Author: Henrik Sonne Petersen
In recent mission related work with organizations and churches from Northern Europe partnership takes on meaning primarily from a wish to create frameworks for transparent and effective cooperation with the expressed intention to generate mutuality. And yet we struggle not only to create partnerships, but to find expressions of a good partnership.
Looking at the idea of partnership neither transparency nor efficiency are charged expressions, but as basic expressions of partnership they tend, unnoticed, to introduce a modern worldview fueled by visions of globalization. Mutuality is the central concept of partnership, and has as such a number of expressions. Bishop Kibera, ELCT (Tanzania) has repeatedly been quoted in this regard: “No church is so poor that it has nothing to share with others, and no church is so rich that it has nothing to learn from others.” From ELCA in the US, Danmission from Denmark has been inspired to express the concept of mutuality in terms of ”accompaniment”, drawing on the powerful story of Jesus accompanying a couple on the way to Emmaus. But, although both expressions and intentions are genuine, and the concept of mutuality is central and accepted, it seems as if we still have a long way to go to establish real partnership between Churches and organizations working across international and cultural boundaries.
From theologians in Africa a voice has been given to a deep concern of African citizens not to be dragged innocently into another situation of exploitation. Instead partnerships with Northern and Western partners must be limited and controlled, if not avoided altogether. Father Laurent Magesa, Tanzania, have launched severe critique of the cooperation in mission, claiming that it basically neglects central human values, which are endemic in the African continent although not so in other continents. Magesa has especially pointed to the metaphor of host and visitor as central in this regard. From the Democratic Republic of Congo Dr Kä Mana has pointed to the possibility of releasing spirituality through a reinterpretation of the rich mythology from Egypt and other countries in Africa, allowing a genuine African understanding of reality to develop.
While the two examples mentioned lead us to think that Africa might be better off without a partnership with churches of the North, other theologians like Professor Lamin Saneh and the late Dr Kwame Bediako points to the necessity of maintaining relationship in the Universal Church in order to learn from each other and to be able to reinterpret the Christian heritage.
Bishop Zac of Uganda has contributed to this discussion through one of the Global Conversations preceding the third Lausanne World Congress in Cape Town, South Africa 2010. Here Bishop Zac calls us to take serious that mission is not ours, and that the expansion of Christianity in Africa is not primarily a response to the Great Commission. Rather it is a spiritual movement, initiated by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, which calls us not to send or be sent, but to pay more attention to God, already at work in African communities.
Could it be that we could find clues to overcome the quagmire of partnerships ideas by looking to examples from the work of the Holy Spirit, as they are given evidence in Holy Scripture? What is, in other words, the biblical basis for a theology of partnership?
It would not be reasonable to claim a full answer to such a waste question in just a few lines, but inspired by the work of Christ Wright in unlocking the Bible’s grand narrative let me present an example. First, it must be acknowledged that there are multitudes of examples and models, which invite us to ponder if our preferred model is fortuitous, or, perhaps more precisely an expression not of the central Biblical model but of our own preferences. Having indicated the warning we nevertheless, secondly, argue that there are models of partnership more central than others, which furthermore runs through the majority of the Biblical texts. Following the lead of Bishop Zac we shall look for clues of partnerships specifically related to the Mission of God.
Scriptural basis for partnerships are found especially in relation to the idea of covenant, where God provides promises and fulfillment. God is the prominent actor, initiating covenant, expressing his providence, and this is given ample expression in the Jewish Bible, our OT.
In NT we find remarkable expressions of partnerships:
o Philippians: partnership in the Gospel
o 1 Cor 12 and Rom 12: partnering in the body of Christ, which is especially related to gifts of the HS
o 2 Cor 9: 8-11: God provides the things needed for sharing with one another.
Expressions of covenant and providence are reflected in human responses, which is rendered as a growth in Christian life, or in “doing the good” (fx 1 Peter).
Concepts and responses
First order principle: Biblical concepts involved in covenantal relationships
Doing the good
Human responses to the principles, and as such expressions of covenant belonging
Sharing (both goods, and “in suffering”)
Exhortations related to God’s initiative, i.e. the first order principles
Partnership and mutuality
given a cursory example of how a theology of partnership could be developed we shall only pay attention to one detail. Instead of taking the lead from the concept of mutuality or reciprocity in developing an idea of partnership, we glimpse a possibility of taking others leads, which nevertheless incorporates mutuality. Does it become easier to find partnerships with genuine expressions of mutuality if the concept of mutuality is not the leading idea?
Partnership and relations
Working with the biblical ideas and images of partnership I have found it necessary to differentiate between relations and partnership, where relations so to say depend on birth, while partnership depends on mutual agreement. The relational aspect makes it possible to make use of the imagery of body and limb from Paul, and to explore the depth of the human responses in listening, being and receiving, which to a large extent unfolds mutuality.
Relation and partnership are closely related, although not identical. The close relationship indicates that one concept is reflected in the other, in the sense that relationship forms the main tenets of a particular partnership, and that a partnership expresses and enlarges the basic ideas of relationship. While relations grow out of presence and history, partnership provides the framework for different activities, which expresses the relation in the political and social-economic setting given.
The consequences are among others that relations provide a link between partners, which is not necessarily broken because a particular partnership is terminated. For relations are larger than partnerships, since a particular partnership not only refers to the relation, but is limited in the double sense that it has to take into consideration the socio-economic and political context and, in most cases, is temporary.
Concluding quadruple questions
Has the sketches of a biblical perspective made us approach an understanding of partnership within the perspective of the Mission of God? Have we found clues to open our partnership for interpretation of our Christian heritage? Did we find ways to control partnership that it should not become a way of exploiting brothers and sisters? Have we come closer to a generous understanding of mutuality?
These are burning questions, which we will struggle with in the years to come.
Henrik Sonne Petersen
August 18, 2010