Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mission without History? Some Ideas for Decolonizing Mission

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mission without History? Some Ideas for Decolonizing Mission

Article excerpt

Ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configuration of power, also being studied.

Edward Said (1)

The problem is even more complex than it appears, for there are tensions within the perceptions of mission itself and of dialogue itself.

Stanley J. Samartha (2)

Mission in broad terms ... essentially involves activities and interactivities across religious boundaries.

Lalsangkima Pachuau (3)

The experience of taking part in a discussion on women in mission in Bossey, Switzerland, in June 2003 made me realize that the word "mission" was capable of acquiring meanings and implications which at times could be completely contradictory to one another. The connotations of domination and the wilful exclusion of people of other faiths, which the ecumenical quest for a more meaningful way of doing God's mission in the world today tries to critique and discard, are not always comprehended by those who make exclusive claims about Christianity. There is a great deal of tension between the radical reinterpretations of the word "mission" and its narrow translation in certain contexts as the winning of souls for Christ. In an Indian context, where people of different faith traditions live together, the term "mission" has always created a mood of suspicion because of its translation as an enterprise that is interested in converting others to Christianity. Are there any historical explanations for this kind of suspicion? If we wish to understand the discursive implications of the term "mission" today, we need to pay attention to Said, who, in his description of orientalism, warns us that ideas need to be studied along with their "configuration of power". Historically, what has been the configuration of power within which the idea of "mission" has developed?

In the Bossey meeting I was fascinated by the way women from such different cultural backgrounds and ideological convictions were struggling to derive new meanings for the term "mission" by locating themselves firmly in their own contexts. This is clearly a challenge to missiologists and ecumenical leaders because these contexts defy any easy way of understanding how God's mission is to be understood today in a multireligious, multicultural world. Obviously, the different perceptions of mission, as Stanley Samartha says, are what need to be taken into consideration before one speaks specifically about women in mission. Otherwise, as in any other discipline, women will be simply added to history: "Women have also participated in mission" will become a slogan, and the continued difference in perceptions of mission will be simply overlooked.

In this paper, I would like to suggest that any radical discussion of mission today, even that which seeks to define mission from the perspective of women, needs to incorporate a way of critically engaging with the continued difference between countries of the West that once sent missionaries, and the countries that the missionaries evangelized. This is not just difference in terms of economic status of political power, but also difference in perceptions of other cultures that have continued to exist from the time of modern missionary activities. The word "mission" has cultural implications; it has a history and this history is entwined in colonial history. It is therefore important to see to what degree the general orientalist view informed the knowledge the missionaries had of the people and the cultures they encountered (i.e. the knowledge they had before leaving home or just when arriving upon the "field"), and also in what ways their contexts of work forced them to modify such views and renegotiate their relationship with those very contexts.

In my own presentation at the meeting, I argued that a critical history of mission should be made a component of all radical revisions of the understanding of "mission" in our world today. …

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