All material on this site is (c) copyright to the respective authors. ISSN - 1481-3440
15 October 2005
Communion and Personhood
© Bishop Terry Brown
First Posted 14 September 2005
This paper comprises two addresses given by The Rt. Rev’d Dr. Terry Brown, Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, at the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia Theological Hui at St. John’s Theological College, Auckland, on August 17-18, 2005
Part I: Personhood as a tool to reflect upon Koinonia
First, let me say thank you for the privilege of being asked to give two of the keynote addresses of this Theological Hui. I bring you greetings from the Church of the Province of Melanesia and from my diocese, Malaita. It is a privilege to meet all of you. I am not sure I am really the right person to address you, but thank you for your trust; and I hope I can be of some small assistance in facilitating discussion.
I have spent only about one month of my life in Aotearoa-New Zealand: two weeks in 1978 and two short visits over the past few years. Over the past 30 years, I have also had about that much time in Fiji, but have had no direct experience of Samoa or Tonga. Therefore, I would not presume to speak directly to the context of Aotearoa-New Zealand-Polynesia.
Instead, as a stimulus to discussion, I shall speak a bit about my experience of “Melanesian” and “European” cultures over the past 30 years around the areas of “Communion” and “Personhood”. Today is the groundwork – you may find it a bit too intellectual and I beg your indulgence – but tomorrow there will be some fireworks.
In my written text, I have put all four of these words in quotation marks because they are very fluid concepts these days, whether one is speaking or writing about geography, culture, linguistics, anthropology, psychology or even theology. Many would argue that they lack any “essential” or “ontological” base – indeed, that they all can easily (and dangerously) shade into rhetoric, one of the themes of this conference. Even the concept of “culture” itself has come under much scrutiny and question by anthropologists, philosophers, historians and even theologians, with the argument that all culture is ultimately hybridity, constantly in flux, and that, in the words of the historian of anthropology, James Clifford, “the pure products go crazy”. The Solomon Islandspijin with which I greeted you on Monday afternoon is an example of Oceanic-European cultural hybridity. We could not live without it. The Prayer Book from which we worshipped this morning is another example of such creative and life-giving hybridity
2. Some cautions
Before proceeding, I would first like to say just a bit about the weaknesses of each of these concepts or descriptions, and make any revisions necessary. First, many anthropologists and historians of the South Pacific point out that the traditional division of Oceania into “Polynesia”, “Melanesia” and “Micronesia” was a European geographical construct, a part of the whole European colonial enterprise to objectify, explain, tame and, ultimately, conquer the peoples of the South Pacific. A more balanced view would be to see all of the cultures of Oceania as a very rich continuum, often sharing much more in common than first apparent. (Of course, a similar view of “race” has also been taking place globally for at least the last 75 years.) (From this continuum perspective, arguments about whether Fijians are “Polynesians” or “Melanesians”, for example, become irrelevant.) Of course, there are language “families” and noticeable and discussable differences between the “extremes” on the continuum, but even “extremes” is a problematic concept as Oceanic cultures blend into larger continua with Asian and other indigenous cultures, such as those of North and South America, Asia and Australia. So, rather than too much using terms such as “Polynesian”, “Melanesian” or “Micronesian”, I will try to use the broader term “Oceanic”, realizing that even this concept is part of a continuum.
In the Solomons and many places in the South Pacific, the term “European” is historically the word used to describe “white” colonists, settlers, missionaries, traders, government agents, business people and tourists, etc. Of course, “Europeans” came from a variety of “European” countries, whether Great Britain, France, Germany, the USA and (eventually) Australia and New Zealand. The term tends to pass over the differences in culture, language, social class and social structure, styles of colonialism, religion, etc., of the various countries noted above. Nor is the term exhaustive in any way to describe “outside” cultural presences and influences on the South Pacific. In many places in Oceania today, Asian economic, cultural, social and political influence is a much greater (and sometimes more pernicious) influence than the “traditional” “European” colonial or neo-colonial powers such as the USA, Britain or Australia. For the Solomons, one has only to mention very major recent Asian contribution to the country’s corruption at all levels, unsustainable harvesting and export of round logs, unsustainable and unlicensed fishing, and the problematic role of Taiwan (diplomatic relations aimed at Taiwan’s recognition at the United Nations) and Korea (though the Unification Church, the “Moonies”) in the country’s erratic government. In a strange twist of fate, the traditional European “colonial powers” have become the rescuers in a very difficult situation while the country’s Asian neighbours continue to exploit, unabated. So we must not leave Asia out of the picture.
I have already mentioned some of the difficulties around the term “culture”. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins and others point out that the term itself has a great deal of European cultural baggage attached to it, again another way for hegemonic Europeans to objectify and describe the “other”. (Franz Fanon described the same process “from the other side” in terms of Africa.) However, the “other” (for example, Oceanic cultures) has also adopted and adapted the concept as a form of self-defence, indeed, self-definition, to the point of its taking on an essential or ontological quality. All I would point out is that all “cultures” are dynamic, even when they think they are static or look back to a “pure” cultural period. Hybridity, mixture, is a part of the very nature of culture itself, as new life situations (geographical, climatic, demographic, political, health, personal circumstances, etc.) force people to change to survive. The description of a given “culture” at a given time is but a kind of snapshot, which, of course, relates with what went before (sometimes something very similar, sometimes very different, usually a mixture), but which also inevitably interacts with the present world, in our case, the present world of globalization. (Cultures also have built into them what anthropologists call “inversions”, whereby suddenly – whether for a short while or permanently – some aspect changes radically. Sanctioned order becomes sanctioned disorder, then reverts to order.) Those who would use “culture” as a kind of anchor, may do so, and probably even should do so, but one must also be prepared for the possibility that the ship will break away from the anchor and a very different situation develop, requiring a new anchor, or the reconstruction of the old anchor. However, I am not prepared to abandon the concept of “culture”, despite all of its weaknesses. We need to have a term to describe what we are trying to talk about – the similarity, differentiation and interaction of groups of people (indeed, individuals) coming from an extremely diverse world.
The question, “what is a ‘person’?” has many layers – for example, psychological, cultural, philosophical and theological. (Christianity has used a concept of “person” to try to explain the very nature of God in the theology of the Trinity.) Like “culture”, “personhood” is a conceptual construct to try to understand and express the nature of humanity in its greatest depth. All I ask is that we not bring too many preconceptions to our discussion of this question. Much of my presentation today will be about “personhood”.
Finally, as Anglicans we do not need any reminder of the difficulty with the (largely theological) concept of “communion” (from the Greek word, koinonia, also translated as “fellowship” and “sharing”). Think of all of the current (and ancient) expressions: “full communion”, “levels of communion”, “impaired communion”, “out of communion”, “Baptismal fellowship”, “Eucharistic fellowship”, “Holy Communion”, “personal communion”, “spiritual communion”, “fellowship of the Holy Spirit”, “communion of churches”, “ecclesial communities”, “communion of saints”, “fellowship meetings”, “communion of faiths”, “in communion with the See of Canterbury”, “Anglican Communion”, “excommunication”, etc., etc. All churches and Christians agree that koinonia (sharing, communion, fellowship) is an essential given in the Christian life; yet, despite an apparent common faith (“We believe in one God . . .”) the Anglican Communion is now engaged in an enormous amount of dis-koinonia or dis-communion, dis-fellowship, dis-sharing, often on the grounds of a greater good (“orthodoxy”, “biblical Christianity”, “Christian morality”, a proper ecclesiology, right praxis, etc.) that needs to be accomplished before full and genuine koinonia is possible.
Those who seek to use koinonia as a unifying and reconciling force across ideological or theological divides are sometimes (even often) rejected as having a faulty theology of koinonia, raising questions about the limits of koinonia. The Virginia Report’s use of the Holy Trinity as a “model” for unity (“the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit”) across diversity has been one recent attempt along these lines. Here, to re-enforce the Archbishop’s keynote address yesterday, the Trinitarian character of koinonia should be highlighted: the church shares in (has koinonia with) the very triune nature of God, sharing (having communion, koinonia) with the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit; and thus, we also have communion with, we share with, we have koinonia with one another and with all of humanity, sharing God’s divine love in Jesus Christ.
