A Vision for Mission in the 21st Century:
Ways Ahead for Ecumenical Theological Education Theological
Education: HIV/AIDS and Other Challenges in the New Millennium
Prof. Musa W. Dube,
HIV/AIDS Theological Consultant
P.O Box 355
Keynote address at St Paul's United Theological College,
Even long before the scourge of HIV/AIDS, dare I say that
creating new theological thinking is long overdue? For so
long, many churches in Africa have been living with imported
theology, which does not speak to the fears and hopes of
"I am here begging for a theology
that will help us ask critical questions about our inactivity
or wrongdoing; a theology that will help the child, youth,
woman and man in the pew and streets to cultivate a dialogue
that will lead to life-giving action in the midst of suffering,
misery and death
I am begging for a theology that
will provoke us to come together, to argue it out when things
go wrong, with or without academic theologians. We need
a theology that will creatively help us to retell our story
of colonization, cultural and religious imperialism, people's
resistance and struggle for land and freedom (uhuru, in
Swahili) to the point where we say no to injustice, exploitation,
globalization and senseless death
Nyambura J. Njoroge, "Come now, let us
reason together," Missionalia 29, 2000:254
I wish to congratulate you, the alumni, leaders and members
of staff of this institution, on this occasion of the centennial
celebration of St Paul's United Theological college. I am
sure that historians of this theological institution can
inform us that you are not only one of the oldest institutions
of the Kenyan church but of the African continent as well.
I hope that you will take this occasion to document, not
only the history of your institution, but also to compile
short biographical histories of your graduates. We need
to know the graduates of this institution and what they
have done for their churches, societies and the world as
a whole. Of course, with a hundred years of theological
training this may prove to be a huge task, but not an impossible
one. You would probably have to select among your many graduates
and to present a picture of your contribution to the life
of the Kenyan and the African church, indeed, to the worldwide
church. Whoever would compile such a book would do well
to show us how the institution revolved in the various historical
stages of the African continent and the world as a whole.
We would want to find out the function, purposes and achievements
of this institution in colonial times, in the struggle for
independence, in independent Africa, in neo-colonial times,
in the globalization era and now in the HIV/AIDS era. We
would seek to understand how the college transformed its
contents, its structures and its staff to address each context.
Such documentation is quite important as you begin the new
millennium and as you reflect on the vision for mission
in the 21st century and, as I been made to understand, as
you seek to transform your self into an Ecumenical University!
One thing I have been told is that when the college was
founded its "aim was to respond to issues of Development
and social justice in an area of freed-slave settlement."
As you rightfully reflect on the "vision for mission in
the 21st century, you need to keep this history in view,
to fully understand your past, your strengths and weaknesses
in order to sharpen this vision. You will indeed need to
have an understanding of your world--how it is revolving
and how you can best position yourself to serve God's changing
world. But in particular, I think it will be absolutely
important to remember and uphold the role of being guardians
of social justice in your theological education
For my part, the task I have in this celebration
and consultation is to highlight the role of theological
education by focusing on HIV/AIDS and other challenges in
the new millennium. "Theological education has been defined
as the task to motivate, equip, and enable the people of
God to develop their gifts and give their lives in a meaningful
service" (Ortega 1996:282). The easy part of my contribution
is that HIV/AIDS automatically includes all other challenges.
The difficult part is that HIV/AIDS, as an epidemic that
functions within other social epidemics and as an epidemic
that affects all aspects of our lives, it includes everything.
To speak about the challenges of HIV/AIDS in any thorough
way is thus daunting. At the same time, the task might be
lightened by the fact that we all know and are aware of
the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS-the question is more
on how it affects and how it should inform theological education.
What my paper shall do is to highlight some of the major
aspects of HIV/AIDS and how it challenges theological education
Since I am by training a biblical scholar and only a theologian
by practice, it is important for me to give my own working
definition of theology and theological education. This is
particularly so because two weeks ago, I was in a workshop,
where a professor spoke about HIV/AIDS and theology and
people disagreed with his definition. If I give you my working
definition, you will at least judge my words within their
In my understanding, theology is a reflection on the Divine
Being within a particular context, people, time and within
a certain framework of belief. It is a search for the Divine
will and revelation within the lives of a people in their
given circumstances. When we define theology from a Christian
point of view, we may say it is the interpretation of biblical
scriptures for contemporary meaning. It follows that there
will/should be many theologies depending on who is reflecting,
on their particular contexts, circumstances and their framework
of faith in God.
In our age, we have thus seen numerous rise
of theologies with various names such as liberation theology,
African theology, black theology, women's theology, feminist
theology, Asian theology, Contemporary theology, Catholic
and Protestant theology (and also many theologies that do
not identify themselves) etc. All these different names
denote that these are theologies that arise from particular
people, reflecting within a particular context, within a
certain set of circumstances and terms of belief. For example,
when we speak of African theology we are referring to a
theology that arises from the Sub-Saharan Africa, one which
is linked to the struggle for liberation and independence.
This theology regards African cultures and biblical tradition
as its most important theological resources. African theology
assumes that God has been revealed in African cultures and
thus the latter serve as an important base for the propagation
of the Gospel of Christ. African theology is concerned about
the issues that affect African theology. Asian theology
in all its varieties, seeks to address the various social
circumstances that confront Asian people-poverty and suffering;
to understand Christ among all other religious beliefs,
especially where Christians exist as a minority. Latin American
theology rises in the geographical area that co-exists with
super powers in a situation of dire poverty. Latin American
theology is thus a theology of liberation that begins with
the assumption that God takes sides with the poor against
all the social structures and circumstances that have reduced
them to ungodly oppression.
