Commemorative Lecture Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Consecration of Drexel Gomez

Anglicanism and the Further Witness of the Church in the Province of the West Indies

I wish to express my thanks to the Diocese of The Bahamas & the Turks and Caicos Islands for honouring me with this invitation to deliver this lecture to Commemorate and celebrate the Fiftieth anniversary of the Episcopal Ordination of the Most Rev’d. Drexel Wellington Gomez.   Archbishop Gomez is easily numbered among the audacious Anglicans whose love for Christ and the Church inspired generations of faithful disciples. Archbishop Gomez served two dioceses as Diocesan Bishops (Barbados and The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands) and as Archbishop of the West Indies.  Although holding strongly to the inherited Anglican tradition and its spiritual disciplines, Archbishop Gomez was equally committed to leading the church beyond its colonial past. He represented the best of Caribbean Scholarship and used every opportunity, be it in the public square, in the pulpit or among his colleague Bishops, to promote and defend a theological synthesis that was as spiritually uplifting as it was liberating for the people.

So we celebrate with joy the Most Reverend Father in God, Drexel Wellington Gomez, whose Ministry as priest and Bishop has enriched the witness of the CPWI and left a legacy on which we may do well to build on.

The challenge for the present and future generation of Caribbean Anglicans is to devise a Theological language that best articulates the aspirations of the broad masses of the people who, today, remain untouched by the Anglican Church. In addition, they generally believe that organised religion is not geared towards their highest, noblest, and most productive well-being but they nevertheless need the spiritual and moral insight the Church has to offer.

Christianity, as with all religions, can help to maintain the status quo or transform it. Those with vested interest will always be happy with a theological narrative that offers nothing more than a health-and-wealth and pie-in-the-sky by and by diet on a Sunday morning.  On the other hand, Christianity can also turn the world upside down.  That is to say, it can lead us to precisely where Jesus remains, uncomfortable places where we are often unwilling to go.

Anglicans in this unsettling time might be tempted to just re-arrange the status quo.  Archbishop Gomez would find this less than audacious.  He would rather that all Anglicans looked at the foundational tenets of their faith with new eyes, to discern how best we can communicate the Gospel in the multi-cultural and multi-faith Caribbean.  

Anglicanism and the further witness of the Church in the Province of the West Indies

There has been much discussion on the identity, integrity, and authority of Anglicanism in recent decades.  Archbishop Gomez, himself, has been at the forefront of some of those discussions, tasked, as he was by the then  Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Rowan Williams to help create an Anglican Covenant that would provide a framework for the Member Churches of the Communion to walk together despite differences.  Notwithstanding the doubters regarding the value of an Anglican Covenant, it did help the Communion to reflect upon itself and its difficulties, if not to resolve them. A covenant will inevitably bring with it structures and processes and resistance from some. Any attempt to define Anglicanism will inevitably force us to wrestle with the concept of “diversity”. This is largely expected among the 70 Million Anglicans within the world wide Anglican Communion governed by some 40 autonomous Provinces.  Although there is no readily discernible consensus about what constitutes Anglican Identity. Nevertheless, Anglicans still hold to the Book of Common Prayer and affirm the instruments of Unity, namely the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Anglican Consultative Council, The Lambeth Meetings of Bishops and the Primates’ Meetings.

Within Anglicanism, there are many theological mansions.  The meaning and unity of the Anglican Communion have been repeatedly debated in Lambeth Conferences since 1948.  Archbishop Michael Ramsey, Bishop Stephen Sykes, Theologians Paul Avis, Martyn Percy and others have produced important works on the subject. Some of these writers harken back to the past, to writings of Richard Hooker, the Liturgy of Thomas Cranmer and the religious establishment in England to find unique characteristics of Anglicanism.  They look back to the “point of Origin” in order to find the unity and identity of what it means to be Anglican today.  However, as postcolonial Anglicans like Kortright Davis argues: “The Anglican Church must everywhere come to be known as the living church with the traditions of the living; no longer must anyone dare to call it a ‘Royal Society for the Preservation of Ancient and Historical Monuments.[1]

A church is like a lake; if it is not fed from a stream of fresh water it will become brackish and eventually become incapable of supporting life in any form and will die. Judging from the vigour of scholars like our retired Archbishop, and our own experience in the CPWI, Anglicanism is far from dying. And yet, if we dare to look a little closer on the numbers who show up on a Sunday morning and over the fence at those who show little interest in what the church is saying today, including our children and grandchildren, the CPWI will have to pay urgent attention to what Davis is saying.  Until and unless Anglicanism is perceived by their social context as a relevant tool in advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the CPWI will remain brackish to those viewing us from across the fence.