But still the argument emerges that some diversities are just too contradictory for unity and communion to take place using such a “social” Trinitarian theology. The Primate of Nigeria is not in “full communion” with the Episcopal Church [ USA] or the Anglican Church of Canada (or even the Episcopal Church of Brazil) over certain issues he regards as very important, and we probably shake our heads. But should we be in “full communion” with the Bishop of Harare, who is hand-in-glove with President Mugabe and treats his political opponents in the church accordingly? Should we be in “full communion” with the Archbishop of Sydney and his incredibly defective theology of the church and ministry (indeed, his defective Trinitarian theology)? “Koinonia issues” are very important, as the conflict between the state and “confessing” churches in Germany in World War II illustrates. But how serious are current issues, and what direction should we go? How far do we try to go with koinonia? Is (as the Archbishop of Canterbury recently suggested) “friendship” possible when full koinonia is not? (But are not friendship and koinonia pretty close to being the same thing?) As the title of this conference suggests, there is presently an enormous gap between “rhetoric” and “reality” with regard to koinonia in the Anglican Koinonia today. “Rhetoric”, it should be added is not a “bad” word. Rhetoric should buttress and enlighten reality and truth, rather than oppose it.
3. Koinonia in the Bible
My intention today is mostly to talk about “personhood”, but as my overall topic is “Communion and Personhood”, I believe it is important that I begin by reflecting a bit on the biblical view of koinonia. All of this may be very familiar to you but if we are to reflect on and work toward “communion” as a reality rather than “just rhetoric”, we need to be clear about the biblical meaning of koinonia.
Koinonia (sharing, having or giving a share), koinonos (one who shares something, a partner) and koinoneo (to have a share in something with someone) are all derived from the Greek word koinos, “common”, that is, that which is shared in common. (In the Greek Old Testament, various forms of koinos were used to translate the Hebrew chabar, “join together”, although chabar in the Old Testament is used only of relations among human beings, not for the relation between human beings and God.). In English translations of the New Testament, the koinon- words are translated variously as “fellowship” [especially in the Authorised or King James Version], “communion”, “sharing” [especially in the New Revised Standard Version], “partnership” and that which is “in common”. Koinonia as “sharing” is not just “spiritual” (our usual understanding of “fellowship” and “communion”) but includes the sharing of material resources: the early Christians “had all things in common” [koina] (Acts 2:44) and St Paul collected a monetary “contribution” [koinonia, a sharing] from the churches in Rome and Greece for the church in Jerusalem when it was in financial need (Romans 15:26 and II Corinthians 9:13). Therefore, we need to be cautious of any interpretation of koinonia that excludes a mutual sharing of material resources. Koinonia is both spiritual and material sharing, with communion and fellowship (1).
Given the shift in English translation of koinonia from “fellowship” and “communion” in the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible to “sharing” in the NRSV, perhaps we should rename “The Anglican Communion”, “The Anglican Sharing”. At least that would make it clear that if we withdraw ourselves from sharing and being shared with, that if we withdraw ourselves from relationships, then we are no longer Anglicans.
Strikingly, the word koinonia does not appear in any of the four Gospels. Although it occasionally appears in Acts (for example, where the newly baptized “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship [koinonia], to the breaking of bread and prayers” [ 2:42]), it is a largely a Pauline word, related to the movement of the Good News of Jesus Christ from the Jewish to the Gentile world. It appears towards the beginning of St. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles in Galatians 2:9: “and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars [of the Jewish Christian church], recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship [koinonia], agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised”. This role of koinonia in ministry across cultural, linguistic and theological differences is very significant – both for our discussions in our gathering here and on the global Anglican scene.
However, rather than plunge directly into these issues, which I shall largely do tomorrow, I want to try to give us a kind of tool – a reflection on two kinds of “personhood” – that we might use as we reflect upon our participation in koinonia (sharing, communion, fellowship, partnership) with Jesus Christ and with one another.
4. “Personhood” in the western European tradition
Personhood in the western philosophical and religious tradition, at least since the end of the Middle Ages, has largely been understood in terms of the person as an “individual”, namely, what is commonly called “individualism” (and I use the term not in a pejorative but in a descriptive sense). (If one wants an academic authority for this discussion, I would cite the French anthropologist, Louis Dumont.) As opposed to various tribal traditions (for example, Old Testament, African, Oceanic) where the identity of the tribe (perhaps a collection of extended families), rather than the individual, has been paramount (for reasons of survival if nothing else), we (I speak as a “European”) are generally concerned with the autonomy of the individual human being – his or her freedom, growth, relationships, exercise of morality, spiritual life, human rights, reason, body, emotions, etc. Most “westerners” or “Europeans” (or the Anglican “global north”) would make “person” and “individual” synonyms, without much question.
Historically, the growth of western European individualism (over against the tribalism of the Old Testament, for example) can be traced to St. Paul’s treatment of individual conscience, which in turn has roots in the Greek philosophical dualism of body and spirit. The western theological tradition (for example, St. Augustine’s theology of the Trinity based on an analogy with the psychology of an individual person – memory, understanding and will) increasingly heightens the role of individual conscience, spirituality and reason (St. Thomas Aquinas), whether in light of the teachings of the church, the Bible or a personal spiritual relationship with the divine (for example, producing “personal” visions). The Protestant Reformation was the blossoming of this “individual” spirituality, for example, in the pietism of an “individual” person with a “personal relationship with Jesus”, or a variety of “personal” interpretations of Scripture. (Scripture is translated into the vernacular partly to make this individual “personal faith” possible.) The Counter-Reformation equally emphasized individual personal piety – novenas and Ave Marias. Likewise, many would argue that secularism and the scientific worldview, with their roots in the Renaissance and the “New Science”, presuppose and promote an individualistic concept of the person. Influenced by Newtonian science, persons are seen as almost atomistic “individuals”, interacting with each other. As the Archbishop mentioned yesterday, Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”, is an important philosophical landmark on the western European road to individualism. Rather than the state or church as a given (corporate) starting point, autonomous, reasoning, creative and free “individual persons” (with or without a relationship to God) are the starting point; these individuals then band together in a “social contract” (John Locke) to form the state or whatever community they wish to form (for example, voluntary societies). Liberal democracy (heightened in the “rugged individualism” of the American frontier) presupposes individual persons and individual human rights. Nietzsche’s “superman” or Kierkegaard’s spiritual rebel or Victorian England’s “muscular Christian” (or heroic missionary) or Sartre’s alienated human person facing nothingness are all more extreme forms of this western European “individualism”.
We (again, I speak as a “European”) think of ourselves as “individual” self-directed persons (“my-self”). We value our “individual” autonomy, our freedom, our privacy, our anonymity, our right to do as we please, our right to worship God as we wish, our right to separate ourselves from others, our individual conscience, our right to our own political views, our right to explain, interpret and change the world as we wish, our right to control nature and our own bodies, etc. We often find this individual autonomy liberating, particularly where we have been oppressed by the narrow confines of an oppressive institution, family or nation. (On a visit to Pakistan many years ago, I remember the absolute sense of freedom and relief I felt when I returned to India. Or the day I was released from the U.S. Army!) This identification of personhood with individual autonomy also provides strength, discipline and motivation to create, whether works of art or works of science and technology. At its best, individual autonomy produces “strong people”, who are not afraid to oppose evil, not afraid “to go out on a limb”, creative people, not afraid “to be themselves”. Spiritually, an “individual personal relationship” with Jesus Christ provides strength, encouragement, motivation and, indeed, a channel for God’s grace.
What is the downside? To name a few, potential or real: alienation, loneliness, confusion, personal aggression (indeed, imperialism), harmless or even destructive eccentricity, failure or lack of interest in relationships, inability to cooperate with others (a “lone ranger mentality”), personal pride and conceit, inability to communicate, individualistic narcissistic spirituality, lack of a holistic Christian faith, “ministry as performance”, the inability to ask for help (famously, “why won’t men ask directions?”), entrepreneurial capitalism, personal accumulation of wealth and, indeed, much of the ideology of globalization. (In given European cultures, one might argue that men exemplify “individualism” and “separation” while women exemplify “cooperation” and “inclusion” but I think that all Europeans, whatever their sex or gender, are deeply affected by an individualistic concept of the person – hence, feminism’s [very proper] emphasis on women taking power over their own lives, or on the negative side, Margaret Thatcher.) (However, we must not forget that there was a time in the European tradition when women and children were very “inferior” types of persons [for example, in St. Augustine] or not persons at all [for example, legally] (2)). Nor do I think that sexual orientation makes much difference one way or another, as people seek to pursue their “personal” (i.e., individual) sexual lives as they see fit.