If theology is a contextual and particular reflection,
it follows that theology is not neutral or static. It can
rise from high or low classes; dominant and oppressed groups,
men or women. Theology can assume official and unofficial
status. If it also depends on particular terms of reference
or framework of belief in God, it follows that theology
can be liberating or oppressing, depending on the terms
of reference used by a particular group to reflect on their
context and their circumstances. Regretfully, theological
institutions have often gone with official, dominant, high
class theology-a theology that does not help the most marginalized
members of our societies to assert what they believe is
God's will for them in their particular circumstances. When
this happens, the prophetic voice, the voice of social transformation
is lost in our theological formation. Theological education
becomes another servant of the status quo than the voice
of liberation. Gladly, in the last thirty years many marginalized
voices have sufficiently protested calling for a theology
that rises from the village prayers and songs (Okullu 1974:54;
Oduyoye 1983:45-50) or from ordinary readers (West &
My Theological Framework
But as to whether a particular theology is legitimate or
not, I believe this will largely depend on the framework
of reference that we hold and the relationships that we
believe are sanctioned by God. It will also depend on dialogue
with our neighbors. Our framework of reference informs the
ethics of our belief in the Divine being and what passes
as God's will for creation, humanity and the relationships
within. That is, what passes as legitimate or let me say,
godly theology, will largely depend on what we believe holds
true as God's will for creation as a whole, for humanity,
in deed, for all of us in this world. My theological framework
is largely informed by the fact that I subscribe very much
to the following beliefs; namely, that
creation as a whole
was created by God and it was created good, hence all
life is sacred.
all people, regardless
of their color, gender, class, race, religion, ethnicity,
health status, age, sexual orientation, were
created in God's
image and there are loved by the same, and given human
dignity and access to earthy resources.
the Divine hand created
all things interconnected and in balance.
when some people are
denied their human dignity, for whatever reason that we
may raise on the basis of their differences, God's will
when balance, the
goodness, the image of God is violated in creation, then
human beings are made
in God's image to become co-creators with God, tasked
with the role of ensuring that the goodness of the earth,
its balance remains to and for all and to God
the church is particularly
positioned to be guardians of God's will in the world
God's revelation continues
to be manifested to us through the Holy Spirit and the
prophets that rise among us.
Clearly, this framework does not subscribe to perspectives
which, for whatever reason, hold that certain groups of people,
be it on the basis of their ethnicity, health status, gender,
race, age, class, or sexual orientation should be subjugated,
oppressed or denied their God-given human dignity. In this
framework, salvation is liberation from spiritual, physical,
economic, cultural and politically oppressive and exploitative
structures and institutions. In this framework, social structures
and institutions that sanction oppression and exploitation
do not represent God's will, and must be counteracted by those
of us who accept our role as co-creators in keeping the earth
sacred, good, and balanced.
My theological framework shapes my understanding of theological
education and its role. I believe that theological education
should be an instrument/servant of God's will for God's world
and people. Theology thus wants to shape faith communities
to be the voice that speaks God's will and seeks the establishment
of God's will for creation as a whole. It follows that theological
education does not have a choice but to be socially engaged
and socially educated. Theological education should not just
be the voice of the voiceless-whereby theology is for trained
academic theologians and the clergy--it should empower the
powerless to speak for themselves and to insist on their God
given human dignity. Theological education must enable the
church masses, the laity; to be God's servant and co-creators
in the world, by being the stewards of God's will in our communities.
This, I believe, is essential for us to recapture as we seek
to sharpen our vision for mission in the 21st century and
as we search for ways forward for ecumenical theological education.
That is, we seek a theological education that seeks to empower
all subjects to know God's will, to seek it, to speak it,
in our world. Suppose you agree with me on some of these views,
in particular my frame of reference, what shape would our
theological education take, what is its shape now and how
does it need to change?
Unfortunately, I did not have access to the theological program
of this institution before hand, to concretely refer to your
curriculum. Nonetheless, many times we have turned our theological
institutions and their programs into icons of power, prestige,
bastion of patriarchy, hierarchy and elitism. We measure the
quality of each institution and program according to the amount
of official, high class, standard or sometimes church theology
that a particular institution can showcase. Thus when we assess
institutions for accreditation we look for particular academic
standards and require them. For an institution to pass as
a strong place of theological education, its library must
stock certain Greek philosophers and German scholars, and
student reading list and course outlines must reflect the
use of particular theological authorities. We expect the lecturers
to be graduates of particular universities and departments
that have upheld these standards. We tend to expect theological
colleges to reproduce certain concretized theologies and perpetuate
them. In other words, our standards are not measured on just
how much the particular institution, its lecturers and research
are socially engaged and how their programs seek to be midwives
of God's justice in their context, in the world and for all
creation. I am not saying there is something wrong with holding
on to very concrete traditional standards in itself. But if
we have come to a point where these standards stifle the very
heart and role of theological education then we will do well
to rethink. We must re-think and review our theological education
so that it shapes our faith communities into dynamic prophetic
voices that constantly bring our societies and institutions
to the light God's justice.