I share two experiences with you.  On a visit to the Kingston Parish some years ago, a visitor, at the conclusion of the service told me of the vision she had the night before. God, she believed, had directed her to come to that church that day. She took a taxi and told the driver to let her off at the gate, who informed her when he made the stop, “she did not belong in there”. That troubled me and should trouble all comfortable Anglicans that ordinary people didn’t believe they belonged.

The second experience occurred during the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council held in Jamaica in May 2009. ACC members were guests in several of our Parishes across the diocese and reported to plenary on the Monday following their visits. While Anglicanism remains rich and vibrant in many of our parishes, ACC Members felt the Church’s mission could be better served if we were less of a carbon copy of the Church of England. The very thing that was held to be positive turned out, in their minds, to be negative.  That is to say, no longer attractive to a culture that simply wants to move on.  In fact, many Dioceses within the Communion, including the Church of England, have long come to that conclusion.

Beyond Colonial Anglicanism

Since the movement for political independence, which began in the1960s, locals have replaced the expatriate missionaries while drums, guitars, and steel pans are heard in many of our liturgical settings.  In many of our churches, however, the status quo remains as it was in colonial days.  It is for this reason I wish to propose a paradigm shift in our approach to Caribbean theology. It must shape any conversation around the further witness of Anglicanism in the region; One that will take seriously the postcolonial critique of the hegemonic intentions of Euro-American imperialism embedded in much of the biblical interpretation we take for granted today.  I will draw on some work I did more than a decade ago in preparation for my Doctoral Thesis; Biblical Hermeneutics for Social Transformation. There is good reason to embark upon such a theological imperative at a time when the Church’s influence on the society as a major voice for change and social transformation is fast diminishing.

Professor Kwok Pui-Lan in a chapter in the book she jointly edited with Ian Douglas, “Beyond Colonial Anglicanism” suggests that Anglicanism already has the built-in structure that can enliven its witness and advance its impact on the society.  She refers to this as Anglicanism’s “cultural hybridity”.  She writes;

I suggest that Anglicanism was a cultural hybrid from the beginning, and this tradition should be celebrated in our postcolonial world. The Church of England in the sixteenth century assimilated elements from both Catholic and Protestant traditions to create a very fluid identity.  Adopting the via media approach, the Church of England was able to hold together the evangelicals and the Anglo-Catholics in the nineteenth century. [2]

Pui-Lan continues:

The encounter with diverse cultures during the colonial age presented both risks and opportunities to the cultural identity of Anglicanism.  But, instead of continuing the process of hybridity, Anglican churches were formed during the imperialistic period as mimicries of churches at the metropolitan centre. (Kwok Pui-Lan)

Hybridity Re-visited

The concept of hybridity can provide us with a new discourse, one capable of countering the hegemonic domination we take for granted in favour of creating new narratives.

The postcolonial scholar Stuart Hall, writing out of his experience as a Jamaican living in England, supports the view that “hybridization can help to construct a counter hegemony which could contest dominant representations of blacks in white cultural and aesthetic practices.”

Robert Young, however, takes a less optimistic view of hybridity as a reliable means of constructing a discourse to counter hegemony, as he believes that hybridization will erase the discrimination of difference that is, distinctive cultural values.    The possibility that hybridization can easily undermine one’s ability to affirm difference must be taken seriously, especially in this age of global communication. Still others hold the view that any support for hybridization will give legitimacy to the colonial violence that created it.  Notwithstanding the caution implied in these observations, the challenge to find a balance between difference and sameness, the local and the global, is one that must be pursued if Anglicanism is to be received as a liberating voice of the Gospel Message.

