Baum's insights into prophetic religion call out Assembly voices
7 Aug 2008
The joint session of the WSCF 34th General Assembly and the global Senior Friend’s Gathering shared in a moving response to Dr Gregory Baum’s presentation on prophetic religion today.
Dr Baum’s talk drew an emotional response from GA delegate ExCo member Nina Nayoan, who hearing his words of exhortation to oppose empire and take prophetic action, stood before the assembled students and senior friends and made her own call to action, “I just want to say, Let’s say no to militarisation, no to killing, no to war,” she said.
Priestly versus prophetic religion
Nina’s response came after Dr Baum’s detailed explanation of the role and value of prophetic religion in the world. His talk began with making the distinction between priestly and prophetic religion. He explained that while priestly religion is concerned with maintaining the institutions of the church and helping people to be at peace with the existing social order, prophetic religion is the kind of religious action that builds awareness of the fault-lines in our own communities and the wider society,
“Following the Biblical prophets, they (prophetic religions) pronounce God’s judgement on the conditions of injustice, make people yearn for the transformation of society and encourage them to trust in the divine promises of salvation…….The SCM has always stood for prophetic religion”, he said.
Rather than championing prophetic religion as the only solution, Dr Baum emphasised the need for the two kinds of religion saying that because “Priestly religion fosters fidelity to tradition, assures social stability, creates safe boundaries and confirms ecclesial identity. The well-being of vast numbers of people depends on priestly religion”. He specifically mentioned the value of priestly religion in supporting and upholding communities of migrants who need the stability and cohesion it can offer them in insecure new settings.
Prophetic religion within and beyond Christianity
Going on to name the presence of prophetic religion in many strands of Christianity, Dr Baum emphasised the fact that prophetic religion also exists in other religious traditions - when it is understood as that kind of religious engagement that offers a justice-based critique of societies and the religions themselves. He specifically mentioned prophetic religion appearing as Christian socialism and in Latin American Liberation Theologies and named the prophetic strands in Methodism, Presbyterianism and third world Lutheranism. In other religions, he focused on the prophetic strand of Engaged Buddhism and highlighted Jewish peace and human rights work, as well as Hindu and Islamic liberation theologies. In addition to prophetic religion, he made an appeal for the importance of prophetic sociology, which studies not just the phenomena that make up societies and cultures, but takes the position of analyzing those societies from the perspective of their weakest members.
WSCF must remain vigilant
Dr Baum challenged students and senior friends to “look at the world we live in and analyse the structures of injustice that push people and regions to the margin and the bottom”. He reminded the Assembly of the importance of vigilance, saying that although the prophetic wing of the church issues statements on the problems of social sin, most people do not pay attention, even within the churches that make such statements. He affirmed the value of the SCMs and the global Federation as a critical culture that can look at societies from the perspective of their victims and act as a network for bringing about change.
Prophetic critique must challenge the empire
A big part of the change that Dr Baum described as necessary, he named as the tyranny of the Western or “American” empire. He explained how the empire’s military and economic domination of the globe poses the greatest threat to human life and the survival of the whole creation in our time. Concluding his talk, Dr Baum exhorted the SCMs to make Jesus visible in present-day society, by taking up the prophetic mission as Christians to make a real and tangible difference towards a better world.
Indonesian SCMer makes impassioned response
As an Indonesian SCMer who has worked to support the SCM in Timor Leste for the last two years, Nina Nayoan’s call to end militarization came from a very personal source. Last year she made a shocking discovery about her own family history, which the Assembly’s challenge to prophesy called out from within her,
“It was only through his funeral ceremony in June 20, 2007 I came to know that my father had been given the task to occupy the Timorese land some years in the 70s and he had received an honour for what Indonesia’s military called “a heroic task”. She writes in her blog on this site.
“I have been struggling to keep this story as a secret inheritance from my father since he died last year. But I found that keeping this secret inheritance is not liberating myself. It just brings me into another form of the oppression due to the wounded memory…. not only the memory of the brutal military aggression that took place in East Timor since 1975 until 1999 but also the memory of those who became victims under the Indonesian military occupation. We all have to stand against militarisation, against these kinds of killings and oppression everywhere,” she said.
Senior friend calls for forgiveness, recognition of humanity
Nina’s heartfelt call and revelation brought a moving response from Paul Oestreicher, who told of his painful journey towards forgiveness of his own similar inheritance. He spoke of the fact that his own family had contained members on both sides of the gates of Auschwitz and that one German uncle had been in the position to send his Jewish German grandparent to her death in a concentration camp during the Second World War. His perspective was to remember that human beings are not intrinsically good or evil as individuals, but that as human beings we are all capable of going either way. His words to the Assembly emphasised the importance of understanding our humanity and spoke of healing and forgiveness as the way forward.
Dr Baum’s presentation of insights into prophetic religion will be available in full on the Links and resources section of this website soon. More pictures from Gregory Baum's presentation can be seen in the GA photos section of this site.
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