Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Health and Wholeness: Ecumenical Perspectives from Africa

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Health and Wholeness: Ecumenical Perspectives from Africa

Article excerpt

I would not describe myself as a theologian even if I may have some "letters" after my name. I am, first and foremost, a pastor who in the nature of the game has to dabble in theology. In Africa, where most of my ministry has been done, there is often an opposition if not outright polarization between pastor and theologian. That is arid, because the life of the church, if it is to be on course, cannot but be informed by theology -- preferably sound and relevant theology. Conversely, as the WCC's text Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry and the study process "Theology by the People" have forcefully shown, every baptized person should be involved in all aspects of the life, mission and ministry of the church, theology included. In any case, there is an axiom in ecumenical circles that theology is not only reflection but also, and perhaps more importantly, engagement with the word of God and action on the word of God. My reflections, then, grow out of my active participation in the word of God, and my life as a doer of the word of God in serious (and at times life-threatening) situations in Southern Africa.(1)


The focus of my reflection is on Africa, to be precise my original home of South Africa and Botswana where I lived as Anglican bishop and archbishop of an area comprising dioceses in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe which were part of the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

That geographical delineation is, of course, part of the Southern hemisphere over against the Northern hemisphere. That divide represents at once psychological, economic and political realities and differences. The South represents the poor, underdeveloped and disadvantaged world over against the North, which is scientific-technologically oriented and developed, and generally well endowed. Thus my own ministry and search for healing and wholeness was in the context of a culture of poverty and ignorance, factors which issue in ill health.

Southern Africa was plagued by colonialism, racism and apartheid, all of which dealt in caricatures of African humanity and dignity, thus making for violence and destruction as well as deep wounds, both physical and psychological. We are still today facing challenges to healing and wholeness of massive proportions arising from the wounds inflicted by those ideologies. These cannot be addressed single-handedly and unaided by individual nations; effective initiatives to deal with them call for outside support and assistance.

In other words, the ecumenical dimension is -- and must be experienced as -- solidarity, which is another translation of the central ecumenical word koinonia. To put it as a question, are there expressions of solidarity between government and church, between local churches, between local churches and the wider fellowship, to address issues of healing and wholeness?

The foregoing picture of Southern Africa suggests that issues of health and wholeness have psychological, economic and political dimensions, further implying the need for a multi-disciplinary approach. Such an approach can be a living out of ecumenism, a process which ultimately is concerned with making connections.

African world-view

White supremacy, dominant in the ideologies of Southern Africa, relegated Africans to limbo as savages, primitive and uncivilized. Inevitably the African encounter with Europeans opened Africans to foreign influences and standards, with the result that the traditional stands alongside the modern and foreign.

The seeming welcome and acceptance of foreign ideas and practices does not necessarily mean the rejection of the traditional world-view into which Africans have been socialized from infancy. Urbanization and migration to cities has shown a tacit acceptance of the ways of the city without, in the main, abandoning tradition. Many urban-dwellers and workers maintain contact with their rural homes.

Forced removals of whole communities from their ancestral homes in no way tempered their unswerving commitment to the land they were forced to leave. …

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