Discernment and Radical Engagement: CWM Launched a Movement Resisting Empire

by CWM

Rev. Dr. Collin Cowan offered this challenge at the inaugural worship of the DARE Global Consultation that just concluded in Bangkok: “I call us to be daring in our prophetic witness; to be valiant in our commitment to justice; to be resolute in our quest to confront power; and to be uncompromising in the witness to our faith.” Held between the 30th of May and the 1st of June 2017, Dr. Cowan boldly announced to the gathering that DARE was the most daring endeavour of the CWM since its inception in 1977.

Standing for Discernment and Radical Engagement, DARE is a programme conceived under the auspices of the Research and Capacity Development Desk of the Council for World Mission. Stating from the outset that DISCERNMENT AND RADICAL ENGAGEMENT (DARE) are woven into the fabric of theology and biblical studies, in order to make sense of divinities, scriptures, traditions, locations, neighbours, responsibilities, destinies, practices, experiences, biases and blind spots.

The DARE programme sought to engage radically with scholars of text, context and theology to dangerously rupture the status quo of Empire, particularly as it has been manifested in the church, the academy and institutions of religious education. The meeting over three days in Bangkok brought together fifty-nine theologians from across the world to discuss with each other what it means to resist Empire. The mission of DARE is conceived as the coming together of the radical soul of discernment and sense-making in theology and biblical criticism with the yearnings for signifying engagement that rise out of the slums of modernity and the valleys of despair, and the commitment to redemption songs that inspire disturbance at the hubs of power.

Recognizing that theology and religion have too long been in support of the structures of Empire, DARE sought to engage scholars who work in the intersectionality of faith communities, the movements and the academy to describe, analyse and construct texts and contexts daringly and imaginatively. Dr. Sudipta Singh, the Mission Secretary for Research and Capacity Development said that the exercise was to “allow an alternative dreaming which would puncture holes in the imperial hierarchy and rigidity of academics while at the same time offering hope to communities which are being destroyed by Empire.”

The consultation began with a keynote address by Dr. Allan Boesak, activist, theologian and pastor who outlined the crisis by saying “The imperial world in which the church is called to a new mission today is a world in a great and terrible upheaval. It is not a world created by God. It is a world of…the chaos before the Spirit of God made her presence felt; a world so flooded by violence that even the birds cannot find a place to rest their feet.” It is in this context that he called those gathered into a “holy rage” every time an unjust leader uses the Bible to justify their corrupt regime, their abuse of power, and their abuse of and disdain for the people’s faith.

The scholar-practitioners who gathered grouped around the sub-themes of Scripture, Resistance and Empire; People, Land and Empire; Body, Persons and Empire and Religion, Power and Empire. The presentations were enriching for the gathering and it is hoped will shortly be published and made available to the church, society and the academy through a four-volume publication.

The scholars who gathered were united in their commitment that another world is not only possible but necessary or as Boesak put it, our mission then is to be “babblers to the rabble, and prophets to the powerful!”

A Communique was prepared by the participants which follows:

The first DARE global forum met in Bangkok from May 29 to June 1, 2017 to discern and engage the call of the church in the context of contemporary empire.  We are a collective of seventy scholars and practitioners from thirty-five countries who work at the intersection of religious communities, the academy and social movements. We examined the questions of empire and resistance as they relate to scripture, land, people, body, religion and power.

By “empire” we mean the amalgamation of global forces pooling their economic, military, political, religious and cultural powers in unprecedented and frightening ways. Its purpose is domination, subjugation and the further concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few. Empire is experienced as the increasing distance between those who make the decisions and those who suffer the destructive consequences of these decisions; all creation groans. Empire is historically constructed and therefore can and must come to an end.

Around the world, both religion and nationalism have been sought as seemingly legitimate pathways of resistance to empire. Yet, religion, its beliefs, practices and academic institutions have been central in the construction and maintenance of empire on both global and national levels. Scripture often has been employed to justify empire. Notions of nationalism have shown a proclivity to mimic imperial designs.

History and scripture teach us that religion also has been and can be at the heart of resistance, hope and the imagining and creation of alternatives. It is this recognition that has brought us together.

Resistance to contemporary empire is manifest in movements across the world. All of us are called to listen deeply to the workings of the Spirit in these movements. We are called into accountable, liberative and transformative engagement. We recognize the formidable obstacles of religious fundamentalism and market fundamentalism. Liberalism, with its timidity, is not an adequate response.

We invite religious communities and the academy to join those already at work in challenging the various manifestations of empire by bringing their gifts, skills and resources. Communities of resistance and transformation challenge us to self-critical reflection and committed action in the firm belief that a more just and equitable world is possible and necessary. Mission today must invariably include resistance to empire.

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