Towards Assembly 2024: Europe Regional Pre-Assembly stresses decolonizing mission, moral apologies

by Cheon Young Cheol

The Europe region held its Regional Pre-Assembly from 19-23 February in Trefeca, Wales in preparation for the CWM Assembly in June.

The conference drew delegates from Congregational Federation, Presbyterian Church in Wales, Protestant Church in the Netherlands, United Reformed Church, Union of Welsh Independents and CWM Moderator Rt Rev. Lydia Neshangwe who came together to discuss shared regional challenges and exchange ideas, anecdotes, and insights.

The pre-assembly was also a critical platform where each nominated delegate from the region’s member churches were given an important introductory walkthrough and orientation ahead of the CWM Assembly.

Of shared humanity and ma se kind

Giving the keynote address was Thandi Soko de Jong from the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. An activist-theologian of Malawian-Dutch descent, she is also a PhD candidate at the Protestant Theological University in the Netherlands.

Expounding on the social injustice that is the legacy of colonisation and chattel slavery, de Jong exposed the three biggest myths behind why former colonizing powers seem unable to account for their past misdeeds and how they justify their silence.

First on the list were unconscious biases individuals form that lead to social stereotypes about certain groups—biases often birthed as mental shortcuts that both dehumanise and exclude.

The second myth is the phenomenon that certain groups are given to notions that they are “God’s favourites” when the Bible advocates equality. De Jong pointed out, “Jesus valued and validated the women and children He interacted with in Matthew 19:13–14 and John 4.”

The last myth is the idea that “injustice is inevitable” which, according to de Jong, cannot be further from the truth. She gave examples of many uprisings, protests, and liberation struggles in which women and men of faith together fought for justice such as the ecumenical resistance movements that played a significant role in South Africa’s anti-Apartheid struggle.

While de Jong conceded that not all struggles have resulted in emancipation or liberation, she maintained that all these movements have served as a reminder that the pursuit to dominate and dehumanise fellow humans is ultimately a futile endeavour.

She also called for former colonizing powers to acknowledge their past deeds via “moral apologies” that entail requests for forgiveness and make sincere moves towards reconciliation through admissions of wrongdoing, promises to avoid previous mistakes, and offers to make mutually acceptable amends.

Alluding to the African philosophies of ubuntu and ma se kind (“my mother’s child” in Afrikaans) that recognize fellow humans as one, de Jong connected these philosophies to that of “imago dei” or the Biblical concept that humans are made in the image of God.

“If we consider as ma se kind, all those who are oppressed through… injustice, discrimination, and racism, will there be hesitation any longer by all of the church and all of society to pursue justice sincerely?” she challenged.

Decolonising mission

Expanding on one of the sub-themes of the Assembly—“Revisioning Mission”—was Luciano Kovacs, area coordinator for the Middle East and Europe from Presbyterian Church USA.

He identified himself as a child of an economic migrant and a refugee. Thus, the work that is missions from the margins as he supported refugees and asylum seekers struck a deep chord with him.

Kovacs shared how vital it was to truly remove mission from its Western roots, decenter Western Christianity and allow the displaced and dispossessed to speak for themselves and to lead the charge of the global church to to be the repairer of the breach between the estranged communities and states.

Referencing both the ongoing Russian-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine armed conflicts, Kovacs gave vivid examples of how inequality and injustice have been inflicted upon and how vastly different the fates of refugees from both wars were.

Whilst white European Ukrainian refugees were almost immediately absorbed by their neighbours, brown-skinned refugees from embattled Gaza do not share the same privilege, which Kovacs strongly condemned.

He also shared many instances of church-led reconciliatory movements in Europe and the Middle East that have proven to local governments that it is neither rocket science nor impossible for the lives of the displaced and asylum seekers to be preserved through the active pursuit of humanitarian corridors.

Echoing the keynote from de Jong, Kovacs also shared that “the understanding of what a renewed mission would look like was not exclusively sending mission coworkers to support local projects, providing grants to local programs, and building mutual partnerships to walk in faith together—but to reckon with the historic responsibility.”

Indeed, according to Kovacs, revisioning mission truly means confronting the past to build a more just present and future.

“Now it is the time [for colonising powers] to step away from the driver’s seat, renounce being the center of mission, and recognize that the leaders of mission are the dispossessed, not the heirs of those who dispossessed them.”

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