None of this is to say that there are not other very valuable and important expressions of the personal or personhood that are beyond the individual -- family life (especially the nuclear family), friendship, religious and social organizations, neighbourhood and community, economic organizations (businesses or trade unions), political life (political parties), musical groups and sports teams, solidarity with the oppressed, nationalism, etc. But these are not usually classified as primarily “personal” but rather “social” or “political”, usually to be constructed out of the “building block” of the “individual” “person”. Nor are these social constructions necessarily good – for example, fascism or violent football hooligans.
4. Melanesian and Oceanic personhood
The earliest missionaries and ethnologists of Melanesia were struck by the Melanesian languages’ very large number of words for relationships and groups, and the absence of specific words that could convey the meaning of an “individual” person. Even words for “I” were rather hard to come by. For example, in talking about an uncle and nephew, the languages did not have two different words for the two different individuals, but a single word to express the relationship. (This is still true in Melanesian pijin, where an uncle and nephew [and even uncle and niece] are “uncle” to each other.) Patteson and Codrington noted the great richness of the Melanesian languages in “group pronouns”, both in specificity about inclusion and exclusion in the group and the number within the group. To try to explain in English, the simple catch-all English pronoun “we”, might be (and still is) rendered in Melanesian languages by a variety of single words which, when translated back into English, might read, “we, all of us [including you to whom I am speaking]”, “we, all of us [excluding you to whom I am speaking]”, “the two of us [including you to whom I am speaking]”, “the two of us [excluding you to whom I am speaking]”, “the three of us [including you to whom I am speaking]”, the three of us [excluding you to whom I am speaking], etc., etc. (The Solomon Islands pijin words for this string of pronouns are iumi, mifela, iumitufela, mitufella, iumitrifela, mitrifela, etc., etc.) There is no differentiation of gender or class, or even subject and object. The only differentiation is who is or is not in the group.
Most anthropologists of Melanesia would describe Melanesian “personhood” as “relational” rather than “individual”. I suspect that this definition can be extended to many, if not most, of the cultures of Oceania. The person is his or her relationships. Without those relationships, he or she is nothing. Personhood is relationships, relationships are personhood. The French Evangelical missionary-ethnologist, Maurice Leenhardt, who worked in New Caledonia about a century ago, provided an early description of Melanesian personhood as relational in his classic study of Melanesian personhood, Do Kamo: Person and Myth in the Melanesian World (published in 1947 but based on much earlier work). I shall read a few excerpts:
The Melanesian is attached by all the fibres of his being to his group. His worth comes only from the group and the precise position he occupies in it. He is qualified by this position; he has reality only through it and the role which is attached to him. He is one of the characters in the great play of the group, whose purpose is to assure the group’s perpetuation and its glory (3)).
* * * *
We know, indeed, that Melanesian society is erected on a base of parity. But it is hard to realize to what degree one, among these groups, lacks the quality of unity. Its characteristic is to be the Other.
Of a man, they say “the other man”. In a village every house is “the other house”. The “other” is a fraction of a group. One is a fraction of two. It does not have the quality of unity but that of Otherness. It is easier to say that one is an element of the couple, and that the couple, the pair, the duality, acts as the base unit for all the Canaque’s mental constructions. [My italics] (DK, p. 101)
* * * *
[The Canaque] exists only insofar as he acts his role in the course of his relationships. He is situated only in respect to them. If we try to draw this, we cannot use a dot marked “self” (ego) but must make a number of lines to mark relationships: ab, ac, ad, ae, af, and so forth. . . . The lines correspond to him and his father, him and his uncle, him and his wife, him and his cross-cousin, him and his clan, and so forth. In the midst of these rays, an empty space is circumscribed by a’s denoting the points of departure for relationships. These a’s are replicas of his body. The empty space is him, and this is what is named. (DK, page 153)
* * * *
To understand what I am writing here, it is necessary to visualize the Melanesian social landscape. A young man is never encountered alone but always in a united group of “brothers” maintaining the same relationships as a unity with other groups. Even in their amorous adventures, they dread being alone. Rendezvous are arranged between two or three women and two or three men. Think of the meetings of young men and women in the Trobriand Islands and recall the young people’s house. (DK, p. 152)
In a frequently quoted passage, Leenhardt describes what happens to a young Kanak when he is separated from his “group”:
If a man has a curse laid on him by an angry maternal uncle and is driven out of the society, he feels “in perdition”. Having been obliged to flee, he no longer has any relationship through which to find himself again. Not even his speech manifests his being, because his being has no correspondence in society and answers to no recognizable personage. He suffers from losing his role in which he felt himself to be specifically a personage. He no longer exists socially. Feeling he is nothing other than a social being, he suffers from not being. He needs to be able to be summoned; he must have a role and a name. This is the price of his existence. (DK, page 155)
Later generations of secular anthropologists, attempting to apply kinship analysis based on the study of African extended family relationships, when entering Papua New Guinea, met with utter failure. Like Leenhardt, having eventually immersed themselves in the complexity of Melanesian societies and relationships, they decided that Melanesian personhood (again, I suspect this can be extended to Oceanic personhood) is first and foremost relational.
As one who has “related with” Solomon Islanders for the past 30 years, I would say that this characterization or description is still basically true, despite the inroads of individualistic European culture, economic life and religion (including Christianity). Indeed, relational personhood has considerable capacity to absorb and develop new relationships with the “invader” or even the oppressor. (An anthropologist friend who formerly worked in West Papua tells me that no matter how many times the Indonesian army behaves violently towards indigenous Melanesian villages, their response always is how to move towards reconciliation and re-establishment of relationship.) The whole tradition of payment of “compensation” for spilling blood or breaking a tabu is aimed at restoration of relationships, both with the living and the dead. Indeed, there are very few offences that cannot be atoned for, as reconciliation and restoration of relationship are always the aim, no matter what has brought about the separation. “Peaceful relationality” is the cultural “default position” to which all separation reverts.
From my personal experience, what does this “relational personhood” look and feel like? I would simply say the following: One is very seldom alone – in the biblical words, “it is not good to be alone”. There is always company. (I am a single person and in my last nine years as Bishop of Malaita I cannot think of a night that I have spent alone in my house. Or for that matter, there have been very few nights that I have spent alone in a motel or guesthouse in Honiara. An anthropologist friend tells me of 15 Kwaio men sleeping with him in his motel room in Honiara, an incident unremarked on by either the men concerned or the motel management.) Privacy is almost non-existent, at least in house or village. People do things as groups, not individuals. Relationship with and membership in groups is taken for granted. Students write papers and do projects together better as pairs or groups than as individuals. (They even write their applications together for the same job.) People like uniforms as a sign of unity and common purpose. Separation from one’s group (or one’s “other half”) produces anxiety or tears; always there is the pressure to move back into relationship. People live their lives, not by themselves (as “individuals”) with themselves (as “individuals”), but through others. Relationships are permanent, stretching from birth to death and, indeed, beyond. People are still in relation with their deceased ancestors and friends. Land belongs to the tribe or extended family, not the individual. People are attracted to groups – religious communities, churches, sports teams, armies, militant groups, the police, public feasts, marriages, funerals, political groups, development projects, family reconciliations, etc. – because this is where they find their identity as persons. When people are dissatisfied with their “group” they do not so much move to become “individuals”; rather, they move to another group. And behind existing relationships are “back up” and alternate relationships, ready to take over.
Because unity of relationship is primary, boundaries between “individuals” are often not so great, even in terms of physical bodies. There is much more touching; indeed, refusing to touch or be touched is often a sign of separation and alienation, though, of course, there are often strong tabus, usually between persons of the opposite sex. At large events with hundreds of people lasting many days, the local expression is that people sleep together “like matches in a matchbox”. And the description is a true one.
Kinship and tribal membership are important but other relationships are also important – friendship, marriage, adoption, membership in a church, religious community or even sports team or musical group. From their earliest age, children are socialized into a very rich community life and a very rich set of relationships, including a large extended family. In many cases, the nuclear family barely exists, with the relationship with one’s uncles and brothers stronger than that with one’s father and mother. Relationships are expansive, with ongoing old and developing new relationships making up the “plenitude” of the person, to use Leenhardt’s phrase.
