Liberation According To Samuel Rayan

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In China K. H. Ting, who was WSCF Secretary together with M. M. Thomas in the late 1940s, tried as leader of the Three Self Movement, as Principal of Nanjing Theological Seminary and as an Anglican bishop to guard the independence of the Church and the sovereignty of its message over against communist ideology. At the same time he promoted its independence from a Western missionary heritage, and sought to overcome its alienation from Chinese society. One of the mottos of the Three Self Movement - meaning self-supporting, self-administering and self-propagating -was love the country, love the Lord'. This affirmation of national belonging corresponded with the anti-imperialist, nationalist dimension of the Chinese revolution. It was the base for welcoming all that was good for China and its people in the achievements of the communist regime. Theologically this was connected with an affirmation of God's goodness at work in creation and history, and of the scope of the redemptive lordship of the cosmic Christ of Colossians 1, 15-17- This overarching perspective creates space for a critical awareness of the sinfulness of human endeavours and efforts, which Chinese tradition from Confucius and Mencius to Mao underestimates. Ting expresses his appreciation of liberation theology and its preferential option for the poor elsewhere but he sees it as one of the tasks of church and theology in the post-liberation situation of China to avoid making the poor the bearers of salvation. The experience of the Cultural Revolution has taught where such idealisation leads. 'The poor are not the Messiahs of the world, as if it were only necessary to liberate the poor and they would then liberate the world.n*

In an article entitled insights from Atheism5 (1979) Ting expressed the hope that the revolutionary spirit of the communists would purify the institutional Church, whilst religious faith would purify the revolutionary spirit, not by dampening it, but by giving its undertakings in industry, agriculture, science and technology, art and music a 'deeper grounding' by relating its meaning 'to the ongoing creative, redemptive and sanctifying movement in the universe under what we call God1.30

Whatever its shadow sides the Chinese experiment has been a source of inspiration- Writing in the early 1980s Fr Tissa Balasuriya, director of the Centre for Society and Religion in Colombo, expressed the admiration of many Asians for China's achievements in overcoming the problems of hunger, unemployment, and dependency on foreign powers, 'It represents the greatest transformation for the betterment of the largest number of human beings in the shortest period of time.'31 However, the bloody repression of the movement for democracy in June 1989, and the pursuit of economic liberalisation policies which tend to undermine some of the social achievements and to aggravate the mounting ecological problems, have increased the doubts regarding China's contribution to the solution of Asia's problems, though it may be too early to conclude, given its revolutionary past, where its present approach will lead.

A new phase in the search for a viable alternative to capitalism has started, a search which is no longer dominated by communist vanguard parties. New social movements are beginning to influence the analysis of the situation and the setting of political agendas,32 It took time for women's movements and eco-movements to be heard, as conservatives and leftists suggested that their concerns were Western imports. However, Asian women are succeeding in making the role of patriarchal oppression in all areas of life visible and the warnings of eco-movements can no longer be ignored. In India efforts are under way to integrate the insights of social analysis based on the methodologies of the theologian and sociologist F. Houtart, of the economists S, L. Parmar and C. T. Kurien - who made crucial contributions to ecumenical social thought - and of Marxists like Ajit Roy with the insights and methods which have emerged in the context of the struggles of women and other subsistence producers, of Dalits, fish workers, trade unions with new agendas, and eco-activists. Eco-feminists have conceptualised the non-accounted-for work of subsistence-producers and women as ^production for life1 which has to become central to the construction of an ecologically sustainable and socially equitable society. People's control of resources is seen as one of the crucial conditions for the realisation of this vision of a life-centred production system and society.

This process of reorientation is slowly penetrating into the realm of theological reflection. Aruna Gnanadason from India has popularised Asian feminist insights in ecumenical and theological circles, Chung Hyun Kyung has combined insights gained from personal experiences in the Korean cultural context with liberation motives found in EATWOT and CCA. She speaks of a survival-liberation centred syncretism in the struggle of poor Asian women who select those 'life-giving elements of their culture and religions' which empower them 'to claim their humanity'. Such inspiration will be found especially in the popular piety of a women-centred cosmic religion which has been repressed by the dominantly patriarchal meta-cosmic religions.35

Connections with eco-concerns are being spelled out by others, Sean McDonagh, working in Mindanao (Philippines) and witnessing the assault on the environment by logging companies and green revolution technologies called for a new theology which draws on sources such as Teilhard de Chardin, Buddhism and the tribal religious experience,54 Gabriele Dietrich, a social activist and theological teacher in Tamilnadu Theological Seminary (Madurai, India) and one of the eco-feminists who coined the 'production of life' concept, has combined the economic, ecological, feminist and theological dimensions in her writings,55

Fears have been expressed that eco-concerns and openness to Asia's religion would lead to a withdrawal from history and politics because of a re-absorption into a cosmic/metacosmic spirituality. This happens indeed in some eco-groups and among those Christians who strive for inculturation and religious harmony in the absence of the poor. Liberation theology which is open to eco-feminist insights and non-Christian popular religion will have the task of showing that the threat of eco-catastrophes means a greater historical responsibility for humankind than ever before. It has to expose the irresponsible blindness to reality which characterises capitalist dynamics. And it cannot give up the critique of religion - Christian and non-Christian, elitist and popular - wherever and whenever it serves structures of domination and forces of death. It will, not uncritically, embrace all popular religion, but will welcome those elements which indeed affirm life and liberation. Fr Samuel Rayan, a Jesuit theologian and EATWOT member, gives voice to such an orientation when he speaks of the openness of Asian spirituality to the reality of the earth, of history and of the ultimate mystery of God, and connects contemplation and critical analysis with the ability to respond in action. Such response-ability implies conversion from capitalist development models to 'redefining development as if people mattered',36 A biblical basis for welcoming life and liberation affirming traditions and elements from other religions as well as secular sources and placing them in a historical-political perspective can be found in the covcnantal approach to the preservation of the earth and the survival of the poor. The conncction between Genesis and Exodus, between God's covenant with the earth and God's covenant with the people on the way from slavery to a society based on justice, could indeed provide crucial insights in the present search for an alternative,37

The question of liberation is more urgent than ever, in Asia as elsewhere, Whether Christians will be able to address the question will depend on their readiness to go against the tide of Mammon, to turn to the Galilees of those who are excluded today and enter into a common search to find how struggles for survival can become struggles for life in its fullness. Asia has its martyrs who witness to that search. Two of them, both from Sri Lanka, represent many others who have committed themselves to this search and struggle: Fr Michael Rodrigo {1927-87), a priest who identified with the poor in a predominantly Buddhist rural area, and Rajani Rajasingham (1953-89), a human rights activist and feminist in Jaffna- At Rajani's funeral people affirmed their commitment to continue the struggle for life by saying: You have not been buried, you have been sown.

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