Concilium 2017-3. Minorities
Edited by: Daniel Franklin Pilario, Susan Ross and Solange Lefebvre
Right wing nationalism is on the rise and the lives of minorities are placed under constant threat. After Donald Trump’s recent victory in the United States, graffiti abounds saying: “This is Trump’s America. In other words, get out”; “Build the wall”; “You are no longer welcome here, Muslim!” Despite his protestations to the contrary, Nigel Farage, the British leader responsible for the success of Brexit, has been severely criticized to be racist and dismissive of minorities as preferring a “British-born” for work or, that Romanians are responsible for 92 percent of crimes at London ATM machines. Not to mention that he is also Trump’s good friend. Another EU leader, Marine Le Pen of France’s Front Nationale, promises a “Frexit” referendum parallel to that of Britain. Her party’s 2015 campaign poster portrayed two women’s faces – one with flowing hair and a French flag painted on her face and the other wearing a burqa. The caption says: “Choisissez votre banlieue. Votez Front.” Rodrigo Duterte, the newly elected President of the Philippines, is more complex and ambivalent. On the one hand, he wants to incorporate the Muslims of Mindanao, leftists, and marginalized sectors into mainstream politics, but, on the other hand, vows to kill all drug addicts and drug sellers – his own version of an inhuman minority – most of whom come from the ranks of the poor. Killing 7000 after seven months in office, his administrative rule is a curious mix of leftist alliances, liberal policies, dictatorial pronouncements and populist rhetorics which ironically enjoy an 80% satisfaction rating. Scott Appleby’s opening essay “Sacralizing Exclusion” dissects this present, ultranationist populism and religious nationalism converge on one point – the sacralization of the nation. “The nation is absolute because it partakes of the sacred; the sacred is bound up in the destiny of the nation.” In effect, minorities are constructed as the impure others, the foreigner who encroached on the sacred land, people who are less human, thus, making them “justifiable targets of violence”.
In ordinary contexts, because minorities belong to the dominated realms of any social space, they are vulnerable to both brazen and subtle exercises of social power. Owing to the insignificant size of their population, their lack of economic and political capital, the biases and prejudices against their cultural identities, religions or languages, minorities easily fall victim to real and symbolic violence from both State and non-state actors on whom they cannot count for protection. Concrete forms of marginalization, discrimination and exclusion abound: denial of citizenship; stigmatization; violence of non-State actors and impunity; internal displacement during armed conflicts; fleeing to become refugees in other countries; prevention from the practice of their religions or the use of their languages, denial of access to education, public office, and many others.
In other contexts, however, a powerful and elite “minority” can also take control of power to dominate the whole socio-political discourse; and if threatened does not hesitate to retaliate with socio-economic and political measures on those who pose danger to their hegemonic dominance. Think of the previous white colonial minority in apartheid South Africa, the Tutsis dominance in Rwanda, the Hindutva politics in India, the rising ultranationalist and populist movements worldwide, and others. This elite racism in high places manages all political, religious, corporate, media and academic resources in order to help maintain and reproduce their dominance in the whole social space. For instance, Michel Andraos’ essay suggests how the once disadvantaged Eastern Christian communities in the Middle East converted to Roman Catholicism during the Ottoman Empire, earned the patronage protection of the Christian West, transformed themselves into a new bourgeoisie and subsequently became the “extension of European power and its civilizing mission to the Muslim East.” Or, from another historical context, as Bryan Massingale observes in his interview, Donald Trump did not actually get the majority vote (Trump received 2.8 million votes fewer than his rival). He only won the Presidency, not the election. In his interview, Massingale argues that in the Trump phenomenon, “a beleaguered section of the population” – the white majority of a past era – is desperately trying to hold on to power in the context of the migrant’s “browning of America”. This view also puts into perspective the high emerging racist rhetoric in Europe and other places in the new situation of massive global migration and the refugee crisis.
