Cliff Kirkpatrick compares mission a century ago with modern-day efforts
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Seminary professor that he is, the Rev. Dr. Cliff Kirkpatrick slipped about 50 staff at the Presbyterian Center a surprise Wednesday.
He gave them a 22-question pop quiz on ecumenical and interfaith developments that have occurred over the last century.
Kirkpatrick, former Stated Clerk of the General Assembly and the current Professor of World Christianity and Ecumenical Studies at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, spoke during a day-long World Mission strategy process consultation with Presbyterian Mission Agency staff and others.
Wednesday marked the ninth consultation — five international and four national — conducted by World Mission over the past several months.
“We are here to hear ideas and suggestions on how to do mission in today’s context,” the Rev. José Luis Casal, World Mission director, told the gathered staff, who were seated in groups at round tables to facilitate discussion. “You are a valuable part of the work we have to do together … If we can’t do it together, we will fail — not as World Mission, but as a Church. I am convinced of that.”
Test-takers were surprised at some of the answers to Kirkpatrick’s quiz:
- While a century ago 4 in 5 Christians lived in North America or Europe, that number today is about 1 in 3. About 2 in 5 Christians now live in Asia or Africa, which is now the world’s statistical centerpiece continent.
- While the current membership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is about 1.35 million, fully 94 million people around the world worship in churches founded or co-founded by PC(USA) mission efforts. “That’s often a surprise to our people,” said Kirkpatrick, who for 15 years directed the then-named Worldwide Ministries Division, now called World Mission. “We have a network of friends and colleagues around the world.”
- In Latin America, the largest group of Christian worshipers is not Catholic, but Pentecostal.
- The title and theme of the most recent World Council of Churches conference on mission and evangelism was “Together Toward Life: Mission from the Margins.” That movement started out as “mission to the margins,” Kirkpatrick said, one that focused on serving and caring for people. Gradually that’s morphed into “mission from the margins” because “part of mission is to be open to finding mission happening where we didn’t expect it,” he said.
- In the final multiple-choice question, all three responses were correct. Among the major concerns that churches in the global south have about the PC(USA) today are its failure to address the growing gap between rich and poor, its stand on welcoming LGBT members to ordination and marriage — and its churches’ failure to reach out to new immigrants who are now in the United States.
In three or four decades, Islam may well be one of the largest religious group in the U.S., Kirkpatrick said. Part of that will occur through immigration patterns, he said, although about 70 percent of people who immigrate to the U.S. are Christian.
Kirkpatrick concluded his talk with brief biographies of these theologians from the global south:
- Gustavo Gutierrez, the leading proponent of liberation theology, which includes the “hermeneutical circle” — interpreting Scripture such as the Exodus, the Prophets and Jesus’ teachings from the starting point of the poor.
- Kwame Bediako and Mercy Oduyoye, she of the Concerned African Women Theologians who’s known as the mother of African women’s theology. Bediako once posed this question: If Christ were to appear as the answer to the questions that Africans are asking, what would that look like? Traditionally, Christ has been presented as the answer to questions a white person would ask and the solution to the needs that Western men and women feel.
- Wesley Ariarajah, born and raised in Sri Lanka. He led the global ecumenical effort for interfaith dialogue through the World Council of Churches and later at Drew University and is known for this statement: “Interfaith dialogue is not the ambulance service, but rather the public health program.”
“To be the church is to be a missional church,” not one that sees mission “as one more program,” Kirkpatrick said. “It is who we are and how we are engaged in what we do.”
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.