A few months back, a missionary friend of mine asked me to respond to the current development (and a popular topic among missionaries nowadays) of the Theology of Diaspora. Below is my response. I copied it verbatim, except that I omitted the name of my missionary friend for privacy concerns. I am sharing this response here in my blog with the intention that I get a few responses from my friends who are facing the same situation, and in turn, I can also learn from their experiences.
November 9, 2011
Here is my response to Diaspora Theology.
1.) Diaspora Theology is an effort that is coming more from the perspective of Systematic Theology than any where else. Most of its categories are derived from the Enlightenment mode of thinking. There is really nothing that speaks of the view from the underside or the experiences of the grassroots; nothing like the Liberation Theology model. It is mainly a gathering of Western-trained theologians trying to make sense of the phenomenon of mass migration happening around the globe.
2.) Diaspora Theology operates under the framework of traditional missiology. Most of its proponents do not want to disagree with current missiological thinking and practices. There seems to be an underlying mindset, or even fear, that the result of Diaspora missions should not usurp but serve the existing Christian institutions. It lacks the element of freedom, such as found in many local theologies or from the field of Contextual Theology. The element of surprise and discovery hold second fiddle to the framework of conformity and cooperation with the dominant missiology of the land, which is in this case Western missions. Isn't Lausanne a Western missiological construct?
3.) Diaspora Theology is flawed in its epistemological assumptions. It relies too much on geography, border crossing, physical movement, statistics, and other similar constructs. It fails to give culture and religious traditions a place in its discussion. This is why proponents of Diaspora Theology lump all migrants and immigrants in one category, regardless of their experiences as factory workers, as victims of human trafficking, or as refugees from a war-torn homeland.
4.) Diaspora Theology is misconstrued in its theological assumptions. One of its dominant theological premise is the "Harvest Principle," made popular by Church Growth theologians. This principle does not fair well when doing missionary work among people victimized by human trafficking and illegal migration practices. Working among migrant workers of the world demand a more broader assumption of theology. Also, proponents of Diaspora Theology need to articulate a better Theology of Creation. For example, the discussion on work is based on the Western ideas of work, such as "hard work will be rewarded," or some philosophical things similar to this. The concepts of suffering, powerlessness, "finding God amidst the experience of pain," and other grassroots themes are foreign to Diaspora missiology. A good dose of Creation Theology, such as that of Howard A. Snyder's Salvation Means Creation Healed, will be a big help.
5.) Diaspora Theology is limited by all of the above, and because of this limitation, it cannot see other missiological phenomena happening alongside migrant people's experiences. From the few sources I have perused, there is no mention of Insider Movements among the Muslim world, Indigenous Churches growing in regions such as Africa and China, or multi-ethnic congregations sprouting in our global cities because of the presence of Christian migrants and immigrants.
I certainly need to read more about Diaspora Theology, but from what I see, it is repeating the many mistakes that the Western missionary enterprise had done in the past. The analysis of David J. Bosch regarding Western missiology still holds true for Diaspora Theology. Definitely, God is doing mighty things among the dislocated and pilgrim peoples of this world. However, whether or not we see this phenomenon through God's eyes is another thing. My contention is contextual in nature. I am suggesting that the best way to understand Diaspora Theology is through the worldview of the people themselves; and concomitantly, I am saying that this contextual approach is the closest way to seeing the world through God's point of view.
I am frustrated with what is happening. It is kind of obvious. However, I am looking forward to reading more about this topic and hopefully educate myself more on what God is doing in today's world. ** **