It is this ambivalent relationship with power in the phenomenon of “minorities” that we intend to address in this issue. The United Nations and governments are not wanting in declarations and statements on the protection of peoples belonging to minorities. The 1992 UN Declaration opens with this sentence: “States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity” (No.1). In the context of re-emerging ethnicities—once drowned by hegemonic States in the Cold War era—that began to assert themselves, the United Nations and national governments acknowledge that the rights of minorities do not only proceed from the benevolence of any State; they are universal human rights. And these States have to prove that they have fulfilled this obligation on forgotten peoples; each State needs to “adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to achieve those ends” (No. 2).
However, in the present context of global migration, refugee crisis and “war on terror”, the view on minorities takes a different turn. Both autochtonous minorities located within one’s national territories and the “new minorities”—most of them migrants, economic or political refugees with “strange” linguistic or cultural-religious affiliations—find themselves on the defensive. Minorities are now viewed as “terrorists” – all threats to the political and economic security of the State. In this move on the “securitization” of minority rights, “states have inverted the burden of proof: the State no longer needs to prove its compliance with its obligations in regard to minorities, but rather minorities must prove their loyalty vis-à-vis the State.” And if they don’t or can’t, political and economic power is wielded against them and their families.
It is in this context that Neera Chandhoke’s article insists on two companion concepts in the defense of minorities – democracy and secularism. On the one hand, secularism prohibits the State from protecting a religion or legitimizing itself through some religious authority; instead it ensures that all citizens possess the right to practice their own individual beliefs (or non-belief) within the whole social space. Democracy, on the other hand, understood as fundamental equality, forces the State to protect those belonging to minority groups against hegemonic majorities. The grant of “minority rights” is an essential part of democracy as it ensures that all persons have equal freedom to practice one’s culture/religion “irrespective of what the majority believes at a particular point in time.”
How does the presence of minorities influence the way we do theology? How do they help us rethink our theological categories? Rolando Tuazon’s reflection on the Catholic social tradition asserts that the postmodern context – in contrast to the colonial and modern periods – makes the Church and its theology more sensitive to marginalized voices of maligned cultures, degraded races, suppressed genders, and disparaged religions. Postmodernity helps these forgotten perspectives assert themselves as they ironically become sources of critique and transformation of the dominant systems that side-lined them in the first place. In contrast, Diego Irarrázaval’s essay argues that some global postmodern processes distort and disintegrate the lives and religious cultures of minorities. The liberal global market offers a myriad of goods for salvation, including rituals and values, devotion and even transcendence, in the neo-spiritual and postmodern forms. But like Tuazon, Irarrázaval also believes that from the fragile, fragmented but inexhaustible energies among the minorities, from their solidarity and faith, a new hope dawns for the world. Stefanie Knauss’s article asks how sexual minorities challenge our theological categories. Queering God renders “strange” what is taken for granted and leads us to new ways of thinking about God, Christ and the Church. She talks about the desiring God who is a transgressive and polyamorous divinity passionately in love with myriad humanity; a bi-sexual Christology which crosses established cultural and gender boundaries; and the church of our times as the rainbow-colored Body of Christ. Susan Ross’ interview with Bryan Massingale in the wake of Trump’s rise to power also unmasks some problematic directions in the (American) Church and theology – its view of race relations, its “minoritizing” of the faith experience of more than half of the population, the call to prophetic discourse in the public sphere. First, Massingale argues that American bishops have an individualist view of race relations that neglects the structural or social sin present in racist violence. Second, he critiques theology for neglecting the experience of blacks, women, Asians, who compose the new American majority. To be “Catholic” used to mean “Irish-European immigrant white”; but with the changed demographics, theology still looks at other races as peripheral to the theological curriculum and theological thinking. Third, he challenges theologians to exercise their prophetic calling beyond classrooms and journals to places of crisis and solidarity among the pains and struggles of the dispossessed.
