April 2023

On March 24, half a dozen students and faculty from the CGCM attended two online webinars on the future of mission cooperation. Sponsored by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches, the webinars were part of the research program to commemorate the centennial of the International Missionary Council in 2021. Our Center has been part of this important global research network for two years. As one of fifteen participating centers from around the world, the CGCM has been responsible for investigating the shape of mission cooperation in the North American region. The webinars on Friday continued the discussion by examining “phase two” reports from research centers in China, India, Kenya, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and other locations.

Mission thinkers from all the continents attended the webinars. Although much of the time was spent in formal presentations about book projects (including our own forthcoming volume Creative Collaborations—the subject of a future CGCM News post!), several insights became the subject of lively discussion. One is the transnational, networking nature of mission today. Even though the study process was undertaken by fifteen regional centers, it has been impossible to confine studies of mission to a single region without considering their transnational intersections. To study mission today requires focusing on networks rather than a static definition of mission organizations or the nation-state.

A second topic that elicited lively discussion was the nature and meaning of decolonization as a shared value for mission today and in the future. What, exactly, is the meaning of decolonization? Similar to the problem of studying the relationship between mission and colonialism, the study of mission and decolonization needs to be context specific or else it risks re-imposing hegemonic frameworks on those whose historic struggles with colonizing powers are immediate and personal. Who is talking about decolonization, and what does it mean in different contexts? Decolonization in South Africa means something different than decolonization among gay Roman Catholics in San Francisco, and yet the language is used to describe realities in both places. As decolonization becomes a frequently-employed framework for the study of mission, discussion about its meaning needs to continue. As Ph.D. candidate Allison Kach-Yawnghwe noted, the Canadian partners with whom she works say that insisting on an overarching definition of decolonization takes away local control over their own conversations and realities.

A third interesting topic that was surfaced in the webinars was the use of the concept “mission from the margins.” An idea popularized by the 2013 CWME document Together Towards Life, the concept of mission from the margins has been used to underscore that creativity and energy in Christian mission come from those who have historically been marginalized—especially those in the Global South.  In our research into mission partnerships involving North Americans, however, we have seen pushback against the idea by those in the Global South who say they are in the center of mission, not the margins. With Christianity as a largely nonwestern religion today, what is the continued usefulness of the concept “mission from the margins”? Who and what are the margins, in a networked approach to mission?[1]

One takeaway from the webinars is that the way we talk about mission needs to be refined and redefined to fit changing contexts. It is exciting that the CGCM participates in these discussions. Let the conversations continue!

Dana L. Robert
CGCM Director

[1] For useful discussion of marginality as a missiological concept, including a distinction between active and passive marginality, or between chosen and imposed marginality, see chapter 6 in Anthony J. Gittins, CSSp, Courage and Conviction: Unpretentious Christianity (Liturgical Press, 2018), pp. 79-94.

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