“Individual” leadership, and, of course, personal autonomy, emerge but it is not so “individual” when one looks at it carefully. The chief, “big man” or other leader is primarily in relationship; he or she acquires leadership status primarily through the quality of his or her relationships, and his skill building up or protecting the group (the extended family or tribe). Wealth is given away as much as it is acquired. (One notes how utterly threatening this giving away of wealth was to European missionaries and government officials in the cognate indigenous societies of the American northwest in their criminalization of “potlatch” gift giving.) Someone who through education or skill acquires a position of wealth is still responsible for his or her wontoks (= one talk = those of one’s tribal or ethno-linguistic group). I remember asking a senior South Malaita policeman in Honiara some years ago how he was doing. His reply was not untypical: “It’s a struggle. It’s the school holiday and I have 30 school children from Small Malaita living at my house waiting for a ship to take them home for Christmas. The cost of feeding them takes my full salary.”) The well known “wontok system” (with all its strengths and weaknesses) is but an example of relational personhood, whereby personal relationships take precedent over the assessment of an individual’s skills and qualifications. Needless to say, when relationship takes precedent over individual acquisition of wealth, “Melanesian capitalism” becomes an oxymoron, a contradiction, as one cannot refuse requests for credit and the goods simply flow off the shelves without money being paid. Possessions are shared. I give someone a T-shirt. The next day, someone else is wearing it; the next day, someone else; the next day, it disappears; in a few months it may even come back to me. The fridge and bank account are almost always empty but we eat well and joyfully, and have what we need. One is fully and completely part of others.
A couple years ago a group of high school students from the U.S. visited the diocese. One of their adult leaders, reflecting the amazement of the American students at the depth, quality and complexity of the social life they found, as well as the low level of material prosperity, made the following generalization: “In U.S. there is a high level of ‘material development’ but a low level of ‘social’ development. In the Solomons we found a low level of ‘material’ development but a high level of ‘social’ development.” Perhaps one could extend the comment to say that in the west there is often an excessively high level of “material” development but an ever-increasing paucity of “social development” (made worse by television, racism, ethnocentrism, fundamentalism, etc.), while in Oceania (at least in many parts of it) there is an ever decreasing level of “material’ development and an ever increasing level of “social” development (perhaps even an excessive level of social development – as everything, good and bad, is being relationally absorbed).
I have already noted some of the strengths of Melanesian or Oceanic personhood as relational: human solidarity in community, deep friendship and extended family life, very strong commitment to reconciliation, strong community self-identity, rich interpersonal life, presence rather than absence in relationships, confidence in relationships, knowing and meeting the needs of the other, people comfortable with their bodies, cooperation, and a deep sense of belonging – with the land, the environment and (most importantly) with other personsin relationship.
Perhaps western European cultures can be characterized as “centrifugal”, shooting off individuals into space, far apart from one another; while Melanesian and Oceanic cultures can be characterized as “centripetal”, pushing people closer and closer together in a common central mass.
But there are also drawbacks to relational personhood: Often personhood as relational stops at the boundary of the tribe or ethno-linguistic group or island, although the church has helped extend these boundaries. The Solomons’ recent “ethnic tension” conflict is a good example of the enormous gap between groups that relate deeply internally but not across the gap (although a surprising level of reconciliation was and is still taking place). Personhood as relational does not guarantee in any way justice – there are those in relationships of power (usually men, for example, chiefs, “big men” or [possibly polygamous] husbands) and those in relationships of powerlessness (usually women and children or the illegitimately born or the outsider). Non-conformity and independence are often discouraged in the name of acquiescence to tradition. (The Japanese, whose highly conformist society bears some resemblance to some Pacific Oceanic cultures, have an expression, “The nail that sticks up has to be hammered down”.) Necessary social change can be very slow. Paradoxically, in what Michael Ignatieff, following Freud, calls “the narcissicism of small differences”, sometimes the smallest cultural or psychological differences produce the most violent disagreements. Relational personhood and cultures are also quite vulnerable – to exploiters and abusers, to the global capitalist economy, to sects and cults, to conmen and hucksters – as one enters into the relationship before one understands the nature of what one is in relationship with.
5. Two interacting worldviews interact with koinonia
With all of the cautions expressed above, I have sketched two models of “personhood” – western European “individualism” and Melanesian/Oceanic “relationalism”. Already I am sure we see the collision (and, indeed, collusion and interaction) of these two consciousnesses or worldviews over the last 400 years of interaction between European and Oceanic cultures. There has been both mutual condemnation and appreciation. Already hybridity comes into the picture. Yet both have survived and even, in many situations, continue to flourish. And (positively) each model has its shadow – for western European individualism the earlier history of tribal cultures (whether Jewish or northern European, such as the Celtic), feudal society in which the individual was absorbed into the corporate and pre-modern Roman Catholicism, carried forward into classical Anglicanism and rural English life, transplanted “to the colonies”; for Oceanic cultures, “inversions” that emerge with sudden new individual leadership, sudden changes in what is tabu, sudden individual visions or prophecies which change the whole direction of the society, for example, crazy women shamans or radical chiefs. Inevitably, all of us here, in one way or another are affected by, shaped by, or attracted to or repulsed by one or both of these two models of personhood, not least in the theologies and practices of the various missionary societies and organizations who worked and continue to work in Oceania (3).
I have drawn out these two models to help us reflect on how our various ways of living and understanding “personhood” impact upon our living of Christian koinonia – sharing, communion, fellowship, partnership with Jesus Christ and with one another. Assuming that the Melanesian experience bears some resemblance to the Maori, Fijian, Tongan and Samoan (and perhaps even Indian) experience, and given New Zealand’s British roots (with all the caveats above), I think it would be useful for all of us to reflect upon our concept of personhood – how much of it is “individual”, with emphasis upon individual personal autonomy, freedom and agency, and how much of it is “relational”, placing maintenance and development of relationships first – and how the two models (or any others) have interacted and continue to interact in the life of our churches and nations. But, more importantly, how do the two models of personhood (or any others) interact with our exercise of agape (loving in a Christ-like way) koinonia (sharing, communion, fellowship, partnership) in the church – whether in personal relationships within and across cultural and national groups, in models and practices of leadership, in exercising baptismal ministry, in theological education, yes, even in church constitutions and structures. Koinonia requires personhood that is both relational and an exercise of individual autonomy, but much can go wrong. I shall return to these themes tomorrow. There are no easy answers and we all have much to contribute. I would ask you to begin to reflect in the workshops today on these many issues of personhood and koinonia. Thank you.
Part II: Further reflections on koinonia in the Anglican Communion today
Yesterday, I spoke a bit about the biblical understanding of koinonia, characterizing it as “sharing”, “communion”, “fellowship” and “partnership”, both with Jesus Christ and with one’s fellow Christians. I mentioned that the word koinonia does not appear in the Gospels, but only begins to appear in St. Paul’s epistles, as he struggles with the various conflicts in the Jewish/Gentile Christian churches of the Mediterranean. It is used in the very ratification of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles by the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem. James, Cephas and John, the leaders of the Jerusalem church, extend to him “the right hand of fellowship [koinonia]” and send him and Barnabas on their way to continue their mission to the Gentiles, across major cultural, psychological, philosophical and personal barriers. Through Paul and Barnabas, this loving hand of fellowship, koinonia, will be extended to the Gentile church. However, before I continue this story, I want to return to the Gospels.
2. The Gospels, koinonia and relational personhood
Why does koinonia not appear in the Gospels as one of Jesus’ teachings? Surely one would expect to find the Greek word koinonia somewhere in the Gospels as a translation of some of Jesus’ teachings about right relationships and the Reign of God. Why the silence? I have some suggestions.
