends, and colleagues and friends from around the world.   On the first Sunday at worship nearly a month after the attack, our Colombo pastor invited me to address the congregation, and I found myself preaching.  My friend John Bottomley has written about my preaching in our recent book, and I quote from his account:

‘Then Daniel started to preach an unprepared extempore sermon on Psalm 34, choosing a verse which until that moment he never even knew was there.  He said, “I am fond of Psalm 34 and I am fond of several verses but not this verse. That particular verse is, “the bones of the righteous shall never be broken.”  Then people started to weep and cry, and breakdown in the church.  For I was suddenly remembering the incident. I remembered my car was stopped.  I told the driver not to stop.  He pretended he was not stopping, but he did.  There were people outside the car and they tried to open my side door, but they couldn’t. So they dragged me through the driver side, and they were using a small axe to even chop me on my forehead.  I tried to run, but they attacked me with an iron rod and attacked my leg, and I fell.”  God’s Word took Daniel to a painful, terrifying and vulnerable place in his memory that he was unable to go to in his own strength.  For the first time since being attacked, Daniel began to connect God’s Word to his context of being the victim of malevolent violence.  The brutal images that emerged in memory found a place of both acceptance and mercy in the context of scripture.’[22]

Today I testify with a thankful heart for these two great gifts from the Reformation’s liturgical newness: the empowerment of God’s people in prayer, and the liberating and healing grace of preaching.  Being reconciled to God through the prayer of the priesthood of all believers is a mode of discourse to be cherished.  Being reconciled to God’s Word through the act of preaching is an effective mode of discourse for liberative freedom and healing.  The Reformation has reconciled these means of grace to our hands, and they are forever distinctive marks of what it means to be a reforming church called to live with prophetic imagination for how God will raise up new life-giving possibilities for God’s suffering people.

But these means of grace, though hidden from the world, are paradoxically given to the church for the sake of the world.  The CSI Eco-theology program is a fine practical outworking of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.  Some forty plus CSI activists from the eco-theology task group visited our diocese a year ago, and as a result of their visit, we were encouraged to reflect more deeply on the link between our civil war and the ecological degradation caused by war.In particular, we were helped to listen to the cry of the land and become aware of how the war has devastated and degraded the land through the laying of land-mines, the destruction of water courses, wells and water management systems, the impact on fish stock, pasture, and the contamination of farming land due to chemical warfare, bombing and military machinery.

In our relationship with the environment and other organisms we must be as people called to be in the world in its materiality, but not of the world in its autonomy from the Creator.  This is in contrast to how scientists formed in the enlightenment cultureclaim to be in the world as value neutral observers.  In doing so, they perpetuate the illusion that rational science in its autonomy from God has a God’s eye view of reality from outside the world of nature and human society.  The Christian understanding is also voiced by the Buddhist Ariyaratne, sometimes referred to as the Gandhi of Sri Lanka, who ‘described the error of modern western civilization, saying: “Man was trying to master nature, as if he himself was not an integral part of nature.”’[23]  That is, the study and practice of ecology is not to be based on the violent separation of the observer from their human limits and relationships with the material world.  Christ’s call for the earth to be reconciled to the Creator in the pursuit of peace on earth[24] again engages our reconciling vocation in the development of Christian-Buddhist dialogue.

I am impressed by the Lutheran World Federation’s 2017 sub-theme for the 500th anniversary: “Creation—Not for Sale.” The Federation has urged member churches to extend Luther’s insight of “salvation not for sale” into the realm of the environment, with special reference to how Luther’s theological critique of economic abuses may be bought to bear on the abuses of extractive industries today.[25]  My concern is that those who see the challenges of environmental degradation and the possibilities for a renewed priesthood of all believers from lay participation around this vital concern take a leaf from the prophetic imagination of the CSI eco-theology program and ensure they are as immersed in the traumatic reality of the impact of war on the environment as they are on the impact of climate change.

Today we live at a time where we enjoy the fruitfulness of many great blessings from the reformation movement that began 500 years ago.   But in Sri Lanka we have also inherited the bitter fruits of modern warfare that also emerged from the reformationage, along with both the dark fear of the ‘other’ and individualistic spirituality that are buried within the evangelical movement of our missionary founders.  My testimony is that a reforming spirituality, of itself, will fail in addressing these twin realities of our inheritance.  Rather our diocese is being reformed out of the depth of our war-weary pain with a prophetic imagination that is grounded in being reconciled by God in Christ for a reconciling mission.  Perhaps there are others in India and beyond who have journeyed in the reformation tradition who will find comfort and strength in our testimony to God’s new creation, which is being formed through their reconciliation to God in Christ for the ministry of reconciliation.

© Bishop Daniel S. Thiagarajah PhD
Bishop of CSI in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

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