Anthony Gittins - "Living Mission Interculturally"
5:11PM Jun 28, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today we're delighted to be speaking with Professor Anthony Gittins. Professor Gittins is emeritus professor of theology and culture at the Catholic theological union in Chicago, where he taught from 1984 until 2011. He continues to do consultancy work and offer workshops, seminars, short courses and retreats in more than 35 countries from Africa to the Pacific. Professor Gittins is the author of 14 books, including the book that we're delighted to be discussing today, Living Mission Interculturally: Faith, Culture, and the Renewal of Praxis, available from the liturgical press in 2015, Professor Gittins, it's our honor to be speaking with you. My pleasure. Professor Gittins in the first chapter of your book you list 10 theses about intercultural living and the first of these theses reads intercultural living is an intentional and explicitly faith based undertaking. It is therefore radically different from simply being a member of an international community and living under the same roof as others, including people of diverse cultures. Professor Giddens, what is it about Christian mission specifically requires us to embrace an intercultural community life.
I think the simplest it's the radical reading of the gospel of inclusivity inclusion. In other words, one of the things that I do in the book is to is to identify multicultural and cross cultural and various other things. And one of the phrases I use is that multicultural living can be living together separately. Now, the problem is also that people who belong to international communities of missionaries can also live together separately, because they live under the same roof. They may be multicultural, but they don't really share their cultures. They don't Really, they're not adequately concerned about the other pneus of the other. They don't try to work together with differences. And very often in the past, they have tried simply to assimilate the other into the dominant culture. So the reason that we need to be intercultural is that there is no dominant culture for a Christian, there is no marginalized other. And everybody has to try to work together with differences rather than in spite of the differences.
And would you be willing to speak just very briefly to some of your experiences that led to these insights that you put together in the book, what were the direct experiences underlying this study?
Well, there are two kinds of things. One is the kind of the theoretical because I I am really a social scientist, and I've been teaching theology for 30 years and some time I was being concerned about the fact that theologians and and people you know, with with deep Christian faith, realize that they need to become literate in theology, but sometimes assume that they are already literate in culture. One of my concerns is to try and assist people who are theologically literate, to become much more culturally literate. The other thing is that I spent 10 years in my early life in Sierra Leone, West Africa, living with the awareness of the other and realizing that I was the other everybody else was at home, I was the one that was other and trying to learn how not to become assimilated into their life, not to assimilate them into my life, but to live together, as I say with our differences and to exploit our differences for the common good.
Professor Giddens in chapter two you discuss how an intercultural community is different from all of the following a monic cultural community a bicultural community, a cross cultural community and also a multicultural community. How do you define an intercultural community precisely?
Well, the language is is kind of shifting a little bit over over the years and what has happened is that the word multicultural and intercultural are sometimes used interchangeably. What I wanted to do is to identify the fact that when we use the word intercultural, we are using it in a theological way. When we use the word multicultural, we're not using it in a theological way. So, multicultural is simply the de facto you know, coming together or living together of people of many different cultures, whereas intercultural is this intentional faith based response to the challenge of multicultural living.
Hmm. And I understand, of course, that the book was specifically designed for religious orders and groups of religious. What are some of the elements of the book that use it have specifically designed for that those communities that you might not have included if you're writing to the general public interested in intercultural living.
I deliberately wanted to talk to religious communities. Rather than producing a social science book, I wanted to talk to people who were theologically involved. And so if I had written it, just as a social science book, I wouldn't have been concerned about the theological predispositions of people. But my concern in writing the book and writing it predominantly for religious communities, but not exclusively for religious communities. The book is also addressed to anybody who takes for example, a multicultural parish community seriously enough. To try to do something about achieving some kind of cohesion. But the reason that I wanted to look at look at religious communities particularly is because religious communities are composed of people who make a specific and intentional commitment to living outside of their own environment, for reasons that are explicitly connected with faith. And so that the the emphasis in the book is on the fact that if we as religious people, and I don't mean that only in the technical sense of people belonging to the disorders, but if we as religious people who are faith filled believers cannot live together without otherness, then who on earth can
profess? I find this absolutely fascinating. And is there something about Christian theology specifically, that enables this intercultural vision as contrasted or compared to perhaps others? of the world religions.
I'm not in a position really to answer that, because I'm operating very much out of out of a Christian faith perspective. I'm sure I could, I could, you know, speculate about the challenge a lot of faiths but I couldn't do it in any very specific kind of way. I think if you start off with something like the golden rule, for example, then a lot of what I'm trying to say applies, you know, to people of other faiths and other religious traditions. Thank you very much, sir.
Sir, in your book, living mission, interculturally faith culture and the renewal of practice, you introduced a number of very helpful cultural spectrums, including body tolerance, time, individualism and communalism and high context and low context communication. How do cultural differences affect the shaping of our faith?
Oh, intrinsically. I think one of the things that I am interested in trying to identify is the fact that you cannot live your faith except culturally, culture is the context in which faith is lived. You know, if I, if my cultural experience is from some part of South East Africa, for example, and another person's background and culture is from the northwest of England, then the way they live out their faith is going to be culturally determined and culturally different. And one of the one of the dangers about international communities is that the dominant culture wants to assimilate the the minorities into itself. And again, one of the reasons for writing this book is that in the last 40 or 50 years, and I'm thinking specifically now of the Roman Catholic experience, but it's not only the Roman Catholic experience, the pool of people who are Joining a religious communities has virtually dried up in Europe and North America, and expanded enormously in Africa and Asia. And the consequences that the previous dominant culture is no longer dominant. And within the next two decades or so, the dominant cultures will be south of the Sahara, or south and south of the equator. And I don't think many of us have come to terms with that. We still think in terms of Western theology, we still think in terms of Western traditions, we still think in terms of Western dominance in western authority structures, and so on and so forth. And one of the things that we really need to address is the fact that other people than ourselves from those dominant northern climates, have their faith and express their faith in different ways from us, which is why I look at something like body tolerance. So the way we The way we pray the way we speak is all culturally determined. And that that cultural expression of our faith needs not only to be acknowledged, but to be luxuriated and to be and to be expressed by people in their different cultures, and learned by people of other cultures so that we can share with each other rather than assimilate others into our own mono cultural universe
is there so all of these cultural factors, body tolerance, etc, affect the way that we live out our faith? That's a fascinating insight, and one that seems infinitely complex. Is there any way to anticipate how one's various cultures might express itself differently concerning faith? Or must this simply be lived? Must we experience life together and just by the process of simple discovery, find how we're expressing our faith differently?