First, to continue yesterday’s discussion, Jewish society in the Old Testament (perhaps even today, especially in Israel) is closer to relational Oceanic cultures than to western individualistic ones. Jesus grew up in a rich web of relationships, within a narrow tribal identity set against the Roman and Hellenistic world. Nation/community/group and individual are identified as one. God tells Jacob, “You shall no longer be called Jacob [an individual], but Israel [a nation]” (Genesis 32:28). The Suffering Servant in Isaiah is both Israel and the Messiah. Jesus initially saw himself as proclaiming the Good News of the Reign of God only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Old Testament Jewish culture (including its reflection in the Aramaic and Hebrew languages) was relational, holistic, non-individualistic, non-dualist (though there were certainly Hellenistic influences), tribal and legalistic – not unlike many Oceanic societies in the past and today. Still today, Melanesian students at St. John’s or Bishop Patteson Theological College in the Solomons find Hebrew an easier language to learn than Greek, and I spend much of my time as Bishop of Malaita trying to convince Malaitans that they are not a Lost Tribe of Israel.
Thus, with relationship as a given, if not a starting point, Jesus is Jesus because he is in relationship, both with God and with his fellow Jews. He is not a detached “individual” but one with his people. He is even a part of his “group”, the apostles. He is comfortable with crowds and looks after them. He does not preach aboutkoinonia because he expresses koinonia through his life, through deep loving relationship, first with his Father, then with his fellow Jews, the house of Israel, then (almost against his will) with Samaritans and Gentiles (the outsiders), expressing God’s radical inclusiveness beyond narrow tribal boundaries. Jesus Christ iskoinonia, God’s sharing of divine love with humanity. Jesus’ ministry is an exercise of koinonia, sharing, and his parables are stories of koinonia, divine and human. Koinonia is built into Revelation itself and the relational and holistic character of Jewish culture and personhood facilitates it.
It should be said that Jesus’ koinonia, sharing, is not unconditional. The perfect and mutual sharing (St John’s Gospel: abiding or dwelling) of Jesus in the divine (“I and my Father are one”) is a full, complete and mutual sharing of divine love, a love which results in both koinonia and judgement in Jesus’ ministry – for example, his condemnation of many of the religious leaders of his day, the corrupt capitalist class and the imperial powers. With divine love, justice enters into the picture, so that Christ’s koinonia becomes a sharing of God’s love and justice with the world. I believe this Gospel schema needs to be kept in mind as we move on to St. Paul’s frequent use of koinonia in his ministry among the Gentiles. Although the word koinonia is absent from the Gospels, koinonia, sharing, is there,
To say one more word about personhood and koinonia in the Gospels, given the absolute relational unity of Jesus and the divine, and the great relational unity of Jesus and his followers (both facilitated by the relational and holistic character of Jewish society), it is appropriate that eventually the analogical language of “personhood” (Latin, persona = “face”) came to be used to describe the Trinity, although we must be careful not to be too anthropomorphic in our understanding here. (The “persons” of the Holy Trinity are not “persons” in the human sense, except for Jesus.) But coming out of the (Jewish) Gospel context, “three persons in one God” conveys differentiation in the context of absolute relational unity. And the invitation to us to participate (or share, koinonia) in Trinitarian faith is an invitation to participate and share (koinonia) fully in God and the gracefully shared divine love, and to enter into full koinonia (communion, fellowship, relation, sharing) with our fellow Christians (indeed, with all of humanity), in all of their diversity, without condition.
For cultures that are deeply relational, such as those of Oceania (and, I daresay, much of Africa and Asia), koinonia may be easier to live than in cultures that are highly individualistic. As I indicated yesterday, sharing and relationship are already present at the heart of relational cultures, but to be further shaped by Christian koinonia. The results can be exciting – deep relations of love and mutual support, holistic healing, restorative justice, beautifully inculturated worship, exciting indigenous and contextual theologies. We have had many experiences of these graces in the Church of Melanesia and I am sure you have them too. Religious communities, new Anglican villages, new choirs and youth groups just seem to emerge.
But this further shaping may not be as easy as it looks. First, there is the problem of a kind of cultural chauvinism that automatically and uncritically identifies all the relationality of the culture with koinonia. But all cultures, even relational cultures, have failings and are subject to Christ’s judgement and transformation. There may be unjust, unloving and abusive relationships that need repentance and transformation. In Malaita “culture” is used to defend all sorts of unchristian practices and beliefs. Fijian Methodism, a form of “culture Christianity” that uncritically accepts Fijian culture to the point of oppression of those of other races is one dramatic example of this kind of cultural chauvinism in the South Pacific region.
Secondly, the same challenges face these relational cultures as faced the Jewish Christian church of Jerusalem – extending koinonia beyond family, tribal, ethnic, cultural and national boundaries – beyond the “comfort zone” of “internal” relationality to the “discomfort zone” of accepting and learning to relate with the very major cultural differences of the “other”. These new and challenging relationships may be with other relational cultures or (more commonly) with (western) individualistic cultures and persons. This reaching out or expansion of koinonia is even more difficult if these cultures (whether relational or individualistic) have also been invaders, oppressors or colonizers. (In the Solomons, some inter-island suspicion and hatred dates from pre-Christian headhunting days.) This reaching out is difficult too if Christianity has come to the relational culture primarily through individualistic western theology, thus, some “theological tools” may need to be re-worked.) But even this colonial or post-colonial situation is not totally unlike that of the Jewish Christian church in the New Testament – as despised Samaritans and hated Roman tax collectors and soldiers and joined the Gentile church. There is still the challenge of both living and extending true Christian koinonia for relational cultures. It is encouraging to see this extension happening in this event and in the church of this Province.
3. Koinonia , St. Paul ’s ministry to the Gentile world and individualistic personhood
As Rolland Allen pointed out many years ago in his description of the “spontaneous” growth of Christianity in the Mediterranean world in the first generations of Christianity, Paul did not travel around “planting churches”, but rather taught, supported, guided, strengthened, chastised and built up the mixed Jewish-Christian churches that spontaneously sprang up in and around the diaspora synagogues – all this work for building up their unity, both internally and in relation with each other and the church in Jerusalem. He urged the churches which he visited to practice koinonia – with Christ and with one another. Koinonia “in Christ” comes to replace the physical presence of Jesus amongst his apostles. Because koinonia is relationship, it is often koinonia “with” or “in” – “the fellowship of [God’s] Son” (1 Cor. 1:9), “sharing in the blood [and] body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16), “sharing in the Gospel” (Phil. 1:5), “sharing in the Spirit” (Phil. 2:1), “sharing of [Christ’s] sufferings”, “sharing in this ministry to the saints” (II Cor. 8:4), etc. One does not “koinonia” alone, but in relation with others.
Greeks and Romans came into the churches of Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, Philippi, Ephesus and Rome from very mixed cultural, philosophical, economic, religious and social backgrounds and contexts, and the resulting problems were very difficult. A kind of pluralistic individualism began to emerge, for example, various varieties of highly dualist Gnostic belief, involving all sorts of secret and private teachings and very erratic behaviour. St. Paul, the faithful “relational” Jew turned missionary to the Gentiles, managed to adapt, indeed, even take on Greek and Roman language and concepts, to promote right teaching about Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, glorification and second coming, and their destiny in Christ; and right teaching about the emerging churches’ full koinonia and unity with Christ and his Body, the Church. But Paul also fought a rear guard action against the conservatives and traditionalists of his day – the so-called “Judaizers”, those who sought to require the church to abandon the Gentiles and return to Judaism – what I sometimes call in Malaita, “the Seventh Day Adventists of his day”.
In Paul’s ministry to the new mixed Gentile-Jewish (then, virtually Gentile) church, we see some checks on individualism emerging. His view is not wide-open “anything goes” pluralism. In I Corinthians 1:12-17 he opposes individual charismatic leaders and groups who invoke the names of individuals – Apollos, himself and even Christ – causing division in the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit. In the “weaker brother argument” of 1 Corinthians 8, he urges Christians strong in faith who know that the idols really have no power, to respect the weak consciences of new Christians, and not eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Paul seems to move, not always consistently, between respect for and exercise of individual conscience and freedom, and restraint of individual conscience and freedom for the sake of building up of the church – that is, between freedom and obedience. There are no easy answers. Koinonia is one of Paul’s teaching tools – indeed, it is part of the Christian “way of life” required for dealing with all these problems.