The second part of this volume attempts to understand the situation of selected minorities from different continents, e.g., Christians in the Middle East, Rohingyas of Myanmar, Roma population in Europe, Ogoni peoples of the Niger Delta, and the new Christian minority of Canada. These are articulated by theologians whose location on the ground enables them to articulate a deeper and more nuanced view of these minorities. Already mentioned earlier, Andraos’ essay puts into question the notion of the “persecuted Christian communities in need of protection” in a predominantly Islamic Middle East context. The discourse of a “Christian minority”, he argues, hides more than it clarifies these complex politically-charged situations, products as they are of past Western colonial policies. Maung John, a lay theologian and development worker in Myanmar, traces the history and present problems of the now controversial Rohingya minority whose name is even a taboo in this predominantly Buddhist country. Cristina Simonelli, a theologian who has worked and lived among the Roma, argues for a way from below – a life of sharing and solidarity with them as a way to understand this specific population – both as a political and pastoral approach. Politically, what is suggested is to listen to the voices of the Roma grassroots groups in order to effectively implement the many EU legislative initiatives on their well-being. Pastorally, Simonelli suggests that church people should live among them in their small residential areas, in caravans and shacks (chabolas) not so much to evangelize them as to be evangelized by their lives. Stan Chu Ilo, a Nigerian theologian, writes about the struggles for resource control of the Ogoni minority in the Niger Delta against the encroachment of multinational oil companies. He outlines the lessons learned from their advocacy moment and the theological directions to which their struggle for determination points. Lastly, in the context of the Church’s diminished moral and social influence among the Canadian population, Jean-François Roussel asks how the present committed Christian communities, being the new minority, can resolve to pursue their pastoral commitment of reparation to aboriginal population. Shall this new kenotic experience give rise to new forms of shared solidarity with indigenous peoples?
The Theological Forum presents two articles on Anglican women’s ordination and the “apparition at Fatima”. The Anglican churches first ordained women to the priesthood in 1976 (United States and Canada) and in 1977 (Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia). Forty years after, Abby Day gives voice to older Anglican laywomen and their struggles to oppose the priesthood for women. In the centennial year of the apparition in Fatima (1917), the Portuguese theologian, Anselmo Borges, revisits the significance of this religious experience to millions of people worldwide.
 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965); International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990); Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities (1992). The European Union (EU), Council of Europe and other bodies also followed the same direction toward the protection of minorities: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (Copenhagen, 1990); European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (1992); Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995), etc. Parallel movements also manifest the same spirit in other countries and continents.
 Francesco Palermo, “The Protection of Minorities in International Law: Recent Developments and Trends,” in Les minorités: un défi for les État. Actes du colloque international, 22-23 Mai, 2011 (Bruxelle: Academie royale de Belgique, 2013), 173.
Table of contents
1. Minorities and Theology
Robert Scott Appleby : « Sacralizing Exclusion: The Rise of Ultra-Nationalism and Right-Wing Populism »
Neera Chandhoke : « Secularism, Democracy and Minority Rights »
Rolando A. Tuazon : « Cultural Minorities and the Catholic Social Tradition »
Diego Irrarázaval : « Exigencias espirituales desde minorías subordinadas »
Stefanie Knauss : « Sexual Minorities: The Rainbow-Colored Body of Christ »
Bryan Massingale : « White Supremacy, the Election of Donald Trump and the Challenge to Theology »
2. Minorities in global contexts
Maung John : « The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar »
Cristina Simonelli : « Chiese allo specchio: i Rom(a) come test evangelico »
Kathleen P. Rushton : « Pacific Island Peoples: Resilience and Climate Change »
3. Theological forum
Anselmo Borges : « As “aparições” de Fátima »
R. Scott Appleby – « Sacralizing Exclusion: The Rise of Ultra-Nationalism and Right-Wing Populism » : The year 2016 was a watershed in global as well as national politics. From the Philippines to Italy, the United Kingdom to the United States, the ballot box became an instrument of radical political re-orientation and a weapon of the economically marginalized. While it is always hazardous to offer generalizations clustering developments and trends from many countries and regions, the rise to power of right-wing populist politicians in most of the recent cases can be traced to a combination of: decades of increasing income inequality, creating an ever-widening gulf between the wealthiest 5 percent and the rest of the population; patterns of globalization that favor the economic elites of the wealthiest nations and elites, elsewhere, seen to be in collusion with them; and the scapegoating of national minorities, including immigrants, religious minorities and, often the poorest of the poor.
