This posting is a continuation of what I wrote last time about the Justice Summit at William Jewell College last weekend. One of the most impressive people I met at the Summit is Robert Francis, who lives in Bates County, MO.
I had heard of Robert; a year or two ago he had spoken in a Chapel service at Jewell that I was unable to attend. So I was happy to meet him. When visiting with Robert, I asked if he is part of a Christian community. He said that he and other Native Americans like him were followers of Jesus but were not necessarily Christians.
Robert’s name card indicates that he is a Consultant/Helper with the Mid American Indian Fellowships (MAIF), and that organizational name is followed with the words, “following Jesus in the context of our Native cultures.” In a 2006 document available on the Internet, Robert writes about how a MAIF Council meeting in Springfield, MO, decided to work toward establishment of a land-based center for indigenous cultural immersion and restoration.
In the same paper, Robert says that the “overarching purpose” of MAIF is the decolonization of colonized peoples. This is in contrast to what missionaries have done through the years, he claims. Selective reading of the Gospels allowed Christian missionaries “to neglect Creator-Son’s primary work of decolonization.”
Robert’s work is a good example of both contextual and liberation theology. From the late 1970s I began teaching about the importance of contextual theology in my Introduction to Theology course at Seinan Gakuin University’s Department of Theology.
One of the best Asian examples then was Waterbuffalo Theology (1974) by Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese missionary to Thailand. And in that connection I also began to talk about the contextual liberation theologies of James Cone, Gustavo Gutierrez, and Rosemary Radford Ruether.
And just this morning I finished reading one of the most challenging books I have read for a long time: American Indian Liberation (2008) by George E. “Tink” Tinker. A member of the Osage Nation, Dr. Tinker is an ordained Lutheran minister and has since 1985 been a professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Just like the Black Theology of Cone, the Indian Theology of Tinker is highly critical of much traditional (White) theology. But both are contextual theologies that those of us who are not Black or “Red,” as well as those who are, need to take very seriously.