The question of relevant theological education is even more
pressing here in Africa, where our theological education is
not only threatened by the role of preserving concretized
academic theological standards, it is also historically colonized.
Many theological programs are transported from the West to
Africa through historical relationships of colonial times,
training of scholars in the West, through paternalistic sponsorship,
through accreditation, sometimes, through unimaginative and
African scholars who do not want to take the responsibility
of constantly re-viewing and revamping their programs to make
them answerable to our contexts and communities. One finds
that in many African institutions, the theological formation
of their students is based on Western theology-that is, a
theology that was meant to deal with pressing issues of the
western world, which nonetheless has no immediate, obvious
or direct relevance their context. Further, this theology
is cast in thought forms and languages that do not immediately
communicate to African students. Such formation has unfortunately
given rise to a socially divorced theological education-educational
consciousness that hardly has anything to say about the presence,
activity and will of God in our particular contexts. Such
theological formation has unfortunately produced stillborn
church leaders and scholars, whose theological voice is non-existent.
Their theological voices and vision are dead by the time they
march in their graduation robes (West & Dube 1996:7-17).
Such faith leaders cannot help the communities that they lead
to insist on God's justice to roll in all the valleys of our
streets. With such theological education, what hope can we
find in our faith communities? Can we expect the African church,
for example, to be a church that speaks and acts as God's
co-creators in all that so constantly seeks to blur God's
image from our various communities? Theological education
is, therefore, central to the social formation and understanding
the mission of the church in the world, for that, TE must
constantly seek to make itself relevant to its contexts.
Many years ago, John Mbiti satirically presented the weakness
of African theological education. Mbiti told a story of a
newly returned Phd graduate student who was called upon to
save his sister from spirit possession. Instead of focusing
on the demands of his context, he went to the wonderful theological
book of Bultmann, who said such a phenomenon has been demythologized.
The graduate student then said the sister must be taken to
the hospital-but the nearest hospital was many miles away!
He could not help his sister with all his theological education.
The theological formation of this student was shown to be
impotent (retold by Maluleke 2002:126-127). Even as the new
millennium begins, it remains to be seen just how much African
theological education has moved to design theological education
that sparks God's light amongst all God's people within their
various contexts and creation as a whole. Indeed, in her article,
"Come, Let us reason together," Nyambura J. Njoroge
seems to suggest we have hardly moved. She holds that "many
churches have been living on imported theology, which does
not speak to the hopes and fears of the people (2001:254).
As we reflect on a vision for mission in the 21st century
and seek for ways for ecumenical theological education, I
believe it is imperative for this institution to revolve its
quest around the question of: how can our theological programs
become midwives of social justice in our societies, nations
and the world, by grooming a church/faith communities that
understand act on their role.
I can almost hear the bang of some protesting hearts! Some
are saying, "What! Are you saying we should discard established
theological standards that have been built over the centuries?
What would be the mark of qualitative theological education
and formation if we do not put these standards at the center
of what passes as quality? Well, this is what we are called
to re-imagine in this consultation. For me, it is not the
standards that matter, but the impact of our theological education
on the social formation of our faith communities. Some may
be saying, "how come you graduated from western institutions
and you are still a speaking voice? I will tell you my own
history of theological training, shortly.
I think it is also clear that if theological education is
to assist the social formation of the church and our faith
communities in general to become co-creators with God, then
it cannot be limited to religious leaders or academic theologians.
Rather, theological education must be extended to the laity,
to the faith communities. Our theological institutions must
make a space for faith communities to be theological subjects
(254). Similarly, the lay training institutions and programs
should be strengthened to equip faith communities for living
out their faith as co-creators with God in the society. Lastly,
churches themselves need to lift up their Sunday school theology
to be contextually relevant. This really calls us to become
faith communities that value theological education as a right
for all; as an instrument of social transformation, which
enables us to constantly seek the presence of God in our worlds.
In my Africa-wide travels, where I train theological educators
and faith communities on theological thinking in the HIV/AIDS
era, I have heard people either saying,"a theology of
HIV/AIDS is really needed." Or they say, "Yes, yes!
This is the theological question that I have been having questions
about. You tackled it very well." In these expressions,
one gets the feeling that when our faith communities have
theological questions about issues in their societies, they
wait for their religious leaders or some trained theologians
to tackle the issue. If they hear these issues tackled in
ways that are insufficient or not addressed they keep quite.
They do not feel empowered to articulate the relevant theology
themselves, even when they harbor legitimate questions in
their hearts. They are not or they do not feel theologically
empowered to become speaking subjects. It could very well
be that they do not find the space and forum for theological
reflection and articulation. We as theological educators should
not only believe that the laity should be theologically trained,
we should also make concrete plans for this implementation.
