Among D. T. Niles's significant works are: Sir, We Would See Jesus (London: SCM press, 1938); Preacher's Calling to be Servant (London: Lutterworth Press, 1959); Preachers Task and the Stone of Stumbling (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958). He also drafted many of the statements on mission and evangelism of the EACC and conducted studies on mission. For a comprehensive statement on mission that resulted from these consultations, see D. T. Niles, Upon the Earth: The Mission of God and the Missionary Enterprise of the Church (London: Lutterworth Press,
See M. M. Thomas, Salvation and Humanization: Some Crucial Issues of the Theology of Mission in Contemporary India (Bangalore: CISRS, 1971) and M. M. Thomas, The Secular Ideologies of India and the Secular Meaning of Christ (Madras: CLS, 1976).
religions, cultures and theology
The other area in which the ecumenical movement in Asia has made considerable strides is in the field of theology. In the missionary era the classical confessional theologies were handed over by the missionary movement as the theology of the Asian churches; the respective missions also transplanted confessional brands of liturgy and church structures. Even though individual missionaries and small groups of Asian Christians had rebelled against this reality from the very beginning, there had been no real avenue to rethink the Christian faith in Asia. As mentioned earlier, church leaders in China were keen on the 'sinicization' of the faith and related this to Confucian and Taoist culture. In India a 'Rethinking of Christianity in India' group emerged, seeking to rethink Christianity in the Hindu context. Similar movements, less recognized and visible, were in action in other parts of Asia also. Much of the work of rethinking Christianity in thought and practice happened in ashrams, study centres and amongst small groups of scholars, but these were marginal to mainstream Christianity and unable to make any impact on the theology and missiology that had come with the original missions. Real possibilities for effective rethinking opened up after the formation of the EACC/CCA and the openings provided by Vatican II for tentative, yet bold, experiments with liturgy, theology and missiology within the RCC.
The new theological thinking developed along four lines within Asian ecumenism. First were attempts to rethink the faith in the context of religions and cultures. Many of the Asian theologians who worked on this area in the first phase of Asian ecumenism, like Kosuke Koyama and Sachi Yagi in Japan, C. S. Song in Taiwan, Lynne A. de Silva and Aloysius Pieris in Sri Lanka, and M. M. Thomas, P. D. Devanandan, Stanley Samartha and others in India were given a platform for their rethinking in the ecumenical arena. These were later followed by several younger theologians of all church traditions (too many to name) that have begun to push the theological boundaries of the church in the area of relating the faith to the religious and cultural traditions of Asia.
Masao Takenaka and Ron O'Grady, under the umbrella of the EACC/ CCA, provided leadership in making these theological explorations concrete by enabling people to express the indigenization of the Gospel message in Asian art, music, dance, architecture and new forms of worship.15
5 See Masao Takenaka, Christian Art in Asia (Tokyo: Kyo Bun Kwan and CCA, 1975); Masao Takenaka, The Place Where God Dwells: An Introduction to Church Architecture in Asia (Hong Kong: CCA, 1995).
The need for Asian Christians to sing each other's songs was recognized at the beginnings of the EACC. The first attempt to bring together Asian songs in an EACC Hymnal (Bangkok 1964) was undertaken by Niles. The creation of the Asian Institute of Liturgy and Music (AILM) in Manila, Philippines, with Francisco Feliciano as its head, gave a much-needed institutional base to this concern. I-to-Loh, who assisted him at that time, an ethnomusicologist from Taiwan, did much work on collecting and setting to music songs from all parts of Asia. A revised version of the Sound of the Bamboo, edited by Feliciano, I-to-Loh and Jim Minchin of Australia and published by the CCA in 2000, had three hundred and fifteen hymns from twenty-two countries representing forty-three languages.16 Interesting experiments have been done also in the pastoral and liturgical centres of the RCC, on indigenizing the liturgy, music and symbols of the Christian tradition in Asia.
