During the month of November members of the Word Made Flesh team share reflections on partnership and challenge us to move beyond our current understanding of what it means to be partners with one another to the glory of God and for the advancement of the Gospel in word and deed.
Most of us want to be in partnerships and like the idea of it. It may have worked well for us in the past, and may still be a significant portion of our work. However, the pressing question for us is, are the partnerships liberating for those involved, and not just accomplishing the objectives of association? It’s obvious to all of us that partnerships are rooted in relationship, which is the base of this spirit-led initiative.
The gifts of partnership embolden alliances, inspire creativity and encourage collaborative progress, but its essence is nurtured in sustained egalitarian relationships, confessing domination, mutual empowerment and embodied love.
In light of the above, the critical challenge for us in the mission community is finding ways of how we can wade through the legacy of colonialism, keeping in mind how it has defined these basic relationships that are so essential to life giving partnerships. The distraught it has brought in relationships make firm the institutions of nationalism, militarism, patriarchy, and racism that stand as a stronghold working against the partnerships we hope nurture.
The legacy of colonialism challenges our “good and right” intentions. Those of us who find ourselves working tirelessly alongside the worlds most vulnerable can sometimes find ourselves living in tension – the tension of assimilating into the very systems of domination that maintain the status quo of poverty, racism, and war, or learning to live into a new, whole reality of flourishing life free from domination. What is the alternative that we alongside our most vulnerable friends can imagine? Do we still hold onto the “colonial image” of Christ as the one who lifts our friends up from the margins of society, who integrates them into mainline society, that they, too, can then find there place within the status quo and benefit from it?
Sustaining egalitarian relationships in love are challenging, and are continually heightened by our inability to place our story within the layers of stories that uphold power dynamics of oppression. The oppressions of race, sex, class, and privilege need to be rattled and undone to begin our work of confessing domination. Harry Brod makes a very important point regarding privilege which I think is applicable to understanding our role and place. He writes,
We need to be clear that there is no such thing as giving up ones privilege to be ‘outside’ the system. One is always in the system. The only question is whether one is a part of system in a way that challenges or strengthens the status quo. Privilege is not something I take and which therefore have the option of not taking. It is something that society gives me, and unless I change the institutions that give it to me, they will continue to give it, and I will continue to have it, however noble and equalitarian my intentions. (Work Clothes and Leisure Suits: The Class Basis and Bias of the Men’s Movement,” in Men’s Lives, ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Michael Messner, Macmillan, 1989, p280).
I point this out not to shy us away from the challenges of relating to strengthen partnerships, but to invite us to the other side of coin i.e. mutual empowerment. Mutuality removes from the equation hierarchy, and brings in solidarity. It not only empowers those who are beginning with lesser power, but also creates a greater sense of shared responsibility and trust in the act of confessing domination.
Partnership as a Spirit-led initiative is an act of embodied love, and it is only in this spirit -this posture - that we can find the space for whole partnerships. These are the spaces of inclusion out which partnerships flourish in the authenticity of the partners and not out of a dominating normative paradigm.
Caldwell Manners serves as the International Partnership Coordinator for World Made Flesh. Give him something to climb, he most likely will.