Neera Chandhoke – « Secularism, Democracy and Minority Rights » : Despite the onset of a post-secular age, in plural societies a thin concept of secularism is essential to safeguard equality of religions, and more importantly minority rights. To understand the significance of secularism, we have to see it as not a stand-alone concept, but as a companion concept of democracy. Whereas secularism mandates that a government shall not harness its projects to a religious agenda, legitimise itself by reference to religious authority, or proclaim a state religion, democracy establishes that equality or non-discrimination, freedom of religious beliefs, and protection of minority religious groups flow from the generic principle of equality and freedom.
Rolando A. Tuazon – « Cultural Minorities and the Catholic social Tradition » : Taking off from a concrete experience of exclusion or marginalization of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines, this article asks how the Catholic Social Tradition deals with or addresses the social concerns of minorities. It will try to locate and explain the mainstream position of the Church’s social teaching vis-à-vis the ongoing discussions and debates on the rights of minorities, especially in the area of culture and ethnicity. Using the analectic ethical framework developed by Enrique Dussel, it will propose certain directions toward the development of the Church’s social tradition in a creative and meaningful response to the questions and concerns of the minorities in our ever- globalizing, yet fragmented world.
Diego Irrarárazaval – « Exigencias espirituales desde minorías subordinadas » : En las Américas lo teológico es interpelado por procesos de subordinación, de resistencia y esperanza, en varios tipos de minorías (discriminadas, pudientes, creyentes, indiferentes). Al reflexionar con pueblos y medio ambientes postergados, se palpa el Misterio del otro. Procesos globales fragmentan y distancian a las minorías; recalco lo ocurrido en ámbitos indígenas, mesoamérica, Brazil, Chile, comunidades de base. Hay promesas neo-religiosas y posmodernas que compiten con la adhesión a Dios. La sintonía con la práctica ´minoritaria´ de Jesús y las comunidades ofrece pistas hermenéuticas para encarar desafíos de hoy.
Stefanie Knauss – « Sexual Minorities: The Rainbow-Colored Body of Christ » : This contribution focuses on sexual minorities, that is, those who in their sexual identity or orientation do not comply with the binary, heteronormative matrix, and who often remain invisible in discussions of minority rights. I will think about what it would mean for theology to take the experiences of those considered sexual ‘deviants’ as central to the theological enterprise. In particular, I will focus on the ways in which sexual minorities challenge categories of theological thinking, and how their presence asks us to reconsider how we speak to and about God and about the body of Christ which is the church.
Bryan Massingale – « White Supremacy, the Election of Donald Trump and the Challenge to Theology » : This contribution is a transcript of an interview conducted by Susan Ross on January 12, 2017, with Professor Bryan Massingale. Following the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency, there was a surge in the number of racial and ethnic attacks on minorities across the country, and an increased concern over the place of minorities in the United States. During the previous two years, a number of shootings of black men and women had attracted much attention and protest, particularly around the Black Lives Matter movement which began after the killing of Michael Brown in the summer of 2014. Massingale is a leading voice among Catholic theologians and has spoken widely on the situation of African-Americans in the U.S. and particularly in the U.S Catholic Church.