The second line along which the Asian ecumenical theological tradition developed related to the Christian faith in the context of Asian sociopolitical realities. Here the movement facilitated streams of theological thinking like peoples' theology in the Philippines, minjung theology in Korea, Asian liberation theologies, dalit theology and the like. The greatest contribution of the ecumenical movement to individual Asian theologians and schools of theology was to facilitate the meeting of people who were until then working in isolation, by publishing their thinking and making it widely available in Asian countries and outside. Several theological consultations organized by the CCA and the FABC, individually and jointly, helped the Asian theologians to test their thinking with colleagues; there was cross-fertilization of ideas across national and confessional lines. The CCA's Commission on Theological Concerns and its CTC Bulletin did much to further ecumenical theological thinking in Asia. The Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS) that meets periodically to explore relevant theological themes has been successful both in furthering theological thinking in Asia and in introducing new theologians to the movement.17 The creation of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) opened the way for Asian theologians to
For the history, see Ron and Alison O'Grady (eds.), Twenty Years: A Celebration of the Asian Christian Art Association (Hong Kong: ACAA, 1998).
Cf. Ron O'Grady, 'Indigenization and Asian Culture', in Koshy (ed.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement, vol. II, p. 380.
Formed by the CCA in 1997, CATS has organized four Congresses up to 2005. Even though the Roman Catholic Church (FABC) is not a co-sponsor, Catholic theologians and the observers from the FABC play a significant role in the Congress as leaders and keynote speakers.
be in conversation with those doing theology in African, Latin American and other marginalized contexts.
The third line of theological development within Asian ecumenism related to the plight of women in Asia and in empowering women to do theology of their own. The CCA was slow in getting issues relevant to women on its ecumenical agenda. Initially it took the form of promoting 'Cooperation of Men and Women in Home, Church and Society' (1959), but gradually the questions of discrimination and oppression became part of the ecumenical agenda. More importantly, the movement began to provide the space necessary for women to speak for themselves. CCA's sixth assembly in Penang (1977) and seventh assembly in Bangalore (1981) were places where women were able to bring their concerns as theological concerns affecting the practice of the faith of the church. The CCA formed a Committee on Women's Concerns and also set up a 'desk' for women's concern within its staff structure. The programmes carried out under this desk and the evolution of a 'Women's Commission' within the EATWOT have helped in the evolution of a distinct Asian feminist theology in Asia, with persons like Virginia Fabella, Angela Wong, Mary John Mananzan, Sun Ai Lee Park, Sook Ja Chung and Pui-Lan Kwok giving the lead. The Asian women's journal In God's Image and the Asian Women's Resource Centre for Culture and Theology (AWRCCT) enhances the participation of women in the Asian theological task.18
The fourth line of development was in ecumenical social thought. From the very beginning, the Asian ecumenical movement has seen socioeconomic-political issues as questions of faith. The task of post-colonial nation building presented stark alternatives to the political—economic scene. The pressures on Asian nations to move towards capitalism, socialism or communism were enormous and the churches had to deal with hard choices in the context of Asia's extreme poverty and deprivation. Wars and internal turmoil in several countries forced the movement to think about issues of violence and non-violence, peace and reconciliation, and religion and state. The emphasis on development brought questions of the kinds of development that are appropriate for the region. The plight of women in Asian societies raised fundamental questions about the Christian understanding of human worth and dignity. The oppression and marginalization of several groups of people raised ethical issues about the nature of the community we seek. Asian
For a more detailed account, see Angela Wai Ching Wong, 'Women Doing Theology with the Asian Ecumenical Movement', in Koshy (ed.), A History of the Ecumenical Movement, vol. II, pp. 85—114.
ecumenical social thought was firmly based on three theological pillars. First, the world belongs to God and God is active in it to bring about its healing; Christian discipleship entails our willingness to participate with God in this work of liberation. Secondly, economic, social and political issues are questions of faith; involvement in them is part of the test of faith and witness. Thirdly, social ethics has to do primarily with human worth and dignity; nothing that diminishes the worth of a human person can correspond to the will of God.