My Story of Theological Education
Turning to the story of my theological training, I did my
first degree in the University of Botswana, where I did a
double major in Environmental science and theology. For my
second degree, I went to the prestigious University of Durham
in the UK and did my masters. For my third degree I went to
the prestigious Vanderbilt University in the USA. I was sponsored
by the University of Botswana under their staff development
program. One thing I found common to both my prestigious universities
is that I did not find one course on African religions, African
theology, nor did I ever find one textbook written by an African
as a required book. I was really struck by this. Even in my
first degree in Botswana, I had had to grapple with such famous
theological thinkers as Paul Tillich, Rodulf Bultmann, Niebur,
Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoffer in addition to reading John
Mbiti, John Pobee, Desmond Tutu, Itumeleng Mosala, Gustavo
Gutierrez (clearly they were all male!)-And also in this order,
that is, first world/European theologians first, occupying
the whole term, then all Two Thirds World theologians in one
term! As a graduate student, I was so surprised how theological
institutions of the west could so perfectly ignore us when
we could not (in fact, I was so surprised that I could not
hear Southern African music on the radio, when in my country
I could hear Elton John, Dolly Parton, George Michael, Joe
Cooker etc. in the airwaves). While in Durham, St John's College,
which is ensconced in a horseshoe bank of a meandering river,
one afternoon, I sat beside the river on a bench. The grass
and everything was heavenly green. I gave a moment of thought
about my studies. In particular, I said to myself, "If
my father was to ask me what I am studying, what would I tell
him? I found that what I was studying was excellent but was
not speakable, in the sense that it was totally another world,
one whose relevance could hardly be seen within my own context."
When I got to Vanderbilt, I found the same excellent exclusion
of anything African (save in the global biblical hermeneutics
class). I spoke to one of my professors and said, "This
school is racist and discriminative. Why is that African Religions,
theologies and authors are not studied? I said, I think I
want to stage a one person demonstration for this is evident
racism and call the media to cover it." My professor
said to me, "Go ahead and demonstrate. May be you will
bring the necessary changes." Then he said to me, "As
for biblical studies, if you give me names of African authors,
I will be glad to include them in my required and recommended
reading list." While the latter seems an amicable response,
we have to ask ourselves, what is a wrong with a theological
world system where fifty years of African biblical studies,
their works are still unknown (or should I say unread) in
the Western world, when we have been reading Western theologians
since God knows when (Dube 2002d: 61-63). Be that as it may,
someone must tell me, "why do African theological programs,
institutions and educators feel that we need Western theological
works and scholars when they do not feel the same need about
us? Why do we keep to their theological standards if it stifles
our theological spark?" These questions beg to be answered.
Some of you are probably asking how I survived from being
a stillborn graduate to become a speaking voice. Before I
share that I must say that I am still trying to resurrect
from the valley of dry bones-with great fear and trembling
I am still working at my own salvation and I have grave doubts
at my success. First, I occupied my theological studies with
resistance, suspicion and with constant questioning of what
it means that I am an African Motswana woman who is studying
the Bible in the West (West & Dube 1996; 1998:119; 1998b:224-243;
2002:41-64). Second, I found ways of learning from the periphery.
For my masters, I wrote my dissertation on Mary as Our Ancestor:
An African Woman's Search for Identity. I carried an independent
research on African biblical hermeneutics and found that several
works on Christology hard been done-but from an African male
perspective. Jesus had been read as the Greatest Ancestor,
Brother-Ancestor, Elder brother, Proto ancestor, Chief, King
(Amoah 2000:41-42). Gosh, not only was I alienated by white
biblical interpretations, African works were quite male. As
an African woman, I was doubly alienated. Thus I made attempts
to construct an African feminist Christology on Mary as our
Ancestor. For my Phd in Vanderbilt, I asked for two independent
studies, one on postcolonial theories and another on the portrait
of African women in the African novel. In the end, I combined
these two to write a dissertation on Towards Postcolonial
Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Indeed, many of us who
studied in the West can tell their own stories on how they
had to learn from the periphery or had to come back and re-educate
themselves. Yet not all of us are lucky enough to design independent
studies that help them to refocus on their backgrounds, nor
do all of us have sufficient spaces and time to reconstruct
our theological thinking once we return. But even those who
have the time and space, why should African students spend
the bulk of their graduate education learning theological
discourse and theories that are alien to their contexts and
only get self-taught when they seek to be relevant for their
context? This kills a great part of our theological imagination,
especially that most African scholars once in the field they
are really overworked.
Further, two questions need to be asked, "If we have
institutions such as yours, hundred years old, why do we still
have to send our students overseas so they can come back theologically
muted? Why are we not providing theological education ourselves?
And when we provide education here, why do we have to provide
foreign theological education? Why do we have our programs
accredited from outside? Lastly, this does not completely
exonerate Western theological institutions. If the Western
institutions realize that the center of Christianity is shifting
towards the south; if they realize that our world is becoming
more pluralist everyday and if they care to provide ecumenical
theological education-why is that African religions, theologies
and authors indeed Two Third World theologies, hardly feature
in their programs?" In short, not only us here in the
African continent need to reassess our theological education,
a worldwide rethinking is needed. We all need to ask: how
much do our theological programs serve to equip our graduates,
the communities of faith they serve and the society to be
guardians of God's goodness on earth? With that let me return
to the question of HIV/AIDS and its challenge to theological
The Context of HIV/AIDS & Theological
In this day of HIV/AIDS, we are in certain context that produces
particular circumstances. Since theology is a reflection on
God's activity and will for creation in all circumstances,
it follows that there is already a theology of HIV/AIDS. The
moment we ask what is God saying to us through HIV/AIDS? What
is God's will concerning this disease? Does God love us? Does
God care, and where is God's healing in this HIV/AIDS era
then a theology of HIV/AIDS has began. We have began to reflect
on a particular context and to seek for God's will for God's
own people in their particular circumstances of HIV/AIDS.
