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Consultation on Theological Education in Asia
Dumaguete City, Philippines
April 26-28, 2013

Covenant of Shared Commitment

A gathering of theologians and church leaders from Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and the United States of America, made possible by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in cooperation with Silliman University, was held in Dumaguete City, April 26-28, 2013.

The gathering was organized to enable discernment together on the challenges for theological education today and new paradigms and possibilities for the future. 

This Covenant of Shared Agreement is a written covenant entered into by the delegates committing themselves as individuals to work, support and advocate for the values and principles defined in this document within the contexts in which they serve.

This Covenant of Shared Agreement is a contribution to a growing movement throughout Asia and the world calling for the transformation of theological education.  Reality today has inspired and necessitated critical and creative thinking about new models and approaches to theological education.  With other emerging voices throughout Asia and the world, this Covenant adds its collective voice to further empower the realizing of constructive change in theological education.

Signs of the Time

Asia today is a confluence of rapid change.  Economic growth in the region is presenting new challenges to Asian people and communities.  The demand for human resources in urban industrialized areas is causing the movement of people from rural communities and even neighboring countries into one common community in search of work, creating an intersecting of diverse values, cultures and faith traditions. The demand for energy and natural resources is exploiting ecosystems through harmful practices of development aggression, resulting in horrific environmental destruction and leading to the marginalization and abuse of people and the displacement of communities.  The demand for new skill sets to adapt to the rapid modernization in Asia is concentrating wealth more and more into the hands of the privileged few while the disadvantaged majority of the population is falling further into poverty, making education and other social services inaccessible.  All sectors of society, formally or informally trained, are facing a new Asian reality in which labor opportunity is scarce. The principle and practice of ensuring maximum profit at the expense of people has led to the exacerbation of manipulative and exploitative labor practices.

A new age of technology has advanced rapidly since the dawning of the personal computer, the Internet, and the software of social media.  While parts of Asia remain without access to these technologies, the growing majority of Asia today has a student and young adult population who never knew the world without the computer screen and Internet.  This has created new ways of relating and maintaining community.  This has also led to changes in the way learning and comprehension are most effective and the way worship has adopted the use of visuals in liturgies and preaching.  The long-term implication of the new age of technology is not fully known; however, the technology also offers opportunities for alternative models for teaching.

The rapid changes in Asia in the sphere of economic development have not necessarily translated into changes in the cultural norms and practices that have historically marginalized women, persons of a different sexual orientation—lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender—differently abled persons, persons with HIV/AIDS, the elderly, children, climate refugees, victims of militarization, and people from different faith traditions and ethnicities.  Rapid change is also creating a culture of fear and insecurity that further reinforces the need to protect the traditional norms of socialization within a culture that perpetuates discriminatory and xenophobic attitudes.

Traditional norms are also reinforced by patterns that are created by the economy of survival.  Theological education in Asia is hindered by the demand to maximize the faculty teaching hours to the detriment of the mentoring and nurturing time with students.  The needs of both faculty and institution are such that faculty are pressured to take on such a large teaching and administrative load that there is little or no space for other matters or for developing new creative approaches.

The New Asian Generation

Rapid change resulting in the loss of stability and predictability in both life and community is leading to a yearning for spirituality that gives meaning and stability to the world.  The faith communities that are able to offer spirituality in a form that is responsive to the informal, visually stimulated, passionate and searching heart are finding expanding numbers in their church pews and theological schools.

Members of the New Asian Generation are offering time to serve in ways of compassion through volunteering and are sensitive to diversity with less attachment to traditions of the past.  They long for an inspirational faith that challenges their passion for spirituality.

They are turning to a God liberated from the restrictions of traditional boundaries defined by denominations and finding the power of spirituality in the diversity of community.

This calls for new models of being church and practitioners of the church who are fluent in diversity, able to engage without fear in the cultures and forms that the New Asian Generation are bringing to the church.  The times call for an openness to listen, equip the passion, and allow new winds of the Spirit into the old structures, tethering traditional and emerging forms of church and spirituality.

