Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Dual Belonging ?

The picture is a oil pastel painting I did based on a picture I saw in Bangkok, Thailand of a common religious image – a Buddha figure sitting under a Banyan tree in the traditional Lotus position. It made me think whether Christ would be portrayed in that culture in such a way - Jesus the Enlightened One.   

I have been attending a consultation at  Pilgrim House  in Korea on Global Network of  Centers of World Mission (GNCWM 2011)   

A colleague of mine presented a paper. He is currently working on a doctorate on the concept of dual belonging -  the idea of following Jesus from within another religious system. 
This has been well established among the Peoples of the Book  -  Messianic Believers who are Jewish and follow the Messiah,  and Muslim followers of Jesus – Muslim Background Believers (MBBs ) and the idea of Insider Movements.  

But my colleague is from Malaysia and from a Buddhist background.  His brother is a Buddhist ‘priest’. It is part of who he is.  And religion and culture are difficult to seperate, socially politically, legally.  How does he as a Christ follower continue contact with his family and their culture?

Taking it further - Is it possible to be a Disciple from within another religious system?  He writes:  
The last frontier for Christian mission in the 21st century is the meeting between religions, and the most important task for Christian mission, I would like to propose is not the challenge of contextualisation but the challenge of in-religionisation.  Evangelicals must, “ask not only for ‘inculturation’ but ‘inreligionization’, i.e. not only Chinese Buddhism or Indian Christianity, but also Hindu Christianity”[1] (David Bosch, Transforming Mission)
Beyond the debates of insider movements, “inreligionisation” will be attempts by Christians coming from Asian religious traditions to "believe that it is possible and even necessary not only to accept in theory certain doctrines or practices of other religions and to incorporate them, perhaps in modified form, into Christianity, but also to adopt and live in their personal lives the beliefs, moral rules, rituals, and monastic practices of religious traditions other than Christianity [1]  

How can a person remain true to their own culture and discover afresh the Global Christ -  Jesus ‘the man for all men’  without necessarily converting to Western forms of Christianity. 

It’s a fascinating concept and has raised eyebrows in some parts of the world. How is it possible to belong to two religious systems at the same time?  Some would differentiate between faith and religion, and suggest that  a true faith relationship with Jesus is possible within a religious system other than Christianity. They would say it is possible to believe and be a disciple and follower of Jesus without having to convert to the whole package.  And retain some of the key cultural-religious identity. 
It is I know contentious.  

A strong missional principle is contextualisation - the gospel needs to be interpreted from within the lens of another culture, but the line between contextualisation and syncretism is a thin one and depends on what position you are arguing from. 

There is a sense where most of us carry more than one label:
No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental. . . . No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things; in Eliot’s phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the ‘other echoes [that] inhabit the garden .[3] (Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism)
 This suggests that it is not simply an 'either-or' issue, and that it may be possible to carry more than one label at once; 'both-and' 

As a Hindu, Ram Gidoomal discovered Christ,  as the "Sanatana Satguru" - the eternal and true guru.  Now as a Christ follower, he describes what Jesus achieved in Hindu terms:  “Jesus is the bodhisattva who fulfilled his dharma to pay for my karma to negate samsara and achieve nirvana!” 

[1] David Bosch, Transforming Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991:477-478.
[2] Peter Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004, 61
[3] Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1994), p. 336

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