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Churches lack theology foundation to understand Pac

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The multi-religious group in Malawi, Public Affairs Committee (Pac), has been facing condemnation ever since its inception way back in the 1990’s.

In recent times, some have accused Pac of going overboard when it tends to respond to issues concerning public life of Malawians and politics.

Interestingly, a number of churches in Malawi, which one would have expected to work together with Pac, supporting it, are either keeping silent or even responding negatively towards Pac’s activities. They say Pac should not comment or advise anything concerning politics or public life of Malawians; rather Pac should concentrate on church and spiritual matters of the Malawians. Such churches this paper, therefore, accuses them (especially the Christian churches) of lacking good foundation of Christian theology and, hence, clinging onto classical theology.

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Such is classical and western theology that tends to be abstract and divorced from the human situation and experience. Classical theology tends to be strongly objective towards God, giving Him all glory honour and praise and has very little in terms of subjectivity towards caring humanity. Such has been wrong understanding about who God is in Jesus Christ. The problem with classical theology gave birth to a method of theology called praxis.

Praxis is from a Greek word which means action, activity, deed and endeavour. In contemporary theology, it is commonly used by liberation theologians who insist that it is not enough to speak or believe in truth for Christian truth is always truth in action, truth in deed. Praxis is founded on three elements: suspicion, remembrance and retrieval. This is to say a theologian should always be suspicious of oppressive institutions, remember the suffering that our Lord Jesus Christ went through for humanity and retrieve those important things that have been deliberatively lost. Thus, praxis is involvement in liberative action. Its long history begins with Aristotle but the concept achieved contemporary prominence through Carl Marx, who used it in various ways but, most commonly, to mean revolutionary action through which the world was changed.

Praxis has something to do with Locus theologicus. Locus theologicus means an area or place where theology happens. Thus, locus theologicus for classical theology was often the sacred scriptures and the official teachings of the Church that had been handed on through the centuries. In order to make the discourse about God more intelligible, theologians of classical theology times resorted to the philosophical currents of their time to help interpret the Christian tradition and it was unthinkable for theologians of those times to consider their own situation and experience or those of their audience. For praxis method of theology, from which liberation theology was born, locus theologicus means putting a lot of emphasis on the human situation and experience of poverty and oppression and the praxis of liberation as starting point and locus of theological reflection.

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On locus theologicus, Schillebeeckx who is a western progressive Roman Catholic Theologian and Belgian by birth and a member of the Dominican order, saw the task of theology as that of mediating between past interpretations of the Christian experience of salvation in Christ (in the Bible and tradition) and the cultural situation in which the gospel must be reinterpreted today. The substance of the faith cannot be had in a non-historical form, but only in the fluid, historical forms which it assumes in changing cultural contexts. Thus, the tradition from the past cannot be the only norm for interpreting the gospel. He said theology but must be creatively reinterpreted in the light of an interpretation of the modern experience of the world.

Another western theologian Hans Kung, a Swiss Roman Catholic who taught at Tubingen since 1960, in his On Being a Christianex, pounded a Christianity centred on the historical Jesus as distinguishing feature and a Christian faith compatible with modern critical rationality and the aspirations and achievements of modern humanism. He presents Jesus as the true man who makes it possible for modern men and women to live in a genuinely human way.

On locus theologicus here in Africa, de Gruchy describes Black theology in South Africa as coming out of the experience of obedience to the Gospel amid the realities of contemporary suffering, racism, oppression and everything that denies the Lordship of Christ. While Buthelezi says that black theology of South Africa comes from the reflections upon the painful experiences of “the one whom we see in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town trying to make ends meet in the framework of Influx-Control legislation”. Thus, black theology of South Africa is coming from the experience of miserable and extremely oppressive social surroundings that were institutionalised during the time of apartheid regime that ended in 1994.

One of the important developments in theology in recent years is the emphasis on the human situation and experience as locus theologicus. The Gaudium et Spes (which means joy and hope) of the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council, was the first document that made as the starting point the situation and experience of the people to whom it was addressed. The English version of the document is about:

“The joys and hopes, the anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. The theologies that emerged from the Third World put a lot of emphasis on the situation and experience of poverty and oppression and the praxis of liberation as starting point and locus of theological reflection.”

In other words, the Gaudium et Spes is for liberation theology.

Liberation theology is a political movement in Christian theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of liberation from unjust economic, political or social conditions. It has been described by proponents as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope and a critique of society and Christianity through the eyes of the poor” and by detractors as Christianised Marxism”.

Although liberation theology has grown into an international and inter-denominational movement, it began as a movement within the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1950s–1960s. Liberation theology arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in that region.

The term was coined in 1971 by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez who wrote one of the movement’s most famous book A Theology of Liberation. Other noted exponents are Leonardo Boff of Brazil, Jon Sobrino of El Salvador and Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay. In Malawi, churches (led by the Roman Catholic and the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian) fought against Dr one-party rule of government in Malawi and for democracy and human dignity between 1992 and 1994.

Liberation theology could be interpreted as a Christian attempt to return to the gospel of the early church where Christianity is politically and culturally decentralised. Liberation theology proposes to fight poverty by addressing its supposed source: sin. In so doing, it explores the relationship between Christian theology and political activism, especially in terms of social justice, poverty and human rights. The principal methodological innovation is seeing theology from the perspective of the poor and the oppressed. For example, Jon Sobrino argues that the poor are a privileged channel of God’s grace.

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