For those of us rooted in the western individualistic mode of personhood, koinonia may not come so easily. We like our independence and, indeed, there is much good in it. But sometimes (perhaps even often, even all the time) we must humble ourselves and in the spirit of Philippians 2:5-8 – where Christ is described as having emptied (kenosis) himself of divine power to take on the nature of a servant, to enable loving human relationships – let ourselves be emptied (“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . .”) of our individual and private initiatives, our love of privacy, our rational designs and power games, our love of theoretical knowledge and structures, indeed, our wealth, and “take on the nature of a servant”, that we may more fully relate with genuine Christian koinonia with those on the margins and in situations of powerlessness – including those with a very different understanding of personhood than ourselves. We need to allow ourselves to be included in the koinonia of others very different from ourselves. I believe this is already happening in this church and I commend you for it. But I am sure some are not quite convinced.
4. Solving local problems without global consistency
One of the problems with St. Paul’s letters is that they are badly arranged. You will notice that they are arranged in a rather bureaucratic fashion – the longest letters (Romans, I and II Corinthians) first, down to the shortest letters (I and II Thessalonians, the Pastoral Epistles – which most scholars would say are not even Paul’s – and Philemon) last. This ordering disguises the chronological order of the letters. If one re-arranges the letters chronologically (which is fairly easy to do, from internal evidence in the letters and matching them up with Paul’s travels) – with the earliest letters placed first (the two letters to the Thessalonians, I Corinthians), then the mature letters (Galatians, Romans, II Corinthians), then the later letters (Ephesians, Colossians) last, one can see clearly how Paul’s thought changes and develops as the context changes and as he matures and changes his mind. We will find that Paul changes his mind quite a lot – indeed, that changing one’s mind is biblical. One big problem is the Parousia, the Day of the Lord. First Paul expected it to arrive very soon. I and II Thessalonians are full of this waiting for the immanent Day of the Lord – there is not mention of koinonia at all, as Christians are simply waiting, with not much to do except pray. But the Parousia does not arrive and Paul has to begin to deal with how Christians are going to get along with one another. Koinonia appears.
Throughout his letters, Paul changes his mind. He changes his mind about the Parousia and the importance of life here on earth. He changes his mind about marriage – it goes from an almost “necessary evil” to a sacrament reflecting the relationship of Christ and the Church. He is of two minds about the Roman Empire, denouncing the idolatry of the worship of Caesar, yet a proud Roman citizen. He flip flops about women, – sometimes he tells them to keep quiet, other times he praises them as prophets. He even wobbles on slavery – accepting the institution, but virtually urging Philemon, to whom he writes, to release his slave Onesimus, the holder of the letter. His views about the relationship of the faith of the Gentile Christians with Judaism moves all over the map – from praise of the Old Covenant to its condemnation. And Paul frequently moves back and forth between freedom and obedience.
Why all this apparent change and inconsistency? Paul was lucky not to have lived in the age of Internet and rapid telecommunication, or the churches would have found him out. One can imagine the e-mails speeding between Corinth and Rome – “but he told us this, yet he tells you this”, etc. Paul’s “change and inconsistency” are the result of a gifted leader dealing with different contexts and different times, different problems in different places. But what is significant is that he is dealing with local churches and encouraging local churches to deal with their local problems, even if the results are not entirely consistent. Love (agape) and Sharing (koinonia) cover the inconsistencies.
This point is a very important one. It is a very big temptation to abandon the concerns of our local church and enter into the global Anglican fray about human sexuality and other controversial subjects. Modern telecommunications, especially the Internet, increase this temptation. I live in Auki, Malaita, one of the more isolated places in the world. Yet I know what the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Primate of Nigeria or the Bishop of New Hampshire is saying almost instantaneously, while it will take me days to know what the Parish Priest of Hoastiteimwane Parish in South Malaita thinks about his new house. So I think and worry about what the international Anglican leaders (and even what the kooks) are saying on the Internet as I browse the web, before I worry about my Parish Priest’s need for a house. Indeed, it takes less time to fly from Auki to London than to get to some parishes in the Diocese. We must not let this reality of the inequalities of globalization distract us from what Paul was so concerned about – the local church – in my case, the Diocese of Malaita, in your case, the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. That is what this Hui is all about.
Of course, we live in a “global village”, so we cannot ignore what is happening globally; but if that becomes our chief concern, we have lost the battle already. The problem is especially difficult if we find ourselves in the eye of the storm – though that is no reason not to be in a storm now and then. I have just come from Vancouver in the Diocese of New Westminster, where the local church is struggling to do its proper local work, despite the constant round of global criticism, the stream of hate mail directed to the Bishop and the harassment of his children in school – even though the Diocese has agreed to a moratorium on same-sex blessings. “They will know we are Christians by our Love” – question mark.
If by some miracle of nature, Paul could have lived 2,000 years, I am sure he would still be changing his mind – but also not changing his mind. Perhaps he would sound a bit like the Primate of Southern Africa, whose thinking is decidedly Pauline. Despite his occasionally short temper, Paul’s basic approach was pastoral – but also concerned with right teaching. A pastoral approach requires flexibility and change but also must be rooted solidly in koinonia with and participation in the triune God. This potential for change also makes hermeneutics – the attempt to move biblical meaning from its original context to the contemporary context – very important. The church has recognized this in its changing its views in many areas, as has been mentioned – slavery, divorce and re-marriage, the lending of money, the role of women in ministry, artificial birth control, etc. Surely, the church will continue to change.
But Paul could not live 2,000 years and be present with us today. So what sort of advice would he have for us? I can think of no better advice than Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure”.
5. Holy Communion (Holy Koinonia)
It is from St. Paul’s description of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 that the sacrament receives the name “Holy Communion”. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is in not a sharing [koinonia] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing [koinonia] in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” This affirmation of koinonia (turned from a question with its confusing “nots” to a positive statement) is proudly still at the heart of the Church of Melanesia Liturgy, the legacy of a borrowing from the New Zealand Liturgy of the mid-sixties. (I am a bit sad to see it absent from the new New Zealand Prayer Book.) From the very clear contextual account of the practice of Holy Communion in the Corinthian church that follows in the next chapter – complete with the abuse of the sacrament by the wealthy, arriving early at the agape meal and not sharing their food with the poor, and Paul’s castigation of this practice – it is clear that Paul has a very high theology of the Eucharist as a sign of koinonia with Christ and among Christians. Indeed, those who participate in it without koinonia get sick and die (a view that is very Melanesian, even).
Therefore, as much as lies within us, we must try not to separate ourselves from the Holy Communion – that our conversations of difficult issues of culture, church structures, politics, human sexuality, etc., must be in the context of continued sharing (koinonia) in the common Holy Eucharist. Here is full sharing and union with Jesus Christ and with one another. Karl Rahner used to say that the shortest distance between two people is through God, and I believe that is also true of the Eucharist. We can bear structural differences, different views of Scripture, different views of politics, different views on any number of controversial issues, including human sexuality, if only we can stay together around the Eucharistic table, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ together. Appropriately, the youth reminded us of this the other evening.
In the church’s rich Eucharistic tradition are many pictures of what happens when we come together for the Breaking of the Bread. I continue to be attracted to that of St. Augustine (no matter what his other failings): that we offer our lives, our relationships, our participation in koinonia, our work – even our disappointments and failures – in the bread and wine offered upon the altar. “You are the bread, you are the wine”, St. Augustine declares, and “you are placed upon the Altar”. As the bread and wine in consecration are taken into the divine, so are our lives taken into God, to be returned to us in the grace-giving resurrected Body and Blood of Christ that we receive, uniting us with God and with one another in love (agape) and fellowship (koinonia) and sending us out to minister. For me the refusal of certain Primates to receive communion with certain other Primates is a much greater tragedy than the suspension of churches or individuals from various church meetings and structures.
6. Christian personhood
The late John Paul II, in his early philosophical days, wrote much about Christian personhood. I have not read this writing, but my impression is that one of his aims was to try to find a “third way” between the competing ideologies of individualistic capitalism and collectivist Marxism – a “Christian person” who could emerge from soul-destroying individualism and soul-destroying collectivism. Certainly in his papal pronouncements, John Paul often tried to enunciate at kind of theology of “Christian personhood” (what in broader theological terms can be called “Christian anthropology”) as an alternative to individualistic, collectivist or other secular ideological understandings of the human person. He was equally hard on capitalism and Marxism.