Well, it's a combination certainly is a matter of experience, but it's also a matter of real commitment and the danger Is that we can have an experience.
the same time we bring ethnocentrism to that experience. And therefore, we interpret everything through our own preconceived biases. What we need to do is to go into the world of the other and try and identify some of the cultural impediments that we carry with us. So that the scales can gradually fall from our eyes. And that needs to be done very intentionally. Because what we tend to do when we when we encounter something unfamiliar in another culture, is to either repudiate it because it's not familiar to us, or simply to say that it is not right. So so one of the reasons for writing this book is precisely to try and help people to become much more sensitized to their own cultural biases, and their own need to identify the ethnocentrism and to deal with it. In a conscious way, as they encounter otherness and other cultural experiences, I
very much appreciate that reflection Professor Givens at the conclusion of your book, you speak of three types of community first, a community of invitation, secondly, a community of inclusion and also a community of radical welcome. Which of these types describes God's vision for his church on mission? And how would you argue specifically for your position?
I think the the answer is fairly straightforward. And the answer is radical inclusion. You know, in in Ephesians, two we have we have Paul talking about the fact that the has been a major divide between the circumcised and the uncircumcised, but now in Christ Jesus, there is no longer any division and he says quite explicitly, Jesus has erased the boundary between the two of us and then as you read the rest of Paul on that topic, and course the whole of the Gospel, Jesus is a person of radical inclusion he includes the excluded, he goes to the margins, he he focuses the very center of his mission at the margins and among the marginalized people. And so, radical inclusion has got to be the image that we that we try to incarnate in our communities, international communities, rather than simply invitation, or kind of a general kind of hospitality, where by we show hospitality to the others and therefore remaining control ourselves. What we need to do is to is to be both the inside and the outside. What we need to do is to be radically inclusive and radically included.
Professor Giddens in your decades of teaching anthropology and mission you've witnessed the modern world comes through many changes, how his Christian missions changed during your teaching career, and how Do you anticipate the Christian missions will continue to change as you look to the future?
Well, here we are at the 500th anniversary of Luther his 95 thesis. And I think that in my lifetime, our attitude to the reformation, our attitude to ecumenism, our attitude to inter religious dialogue has changed almost beyond recognition. When I myself joined a religious community, I certainly had an intuition that we had far too many boundaries and far too many strictures and far too many prohibitions in relation to other people who shared one Lord one faith and bond baptism, but we're divided by denomination, and we have far too many strictures about the way we treated other people, particularly the Jewish people. And in the last 50 years, I think we've come an enormous way toward understanding that we must live to And we're together. And we must trust the goodwill of other people, and the commitment of other people to learn more about other people and to see things from not from a simply denominational or even even a Christian perspective, but from a God's eye view of the world. And I think that the result of that is ongoing. And my experience of ecumenical cooperation, both here in Chicago and in in Africa, has been basically life changing.
And what is your view, Sir, what's causing this acumen ism, some look to the success of missions overseas and will point to cooperation overseas. Others will look to Vatican two, which of course is massively significant for spawning so many fruitful dialogues, what is causing this Ecumenical Movement in the 20th and now 21st century You know,
I think one of the things, what you say, of course, is very true. But I think one of the things is that if we can look into the eyes of another person and see a brother or a sister, then we have a starting point. But if we don't look into the eyes of the other, because as soon as we see the other, we determine the other is different from us and therefore wrong, then we will do nothing. And I think what's happened in the last 50 years is that we have gradually come to an understanding that we must look at each other and we must understand that everybody is a brother and sister to us, however difficult that might be at first blush. And we've we've pursued that. And I think we've done it partly because we've we've become much more biblically literate, we've become much more aware of the call the biblical call, to inclusion, to reconciliation, and to return it into being our brothers and sisters. Keep That's, that's what's motivated as I think.
And Professor Gittens, if I can close with a final question, I've been asking all of the guests on this program this same question. And that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united? How would we recognize this unity? And what can Christians do today to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed in john 17?
I think first as far as Christian unity is concerned, I think my starting point would be the same starting point is Hans Kern, who has said repeatedly, we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, that's got to be the starting point. Don't start off by what we don't have together. Don't start off with what devices start off with one Lord one faith, one baptism, and then work from that. And don't be afraid to own our own conscientious decisions about what is appropriate for us to do in terms of inclusion and worship with others People There are all kinds of rules and regulations that say don't do this, don't do that don't do the other. I think a mature person ought to have the the autonomy before God, to stand up and pray with others and worship with others. And instead of saying we can't get together until we all agree, let's get together so that by getting together, we may come to agree, not in every single detail, but in the fact that the one Lord one faith, one baptism that we share, is enough for us to sit at the same table and worship at the center.
It's been our honor today to be speaking with Professor Anthony Givens, America's professor of theology and culture at the Catholic theological union in Chicago, and also author of the text living mission interculturally faith, culture and the renewal of praxis. Professor, get them thank you so much for speaking with us today. It is my pleasure. Thank you.