On January 14, 2021, an intercultural online conversation on the theological treatment of witchcraft and spirit beliefs in the churches of Africa, Asia, and Germany took place for the first time. The basis of the conversation was the biblical quotation from Mark 8:33 "Get behind me, Satan!".
Beliefs in witchcraft and demons still shape many societies and seem to be increasing rather than disappearing with modernization and urbanization. Witch-hunts in North Sumatra, Indonesia, the killing of Albinos in Tanzania to obtain wealth-producing magic, etc., show that the fear of witchcraft and demons has become stronger in recent decades. How can Christianity and churches react to this global topic and how could one analyse these beliefs spiritually and scientifically?
At the online discussion, the following experts gave theologically-based input from Asian, African and European perspectives: Rev. Leita Ngoy, who is currently doing her PhD at the University of Bochum on a UEM scholarship, gave input on spirit belief in African countries. Rev. Dr. Jaharianson Saragih, a lecturer at Abdi Sabda University in Medan (Indonesia), explained the situation in Indonesia. Rev. Dr. Claudia Währisch-Oblau, responsible for evangelism at UEM, reported on dealing with spirits in Germany and Europe. The discussion was chaired by Rev. Dr. Andar Parlindungan, Executive Secretary of the Training and Empowerment Department at UEM.
The complete intercultural conversation can watched here on the YouTube channel of UEM.
On December 10, 2020, a further virtual Mission Lecture was conducted by Rev. Dr. Dennis Solon who was invited as keynote speaker. Dr. Solon, ordained minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, is holding a doctoral degree in theology and is currently assigned as visiting professor at the Institute for Diaconic Science and Diaconic Management (IDM) of the Protestant University Wuppertal/Bethel in Germany. The theme of this lecture was “Ecclesial mission and Diaconia in times of pandemic crisis: Theological-interdisciplinary considerations”. The target groups of this lecture were the current scholarship holders and the former scholarship recipients of UEM.
In times of the pandemic, Dr. Solon emphasizes a Christian understanding of the mystic “Body of Christ”, which calls on today’s churches to revitalize networks of churches/congregations in localities for mutual support and solidarity. Unfortunately, in this difficult situation, there are increasing perceptions of misleading theologies among the Christian communities, claiming that the pandemic was God’s punishment for human sins and a sign of the coming doomsday. Dr. Solon invokes the churches to strengthen their sense of solidarity, in which the church communities continue cultivating theologies of pain and suffering that do not necessarily blame the victims. One concluding remark from his lecture is the theological insight that God’s salvation in Christ needs to be reflected on in order to include not only sinners who are invited to repent, but also those who suffer because of the injustice inflicted on them.
Dr. Solon, whose employment at IDM is funded by the United Evangelical Mission, the von Bodelschwingh Foundations, and the Protestant Church of Westfalia, completed his doctoral studies at University of Heidelberg, Germany, supported by a UEM scholarship. In his closing statement, he observes God’s mission in UEM as follows: "As a long-standing international communion of churches, the UEM has been playing a strategic and important role in concretely manifesting the church's mission and diaconia. Together with its member churches and institution(s), along with many cooperating entities, UEM courageously continues to be at the forefront in embodying - in dynamic and creative ways - what could be imagined on earth as the Reign/Kingdom of God, relentlessly mediating God's mission and Christ's diaconia."
The presentation given by Dr Dennis Solon can be donwloaded here.
The General Secretary of UEM, Volker Martin Dally, kicked off the virtual lecture series "Mission Lectures" with his online lecture on August 20, 2020. The audience included scholarship holders and alumni of the UEM scholarship program. The zoom lecture was organized by the Training & Empowerment Department, which is responsible for the scholarship program. 48 students and alumni in Asia, Africa and Germany followed the lecture on their computers. Due to the great worldwide interest not all registrations could be considered.