The statistics of HIV/AIDS infection are staggering: 40 million
have been infected; 22million have died in twenty-two years
and 14million children have been orphaned (UNAIDS 2001:1;
UNAIDS 2002:8). And still as we speak people get infected
on each day, many are on home-based care others are being
buried. The statistics hide the truth. They do not tell us
how many billions of people, who are HIV/AIDS negative or
sero-status blind are gripped by HIV/AIDS stigma, which manifests
itself as fear, hopelessness, lack of belief in the future,
indifference towards the suffering and the act of isolating
and rejecting those who are HIV/AIDS + . Many more billions
are infected by fear of HIV/AIDS, stigma and hopelessness.
As a new epidemic HIV/AIDS produces a particular context
on three fronts:
- First, the fact that HIV/AIDS is a
global catastrophe means that it calls for the response
of all of us, wherever we are. HIV/AIDS is not, as some
have come to mistakenly think, an African disease. It is
a global epidemic, tragedy and crisis. In that sense, it
offers us a chance to develop and strengthen our ecumenical
theology and response.
- HIV/AIDS is an epidemic within other
social epidemics of poverty, gender inequalities, violence
the abuse of children, racism, ethnic conflicts, wars, international
injustice, HIVAIDS stigma and discrimination on the basis
of sexual orientation. Given that HIV/AIDS functions within
other social epidemics, it is the most marginalized members
of the world who are more vulnerable to infection and lack
of quality care. The worst part about HIV/AIDS is that it
makes the marginalized to become more marginalized. The
poor become poorer, children become more disempowered, widows
become dispossessed and thrown out of their homes etc.
- Third, HIV/AIDS affects all aspects
of our lives: the spiritual, mental, political, cultural,
social, economical and psychological areas. It affects everything
and everyone. It questions the very fabric of our existence
and calls for rethinking and research on what we have always
taken for granted-and theological education is not an exception.
These three aspects speak for themselves in so far as providing
theological education which is socially engaged and which
seeks to enable religious leaders and communities of faith
to be co-creators with God in keeping all creation within
God's intention and will. It goes without saying that if HIV/AIDS
is a global catastrophe, then globally theological institutions
should have by now integrated HIV/AIDS in their programs.
It is twenty-two years now since this epidemic has invaded
our world, how many of our theological programs have responded
to this global context by developing courses such as Reading
the Bible in HIV/AIDS era; Doing Theology in a the HIV/AIDS
Context; Christian Mission and HIV/AIDS? Ethics and HIV/AIDS;
African Religions and HIV/AIDS; Islam and HIV/AIDS; Human
Sexuality and HIV/AIDS, Liberation Theology in the HIV/AIDS
era, African Theology and HIV/AIDS, or the Church and HIV/AIDS.
Theological Institutions should have HIV/AIDS policy for their
students, staff and programs. It would be interesting to carry
out a worldwide assessment of theological institutions to
assess how they have programmatically responded to HIV/AIDS.
This would be telling in so far as measuring the relevance
of our theological education to our contexts and time is concerned.
Second, the fact that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic within other
social epidemics is quite a critical issue on how we formulate
our theological content and intention of our theological education.
If HIV/AIDS works with poverty, gender inequalities, violence
against women, civil wars, national corruption, international
injustice, child abuse, human rights violations, HIV/AIDS
stigma, racism, war, ethnic conflict/or cleansing and discrimination
on the basis of sexual orientation, we can only be theological
answerable if; first, we have an understanding of this epidemic-if
we can identify and name these social epidemics and when we
are able to critically assess their origin, causes and how
they can be stemmed. Our theological education will be able
to stand up to the challenge if, it gives students and communities
of faith concrete tools for social analysis. And third, our
theological program, will have to have a framework of reference
that enables our students to reflect on, "What is God
will; concerning these social evils?" Unless our theological
education brings our students and our faith communities to
see these social evils as violating God's will and creation;
unless it underlines that all life is sacred; unless we underline
that healing is God's will for all, unless it expressly says
it has zero tolerance for HIV/AIDS stigma then how can they
become theological leaders and faith communities who seek
to be co-creators with God in keeping the earth and everything
in it good in the HIV/AIS era? Theological education, which
is informed by the above and seeks to address the above must
be social formation-it must be a vision for mission that underlines
that all life is sacred and practically works for the realization
of the same.
Indeed, initial theological response to HIV/AIDS has demonstrated
theological poverty in many ways. First, there was silence
and indifference. Then there was an association of HIV/AIDS
with immorality and God's punishment upon the sinful. When
the churches finally decided to be actively involved, they
insisted on abstinence and faithfulness as the answer to the
fight against HIV/AIDS. The condom became, and still is, outlawed
for supposedly encouraging promiscuity. While A & B, seems/ed
ideal, the truth is that, this perspective overlooks that
HIV/AIDS is an epidemic within other social epidemics. While
it would seem that every individual could prevent HIV/AIDS
by applying A or B, unjust social circumstances and institutions
make individuals unable to apply these ideals. An effective
fight against HIV/AIDS must, therefore, not only focus on
the individual, but must equally address the social injustices
that fuel HIV/AIDS for individual's choices are determined
by their social location and the institutions that they co-exist
with. For example, both poverty and gender inequalities render
A and B strategies ineffective. Many poor, unemployed and
unmarried mothers or evicted and dispossessed widows, who
nonetheless have children to feed, have to choose between
dying of starvation in two weeks or to engage in sex work
and die ten year later of HIV/AIDS (NCA 2000: 12-13). While
I will agree that the condom, like A & B, is not hundred
percent safe, I found the churches unwillingness to admit
that it is another usable tool troubling. One could well say
that while the world said ABC, faith communities were saying
ABD, ie abstain, be faithful or die. Here I gleaned a theological
perspective that dangerously subjugated the imperative to
preserve life to sexual purity. Christian faith communities
were overlooking a central theological base; namely, that
all life is sacred. To me, this reflected a dire theological
poverty and immaturity. As I have argued elsewhere,
In our fight against HIV/AIDS, we must develop a well-grounded
theology of respect for life. Our prophetic theology must
be grounded and propelled by a theology of respect for life.
