THE POST-COLONIAL ERA AND ECCLESIOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS
While post-modernism is the condition of the West, post-colonialism is the condition of the South and East; the West is grappling with an existence beyond the values and metaphysics of modernism, while Asia, South America and Africa are all dreaming of an existence outside and beyond their collective colonial history and colonizers. Most non-Westerners prefer to use the term post-colonialism to describe their struggle for identity in the aftermath of the colonial experience. Postmodernism deconstructs the dominant narratives as being simply one of many competing reality-defining stories, hence Jean-Fransçois Lyotard is incredulous towards metanarratives. Furthermore, Michael Foucault’s critique birthed the deep hermeneutic of suspicion of institutions that characterizes our postmodern culture. Consequently, any institution that attempts to control belief and behavior is viewed as repressive and domineering. In fact, there is a deep sense that institutions in and of themselves are structures of domination. Thus, postmodernism is an ally of sorts of post-colonialism; those who seek to come to terms with the experience of colonization and its long-term effects see in postmodernism not only the possibility of an alternative discourse that affirms and celebrates Otherness, but also a strategy for the deconstruction of the concept, authority, and assumed primacy of the category of ‘the West.’ In other words, just as postmodern thought disrobes the differing values and authorities within the West as simply one story over another, post-colonialism asserts that the West itself is one narrative among many, a narrative whose authority and primacy is no longer simply so. That the West does not exclusively define reality is a seismic development, indeed!
The reality of our post-colonial era has great implications for the Western Church. First, the Western Church must dissect the West as a category from the narrative of Jesus. In other words, Christian spirituality and God’s Redemptive Narrative can no longer be defined by Western values and sentiments. In his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paul Freire explains that there comes a time when the oppressed as divided, unauthentic beings develop their own pedagogy of liberation, a development that must be rooted in their own existential struggle for freedom, rather than in models presented to them for emulation from the oppressors. In other words, those who have been oppressed by the West in times past will not seek liberation from the West and its institutions, including Christianity. Rather, they will find freedom in their own indigenous examples. Whether those examples are renewed tribal spiritualists or alternative religions to Western Christianity, post-colonial sectors of the world will assert themselves against all things Western, which calls for indigenous discipleship.
After Jesus’ resurrection He commissioned His disciples as agents of His new Kingdom-movement to share the good news of the Kingdom. Interestingly, where you would expect Jesus to use the word “preach/proclaim” or “bear witness,” a slower, lower profile verb is used, an almost scholastic, schoolish word, “disciple.” This verb literally means, “to cause one to be a pupil or disciple,” which is the controlling word for the Church’s mission. In addition to dissecting the narrative of Jesus from the West, post-colonialism calls for solidarity through indigenization. Solidarity with the non-West requires that one entire the situation of those whom one is solidary; if what has characterized the global South and East is their subordination to the West, true solidarity with the post-colonial South and East means discipling them in the Way of Christ at their side in order to transform their objective reality. Thus, because the post-colonial condition requires hyper-indigenization, the Western Church would do well to begin bleeding Western categories from God’s Story, while also rethinking our concepts of the Other.
As the West rethinks its categories and pays closer attention to indigenization of God’s Redemptive Story, it must not fall into the trap of what Edward W. Said calls the “phenomenon of Orientalism.” According to Said, Orientalism is the notion that the categories “Orient” (which would be modern-day Asia, particularly China) and “Occident” are man-made categories that contributed to a European system of knowledge about the Orient, an idea of Europe that flowed from “a collective notion identifying ‘us’ Europeans as against all “those” non-Europeans.” Embedded within the idea of the Orient was an identity of European superiority in comparison to all the other non-European peoples and cultures, creating a hegemony of ideas and overriding the possibility that more independent, skeptical thinking people might have differing views. This facet of the colonial–post-colonial narrative struggle is intriguing for two reasons: it precludes Western Church theological dominance and hegemony, because the post-colonial struggle is precisely set against the type of Western identity that led to Orientalism; and more pragmatically it requires the West to revise nearly all of its categories for the global Other, realizing that they have been largely deduced through a foggy 18th century-esque romanticism that generated who and what was an Oriental, who or what was an Other.
While I hardly scratched the surface of everything post-colonial a few things should be clear: Otherness is celebrated and affirmed over against the West; Western institutions likeChristianity and the Church are skeptically viewed as extensions of colonial years gone by; solidarity with the global Other requires a radical indigenization as the formerly oppressed seek an identity and solutions apart from their oppressors, and embedded within their own forgotten narratives; and the Western phenomenon of Orientalism (or even Afrikanism) must give way to more nuanced, respectful categories of the non-Western Other. Obviously, our post-colonial global reality requires a drastic shift in Western global mission efforts. But before those efforts can shift, Western global missions as an entity needs to rethink the worldview underpinning those efforts.