Monday, April 30, 2007

Church Embracing "Marginalized" Groups

I just have to say it: I have seen a lot of that I really like from Jesuit mission and theological studies.

Now if you're a Protestant, and especially one of those folks who looks out for heresy, hold on to your hat, and give me a chance to explain. (The anti-Roman Catholic contingent is still pretty vocal out there.) What I mean by my appreciation for Jesuit missions refers to some of my heroes in the history of Christian mission such as Matteo Ricci who became a student of Chinese culture and who established a successful mission among Confucian literati. And as to what I appreciate in Jesuit theology, I refer specifically in this post to the work of Carl F. Starkloff in an article he worte for Theological Studies 58 (1970: 643-98 titled "Church as Structure and Communitas: Victor Turner and Ecclesiology." This article was helpful in my masters thesis on Burning Man, and continues to be helpful for further theological and missiological reflection.

In the article Starkloff begins by preparing his readers with a mention of Augustine and Johann Adam Mohler's position on heresy. Starkloff states that for both of these men, in addition to their concerns over heresy they also considered "it an opportunity for growth in the search for truth and the development of doctrine." As Starkloff prepares to discuss anthroplogist Victor Turner's discussion of liminality, structure, and anti-structure, he continues and says:

"The liminal experiences to be discussed here are not per se heretical, but they bear an analogy to heresy in that their separation from the conventional mainstream can be an occasion for creative reform if the Church will enter into genuine dialogue with these experiences."

Starkloff then continues and discusses the work of Turner, specifically in his work that describes society moving back and forth between the two poles of structure and communitas (the intimate social bond found between those working together for a mutual goal in a liminal or threshold space). Starkloff applies this in analogical fashion "to the creative theological tension between institution and community" in the church.

What I find interesting about Starkloff's perspective on this, especially as a Roman Catholic (a religious system that tends to emphasize institutional forms of the Christian religion), is his openness to learning from "marginal" groups. At one point he writes: "To what extent is is possible for the institutional Church, in its structural aspect, to sanction, interact with, and grow from its relationship with liminal communitas groups?" But Starkloff not only raises the question, he also supports an affirmative embrace of such groups when he says that those groups that are "'liminalized' or marginalized from society should be awarded a valued in place in the universal Church."

As I reflected on Starkloff's article I drew my own application in regard to the liminalized and marginalized groups that I engaged for my thesis, Burning Man Festival, and a contrast drawn with the Rainbow Family of Living Light. While evangelicals tend to ignore or stereotypically dismiss and condemn such groups I think Starkloff is correct when he asserts that the church can learn a lot from them, and that "[w]hat the Church might hope to no less than a deeper communion or koinonia." At least we should be willing to consider such possibilities.

1 comment:

Sally said...

At least we should be willing to consider such possibilities.- amen and amen