Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Searching for a Future Waiting to Be Born: Metanoia, Ministry and Mission into the Third Millenium

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Searching for a Future Waiting to Be Born: Metanoia, Ministry and Mission into the Third Millenium

Article excerpt

A little more two months ago I was flying over Tanzania in a small Cessna aircraft. Looking out of the window from the co-pilot's seat I saw lines of mango trees stretching mile after mile. The trees were a living monument to the thousands of slaves who were herded towards Zanzibar's brutal slave markets. As they travelled, mangoes provided refreshment on the terror marches, the trees grew as silent testimony.

In 1994, the Bishop of Cape Coast in Ghana took me to visit the British fort that still stands intact on the palm-fringed shoreline. Within, a sign read "Slave Quarters," and I began to walk into the dark tunnel leading to chambers where up to a thousand slaves were held in darkness. Beyond the cells was another tunnel, which led to a keyhole gate. Through this exit slaves would be pushed into the sea and pulled by ropes to the ships anchored in the bay. The chambers were a starvation block, a place where captives were slimmed down to be thin enough to pass through the keyhole gate, and docile enough to be contained on the long voyage to the Americas and the West Indies.

"Be in the dark," shouted a man from Jamaica, who had returned to discover his roots. "See how it really was for them. They didn't have any electric light, nor room to move." My hosts tried to protect me from his attention, saying "Cool it man. It was a long time ago and we must forgive and forget." For my own comfort I wanted to agree, but the Jamaican was right. There is a need for reminder and a challenge about such a past.

Being in Codrington reminds me of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel's (SPG) past, and its involvement in slavery. Codrington was left to SPG in 1710, a mere eight years after the society had been founded. In the deed of transfer, the following is written: "My desire is to have the plantations continued entire, and three hundred negroes at least, always kept thereon; and a convenient number of professors and scholars maintained there; all of them to be under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience." The society maintained its plantations, albeit not very well. For a time too it had its own brand, and the Rev. Arthur Holt, writing in 1732, to question its continued use, wrote "These letters SOCIETY in large letters are Brandished with a Red Hot Iron upon the naked breasts of the New Negroes as If they were So many Beasts, a Cruelty which I believe the Society will think it proper to discourage."

The society did not think it proper to discourage, and eventually Holt took things into his own hands. This attitude reflected in its own way the view of the society that its task was to win over the slave holders rather than the slaves.

In the sermons and discourses that it distributed in the colonies, therefore, the society urged that Christianity would not undermine slavery but strengthen it. The Christian slave would be more docile and diligent than the heathen Negro. Christianity would leave West Indian society undisturbed. The Christian slave would look for his reward in heaven, and in this life would "abide in the same Calling wherein he was called."(1)

As late as 1823, SPG, while making its policy towards slaves progressively more humane, nevertheless followed a policy that was "coincident with colonial interest." The American historian J. Harry Bennett observed, "Because it was an ecclesiastical body, and one closely identified with the hierarchy of the Church of England, the corporation was highly vulnerable to humanitarian attack." By 1832, the society accepted that the slaves would ultimately be freed, and in due course invited William Wilberforce to be one of its trustees.

The title and sub-title of this lecture seek to express a deeply held belief that contemporary Christianity, approaching the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, needs to re-discover metanoia - repentance at its heart, and apply this to the place where we are, the life we are living and the destination we hope to achieve. …

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