The Mandate for Change

Change is a constant and does not stand still. Change is dynamic in Asia and in need of a relevant and responsive spirituality.  Theological education is a product of history and tradition reinforced by a continued reliance on training in the model adopted partly from historical tradition and partly from the West. Theological education in Asia is in need of change to meet and respond to a changing Asia.

Change does not come without a price. The change that is called for today will not come without pain, sacrifice and resistance.

Balancing Church and Academy

Theological education is crippled by the inability to balance the acquisition of academic knowledge and the development of the arts and skills for the practice of ministry in ways that attend to the spiritual formation dimension, the intellectual academic dimension, and the ministerial/missional dimension. All three dimensions are essential to a well prepared and equipped church worker; however, providing a balanced program for theological education has been elusive.

Formal theological education in Asia has almost always fallen on the side of the classical academic model that has given the intellectual and academic dimension greater importance.

In addressing this imbalance it is important to seek to achieve the following:

1.     Explore new methods of offering the foundational core courses, inviting into the learning process actual and practicing church workers engaged in ministry to assist and equip the learner to be contextually attentive in the actual practice of ministry as part of the course curriculum.

2.     Enhance the qualification of the faculty member to include as part of their qualification:

a.     Preferably local church experience as a church worker.

b.     Working as professors and as pastors/formators in the classroom.

c.     While working at the academy remaining involved in the local church.

3.     Strengthen the curriculum by involving four parties in the process of curriculum review and revisions, namely, the faculty, the church leaders, the church members, and the students with sensitivity to cultural context.

4.     Build a competent student body; recruit and admit students into the program based on a potential for ministry and not only academic skill.  Challenge students to experience various forms of ministry during the period of vocational discernment and formal theological formation.

Models of Partnering and Relations

Theological education through partnering is providing new creativity and new curriculum content.  It is filling essential faculty needs and is building up new programs.  Partnering is valuable to theological education in numerous important ways:

1.     Developing joint theological education programs based on mutual issues of interest.

2.     Establishing shared accreditation between partner seminaries to enable students to study at the partner seminary and be accredited in their home seminary.

3.     Enhancing the capacity of seminaries that may be limited in faculty, library resources, or courses in contextual studies and supporting faculty development where resources are limited by:

a.     Extending the Princeton Library Theological Commons to our region.

b.     Seeking the possibility of including Asian faculty members in the teaching and learning of the theology and religion project for contextual leadership training programs supported by Lilly Endowment at the Wabash Center.

c.     Offering opportunities for Asian graduate students planning to be theological teachers and for newer faculty to grow in creative teaching methods.

4.     Creating a common syllabus for certain courses where team teaching from various schools can be made possible.

5.     Making connections among various seminaries for the sharing of resources and inter-library loans and to build up the network for sharing of resources among neighboring theological seminaries in Asia.

6.     Expanding individual student exchange programs to include continuing education for pastors and ministry practitioners (group, other academic levels).

Contemporary Advocacies and Marginalization

Theological education will need to confront its own complicity and role in the marginalization of women and persons of a different sexual orientation, faith tradition, and ethnicity. Theological education has the potential of shaping new values of openness, respect and acceptance within church and society, paving the way for a new understanding that leads to ministry of actions to dissolve the structures that have taught and maintained marginalization and discrimination of people.  The movement toward change will come from a process of bringing together efforts in the following areas to:

1.     Incorporate the issues of and strategies to address the marginalization of people in the formal curriculum of theological schools and in church educational programs.

2.     Collaborate at local, national, regional and international levels in inculcating the themes of marginalization of people in forums, consultations and study material.

3.     Develop approaches that mainstream gender justice within all church institutions and their committees, encouraging support of educational and learning processes and opportunities.

4.     Create space and help develop women as resource persons to serve in the effort of building a new culture of respect, acceptance and understanding.

5.     Collaborate with existing groups in Asia to nurture and support emerging and current women and indigenous theologians.

6.     Continue to advocate for and increase the number of theologians who come from the margins.

As participants of this Consultation on Theological Education in Asia, we commit ourselves to work toward the realization of these principles and join our efforts with the growing number of individuals and institutions seeking to bring about change in theological education in Asia.

Done on this 28th day of April 2013 in Dumaguete City, Philippines.

 

 

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