In my last post I attempted to begin answering the question, “Why a Caribbean Theology?” I must confess that I am not convinced that anyone will really understand the importance of the question by reading just one post, especially when the subject matter seems so new and “strange.” Having been socialized to understand Christianity in traditional ways – explained by the familiar simple dichotomies of body – soul, sin – righteousness, saved – lost, heaven – hell, all supporting the need for personal salvation, and having worked hard to remain faithful to these understandings, it is understandable that many will feel reluctant to things which seem to stray too far from the tradition. It often takes a series of discussions for us to see the unfamiliar for what it really is, and sometimes we find to our surprise that it is not as scary (and in this case heretical) as we once believed. Caribbean Theology offers up its own menu of strange sounding concerns (when compared to traditional Christian thinking), but a closer reflection will see its fidelity to the Biblical text and mission for spreading God’s kingdom here on earth.
We have already argued that Christianity in the Caribbean region came here as the religion of foreign oppressors, and that initially it was taught in a manner that justified their atrocities over others they viewed as being there to serve their interests. Our indigenous peoples were the first to experience this flawed Christianity, but it was also later imposed on others forcefully uprooted from their homelands and transposed here to serve their oppressors. Though today the church neither possesses such a mandate nor deliberately participates in it, the fact is that she has never renounced it either, at least not in a significant way. The result is that an examination of church teaching and practice will reveal that there remains much in Caribbean Christianity that continues to denigrate our people – whether it be the fact that our culture is denied participation in church (as seen by an insistence on the garb and worship of our colonial forebears as essential for holiness) or that spirituality is so defined as to make of less than secondary importance the situations of lack and injustice in which the vast majority of our people are forced to exist.
Caribbean Theology is rooted in the family of liberation theologies, and has as its major concern that scripture be read and faith practiced in such a way that our people realize their status as created in the image and likeness of God and enjoy a life of peace and justice. It borrows from various thinkers and disciplines to analyze the current realities of our peoples, not limiting the study of theology to…theology (the study of traditional Christian doctrine). The disciplines of history and sociology help us understand the influences on the theological ideas brought to us and how they shaped society. Marx is embraced, but not in a fulsome way, to explain the ordering of society along social classes and how religion is used to justify such. Friere helps us understand the educational paradigms that can help our people transform their reality. But it is the Bible that offers us the blue-print of what it means to be the people of God – a people who find ourselves often embracing the “bitter end of the stick,” but who through faith in the Living God, and who by the practice of His righteousness create a better space for life on earth – one of love, justice and mercy – as befitting the Kingdom of God.
It is with the above in mind that we recognize that Caribbean theologians are more than Bible thumpers; like the prophets of Israel God’s word must make sense in their contexts, so they make pronouncements on politics and social practice. Their scope goes beyond private, individualized sin to denounce corporate, societal and religious evil. Their pulpit includes the news media and their pews encompass the street corners and inner sanctums of homes that never see the light of day in more up-scale society. Their goal is the salvation of the whole man – body, soul and spirit – so they give voice to the voiceless, and call the rich and powerful to recognize their place under God in the formation of a just society, for it is in the practice of justice that we transcend the drudgery of life. They form the true conscience of our nations.
Frankly speaking, the traditional ways of reading the Bible and practicing Christianity will struggle to compare favourably to the likes of Caribbean Theology.