Archive for the ‘Cultural Relativism’ Tag

Feast of George Augustus Selwyn (April 11)   4 comments

Above:  George Augustus Selwyn

Image in the Public Domain

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GEORGE AUGUSTUS SELWYN (APRIL 5, 1809-APRIL 11, 1878)

Anglican Bishop of New Zealand, Primate of New Zealand, and Bishop of Lichfield; Missionary

Bishop George Augustus Selwyn comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via The Church of England, The Episcopal Church, The Anglican Church of Canada, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Selwyn was English.  He, born in London on April 5, 1809, studied at Eton then at St. John’s College, Cambridge.  Selwyn, a fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge, became an Anglican deacon in 1833 then a priest the following year.  Our saint, simultaneously a curate at Windsor and a tutor at Eton, married Sarah Richardson (d. 1907) in 1839.  During a time of political and societal upheaval, Selwyn advocated for the autonomy of The Church of England and for ecclesiastical responsibilities in society.  He spent much of his time working in education.

Selwyn became the first Bishop of New Zealand in October 1841, after his brother William had declined the offer.  Our saint arrived in New Zealand in 1842.  He organized the Anglican Church in New Zealand and Melanesia, as well as the Church Missionary Society work in Melanesia.  He founded schools, especially for the Maori.  One of these institutions was St. John’s School, which ultimately settled in Auckland, New Zealand.  Our saint also established ministries to miners, homeless people, and itinerant workers.  Furthermore, Selwyn forged the constitution of the Anglican Church in his missionary realm.  He modeled the ecclesiastical constitution after the constitutions of The Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church.  The constitution Selwyn crafted created a synod with three houses–bishops, clergy, and laity.  The empowerment of the laity was crucial.

Selwyn’s ministry overlapped with that of John Coleridge Patteson (1827-1871).  Selwyn created the first missionary system in Melanesia.  Indigenous youth spent summers at St. John’s School then returned to their communities as Christian influences.  Patteson, who arrived in 1855, inherited this system.  Patteson, whom Selwyn had consecrated the first Bishop of Melanesia on February 24, 1861, found that conducting missionary work directly in indigenous languages was more effective.

Selwyn oversaw the expansion of the Anglican Church in New Zealand and Melanesia.  As the church expanded, the number of dioceses increased.  He went from being the Bishop of New Zealand to the Primate of New Zealand yet still based in Auckland.

Selwyn was, compared to many colonists, radically progressive regarding indigenous people.  He respected the dignity of the Maori and pled with colonists to treat them justly.  Many colonists ignored these pleas, however.  Maori uprisings resulted during the 1860s.  Selwyn’s position cost him the support of many settlers.  On the other hand, the bishop served as a Royal Army chaplain.  This cost him much Maori support.

Selwyn was, according to purist standards of 2020, defective; he was, to some extent, a cultural imperialist.  Yet, as I wrote in the previous paragraph, he was radically progressive, according to the standards of his time.

Without justifying the unjustifiable, I ask, why not focus on the positive?

The orthodoxy of cultural anthropology teaches that two opposite fallacies exist.  One is ethnocentrism, the idea that the observer’s culture sets the standards by which to evaluate all other cultures.  Ethnocentrism leads one to ignore faults in one’s culture and virtues in other cultures.  The other fallacy is cultural relativism, or the absence of standards.  Cultural relativism leads one to turn a blind eye to offenses against human dignity in the name of respecting diversity.  The truth is in the middle, of course.  Standards do exist, and every culture falls short of them in some ways.  Furthermore, members of different cultures can learn from each other.

Selwyn was somewhere in the middle, between ethnocentrism and cultural relativism.

Selwyn served as the Bishop of Lichfield, in England, from 1868 to 1878.  He reluctantly accepted that offer at the Lambeth Conference of 1867.

Selwyn died in Lichfield on April 11, 1878.  He was 69 years old.

The Church of the Province of New Zealand reorganized in 1992.  It became The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

The reorganized church respects cultural differences and has three primates.

The Anglican Church of Melanesia became a separate province of the Anglican Communion in 1975.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 20, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRI DE LUCAC, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, CARDINAL, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF CHARLES SHELDON, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, AUTHOR, CHRISTIAN SOCIALIST, AND SOCIAL GOSPEL THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF GREGORIO ALLEGRI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, COMPOSER, AND SINGER; AND HIS BROTHER, DOMENICO ALLEGRI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER AND SINGER

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAWA RODZINSKA, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF SAINT WULFRIC OF HASELBURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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Almighty God, you called George Augustus Selwyn

to be bishop of the church in New Zealand

and to lay a firm foundation for its life;

grant that, building on his labours

and encouraged by his gifts of heart, hand, and mind,

we too may extend your kingdom,

in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

or

Jesus, Jewish Saviour, served by George, the English bishop in Aotearoa,

give us grace to build on his foundations.  Amen.

Isaiah 49:1-6, 13

Psalm 16 or 126

1 Corinthians 3:7-13

John 4:31-38

–The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

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Almighty God, hear our prayers and supplications

as we remember your servant George Augustus Selwyn

and enrich your Church in every land with the manifold gifts of service,

that by constant witness and selfless devotion we may share with one another,

and with all the world, the immeasurable wealth of your salvation;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 12:4-13

Psalm 96:1-7

Matthew 10:7-16

–The Anglican Church of Canada

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Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant George Augustus Selwyn,

whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of New Zealand and Melanesia,

and to lay a firm foundation for the growth of your Church in many nations.

Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom,

that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Genesis 12:1-4

Ephesians 2:11-18

Psalm 28:7-11

Matthew 10:7-16

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 323

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Feast of Mary Slessor (January 13)   Leave a comment

Mary Slessor

Above:  Mary Slessor

Image in the Public Domain

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MARY MITCHELL SLESSOR (DECEMBER 2, 1848-JANUARY 13, 1915)

Scottish Presbyterian Missionary to West Africa

The Church of England celebrates the life of Mary Slessor (1848-1915), a Scottish Presbyterian, on January 11.  Here, however, I transfer the feast to the anniversary of her death.

True stories of Western missionaries who devastated indigenous cultures, often while functioning more as agents of a particular imperial power rather than as emissaries of Jesus Christ, are numerous.  Such accounts help to explain the bad name Christianity has acquired in many cultural settings, especially in places where another religion has a longer history.  This post celebrates the life and legacy of a missionary of a different stripe–one who respected the people she sought to convert to Christ and met practical needs while avoiding the opposing fallacies of ethnocentrism and cultural relativism.

Mary Slessor had a difficult youth.  Slessor, born at Aberdeen, Scotland, on December 2, 1848, was the second of five children–two sons and three daughters–of Robert and Mary Slessor.  The family was impoverished.  Robert, a shoemaker then a mill worker, was an alcoholic and an abusive husband.  Mary, the mother, was a weaver and a mill worker.  Our saint started working at a mill half-time at the age of 11 years.  At the time she also attended school at that mill.  Three years later, after her father and two brothers had died, she started working ten hours a day.

Our saint grew up a member of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland (1847-1900), which merged into The United Free Church of Scotland (1900-1929), which reunited with The Church of Scotland (1560-present).  From an early age Slessor had a fascination with missionaries.  In 1875, upon learning of the death of David Livingstone (1813-1873), she decided to become a missionary.  Our saint applied to the United Presbyterian Church’s Foreign Missionary Board, which accepted her.  Our saint, aged 28 years, sailed for West Africa on August 5, 1876.

Map

Above:  Map of a Part of West Africa

Image Source = Rand McNally World Atlas–Imperial Edition (1968)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Our saint spent most of her life as a missionary to the Efik people in that art of West Africa now called Nigeria.  She spent a few years back in Scotland because of health-related furloughs, recovering from malaria more than once, but she lived mostly in West Africa from 1876 to 1915.

Among my first lessons in cultural anthropology in college was that both ethnocentrism and cultural relativism were fallacies.  Ethnocentrism is the idea that one’s culture is the standard by which to evaluate other cultures.  This fallacy overlooks shortcomings in one’s own culture and merits in other cultures.  Cultural relativism reacts to the arrogance of ethnocentrism by arguing for the absence of a standard according to which to evaluate cultures.

Unfortunately, ethnocentrism has marked much of the Christian missionary movement for a long time.  (Many missionaries have avoided that error, fortunately.)  Ethnocentrism was part of Slessor’s worldview when she became missionary.  Fortunately, she grew out of that way of thinking, thereby becoming a more effective evangelist.  She also rejected the fallacy of cultural relativism.

Our saint, for many years headquartered at Calabar, on the coast, saved the lives of many people.  She helped to end the practice of testing innocence or guilt by forcing the accused person to drink poison.  She also saved the lives of hundreds of abandoned newborn twins.  Local superstition held that a mother of twins had sinned grievously, and that one of the twins was an evil spirit.  The practice of abandoning newborn twins in the wilderness horrified our saint, who saved many of them and adopted some of them.

Slessor respected the people among whom she worked, gaining their confidence and respect.  She lived in a hut, not in the missionary compound, and devoted herself to addressing practical needs.  She helped to found a vocational school, the Hope Waddell Training Institute.  In 1888 Slessor relocated her base of operations to the village of Oloyong, where locals had killed the previous male missionaries.  Our saint survived and won respect, however.  She became the “White Queen of Oloyong,” settling disputes among people there.

Toward the end of her life Slessor became so weak due to malaria-related fever that she ceased to be able to walk on her own.  She died on January 13, 1915, aged 66 years.

Slessor did not invent culturally friendly mission work, but she did bring much attention to it.  She did, however, pioneer addressing practical needs as a technique in foreign missions.  This has become a common strategy.  I recall a story I heard more than a decade ago.  A team of missionaries in an area where wells were scarce ordered the usual religious supplies, such as Bibles.  They also ordered equipment for digging wells.  After all, the people with whom they worked needed both wells and eternal life.  The legacy of Mary Slessor has been flourishing for a long time.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN PEACEMAKERS AND PEACE ACTIVISTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL JONES, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF UTAH AND WITNESS FOR PEACE

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For Further Reading:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-30577100

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-30798845

http://maryslessor.org/mary-slessor/

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God of grace and glory, we praise you for your servant Mary Slessor,

who made the good news known in West Africa.

Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds of the gospel,

so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of your love,

and be drawn to worship you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Isaiah 62:1-7

Psalm 48

Romans 10:11-17

Luke 24:44-53

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59

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