Caribbean scholars have put forward the theory that the experience of colonization and slavery was never a one way encounter, as it allowed the slaves to develop new discourses of meaning that incorporated both the experiences of the master and that of their African roots.  Edward Brathwaite’s early and very influential account of Jamaica as a Creole society emphasizes the survival, even under the most potent oppression, of the distinctive aspects of the culture of the African slave. He writes:

Even more important for an understanding of Jamaican development during this period was the process of creolization, which is a way of seeing the society, not in terms of white and black, master and slave, in separate nuclear units, but as contributory parts of a whole.  To see Jamaica (or the West Indies generally) as a slave society is as much a falsification of reality as the seeing of the island as a naval station or an enormous sugar factory.  Here, in Jamaica, fixed with the dehumanizing institution of slavery, were two cultures of people, having to adapt themselves to a new environment and to each other.  The friction created by this was cruel, but it was also creative. [3] 

This process of creolization was not simply a technique for accommodating the brutality of colonialism.   If this was all we could say, then critics of the legitimizing role of hybridity would have a point.  Scholars like Michael Dash argue that within hybridization there was a psychological and spiritual reconstruction taking place.  Dash writes:

Colonization and slavery did not make things of men, but in their own way the enslaved peoples might have in their own imagination so reordered their reality as to reach beyond the tangible and concrete to acquire a new re-creative sensibility which could aid in the harsh battle for survival.  The only thing they possessed (and which could not be tampered with) was their imagination and this became the source of their struggle against the cruelty of their condition.[4]

This idea of hybridization and creolization must be taken seriously by the CPWI for two reasons.  Because first of all, both hybridization and creolization describe fully the inner creative response of a displaced people to the brutal consequences of slavery and colonialism and what led to the creative experience of Caribbean culture, expressed in our attitudes, values and patterns of beliefs.

Out of this prism of cultural hybridity emerged our indigenous religions, for example Rastafarians. Say what you wish about the role of indigenous religions, they provide the former colonized and now marginalized people of the Caribbean with a place where their identity is affirmed. 

Kortright Davis and Noel Erskine, two Caribbean theologians serving in North America, argue that Caribbean churches have done very little to change the symbols in our worship and therefore the image people have of God.  “Nothing that the people saw and heard bore any relationship to how they lived….  Thus, there was a radical discontinuity between what was sacred and blessed by the churches and what was indigenous to the people.” [5]

Some may argue that changes did take place when the governance of local churches was no longer controlled from the “missionary headquarters.”  In fairness, most Christian denominations, even those that were established as part of the hegemonic design of Europe, have since the l960s made deliberate efforts to shed their foreignness and to embrace a prophetic witness that is relevant to Caribbean people.  The point is; much more needs to be done in developing a Caribbean Christian identity, as well as a theological and biblical hermeneutics that can help to inform and promote that identity.

So let me say something about “Theology and Context

Theology is always challenged with finding a balance between the universal and the local.  That means understanding the various cultural contexts in which the Gospel must be proclaimed in word and deed.  The refusal of the Jewish Christian, Paul to submit the Gentile Christian to circumcision (Acts 15) is an expression of this acknowledgement of the other.   As the Gospel moved from Jerusalem to Athens, Paul had to account for the alternative knowledge systems Christianity encountered in Greek culture.  This acknowledgement of the stranger is a quality that characterized Jesus’ own ministry as reflected in many of his parables. The question is what led to the suspension of those hermeneutical tools of Paul and of Jesus that so clearly affirmed the compassionate acceptance of the stranger by the one who is culturally different? 

When the Church began equating the universal mission entrusted to it with the Kingdom of God, it began adopting a hermeneutic of assimilation.   That is to say, the universality of the message became a major feature in silencing the possibility of the local culture to sing the Lord’s song in its own language. Today, there are signs of a new consciousness emerging in the theology of mission.  An example of this was demonstrated over a decade ago by the Mission Commission of the Anglican Communion in their report to the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, September 1999.  While acknowledging the fundamental unity of the Gospel, the Commission rejected any idea that that should mean the colonialization of difference within the local culture.  “All mission” the report stated, “is done in a particular setting – the context.  So, although there is a fundamental unity to the Good News, it is shaped by the great diversity of places, times and cultures in which we live, proclaim and embody it.”  Theologians in a postcolonial culture are affirmed by these developments and began embracing the same rules as those observed by Paul, who demonstrated inclusiveness on matters pertaining to custom that are merely peripheral to core belief.  Once the claim to universality becomes theologically and politically dysfunctional, new horizons of knowledge must be sought.

Liberation theologies represent the most persuasive move to establish those new horizons.  Whether it is the liberation theology of Latin America or of South Africa, or of Asia, they all reflect a discourse that is anchored in specific contexts and take the experience and voices of the oppressed and marginalized as the starting point for reading scripture and hermeneutical reflection.   

