The following is Part II of a series of excerpts from the presentation by Dr Omar Davies at the launch of the book Caribbean Theology As Public Theology, by Rev Dr Garnett Roper at the Jamaica Theological Seminary on Saturday, February 2, 2013.
In Chapter 5, Roper details various steps which have been taken and have contributed to the development of Caribbean theology. These steps culmi-nated in the ecumenical consultations for development which were held Chaguaramas, Trinidad, in 1971.
Roper lists two other developments important to the evolution of Caribbean theology. The first was the establishment of the United Theological College of the University of the West Indies as an ecumenical Caribbean theological institution, and the second was the creation of the Caribbean Council of Churches, together with the Caribbean Contact newspaper.
As regards the ecumenical consultation, Roper argues that the proceedings demonstrated that Caribbean theology was not simply 'received theology' with a Caribbean accent. Rather, it was theology that sought to reflect on the lived experiences of the people in ways that deepened their sense of place, as well as their sense of the possibilities under God for human flourishing in the region.
CRITICAL EXAMINATION FIRST
A scholar who has contributed to the development of Caribbean theology is William Watty. He argues that Caribbean theology must begin with a critical examination of the theology which has so far been received in order to liberate and re-orientate the Caribbean mind.
Roper also cites the work of Ashley Smith, who argued that the received theology of the Caribbean tacitly sides with the oppressors. Smith then makes the powerful point that "the idea of God needs to be liberated".
Roper also draws heavily on the work of Burchell Taylor who, as is stated in the preface, is one of his mentors. Taylor argues that Caribbean theology can be seen as a theology "existing in fragments". He comes to this conclusion on the basis that Caribbean theology has to be located and identified in bits and pieces here and there - articles, reports or conferences. However, he opines that the absence of a large body of literature does not mean that theology is not being done.
Roper examines the question of why, over the last two decades, Caribbean theology has been in retreat, has been sporadic and has been inward-looking. He argues that factors both external to the Caribbean and to the Church in the Caribbean have contributed to this retreat.
An interesting assertion made by Roper is that the Protestant ethic of hard work and diligent attention to duty is not a positive, in and of itself. He draws this conclusion because he argues that such ethic makes self its ultimate concern, and associated with this ethic is an abstraction from a sense of community. He argues that this now characterises the Caribbean. In other words, Caribbean people can ignore the duty to neighbour and still flourish and prosper.
He argues that the Church imposed the form and substance from elsewhere in ways that distort the sense of self of the people of the Caribbean. Caribbean theology emerged with a clear mandate and mission from the broader church community to seek for liberation and to pursue the identity of the Caribbean and raise the consciousness of the people.
Roper makes some additional assertions, which are again bound to be controversial. He speaks of those who have their agenda set elsewhere and preach a truncated gospel which have gained majority following. Their success in terms of popular following, have been intimidating in some respects for Caribbean theology and Caribbean theologians. Consequently, the voices have been muted and inhibited in recent decades.
Roper asserts that this version of the gospel insists that religion and politics do not mix, but questions the sincerity of this position, as the proponents of this view themselves demonstrate a clear ideological agenda and are aligned to the ideological right.
Roper then argues that what is needed is for the Caribbean church to rally itself, not so much for liberation, but for the establishment of a just and responsible society. This leads to the advocacy of public theology. In order to do this, the Church has to accept the public domain and the community as its sphere of its action.
See the third and final instalment next week titled 'Caribbean Theology Project'.