Michel Andraos – « The Christian Communities in the Middle East: Persecuted Minorities or Indigenous Peoples? » : This article presents a brief historical background and analysis that trace some aspects of the identity formation and self-understanding of the Middle Eastern Christian communities in relation to their minority status since the early Ottoman period. Its main argument is that the dominant narratives, including the “persecuted Christian communities in the world of Islam in need of protection,” are simply historically not correct and very problematic for a variety of reasons discussed in the article. The article concludes with a reflection on the new direction the leadership of these communities has taken over the past few decades, which the author believes has inaugurated a new historical period.
Maung John – « The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar » : The Rohingya Muslims are one of the most persecuted ethnic minority groups in Myanmar. Fleeing Myanmar due to poverty, conflict and persecution, they are treated inhumanly in countries where they land (or where never permitted to land). The Rohingyas’ settlement in Myanmar goes back to many centuries earlier. The denial of the right to citizenship by the hegemonic Buddhist majority leads to what is now called ethnic genocide. The ecclesial response is at best ambivalent. While some church leaders including the Pope fight for their protection, others are quiet about the issue or do not rush to their side to respond to their needs.
Cristina Simonelli – « Chiese allo specchio: i Rom(a) come test evangelico » : Nella modalità in cui le Chiese includono, fronteggiano o respingono le popolazioni Rom (circa 12 milioni di persone in Europa, con diffusione disomogenea) si vengono a delineare modelli di evangelizzazione e anche forme ecclesiali diversificate. Nella seconda metà del XX secolo, intorno al Concilio,si è sviluppata una forma di condivisione e di stima per la realtà Rom, con comunità ecclesiali capaci di esprimere al proprio interno ministerialità larghe e inclusive. La sfida è comunque sempre aperta, perché l’intolleranza e il razzismo sono tutt’altro che scomparsi e spesso coinvolgono anche le Chiese. Oggi come oggi tuttavia esiste una presa di parola culturale e politica di associazioni Rom che sta aprendo scenari inediti.
Stan Chu Ilo – « The Rights of African Indigenous Peoples: Lessons from the Struggles of the Ogoni of the Niger Delta » : This essay demonstrates how the fight for resource control by the Ogoni minority group in the Niger Delta in Southern Nigeria paints a portrait of the challenges facing many indigenous peoples in Africa. It shows that state and international actors often conspire to despoil the land of indigenous people while paying less attention to their rights to land, livelihood and the preservation of their cultural and religious rights. This essay proposes that indigenous peoples of Africa have strong ethical principles and communal practices for embracing wholeness in creation. This is achieved through their time honored daily practices for protecting their natural habitat in order to secure abundant life for themselves and future generations. The essay concludes by showing how African eco-theologies and theologies of solidarity in world Christianity could accompany African indigenous peoples in the search for belonging and selfhood in a world which sometimes seems to ignore their rights and cultural traditions.
Kathleen P. Rushton – « Pacific Island Peoples: Resilience and Climate Change » : This article seeks to raise awareness of the increasing marginalization of the forgotten minority of diverse Pacific Island peoples who are on the front line of living with climate change. Their situation is ignored by the wealthy developed nations whose focus on economic growth continues to contribute to climate change. Responses to this complex issue cluster around mitigation (developed nations) and adaptation (Pacific Islanders). Five interconnected issues identified by Pacific Islanders as contributing to their marginalization are: food and water; coastal erosion and sea level rise; offshore mining and drilling; impact of extreme weather and climate finance.
Jean-François Roussel – « Églises et théologie au Canada après les pensionnats autochtones: les difficiles chemins de la vérité, de la réparation et de la décolonisation » : En mettant en évidence la dimension violente et génocidaire du système canadien des pensionnats autochtones – partenariat d’un siècle entre gouvernement et Églises, la Commission de vérité du Canada a interpelé les Églises de manière troublante et les a mises au défi de la réparation envers les peuples autochtones. Cependant, entretemps, l’Église a perdu son hégémonie sociale et s’est appauvrie. Cet article examine les défis des Églises et de la théologie dans cette nouvelle situation.