Everything we have said so far challenges us to find a more dynamic approach to our understanding of Anglicanism as our inherited tradition. If we acknowledge tradition to be the deposit of past commitments recorded in texts and creeds, one which constitutes who we are and what we may become, nothing more than law is at stake; what the South African Theologian James Cochrane refers to as a “dogmatic trap from which spirit strives to escape”.   On the other hand, if tradition is seen as something one enters into, by “putting on the mind of Christ,” then everyone, including the marginalized, participates in the making of that tradition, in the dialectic between what constitutes us and what we constitute”.   Cochrane does not support debunking tradition. In fact, he affirms the importance of tradition in the life of faith.  He pleads, however, for an acknowledgment of the dialectic that is involved in our experiencing of the Christian faith and indeed all traditions. 

When we lay claim to being Christian, we insert ourselves into the inherited language of the faith.  As we search this heritage to make sense of our Christian identity, so we sink our roots into its universals. Further, we necessarily contribute to the establishment, confirmation, or alienation of these universals by constituting them in relation to our own experience.  In this, Christians continually participate in the development of tradition.  This dynamic is its truth; a truth of which Christians of every tradition must become consciously aware. 

Professor Christopher Duraisingh demonstrates something of that process when he wrote:

Until and unless through a serious cross-cultural conversation and the use of a critical hermeneutics of difference, the diverse cultural expressions of the Christian story everywhere are received as central elements in the tradition-ing process, we will not be liberated from a past which remains essentially European. Nor can we receive the stories of the good news in Christ in ever new and multifaceted ways relevant to our times.[6]

Durasingh’s use of the word “tradition-ing” is deliberate as it is an attempt to rediscover the dynamic process of handing down the story of God’s presence in Christ.  As the story is handed down to different peoples, and as people witness to this apostolic dynamic, the meaning of the story receives fullness.  In this fullness of the Christian story that is continually built up through the ever-moving tradition-ing process, a new catholicity emerges. It can never be frozen into a once-and-for-all given. The Tradition-ing process is thus dynamic, relational, contextual and catholic. Something Anglicanism has always claimed, and must continue to claim if the further witness of the church is to be fully realized.

Does this mean that we must now reject everything we have learnt from others?   Not at all!  What this leads to is what Duraisingh and others refer to as a cross-cultural hermeneutic which affirms diversity and difference not as something extra to be added on, but as the basic characteristic of life in the Christian community.  “Such a hermeneutic will require a new understanding of the relation between the local and the global, the particular and the universal Church.”   It is a hermeneutic that promotes the crossing of borders without colonizing the other.  Its aim is genuine dialogue with the other in the hope that together each will discover the multifaceted richness and the universal character of the “Apostolic Faith” which is never available apart from its one thousand and one contextual expressions.  The question is:  How might we begin to promote such a genuine dialogue so that there is mutual understanding, a willingness to learn from each other and begin to image a future beyond hegemony?

Kwok Pui Lan suggests that an answer might be found in the principle of via media, long cherished by Anglicans.  The notion of mediation between Roman Catholicism and a more radical form of Protestantism which proved useful during the Elizabethan Settlement (1559) became widely accepted as a key element of Anglican self-definition.  Kwok writes:

Via Media debunks the myth that there is one, absolute foundation or source of truth, thus opening up possibilities to be Anglican without being English.  The Via Media entertains the thought that decisions about right and wrong, truth or falsehood, are not predetermined or pre-packaged, but negotiated in the greyish, ambivalent space of ‘in-between.’  While honouring the cultural experiences of peoples, Via Media is not complete relativism or moral chaos.  It is a kind of disciplined reasoning, seasoned with humility, and sustained by compassion and empathy for oneself and others. [7]