Under the heading "The UEM today: global perspectives of UEM with regard to 25 years of internationalization" Volker Martin Dally explained the development of historical missionary work in the 18th and 19th centuries and the changes in the structure and fields of work of UEM since its internationalization in 1996. The General Secretary pointed out that the UEM is continuously evaluating its five main areas of activity in order to reform and transform itself according to the changing landscapes within its member churches. The theologian sees the new format of global learning in an ecumenical perspective, or "GLEP" for short, as a promising educational tool for improving perspectives within the fields of work convivence (living together) and pro-existence in the UEM communion. In addition, one is struggling within the UEM to abolish the donor and recipient mentality, especially in bilateral partnerships, in order not to fall back into old patterns of missionary work. Dr. Andar Parlindungan, Head of the Training & Empowerment Department, added: "The strengths of UEM lie in its internationalization and its spirit of equality, in which all member churches commit themselves to be united in the UEM family in mutual responsibility and ownership. According to the Indonesian theologian, this concept of mission allows for a creative approach to communication that constantly renews the international spirit of UEM".
After the presentation, the participants were assigned to six working groups, in which further questions were discussed about the relevance of God's mission in today's challenging times, the relevance of UEM's five main areas of work, the role of the GLEP approach and the challenges within the UEM family.
The virtual lecture series on the topic of mission will be continued with the involvement of various speakers from the UEM communion and partner universities. The international online lectures are an efficient way to present the communion of churches - despite the challenges posed by Covid-19 - in academic circles in a vivid and broad-based way and to explore various possibilities for further cooperation and support by the alumni of the scholarship program and the UEM member churches.
The presentation von Volker M. Dally can be downloaded here.
Having the largest Muslim population worldwide, Indonesia is known as a country with a tolerant society. Religious tolerance in Indonesia is largely influenced by traditional values of the local society, as passed down from generation to generation. When religion and local culture influence and equip each other, peace and tolerance can be found among the adherents of the different religions.
Recent problems have developed in the past years due to the growth of the religious extremist and fundamentalist movement which no longer include traditional values in their practice. Traditional culture and local wisdom are even viewed as heresy and a stain on the practice of “true” religion. The clash between religion and local culture causes conflicts in the name of religion, using claims that certain religions or religious practices are better than others.
The Indonesian context, which is rich in cultural and religious heritage, is an interesting topic for discussion in this year’s Mission Lectures, which will feature the role of cultural diversity in religious and social life. Is cultural richness an enrichment for religion or can it distort the role of religion in society? Looking at the aspect of culture from a global perspective through the eyes of a non-Indonesian will help widen the horizon of how we view ourselves. Contributions from a non-Indonesian theologian will help the churches in Indonesia to reflect on and refresh their theology, in order to see whether and how theology in Indonesia is intercultural, international and interreligious
Prof. Dr Claudia Jahnel has been Professor of Intercultural Theology at the Ruhr University Bochum since 2017. She received her doctorate and habilitated at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen. She is in charge of international affairs the Faculty of Protestant Theology of Bochum University.
Claudia Jahnel is a member of various scientific societies. She leads the working group "Pentecostal Churches" in the Chamber for Worldwide Ecumenism of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD), is the second chairwoman of the Theological Commission of the Association of Protestant Churches and Missions in Germany (EMW) and co-founder of the working group "African Theologies" of the Scientific Society for Theology. She is also co-editor of the journal ZMiss (Periodical on Mission und Intercultural Theology).
Her main topics include: Ecumenical Missiology (in cooperation with an international ecumenical committee on „Witnessing Christ Today –Towards an Ecumenical Missiology“), Science of Human Bodies from interreligious and intercultural theologies, Intercultural Perspectives of Childhood, Global Christianity with emphasis on Christianity in Africa and Latin Amerika, Globalization, Church and Migration, Pentecostal Churches, Contextual Theologies: Post-Colonial Theology and Liberation Theology, Religion and Development and Interfaith Dialogue.
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