It must be based on the conviction that God does not wish
anyone to be infected by HIV/AIDS-regardless of whether
that person was failing to abstain or to be faithful. We
need, therefore, to continue saying, abstain, be faithful,
but whenever you have sex, condomise (Dube 2001: 46).
I believe theological education has a great task to address
here-namely, that HIV/AIDS is not only an issue of individual
immorality, but rather, it is also very much a disease of
social injustice. The two must be seen and tackled together.
Theological education needs to assist in bringing our faith
leaders and communities to realize that our mission in the
HIV/AIDS era is to develop and implement a prophetic theology
of life in the fight against HIV/AIDS-one that is able to
address the individual and the social circumstances around
Further, it is at least fifty years since human rights were
passed and many other charters and declarations that challenge
us to have a better respect for life-for Women's rights, Children's
rights, environment, culture were passed. The world in itself
is trying to respect life. Most of our theological programs
still need to reflect on this international context of seeking
to respect life and to build on it. Here we will do well to
heed the voice of sister Teresa Okure, who insists that a
biblical interpreter refers to "anybody who reads the
biblical text in order to discover life (1995:55) and that
"any interpretation that fails to do this
suspect and should be regarded as in authentic," since
it would have failed to "be in tune with universal intention
of God to liberate, save, give and sustain life"(57).
We need a life-centered theology in the HIV/AIDS era for our
communities and for our world. I think that the fact that
the response of faith communities has harped on individual
responsibility or lack of responsibility to the exclusion
of evil/unjust social structures and institutions had been
quiet telling. Namely, faith leaders do not have skills of
social analysis and how social structures and institutions
affect individual's decisions. I think that this is both a
statement and challenge to our theological education to raise
faith leaders and communities that are prophetic-those who
are able to see social injustice and to challenge, it underlines
that we cannot afford to offer theological education that
does no seek social justice.
Turning to a theology of gender justice, it is at least forty
years since modern feminist theology began. Yet many of our
theological programs treat it as a novelty--they leave it
to a few women in the staff or completely ignore it. Many
times even the women in the theological institutions when
they struggle to bring gender studies they are ridiculed marginalized
and sometimes threatened. In the HIV/AIDS training workshops
that I hold for theological educators, I always give a paper
on Gender and HIV/AIDS. In the workshops some heads of departments
have openly said, "stop this gender nonsense." In
some evaluations some people wrote this was an excellent workshop,
but you almost spoiled it with your gender nonsense."
This resistance from theological leaders and educators means
that our students who become religious/faith leaders graduate
with no understanding of what gender inequalities are; how
they work with the cultural, social, economic, political and
spiritual institutions of our worlds to promote the spread
In this HIV/AIDS era, however, gender inequalities are second
to poverty in being a major driving force behind the spread
of HIV/AIDS (UNDP 2000:21). Many economically, culturally,
politically, and religiously powerless women find that neither
abstaining, nor being faithful or having a condom/femidom
can shield them from HIV/AIDS infection. Many men who know
about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, still either refuse to give
up the culture of multiple partners, to share power with their
women partners; they refuse to condomise for in so doing they
would have betrayed their identity of manhood, which encourages
one to be brave and take risks. At the end of the day no one
wins-only HIV/AIDS wins. Any theological responsible education,
which wants to contribute to the struggle against HIV/AIDS
and which subscribes to the theological economy that says
we are all made in God's image must address gender inequalities
and provide theological education which helps us to establish
gender justice. Courses on gender and theology; gender and
HIV/AIDS; gender, the Bible and HIV/AIDS; gender and African
religions must be part of the core courses that are compulsory.
Gender must also be mainstreamed across all subjects, for
we are always gendered men and women and all forms of knowledge
must acknowledge this in their research, writing and teaching-failure
to do this is failure to prepare our students for leadership
in the society. Worse, failure to do this is to become guardians
of social evils-and failure to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.
When it comes to issues of children, perhaps this is one
area where most our theological programs are glaringly lacking
(Maluleke & Nadar 2002; Dube 2002e:31-42). Being some
of the most powerless members of our societies, children hardly
have a visible theological voice. Our institutions have not
yet fully found a way of allowing them to speak and be heard.
HIV/AIDS has once more highlighted the plight of children
as powerless citizens our world communities. Children face
a uncertain future as their parents die, as they get dispossessed
by neighbors and relatives, as they get stigmatized at school
and at home and as they get subjected to child labor. Sexual
child abuse has increased as children are raped by relatives
and strangers. Given the myth of virgins can cleanse one of
HIV/AIDS. Rape has escalated. Orphans are increasing. Be That
as it may, most of our governments have not yet responded
by putting into place legal instruments that will protect
children. Our theological education needs to develop theological
perspectives that allows our faith communities to become guardians
of children's rights, allow children to speak and be heard
as well as strengthen the parenthood role (Dube 2002e:31-33).
