A Biblical lens on Intercultural
October 19, 2022
Inspired by a presentation from Rev Assoc Prof Monica Melanchthon to the Intercultural Forum in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Monica, Bethany Broadstock shares four take-away insights on the imperative to hear ‘voices from the margins’ and the implications for an Intercultural Church.
Rev Assoc Prof Melanchthon is a renowned feminist and liberation theologian who teaches Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies at Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne. She is committed to bringing marginal perspectives to the fore in reading Biblical texts.
Written by Bethany Broadstock
Paragraph 5 of the Basis of Union commits every person in the Uniting Church to read the texts of the Bible. The Word of God that we hear through scripture, carefully discerned, then comes alive in the life of the church. So, we are all theologians, whether we are aware of it or not, and theology guides our practice.
In the Uniting Church we celebrate the gift of a diversity of cultures. One implication of this is that we are also a theologically diverse church. So what are some of the implications for how we approach the Bible and do theology?
We’re a Church of many nations – and perspectives
Being an Intercultural Church is fundamentally about crossing boundaries that divide. In this way, being Intercultural goes beyond simply being Multicultural where diverse cultures may peacefully co-exist but not engage. This may make for a tolerant community, but our relationship to each other will remain superficial, and our understanding of God and of faithful Christian discipleship is unlikely to be enlarged. As much as anything else, we are called to cross the boundaries of our perspectives – to recognise that both yours and mine are shaped by a depth of faith and insight from which we can both learn. That does not mean we will always agree, but that disagreeing loses its power to separate.
An engaged dialogue between the rich and different perspectives enlivening an Intercultural Church may foster God’s reconciliation within our communion.
As an Intercultural Church we should read the Bible together
The Bible is never read in a vacuum, but by communities in a particular place and time. Indeed, Biblical texts each arise from a particular place and time! With an account of how the text has come to them, these communities discern the fresh word it holds for the moment in which they live.
How much richer might our interpretations be if we bring to scripture the wide and diverse perspectives and lived experiences of an Intercultural Church?
If we were to read the Bible through the eyes of First Nations women, of people from the global south, of those who discern how God’s word speaks into their experience of race, class, caste, gender, migrant status, disability, sexuality, marginalisation? We would see things we’ve never seen before in places where we’ve never had the heart, courage or awareness to look before.
Hearing neglected voices can lead us to a more faithful witness
As an Intercultural Church we need to always be aware of the voices we are not hearing in any conversation. When it comes to our engagement with the Bible, this is so important, because it is about how we fold into our theology the fresh revelation of God that may arise from voices we have not heard before.
In recent decades, the world of academic theology has found this out as marginal perspectives – like those arising out of particular lived experiences such as gender, sexuality, oppression, liberation – have slowly but steadily broken into the mainstream. These are perspectives which have often been sidelined from the theological conversation, certainly in the global north, but their presence is changing theology for the better and no doubt ushering in new practices.
What may become new to us when we are attentive to voices we have not yet heard in our communities? As the academy has discovered, this may take us against the grain of traditional theological reflection. But this is essential, because it will help us come to see how, and when, our interpretation of the Bible has served the interests of the dominant culture. The more the margins occupy the places closest to the centre, the more an unjust centre will be unsettled.
“Margins are the space of God’s visitation,” writes Monica. We should stand open to learning new truths from unexpected directions as we seek to follow the God of life and engage not only socially but also theologically in working for justice, equality and freedom in both the church and world we hope for.
We’re on a theological journey as much as anything else
It is important that we grapple with what it means to be an Intercultural, theologically diverse Church. There is still work for us to do in learning to manage difference and disagreement with integrity, but there is much to gain.
When we choose to live open to the insights we receive from each other and receive them as God’s gifts for shaping our witness and practice, we will grow in faith as God is revealed in new ways. We may become ready to address the dynamics of power, marginalisation and belonging that being an Intercultural Church demands. We may speak into the world more faithfully. And our theology, in the hands of an Intercultural Church, may become an instrument of liberation and fullness of life for all.