In her book the Dream of God, African American Lay Theologian Verna Dozier uses the image of what she calls the “three falls” to show how Christians miss the mark of the high call to join God in the emancipation of humankind.  Dozier’s image of the three falls were in reference to how the Church turned back the dream of God by turning into an institution.  The three falls she describes are:  1) The story of Adam and Eve in the garden; 2) the desire of Israel to be like other nations having kings rule over them instead of God (1 Sam. 8:7), and 3) the Church’s accommodation of the Emperor Constantine.   Time would not permit a full reflection on Dozier’s images to proffer a suggestion as to why Caribbean theologians allowed the opportunity of a critical theological witness to pass.  However, Dozier’s second fall – Israel’s desire to be like other nations, is instructive for the point I wish to emphasise.  God, she says offered Israel a way of life that would witness to a new possibility for human life, absolute trust in God, but the chosen people said, no, we want to be like all nations.  Trusting in God is too risky a thing to do.  We want the security of systems with which we are familiar.  The effect of this second fall on the Caribbean Church is that American “Prosperity” Gospel has largely replaced much of the work that was done four decades earlier to introduce indigenous music, like reggae, into the liturgy.  This about turn was demonstrated at the fortieth anniversary of Jamaica’s independence two decades ago when Jamaicans were asked if they thought life would be better under colonialism; 56 percent said yes!  I don’t know what the percentage would be today if the same question should be asked.  However, judging from the response of the average Jamaica to the visit of the Royals earlier this year, I would think there is likely to be no change.

In a study by Professor Don Robotham on Crime and Public Policy in Jamaica, the author suggests that globalization and deregulation have led to the revival and strengthening of old insecurities and prejudices.  The churches in Jamaica, and I suspect other parts of the Caribbean; have largely given into these insecurities that have overtaken national life.  The insecurities that come with an out of control rising crime rate; a drug trade that undermines national security; the marginalization of our youth because of the lack of employment opportunities; and local industries that are being suffocated by globalization, are all good reasons to feel insecure.  Yet the church is bound by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to narrate an alternate script.  And it is for the sake of the nations we serve that the Church bears witness to that possibility.

I suggest four priorities for a Renewed Commitment to Anglicanism’s Further Witness of the Church in the Province of the West Indies

First of all, our Theological Institutions, namely Codrington College and United Theological College, must be prepared to engage in serious dialogue with social scientists and professionals in other disciplines.  For example, critical social theory has proven to be a worthy companion to liberation theology, thereby contributing significantly to its prophetic imagination.  Likewise, it can equally serve Caribbean theology.  When the Church lives with the notion of an inevitability of history, it is not likely to do anything to facilitate change.  Scholars like Hegel and Marx perceived history differently. They claimed; “Within the eye of history lay a whirlwind of social contradiction and struggle.”   It is to these social contradictions that the Old Testament prophets spoke and to which the Gospel of Christ urges us to speak today.

The Gospel by itself cannot liberate systems of injustice that have been eroding the moral and social fabric of the society for decades.  For that to happen, Christian men and women will have to engage the Gospel in dialogue with other partners.  William Temple; a former Archbishop of Canterbury would insist that one cannot hope to pray authentically unless he or she has the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  This is precisely so, because theology is public theology. Today, Christians must be encouraged to read the Bible with a critical eye for justice, and that must mean paying attention to our social scientists and commentators who can help us ask the deep questions that occupy the mind and hearts of our people.

The wellbeing of a country involves not just the development of its physical infrastructure but the measure by which the society is able to guarantee some reasonable standard of living for its members. When that possibility is disabled by the imposed conditionalities of lending institutions, including our local banks, then the entire wellbeing of the people is undermined.  Theology must assist the ordinary reader of scripture to interrogate the important social issues of the day, and in the name of justice, speak the truth to power.

Secondly, we must develop new ways of reading the Bible. Reading the Bible in a manner that gives life to the text and correspondingly allows the readers to find their own life-story in the text must be the aim of every Christian.  New and liberating stories for our lives can indeed emerge from the Bible once we are prepared to place ourselves within the text and ask questions such as “Who speaks for whom?”  “Who is given voice and who is silenced?”  One cannot successfully answer those questions unless you pay attention to the social setting or context in which we live out our faith.  The collective memory of the local culture, as well as one’s social experience in our everyday life, unavoidably poses those questions to the text. 

Because of our largely privileged place within the society, it is perhaps hard for Anglicans to recognize that often it is the people outside the “church of the status quo” who daily contemplate the possibility of their own emancipation.  They are the very ones who ask the kind of penetrating questions the Psalmist often asks; questions like: “Where is God; Why has God not liberated us?”  “Why is the Church so silent on issues of injustice?”  “In whose interest does democracy serve?”  These questions invite the church into new areas of social engagement and demand a reassessment of the way it does theology.  The challenge to find a theology for social transformation is not a call for the Church to produce more theologies from the top; there are already many of these in existence.  The challenge is to re-examine the way the Bible has been read and interpreted in the past and to open up the discourse to include those voices of resistance that have felt excluded from the historic hermeneutical process.