justice, human rights and religious liberty
Concrete programmes and activities to promote justice and reconciliation accompanied the theological reflections on issues. Born in the midst of revolutionary changes, social upheavals, wars and inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, the Asian ecumenical movement has had much to say about international affairs, human rights, rights of communities, religious liberty and the relationship between religion and state. More importantly, the movement has been engaged with action groups, social movements, liberation struggles and groups engaged in bringing about relief, rehabilitation and development. The Urban and Rural Mission (URM) is instrumental in expressing solidarity with marginalized groups. The Asian Christian Service, formed to minister to the people of Vietnam, did much to bring relief and rehabilitation to the whole of Indochina, and similar movements have been active in promoting efforts at unification in the Korean peninsula, giving pastoral support in areas where communities are in conflict on religious or ethnic issues. In fact the strength of Asian ecumenism lies in its capacity to strike a healthy balance between action and facilitation and its ability to promote thought, advocacy and action on a variety of issues that affect the life of the Asian churches and the peoples of Asia.
challenges facing the ecumenical movement in asia
Given the complexity and plurality of the Asian continent, it must be said that the record of the ecumenical movement in Asia in the past, despite the shortcomings that necessarily accompany any such movements, is quite impressive. The movement has not only been of service to the Asian continent but has also made an enormous contribution to global ecumenism in terms of both ideas and persons; Asian leadership in global ecumenism has an impressive record. But, what are the prospects for ecumenism in Asia? What are some of the challenges it needs to face as it looks to the future? This question of course can be answered from a variety of perspectives. I shall briefly highlight seven issues that will affect the future development of ecumenism in the decades ahead.
Much has been said about the positive and negative impacts of the globalization of economic and financial markets, the radical changes that are being brought about by the communications revolution and the demographic impact of the massive movements of population in our day. In one sense, the ecumenical movement aims also at building a 'global community' where nations and peoples will live together in peace and justice; the 'oikoumene' of the ecumenical vision is indeed the 'whole inhabited earth'. Several Asian countries and sections of the population in all Asian countries, however, are deeply affected by the negative effects of economic globalization. Widespread and ever-deepening poverty, economic dependence, the loss of the power of the state, the imposition of a materialistic consumerist ideology, and the loss of the sense of identity and community are matters that continue to draw the attention of the Asian ecumenical movement. The effect of the unregulated liberalization of the financial markets hit Asia when Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia suddenly found themselves in financial ruins in the Asian financial crisis of 1997.
Globalization, as a process of drawing the human community closer together, however, is likely to stay with us; people of the world need to find ways of harnessing its positive elements for the good of the wider community; they need to find ways of providing space for each other and learning to live together in peace and justice. While it may not be possible to prevent the globalization of the human community, it should indeed be possible to enable the Asian people and nations to have a better understanding of the issues involved, to expose its negative effects on nations and people and to help find avenues that will channel the globalizing forces to move in creative directions. One of the problems presented by the impact of globalization is that many issues are no longer clearly confined to specific geographical regions nor can they be tackled by the commitment of people in any one region or religion. The Asian ecumenical movement has been engaged in several studies on the effects of globalization on people's lives, but neither they nor the ecumenical movement at the global level have found adequate ways of addressing this difficult issue. This remains a challenge to the movement as it looks to the future.
The second issue relates to the gradual blurring of the lines between the 'north' and the 'south' as categories that denote the developed and developing worlds, especially as this relates to Asia. Some of the Asian countries like Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have achieved economic prosperity in general and have become major trading partners with the countries of the north. China, India and Indonesia have the potential economically to rival any of the western nations in the near future. At the same time, several other Asian countries struggle to live above the poverty line. Further, in almost all Asian countries the gap between the rich and the poor within the countries has been growing. The attitude of seeing economic prosperity as the sole goal of life has been on the increase. This reality has raised several questions for the classical north-south framework within which economic issues are discussed in the Asian context. At the political level, there have been attempts to build up the relationships among nations in Asia and to create adequate economic and political instruments to protect Asian interests from falling prey to the predatory capitalism of the north. At the same time bewilderment over the impact of a con-sumerist, secular culture on Asian people is shared by the leadership of all the major religious traditions of Asia, which have consistently taught the limitations of material benefits and the need to place greater emphasis on a spirituality that affirms nobler values in life. New initiatives are necessary within Asian ecumenism to deal with this multi-faceted question.