I would be very cautious to put forward a view of Christian personhood that then becomes an ideology, another “ism” (such as “Christian personalism”). Christianity is not an “ism”, it is a way of life. “Christian personhood” would have to be a reflection of the divine. The biblical witness is unequivocal – we are created in God’s image – God’s triune image, if we are serious in our Trinitarian faith. Our “we”, our relationships, are somehow an image of God’s “we” in the Holy Trinity. But our “we”, along with all of creation, is a fallen and sinful “we”. Sometimes our “we” has become “I”, when it should have still been “we”, in greed and selfishness. Sometimes our “we” has become so important for us that we have forgotten God and our “we” has become an idol, whether this “we” is a culture or an ideology or a relationship. But through the salvation offered in Jesus Christ’s birth, death and resurrection (the Manger, the Cross and the Empty Tomb), through our repentance and God’s forgiveness and grace, the divine image, the divine “we” restores our personhood. So “Christian personhood” would be Trinitarian personhood, in which our human “we” and “I” reflect the divine “we” and “I” of the Holy Trinity. (I believe this insight is “non-negotiable”, and not a “theological fad” to be dismissed.) Surely, the image of the divine in us includes, firstly and most importantly, the gift and capacity to love in a Christ-like way. Hence, all of our relationships, all of our individual autonomy, all of our cultures and societies, all of our thought, all of our sexuality, all of our theology are transformed and integrated, reflecting the divine love and unity of the Blessed and Holy Trinity (5).
It is, of course, when we try to be more specific that the arguments start. Is capitalism a proper social reflection of the divine? Is our multicultural society a proper reflection of the divine? When I act on my own without consulting anyone, am I behaving in a Trinitarian manner? Are there any same-sex sexual relationships that might reflect the divine relationships within the Holy Trinity? Do the three tikanga, in their distinctiveness and unity, reflect the perfect unity and trinity of the Holy Trinity? Different contexts produce very different questions and, I daresay, the answers are sometimes different in different times and places, as St. Paul discovered in his ministry. These are also questions that need to be asked and reflected upon prayerfully, discussed with the whole church and decided upon, “with fear and trembling” before the face of God. We need to be careful about answering any question too quickly.
7. The Christian Way
I promised some fireworks yesterday. I rather regret that promise. However, I will try. Fireworks are meant to be spectacular, to entertain. But they are not meant to blow up or send the family home arguing about which was the prettiest sight. My fireworks are very modest. I also put them forward with a certain amount of “fear and trembling”.
As Christians, I believe we must reject Anglicanism, Evangelicalism, Anglo-Catholicism, capitalism, socialism, feminism, idealism, realism, personalism, existentialism, Marxism, Roman Catholicism and all of the other “isms” of this world. Christianity is not an ideology, not an “ism” but a “Way”. One of the earliest names for Christians in the New Testament was those who followed or “belonged to The Way” (Acts 9:2).
Years ago, Bishop Charles Gore was invited to give a lecture in London on “The Application of Christianity to the Life of Men and Nations”. He began his lecture by denouncing the wording of the title of the lecture. Christianity, he argued is not an ideology, not a set of beliefs, not a set of propositions, not a set of principles, not a creed, not a theology, not a method, not a text – which is then intellectually “applied” to the world – to people, to cultures, to nations, churches, etc. Christianity, he said, is none of this. Rather, Christianity is a way of life, in which we walk and work together towards a common goal, the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ. As one of the reflectors reminded us last night, we are not in relationship just to be in relationship. We are in relationship because we belong to Jesus Christ. We are his people and we walk with him, he walks with us, and we all walk towards God, towards the Beatific Vision of our future life with God. But walking along the Way, we encounter many problems and difficulties but we are to support one another in dealing with them. Indeed, Jesus and his followers grew in their faith as they walked along the roads of Galilee. Jesus even told parables of what could happen on the road and what we should do, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan.
I wonder if this ancient biblical picture of Christianity as THE WAY might be helpful to us. What has struck and impressed me about this Hui has been that what ever Archbishop Njongonkulu or I have said, much of the discussion and report backs have been about the three tikanga and their relationships, internally and with one another. And this is good – you are dealing with the local church, as the churches in St. Paul’s letters dealt with their local difficulties and frustrations.
I wonder if it would be helpful to think of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia walking together on The Way, that is, along a road. In the past, Pakeha, Maori and Pacific Islanders have walked together “as one” (divided into dioceses) but the realities were that it was a rather unequal walking together. Some people dominated, others were left out, some wanted to stop and visit, some wanted to buy a bus, some wanted a car, some wanted to walk with friends in another section (diocese) but could not, some wanted to dance, some wanted to keep quiet, some wanted to walk alone, others wanted to walk in a big group, some wanted to be with family, some didn’t want to be with family, some were lonely, some got left behind, some got angry and left the way, some fell into the ditch, some died, others raced ahead and claimed to have already reached the goal – in short, walking along The Way wasn’t going along quite as well as it should have.
And so the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia re-arranged itself in its travel along The Way, into the three tikanga. The new arrangement has been to enable a better walk along the Way – a happier walk, a more human walk, a stronger and better coordinated walk, a walk that can better deal with suffering and other problems (ministry), a walk that will be more attractive for others to join (evangelism), in short, a more Christian walk. There have been gains; there have been losses. You are still in transition. What is important is that you are all still walking together on the Way, though in a different formation. There may still be questions. One is whether this new formation will facilitate the “plenitude of relationships” that the Christian Way encourages and requires. Another is communication. Another is whether it can provide adequate ministry to all – there will still be those who have problems along the way. (But I think it is right to leave this area to the individual tikanga, as there is plenty of work to be done in all three tikanga.) Another question is whether unity in a single Christian Way can be adequately maintained. (There may be many Christian ways [small “w” in “ways”] but there is also only one Christian [capital “W”] Way. You have provided “instruments” to ensure this unity. One is the three-tikanga General Synod. I sense it has been going fairly well. Another is the Eucharist. Actually, I believe this is the most important one. If there are problems of lack of relationships within and among the tikanga, one obvious answer is to meet together intentionally and frequently for Eucharist, with an agape meal, relationship-building and discussion, at the most grassroots level. What could be more biblical? I see another instrument of unity emerging in this Hui – the youth. No matter what structures adults construct, youth always have a way of getting around them to be together. Even the young teenager Jesus didn’t travel with his proper group, his proper tikanga, coming back home from the Temple in Jerusalem. Do not restrain the youth and their desire for unity across the tikanga.
I think this image of Christianity as the Way might be helpful in your reflection on the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia today – not just in talking about the tikanga, but in many other areas as well.
8. Koinonia and mission
As Paul’s travels illustrate, koinonia extends beyond the local church to the full Body of Christ, seen and unseen. An ecclesiology that is local and congregational only – for example, as advocated by some in the Diocese of Sydney – that the only true church is the small congregational gathering at a particular time and place, led by the right people with the right beliefs, and there is nothing else – is simply wrong. We are all part of the Body of Christ, as the title of Bishop Michael Nazir Ali’s book on mission proclaims, “sent from every place to every place”. Indeed, “church planting” is not even very biblical.
Our understanding of personhood can affect our practice of mission and our global exercise of koinonia as well. Some may wonder how I got to be Bishop of Malaita. I sometimes wonder that myself. Starting in about 1968, the Anglican Church of Canada began sending a priest to teach at the then Diocese of Melanesia’s theological college, first at Siota, then at Bishop Patteson Theological Centre. At that time the Diocese of Melanesia was a part of the Anglican Church of New Zealand. On January 26, 1975 the autonomous Church of the Province of Melanesia was formed and the structural link with the New Zealand church was broken, except for the Melanesian Trust Board, which continued to supply funding. I arrived about eight months later, the third Canadian. I had the impression at the time that New Zealand had “pulled out” – the child had grown up and the parent had severed the link and the Church of Melanesia was on its own. Very few New Zealand personnel appeared after that. The Anglican Church of Canada, interested in mission partnership (koinonia), did not pay much attention to whether Melanesia was autonomous or not and continued the relationship. When I left Melanesia in 1981, I was replaced by a Filipino priest funded by Canada, then a Canadian laywoman, then another Filipino priest, then another laywoman. Many other programmes and personnel exchanges eventually developed, including at least one companion diocese relationship. Partly because of all these many Canadian relationships, many of which I was responsible for developing as a mission secretary, I was asked to return to the Solomons as a Bishop. I returned not as a missionary of the Anglican Church of Canada but as a Bishop of the Church of Melanesia, working under local conditions and on a local stipend.