Caribbean theology can draw on the experience of Latin American and Southern African Christians who have long developed the technique of reading the Bible from the perspective of the poor. This reading of the Bible “from our side,” I must add, goes beyond a mere translation of the text into Jamaican Patois, what in some theological circles would be termed the indigenization of the text.  Writing from the South African context, the former Archbishop of Capetown and Primate of Southern Africa, Dr. Njongonkulu Ndungane states:

The major weakness of this approach towards indigenization is that it sought to dress Christianity in African culture while maintaining its foreignness in terms of symbols, thought forms, and value systems.  In practice, this implied the adaptation of European practices and thought patterns to the cultural life of the people of Africa.  Scripture became a tool of domination in the sense that African Christians could not escape the colonial models of being Christian.  All models of Christianity came from outside, rather than inside Africa.  The approach was to maintain the status quo, even though the model was used by the African theologians themselves.  Oppression through colonial domination had been internalized.  Models of being church remained hierarchical and colonial.[8]

The third area that requires urgent attention must be that of addressing the distorted self-image that Caribbean people have of themselves.  Like all colonized people, Caribbean people have had to struggle with an image of the self that is mirrored by the approval or disapproval of the colonizer.  Such false consciousness frequently produces in oppressed peoples a vehement self-loathing for failing to live up to an ideology’s norms and ideals, for failing to achieve.   It is for this reason why liberation theology places an emphasis on the marginalized and non-person as the interlocutor of theology.  Gustavo Gutierrez makes the following observation about the nature of such a theology:

“To be sure, when we say ‘nonperson’ or ‘nonhuman being,’ we are not using these terms in an ontological sense. We do mean that the interlocutor of liberation theology is actually a nonentity.  We are using this term to denote those human beings who are considered less than human by society, because that society is based on privileges arrogated by a minority.”  

And so, those of us who are part of the “mainstream” of the society and occupy leadership in our congregations must take seriously the idea of privilege when considering a theology that is in solidarity with the struggles of the poor.  Sharon Welch makes a valid point when she observed that the temptation to despair and so give up on any idea that society can change, takes on a particular meaning for the middle class.  Not that the poor are immune from despair and cynicism:  “But the despair of the affluent, the despair of the middle class has a particular tone; it is easier to give up on long-term social change when one is comfortable in the present, when one has options, it is despair cushioned by privilege and grounded in privilege.”[9]  And, I should add, entitlement. 

These words strike at the heart of our difficulty in moving forward with a theological narrative that gives priority to the struggles of a people.  It is not sufficient to know what is wrong with the social order; we must know the extent to which we benefit from having things remain as they are.  Until Anglican theologians are willing to claim our own social location, we will never be able to acknowledge our own complicity with a system that makes one group benefit to the disadvantage of others.  Making that acknowledgement would be a major first step in working towards a theological hermeneutic that would be socially transforming for Caribbean society.

This leads to the fourth area of priority for Anglicanism ‘s further witness of the CPWI must be a willingness to embrace one’s context as the medium through which the Gospel is communicated and received. This sounds so basic it hardly needs repeating.  And yet, the fact is, because the one sharing the message is often from a different “place” and likely does not share the same goals as the listener, different conclusions are drawn from the communicative event.   Take, for example, the Base Ecclesial Communities in Latin America and South Africa.  There, emphasis is given to the receiver of the message and not to the “speaker.”   In Bible study, the critical question is not what the text says but what it means to the reader.   As a result, local people are constructing their own theologies.  On the other hand, the one sharing the story is preoccupied with the integrity of the message while the hearer has a preoccupation with identity, context and what is taking place in his or her life at the moment.

If Caribbean theology is to affirm context, then it must be willing to embrace dialogue with and within culture and context as the basic methodological stance.  If we believe that God continues God’s work outside the visible church, then Caribbean theology cannot ignore what Idris Hamid calls the many “non-church” ways in which the reality of God is communicated, experienced, and expressed in our culture. These non-church ways make up who and what we are as Caribbean people.  Indigenous religions like Rastafarianism long discovered this, and because of this, they have been able to capture the imagination of the people.  Would that the mainline churches in the Caribbean could place their scholarly tradition to the service of that endeavour?  The prospect of that happening awaits us. 

