Thursday, November 09, 2006

Transforming Theology?

This week I am grading papers. The assignment I gave to the MA students was to do a cultural analysis of a people group or company they are familiar with. The problem I have with reading research papers is that they challenge my thinking so much I get sidetracked in trying to solve problems. Case in point:

Senti presented a paper on a tribe who live in the northeast called the Khasi. For centuries these people were animistic, introduced to Christianity two hundred years ago by the Welch Baptists. What is unique about their social structure is that they are matrilineal. Like many matrilineal societies, the Khasi trace their lineage through the woman, not the man. Property is handed down to the daughters, names are through the woman’s lineage, the female makes decisions, and after marriage residence is matrilocal. In this social environment the uncle or brother has more influence than the father/husband.

Matrilineal societies have always been an interest to me and are prevalent in many Latin American countries as well as within African-American community. How do a people who have a strong female identity relate to a dominant male theology? In Senti’s paper he discusses the challenges in reaching the Khasi with the Gospel, one being that the church demands patriarchal authority. My question to Senti, and to those who wade through my blogs is, Can traditional Christianity be challenged in face of cultural practices that are the norm? How can Christian patrilineal values serve matrilineal societies?

My hypothesis has been that one of the reasons Catholics do well in Latin America is partly due to their emphasis on Mary rather than Jesus. It is Mary, the mother who makes decisions, who has access to power and who works on behalf of those who pray. Is there a natural affinity to a female head rather than to an absent or marginalized male?

I am not suggesting that we rewrite biblical principles, but what is the best way to communicate the Gospel when it runs headlong into traditional non-salvation issues? All societies are to be transformed, but in the process, does our theologies also become transformed? Should they? What suggestions would you give Senti in working with the Khasi?