Here in Africa, most of us are doing theology in corrupt
nations and under repressive leadership, where populations
are condemned to exploitation and poverty (Manus 2002:16-18).
As HIV/AIDS research and documentation indicates that poverty
is the number one sponsor of HIV/AIDS. How much has our theological
education done to equip its students and the communities of
faith to be prophetic voices in the society? What can our
theological education do? We need to concern ourselves with
the question of, what can theological education do to equip
faith communities with a prophetic theology of life against
national corruption and poverty. National corruption is not
only limited to Two-Thirds World countries, it also applies
to First World countries. Indeed the poverty of the former
is linked to unjust international trade policies-which have
locked many of our countries into huge debts and perpetual
poverty. In this HIV/AIDS era we know that, poverty is the
number one sponsor of the epidemic. This, plus the reluctance
to let Two Third Worlds countries produce affordable HIV/AIDS
drugs, has seen many die unnecessarily of HIV/AIDS. What should
be the perspective of theological education and training concerning
the resources of the earth and access to them? If we believe
that the earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord, then
I believe, our theological education should empower our faith
leaders and communities to be prophetic and to programmatically
undertake to fight poverty, national and international injustice.
On top of all these social evils, unfortunately, HIV/AIDS
has brewed a second epidemic, a more deadly one, the HIV/AIDS
stigma. Fear of an incurable disease, fear of death after
a long suffering, misunderstanding about HIV/AIDS transmission,
the association of HIV/AIDS with sexuality and misinterpretation
of the causes of HIV/AIDS, indifference to suffering have
all contributed to the second and even more deadly disease-the
HIV/AIDS stigma. It is deadly because it hinders prevention
of HIV/AIDS and the provision of quality care. It is deadly
because every human being is a social being, when rejected
the social, psychological, spiritual health of a person is
also affected, thus leading people to die long before the
virus could kill them. It is more deadly because people who
are HIV/AIDS stigma positive are more in numbers that those
HIV+, thus making it unlivable for the latter. Our theological
education need to help our students and communities of faith
to develop a theology of compassion-compassion as the capacity
to suffer with, to enter the pain of the other, but not just
to be in solidarity with the suffering, but to translate our
compassion into the energy we need to transform their conditions.
Those of us who are in the Christian faith need to recapture
the compassion of Christ, who asked the believers to see his
face in the face of all who suffer (Dube 2002a:536-540).
Before I turn to other challenges, the fact that HIV/AIDS
is an epidemic within other social epidemics, underlines that
for our theological programs to enable our students to be
effective leaders in the society, they must be given tools
that enable them to understand the society and all social
evils. Second, our theological programs must underline that
social evils, together with HIV/AIDS violate God's creation
and hence our mission in the 21st century is that we will
speak out and search for new models of a better world. Instead
of engaging in theological theories and content that are divorced
from our social context, we will need theological programs
that are largely informed by a framework that holds that God's
salvation is the liberation of all humankind and creation
as well as one that holds that faith communities shall be
trained to play the role of being midwives of God's will on
Other challenges that confront us as theological educators
of Africa and elsewhere are globalization, increasing violence
in the form of civil wars, ethnic conflicts, religious differences,
wars of terror, violence against children and increasing violence
against women. Globalization has been defined as the "compression
of the world" (Robertson 2000:53-54); "the creation
of a single market-- international, financial or capital market"
(Lind 1995:31) "the absorption of all countries and systems
into one" (Tolluch 1998:101) or the process whereby the
"search for more profits became the search for cheap
labor" (Pheko 2000:90). The problem with globalization
has been graphically described for us by Asian Theological
conference, who hold that in globalization
Money with a capital M was promoted as the storehouse of
value, rather than a medium for exchange
in which people were involved and stayed outside the purview
of the markets, such as education, health care and religious
practices were also brought into the reality of market.
Market now has control over the social, economic, political
and cultural relationships of the people. All other social
forces, including the state, which regulated people's needs,
have ceased to operate
therefore, people are turned
into labor or prostitutes, nature as land or raw materials
or golf parks and culture as souvenirs
in tourist market.
Moreover, the organizing philosophy of the market ecclesia
is social exclusion: Those who have no commoditable money
or commoditable commodities (including skills) were excluded
from the market and left as expendables, (2000: 218-219).
In short, while globalization seeks for trade liberalization,
"which would allow goods and services and money to move
easily across the borders" (Pheko 2000:90) and while
it is noted for massive profits, it is nonetheless noted for
profiting a few individuals, while its policies and impact
exclude and exploit the majority. In the age of HIV/AIDS,
globalization--which increases mobility, separates families,
creates job insecurities, increases poverty, and weakens social
services--cannot help but spread the infection rate and deny
people any quality care. In the economy of God's will for
creation, the impact of globalization on people and the environment
is highly problematic and needs our theological attention.
Again, we must ask ourselves how many of us have meaningfully
began to dialogue with globalization as an issue that must
inform our theological education (Ukpong 2002:9-40; Dube 2002d:46-63).
