Wati Longchar – « Power and powerlessness »

Deutsch: Weisheit der Völker – Theologie des Volkes
Italiano: Sapienza e teologia del popolo
Português: Sabedoria e teologia do povo
Français: Sagesse et théologie du peuple
Español: Sabiduría y teología del pueblo
中國人: 人民的智慧和神學
English: Wisdom and People’s Theology

Wati Longchar – « Power and powerlessness. Engaging marginalized peoples in mission »

1. Introduction

Traditionally, people in the “centre” decide Christian mission. People in the “margin” have been treated as object of mission. We have been reading history of Christianity from the sender’s perspective, but not from the receiver’s perspective.  However, people in the margin challenge us to locate Christian mission in the context of the marginalized. The CWME-WCC mission document, Together Towards Life (TTL), is a ground breaking theological work. The emphasis “from” the margins makes this theological affirmation different and significant. Mission is no longer seen from the centre of power to powerless, but from the powerless to the power.  This compels us to think and do mission differently. We need to look for a new wineskin to preserve the new wine, a new church structure and ministerial orientation program in order to be inclusive. 

2. God Chose the People Outside of Power Structure

The incarnation of God in Christ Jesus took place among the people at the margins. At the time of the birth of Jesus, people who gathered around him were people outside of the power structure. They were people without any political power, nor religious authority, women, children and the poor people like the shepherds who were landless and who did not have legal protection and from whom the rich people refused to buy even milk and vegetable. The wise men, strangers in Jerusalem, who brought precious gifts to Jesus refused to be subjected to empire obligation. They were asked by the empire to report about the birth of Jesus. Instead they left by another route to Galilee to protect the life of Jesus.[1] People who welcomed Jesus were those outside of power hierarchy. These people were not allowed to enter the temple and did have any political influence. Jesus was not born in a palace, but in a manger, a ragged cowshed, an open and unprotected place. People who were missing during the birth of Jesus were the rich men, rich women, the king, queen, prince and princes, high priests, nobles and other high officials. The birth of Jesus was astonishing, threatening news for those decision makers. That is the reason why Herod, the king, ordered to kill all two-years-old and younger in the regions of Bethlehem (Mt 2.16). They never expected that God would be revealed among the lowly people. The angel announced the message, “Peace among you”, among the marginal people. The incarnation of God happened outside of unjust power structure. God chose the ‘margin’ –the people on the underside of history– to inaugurate His Kingdom, bringing justice and peace. God was and is encountered among the powerless and in unexpected locations like manger, but not among the privileged and powerful people. If the God of the Bible took sides of the people in margin, then it is clear that God continues to take sides of the marginalized even today, identifying with the oppressed and challenging their oppressors. This is the biblical witness.

The true mission can be understood and experienced when we journey with the people who are on the margins, because that is where God is present. God is with them. God chose them and said “Peace be with you”. The agenda from the periphery – the longing for justice, peace, identity and right to resources – is thus the agenda of God. The real future of humanity comes from here and not from the decisions and deliberations of the people who dominate the world. It is from the site of God’s visitation –the margins– that a new world has to take shape. It is in this context that mission needs to embark.

In biblical tradition, the socially excluded people are the privileged spaces for God’s compassion and justice. There are several accounts of God’s attention and caring love to people in situations of oppression and consequent depravation. God hears the cry of the oppressed and responds by sustaining and accompanying them in their journey towards liberation (Ex 3.7-8). Jesus announced his manifesto as one that liberates the oppressed, opens the eyes that are blind and heals the sick (Lk 4.16ff.). By asserting time and again that he has come to seek the lost and the least, Jesus constantly locates his ministry among the socially excluded people of his time. He rejected abusive power (Lk 1.1-12) and oppressive religious traditions (Lk 11.37-54), and instead opted to restore the ones who are denied life even if his liberative actions ultimately led him to the cross. Through such an option, Jesus exposed and confronted the forces of marginalization. He worked for justice, peace, equality, dignity and respect for all.  

The early Christian communities fought against the prevalent and pervasive evils of the day, such as imperial domination, social injustice, false pride, legalism, hypocritical religiousness, and infidelity to God’s Covenant that were oppressive to the poor masses on the margins. Against these evils, the poor Christians, the uneducated, the untouchables from Bethany and the neglected villages in and around Jerusalem and Galilee, empowered by the event of the Pentecost developed prophetic mission against the imperial domination. The experience of the Pentecost empowered them to express their resistance against the power of the mammon and abuse of power in hierarchy, by developing the practice of common ownership of property, sharing of wealth and solidarity. This solidarity among the poor people became a threat to the existing empire and its social, political and economic structures.

No one can understand the biblical testimonies without taking into account the context of the margins. Jesus of Nazareth continued this preferential option for the marginalized not because they are humble, innocent and pitiable but primarily because they are created in God’s own image to celebrate fullness of life and yet are denied the promise of the justice and peace through the imposition of unjust structures, cultures and traditions.


[1] For detail see my article “Rerouting mission and Ecumenism in Asia,” in They Left by Another Road, Wati Longchar,, eds. Chiangmai: CCA, 2007, pp. 187-198.

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