The Asian ecumenical movement also needs to prepare itself for the emerging new geopolitical reality in which China and India are likely to emerge as major economic and political powers of the twenty-first century. Even though Chinese churches have played a significant role and provided much leadership to the ecumenical movement in the early stages, political developments in China have prevented the churches, for decades, from having any meaningful involvement in it. When China opened up to the world outside, the mainline Church of Christ in China was not able to play a significant role because of its need to concentrate on rebuilding the church internally and training and equipping a new generation of leadership. The unresolved issue of the China-Taiwan relationship also plagues the Chinese relationship with the Asian ecumenical movement. There have, of course, been many attempts on the part of the Asian and global ecumenical movements to facilitate the involvement of the Chinese churches in their programmes and to help the church in China in its reconstruction, but more needs to be done to facilitate the fuller involvement of China in Asian ecumenism. Likewise, in India the Christian relationship with Hinduism has been under pressure and much needs to be done to lay a more secure and solid foundation for a good relationship.
The movement also needs to ask the question: What kind of global leaders will China and India become? Will they simply imitate the example of the western powers that dominate and exploit the world, or will they pave the way for new ways of building international relationships, international security and the people's economic wellbeing? The Asian ecumenical movement is well placed to initiate and foster discussions over these issues in the church and in secular circles.
The fourth concern for Asian ecumenism is the deterioration of the relationships between religious traditions and the conflicts that they have engendered. The rise of conservative and militant expressions of religion, insensitive and aggressive methods of evangelizing, the increasing role of religion in political affairs, issues of religious liberty and the loss of impact of religious values in general are matters that call for concerted attention.
The perceived confrontation between the west and Islam, aggravated by the unwarranted invasion of Iraq, the unrestrained war on terror and the proliferation of militant groups within Islam have begun to have an impact in Asia also. The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and several other nations in the region face the prospect of a worsening inter-religious situation unless timely measures are taken to contain the problems and to meet legitimate grievances.
Even though the Asian region underwent a social revolution at the end of the colonial era, this revolution remains partial, especially in relation to women, children and marginalized groups within most Asian societies. Discrimination against the dalits in India, the tribal and aboriginal peoples in several countries and ethnic and religious minorities in others, continues to frustrate the building of a truly human community in Asia. While there is a greater consciousness of the need to treat women with equality and dignity, in reality women in most Asian countries still suffer the discrimination they have suffered for centuries. Much of the discrimination against women is still entrenched in religious and cultural norms. There is also deep concern over the widespread prevalence of child labour, child prostitution, child soldiers and child abuse in the Asian region. Here too the ecumenical movement in Asia has been active, but these concerns should continue to dominate the agenda. Asian societies can never be truly free until the rights and dignity of women, children and minority groups are secured.
It is no secret that the ecumenical movement in all parts of the world is in some measure of crisis in terms of leadership, resources and agenda. Much has been said and written to analyse the reasons, but some of it has to be attributed to a changing religious consciousness in the context of a global culture that promotes individualism and consumerism. Conservative religious movements that place an emphasis on individual salvation, promise prosperity as God's gift and give definitive answers to difficult questions have made many inroads into the religious consciousness of people. Ecumenism, increasingly, appears to be a luxury that individuals can ill afford. Happily, there is still considerable commitment on the part of the churches towards ecumenism, but it can no longer be taken for granted; hence, the need to rebuild the ecumenical movement from the base on new foundations has become urgent. This also requires programmes that involve and include the progressive elements within 'evangelical' circles. The moves that have been made in this direction in the CCA and the conversations about a 'larger ecumenical instrument for Asia' are good beginnings and need to be pursued.
The churches in Asia will remain minorities in most Asian societies in the foreseeable future. Their lives are inextricably bound up with those of the people of other religious and secular traditions. Christians cannot hope to resolve any of the intractable problems of the continent on their own or with their own resources. In any case, a creative, positive and genuine relationship with the people of other religious traditions is absolutely essential for Christian life and witness in Asia. All this points to the inadequacy of an ecumenism that relates only to the divided churches.
The churches should still work together to grow in their own unity and to bring the best of their resources to serve the larger community, but they also need to seek to build a 'new' or 'wider' ecumenism that will bring people across all religious traditions into the service of humanizing and liberating Asian societies as a whole. There is every reason to believe that the Asian churches and the ecumenical movement are able to discern the urgency of this need; they also need to begin to act on it.
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