Despite the perception by many, that Anglican identity remains a mirror of the colonial enterprise; and despite there have been moments when the Anglican Church kept itself aloof from the Caribbean cultural zone within which it functions – It nevertheless possesses the gifts that must complete the unfinished task of devising a missiology free from the hegemonic categories that have informed the way we read scripture and live out the Gospel.  Lamin Sanneh, in his book Translating the Message, argues that despite the prominence of hierarchical structures and its complicity with colonialism, Christianity affirmed the local culture as a worthy medium for the transmission of the message of ‘the true and living God’.[10]  The very success of Christianity during the first centuries of its existences was because of its effective translation from one culture into another so that it could become identified with its “new” location.

This was affirmed at the Triennial Synod of the Church in the Province of the West Indies held in Barbados in 2015.

Dr Anna Perkins in addressing the Synod suggested that the Anglican Church in the Caribbean has been gifted with “a strange kind of obligation”.  Strange, because notwithstanding our colonial legacy:

Caribbean people are assured of the presence and engagement of the Anglican Church in their lives.  Indeed, the Church continues to be the centre of life in many villages and rural communities across the region; the priest and members of the vestry are respected and relied on for many things.  Educational institutions continue to be a key means of serving the people in the region.  This is because the gifted presence of the Church in the West Indies is far from passive; Caribbean Anglicans recognise the relationship between their presence, the presence of others and the real presence of Christ lay bare in the Eucharist. Such engagement is a public sign of the Church’s commitment to the wellbeing of the world and to the discovery of the Kingdom in the midst of the places where we are present. 

 Anglicans can’t help but be engaged within the life of the community, because built within Anglican self-understanding are the theological tools necessary to promote the kind of transformation that is urgently needed in our region for which I have been advocating.

Anglicans embrace a spirituality that is rooted in the incarnation, and therefore, can neither be world-denying, nor can it be reduced to some private relationship with God.  It calls us to be transformed into the life of the divine so that in turn the life of the world might itself be transformed.  To engage one’s social context theologically, along with its culture and all the ambiguities that go along with it, means to become the place where God’s story of the world and our culture’s evolving story encounter each other.  It is never a very safe nor a very comfortable place to be.  But we need to remember that the key to every theological interpretation is Jesus Christ, and it is the very uncomfortable and unsafe places within his own culture that engaged his transforming presence.


So, as Anglicans we are being called upon to take the lead in deepening the means of spiritual and moral enrichment in the lives of our Caribbean people, and to place our gifts and resources in the service of a transformed life within our communities.  This urgent and important imperative must consist of our commitment to demonstrate in multiple and creative ways that the will of God is to bring life to all, and to bring it in all of its fullness in every aspect of the society. That is the commitment that shaped the ministry and work of our beloved Archbishop Gomez.  Ours is the task to re-commit ourselves to finding a theological model that is open to the full participation of everyone within the interpretive process of hearing what God is saying through scripture in these our Caribbean lands.  When Christian mission becomes open to such a witness through the movement of the Spirit of Christ, all are transformed and enriched.  

Rt. Rev. Robert Thompson
Retired Bishop of Kingston
Diocese of Jamaica & the Cayman Islands


Kortright Davis; Present and Future Trends in Anglicanism, in Anglicanism: Present and Future, ed. Michael Hamilton, Washington D.C).1992, 25

[2]  Kwok Pui-Lan, The Legacy of Cultural Hegemony in the Anglican Church, in Beyond Colonial Anglicanism, The Anglican Communion in the Twenty-First Century. Church Publishing Inc., New York.200, Pg.97)

[3] Kamau Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820; Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1971; reprinted Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2005, 307

[4] Michael Dash, Marvellous Realism: The way of Negritude’, Caribbean Studies 13 (4), 1974 cited in The Post Colonial Reader, ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gaerth Giffiths, Helen Tiffin London, New York: Routledge, 1995), 200

[5] Kortright Davis, Emancipation Still Comin’ Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1990, p. 75.) 

[6]Christopher Duraisingh, “Contextual and Catholic: Conditions for Cross – Cultural Hermeneutics” in Anglican Theological Review lxxxii: 4, Fall 2000, p. 682.

[7] Kwok Pui Lan

[8] Ndungane Njongonkuln. Scripture, What is at Issue in Anglicanism Today? In Ian T. Douglas & Pui Lan Kwok, Beyond Colonial Anglicanism (New York, Church Publishing Inc., 2001), pg. 240-241

[9] Sharon Welch, A Feminist Ethic of Risk (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 15

[10] Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989), 234