It may have felt right at the time, but (and these are entirely my personal views, not the official position of the Church of Melanesia), I think New Zealand fell ever so slightly into the trap of confusing a long-term mission relationship of koinonia between Melanesia and Aotearoa-New Zealand with a European nuclear family, where a child is expected to grow up and move away from home and become a mature autonomous adult. Might it not have been better to increase the relationship with Melanesia after Melanesia became an autonomous province, rather than decrease it? However, relations did not completely break off by any means, and, for example, the sending of Melanesian students to this College continued and has been greatly appreciated.
But likewise, I find it surprisingly hard to encourage and facilitate relationships of koinonia between my diocese and the church overseas, particularly those involving the movement of people, although we do have many visitors. There have been some important exceptions (for example, our relationship with Church of the Nativity, Blenheim, in the Diocese of Nelson) but often “the other”, the overseas church, is just too far away for us to worry about. (Like other parts of the church, sometimes it is the insurance company that sets the agenda – Australian exchanges broke off when travel insurance to the Solomons was no longer possible.) Such a lack of commitment to mission does not bode well for the church, as the church risks becoming more and more inwardly looking. In Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s famous words, “the church that lives to itself, dies to itself”. So I would say, let your love and sharing, your agape and koinonia move out, beyond the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. I am not just talking about the leaders of the church, who often travel too much, but also the grassroots. And I would challenge each tikanga, “What is your mission strategy?” I am sure that the Tikanga Pasifika has a head start in this area and the other two tikanga may have much to learn from them.
9. The global Anglican Communion today
Finally, as I have already said much about communion and sharing, koinonia, in our Oceanic context, I want to say just a few words about the global Anglican situation today. I agree totally with what Archbishop Njongonkulu has said about the Anglican Communion’s four so-called “instruments of unity”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is primus inter pares, first among equals. He is not an Anglican pope. Unlike the pope, he has no direct authority over any bishop or diocese in the Anglican Communion except his own diocese, province and national church. He does visit Provinces around the Communion, by invitation. He alone decides whom to invite to the Lambeth Conference (despite a lot of free advice these days). His authority is one of relationship and influence, through preaching, writing, teaching and interviews with the media. One might add that in the current context his job is next to impossible, with enormous pressures (indeed, threats) from all directions. He can please no one. He fully deserves our prayers. One consolation is that he is Archbishop of Canterbury, not those making the threats.
From the first Lambeth Conference onwards, provincial autonomy has been a governing principle of the Anglican Communion. Lambeth Conferences are consultative and advisory, not legislative. The 1998 Lambeth Conference was no different, including its resolution ( 1:10) on homosexuality, despite current attempts to make it into a legislative body retroactively. Lambeth Conferences also change their minds – the most striking example, the complete turn-around on artificial birth control, totally rejected at the 1908 and 1920 Conferences, warmly accepted by the 1930 and subsequent conferences.
The Anglican Consultative Council is precisely that, “consultative”. It is not a synod; it is not legislative. It has no power to expel any diocese or province from the Anglican Communion. Even expulsion or suspension by the ACC from the ACC does not put that diocese or province outside the Anglican Communion. We are Anglicans only because we are in communion with the See of Canterbury. (Ironically, the English “flying bishops” do not seem to be in complete communion with the See of Canterbury, unlike the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada who are. For example, at Canterbury Cathedral during Holy Week, there are two “chrism masses” for the blessing of holy oils (one presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury with women clergy present, one presided over by one of the “flying bishops” with no women clergy present.)
The Primates’ Meeting is the “new kid on the block” and a bit of a bully at that. It started as a meeting for mutual support and sharing and as a place to discuss primatial concerns and conflicts within and between provinces. It too has no real direct authority, although it too is trying to take on a legislative function. The Primates represent extremely varied provinces and one almost wonders why some present are given so much authority. At least one Primate represents a province whose Anglican population is considerably less than half of that of my Diocese. Yet because of erratic Anglican structures he is given great power.
It should be said that there are some other instruments of unity that are not often mentioned and need to be – namely the inter-Anglican networks. Ironically, as the above four official “instruments of unity” have been fighting it out, the networks (Peace and Justice, Interfaith, Women and Family Life, Theological Education, Ecumenical, Environment, Refugees, Youth, Contextual Theology, Afro-Anglicanism, Francophone Provinces, Provincial Secretaries, etc., etc.) have been doing the real work of building international Anglican unity. One is reminded of the early days of the ecumenical movement, when “Life and Works” carried the ball when “Faith and Order” was mired in doctrinal controversy. Indeed, as one rattles of this list of inter-Anglican networks and commissions, and I am sure I have missed a few, we might re-phrase Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s quip about Anglicans and meetings – that our unity may be preserved because we continue to have so many meetings. The ACC’s refusal to pass the “strong version” of the Episcopal Church-Anglican Church of Canada censure motion and expel the two churches from all the networks and commissions was a hopeful sign that the Communion can continue to work towards unity despite different views of human sexuality.
As Archbishop Njongonkulu mentioned, if there is to be a change in the instruments of unity to give them more direct authority, let this matter be discussed in the provinces first, not snuck through some meeting of the Primates or the ACC behind closed doors with certain provinces not allowed to vote. Such procedures discredit the Anglican Communion in the eyes of the world.
10. A closing personal comment
Again, perhaps not following my own advice, I want to close with one short comment on the current controversy in the Anglican Communion on homosexuality, and a plug. I think my main point would be that we – bishops, clergy, lay, synods, dioceses, provinces, hui, whatever – have not yet moved from the “them” stage of discussion to the “we” stage of discussion. We talk about “them”, the “homosexuals” (perhaps we have even worse names), while we should be talking about ourselves – “we”, “us” – we are the gays and lesbians. Why cannot we use that “we” language? In Solomon Islandspijin, iumitufela, the two-of-us, you and I in friendship. “We” are the gays and lesbians, not “them”.
I am not going to speak further on this issue as I have a book coming out on the subject early next year. It is entitled Other Voices, Other Worlds: the GlobalChurch Speaks out on Homosexuality. It has essays from Oceania, Asia, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and the “global north” reflecting experientially and theologically on the homosexuality issue from a positive perspective. Two members of this Hui are contributors, of which I am very proud. I fear some Primates are not going to be very happy. However, I have also had the support and encouragement of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Melanesia in putting together the book. It will be published in England and the USA in January next year. I urge you to buy and read it.
Thank you for your attention. Keeping in mind all the problems we face – following the Christian Way in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, being autonomous persons together in relationship (and relational persons striving for autonomy), facing difficult ethical issues such as human sexuality, called to minister to a broken, poor and violent world, living and ministering to a divided Anglican Communion, called to mission and reaching out – confident in the power of the Holy Spirit, I close again with St. Paul’s very open-ended and encouraging words to the Philippians: “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure”.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
(1) This section is indebted to C.E.B.Cranfield’s entry on “Fellowship, Communion” in Alan Richardson (ed.), A Theological Word Book of the Bible (London, SCM Press Ltd., 1950), pp. 81-3.
(2) Non-personhood was, of course, present in the institution of slavery and the way European imperialist nations regarded the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The issue of non-personhood has not gone away. Many would say that in the Indian caste system, for example, dalits (“untouchables”) are non-persons from the perspective of the higher castes. One attraction of both Buddhism and Christianity to dalits is their full affirmation of dalit personhood.
(3) Maurice Leenhardt, Do Kamo: Person and Myth in the Melanesian World  (Basia Miller Gulati, trans.), (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 94. Further page references are to this edition.
(4) Varieties of approaches include that of the Anglican evangelical Church Missionary Society (strong emphasis on individual personal faith), the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Melanesian Mission (personal conversion but through rapprochement with the local cultures, sometimes resulting in the conversion of whole tribes en masse, and with a strong theology of the church), Roman Catholic religious orders (much more culturally based, church-oriented conversion) and contemporary fundamentalist evangelical groups preaching a “Gospel of Prosperity” (individual personal conversion rewarded by individual personal wealth).
(5) A brilliant Eastern Orthodox reflection on the relation between the Holy Trinity and communion is John D. Zizioulas’ Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church ( Crestwood, NY, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002).
All material on this site is (c) copyright to the respective authors but may be copied or printed FOR PERSONAL USE.