Turning to violence, of late we have become so aware of our
world becoming even more violent or using violence to address
their problems. What immediately comes to our minds is 9/11,
the subsequent so-called war on terrorism, Palestine-Israel
unending conflict, and the ethnic and civil wars of Africa.
In these past weeks we have seen a string of bombings. I even
had to avoid using BA to come to this consultation, fearing
a possible terrorist bombing. Those of us who are here will
remember the horror of Rwanda-Burundi Genocide and how Christians
participated in such crimes against humanity and God. I think
that it is really a theological indictment for all of us who
are involved in Christian theological education as social
formation. Current reports from Rwanda-Burundi indicate that
more Christians are turning to Islam, having lost confidence
in the relevance of the Christian faith in their well-being,
if Christians could participate in such crimes. In deed, given
the number of civil wars that characterize the African continent,
we run a danger of accepting violence as part of our lives.
But may be these are the most evident symptoms of a violent
world. Underlying we have violence against women and children
which happens in the streets and in the homes. Women and children
are beaten and raped and we do not feel safe to walk freely
without looking behind our backs. Is this God's will for us?
Are there other ways of living with our differences rather
than turning to violence? In their Special Issue on Over coming
Violence against women and children, Tinyiko S. Maluleke and
Sarojini Nadar hold that, violence is "a deadly covenant
cultivated and reinforced in attitudes, teachings, practices
and rituals that tear human societies apart
this is a covenant of silence-silence about violence, especially
against violence against women" (2002:7). Maluleke and
Nadar continue to say,
In our experience, women victims of violence in society
are up against a social covenant with violence against them.
For example, in cases of domestic abuse the battle is not
only against the abuser, but also against a host of other
conspirators, people who have entered into a covenant of
violence with the abuser himself. Such participants in the
unwritten covenant with violence and silence often include
pastors, church elders, siblings and parents. Their participation
in the covenant often manifests in the advice and counsel
they give to the woman victim: telling her that it is her
fault that she is beaten; advising her that 'the Bible says'
that she must be submissive; telling her that marriage is
Living as they do in violent contexts, African theologians
are grappling with violence both at national and at continental
levels. In her article, "Come let us reason together,"
Nyambura Njoroge writes that "Kenya has increasingly
become a violent nation" and continues to say, "this
has become so bad to be almost a civil war," and that
"most of the people in Kenya are indifferent, apathetic,
complacent, disillusioned, hopeless and in despair. Violence
and poverty have deeply destroyed people's self-confidence
and dignity" (234). Njoroge thus calls for "a spirituality
and ethic of resistance, of not giving up and of transformation"
(255). As she explains, "This ethic and spirituality
drive people to confront leadership crises and the structural
sins of imperialism, globalization, patriarchy, hierarchy,
sexism, and other social sins that leads the majority of people
into a life of misery, agony and suffering (255). Similarly,
in his article, "Mission and Social Formation: Searching
for an Alternative to King Leopold's Ghost, Emmanuel Katangole
examines the colonial roots of violence on the psyche of African
people. Here Katangole echoes Mercy A. Oduyoye, who holds
that, "throughout many locations in the Third World,
the violence and exploitation of colonialism was, undertaken
in many cases with the complicity of the church" (20002:235).
Katangole's question is: "Can Christianity save Africans
from the politics of dispossession, violence and powerlessness?"
(2002:139). Katangole calls for social imagination, holding
The call to discipleship is not just a call to believe
certain things about God, Christ and the World, which beliefs
might have social implications. It is a call for Christians
to be socially formed in a distinctive way. But this formation
is not an extra to what it means to be Christians. It is
the core of the call to discipleship. For without being
so socially formed, Christians would not even know what
it means to have the convictions they have, let alone to
claim those convictions as true (141).
One thing for sure, in the HIV/AIDS era, violence hampers
prevention and the provision of quality care. Safer sex cannot
be negotiated in homes where wives are subjected to physical
violence. Abstinence does not work in war zones, where rape
is used as a weapon between the warring powers. Faithfulness
becomes a myth, when families are uprooted and separated by
war, poverty and globalization. Indeed, funds that could be
used for serving and saving lives are diverted to war; health
and educational services of well-being are neglected. Women
and children who live under violent circumstances cannot be
saved from HIV/AIDS by abstaining, nor can they insist on
condomizing. In this Decade to Overcome Violence, our theological
education needs to integrate in their program ways and means
of solving or living with or celebrating our differences without
resorting to violence. In particular, we need theological
programs that will stand in solidarity will all the marginalized
groups, particularly women and children.
I want to conclude by congratulating you again for your hundred
years of theological education, and even more importantly
for taking this time to assess yourself in search for offering
theological education that is both ecumenical and one that
enables religious communities to live out their mission in
the world. We happen to be reflecting at this particular context,
the context of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is an epidemic
within other social evils. The advantages of responding to
this epidemic theologically is that it calls us to address
all other social evils, thereby forcing us to offer theological
education that is socially engaged and one that seeks the
salvation of God as liberation for creation and humanity as
a whole. For this task, I am sure that we are all doing well
to start by revisiting our vision for mission as we seek for
ways of moving forward with ecumenical theological education.
This is a fitting role for an institution that began in area
of freed slaves with the aim of meeting development and social
justice needs. I wish you another fruitful 100 years of theological
education as you struggle to be co-creators with God.
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